The Solo Agent Affair
Mr. Alexander Waverly regarded the UNCLE agent in front of him with ill concealed displeasure. "Exactly why are you refusing to accept this agent as your partner Mr. Solo?"
Napoleon Solo, the Chief Enforcement Agent for the New York Headquarters of the UNCLE was angry, very angry. "I refuse to work with Agent Anderson because he is young, inexperienced and very likely to get me killed." With those words he threw down the report he was carrying, which slid across the desk and fell down on the floor.
Alexander Waverly regarded his Chief Enforcement Agent as an excellent field agent but he was very unforgiving of incompetence. "I wish to assign Anderson as your partner because he came highly recommended, he is well qualified, gained excellent marks at survival school .."
"Ha!" broke in Solo as he retrieved the report, "Survival school is not real life."
"Very well," sighed Waverly, "He is obviously not quite experienced enough to satisfy your demands for a partner. I will endeavour to find an agent you can't refuse." Waverly tucked away the papers in front of him and hesitated, "Luckily your next mission requires you to work undercover alone."
"I would rather work alone ..."
"Mr Solo, you know my policy. Enough has been said on the subject. Now let me outline this next mission. You will pose as the owner of a brothel in New Jersey."
Solo sat down taking a distinct interest in the information. Not for the first time he would be immersed in a world of sex, a subject he found great interest in. He tried hard to banish the vision of himself surrounded by a bevy of beauties all vying for his attention. He tried to clear his mind to concentrate on the briefing.
"Our Eastern European colleagues have been following the exodus of young people who have ended up working in prostitution in America. They were promised good jobs in the US but instead have been ending up as virtual slaves in the sex industry. We think we have discovered the people responsible, we just need the evidence. We have an aggrieved brothel owner who has offered his 'business' as a cover for the operation. You are going to incriminate those responsible."
Solo journeyed to New Jersey to a destination near Hoboken to meet the generous provider of his cover. The brothel, set in a sad looking brick building in a decaying city location that seemed somehow appropriate. Seth Grunveld was everything he expected. It was very hot and the rotund Mr Grunveld seemed to sit in a pool of his own perspiration rather like a slug. "It's my girls y'see Mr Solo, my girls don't like to see these poor foreigners forced to have sex. They enjoy their work Mr. Solo, they don't like to see these foreign girls abused." He took Solo on a tour of his premises. Solo noted that the women he met were for the most part shrewd and tough, they seemed to asses his net worth at a glance. By contrast the clientele seemed sad and uncomfortable.
As they concluded their business Napoleon made sympathetic noises in response to Grunveld's whines. Solo shrewdly thought that money might also be the basis of his co-operation. Using girls that were not even being paid must surely mean some of his competitors were stealing his business by undercutting prices.
Grunveld had arranged the appointment in Las Vegas for the UNCLE agent, having told them that Solo was his partner in the business. He had the names of contacts and had ensured he would be met at the airport. Grunveld had gone to a lot of trouble to make sure his 'partner' had the right cover in place for the meeting.
Some people find Las Vegas too vulgar and false, a gaudy bauble to distract from the business of extracting hard earned cash from willing dreamers. Napoleon had always rather enjoyed the brash façade and the hard gambling. He had been there several times on business and had always promised himself that he would spend a weekend there to really try his luck at the tables.
Landing at the airport Solo assumed a Southern drawl and tried to appear almost naive on the surface. In the limo from the airport he made comments about the number and size of the hotels, about the endless casinos as if it were all new to him. He caught the driver smiling at one of his more inane comments in the rear view mirror, he knew he was getting his character about right.
Del Gardo and Mench were not amiable businessmen. They were criminals, hard eyes, abrasive manner and downright greedy. These were the scum of humanity who made money through the suffering and misery of others. Napoleon hated them on the spot but knew he had to humour them. The only way he could bring himself to be civil to them was knowing their days were numbered. They were out to obtain as much money as they could and their brusque manner made it difficult to sustain the pleasant but slightly naive façade he tried to maintain.
They showed him into a room with five girls. It looked for all the world that they had taken five librarians and dressed them in cheap cocktail dresses. The girls were no hookers, that was very obvious. They also looked afraid, the kind of fear that comes from violence and menace. Solo had to school his features well to hide the disgust he was feeling. He knew he had to get these bastards.
Over dinner the deal was finalised. A price was agreed to be paid when the girls were handed over at a small private airstrip in three day's time. A cash deposit secured them in the meantime. He used his communicator to transmit the whole deal, which was being recorded at the Las Vegas office. After their meal his hosts obviously had other business and so offered some 'entertainment'. Solo agreed, thinking it would be a way of finding out more about their operation. He thought it would involve some form of gambling so they could relieve him of some more of his cash. He was careful to take a trip to the washroom to contact the local office. Having satisfied himself they had recorded everything that was needed he turned his communicator to normal mode, after all if he lost money he didn't want it to be common gossip amongst his colleagues.
They took him behind the Casino operation and led him down some stairs along a cold corridor. The door at the end had a small window and a face materialised behind it scanning the party. He recognised Del Gardo and Mench instantly and the door swung open. Inside was a lounge area with carpets and couches in deepest red. Two middle aged men sat uncomfortably in one corner, talking quietly obviously waiting for something.
"Mr. Solo," chimed Mench, "We would like you to sample some of the delights you seem so intent on purchasing from us." He indicated for him to follow Del Gardo through a curtain. Inside was a small room with a bank of TV monitors. Out of around a dozen only a handful were showing a picture. A couple showed men and women in various positions of some sordid sex session. Two adjacent screens showed two women. One woman was dressed in dark clothing lazily playing with a whip. Solo shuddered, he really could do without that. The next screen showed a woman covered in lace and feathers. Not really his scene. Del Gardo was studying his face intently, "No, not for you?" Solo shook his head. "Then," he said, pulling Solo over to a far screen, "How about the Angel?". The screen showed a slim naked blond boy sitting on a bed, his knees drawn up to his chest. He had long blond hair and somehow had the look of an angel in an Italian Renaissance painting. Solo paused, which was taken as assent by his hosts. He found himself whisked towards the room. Along the way Del Gardo gave him an appraising look. "The Angel can be tough, but you look like a man who can handle himself. All the same be careful, he broke the arm of the last man who tried to take him." With those words of warning Solo found himself shoved into the room.
Napoleon stood by the door, for the first time noting the Angel was shackled to the wall. Obviously not a willing participant. He tried a friendly "Hi" but the Angel just watched him with the air of a fly entangled in a spider's web. There was an armchair positioned between the bed and the door. Solo judged the boy would not be able to reach it. He slipped off his shoes, jacket and tie. Part of him wanted to leave, feeling sorry for the boy, part of him was intrigued at the thought of some kind of sexual contact with the Angel. He knew he had to do something. His hosts would be suspicious if he made no attempt at sex. All the same he was now wishing that he had gone for one of the women, at least they looked willing. He knew he could never rape anyone.
He moved to the bed. He sat quietly for a moment, then tried to extend his hand to push the boy's hair away from his eyes. The Angel shoved his hand away roughly, issuing an unspoken warning. Solo sighed. He wanted to get this over with. He made a grab, the Angel tried to fend him off. He used his weight to push the Angel prone on the bed, using his body to pin him down. "Do you speak English?" Solo hissed. "Yes," came a strangled reply from beneath him. "I am not going to hurt you, do you understand?" There was no reply. The Angel was more solid than he initially appeared, he could feel strong muscles in his upper arms. He also realised his chest had been shaved, presumably to make him look younger. Solo suspected he was more man than boy.
There was something so erotic about this unwilling lover pinned beneath him. So different from his normal sexual liaisons. He kept his eyes open, mindful of the fact this man could just as easily try to hurt him. The heady mixture of fear and sex was overwhelmingly arousing and was aware of his growing erection.
He started to nuzzle and kiss the man, ignoring his flinches. He kissed unresponsive lips, finally gaining entry, finding the taste in the blond's mouth slightly sweet and familiar, it was the taste of hunger, he realised the man must be starving. Poor bastard they obviously didn't feed him. He moved slowly down his body all the time the Angel trying to push him away. His skin was pale and cool, smooth to touch. A few bruises on his arms and ribs marred the effect of touching cool alabaster. The skin covering his ribs was taught. His stomach was flat and sunken, his pelvic bones stood proud from his body. As he neared the man's groin the pushes got harder and more urgent. Solo responded by partly rolling on him, gathering his wrists in one hand above his head pinning his legs down with his own. With his free hand he lightly touched the man's cock, already erect. The Angel cried out his entire body bucking with agitation, trying to avoid the exploring hands. Solo took the erect cock firmly in his fist pumping hard and fast, the man was becoming flushed with arousal, a sweat breaking out on his skin. As the blond came milky semen splattered over them both, he screamed and muttered curses in a language Napoleon did not understand. Solo lay still watching him recover, seeing those ribs slide beneath the skin as the Angel panted for breath. Napoleon hoped his hosts enjoyed the show because he certainly hadn't.
The Angel resumed his former posture on the bed. Solo went over to the sink, clumsily trying to sponge the semen off his shirt. There was a plastic cup, he filled it full of water and carried it over, the Angel grudgingly accepted it and drank the cup dry in one long gulp. Solo sat down on the bed. He noticed round the shackle on the blond's ankle the skin was red and weeping in places. His foot was covered in bruises as if someone had tried to wrench him out of the shackle. The blond eyed him uneasily. "You have finished? Yes?"
"Maybe." Solo shifted his gaze from his ankle to his face." I've paid for the night with you," he lied smoothly. He couldn't explain why but he felt reluctant to leave. Maybe it was the thought that another man could be put with him. A man that might just hurt him. Or perhaps he just wanted more. He casually removed his trousers, but he could see the move made the man bristle. "Come and lie with me, I want to kiss you."
The blond looked at him uneasily. "I don't like ..... kiss."
"Then come and let me hold you. You look cold." It was true, there was gooseflesh on his body and he was shivering. Reluctantly the Angel lay next to him. Solo planned to make the most of the situation by trying to find out something about this man. He could have been one of the very Poles he was trying to help.
"You don't look like you do this too often."
"You're from Europe aren't you?"
"Please, don't ask questions. I have no answers."
The Angel lunged at Napoleon trying to wrestle him off the bed but the shackle limited in his actions. Solo had no choice but to pin him down once more, feeling the lean hard body beneath his own. "If you want to get rough my friend I can get rougher," he warned, a dangerous edge to his voice. The man stilled. Solo covered them both with the quilt that had lain neatly folded on the chair. He knew if he were being watched he needed to do more and the closeness of his companion was hard to ignore. The Angel was lying on his stomach, Napoleon parted his pale legs and settled between them, then placing his erection in the crack between the Angel's cheeks, making sure he was not too close to his opening. He began to thrust. He hoped from the camera angle it would look as if he were fucking his victim. Beneath him the Angel cried out then lay trembling, presumably fearing the worst. Finally with a cry that Napoleon hoped would pass for orgasm he finished moving. He knew he could never reach his sexual peak in this manner.
"Let's get some sleep. I promise I won't touch you again." The man's trembles gradually stilled and they both drifted into sleep.
In the middle of the night Solo woke checking his watch, it was only three am. He was suddenly overwhelmed with agony at the thought of his actions. At the very least he could be charged with sexual assault. What the hell would Waverly say? He could imagine now, "Conduct unbecoming," yes conduct unbecoming of an officer and gentleman. I am certainly no gentleman he reproached himself. Next to him the Angel slept on. His face was turned towards him and in his sleep he looked so young and innocent. Solo cursed himself for daring to touch the man and for forcing him to participate in his cruel game.
Napoleon must have drifted off to sleep because he suddenly heard a small cart being pushed into the room, the waiter leaving discreetly. Solo walked over to it. There was a cooked breakfast for two as well as toast, coffee and orange juice. His hosts had provided well. Napoleon pushed the cart over to the bed. The Angel's face was turned to the wall. "Hey!" Napoleon softly called over to his companion, "Breakfast is served." The Angel moved very quickly and in moments was gulping down the eggs, bacon and pancakes. He ate so quickly Solo would have missed it if he blinked. Solo offered him the other plate "Would you like this?"
The man looked puzzled "Why, you are not hungry?"
"No," replied Napoleon. Truthfully he wasn't. His own behaviour from the night before had sickened him. The thought of food held no appeal. He started to dress and wandered to the basin for a quick wash, trying to remove some of the odour that lingered on his body. By the time he had finished the food had all been devoured. He noticed a cup of coffee had been poured for him. He muttered his thanks and drank it. He couldn't look the Angel in the face.
"I'll be going then," he announced to the Angel, then tapped on the door. It swung open and he was free to go. He didn't look back.
Del Gardo and Mench were there to say their goodbyes, reminding him of their deal and making ugly threats about any attempt to default on the agreement. Solo side tracked them by tackling the thought uppermost in his mind, the Angel.
"I want to buy him." Solo gazed at his hosts.
The two men looked uncomfortable. Obviously the Angel was not on their 'To Go' list.
"He's not for sale," Mench drawled.
"Come now gentlemen," Solo cooed to them, "I can see you are not making the most of him here. I assure you I can use his talents."
"The first thing he'll do is to run out on you. We offer no refunds."
"Sure, I'll pay and take what I can get."
A price was negotiated and agreed. Napoleon was not quite sure why he was doing this. Maybe a salve to his raw guilt.
Business was finalised over coffee and at about eleven a car was ready to take Solo to the airport. It was agreed he'd take the Angel with him now, and return for the girls in two days.
Napoleon watched the Angel was as he limped behind Del Gardo as he led him to the car. He looked slightly shorter than he remembered. He just wore jeans and a t-shirt and carried a small battered looking bag. He squinted in the sunshine, his skin looking translucent as if he had not seen daylight in some time. Solo really did not know what he was going to do with the man, if he took him to Headquarters the truth of their liaison would emerge. He could take him home, help him to return to Europe or even just pay him cash to disappear. He groaned. How the hell did he get himself in this mess?
As the car took the road to the airport the Angel leaned over. Solo could smell him and feel the warmth from his body, "I wanted to thank you for getting me out of there." He leaned forward a touch further and his lips claimed Napoleon's in a light but sensual kiss, his tongue making light touches on his lower lip. Solo pulled away. "Look, I'm going to make sure you are safe. Do you understand?" He could say no more within earshot of the chauffeur. Large blue eyes studied him. Solo looked ahead on the road making sure they were headed for the airport. It was not above suspicion that his hosts may try to ditch him.
As they approached the airport there was one more kiss from his companion, before he asked, "Where are we going?"
"To New York."
There was a surprised looked momentarily on the blond's face, "Does it take long to fly to New York?"
"No just a few hours."
The Angel was silent. The car stopped by the departures hall. Solo got out and accepted his case from the chauffeur. The Angel had kept his bag with him. The airport was busy. Solo pushed his way through a group of tourists to the airline ticket desk. He smiled at the attractive clerk, taking his wallet out of his pocket. He looked round to his companion. There was no one there. He looked round at the tangle of humanity in front of him, there was no sign of the Angel. He made his way to the men's washroom in case he had gone there. No sign. He inwardly cursed and returned to buy a ticket to New York. In some ways it was a relief. If the Angel had told his story there would inevitably been trouble.
As he took out his wallet to buy his ticket he noticed one of his credit cards was missing, as was most of his money. Confused for a moment he remembered that kiss in the limousine. This was obviously what the Angel had planned, fleece his host and run. A slight smile crossed his face. At least he didn't have to worry too much on the blond's account. There was a sizeable amount of money.
Three days later and the whole affair was over. He had taken the UNCLE jet down to Las Vegas, Mench was caught red handed at the airstrip, Del Gardo was apprehended at the Casino. A good result for Solo, leaving the FBI and the local police to deal with the legalities of the case.
In New York, Solo flipped through the information supplied by the Las Vegas Police. A total of twenty-three women and four men from Eastern Europe were rescued. A total of fourteen arrests were made. Serve the bastards right. He fleetingly thought of the Angel and wondered if he was amongst those found by the police. As he had no name he had no means of checking. He didn't suppose he would ever see him again.
In the meantime it was business as usual. He was reading some intelligence just gathered in Berlin about another Thrush plot. He had a brief conversation with Waverly about the German information at which they decided to leave it to the office in Bonn for the moment. Waverly also mentioned he had found a new partner for him, his details were on the way down, the agent would be escorted to his office shortly.
Solo groaned as he looked at the information on yet another UNCLE agent Waverly was sending his way. Another goddam egghead! He had a list of qualifications as long as your arm. Probably useless in the field. He did a double take of the fact he was seconded from Russian Naval Intelligence. Russian? A Communist as well, this just got better and better, Waverly had to be out of his mind! There was a knock on the door and Sue from medical walked in followed by a blond man. He didn't look too closely. "Be with you in a moment." He looked up.
Sue started to make the introductions, "Napoleon can I introduce Illya Kuryakin?"
It was at that point that all Solo's poise and charm crumbled into the dust that was about to engulf his career. There behind Sue stood the Angel. She looked at his face, "Napoleon, are you alright?" She was genuinely concerned. He looked into the Angel's face. His expression showed nothing.
"Sure I'm fine Sue," he knew he was not very convincing. "It's just I've deleted a record on the computer that I shouldn't have. Now I'll have to go see the boys for a back up. Come in Mr. Kuryakin, sit down, I'll be with you in a moment."
Sue left, although she obviously knew something was wrong. As Kuryakin took a seat Napoleon noticed he was obviously limping still. He collapsed heavily on to the sofa. His hair was shorter and he was dressed in a business suit, but there was no mistaking him. The Angel had obviously flown in to extract revenge. Solo turned to log off the computer, he noticed his hands shaking as he touched the keys. He needed to assess the damage to his career.
Solo wondered why the man was not screaming 'rape' at him -after all wasn't that what had happened? Instead he sat there quietly, too quietly. Perhaps he was just biding his time before he went to Waverly to make his accusations. Perhaps he would just take his own revenge down some dark alley. Napoleon realised he had to face this man or there could be no peace.
"I'd like to buy you a drink," offered Solo with as much enthusiasm as he could muster. Kuryakin rose, following him. Solo took the elevator to the parking garage then led the way to his car. He knew he should have made some small talk but his voice had deserted him. The Russian said nothing. It took less than 20 minutes to reach his apartment building. Silently the men entered the elevator, riding to Solo's floor.
In Solo's apartment Kuryakin once more collapsed heavily on the couch. "What can I get you to drink?"
"Do you have Vodka?"
"Sure, do you want ice in that?"
Solo returned with the drinks, placing Illya's in front of him and then retreating to a chair facing him. "I don't know where to start. Never for one moment did I suspect you were an UNCLE Agent. All I can do is apologise for my behaviour, I treated you very badly."
Kuryakin fixed him with his gaze, "Don't worry, you were in a difficult situation. You could hardly claim to be the celibate owner of a brothel."
"Maybe it would have been better if I had."
"Please don't worry on my account. You didn't hurt me and I assure you I have suffered far more lewd acts than that under duress." He shrugged "Besides I am grateful that you got me food and you got me out of there. I was beginning to think I would never leave that place alive. I just could not find a way to get myself free."
Solo could hardly believe his ears. He assaults a man and the only comment he gets is thanks for food! "But I raped you," he blurted out.
"I assure you Mr. Solo what you did to me was not rape. I could draw you a diagram if it helps."
Napoleon angered at the smart-alec remark, his voice was tight, "What I did may not have been actual rape but it was pretty damn close."
"I assure you I do not blame you. It was a very difficult situation for both of us. You did not rape me, you did not hurt me. You just," he struggled for words, "You just did what you had to do."
Napoleon digested the words, testing the meaning and realising he was not judged as a criminal. "I wasn't the only man to touch you was I? What about the others?"
Kuryakin paled slightly, lowering his eyes. "I survived Mr. Solo. I would rather not go in to details."
Solo thought for a moment. Kruryakin would have written a report, what had he told Waverly? "Please, I must know, what did you say in your report?" Solo waited for his crimes to be detailed.
"What, I almost raped you and you say nothing?"
Kuryakin blushed and looked guardedly up from beneath his lashes. "Mr. Solo in my country sex such as that is considered deviant, enough to be executed. I would rather it did not appear on my record."
"But you were forced!" spluttered Solo in disbelief.
"Forced or not, it could be made to prove I am a sexual deviant. As such I would rather it was not mentioned. Now I must ask you, what did you say about me in your report?"
Solo looked embarrassed. "I said I saw a boy with blond hair shackled to a wall."
"Nothing more?" the Russian agent checked carefully.
"No, nothing," confirmed Solo.
Both men took a moment to digest the information. Solo realised that if what Kuryakin was saying was true, then he had far more to lose. After all Napoleon could only lose his job. Kuryakin could lose his life. Solo felt suddenly revived. He had his job back. He smiled at the Russian realising that he could shake himself free of the guilt he had been carrying since that fatal night. He started to recall events from a more logical perspective.
"Why did you abandon me at the airport like that? Wouldn't it have been easier for you to get to New York?"
"No," Illya replied taking a swig from his glass, "There was another UNCLE agent there. A girl, a Polish girl. I had to get her out. Luckily she had been ill, they had not put her to work yet. She is now in hospital in Nevada."
"I'm glad you could get her out in time." He silently thought that it was pity Illya couldn't have got out sooner. He dreaded to think what the poor man had gone through, remembering the violent tremors of the body beneath him in that awful room in Nevada. He sat in silence looking at the Russian Agent.
"You have a very nice apartment Mr. Solo. I am very grateful to be welcome in your home."
"Let me show you the view, point out some of the more famous places you can see from here."
The next minutes were taken in introducing Illya to the high rise landscape of New York. He looked impressed. Relief was sweeping through Napoleon. Today could have ended so badly for his career he felt himself cheer up considerably.
"Well you're in luck. Mr Waverly his asked me to take you to dinner. What kind of food do you like?"
"Anything, as long as it is filling, I feel very hungry, the food in your medical section is very bland."
Solo knew what he meant and had the perfect antidote, "In that case let's eat Italian. I know a good place not far from here."
For the first time since his trip to Las Vegas Solo had an appetite. He dug into the antipasta with gusto then made short work of a very tasty veal dish. Kuryakin followed his lead. In his mind Solo could still see his thin naked body and hoped the food would add some meat to those ribs. They looked as if they were almost sticking out through his skin.
Solo broached the subject of work. "Do you know what your next assignment is?"
Illya sighed, "I am not allowed to go to another undercover assignment." He paused while he ate some more of his meal. "I failed the medical" he added by way of explanation. "Mr. Waverly has asked me to consider staying here in New York to work as a section two agent for six months."
"Would you be interested in doing that?"
"Yes, but I am told I would have to work with a partner. I am not too sure if I would like that. I prefer to work alone."
"Do you know who that partner would be?"
"Mr. Waverly told me it would be you, subject to your approval."
Solo studied the face of the young agent. It was hard to see what he was thinking. "I would understand if you would rather not work with me in view of our past meeting."
"Napoleon, let me ask, could you work with me?"
Solo was surprised by the question and the first thought that struck him was how could he refuse? If Waverly even knew half the true story of what happened in Las Vegas he would be thrown out on his ear. He tried to think on the positive side. "Yes I could. You are cunning and resourceful—anyone who can steal my wallet like that has got to be good in the field. And loyal. It would have been so easy for you to return to New York with me but instead you went to help your colleague. I would count it as a privilege to work with you." He smiled at the slightly surprised look on Illya's face.
"I would equally think it a privilege to work with the Chief Enforcement Agent in New York. I imagine you get shall we say the more interesting cases?"
Solo met his gaze, "But could you trust me Illya after that night in Las Vegas?"
"I will take my chances."
Napoleon took the opportunity to assure the young agent. "I promise, I would never touch you like that again. My interest has always been in women. As you say, I was in a difficult situation."
Both men finished their meal thoughtfully. Solo drove Illya back to HQ where he was temporarily staying. Kuryakin quickly said his thanks for dinner and strode off, Solo watching him limping away thoughtfully. He had two problems, the first despite everything he found himself thinking of Illya in an altogether inppropriate way, tinged with the guilt of that awful night in Las Vegas. The second problem, had Kuryakin known he was an UNCLE agent in Las Vegas? He had never said one way or the other and Napoleon suspected he never would. The guy was an enigma. He drove back to his apartment finding himself still disturbed by the day's events. He slept badly that night.
As Solo left Waverly's office that morning he counted himself lucky that he was accepting a new partner not terminating his career. Kuryakin arrived and they exchanged pleasantries before Illya was ushered into Waverly's presence.
As Solo walked away he was feeling philosophical at the events that had led to having to accept a partner, an inscrutable Russian one at that. A thought suddenly struck him, had this whole thing been set up by Waverly? Had the last few days been a deliberate plot forcing him to accept a new partner? Did Waverly intentionally put him in the position where he couldn't say no? After all hadn't he threatened to find him a partner that he 'could not refuse'? He smiled and shook his head, he was not usually given to believing in conspiracy theories. Waverly was manipulative, but how could he have orchestrated the events in Las Vegas? No, no, it couldn't be.