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The Unbearable Sweetness of Being Deadly

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Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach was not a happy man as he entered the steam-heated lobby of the Hotel Loftleider in Reykjavik. He preferred action to inaction, and he would have infinitely preferred a real mission to this baby-sitting assignment. Waiting for something to happen, hoping it wouldn't and bored until it did, suited him very badly. Diplomatic complications suited him even less, and coping with Eroica on top of it suited him not at all.

The Earl of Gloria accompanied the Major across the hotel lobby's steamy warmth, through potted plants ranging in size from just-open crocuses to twenty-foot palm trees. The Earl, unfortunately, could not be considered an obedient part of Major Eberbach's command, as was demonstrated for the thousandth time when Earl's very English voice exclained "Jack!" from a pace or two behind Eberbach, and all sense of having the Earl of Gloria's attention stopped short.

Eberbach sighed inwardly and turned. The Earl's failings included homosexuality as well as a skewed sense of property values, and he seemed to have a multitude of thoroughly unsuitable acquaintances in every city in the world, all of them ready, willing and able to disrupt the Major's assignments. This mission was already irritating enough without further complications.

Someone at the University of Iceland, he'd been told, had perfected, or claimed he had, a process that would produce large, genuine diamonds. And someone at the Technical University of Bremen had collaborated with him. Then a professor at the Technical University of Leipzig claimed to have invented the same process earlier, pointing to obscure publications to prove it. Academic infighting of this sort might have been no more than amusing to a man of action, if Herr Doktor Professor Ingram of Leipzig hadn't turned up missing a week later under suspicious circumstances.

Major Eberbach had been informed, at a highly confidential briefing, that large diamonds figured in certain theoretical military applications. These applications were suddenly less theoretical — certain instruments and devices might now be possible. If, of course, a mind that understood the process remained available, and it was Major Eberbach's responsibility to make quite sure that no one else who knew the process disappeared, most particularly not the Bundesrepublik citizen Herr Professor Doktor Hansenn of Bremen, half-owner of the strongest claim to it. Discovering Ingram's whereabouts and supporters, if any, would be a desirable secondary goal.

"... make you known to my companion, Maraichi," a very Oxbridgian voice was saying, as Eberbach caught sight of the wayward Earl. The speaker, seated far too gracefully in one of the hotel's armchairs and framed by tropical flowers, had black hair, a slim, tall frame, and artfully shadowed eyes. The Major refrained from growling aloud.

"Charmed," said the Earl, bowing over the hand of a petite young woman in the next chair whose hair was a voluminous red-orange cloud of curls. It was an attraction, no doubt, for those who were susceptible to sure lures. Perhaps, Eberbach thought, this "Jack" acquaintance wasn't homosexual after all. The Earl's friends were a catholic lot, sharing no specific kind of unsuitability.

The woman, or girl, raised dark eyes to the Earl's face. "Are you a friend of Ban's?" she asked in a husky alto.

"An old friend," The Earl assured her. "Haven't seen him for years." He looked up. "Major, this is a friend of mine, Jack Van Colan, and his companion Maraichi. I'm not sure, you know, but I suspect you'll have business together this week. Jack, Major Eberbach."

This appeared to amuse the Earl more than necessary, and Eberbach reevaluated his suspicions. Who was the girl? Who was Van Colan? Was that an English name? "If you're here for the Crystallographers' International Conference, we shall," he said.

Van Colan's eyes met his with a flash as of light off a sword blade. It was intensely irritating. "I take it you're directing the German security team?"

"The NATO team."

The University of Iceland, where Hansenn's co-researcher Professor Arnasson worked, was adamant about continuing with a three-ring circus disguised as an academic conference on crystallography and gemology, complete with paper presentations, displays, exhibits, and the rumble of jealous discord from every mineralogy institute in the world. There was no possibility of keeping the process's existence a secret, as it had been published already. The questions were: who really understood it, who could make it work, and whether it would deliver what it promised. Wary representatives of the international jewel trade would be in attendance, perhaps to negotiate shares in its development, perhaps to prevent it. Iceland had no military presence other than its membership in NATO, and Arnasson and the other conference organizers had accepted the offer of a NATO security team when certain possibilities that might lead to losing all possible revenue from the diamond process were pointed out to them.

"Ah. I look forward to our collaboration," said Van Colan. "One of the featured guests has requested my presence. Unfortunately."

"You?"

"Allow me to complete Dorian's introduction. I am Major Van Colan, in the British armed service. Assigned at times to safeguard the Marinaran monarch."

"I see," said Eberbach. That carefully-inspecific designation meant only one thing, in circumstances like these. MI6, the agency that, absurdly, did not officially exist, was taking an interest.

"And who chose this place?" asked the Earl to no one in particular. "Was it a joke? Iceland and ice?"

The Major tried to ignore that. As well as being responsible for the safety of the conference displays and guests, he was plagued by a known but uncatchable thief. Eroica had expressed an intention to attend the conference in order to (he said) discuss the nature of new and old diamonds with friends of his. Major Eberbach did not doubt this for an instant; he merely doubted that Eroica would confine himself to hands-off viewing of displays that included 40-carat examples of both natural and manufactured diamonds. Prevention, he held, was the best cure for such antisocial tendencies. The Earl, as a perfectly genuine British peer with no official criminal record, could not be summarily thrown into a convenient prison, so the only thing to be done was to keep him as well as the displays under close observation throughout the conference.

"Oh, well," said the Earl when his pleasantry produced no response. "Business later, darlings. I'm sure you'll have all kinds of time for those dreary details in the morning. I'm dying to hear what Jack's been doing all this time. How long has it been?"

Van Colan nodded, heavy-eyed, at Eroica. "Far too long, Dorian. We must discuss the passage of time, the philosophical implications of a chance meeting. Soon."

The redhead scowled fearsomely. She was quite young, the Major estimated, but very self-possessed.

"Perhaps over a drink? Perhaps now?" asked the Earl.

"Perhaps." Van Colan's gaze met the Earl's for a flickering moment. "Yes, now would be excellent. I regret that Maraichi cannot accompany us. She has plans of her own."

Major Van Colan stood, revealing himself to be taller than Klaus, and glanced at the young woman and then back to the Earl. His meter-long cascade of black hair would be a ridiculous affectation for anyone, let alone an agent, and he was still far too graceful. Was Van Colan the obvious incompetent Eberbach judged, or was his specialty such that he could afford such flamboyance? Klaus managed to replace his scowl with a more neutral expression before Van Colan's scrutiny turned to him.

"I shall hope to see you during the conference," Eberbach said, less in optimism than in challenge.

Van Colan nodded once before turning back to the Earl, visibly dropping Major Eberbach from his attention. He gave Maraichi a meaningful look, and then he and the Earl of Gloria disappeared in the direction of the hotel's main bar, leaving Eberbach alone with Van Colan's sulking companion.

The Major sketched a bow politely to her before sitting in the chair Van Colan had vacated, earning a flash of temper from dark eyes framed and almost veiled by tendrils of copper-red hair. He needed information, so he ventured, "Miss Maraichi?"

"I'm not." She sounded even angrier than she looked. Eberbach assumed she was Major Van Colan's mistress, understandably annoyed at being abandoned. Klaus usually had nothing to say to such women, but if he was responsible for Eroica, and Eroica had removed Van Colan -- temporarily, one hoped -- it could be seen as Major Eberbach's duty to entertain this connection of Van Colan's for a few minutes. That he might learn something useful about Van Colan was, of course, one possible side effect.

"What is it that you are not?" he responded, carefully.

"Not 'Miss.' Just Maraichi. No surname."

Definitely not a woman Klaus preferred to have anything to do with, but he persisted dutifully: "As you wish. Have you known Major Van Colan long?"

"Longer than you."

Klaus was nearly certain the rebuff was intentional, but he tried once more. "May I offer you any small service while my companion and yours are busy? Would you like some refreshment, perhaps?"

The eyes moved over him for an instant, still hostile. "No, thank you," she said. "I don't expect Ban and the Earl to return soon. Please excuse me."

She rose and walked off without another word, leaving Klaus relieved but unenlightened. He'd have to phone Bonn for dossiers on his opposite numbers at this conference, and any of their known companions. It was only prudent. And he still had to look over the conference rooms himself to confirm Agent K's report.

# # #

The man with the blond curly hair moved like a dancer or a player, and he saw Ban right away and zeroed in on him as if he had a contract. I didn't like the way Ban smiled at him, either. It was almost as if Ban was interested in him, which was ridiculous. But Ban looked him over and then said "Allow me to present my companion, Maraichi. Maraichi, this is Dorian Red Gloria, the Earl of Gloria."

I put out a hand without standing up, since I was dressed to be a woman, and the Red Gloria person bowed a little and kissed it instead of shaking it. Then he shot me a look. His eyes were nice, but nothing like Ban's, and I knew he knew I wasn't one.

"Are you a friend of Ban's?" I wasn't sure I wanted him around, even if he was too old for Ban.

Then he said, "Major Eberbach, this is an old friend of mine, Jack Van Colan, and his companion Maraichi. I suspect you'll have business together this week."

Major Eberbach was dark-haired and cross-looking, and he spoke English perfectly but he wasn't English.

"... you're directing the German security team?" Ban wasn't quite as amused as he sounded, I think.

"The NATO team," said the Eberbach person. He wasn't trying to sound amused at all.

They did a little more fencing, and Ban was happier when he and Eberbach were both majors. Eberbach wasn't.

"And who chose this place?" asked the Red Gloria, tossing his head to let the curls wave. He watched to see if Jack noticed. "Was it a joke? Iceland and ice?"

"I don't think so," said Bancoran. He did notice the curls, I could see.

"Business later, darlings," said the Red Gloria. "I'm sure you'll have all kinds of time for those dreary details in the morning. I'm dying to hear what Jack's been doing all this time. How long has it been?"

"Years," said Bancoran. "Far too long, Dorian." He went off into an elaborate speech that didn't mean anything, but the Red Gloria understood. Ban waved one hand at me in a stay out of trouble sign, and the flick of his eyelids meant that I wasn't to interfere. He stood up, smiled again at Red Gloria and the two of them walked off.

Together.

Eberbach frowned after them, then looked at me and also bowed. "Miss Maraichi."

"I'm not," I said, to see if he'd notice the way Red Gloria had.

He thought about that for a moment. "What is it that you are not?" He was terribly stuffy in English, but he'd be stuffy in German, too, so I didn't try it. And some people can't see the fingerprints on a hand. "Not 'Miss,'" I said. "Just Maraichi. No surname."

The way he saw me didn't change. Some people can't see the fingers on a hand even when you're pointing, and I wasn't in any mood to go along with his fantasies, so I left.

It wouldn't hurt to check again on the hotel space where we'd be guarding Patalliro. His horrible Highness of Marinara could louse up anything in two minutes or less, and I wanted to look over my backups and escape routes, and Ban's, while I had the time and before the hotel people brought in the disposable furniture. The exhibit cases were in the display hall already. They were still empty, but the surveillance cameras were set up. The open ones were off but the hidden ones were live.

I looked around all the conference meeting rooms -- everything was locked, but what difference does that make? -- and those only had empty camera fittings so far. I didn't learn anything new, except that there were some very polite young men who said they were from NATO looking at them too. They had keys. They called me "Miss," and with polite young men it's fun to see if they'll flirt, so I tried. Neither of them would.

When the one who'd introduced himself first (he said he was Mr. Enn) gave me the look that meant he thought flirting would have been fun but he really, really couldn't afford it, just like the Tamanegi get. I remembered that they must be Major Eberbach's team. No wonder.

Before he could tell me I shouldn't be in these rooms and could he direct me somewhere, please, Miss, I said I was a liaison for MI6, for Colonel Sanders. It wasn't really a lie; that's what Ban was. Then he (and the other one, Mr. Elle) were surprised, but I told them I'd already checked the ceiling crawl space for them, before they could ask me for ID. Then they were busy staring at the ceiling panels and looking for a ladder.

I went out through the service corridor and back to the big hall where they'd have the ceremonial meetings. Patalliro would be making a speech here tomorrow. Oh, joy. At least he wouldn't arrive until tomorrow, and it was a public appearance so there'd be plenty of Tamanegi to keep track of him. If they could.

I didn't want to think about Bancoran and the Red Gloria. Ever since I'd met Ban six months ago, even before I left Larkin, he and I were partners. I couldn't live without him. He knew it. He wanted me. He kept me and he loved me. Everyone else was nothing special to him, and even if he hadn't said so, I'd have known it anyway. He didn't stay with them; he stayed with me.

What were they talking about?

I got back to the room Ban and I were staying in more than an hour later. If he had Red Gloria there, I didn't want to know... yes I did. I wouldn't kill him, because Ban wouldn't want me to, but I'd frighten him. If Ban had him in our bed.

Ban was alone, and there was no sign Red Gloria had even been in the room. Maybe it was true. Maybe there were just old friends.

"He's not here, Maraichi, my sweet," said Ban, putting down one of his cigarettes. "Did you really think he would be?"

"He's very pretty." I had to say that for Red Gloria. He was the most beautiful man I'd ever seen. Except Ban.

"So are you," he said, and looked at me, and I got hot.

"I'm..."

"You and I don't need anyone else. Not when we're alone."

"That's right," I said, looking back at him, knowing he wanted us in bed. It was all right, then. I wanted us in bed, too, if he was waiting for me.

He smiled at me, and I don't remember crossing the room before he was kissing me and undoing my clothes. I don't know where my hat had gone, but it was gone. He pulled his mouth back and smiled again, the same way, a smile from his eyes that he has when he wants me and we're going to do it right away. "Unbutton my shirt, my sweet." His fingers trailed up and down my chest, down to my prick and around it, teasing. He was going to play with me for a long time before we got down to fucking. Sometimes he'd make me hard and then we'd play games with touching each other until we couldn't stop. Just fucking was easier, but this made me feel better.

He always made me feel good. Nobody else did that.

He kissed me again and played with my hair while I helped undress him, and I ran my hands through his hair, feeling the long, cool smoothness of it. I leaned closer to rub my head and hair against his chest, letting it brush his cock. He chuckled. "I like your hair too, little firecracker." He fondled me, enough to make my prick pull upwards, and he chuckled again and moved to clear the hair away from both of us. He'd been speaking English, but now he said, lower, "Feuerwerke?"

"I don't know," I said. I could have remembered, maybe, but I didn't want to stop and think about it. I spoke English with Ban, mostly, except when I got mad and screamed at him, and I didn't like to remember that.

We played a little more, me with his hair and my hair, him catching me and letting me go, but then I was on my back, legs up and apart, and he was stroking me so that I'd be very hard when he came into me. I liked that. I clutched thick handfuls of the smooth hair where it was loose on the bed around me with him hot inside me, moving in my ass. He loved it. He loved me.

My prick got hotter and hotter until I couldn't keep still any more, and I made a noise. He stopped for a minute and smiled at me as he leaned on one arm and stroked me. I looked up into his eyes as I came on him, all over him. And he smiled.

No one else ever liked having me do that, except Ban.

# # #

"Did you learn anything?" asked the Major, and Dorian shrugged at him. It was exactly like the Major to expect a chance meeting with an old friend to produce useful information and nothing else.

"Did he say who the woman was?"

"Didn't you ask her yourself?" asked Dorian, sitting down on a Regency-striped sofa and examining the selection of liqueurs that Peters had provided for the trip. "Kirsch, Major? Brandy?" They were in Dorian's hotel suite, the Major having declined to invite Dorian into whatever facilities the conference provided for its NATO safe-guarders.

"Nothing, thank you," growled the Major, and ignored the first question. Either he hadn't learned anything or didn't want to pass on whatever Maraichi had told him. He'd have said something if he'd noticed Maraichi wasn't really a woman, but he must not have.

Business as usual with the Major. Dorian sighed and then smiled in spite of himself as the overripe-cherry flavor of kirsch caressed his nose. Klaus von dem Eberbach, sullen, long-limbed, and possessed of an arrogant Classic profile, was an infinite challenge. That was appropriate, as Dorian knew himself to be a pursuer with infinite patience and guile. Klaus even thought Eroica was here for the diamonds. In spite of all his resistance, it was only a matter of time until the Major fell into Dorian's waiting arms. Surely.

"Are you sure you don't want me to look over the conference security arrangements?" Dorian asked brightly. "I know you're understaffed for such a big place."

"Not at all. You," the Major pointed a long, irritated finger at Dorian from a safe distance, "are to remain under surveillance at all times, and away from all areas not open to the general conference members. You are not to touch the displays."

Dorian smiled up at him with undiminished brilliance. "You just don't trust me."

"Correct. Tomorrow, there will be opening ceremonies with various state dignitaries. You are not to interfere."

"What's Jack here for?"

"If he didn't tell you, I certainly will not."

"Well," said Dorian thoughtfully, swirling the clear kirsch in its glass to let the scent wash over him, "I know what he told me, but I don't know whether it's true."

"Anything he told you while you were flirting can hardly be trusted," said the Major without sympathy.

"Flirting?" asked Dorian, startled. He tried not to show it.

"I have no wish to know all about it. I merely observe that your behavior may often be described thus. Please do not explain the details, Lord Gloria."

"Then you don't want to know about Maraichi?" asked Dorian, wondering if Klaus could be made to miss a point so easily.

"Not if she is relevant to your relations with Major Van Colan."

Prudes, Dorian had long observed, had the dirtiest minds. "There's a great deal about Maraichi that I'm sure you don't appreciate, Major. I thought you wanted to know what Van Colan is doing at the conference here."

"I am interested in his professional role. Miss Maraichi is not likely to have anything to do with it."

Dorian smiled up at him again with deliberately lascivious intent. The Major might think it was for Jack and Maraichi, but it was directed squarely at Klaus. "Don't be too sure of that. There's more to Maraichi than meets the eye."

"I doubt it," said the Major.

"You don't know her."

"Of that I am glad."

On balance, Dorian thought he might be right, but not for long.

# # #

The gentlemen of the press were fewer in Iceland, Eberbach was glad to note, but they were by no means nonexistent. The conference's opening ceremonies had been set up with a solid wall behind the speakers' platform, an audience of the conference attendees in front of it, and a side section roped off for cameras and reporters. They and their lenses had already seen a preview of the diamond displays, and had been subjected to the overgrown infant monarch of Marinara in a near-hysterical speech (or rather, rant) about the metaphysical beauty of natural diamonds, which he insisted could, unlike the man-made variety, heal the sick, raise the dead, travel in time and render the ridiculous sublime. Eberbach was of the opinion that His Majesty of Marinara disproved the latter claim in himself. He suspected that the press shared his skepticism, from the relief with which they attended to President Finnbogadottir's quite dignified address on the new era of technological achievement to be brought about by advances in crystallography.

She was paying a rather wordy tribute to the traditions established by the University of Iceland, when a muffled sound reached Eberbach's ears that suggested trouble in the press section: an unexpected rustle of strained motion, a muted pop that might have been a silenced report, or the breaking of a bone within flesh... He wasted no time in closing in on it from the back of the hall.

King Patalliro was still on the platform, quiescent for the moment under the eyes of two of his ceremonial guards (Klaus suspected they were indeed better child-minders than bodyguards, even though that was exactly what Major Van Colan said about them), but he was eyeing the Icelandic president with a speculative interest entirely unsuitable between heads of state. Perhaps, Klaus thought, the child missed his mother, who by report did not live in Marinara. Professors Arnasson and Hansenn, seated on the platform as well, were ignoring Patalliro as best they could. At that moment Eberbach saw, among the forest of cameras in the press enclosure, Maraichi trapped in the arms of a man who might have passed for a reporter except for the largish firearm he carried.

In the eternal instants before he arrived there, Eberbach saw Maraichi, half the size of her armed assailant, struggle briefly, smile, and relax. The President went on speaking, oblivious and untouched. Major Van Colan, dark hair streaming behind and mouth moving in silent curses, arrived on a course opposite Major Eberbach's from the front of the hall. Maraichi remained standing; the would-be assassin wore a faintly surprised expression until he stopped breathing, shortly before Van Colan and Klaus reached Maraichi.

"Dead," said Klaus in a disgusted undertone. He couldn't shout in the crowded auditorium.

"Maraichi, we needed to know why he was here and who else is helping him," said the MI6 Major, chiding gently as if to a child.

"He was going to hurt someone," said Maraichi, voice soft but clear from under the unrestrained mass of hair.

"Is that why you killed him?" asked Eberbach. The adrenaline that flooded the moment must have sharpened his eyes, for now when he looked at Maraichi he saw with a shock that the dark-jumpsuited body was a young man's, not a woman's, despite the long red-gold curls. It should have been obvious. The slight figure disguised within the hair had wielded killing strength without hesitation and without, it appeared, any concern for the consequences to himself.

"I was faster," said Maraichi.

Klaus sent a horrified glare at Van Colan. What was he doing to have the boy here? The creature showed no remorse at all. "I didn't think you were supposed to be here," he said to the boy Maraichi.

"I'm with Ban." Maraichi's glance at Van Colan was all but beatific.

Van Colan said, "Maraichi is my partner. It is often advantageous not to advertise the fact."

Klaus glared again at the British agent, and then glared at Eroica who had, typically, already insinuated himself into the exact site where Klaus had too much to do already. The damned thief had been right about Maraichi, but Klaus hoped Eroica wouldn't insist on discussing it here and now. "Did Major Van Colan tell you to kill him?" Eberbach asked the boy.

Maraichi's eyes shifted once to Van Colan, and then he said "Yes."

"If you had to, Maraichi," said Van Colan.

"He was going to shoot something, with this." Maraichi showed them the assassin's weapon and its magazine. "I was busy getting it away from him and keeping him quiet and things moved too fast."

Pig of a man, thought Klaus, seeing the hollow-point ammunition.

"Ummm." Van Colan actually sounded thoughtful. The would-be assassin had evidently wanted a dramatic bloodletting. There was no indication that he'd have stopped with one victim, and it was not yet certain who on the platform had been his target.

"We wanted him alive," muttered Klaus.

Maraichi raised his eyes briefly to Major Eberbach's, solemn-faced as a penitent child. "I'm sorry."

The Major was glad to see that Eroica looked discomfited. There was, it seemed, something that could make the thief uncomfortable. He recalled that Eroica's methods were generally nonlethal, which was one reason Interpol hadn't pushed to catch him as hard as it could have, and should have. Perhaps he was actually squeamish. Interesting.

Security guards in three kinds of uniforms ringed them already. Maraichi and Van Colan were sharing a long glance, which Eberbach hoped was uncomfortable for Maraichi. He cleared his throat. "If Major Van Colan is prepared to take responsibility for his subordinate's action, we can commence investigating this incident."

Van Colan nodded with a ripple of ebon hair. "Maraichi and I maintain King Patalliro's security on occasions like this. That explains his actions, I think. He will continue to do so." Maraichi said nothing. "And we will discover what we can." An elegant nod indicated the body at Maraichi's feet.

"What should I do with it?" asked Maraichi.

"Leave it here," said Eberbach.

Van Colan shifted and frowned, and then relaxed. "Let me consult with the NATO team, Maraichi."

"But, if Van Colan needs you, I want to be able to find you," added Eberbach.

"He'll be with me," said Eroica, and Klaus bridled automatically at the interference, but a moment's reflection told him it might keep both of them out of trouble.

"I'll have Agent N back you up," he said, to let Eroica know he'd be watched. "I will need to speak to Herr Maraichi again later."

# # #

I took out the target while it was trying to do two things at once, and by then Eberbach-from-NATO and Ban were both there, but I didn't think they were going to complain. Much. Red Gloria was pretending to be part of the crowd, but when Eberbach moved, he did too. He slid over behind a pillar into the roped-off press section and looked at me. I shrugged and lost the balance of the target; it stopped being balanced to be upright. Shit. And they're always harder to pick up when they're dead.

I saw Red Gloria look carefully at the dead target and turn a little paler. He was with Eberbach, so didn't he know how it was? Then he looked at me. I shrugged. It had been a target, no one I knew. Targets aren't.

"Maraichi, we needed to know why he was here and who else is helping him," said Bancoran to me.

Just for a second there had been a chance I wouldn't stop the target in time, and I'd been in a hurry, but I didn't want him to know it. "He was going to hurt someone," I said.

"Is that why you killed him?" asked Major Eberbach, very calmly, very professionally.

"I was faster," I said, watching Ban to see what he'd do. Eberbach looked at Bancoran as well and then back at me, and this time he did see me. "I'm with Ban," I said, trying to be patient. "He told you." And Bancoran told him again.

"Major..." said Red Gloria, as though he wanted to say a lot more.

"Lord Gloria," said Eberbach's voice, "you're in the way. Herr Maraichi, did Major Van Colan tell you to kill him?"

"Yes," I said. Ban hadn't told me not to kill him, and it amounted to the same thing.

"Only if you had to, Maraichi," said Ban, but he knew I'd had to or I wouldn't have done it.

I showed them the target's very nasty ammunition, and Eberbach said, "We wanted him alive," of course, but he hadn't liked the hardware any more than I had. I like things quiet. For killing, anyway.

Ban caught my eye, and I knew he understood, but he was going to have to handle the civilians. And Major Eberbach.

"What should I do with him?" I glanced down at the target, which looked a bit more dead now, softer, duller... They don't go chalky or stiff right away, but there's something that fades out slowly after they stop breathing. Maybe it's some kind of electricity, like in Frankenstein.

"Leave it here." He jerked his head to show that he wanted me to go away.

Ban didn't like it, but after they'd stopped talking he nodded at me and made the get out signal with his fingers, that I should go with the Red Gloria, so both of us walked out while the Iceland police and the Tamanegi and the hotel guards mostly watched Ban and Major Eberbach and the dead target. Even one of the nice young men from last night, who saw it was me, didn't want to believe it.

"Do you have to do anything about Patalliro's security right away?" asked Red Gloria when we were in a corridor that led to the hotel's lobby.

"Oh, no, the Tamanegi can keep him quiet." Although they usually can't. "Ban just meant that I'm really his partner."

"His working partner?" He was looking at me again.

I kept on with the style of English Ban liked me to use, since Red Gloria used it too. "Did you perhaps think I was merely his companion?"

He frowned. "You're right, I did think it. And how did you learn to do that?" He nodded back toward the hall and the dead target.

"Survival school," I said.

"Jack taught you?"

"Not Ban, but somebody like him."

His eyebrows flew up. "You seem to have had an eventful life."

Was that supposed to mean something? I said, "You might say so," which usually kept civilians happy.

"Come and talk to me," he said. "That is, if you want to, Maraichi. Major Eberbach is going to be busy, and I don't want to drink alone."

"I don't drink... wine," I said, which always gets people to laugh. Actually wine just tastes sour, and Ban says it's bad for me anyway. He'll let me have a little whisky instead, but that tastes worse.

"I," he said, "drink brandy and soda without the soda. Would you like something to eat?"

"I want a steak," I said.

"Wooden?" he asked, but he didn't laugh or even smile.

"Beef," I said. "Prime rib would be nice."

"Come along then, darling," he said, "and you shall have all the steak you can eat, and I shall have brandy and... You're frowning. Would you rather have something else?"

"I'm not your darling. I'm Ban's assistant."

"Oh, of course," he said. "I can see that. I call everybody "Darling," you know, even the Major. Major Eberbach. Does Jack often send you away like that?"

He'd seen it, then. "When he's talking to civilian police, he will."

"'Civilian police'?" We turned a corner that led to the hotel's restaurant, which was decent for Iceland, Ban said. Red Gloria put a hand on my shoulder and then took it away when I looked at him.

"Like you. People who are surprised at dead bodies."

"I do prefer live bodies, darling. I was ever so surprised."

The restaurant was open. The maitre d' shrugged at us, but he seated us after Red Gloria tipped him. Ban always does it like that too. I ordered prime rib, rare, and coffee and ice cream, and Red Gloria had a brandy and, he said for appearances, an omelet.

When the waiter had brought the brandy, he sat back and looked at me. With the way he dressed and the hair, he was too easy to be sure of as gay. It was so obvious that it seemed like a cover; he was a little too offhand about it. And he was with the straight-ass Major Eberbach.

Now, from the way he looked at me, he really was gay, but it was still too offhand. Weird.

Ban had sent me out with him, and if he got to be a nuisance, Ban would take care of him. Ban had been careful to explain, early on, that I wasn't to hurt men who tried to chat me up unless it went a lot further than chatting. So I didn't hurt the Red Gloria. Yet.

"Maraichi... ah, would you rather be called something else?"

"No."

He drank about half of the brandy. "You're accustomed to dead bodies." He said, and then, "You did kill him?"

"Sure," I said. That wasn't a secret. Well, not to him. He'd seen it. He was with the NATO Major. Maybe it was the NATO Major who was too straight to be real. But he'd hardly looked at me, and they always did. He hardly looked at Red Gloria either, as far as I'd noticed.

"And you do live with Jack?"

That part of it was tricky, depending on who asked. As long as he just said live with, it was okay for me to answer. "Yes."

"Do you like it, darling?"

"Oh, yes!"

"Even the sex?" he asked, in the same tone.

"What-- Excuse me, what do you mean?"

"Do you like having Jack fuck you?" he said calmly, and not as if he cared whether the answer was yes or no. "Oh, and I'm not interested for myself, really, darling. Not even before that dead body. I just want to check up on Jack. Jack was a friend of mine. I'm not sure what he is now."

"Check up how?" I wasn't sure what he wanted to know. Ban and I... I didn't have to tell him anything, did I?

"I used to know Jack." He shrugged.

He was old, over twenty. "Ban doesn't want you!" I said. "He wouldn't touch you."

He leaned his head to one side and pulled at one of his curls. Mine were longer. "Not now," he agreed. "You've no worries, I think. None from me, at any rate."

"Don't even try again."

"I won't," he said, smiling. I wanted to hit him. "Maraichi, I did stay with Jack for a while, when I was younger. I daresay he likes you more than he ever did me, but do you like him?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

I wished he wouldn't ask questions like that. "I don't have to tell you."

"You don't have to. But you can, if you like. Are you afraid Ban wouldn't want for you to talk to me?"

"It's not your business," I said. And Ban wouldn't like it, even if he knew Red Gloria. But if Red Gloria had been with him, he'd know things about Ban already. "Were you his... boy?" He pulled at the curl and nodded. "Did you like it?"

"At the time, very much."

"Having him fu..." I couldn't say the words, to him. My face felt stiff and hot. I'd never really talked about it to anyone before. With Ban, there didn't have to be much talking.

But he nodded, not noticing in the low restaurant light. "I don't even know why I wanted him, but I did." He shrugged at me across the table. "I've someone else I want now."

"When did he leave you?"

"Ah..." He picked up his glass and put it down, looked around and saw that the waiter was bringing a tray. "It was a long time ago, darling. You suit him much better, I imagine."

The waiter brought our plates and food, and more brandy for him, and a sweet soda for me. I don't care what people say, I like it better than the bitter-flavored soda they put in drinks.

When we were alone again, he said, "I left him after two months of totally electrifying fucking. I loved it. I couldn't stand it. I wanted it, but if I let him undress me once more time, I was going to kill him. I didn't know what was wrong, or even what was right."

"He'd have killed you first," I said. That was the only part of it that I could answer at all.

"No, he was quite decent about it really. Laughed and told me I was a fool and kissed me goodby. I believed it about being a fool, until I got home and went to bed alone."

"He'd have killed you if you'd tried to kill him," I explained.

"Oh. No doubt. But I didn't, did I?" He looked up suddenly and his eyes went wide. He was remembering the dead target. "Could you?"

"I almost did, twice."

"What?" He stared for a second. "But you're here, with him... he trusts you... He's not a fool. He'd never work with you if he didn't trust you."

"He does now," I said. I cut another bite with the bad dull knife they give you for food. "I first met him when I was sent to assassinate him."

"And he convinced you otherwise?" he asked.

"Something like that." I wasn't about to tell him I'd actually missed a target twice in a row. "He knows what I can do."

"How did all that come about?"

I shrugged.

"And now you're with him. Are you happy?"

"Yes." Ban was better than Larkin. Much better. He made me forget everything else when we were in bed. Fucking... there was more to it than just that. Ban was mine. "He loves me."

"And you love him," he said. "A good many people would think you're too young for it." He looked at me. "People told me the same thing, when I was younger."

I'd eaten all the meat, so I put down the fork and knife. "What do you think?"

He looked at his brandy and motioned so that a waiter appeared. "Coffee, please. And I think the young gentleman is ready for his."

I nodded, and when it was brought I added a little cream and a lot of sugar to the cup. The ice cream was a sculpted flower, too hard to eat yet. "M'lord Red Gloria? Why are you talking to me like this? Do you think I'm too young?"

"Too young for what?"

"You know. For Ban."

He raised his eyebrows. "I knew Jack, too. Biblically, as they say. And he wasn't the first. It was interesting, I'll say that. I have no business, as I'm sure you'd remind me, to forbid you or allow you anything at all."

"No, you don't. So why are you talking to me?"

"For the pleasure of your company," he said, which was no answer. He shrugged. "Maraichi, if you're old enough to decide to stay with Jack, you're old enough to talk to me at dinner. Did you say you liked horror movies?"

I tried slicing a bit from the ice cream with my fork, and broke off a petal. "Patalliro likes them, so I see them sometimes. I like vampire movies more than the others. They're funny."

"Ah. So they are. Did you ever see the live play with the Gorey sets? I thought that was funny."

Gory? Vampire movies didn't usually have much blood. Not as much as real people, anyway. "How was it?"

He sipped coffee. "Very much a parody, full of period jokes. It had the 'never drink wine' line, and the Dracula actually did make it funny."

"Isn't it funny?"

"Oh, when you say it, it's a reference, and I know what you mean, and we laugh together. But when Dracula says it, he has to mean it somehow, doesn't he?"

"He means... He's making a joke, isn't he?"

"He's stating a preference," he said, shrugging, and looked at me. "Or perhaps merely a fact. Is that funny?"

# # #

Dorian had met King Patalliro earlier in the day, so he caught the note of resignation when Maraichi said, "I'd invite you to come with me and amuse Patalliro, except that he'd be too amused and you wouldn't be. Unless you really think it would be fun?" he added hopefully.

"I'm afraid I agree with you, darling," said Dorian. "Being groped by that little madman of a king is too much to handle on short notice. And I'm sorry, but I have some friends I've promised to see this afternoon, if Major Eberbach doesn't think of some way to lock me up."

"Why would he do that?" A conspiratorial grin, heartbreaking on the fey, young face. "What have you really done?"

"Nothing worth admitting," said Dorian, and wished that it weren't as true as it was. "I'll walk you up to King Patalliro's floor, if that's where you're going. I said I'd take care of you, you know."

"I don't need taking care of!"

"Manifestly not," said Dorian, and remembered one last time the utter slackness of the man fallen at Maraichi's feet, and Maraichi's bright unconcern. "However, Major Eberbach will want someone like Mr. N to do it if I don't, and I'm much better-looking. Perhaps you'd rather be seen with me."

Maraichi gave that an instant's consideration. "Perhaps you want to be seen with me?" he asked. It was impossible to tell if he was serious.

"I have no objections," said Dorian gravely, and settled the check with a flourish of his room key, a transaction Maraichi didn't appear to notice at all.

He delivered the boy to a penthouse full of identically-masked Tamanegi guards, who were pleased, or at least relieved, to see him. The unmistakable voice of the monarch sounded from inside, rampaging. In dactylic doggerel. Dorian left hastily.

The majors, Eberbach and Van Colan, had left messages for Dorian and were not to be disturbed from their pursuit of the dead gunman's antecedents for anything short of the appearance of a similar, but live, gunman. Jack's note said, "Tell Maraichi anything you like and believe everything he says." Eberbach's said, merely, "Whatever you're thinking of, DON'T."

Dorian folded the slips of paper thoughtfully and wandered off in search of diversion. The crystallographers' conference had been declared ready to proceed on schedule, it seemed. Attendees in an academic's idea of business attire scurried and clumped in the halls and formed themselves into solid arrays in the conference rooms. Dorian found Erdert and David, as he expected, in the meeting room scheduled for the session on Impurities In Catalytic Processes at Ultrahigh Temperatures.

Dorian slid into a seat beside Erdert, while David fidgeted just beyond. "His paper's tomorrow morning," Erdert said in a whisper, through the speaker's drone of chemical formulae at 3000C and up. "Don't disturb him 'til after that. What's this security bother about? Did you see it?"

Dorian blinked. "Not a thing," he said. "I was just having lunch with an acquaintance."

Even the display halls were open, Dorian found when the round of papers on producing colored diamonds was over. The papers all meant pretty much the same to Dorian: Mother Nature had done it first, but She wasn't much on quality control.

"Jules Arunha has had this idea about crystal impurities forever," said Erdert, while David brooded at sparkling cut gems and cloudy lumps of uncut stone. "Dave says. But, who'd want to make bad diamonds that big? That cost that much, too? Now if the rumors're right, Arnasson has an end run 'round the conversion costs."

"And what if he does?" asked Dorian. "Will you be out of business?"

The best gem-cutter in Belgium (or so he liked to say) shook his head. "Not at all. The trade people are tearing their hair, and I suppose there will be a few headaches, but it's the ineffabilities that are being threatened."

"Mmmm?"

"The unwritten prestige of the stones. If we can cook them up to order instead of having to find them inside some mountain, the whole scarcity-rarity-uniqueness line of selling goes out the window."

"Aha."

"They won't be cheap, of course. That's not the problem," said Erdert. "Might even be more expensive, for large gem-quality stones. Thing is, it'd be possible to make them to order. Chemistry is an exact science. Even big, pretty diamonds will be pricey, instead of priceless, if Arnasson knows what he's talking about."

"Have you talked with him, then?"

I read his paper," said Erdert. "Not sure I got it right way up, though."

"I did, twice," said David, from contemplation of a lump of perfectly ordinary quartz. Dorian supposed it was the "before" exhibit. "He might know what he's talking about."

They were interrupted by a trio of extremely pretty young men in lavender jumpsuits, who were moving from case to case among the displays, pointing and giggling at anything that struck their fancy, which seemed to be anything over 20 carats.

"Where did those beauties come from?" inquired Erdert. "They're not students, surely?"

David studied the nearest one for a moment. "I doubt it. And don't let me catch you trying to teach one of them anything, Erde."

Erdert raised his hands in mock-surrender. "Not guilty as charged. Not even in intent. But as long as we're in the middle of a candy shop, I plan to look. Okay?"

"Agreed," said David, peaceably. "In fact, if this is what Icelandic natives are like, we may have to come live here."

"I think," said Dorian, "they must be Marinaran."

"Was one of them your 'acquaintance?'"

"Could be," said Dorian. "See you later, lads. Don't wait up."

He left David and Erdert gaping behind him and went up to the trio. "Gentlemen, may I join you? I believe we've met. At the Marinaran royal suite."

Three pairs of enormous turquoise eyes looked him over with caution that was only incidentally amorous. The silver-haired one nodded. "Lord Gloria, right?" The pink-haired one giggled, a peculiarly penetrating giggle that Dorian recalled from the greetings between Maraichi and the Tamanegi.

"I'm glad to meet you properly," said Dorian. "Didn't I hear Maraichi call you Iris?"

"That's me, but we're not supposed to have names when we're in uniform," said the black-haired one.

"But Maraichi doesn't care," finished Pink-hair. "I'm Petunia, and that's Bobo. Do come and tell us which are the real diamonds and which are artificial."

"Patalliro said he'd kick us downstairs if we couldn't tell," said Iris.

"I'm Dorian," said Dorian gravely, and put an arm each around two lavender waists. "Let us read the exhibit notices together, so you can tell King Patalliro what he wants to hear."

# # #

Later Dorian knocked, hopefully, at the door of the suite Major Eberbach had taken over as security headquarters. It was near Dorian's hotel room, after all, and the Major had told him that he was to stay under NATO observation. Hadn't he?

A harried-looking Mr. M opened the door and let him in, but none of the NATO agents seemed inclined to tell him anything until an irritated brunet head appeared from behind a sheaf of crisp paper. "Eroica," ordered the Major. "You shouldn't be in here, but that doesn't matter just now. I want to talk to you."

"At last! I've been talking to everyone else," smiled Dorian.

"We know. If you've another date with Major Van Colan, he'll have to cancel it. He's been called back for the evening by the Marinaran king."

"Oh, I'm not worried about Jack," said Dorian sweetly.

The Major gestured him away from the Alphabet agents and into a room which in its former life had been intended as a bedroom and still contained a gadget-cluttered bed along with two cluttered tables and four paper-stacked chairs. "Is this your room?" inquired Dorian, interested.

"No. You've been keeping up with all those..." the Major grimaced.

"Pretty boys," said Dorian, sweetly. "One must do something to while away the time." He batted his eyelashes at the Major.

The Major ignored it. "I'm not sure I like this."

Dorian focused on the papers still in Eberbach's hand. One of the machines littering the room was a portable teletype receiver. "Is that the NATO file on Jack?"

"And his assistant."

"Maraichi? Oh, good. I hope you know more about him by now. What does that say?"

"This is ridiculous. Preposterous." Klaus sounded baffled and unhappy. Why wasn't he angry? How angry was he?

Dorian watched him and answered, "Probably. Jack's preposterous, I should think. I'm just surprised you don't take to him, the way you both love things that shoot and things that go fast and things that explode."

"He's disgusting, but he's very capable," said the Major, almost absently. "It's the other one, who calls himself Maraichi."

"Yes?"

"He has no business with Major Van Colan. As assistant or in any other capacity."

"Does he have a criminal record? And I did wonder what MI6 was doing with someone who doesn't really seem to be British. What's the problem?"

"Most of his record isn't available." The Major still sounded more stupefied than angry at being balked.

"But you do think he's a man now, don't you?"

"Not precisely," said the Major.

"Well?"

"He's a minor."

"Is that all? I could have told you... Well, I assumed he was fairly young. Just look at him, for pity's sake!"

"He's... disturbing."

"Hmm, that bad, darling?" Dorian cooed. Having Klaus admit to being disturbed by anything was an achievement of sorts, although Maraichi's artless acceptance of the principle that Jack Van Colan was God came close to disturbing Dorian as well. If Klaus hadn't picked up on the sexual side of the relationship, Dorian hoped whatever dossier he'd been sent hadn't mentioned it either.

"It's very disturbing," said Major Eberbach with total absence of his usual shouting and blustering of displeasure. "Am I right in thinking the boy is Major Van Colan's bedmate?"

Dorian regarded him with irritation, which was mostly real. "Why ask me?"

"Because you would know."

"You're right there, darling. I do know, though I'm not sure I can explain it." Dorian couldn't remember ever feeling lust for someone less than eighteen, even when he'd been considerably below that age. All the glamour and attraction of sex was in its connection with adults, not youth.

"Eroica. I am perfectly capable of comprehending the words 'homosexual illegal relationship,' which evidently describe the case. Have you anything to add?"

"Illegal where? English law is really very unrealistic..."

"The boy is fourteen years old, Eroica."

"Hmmm." Dorian had taken Maraichi for sixteen, or thereabouts, and that very odd luncheon hadn't been the moment to ask for specifics. "May I see?"

"Here." Eberbach all but threw the sheets at him, and Dorian caught them in midair.

"What makes you think they're lovers?"

"I don't know what to think," said the Major, picking up a lit cigarette from a well-filled ashtray. "I do not usually concern myself with such trivia. When Maraichi killed that man and Major Van Colan sanctioned it, however, their relationship became of interest."

"You wanted to know where Maraichi stood in the scheme of things." Dorian nodded. "So do I." He sorted through the papers and sat down to read.

# # #

Early the next day Dorian heard David's paper in the Mineralogy For The Future session, while Erdert beside him fidgeted nervously. He also visibly refrained from asking what, if anything, Dorian had been up to with three lovely young men since dinner yesterday. Dorian hadn't the heart to tell him that Iris, Bobo and Petunia had retired to their duties as child-minders and that he had retired to his chaste bed to dream of a wire rope who wouldn't look at him twice.

He wondered if he could manage to steal something from the exhibits even through the Major's security. He'd almost dropped that notion when Klaus, breathing fire, had made him a speech about "taking shiny things that don't belong to you, Lord Gloria, like some kind of stupid magpie." Klaus looked so... enlivening, as a fire-eater, that Dorian was inclined to let the jewelry slide this time, just to encourage him to do it more often.

It wasn't as though he needed a necklace of yellow-green diamonds larger than anyone else's in the world, although it would be a stunning addition to the green palazzo ensemble. Yes, of course he needed it. And the diamonds were right here, under no more than nominal lock and key. And if the Major was going to spend his meager off-duty time bewailing the admittedly shocking facts of the life of one Hesper Marie Aixs, currently called Maraichi, Dorian felt he might re-evaluate his own goals on this trip. If so many of the Major's agents were busy tracking down a would-be assassin now deceased, perhaps fewer were watching the monitors on the display hall.

After David had finished, and was congratulated, and two curious colleagues were promised copies of the paper, and everyone had had a drink before dashing off to the Crystallography For The Future session (wherein the papers by the deadly rivals of David's mineralogical faction were to be presented), Dorian decided not to re-tour the displays. He wanted to check whether agents K, L, M and N had better things to do than provide live security for a lot of dead stones. The Major had a very predictable sense of priorities: give him a manhunt, and he'd ignore the inanimate objects.

The Alphabet agents, however, were busy making sure the display hall was thoroughly surveilled, perhaps to prevent further assassination attempts there among the conference guests. Oh, well, later, thought Dorian. "Isn't the Major here?" he asked plaintively, hoping for another conference with his uncaring but intriguing beloved.

"Yes, Dorian?" asked Jack's voice out of the equipment-strewn bedroom. He appeared in its doorway wearing a grin like a crescent moon. "You want your German friend, I take it." The smiled widened. "I've sent him to talk to Maraichi, since he wants to so very much."

"Why did you do that? Maraichi is no match for Major Eberbach."

"Don't bet on it," advised Van Colan. "The Major became somewhat offensive to me, and it would be poor diplomacy to tell him what I think, so I'll let Maraichi do it."

"You're a devious bastard."

"Thank you. It serves me well." He smiled again, or rather, had not really stopped. Dorian wondered if Jack had been quite so devious, or so reprobate, six years earlier. It hadn't seemed so at the time.

"I don't suppose I could coax you to tell me what you've learned about the deceased gunman from yesterday morning, could I?"

Jack did not stop smiling. "No, Dorian, you could not. Your German major made it very clear that I was not to do any such thing."

"Offensive, was he?" inquired Dorian, hope flaring. "About me?"

"Very."

"I'm flattered." Dorian backed out of the suite, suspecting from the quality of Jack's smile that Jack knew, aggravatingly, how much Dorian hoped in spite of the little ground for hope there was.

On a hunch he made his way to Jack's and Maraichi's room. It was one place Maraichi might be, and after a face-off between him and Klaus, one or both of the parties might need first aid. It was, if nothing else, the most promising entertainment available.

The room's door was enticingly ajar. Dorian listened to the sounds of shouting in German, not able to hear quite all of it but not able to avoid picking up the occasional word, given the volume at which the screaming argument was being conducted. It had to happen sooner or later, he told himself: Major Eberbach and Maraichi, being the opposites they so obviously were -- or wanted to be -- would have to express their differences sometime. It appeared to be now.

An escalating series of negatives... probably they were negatives... in Maraichi's alto was matched by baritone counterpoint from the Major. A pause for a muffled sentence or two. Now it was the deeper voice's turn to scream negation, with a few expletives thrown in. Maraichi had switched to Italian by the tone of the next stream of expletives. Dorian wondered what other languages Maraichi might know.

The clear Italian endings did not change, except for one final spit-out word that Dorian didn't recognize in any language. By the sound of it Klaus did, and didn't like it. Yes, the alto voice was going on at length about something or other, mixing languages, to strangled retorts by the baritone. Was Klaus cooling down or actually outclassed in invective?

There was a crash as of glass against a wall, and the Major's voice rose once more, dismissively. The door was flung open and Major Eberbach came out, with a final remark to the effect that naughty little boys should be afraid of their parents' sorrow.

Maraichi's screeched retort was cut off when Eberbach slammed the door and turned to find Dorian's eyes on him.

"Having fun?" ventured Dorian.

"What are you doing here?"

"I was passing by and heard the fireworks. If you really made Maraichi angry, you're lucky you got out alive."

"Major Van Colan told him to stay in that room. He'll stay." He sounded angry with both of them.

Dorian almost understood why. "Jack certainly expects to be obeyed. And one tends to do it, too. I remember... never mind."

The Major gave him a look of uncomprehending disgust. "Eroica, your presence here is a violation of privacy and common courtesy."

"Piffle, darling. I'm not the one screaming like a hyena in heat." He watched as Klaus, color already high, bared his teeth for an instant. "And what are you doing here?"

"Nothing I wanted to!"

"Hmmm, at a guess... Jack asked you to go there and you found Maraichi and one of you had a snit and the other one caught it."

Retreating stiffly up the corridor, the Major motioned Dorian ahead of him. "I've work to do."

"Your wish is my command, darling."

The Major's thunderous face did not lighten. "He is... obscene."

"I heard that much, darling." At Klaus's frown, Dorian hurriedly added, "That is, I could guess that much from the sound."

"What did you hear!?"

"Shouting," said Dorian blandly. "Did he insult you?"

"He is not in a position to insult me. His opinions are not valid."

"Does that mean someone might have the authority to insult you?" inquired Dorian, fascinated.

"Not you, thief!"

"Piffle, but let's say it's someone else. Major Van Colan, perhaps."

"His opinions are not valid either. Pervert!"

"Me or him, darling?"

"Both of you. And Herr Aixs as well." The hotel corridor had nothing satisfactory to kick, so the Major turned and glared at Dorian full-force for a moment.

"I don't think he'd have propositioned you," said Dorian cautiously. "Nor would Jack. So just what are you talking about?"

"He is not rational."

"How long did it take you to see that?"

"Eroica..." The Major's voice was shocked as well as angry. "Eroica, he's a boy of fourteen. He ought to be in school."

"I know."

"Not trailing around the underworld making eyes at an MI6 idiot."

"Or vice versa?" suggested Dorian.

"That also," said the Major, lower. "Can we refrain from discussing it in a public hotel hallway? I must return to my station."

"I'm sure you must. Perhaps we can have a drink later."

"No!"

"Are you sure? Would you rather have one with Jack? Or would you rather I do?"

"Don't you--" The Major stood for a moment, breathing.

"I think it's a lovely idea."

"Don't be ridiculous." Then the Major laughed harshly. "On the other hand, why not? There is nothing else left, here. I may as well drink with the perverts who have manners instead of with those who do not." He glanced at Dorian and away, his uncertain eyes not matching the angry voice.

"Klaus?" ventured Dorian, nonplused.

"I have a mission to perform, with my agents and the help of Major Van Colan," said Eberbach, "and I must bring his unhealthy Turkish cigarettes to him before he smokes the rest of mine, even while he complains of their lack of taste."

"I always did like those..."

"What?"

"Never mind," said Dorian.

"Was it he who taught you to smoke?" asked the Major in a tone of unhappy discovery.

Dorian shrugged. "He demonstrated the attraction. And those filtered things of yours are pretty bland, if one's going to poison oneself in the first place."

"Let us not discuss it, Eroica."

"I won't if you won't."

"Agreed." They walked in silence. How did Klaus see Jack? Was it different from how he saw Eroica? What difference might it make to him?

Klaus probably didn't even know the answers to those questions. Dorian asked, "Have you found out anything about the dead man yet? Was he really trying to kill King Patalliro?"

"We don't know that," said the Major, sharply. "Probably not, even though the young king has a number of enemies. It is more likely that some faction wants to silence Hansenn and Arnasson."

"The inventors?" Dorian had learned that much from David and the buzz at the paper-presentation sessions. "That sounds like someone has Ingram on his side." He was thinking out loud now. "One way or another. Is there any evidence that Ingram's doing this for himself, or is someone else using him?"

The Major barked, "What do you know about Ingram?"

"Only what's going around, darling. He knows that process everyone's on about, that's all."

"How do you know that?"

"Really, darling, everyone at the conference knows that. I heard it in conversation. I've very good hearing, you know."

"I know," said the Major, back to merely irritated.

"What I wonder is whether Ingram wouldn't care for a spot of rescuing just now," said Dorian. "If he's not doing this for himself, someone else is likely to be using him, and he might not be all that keen on being used. He might have cause to be grateful to a handsome NATO agent who snatches him out of durance vile." He cast a roguish glance at Klaus for dramatic emphasis.

"And supposing he did send that would-be assassin himself?"

"Then you'd have him in custody, wouldn't you?"

The Major scowled. "You reason far too well, for a pervert. I don't suppose the common knowledge among the conference attendees includes just where Ingram might be?"

"Not quite." Dorian let a little uncertainty linger in his tone.

"Of course not," said the Major, and Dorian recalled too late that the hotel was full of conference attendees who might know a great deal more about Ingram than he did. "I cannot let you participate in this investigation," said the Major, "for several reasons."

"You always say that."

"I mean it."

"You always mean it, too. Until something comes up."

"Just leave me alone, Eroica. And try to behave yourself. If you don't, I am sure you know, you will regret it."

They had reached the elevators and one was, miraculously, just arriving. "Yes, Major," said Dorian. "I'll be good. I'm always good."

The Major sighed as he boarded the car. "That's what you always say. Why do I not believe you?"

Dorian grinned. "You don't even have a basis for comparison." Before that could sink in, he nodded and watched the doors close on the Major's uncomprehending expression. Then he went back to Maraichi's room.

His knock produced a pregnant silence. "Maraichi? It's Dorian Red Gloria. Are you there?"

The door opened a crack. "Are you with him?"

"Not at the moment, darling. He's gone back to work. Jack sent me up to see if you needed anything." Dorian realized that he might even be telling the truth. Jack, devious bastard that he was, might well be relying on Dorian's reaction to the knowledge that Eberbach and Maraichi had been set up for a confrontation.

"Hah." But the door swung open.

Dorian entered. The hotel room looked like a large hotel room and nothing more. "I didn't know you spoke German." This room had nothing of Regency delicacy about it; the tone was Victorian, overstuffed and dark.

"I was German," said Maraichi, throwing himself into a deep-red velvet chair that clashed with his hair, leaving the matching sofa for Dorian.

"You were?" The sofa was comfortable, at least. "When?"

"Before. I'm with Ban, now."

"I see. Tell me, did the Major... Eberbach... say anything unforgivable?"

"Why do you want to know?"

"I'm his friend. I don't want you to kill him." It was the most direct reasoning Dorian could think of. Maraichi seemed to appreciate directness.

"I won't," said Maraichi, surprised. "He's not a target." He flashed Dorian a look from dark, suspicious eyes. "Do you really think I'd do that?"

"I know you're able to," said Dorian, carefully.

The dark eyes in the fair face continued to stare at him. "Are you afraid of me?"

"I'm sure a lot of people should be afraid of you," said Dorian. "Maybe even Major Eberbach. He made you very angry."

"He didn't come within reach. He knew enough not to."

"That wouldn't stop you, if you were supposed to kill him."

"No," said Maraichi. "It wouldn't." Dorian noted an odd intensity in the wallpaper pattern near his seat, directly opposite Maraichi in the chair, and realized that part of the figuration had been neatly embellished with deep, slotted holes. As if from a thrown knife. Not one was out of place. "I'm not supposed to hurt anyone Ban doesn't tell me to. Unless it's an emergency. Being angry isn't enough."

"I'm glad to hear it. Will you promise me that you won't hurt Major Eberbach?"

The young face looked confused. "What if Ban tells me to?"

"He won't."

"You don't know that."

At least the boy had only the one blind spot. So far. "Will you promise me that, unless Major Van Colan orders you to, you won't hurt Major Eberbach?"

Maraichi sat perfectly still. "To please you?"

"It would please me, but I am asking you because... for Major Eberbach's sake, not mine."

"It's still you who's asking," Maraichi pointed out.

"Very well. I ask it for myself. Not because I want you to please me, but because I want Major Eberbach alive."

"You want to keep him alive," said Maraichi, and smiled knowingly at Dorian. "Why?"

Dorian almost said, "A whim," but Maraichi was not a negotiator who would allow for whimsy. "Because I love him."

"He's not..."

"We're not lovers," said Dorian steadily, "in the way that you and Jack are." Never in the way you and Jack are. "But I love him and I want him safe."

Maraichi took that in. "You want him, though."

"That's part of it. I can hope he'll change his mind. And I'm his friend now, even without being lovers."

"Are you my friend?"

"I don't want the same things from you I want from him. You're not the same person he is. But I think you're worth being a friend to."

"Not because of Bancoran?"

"Nothing to do with him," said Dorian. "Nothing at all. I want your word, about your own decisions. I understand that you're bound to obey Major Van Colan. For yourself, when you can act as you choose, will you promise me what I've asked?"

Maraichi sat, orange curls spilling over his white-and-black patterned tunic, eyes on the wallpaper pattern behind Dorian. "Yes," he said suddenly. "I promise."

"Thank you." Dorian sat back. Any danger to Eberbach had been slight, he hoped, but he had wanted to see if Maraichi could acknowledge an obligation to someone other than Van Colan. "Do you want company, or would you rather I left?"

"Stay and talk to me. Maybe you know something."

"Lots of things," said Dorian, smiling.

"Do you know my old name?"

Honesty. One had to start somewhere. The boy's life might have contained honesty of sorts, sometime, but odds were that not even Jack had ever dealt with him as a self-sufficient being. And even if that didn't bother Maraichi, he could spot an evasion as fast as anyone Dorian had ever seen. "Yes, I've seen it."

"Where?"

"It was in the MI6 dossier they let Major Eberbach see. That goes back as far as your pairing with Jack."

"Did Major Eberbach show it to you?"

"Yes. I wanted to see it. You surprised me, you know. You're a surprising person. I was curious."

"Who else saw it?"

"A clerk at MI6 probably saw it. None of Eberbach's other agents here did."

"Tell him..." Maraichi shook his head, distracted. "Please tell him not to use that name. I don't like it."

"You don't have to answer this," said Dorian, "but why not? Do you dislike your family? Did you leave them on purpose?"

"They don't want me. Ban wants me."

"They asked for you to come home, when MI6 notified them Major Van Colan had found you. Surely you knew that?"

Maraichi pushed both hands through his hair, shaking his head again. "They didn't mean it."

"How do you know?"

"They didn't want me to come home. They wanted to send me away to school. Not with Ban. I wouldn't let them take me away from him."

"Did Jack say that?"

"Colonel Sanders said that. They wanted to keep me away from Ban. There was a big scene, twice. And then they gave me back to him."

Before Dorian could say anything more, Maraichi said, "No one else would need me the way Ban does. And no one else would let me kill targets. It's not a game. It's real."

Dorian felt a sickening jolt of revelation. Was nothing real to this child but, literally, sex and death? He wet dry lips and tried to say naturally, "Do you like to?"

"I like being able to. And it helps Ban."

"You'd still have that training even if you were at home. Nothing can stop you knowing what you know."

"They'd keep me from using it. Or practicing. Or anything."

Dorian almost smiled. "Or anything. They'd try to keep you from having sex with anyone, probably."

"I don't want anyone but Ban."

"I know, darling. That says it all."

# # #

He made me angry, the Major Eberbach. He wasn't the one to tell me what to do. Only Ban could do that. So I called him a pig's mother and some other things, and he called me a sow's son and some other things. At least he knew I wasn't a girl any more. But he'd started by speaking in German, so I used it too, and that made me angry. It reminded me of things.

First he came in and asked me where Ban's cigarette-case was. He called me "Herr Aixs." When he picked it up, I said he shouldn't take things that didn't belong to him. He told me not to meddle in things I didn't know about, or shouldn't know about.

I said, what did that mean? That I shouldn't know Ban?

He said, it was ill-advised. I said I hadn't needed any advice to know what I wanted with Ban, and also, my name wasn't Aixs now. He said I was too young to know anything, and children needed discipline and a healthy regimen. I think that was when I threw the ashtray at him, but I threw to miss. Ban didn't want me to hurt him. So far. He didn't even look afraid or dodge. Then I told him I could have killed him with it if I'd meant to, and the only reason I hadn't was that Ban had ordered me not to.

He said how kind, and I said it wasn't kind to me, if he was going to insult me, and he said he didn't mean me, he meant Major Van Colan. So I told him the thing about the pig's mother, and he said some things about me, and I wanted to call him a name I remembered from home that meant he was an animal that crawled in the dirt like a worm, but I couldn't remember the word.

So I screamed, and told him something like that in Italian, but in Italian it meant fucking into shit, and I didn't blame him for getting really angry when he heard it. It was a lot easier after that to shout at him all the words Ban didn't like me to say, but he'd never said I couldn't use them to someone else. I threw some more things, too, to miss. I was having fun by then.

The Eberbach stood absolutely still -- maybe he knew it was safest, while I was throwing hotel dishes at him -- and got red in the face and yelled that I was deranged and perverted and unruly and it was all due to the bad influence of the perverted queer rat-weasel of a queer Englishman I was attached to, and I wasn't where I belonged.

I said I did too belong to Ban. And he should be glad, because I hated him, the Eberbach, and would have killed him if I was allowed.

He said that Ban wasn't my father and shouldn't have charge of me and I got even angrier, because he didn't know anything about me and Ban, how we really were. Nobody did. When I told him so, he got red again and clenched his teeth and turned around. Right there. He turned his back on me and walked toward the door, and then he said, in German but I understood it perfectly, "You should be afraid that, if your father ever sees you again, he will weep because you are no longer his son."

And he banged the door closed and left me alone while I was starting to answer.

I wished Ban were there. He never tried to make me think about my family. He never talked about them at all. He loved me. Why did the Eberbach know anything about me? Who else did, besides Ban?

After a while the Red Gloria knocked on the door and wanted to talk to me, but that was all right. He knew I belonged to Bancoran and that Bancoran belonged to me, and he didn't try to tell me it was wrong.

When Ban came back, later, he came in wearing a little smile of the sort he wore when he got the better of Patalliro. He looked at the broken crockery on the floor and said, "I'm sure you were no ruder to Major Eberbach than he deserved. All the same, my sweet, it would be politic not to offend him more than necessary."

"He offends me more than necessary," I said, thinking of the turned back. And he knew my name. And he'd told the Red Gloria. I'd only promised Red Gloria not to kill Eberbach, not to keep from offending him.

"And me, almost," he said, still smiling nastily. "He deserves to guard King Patalliro, I think, and I shall suggest it to Sanders at the first opportunity. However..."

I sniggered, picturing the "children need a healthy discipline" Eberbach being groped by Patalliro. Maybe he'd show Patalliro some healthy discipline. Maybe it would do Patalliro some good. Nobody else had tried it, not even Ban, who said it wasn't his job and that the contact he was forced to have with Patalliro was already quite distasteful enough.

"We must work with him for the rest of the conference here until we find Ingram or the people using Ingram. The Major's ideas, though antiquated, are not likely to change in the next two days."

"Unlike Patalliro's?" I asked.

"Patalliro is a weathercock without a compass."

"And without a cock, too."

"I prefer not to discuss Patalliro," he said, and the look he gave me reminded me that Patalliro wasn't here, and Ban was. I've never wanted anyone else the way I want him. They were just there until Bancoran found me.

He went over to the heat-control panel and set it upwards a few degrees. Then he smiled at me, again, and loosened his tie. "Leave the curtains open," he said softly, and turned off the lights.

It was twilight and we were on about the tenth floor anyway: all you could see was snow and clouds underlit by the city lights. Ban held my eyes for a moment, his eyes seeming to glow. "My sweet. Wait." He sat down again and untied his shoes, with a snick, snick of laces. He pushed them off, and stood up again.

I couldn't stop watching him. His hair stirred when he moved, always graceful, almost invisible in the dark except for stray shimmers of light. He had to swing it to one side so he wouldn't sit on it, and when he stood up again it swung back. When he tilted his head to look at me, it all shifted another way. I wanted to play with it. When I came up to him, he caught my hand. "Not yet. First..." He kissed me once, tasting, and then let me unfasten his clothes.

I didn't have to do that often. I sighed and felt him touching me, felt him unzip my tunic. He pushed it off my shoulders and it fell half-off, and then I could put my arms around his waist. "But wait a minute."

He said softly, "You're mine," and held me. Mine. His. We didn't need anyone else in the whole world. "My Maraichi."

He started tickling me, and I pulled his hair and squealed something and we were down and rolling around on the carpet before I wriggled away and finished getting out of the tunic and everything else. When I tried to get up, he held me down, not using strength but letting me feel what he wanted. "Here. Right here, like this."

His eyes caught mine in spite of the low lighting. "I want you naked in the dusk, my sweet. I want you and me to feel each other's warmth while there's nothing but the cold out there." He finished undressing us, his hands smooth and sure as always, and turned me to face the window. I pressed back against him and his chest against my back was warm, but his cock against my ass was hot. I liked having Ban excited over me. It meant he loved me.

# # #

Major Eberbach had been up too late, and along with Agents K and L, rose too early: just in time to send N and M to bed from the night shift of information-gathering and listening for alarms on the automatic surveillance monitors. Mr. N reported that the East German authorities were not cooperating, as expected, but everything was otherwise on schedule in cornering the faction that favored Ingram so violently.

"Cross-correlation with the Interpol database suggested that Ingram could have had options outside East Germany," added Mr. N, "if he could reach them. If he's on the run somewhere and the East is looking for him too, he could be in danger."

"That's obvious," grunted Eberbach.

"He might even try to come here."

"He might," said Eberbach with very little patience, "but if he's not on the run and the Soviets have him, anyone who comes here will just try to eliminate the other inventors who understand the process. We have to stop them."

"Understood, sir."

Agent M reported on the extra security around Arnasson and Hansenn, much of it provided by the Icelandic president's own security team. If M and the Icelanders could be trusted -- not a certainty, but they were the best option available -- the two diamond-process experts were safe. Until something else happened. There were only two more days of this idiocy of a conference before everyone who might be at risk could be transferred to a more securable facility.

Klaus sat down to review the overnight monitor tapes on the rest of the hotel, suppressing a yawn. Lack of sleep was a condition of the job; one worked through it. Coffee helped, as did long training, but when the second tape came up blank instead of showing the still, infrared image of the exhibit hall, Klaus was aggrieved to notice several second into the tape that the sound, rather than the lack of image, had alerted him to the discrepancy.

There was a quiet click, which he did not at first realize was on the tape, and then an English voice said, "My sweet. Wait." A subdued rustling followed.

It was not a voice-activated tape. Voices should, in fact, be inaudible in the fast-forward playback mode.

"... Not yet. First..." said the voice, accompanied by more odd sounds. It might have been Van Colan; the voice was deeper than Eroica's. The screen was blank. Was something wrong with the monitor, or the IR light source? The Major switched to another camera's playback, and received a dull but recognizable image of perfectly undisturbed display cases. He returned to the mysterious input from Camera B.

A higher, very childish voice said, "But wait a minute."

"You're mine." It was Van Colan's voice; the other had to be Maraichi, even through the poor tape quality. Rustling and panting. There was more rustling and a whispered "My Maraichi." Then breathless, high-pitched squalling, in obscenities. Baritone laughter and intermittent fleshy thumps.

Realizing, finally, what he was hearing, Eberbach tore the earphones from his head. There was no need to ask what the two of them were doing. It was not even news; it had startled him only because it was out of context. And unexpected. And obscene. And disgusting. And it had no business on his security monitor, for any reason whatsoever.

There was a quick, if drastic, solution. This particular tape was, all too clearly, Major Van Colan's business. Let him handle it. Eberbach assembled his most blisteringly sarcastic wake-up speech and reached for the telephone, but at the last instant slammed it back down.

What if this feed were live? It would hardly be Major Van Colan's doing; Eberbach thought he could trust the man that far. Professionally, Van Colan was the smoothest operator Klaus had ever seen, never a wasted motion or a moment's over-extension. He would not use a colleague's equipment dedicated to legitimate security for a lewd prank, however revolting his private life and however annoyed he might be -- Major Eberbach was not blind -- with the colleague. If someone else were invading his and Herr Aixs' privacy, there was no guarantee of when or how it had been done.

Having taken the few seconds necessary to reason through this, Eberbach proceeded to pick up the telephone handset and punch in the room number of the MI6 pair. He had an excellent reason for disturbing them and no objection whatsoever to actively interrupting the liaison.

He was mildly relieved, all the same, to receive an alert, "Van Colan" in place of the second ring. Klaus recognized the instant-awake tone. The British major had been asleep, and nothing else, thirty seconds earlier.

"Major? Eberbach. We have a problem, a very severe problem, with the overnight security monitors. Can you come here immediately?"

"Of course," said the voice, more courteously than Klaus would have. Still on automatic, no doubt. Then: "The overnight security monitors?"

In the background, Maraichi's voice could be heard in a high-pitched expletive Klaus preferred to ignore. He'd heard it on tape just recently.

"I don't want to explain over the telephone."

"I'll be right there," growled Van Colan. "Don't run the tape without me. I may know what the problem is."

"I hope so," said Klaus grimly.

"Major, I know what your problem is, thank you. Perhaps you'd like to know what's wrong with the monitors as well. I'll be there. Ten minutes." Click.

It was just over nine minutes before Major Van Colan appeared, impeccably groomed, Maraichi at his heels. Eberbach merely gestured at the playback monitor. He'd run the tape back to 000, maliciously. Let the perverts wonder how much he'd heard.

Van Colan started the tape, frowned, and winced at what must have been the first audible words. He let it play for about a minute, switched it off, and closed his eyes for a long moment of inner contemplation, face still and composed. "My apologies, Major, for the trouble and the loss of the monitor feed. This has happened once before. If the cause is the same, you will have no further trouble. Patalliro..."

"Patalliro likes to bug people's bedrooms," said Maraichi bluntly. "He knows he should not, but with Patalliro some lessons don't stick."

Van Colan looked up. "I'll check for the unauthorized circuits immediately. Are you willing to turn the night's monitor review over to me? It would free you and your team to surveil the Leipzig conference members this morning, as we discussed, in their meeting with Hansenn. And the, ah, questionable commercial interests."

"I had that in mind," said Eberbach. "There seem to be a number of questionable interests in this case."

Van Colan smoothed a long lock of hair behind his ear and lifted an eyebrow. "Yes, and most of them seem to be from Germany." He turned away before Klaus could reply. "Maraichi, would you go up to Patalliro's suite and send down Tamanegi 26 and 28, please? Stay with the king and the others and explain the nature of impropriety to Patalliro, if you can. He seems to have some trouble with the concept."

# # #

I left the Eberbach frowning, and Ban smiling. The Marinaran Menace had outdone himself this time, and I was glad except for having to stay with his horrible majesty. But I did, and when he wanted to know just what it was he wasn't supposed to listen to in the bedrooms he wasn't supposed to put bugs in, I said if he'd already heard it I wasn't going to repeat it, and he'd better not either. All the Tamanegi giggled at that, and I guessed they'd heard it too, so I glared at them and said it was time for ju-jitsu practice. I could throw any of them out the window and they knew it, so they shut up.

That left us a couple of hours before a meeting with some diamond-industry people that Patalliro's tutor and the Marinaran minister of trade wanted him to sit in on. The real negotiations would be done by the minister but Patalliro owned the diamonds, after all. I let Patalliro order breakfast and didn't stop him from building infernal devices (he said that's what they were) with his toast and chicken bones afterwards, and after the tutor arrived I helped Holly and Pinkie clean up the chicken-bone mess while Bobo and Olive got the Menace dressed up for his meeting.

The meeting was as tiresome as you'd expect, with the industry buyer, who was an American, all impressed with meeting King Patalliro and the trade minister being worried about the long-term market share, whatever that meant.

"I do hear," said the minister, "that this rumored process is most likely to be classified secret by the owners' governments, if it works. Sir, rest assured..."

Then we heard the noise outside, a rumble of shouting and feet. If it was more of Ingram's players, I wanted to be out there with Ban, but I sent Iris and Cato out instead. I was supposed to stay with Patalliro, Ban had told me.

The noises just got louder, and nobody was doing anything more about the meeting anyway. Patalliro said suddenly, "Delenda conventus est," and hopped down from his chair before the tutor could stop him and was out the door, Pinkie and Bobo after him, in no time.

So I ran after too.

There were nice young men from NATO and other guards everywhere, but they got out of Patalliro's way. Well, maybe he just ran faster. And he had his Infernal Device (a real one, that looked like a very impressive plastic gun) out and aimed at them. So we all charged right through to the meeting hall.

Someone I didn't know was on the speakers' dias, pointing a plastic gun at the audience and guards and holding the two big inventors Arnasson and Hansenn behind him. I spotted Ban in the back just before there was a flash of light and one set of side-wall drapes burst into flames.

Patalliro stopped still for just a second, and that was more shocking than anything else. "He's got a diamond-laser gun," he screamed. "I invented that! It's mine!"

Ban heard him and didn't bother to look around or groan. He did say, "You two, get him out of here," to the nearest Tamanegi, but it wasn't going to do any good.

"I'VE GOT ONE TOO," shrieked Patalliro to the entire hall, louder and higher than an operatic soprano, "AND MINE'S BIGGER." He pointed his Infernal Device toward the dias and made it hum. The ceilings tiles there turned black and a light fixture exploded, showering glass and sparks everywhere.

I heard Ban groan, this time.

The Eberbach major and some of the NATO men charged the dias, then, and captured Ingram (or whoever he was) before Patalliro could shoot at anything else.

Afterward, when Patalliro had been disarmed of his Device and the Eberbach had Ingram's gun, and Patalliro had made sure that Ingram's diamond wasn't nearly as big as the one in his Device or any of the four in his pockets, I heard the majors talking:

"It wouldn't have lasted long," said the Eberbach. "The power drain is tremendous, and Ingram's battery pack was already failing."

"Patalliro's battery was bigger," said Ban, and snorted. "He says."

"My people were already in place. Patalliro merely provided a distraction."

"You may have the right of it. This time."

"NATO has the diamond-laser prototype now. Patalliro's is evidently nothing but a toy."

Ban made an artificial-sounding cough. "He'll find something else to play with soon. I'll make sure of it. Major, you can't imagine how galling it is to be constantly upstaged by a civilian."

"Oh, can't I?" said the Eberbach, sounding just as disgusted. Then his voice changed. "No, of course, I have no idea what you're talking about. Good afternoon Lord Gloria, you've missed all the excitement."

The Red-Gloria strolled up to us in the corridor, ignoring the streams of clean-up people carrying things in both directions all around us. "I never miss all the excitement, you know. Good afternoon, Majors, Maraichi. Care for a drink?" I think he meant me, too.

"Perhaps later," said Ban, which meant "no," and he meant it for me too.

"Don't be ridiculous," said the Eberbach.

"That's fine. I'll expect you later." Lord Gloria smiled at the Eberbach and turned, and at the last second he winked at me.

# # #

Hours later, the NATO team had extracted a satisfactory amount of information from Ingram about his plans and his Eastern-bloc backer who had wanted to eliminate any competition. When the preliminary report was finished, Klaus decided he'd earned a break and took the time to phone Eroica's hotel room to ask if he might pay a brief visit. He had been unable as yet to think clearly about Van Colan's connection with the Earl, or with the young man who called himself Maraichi.

The Major could not bring himself to think about Maraichi. Herr Aixs. It was MI6 business. MI6 was insane to employ Major Van Colan with his young associate, but MI6 was British. Insane. He really did not want to pursue the matter further. About the Earl of Gloria...

Dorian Red Gloria had made it unequivocally clear that his interests focused on Major Eberbach, for reasons the Major did not pretend to understand. Ignoring Dorian for months at a time did not discourage him: Dorian might as well be a force of nature, renewed after every setback and always returning to shatter Klaus's equanimity with yet another outrage.

It occurred to Klaus that, for all of Eroica's oddities, and for all that his morals were beneath reproach, the man's sanity could not be questioned. Yet, Dorian seemed to understand Van Colan and even Maraichi, when Major Eberbach could deal with the one only strictly as a professional colleague, and with the other not at all.

The Earl met him at the door. "What an unexpected pleasure. Would you like that drink now, Major? Do have a seat."

Klaus sat, but only after several minutes of hearing bottles and glasses did he say, "No, thank you."

"Well, I'm having one. Has your case finished successfully?"

"Yes. Or I would not be here."

Eroica poured into a small glass from a fancifully-shaped bottle. "Are you sure you won't have a drop of Calvados?"

"No," said Klaus. "Eroica."

"Hmmm?"

"You are familiar with varieties of... sex."

"What?" The query sounded startled.

"You know something about sexual expression."

Eroica stood perfectly still for an instant. Then he said, "Everything, darling," in a frivolous drawl.

"Especially as Major Van Colan practices it."

"Oh." Eroica sat down, sipped elaborately at the pale-gold contents of his glass, and raised his eyebrows. "As it happens, I do. Why do you ask?" When Klaus could not find an answer, he added, "This isn't personal, is it?"

"No!"

"Well?" Eroica sipped at the liqueur again, unshocked and unshockable.

Klaus struggled to put one, or any, of his questions into words. "Why does he... why Maraichi?"

Eroica considered it. "Why does Jack prefer a fourteen-year-old occasional transvestite to, perhaps, myself?"

With difficulty, Klaus retained an objective tone. "Yes. And does he prefer him? I've seen you two looking at each other."

He was answered by a trill of laughter. "Oh, Jack isn't the man to ignore a come-on, even when he's had it before. But with Marai--"

"He's what?"

"What what?" Eroica sipped, unruffled inquiry on his face.

"Van Colan has had what before?" the Major got out. He'd lost the objectivity somewhere.

Eroica's smile was reminiscent and provocative. "Me, darling, since you ask. Long ago and far away, but it was memorable, I assure you. Was that what you wanted to know?"

No! Goddamn it, do you mean he... you... were together like that?" Klaus stared at the serene Earl in dismay.

"Goodness, you're not very specific. Like what?"

"Like he is with Maraichi!"

Eroica's eyes studied Klaus over the liqueur glass. "I don't suppose Bundesrepublik intelligence officers are any too innocent. Just what have you seen that's put you into this state? You're aware that Jack is gay. You can't complain about his hair, much. You knew Maraichi's age and sex as soon as the MI6 dossier came in. Surely it's not amazing that Jack and I are... on the same wavelength. Or were in the past. Well?"

"You've had sex with him?"

Eroica drawled, impatiently, "I had a flaming affair with him! When I was seventeen." He paused briefly. "Jack was younger then, too."

"Seventeen? Not now?" Klaus's mind was working again, he thought.

"Not, despite all appearances, recently. For one thing, Maraichi would claw my eyes out."

Klaus didn't believe he was having this conversation, nor did he place much credence in its revelations. An ability to sort speculation from incredible fact was what he'd hoped Eroica could supply, but every new piece of data added too many questions without resolving old ones.

"Why?" he asked.

"Jack is a very persuasive lover. And Maraichi is a jealous child. He'd discourage sharing."

"Why do you let it go on?"

Eroica's eyes opened wide. "Do you think I can stop either of them from doing anything he pleases?"

"Van Colan is raping that child."

"Legally, that might be correct. As it was at the time I was with Jack, and I knew exactly what I was doing. Purely legal definitions have nothing to do with reality. You ought to know that."

"Does the boy truly want to stay with him? He shouldn't be allowed to in any case."

The liqueur glass clicked down on the end table, empty. "He says he's a consenting party. I've talked to him a good deal, and I read that whole file of yours. He could have gone back to his family's home when MI6 learned what their major was up to. He wouldn't go. He screamed the place down and insisted on staying with Jack."

"I don't like it."

"Major, I don't like it much myself. Jack hasn't mellowed since I knew him, and his tastes were more his than mine even then."

"Tastes?"

Eroica shrugged. "He likes to be on top. I imagine you'd rather that I don't go into details."

"I heard them... starting to..."

"How indiscreet of you to hear it."

Klaus felt his face heat. "The hotel bedrooms aren't supposed to be surveilled. It was an... outside interference."

"Very careless. Did you hear anything to make you think Maraichi was unwilling?"

"Not precisely. I did not listen for long. But... he sounded very young. Younger than he looks. Younger than the report says he is."

The Earl frowned. "That's interesting. I think."

"Pervert."

The frown went from thoughtful to irritated. "Major, don't you make some kind of noise during sex? When it's good? What do you sound like?"

Klaus knew he must be beet-red. "I've no idea."

"How very interesting."

"If you have nothing further to say, Lord Gloria, I'll leave."

More soberly, Eroica said, "Pardon me, please, Major, if I've offended you. I'm not sure what I think, except that Maraichi knows what he wants. That is, he knows what he thinks he wants. Will there be any repercussions for his killing that person at the Icelandic president's speech?"

"No more than if Van Colan had done so. MI6 covers their actions in such cases."

Eroica eyed Klaus speculatively. "What about you? What does NATO Intelligence let you get away with? If your judgment warrants it?"

"That is not a proper question."

"Aha!"

Klaus had the uneasy feeling that Eroica was reading far, far too much into that answer.

# # #

As Klaus waited for his transport to the airport and out of Iceland in the Loftleider's steaming, plant-festooned lobby, a voice behind him said, "A word with you, Major." Major Van Colan's voice. Van Colan sat down in a leaf-shaded corner without waiting to be invited and waved toward the facing chair.

Klaus did not sit, but he shrugged at Van Colan. "If you must."

Van Colan did not react to the curt tone, though he was frowning and, it seemed, serious. "Do you know that the Earl -- Dorian -- is in love with you?"

Klaus shrugged again, less casually. "He says so. Frequently."

"He is quite sincere. Why do you do nothing?"

Klaus growled. "Because he is a damned pervert and I am not!" He let his eyes challenge the MI6 agent.

"I will address your speech to me in a moment, Major." Steel-gray eyes flashed challenge back. "However, I have some feeling for Dorian. You wound him with your rejection. He feels it much more, I think, than he lets you know."

"Then why doesn't he leave me alone?"

Van Colan's composed face revealed faint amusement. "If he sees what I see, Major Eberbach, perhaps he has reason to believe you are not as indifferent to him as you pretend."

Klaus stared openly for a moment. "Pretend? Nonsense. What makes you think that?"

Black hair rippled over the man's shoulders, still a ridiculous affectation. "I see you. I've watched you with him, and I've watched you when you spoke to my Maraichi." As the Major opened his mouth, Van Colan held up a hand to silence him. "Do not say anything about Maraichi, Major. I would not forgive you. Let me say only that if you looked at him as you look at the Earl quite often, I should have torn your throat out Monday evening."

Klaus absorbed that, and had nothing to say for a moment.

"It is as well," added Van Colan, "that you are not attracted to me. Maraichi is a very dangerous young man."

"I believe you," said Klaus dryly. "Is that why he and the Earl seem to enjoy such a close understanding?"

"Of course they understand one another," said Van Colan with a wave of his hand. "You and I understand one another, do we not?"

"I don't think so," said Klaus. "I have no intention of... indulging Dorian's whims."

"Not his," said Van Colan. "Yours."

"I have none!"

"Oh?" Van Colan's eyes tracked up and down Klaus's body, appraising and only one degree short of lascivious. Klaus refrained, with difficulty, from folding his hand in front of himself. "You give every appearance of being quite virile."

"That's enough!" Klaus took a step away from the armchairs and the potted palm trees.

"Are you running from a 'damned pervert' like me, Major?" purred Van Colan's voice. "I should like to answer you on that, before you flee."

Klaus held to self-control like a shield. "Do you feel I've insulted you more than you've insulted me?"

"Oh, far less, my dear Major," said Van Colan amiably. "The truth is no insult, although your manners leave much to be desired. If you think I was not speaking the truth, just now... then what do you think?"

"I think that whatever is between Eroica and myself is not your business."

"There was a time, you know, when it would have been." Van Colan smiled, a not entirely pleasant expression. "Maraichi is not my first young flower."

Klaus drew in a long, calming breath. He's trying to enrage me. Exhale. With old information. I knew that yesterday. "It is as well, Herr Major Van Colan, that nothing the Earl of Gloria does, or I, is now your affair. Is it not?"

The Stygian fall of hair rippled again as Van Colan's head tilted, eyes seeking Klaus's. "Indeed, Major Eberbach." For an instant, raging desire swept through Klaus. "See that it remains so." He closed his eyes in a gesture that could have been dismissal. The arousal died as if it had never been, a distant, potent memory.

Klaus refused to be dismissed. "For whose sake?" he inquired, as his brain began to function once more.

Van Colan looked back at him, his eyes now no more than a gray glint between dark lashes. "Mine, and my sweet, jealous Maraichi's, of course." He smiled, still with the hint of venom. "And Dorian's, Major. And... yours."

This time he allowed Klaus to stalk away.

# # #

The NATO orders that had sent the Major to Reykjavik continued in force until he and Dorian returned to Bonn. Together. Dorian, for his own reasons as much as to appease the NATO higher-ups, sat through a cold, silent flight from Iceland to Germany at the side of a cold, silent Major Eberbach.

A car was waiting for them at the airport. As Dorian settled himself into the back seat and tried to stretch out his legs, the Major finally showed signs of life. He rapped on the partition between them and Agent B in the driver's seat. "Close the compartment and do not record."

B's curly head nodded. "Sir." A dark-glass panel slid into place.

Dorian raised his eyebrows. "To what do I owe the honor of this intimate conference? And when will you do it again?"

The Major spoke with abrupt, stony emphasis. "It does not seem suitable to make certain affairs public."

"You may rely on my confidentiality, as always. You know that."

"It is not about the mission."

"Something else, perhaps?" Eroica ventured to smile. "Someone?"

"You know, I think, my opinion of Major Van Colan," said the Major. "Do you still consider him a friend?"

Dorian laced his fingers together and looked at the result as if it were an abstract sculpture. "Jack's not the same person he was."

"What kind of person is he?"

Dorian reflected for a moment. "Jack is one of the more functional psychopaths I know. I think I recognized it before, when I decided I couldn't stay with him." At the Major's glance of inquiry, he shrugged. "When I was seventeen." He paused, knotting his fingers, and continued. "He's only becoming more extreme, if Maraichi is any example."

Klaus said, flatly, "The boy thinks he is in love. He is a fool."

"Maraichi's very sharp, but..." Dorian didn't want to explain how well he knew the feeling of wanting something no one would approve of. "In any case, what are you prepared to do about it?"

"MI6 sanctions him. MI6 sanctions Major Van Colan." The disgust in Klaus's voice was clear. "I have no lever."

"But you do. The thing is, Jack won't stop. Sooner or later he'll fuck up, and for someone in Jack's position, it's never just personal. It'll be right in the middle of somebody's dicey diplomatic situation or international crisis or something. Can you make that argument to MI6? They have to know what he's like, even if they use him, and let him use Maraichi, for their purposes."

"Perhaps that's why Major Van Colan is so often assigned to Marinara. It is somewhat out of the way."

Dorian shrugged. "Most of the time."

The car pulled into a parking structure and stopped, but the Major did not move to open the door or lower the privacy screen. "You are not like Major Van Colan."

Dorian wondered if he should be flattered or insulted. "How so?"

There was a pause, and then, "You are not... you would not take Maraichi... for sex... even if you wanted him."

"Well, no." Dorian's smile was sincerely lustful, and sincerely sincere. "But then, I have other tastes. My darling."

Klaus, oddly, appeared to notice. "Eroica, I wish you wouldn't say things like that."

Dorian upped the wattage of the smile. "I won't again." Unless you mention it again, and you will. You will. You always do.

"I am saying, Eroica, that your appalling lack of reticence about your desires remains largely verbal, and I can ignore you with equanimity."

No, you can't, thought Dorian, but it was Klaus's thoughts, not Dorian's actions, that made it so.

"Major Van Colan wants that boy to believe that failing to obey him in any particular would be evil, and the boy has no experience or moral background with which to resist his arguments."

"And I did, I suppose." Dorian let his shoulders lift upward. "Although, I'm sure you'd consider my upbringing twice as depraved."

"It was," said Klaus, and Dorian let this evidence that the Major had researched his past bring him a hint of warmth. Klaus, being Klaus, had to add, "You're disgusting. But not as much so as Major Van Colan."

"Thank you, I think. I wouldn't want you to approve of me or anything."

"I don't," Klaus assured him. "Are we agreed on that?"

Dorian sighed gustily. "I suppose we must be, Major. Until next time."

Klaus rapped on the partition, and opened his door. "Good-bye, Eroica."

Dorian got out as well, and they went to their separate debriefings.

# # #