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The Major had really gone too far this time.

The verbal abuse stung, but it was to be expected more or less. The sight of Klaus flirting with the hussy who was suspected of being the double agent’s contact was extremely annoying but tolerable, since Dorian knew the Major did it for the mission. But some things simply cannot be said without retribution. Hell hath no fury like a Prince of Thieves scorned.

The Zeppelin hovered noiselessly above the Schloss’ courtyard, a darker shadow against the night sky. Jones pushed a button on the control panel and the hatch opened; then another and a steel-enforced cord with an electromagnetic plate attached to it quietly extended downwards. Bonham, who was standing next to him watching the controls, looked up at his master apprehensively. “Are you sure about this, milord…? Uncle NATO’s going to blow ’is top when ’e sees…”

“That’s the whole point, Bonham,” Dorian stated decisively. “It’s high time the Major realized that the fact that I love him doesn’t mean he can walk all over me with impunity. Lift it up.”

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The verdammter thief was definitely going to pay for this.

Sure, that time in Lucerne Klaus might have said one or two somewhat impolite things – not that the fop didn't deserve it – and Lord Gloria must have been greatly displeased seeing him hit on the double agent's contact even though he knew it was part of the mission; but to think he'd retaliate so viciously! The Major was pretty sure he had narrowly escaped a stroke that morning, when he exited the Schloss and saw that his Benz – the very same black Benz he had parked in the courtyard the evening before - had somehow turned pink! Blinding hot pink, to be exact. Of course, he understood immediately whose doing it was. The colour alone was telltale enough, the 'From Eroica with Love' calligraphic inscription in red graffitied all over the driver's side was hardly needed – unless its purpose was to further infuriate the Major, in which case it was quite successful. And the worst was he actually had to get inside that pink monstrosity and drive it away from the Schloss before anyone of the servants happened to come out to the courtyard and see it. But where could he take it? Work was, naturally, out of the question – just imagining the ruckus the sight of Iron Klaus arriving at NATO headquarters in this vehicle would cause gave the Major the willies. He’d become all of NATO’s laughing-stock! The obvious choice was to take the blasted thing to the nearest car body shop and have it painted black again; but he didn’t want to show up there himself, since if he did, anyone would assume it had been his choice to own a car with such a horrific colour; and he couldn’t bear the thought that even some unknown repairman would think that Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach could possibly willingly own a pink Benz! Even so much as driving that nightmare on wheels was torture for him; he could practically feel the surprised stares of other drivers passing by burning holes in him, and he had never felt more grateful that the car had tinted windows. He had almost arrived in Bonn when he finally came up with a way to escape the greatest part of the humiliation inflicted upon him.

He drove the car to an underground parking lot with an automated entrance, so as to minimize the chance of being seen getting out of it, and went from there on foot to NATO headquarters. Luckily, he had someone in his staff for whom it would not seem unnatural to drive a pink car. “Agent G! My office, now!”

Without explaining his predicament, he handed G the car keys and curtly instructed him how to get to the parking lot. “Where exactly will I find the car, sir?” G asked.

“You’ll see it,” the Major said sullenly. “It’s the…pink one.”

G nearly did a double take. “P-pink, sir?!” The Major’s scowl clearly indicated that any further inquiries would result in him getting ordered to drive the pink Benz to Alaska, so he wisely kept his mouth shut. Anyhow, even without any explanations he understood that his mission was to restore the Major’s car to its original colour and never breathe a word about it, so he dashed out of the office, grabbed his hat and coat and quickly left the building, all the while trying his hardest to refrain from bursting out in giggles. Fortunately, the thought of Alaska was sobering enough.

Somewhat relieved now that the situation had been more or less resolved, the Major concentrated on how to get back at the thief for the mortification he had endured. This time a heavier punishment than usually was in order, he decided. His own suffering aside, it was the principle of the thing which offended him the most. A Mercedes-Benz, hallmark of German engineering and dignity, should not ever, EVER be painted pink! For such an offence, curse words and blows would not suffice – not to mention, he had some suspicions that even when he was manhandled or sworn at the fop in some perverse way enjoyed getting his attention, even in such a manner. No, this time Klaus was going to make sure he would suffer. Pure, unadulterated torment – nothing else would do.

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“My loooooooord! How could youuuuuuuuu!”

Even with the barrier of closed doors and earplugs, James’ shrieks could not be blocked out – they resounded all over the castle, driving all of its inhabitants closer to insanity. Dorian hadn’t dared to step foot out of his bedroom for days now, fearing that any more exposure to his accountant’s incessant wailing and complaining and he’d have to be committed. Needless to say, all their operations had been brought to a halt, and the inaction frayed his nerves all the more. It was quite astounding, how a single person’s tantrum could bring down an entire gang of thieves – but in all fairness, Dorian had to admit that this time James’ tantrum was not entirely unjustified.

It had begun a few days ago, when James had received the monthly transactions notification of Dorian’s bank account. And to his utter shock, he read that the amount of money in the account had been reduced by several hundreds of pounds, due to a significant number of charges on Dorian’s credit card. Charges which had apparently been made at several notorious London gay nightclubs and men’s escort services. If there was anything James hated more than Dorian spending money, it was Dorian spending money on other men.

The thing was, Dorian had never actually visited any of these establishments, much less spent any money there. It was evident that the account had been hacked by someone who had made fake charges on the credit card, but of course James never listened to reason. The end result was that, until the charges were rescinded by the bank and possibly for even longer, Dorian and the gang would have to be subjected to an inordinate amount of nerve-wrecking nagging and whining. And for this he had to thank the malicious individual who had hacked into his account. An individual who obviously held a serious grudge against him, and who undoubtedly knew James’ character and disposition very well…

The door handle moved persistently up and down; extremely vexed, Dorian took out one earplug and said irritably, “For the umpteenth time, James, I’m telling you I did not…”

“My lord, it’s me.” Recognizing the voice of Jones, the electronics expert, Dorian hastily unlocked the door and beckoned him inside. They both removed their earplugs so that they could communicate and Jones said, sour-faced, “My lord, you were right. Beck and I managed to locate the server your account was hacked from; it was one of NATO’s servers in Germany.”

Dorian’s eyes sparkled angrily. “Of course; he wanted me to know it was he who did it. Such a naughty boy you are, Major. I don’t mind a bit of sadism, but there is a limit.” He turned to his comrade, full of fiery energy. “Go find Bonham, Jonesy, and tell him to get the Zeppelin ready. Have James confined the usual way, and notify everyone. We leave within the hour.”

“Where to, my lord?” Jones asked, although he had already guessed the answer. “Why, Germany, of course. The Major thinks he can play dirty with me, does he? I’ll show him who is the true master at playing dirty.”

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“Diese abscheuliche, degenerierte Reisigbündel! Das ist unerträglich!”*

Even the Schloss’ sturdy stone walls seemed to be shaking by the reverberations of the Major’s booming voice, which had been bellowing non-stop for the past half-hour. All of the servants, Herr Hinkel included, had crowded inside the kitchen for shelter and waited tremulously until the young master’s fit of rage had passed. Like an irate caged lion, Klaus paced up and down the Schloss’ vast halls swearing loudly, in a likely vain attempt to vent the rage boiling inside him. The cause of that rage had already been reduced to ashes in the fireplace of his study, but it could never be erased from his memory. He would never be able to forget the abomination he had received with today’s morning post.

He had sensed that disaster was brooding three days ago, when his Magnum had mysteriously disappeared. Sure enough, after the events of the past few weeks he had a pretty accurate inkling who the culprit was, but he could not confront Eroica about the theft because he, too, had disappeared. The surveillance report from Castle Gloria stated that Lord Gloria and the entire gang was gone, with the exception of James who had been confined in the attic – he did not seem to want for anything though, seeing as he had some bread and water, his accounting books and his coin collection. Enraged though he was, Klaus figured that if he let his anger show he would be playing the thief’s game; and therefore he simply took another of his numerous guns for daily use and went about his business as usually. He believed that at some point Eroica would use the missing weapon to taunt him or make him inquire after it, but he'd be damned if he ever played into the thief's hands. He would never be shaken out of his composure, no matter what provocation that reprobate threw at him.

Or so he thought until this morning, when a parcel arrived for him in the morning post. The sender's name was unfamiliar, probably fake; but the standard security check had shown the package was clear of explosive devices. Still wary, Klaus had opened it carefully and discovered to his astonishment that it contained his Magnum, intact and not tampered with in any way. Unfortunately, this wasn't the only thing it contained.

There was a set of photographs with the gun, and it was these photographs which had ignited the Major's volcanic fury. The subject of the photographs was, as one might expect, Eroica. A naked Eroica, posing in the most perverted positions imaginable. And his accessory of choice for this pornographic photo shoot was none other than Klaus' Magnum.

The Major thought he was prepared for the worst, but he could never have imagined that even this colossal pervert would sink so low. He had dared – he had actually dared – to pilfer Klaus' favourite weapon and – and defile it! He would never be able to shoot with that Magnum again –  or any other Magnum, for that matter – without remembering the lecherous images of Eroica licking the gun’s muzzle, or rubbing it against his genitals, or shoving it up his…Gott im Himmel, that vile degenerate was truly wicked! To think he would forever ruin the pleasure of shooting for Klaus out of spite! Well, this wasn’t a game, not anymore. This time around, the thief was in for a world of hurt.

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The gallery was engulfed in darkness, save for the circle of light coming from Klaus’ flashlight. The Major stood in front of the painting, army knife at the ready, surveying it for the last time. Not that he was having second thoughts about what he intended to do; he had always disliked The Man in Purple anyway. He might be his ancestor, but both the fancy attire and the smug look on his face had never sat well with him. At the very least, old Pumpkin-Pants might as well make himself useful for once, by helping him deliver Eroica the ultimate blow. His father would never find out anyway; all he and the rest of the world would know was that the painting had been vandalized by an unknown party, probably someone of Klaus’ enemies. He’d certainly get an earful for failing to protect it, but it was well worth it. As for Germany’s cultural heritage…it would have to do without this particular piece. Collateral damage – it happened all the time in warfare, and his conflict with Eroica was hardly anything different. He raised the knife with a steady hand, the blade gleaming in the light of the flashlight…

“Don’t! Please don’t!”

A lithe figure in a form-fitting catsuit burst forth from behind one of the curtains at the far end of the room and ran towards the Major. As soon as he was just outside of striking distance, Eroica dropped to his knees and looked up at the Major, arms raised in supplication. “For heaven’s sake, Major! Anything but that! Torture me if you must, but…”

“You! After everything you’ve done already – you dare break into my home again!”

“I-I wasn’t planning to,” Eroica said meekly, desperately trying to appease the Major. “We were watching the Schloss…I expected you would…react somehow after…after the last incident, and I wanted to be prepared. I saw you going down to the gallery tonight, and you would normally never go there without reason, and…well, you understand the rest. I beg of you, Major, please don’t do this…”

“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t.” One look at the Major’s white-hot glare and Eroica knew immediately that neither Eberbach senior nor Germany’s cultural heritage would be enough of a deterrent this time. “Look…I acknowledge it’s my fault too for letting my anger get the better of me, but…this cannot go on. We are becoming obsessed with hurting each other…if we keep this up, it will destroy us both, don’t you see?”

“And I suppose you couldn’t have thought of that when you took my gun and used it for – for your perversions, could you?” the Major said icily, still glowering at him. Eroica bit his lip nervously – the Major was evidently significantly angrier than usually, perhaps the stunt with the gun was a bit over the top. “I-I admit it was a tad mean of me…but you were mean too!” he protested,  boldly going on the offensive. “Inciting James like that, you knew what he’d make me go through…and it wasn’t just me, but everyone else at the castle too. You can’t deny it was a low blow!”

“So I’m the evil one now, huh? Was I supposed to just overlook what you did to my car? No matter how you look at it, you’re the one who started this whole revenge act!”

“No, it was you!” Eroica sprang to his feet, livid. “Or have you forgotten what happened in Lucerne already? I do believe I’m quite a tolerant person, but some things I simply cannot forgive and forget!”

The Major huffed in exasperation. “This again? Not that I have to explain myself to you, Eroica, but surely you’re not so stupid as to believe I would go after that girl if it wasn’t for the mission? I swear, if that’s the reason you did all this…”

“It wasn’t that!” Dorian burst out furiously. “Of course I’m not that stupid! You didn’t even notice, I'll wager! Well, allow me to refresh your memory: you said to my face that I might as well switch to dresses permanently, because I was acting like a woman!"

Klaus gaped at him dumbfounded. "Wait a second - out of all the things I've said to you, this is what you took offence for? I didn't even think of it as an insult -  isn't it flattering for your kind to be likened to women?"

"No it's not, and I'll thank you not to make such assumptions about 'my kind', Major!" Dorian exclaimed indignantly. "I'll have you know I am a man through and through, who just happens to prefer men over women! Lumping me together with the so-called fair sex is just as offensive for me as it would be for you! And - " he paused for a moment, then went on in a more injured tone, "coming from you of all people, it is far worse. More than anyone else, I don't want you to see me as a woman, Major! I want you to see me as a man who loves you!"

Klaus put a hand to his forehead, both incredulous and exasperated. "And so you decided to paint my car pink, so that I would see you as a man? You do see the gap of logic there, don't you?"

"W-well, like I said, I suppose I got carried away by my anger," Eroica said sheepishly. "But this is getting out of hand, so let's put a stop to it here. If there is anything I can do to atone, I give you my word that I will do it. Just don't harm The Man in Purple...I'll even promise I won't try to steal him in the near future, as long as he is kept intact."

"Hmph." Hard as it was to negotiate a truce with Eroica, the Major did acknowledge this battle was taking a heavy toll on his mental health. The thief had proven to be very inventive in coming up with ways to torment him, and if the conflict escalated further things could get ugly indeed. Perhaps it would be better to take this opportunity for a ceasefire, especially since Eroica was the one making a peace offering. "Very well, I will spare Pumpkin-Pants for now, but you're not off the hook," he said severely. "You still owe me big time for the disgusting things you did with my gun, and I expect full reparations."

Eroica sighed with relief. "Of course, Major. I'm not sure what I can do to compensate for the distress I caused you, but if there's any way I can repay you..."

The Major grinned fiendishly. "Oh, you can pay me back all right," he said. "With your body."

"Really?" Eroica brightened up instantly. "You mean that..."

The Major's grin widened. "For a year from now, you and that gang of yours will be at my disposal. You will break in anywhere I tell you, no questions asked. You'll drop everything whenever I send for you, even if you're in the middle of robbing the Louvre. And of course free of charge - find a way to deal with your stingy bug, I don't care. That's the deal, take it or leave it." Catching Eroica's crestfallen expression he added sarcastically, "Don't tell me you expected anything different."

"Of course not," Eroica sighed again, this time in disappointment. "You drive a hard bargain, Major, but under the circumstances I suppose it's fair enough." Hesitantly he asked, "Would you like to shake on it...?"

"I'll just take your word for it - you are a man after all," the Major said gruffly. Eroica smiled faintly; this was probably the closest thing to an apology the Major would offer for his careless words which had initiated this whole nasty business. "A man who loves you, Major; keep that in mind as well." "Don't push your luck," Klaus grunted, motioning him away. Eroica took the hint and withdrew quickly, feeling rather pleased with this turnout. It was good that he had managed to reconcile with the Major, and thanks to this 'debt of honour' he'd get to see him a lot more during the next year. Forsaking his pride wasn't easy, but taking the high road was undoubtedly the wisest decision.

Klaus closed the window whence he had left securely and made his way out of the gallery and to his bedroom, somewhat relieved in spite of himself. He had never run away from a fight, but some fights are more trouble than they are worth. At least he wouldn't have to worry about Pumpkin-Pants getting stolen for the next few months, and he could avail himself of Eroica's services in case he needed them. Nevertheless, he would do well to be careful with his profanities in the future. A war with Eroica would never be without casualties.