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May 14th, and Agent A was nervous.

Major von dem Eberbach was away, attending a NATO Military Committee conference where he’d been invited to give a briefing on intelligence methodology. He was expected back sometime after 1600 hours the following afternoon, and naturally, Agent A was Acting Head of the Alphabet Unit in his absence.

Agent A expected the Major to arrive back on time, unscathed, and no doubt in a foul mood because he resented spending time talking about intelligence and security instead of actually getting on with the job. Herr A was also aware that the following day was the Major’s birthday. Which meant that Eroica would probably surface sometime in the next twenty-four hours, either in person or in the form of some elaborate gift or communication.

The thief Eroica had established himself as the greatest thorn in Major von dem Eberbach’s side early in their acquaintance. No matter how strongly the Major objected, Eroica declared his love and devotion at every opportunity. Every year since … when? Sometime in the early 1980s? Each year, he’d sent birthday gifts: expensive cufflinks, fine wine, rare antiquarian books on military history, flowers, invitations to dinner at exclusive restaurants. Eroica’s generosity seemed boundless.

Not all of these unwelcome offerings were sent to the office. Some years’ gifts went to Schloss Eberbach, or to the Major’s Bonn apartment, but the agents always heard about it. The Major was very vocal in his rejection of Eroica’s gifts. Each and every one of them was sent back, or thrown away, or (when Eroica presented them in person) thrust back at the giver with the Major’s advice about what he might like to do with them.

The days leading up to the Major’s birthday came to be recognised as a season for special vigilance, with the agents on alert to outwit Eroica’s generosity, and above all, to keep the Major calm.

Agent A pulled G and Z aside after they returned from their lunch break. Agent G had been monitoring the Major’s mail and phone messages during his absence, and Agent Z had conducted a special survey of passenger lists and hotel bookings for the past ten days. Neither had turned up anything of note.

“Do you think it’s possible that Eroica isn’t going to do anything this year?” Agent G chewed his delicately-painted lower lip. “The Major has reacted so badly in the past, maybe he’s given up.”

Agent Z looked doubtful. “He hasn’t been put off by the Major’s reactions yet; I don’t think there’s any reason to suppose he’d give up now.”

Sighing, Agent A said, “I’m inclined to agree with Z. And there are still thirty-four hours to go. All right, keep watching, and at the first sign of trouble—”

“—we’ll let you know.”

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At 1600 hours precisely on 15th May, Major Klaus von dem Eberbach flung open the door and strode past his twenty-six agents, all of whom were bent over their desks giving every appearance of being very busy.

“Agent A! My office! Now!”

Agent A scurried after his superior officer, closing the inner office door behind him. The Major, seated behind his desk, motioned to his second in command to sit.

“Anything to report, Agent A?”

“No, sir. Business as usual, sir.”

“Requests from above?”

“None, sir.”

“Reports of irregular activity?”

“None, sir.”

No irregular activity of any kind?

Agent A interpreted that as meaning ‘activity involving Eroica’. He shook his head emphatically. “No, sir. No deliveries or calls; nothing unusual at all.”

Major von dem Eberbach regarded Agent A coolly. “Perhaps you thought to check with a mutual intelligence source?”

A swallowed. He knew the Major tolerated his friendship with Bonham because it had occasionally been helpful. Even so, he was never certain how the Major was going to react to news that his second in command had been in contact with Eroica’s right-hand man.

“Yes, sir, I did; but Bon — er, my mutual intelligence source was unable to provide any information.”

The Major’s eyes narrowed. “Unable? Or unwilling?”

A small frown creased the agent’s brow. “To be honest, sir, I’m not sure – but there’s been nothing irregular. So far.”

“H’mph. Well, Agent A, I expect you to stay vigilant, and if anything happens, to manage the situation. For myself, I’m going home to catch up on lost sleep after that fucking conference, and tomorrow I plan to take a day’s leave. I’ll be back in the office in two days. That will be all.”

Back at his desk, watching the outer office door close behind the Major and listening to his footsteps retreating down the corridor, Agent A puzzled over what he’d been told. The Major, going home early to catch up on lost sleep? The Major, taking a day off? He’d never known his commanding officer to do either of those things, in all the years he’d been an Alphabet.

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The Major strode through the front door of Schloss Eberbach.

“Welcome home, Master Klaus,” the butler murmured deferentially. “Your guest has arrived. He has chosen to— ehm, to retire early.”

“Very good. No need to prepare an evening meal, Herr Hinkel. I don’t think we’ll be needing anything.”

The Major took the stairs two at a time, and headed toward his bedroom.

His guest had indeed arrived, and was waiting for him, naked, in his bed.

“Klaus, darling, you took your time!” A vision of blond curls and smooth pale skin reached long arms toward him.

Their kiss was full of passion – and comfortable familiarity.

Sitting on the side of the bed, Klaus removed his jacket and tie, tossing them onto a nearby chair, and pulled off his boots. “I had to take a report from Agent A. They’ve been expecting some of your old tomfoolery. A looked as if he was walking on eggshells, not sure whether to be happy nothing had happened, or worried that something was happening and he hadn’t seen it.”

“You do frighten those poor boys, you know, Klaus. They’re more afraid of you than they are of the KGB.”

“Good.”

Klaus’s trousers, shirt, and underwear joined his jacket and tie, and he slipped into bed. Warm arms wrapped around him.

“So they still have no idea?” A brush of warm lips accompanied the question.

“That things have changed between us? No. Agent A tried to get some information out of Bonham, but got nowhere, apparently.”

Long, dextrous fingers trailed lightly down the length of Klaus’s spine. “Bonham wouldn’t give us away. Not even to Agent A.”

Klaus smiled dangerously. “He’d better not.”

Dorian pulled his lover closer. “So which shall we celebrate first, darling? Your birthday? Or our anniversary?”

“Don’t care,” Klaus growled. “We’ll celebrate them both, one after the other. The order is unimportant.”

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