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The First Seal

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The British Embassy in Berlin was a large, rectangular building of modest shade and sturdy build. It possessed a commendable brick-to-glass ratio and an impressive security system. Indeed, the complex was a proper model for all of its kind – but for one glaring flaw.

Major Klaus von dem Eberbach of NATO regarded the fat-bellied column tucked into the Embassy’s side with narrowed eyes. It was cast in metal and painted purple. The Major shuddered in disgust. Only a Brit would think of turning good, sturdy steel into a damned street attraction.

The Major identified himself at the gate. He was ushered inside with great haste and little conversation. The Major approved, up to the point a snotty aide accosted his party.

“My apologies, the Minister is with a guest at the moment,” the man announced. “You will be seen shortly. Please, have a seat.”

“I will be seen right now.”

The Major strode forward with the might of an invading tank. The aide ducked for cover. The guard accompanying the Major followed him inside the Minister’s office. She caught the door before it could strike the inside wall and shut it, gently and politely, in the aide’s face.

The Minister stood behind a large desk. His eyes glistened, the whites pronounced.

“By God, what’s the matter?”

The Major saluted. “Major Klaus von dem Eberbach. Reporting for duty.”

“The Major has just arrived from Bonn,” the guard supplied.

The Minister puffed both his chest and cheeks. His gut protruded naturally. “He would have been well-advised to wait. I am with an important guest! Rory!”

A muscle shifted in the Major’s jaw. The guard took a measured step back, conveniently blocking the door. The unfortunately-named aide rattled the doorknob from the outside.

“Now, look here-” the Minister began.

The Major crossed the room. He placed his hands on the desk, leaned forward, and spoke very, very slowly.

“I was pulled from an active mission and instructed to come here for an urgent assignment.”

“W-well, I wouldn’t say urgent,” the Minister floundered. He shriveled under the Major’s gaze, folding into himself like a pretzel.

The Major took a deep breath. Not to calm himself, but to fuel what was to be a truly spectacular bellow.

“Is it him, then?”

The Minister’s most important guest rose from his seat. The Major glanced at him briefly, did a double-take, and stared. The guard stoically maintained her imitation of a potted fig. If she smothered a chuckle under an ungainly cough well, she was only human.

“Well?”

The Minister found his voice. Or a voice, as its slick cadence had been decidedly absent moments prior. “My apologies, your Lordship. Yes, this is him indeed. NATO’s finest, Lord Gloria, highly recommended. You will be safe and sound in his hands.”

The Major’s hands were, at present, clenched into sizeable fists. Lord Gloria arched an eyebrow. “I see,” he said. His haughty manner was decidedly at odds with the wicked glint in his eyes. He harrumphed and swiveled on a heel, arms crossing over his chest. Blonde curls fell over his shoulders in a bouncing wave.

“I am not a child in need of a nanny. Send him home.”

“Your Lordship, that is simply impossible. You are a diplomatic guest. We cannot allow you to remain unguarded in the light of recent events-”

“What happened?” the Major interrupted.

The Minister shot him a narrowed look before he seemed to remember that he was, in fact, quite terrified of the NATO operative. “There have been threats,” he began.

“A few ineptly worded letters,” Lord Gloria dismissed, “hardly worth mentioning.”

“And an attempt on Lord Gloria’s life,” the Minister finished.

Lord Gloria pursed his lips, but remained silent.

The Major cast a steely gaze over the room. “Out,” he said to the guard. The woman saluted and did as told, collecting Rory on her way. The office door fell shut. The Major locked it, then commandeered a hard-backed chair from its post by a wall. He carried it to the desk in one hand. The Minister winced when the chair landed, its legs colliding none too gently with the uncarpeted floor.

The Major sat. He pulled out a cigarette, lit it, and pinned the Minister with a demanding glare.

“Full report. Now.”

The Minister launched into a startled account. His recollection of the events that had necessitated the Major’s presence lacked military exactness, but made up for it in theatrical fervor. The Major picked out the relevant details from the babble. Letters had been sent over the course of three months. Over a dozen in number, increasingly militant in content. The senders – the Minister spoke in the singular. The Major suspected more than one individual involved – expressed deep disapproval of Lord Gloria’s lifestyle. The Minister hedged and stuttered his way around the issue until the Major barked at him to get on with the rest. A blind man could see that Lord Gloria was a fop.

“The first attempt was a fluke,” the Minister said.

The Major had to stop the man, then, and grab for his patience with both hands.

First?” Damned civilians and their inability to relate crucial information in clear manner.

“Yes. Someone broke into his Lordship’s apartment. Thankfully, Lord Gloria wasn’t in residence at the time.”

“Poor Antonio,” Lord Gloria sighed. “He got quite a scare. Imagine waiting for your lover, only to have a maniac burst in waving a knife!”

The Major resolutely ignored most of that sentence. “Has he been questioned?”

“The intruder got away before authorities arrived,” the Minister explained.

“Not him. The man he accosted.”

“He was.”

Major Eberbach turned to Lord Gloria. The man sat with his legs crossed, his attention consumed by the curl he twisted around his finger. “Antonio was not involved,” the Earl said.

“Have you made contact with him since the incident?” the Major demanded.

“No, I have not.”

The Major nodded once. “The second attempt.”

The Minister opened his mouth, but it was Lord Gloria who spoke. “Car bomb. It detonated early.”

“The chauffer was hurt. The Earl was out of the blast range,” the Minister added helpfully.

“Was everyone on the scene questioned?”

“Yes. No arrests, unfortunately.”

The Major sat back. He smoked, and thought, and pretended not to notice the Minister’s increasing impatience. Car bombs were a favorite of several underground groups with Neo-Nazi sympathies and headquarters in Berlin. The Earl being what he was – a Brit, and an aristocrat, and a fop – their involvement couldn’t be dismissed. The Major stubbed out his cigarette in an empty tea saucer. The Minister squeaked something about antiques and flew for the trashcan, ash-filled saucer in hand.

“Why are you here?” the Major asked.

Lord Gloria pressed a hand over his chest. “Moi?”

The Major grit his teeth. “Yes. You. Why are you in Berlin?”

“I live here.”

“You live here,” the Major repeated.

Lord Gloria smiled sunnily. “Are you having trouble with the language? I could say it in German, if you would prefer.”

“Lord Gloria has great appreciation for German art,” the Minister hurried to interrupt. “He has graced our city with his presence for the past year and a half. We couldn’t be more honored.”

The Major wondered exactly how deep the Earl’s pockets were. He glared at the Minister – the Major was certainly far from honored to be sharing a city with the degenerate Brit – and rose to his feet.

“I will find those responsible.” He would have to call Bonn and request men. A through D should do nicely. Z might benefit from the exercise, but the Major found himself reluctant to bring the younger agent into the Earl’s orbit.

“Wait, please!”

The Major paused with a foot out the door. The Minister was rather pale. Earl Gloria smirked from his chair, blue eyes glinting. The Major hastily looked away.

“The local police has the case under control, Major,” the Minister said. “Your assignment is more…personal.”

“How personal?” the Major snapped.

“W-well, it involves a person, and their protection. Around the clock, as they say.”

Lord Gloria wiggled his fingers in a mockery of a greeting. “Hullo, darling.”

Major Eberbach closed his eyes and counted to ten. Slowly. In Russian.

“A moment,” the Major said.

The Minister sweated, possibly overcome with fear the Major would refuse or do something else to mar Germany’s reputation with Britain. His eyes danced between Lord Gloria and the irate NATO officer. “Major Eberbach?”

“I need to make a phone call. I will be back.”

Major von dem Eberbach slammed out of the office, muttering threats against a certain superior in Bonn.

“Nice fellow,” Lord Gloria noted.

The Minister laughed uncomfortably.

 


 

Major Eberbach returned in quarter hour, looking somewhat refreshed and no less terrifying. Guards and diplomatic aides took cover where he passed. Most of the building had heard the Major’s explosive conversation with Bonn. The residents of the neighboring apartment complex might have, as well. In any event, no one dared detain the Major on his way to the Minister’s office this time around. When the NATO operative emerged not ten minutes later, a pouting British Lord in tow, the guards didn’t dare bat an eye.

Dorian Red Gloria, Earl of Gloria, maintained an expression of deep displeasure for the duration of the drive to his apartment. Part of the cause stemmed from Major Eberbach’s insistence that they take his rented Volvo instead of Lord Gloria’s red Ferrari. The rest was due to the Major’s presence in its entirety, and Lord Gloria was not shy about telling the Major so.

“Must you smoke constantly? It’s not good for the health, you know,” was the starting quip.

The Major calmly stubbed out his cigarette in the car’s overflowing ashtray, and then just as calmly lit another. Lord Gloria muttered about rude Germans for the next half a mile.

“Darling, I may be a little late,” was the next.

That particular sentence was not aimed at the Major, which was good news for Lord Gloria’s continual health. The Earl laughed and bubbled more foppish nonsense into his slick mobile. The Major commandeered the device at a red light. He considered throwing it out of the vehicle entirely, but forbore for the sake of diplomacy. The Earl spent the rest of the drive in a deep sulk. Major Eberbach enjoyed the silence. He hadn’t gotten a chance to rest between Moscow and Berlin.

The Earl resided in a penthouse overlooking the Wannsee. The Major parked among extravagant vehicles without the slightest care for the state of his own. He held the car door open for the Earl, on the Earl’s insistence. Apparently, the Major’s ‘lunatic driving’ had left the man dizzy. The Major shared his opinion on the topic, succinctly summarized as, “Suck it up.”

The Earl made a lewd comment the Major did not understand at the time, which is why he allowed himself to be used as a human crutch all the way to an unnecessarily large elevator and up ten floors. The elevator’s walls were made of glass. The Major glared at his reflection within them, then fixed his stare on what he could see of the complex beyond. The lack of safety features was displeasing and distracting, but not enough for the Major to miss the gradual downward slide of the Earl’s hand along his back.

“Go any lower, and lose the arm.”

Lord Gloria laughed. He left the elevator under his own power, and in a lighter mood. The familiar surroundings obviously relaxed him. A dangerous illusion, and one the Major would have hoped the Brit no longer harbored.

“Did you change residences between the attacks?”

Lord Gloria had disappeared into a room the Major guessed might be a bedroom. He had left the door open. His voice traveled clearly, the silence that pervaded the apartment deep with the windows and front door shut tight.

“Naturally. I am not entirely a fool, darling.”

“Don’t call me that,” the Major snapped.

Lord Gloria emerged. The Major turned around with great speed, his back to the Earl.

“Put some clothes on, verdammt!”

“I am perfectly decent.”

“There is nothing decent about that –” Major Eberbach couldn’t find an appropriate word for the short, thin, loose thing the Earl wore in any of the languages he knew, and he knew a fair number.

“It’s a robe, darling. If you have such a problem with how I dress and act and speak, perhaps you shouldn’t be here at all.”

The Major straightened his back. “I have accepted the mission, and I will see it through. My personal opinions don’t matter.”

“Oh? I wonder how long that will last.”

The Earl spoke in Major Eberbach’s ear. His lips pressed over the shell with each word, as startling as the sudden heat of the Earl pressed close against the Major’s back.

Lord Gloria laughed when he was slammed against a wall. The Major twisted the Earl’s arm, grip tight enough to bruise.

“Do not do that again,” he snarled.

“And if I do?” Lord Gloria purred. He ground his hips back, making the Major aware how close they stood. The robe slipped up muscled buttocks. The contrast of the Earl’s pale skin against the dark fabric of the Major’s pants was severe and disquieting.

The Major let go. The Earl turned around. He cradled his arm, the wrist already marked by the Major’s fingers. The show of vulnerability was calculated. So was the teasing, sultry look the Earl cast at his guardian. He stepped forward. The Major refused to back away, so they were left standing nose to nose. The Earl didn’t touch the Major. The weight of his eyes was potent enough, and almost as indecent.

“Do you like it that way, then?” the Earl asked.

“What way.”

“Bruises, insults. Pain play. I can do that. I am quite good at it, in fact.”

Blood rushed in Major Eberbach’s temples. He fisted his hands, mostly so he wouldn’t reach out and shake the British moron until his teeth rattled.

“Do you have a fax?” he grit out.

Lord Gloria stared. The cocky, brazen expression he wore slipped away. He pushed through the Major. The Major stepped aside to let him pass.

“This way.”

The fax and phone were in a large, little-used office. Lord Gloria supplied the relevant numbers. He left without being prompted. The sound of running water soon filtered through the walls. The Major sat at the desk and dialed.

The phone rang exactly once before it was picked up. “Bonn, A speaking.”

“It’s me.”

“Major! We just heard from the Chief. Where in Berlin should we meet you, Sir?”

“I don’t require assistance.”

“But Major-”

“Stop wasting time! Are you familiar with the case?”

“In general terms, Sir.”

“Good. I want all available information sent to me, at this number.” The Major rattled off the digits to Gloria’s fax. “Usual format,” he finished. A would know this to mean that the line wasn’t secure and the reports should be coded.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Anything to report?”

“No, Sir.”

The Major ignored the shrill voice demanding to speak with him as stoically as A did. Addressing Agent G’s dramatics only encouraged him. Her. Whatever.

“Keep me updated.”

The Major ended the call. The shower was still running. A soft, pleasant voice sang about turbulent seas and pirates and love. The Earl must have the radio going. The Major thought about taking a shower of his own. He patted at his pockets. A more thorough search still failed to produce his cigarettes and lighter. They were probably in the car. Irritation rose and ebbed. The Major closed his eyes, seeking to soothe their burn.

The office was dark when the Major came to. Dusk had fallen outside. The Major sat up, cursing.

“You frown in your sleep.”

The Major lowered his hand. The Magnum remained in its holster under his arm, its presence no longer a secret. Lord Gloria sat in a chair across the desk. His face was in shadow, but his eyes caught the glare of the streetlamps outside. They glinted most disconcertingly.

Lord Gloria stood. “There is dinner.”

The Major followed the Earl into a brightly-lit dining room. Various dishes sat on a long table, their number far greater than needed to feed two men.  

“Who brought all of this?” the Major demanded. He hadn’t heard anyone come in.

“My staff.”

“I want their names.”

“They are trustworthy. Believe me, Major,” the Earl added, likely in response to the Major’s disbelieving snort, “I am in no hurry to die.”

The Major snorted again. He sat himself at the Earl’s right, and proceeded to try every dish Lord Gloria expressed interest in. The Earl was surprisingly accommodating. So much so that the Major grew suspicious.

“What are you planning?”

“Sleep,” the Earl said absentmindedly. He had moved onto tea. The Major was finishing his own meal, having inspected everything to his satisfaction. “You seem to be enjoying the potatoes.”

“They are alright,” the Major said. The pile of fries in front of him teetered in agreement.

True to his word, the Earl retired directly after dinner. The Major inspected the Earl’s bedroom beforehand. The bed was far more extravagant than a piece of furniture should be. The Major did approve of the mirrored walls. Their presence would make it difficult for anyone to sneak in unnoticed. He was somewhat surprised the Earl had thought of taking such precautions. Perhaps the man was not as hare-brained as he seemed.

“You are welcome to any of the bedrooms in the suite, Major,” the Earl told him in parting.

The Major meant to sit in the living room, with direct view of the front door. He told the Earl as much. The man muttered something about German Shepherds that the Major chose to ignore, for the sake of their tentative truce.

The Major took a brisk shower. He had a change of clothing in his briefcase, and a salve which he applied to the bruises mottling his torso. The Major grinned savagely. Mischa still packed a good punch, the old bastard.

Midnight came and passed. The Major cleaned his gun, read reports, checked the fax. He dozed in between tasks. There was no immediate threat and therefore no reason to deny his body rest. Still, the Major maintained a watchful state.

The rasp of something unidentified against the wall outside had him wide-awake and moving before the sound fully registered.

The Major checked the front door first. There was no one outside, and the locks were unmolested. He made his way toward the windows. They faced east. The same way, it turned out, as the windows in Earl Gloria’s bedroom.

Major Eberbach stared at the dark shape scaling down the building. A part of him was impressed by the ease with which the Earl moved. The rest wondered if he could get away with shooting at the fool, under the pretense of mistaking him for an intruder.

The Major holstered his gun and left the apartment. He took the stairs down, having no patience for the elevator. He almost ran over a teen at one of the landings. The boy threw a guilty look at him, and hurried on his way. The Major glanced at his wristwatch. Three-sixteen in the morning. His mouth twisted in disapproval.

The Major rounded the building. The Earl was still a good floor away from solid ground. He wore boots with heels, which had likely slowed his descent. The Major waited until the man was on his feet before moving to stand behind him. The sharp remark waiting on his tongue spilled as a surprised grunt.

It turned out the Earl packed a pretty good punch, as well.

“Major!” Lord Gloria exclaimed. “My God, what – are you hurt?”

The Major batted the man’s hands away. “I’m fine.” He would have been better had the Earl not struck him where bruises already lay thick.

The Earl blew out a frustrated sigh. “What did you think you were doing, sneaking up on me like that!”

“What was I doing?!” the Major bellowed. “You just rappelled down a fucking building!”

“Major, lower your voice. This is a residential block.”

The Major felt his blood pressure rocket. He got into the Earl’s face, meaning to scream himself hoarse.

The building shook. Night blared into day to the sound of thunder and broken glass.

The Major threw himself forward. He shielded the Earl with his body and urged the man’s head down so it lay under his. It all lasted but seconds. Debris rained on the pavement. Far above, the remains of the Earl’s penthouse painted the skies with black smoke.

“-jor! Major Eberbach!”

The Major shook his head. The dull ringing didn’t quite leave his ears. “’m fine,” he slurred.

“Your head is bleeding!”

“’ve had worse.”

The Earl muttered something uncomplimentary. His hands were gentle as they felt over the Major’s head and face. The wound was behind the Major’s right ear. It bled profusely, as all head wounds did. Lord Gloria swore. He produced a phone. The Major tried to wrestle it away, and almost lost his footing.

 “Are you trying to crack your bloody head open?” the Earl shouted.

“No hospital,” the Major said.

The Earl yelled some more. He dragged the Major into a small green space behind the complex and forced him down on a bench. People filled the street out front. The entire city had probably heard the explosion. Sirens blasted in the distance, growing closer and louder by the second.

The Major tried to concentrate. The Earl had the phone in hand and was talking to someone. In Italian. Not the police, then. The Major couldn’t make out the words through the din in his head. He cast his eyes to their surroundings instead. The world kept blurring. The back of the Major’s shirt was wet, his neck and hair stiff with blood.

A flicker of motion had the Major snapping his head to the right. The resulting spike of pain cleared his eyes. He pushed to his feet.

The boy from the staircase glanced at him, paled, and broke into a dead run.

The Major swore. He made to follow even as he knew pursuit to be useless. The teen was long gone, lost into the crowd of people and cars. 

“Major, sit down before I sit on you!”

“That boy,” the Major rasped. “I saw him in the building earlier. Damn it!”

The Earl’s expression blanked. His eyes grew hard, like frozen lakes. “Can you describe him?”

“Blonde. Light eyes. Small. Couldn’t have been more than fourteen.”

The Earl snarled. “John Paul?” he said. It took the Major a moment to realize he was talking to whoever he had on the phone.

“Good. Contact me as soon as you have him.”

The call ended. The phone disappeared into the Earl’s leather jacket. “Come on, Major,” the man said, “let’s see if we can do something about your head.”

“No hospitals,” the Major repeated.

“There is at least one ambulance out front. I am sure they will spare a roll of bandages.”

The Major allowed the Earl to pull him up. He walked under his own steam, if slowly. “Who was that?” he said.

“Hm?”

“On the phone. Who were you talking with?”

“I’m sorry, darling, it is much too noisy. I can’t hear a thing!”

The Earl hovered too close to be playing deaf. The Major ground his teeth, but let the topic drop. He would get his answers. The midst of a terrified crowd didn’t seem like the right place.

There were three ambulances on the scene. The Major was seen relatively quickly, on account of the gory state of his shirt. The wound was shallow and had already stopped bleeding. The Major suffered through the EMT’s questions. He counted it a fair price to pay for an aspirin. The Earl sat beside the Major. He didn’t speak. His eyes were sharp, his body tense. The Major watched him when he wasn’t being asked to perform some inane test or another. There was far more to Lord Gloria than loud clothing and brash personality. The Major struggled with the idea of a man pretending to be less than he was. Most boasted far more than they possessed, be it in wealth or strength or mind.

The police intercepted them on their way out of the lot. Two uniformed men, a plains-clothing detective at their lead. They zeroed in on the Earl, almost bowling Major Eberbach over in the process. The Major planted his feet and shouldered them back.

“What the hell took you so long!” he snapped.

The officers gaped. That was likely not the response they had been expecting. The Major didn’t give a good damn, and proceeded to inform the officers of the fact. It felt good to be shouting in German. No other language hit quite the right notes.

“Sir, we have no business with you,” the detective interrupted. “We are here for his Lordship.”

“On what grounds?” the Major snapped.

“He has to be questioned. Surely, you understand.”

The Major glanced at the Earl. The man was looking rather fidgety, and wouldn’t meet his eyes.

“You will be brief. We have business to attend to,” the Major said.

“You do not have to come along, Sir,” the detective tried. He almost bit his tongue in his haste to close his mouth under the Major’s glare.

They were taken to a local police station, and separated. The Major answered his own set of questions pertaining to the explosion. He didn’t volunteer any information. The officer in charge didn’t think of pressing several key points. The Major was left deeply dissatisfied and even more convinced that Lord Gloria’s case required his personal attention.

The Major was released within twenty minutes. He paced in the common area for fifteen more. Several detainees confessed on the spot, preferring to sit in a cell than share space with the blood-drenched madman.

Thirty minutes later, the Earl was still gone and the Major was done waiting. He charged through the station. His NATO identification served well enough to clear his way. That, and the vein throbbing over burning green eyes.

The Earl was in an interrogation room. The Major demanded to be let in. The guards proved singularly uncooperative and in the possession of more guts than their coworkers. It took a call to the Minister to get them moving, which was its own theater of threats and tears. The Major stormed into the room with a mind to give all in attendance a good earful.

The thought slipped away as soon as he stepped through the door. The Major’s mind went quiet, in the manner the sky does before a storm.

“Who hit you?” he asked, voice terribly calm.

Lord Gloria smiled. The swelling in his right cheek distorted the expression. “Hello, darling. Miss me?”

The Major barely heard him. He scanned the room. The detective from the parking lot stood much too close to where Lord Gloria sat. The officer stationed by the door wouldn’t meet the Major’s eyes.

“Out,” the Major barked.

The officer left, ignoring his superior’s orders to the contrary. The Major fixed the man in question with an empty glare.

“Major Eberbach-” the detective began.

“I see you already unplugged the camera. Very good. Saves me time.” The Major cracked his knuckles. His smile was fit for a wolf’s maw.

The detective paled. He tripped, both over his words and the chair that sat behind him. “He was being uncooperative, and – and indecent!” The Earl blew a kiss. The detective pointed at him, wild-eyed. “See?”

“Lord Gloria was the victim of tonight’s events.”

The Major stressed the Earl’s title. He also didn’t stop advancing. The detective angled the chair between them, foolishly believing it to make a suitable shield.

“Was he? Three incidents, Major! Drei! And he walks away unscathed every time. Tell me you don’t find it strange. Well, I do! That degenerate is a threat to our city, and I won’t—”

The chair went flying. The detective did, as well. Both struck walls, the latter held pinned by large hands.

“You serve the public. Your personal opinions don’t. Fucking. Matter.” Each word was accompanied by the dull sound of a skull striking concrete.

The detective lost all instincts of self-preservation, likely in a fit of fear-induced madness. He laughed, the sound choked by the Major’s grip, and stuttered out:

“Very convincing, coming from Iron Klaus. We’ve heard about your interrogation techniques, Major.”

Major Eberbach would have gladly demonstrated said techniques on the spot. He was distracted by a soft touch against his arm.

“Major, we are running rather late.”

Reason returned to the Major, albeit with great reluctance. He let the detective go. Lord Gloria looked himself again, haughty and impatient. The Major was no longer surprised to find steel under the man’s lofty expression.

“So that’s how it is,” the detective muttered. “Iron Klaus. What a fucking joke.”

The Major fixed the man with a grin that would send the Devil running. “I look forward to our next meeting, Detektiv.”

The detective turned mute and rather green.

Lord Gloria collected his effects from a bug-eyed desk attendant. The station was oddly silent. Eyes followed them out the door, making the Major’s back itch uncomfortably.

“We are going to the Embassy,” the Major declared. He would keep the Earl there until accommodations were secured in Bonn. If the Chief proved uncooperative, the Major had his own resources and every intention to utilize them. Herr Hinkel was in constant want for guests besides.

“No.”

The Major turned on the Earl. His patience was in short supply at the best of times and running empty at present. The sight of the Earl’s bruised face startled him anew.

“Did you mean what you said?” the Earl asked.

“Yes.” The Major never did otherwise.

The Earl studied the Major, blue eyes cold and sharp. He nodded once.

“This way.”

The Major followed, curiosity piqued. A black car waited around the corner. Its windows were tinted, the engine rumbling softly. The Major grabbed the Earl’s arm, staying his gait.

“Explain.”

“Not here. Please, Major.”

Major Eberbach was not a man given to sympathy, or undue softness. The note of distress in the Earl’s voice thus couldn’t be the reason he followed the man into the car. Professional interest, the Major decided. That’s what was going on the official record.

The inside of the car was large and comfortable. The Earl slid over the seats and fiddled with a side compartment, obviously familiar with the vehicle. “Drive, Bonham,” he said. The car slid into traffic.

“You have been keeping information from the police,” the Major accused.

“Yes.”

The Earl handed the Major a folder. The Major sifted through the contents, eyes scanning pages and pictures. His expression grew cold.

“How reliable are your sources?” the Major asked.

“Very. I collected most of the information myself.”

“Have you alerted the police?”

Lord Gloria shook his head. "There must be no space for doubt. He has been charged before. The case never made it to court."

"How is that possible?"

"Money makes friends, darling. Old money especially.”

Major Eberbach was well-aware of the benefits enjoyed by men and women with titles behind their names. He was of that circle, and of a family that had weathered a war on the wrong side of history with relatively few ill effects. The Major hadn’t been brought up as an aristocrat, however. Everything in him rebelled at the idea of a man doing what Sir Rex Price had done – what the old bastard was doing – with no fear of repercussions.

The car stopped in front of a house. The property was overgrown with weeds and vegetation. A tall fence isolated it from its neighbors, few that there were. They were a good distance from the city’s center. The terrain would soon turn to fields and forests.

Bonham was a short, stocky man with a comely face. He held the door open for the Earl and the Major, then led the way to the house. The Earl stopped the  Major at the door.

“You will be Klaus while we are here,” he said. “Not Major, not Eberbach. Try not to sound like a drill sergeant when you speak. Oh, and call me Dorian, would you? That’s a love.”

The Brit flounced off without allowing the Major time for rebuttal. Major Eberbach followed, a dark scowl on his face.

Bonham waited for them in front of a closed door. “There’s still fight in the lad,” the man said.

The Earl smiled. “Good. Klaus, on your best behavior now.”

The room might have been a bedroom, once. It was currently devoid of furniture save for three plain chairs. The blonde boy the Major had seen before the explosion struggled in one, hands and feet bound by thick rope. The boy let out a stream of vulgarity when he saw the Earl. Lord Gloria took a seat in one of the two remaining chairs, crossed his legs, and waited him out.

The boy ran out of breath eventually. He turned vicious blue eyes toward the Major. “Who’re you, then?” he demanded in heavy London accent, “His fucktoy?"

The Major’s expression didn’t betray his thoughts. He sat down next to Lord Gloria, eyes on the boy’s. The boy looked away with a quiet curse. Lord Gloria took that as his cue to speak.

“This is Klaus. My name is Dorian. We are here to help you, Sam.”

Sam laughed. The sound echoed in the empty room, edged with hysteria. “Help me? You’re about to ruin us all, you damned fag!"

Lord Gloria pressed his hand atop the Major’s. The Major leaned back in the chair. The boy watched them both, eyes wary and fearful for all his bravado.

“I do not mean you harm. I only wish to set a wrong right."

"That don't matter. What d'you think'll happen to me, huh? To the rest of us?"

"I will do everything in my power to keep you out of the spotlight." Sam snorted. "I can promise you this," Lord Gloria continued, "Price will suffer tremendously. For this, and for every single thing he has done to you."

Sam stared at the floor. He didn’t speak for a long time. Lord Gloria waited patiently. The Major fit the information he had together, and did not at all like what he saw.

“Why do you care?” Sam whispered at last.

“Because it is the right thing to do.”

Sam shook his head. His denial was half-hearted. He kept glancing at Lord Gloria, at the Major, chewed at his lip until it split and bled.

“Aren’t you scared?” Sam asked.

Lord Gloria smiled. “Not at all.”

"Price is.” Fear and excitement mixed in the boy’s voice.

“I know. I didn’t have to do it that way. I could have gotten what I needed without him any the wiser. But I let him find out. I wanted him to know what was coming. I wanted him to feel afraid, and helpless, and alone.”

The boy hung onto every word with starved, bright-eyed focus. Lord Gloria had him. The Major knew it before Sam did. He knew, too, that if he ever saw Sir Price in the flesh, the man won’t be of the world for long.

“What do you need me to do?” the boy asked.

Lord Gloria told him. The Major listened carefully, and made his own plans.

“He will stay at the Embassy, under NATO protection,” he said when the conversation turned to the topic. “The other boys, too.”

Sam stared. “Who is he?” he asked the Earl.

Lord Gloria smiled. He leaned in and whispered, “He’s a spy.”

Sam’s eyes grew large. He looked his age in his surprise, worlds apart from the tough hooligan he played when he felt threatened. “For real?”  

“That’s classified,” the Major drawled.

The boy stared some more, completely in awe.

Lord Gloria called his men inside. Sam lost the ropes and gained a phone, and a chauffeur. John Paul turned out to be a tall man with an easy-going smile. He promised to have the boy at the Embassy within the hour. Sam dragged his feet. He apologized in a low, wavering voice, and passed his sleeve over his eyes. Lord Gloria looked a little misty-eyed himself. Bonham and John Paul cried openly.

The Major walked out of the room. The urge to shout was growing too strong. He called Bonn and spent some time yelling at his men instead. It took three agents to pry G from the phone. Apparently, news of the bombing had made it to TV.

“I will be in Bonn shortly. I trust you have everything ready.”

“Yes, Sir!” Z breathed. A and B continued their battle with G in the background. “The identity of the perpetuators is being verified as we speak.”

“All but one name will be omitted from all versions of the report. The files are not to leave my office.”

Jawohl.”

“Good. G, SHUT THE FUCK UP! The rest of you, back to work!”

Twenty-five men saluted in near unison. G sent a flowery farewell. The Major ended the call and almost threw the phone away entirely. He was surrounded by morons.

“I see you are making good use of my mobile.”

“Don't sneak up on men carrying guns, Dummkopf. Do you want a bullet in the gut?” The Major patted at his pockets absently. He ground his teeth in frustration. “Scheisse.”

Lord Gloria came to stand beside the Major. He offered him a cigarette, then a light. A cool wind rustled through the garden. The Major cupped his hands around the Earl’s, shielding the flickering flame. He bent his head. Lord Gloria watched him. The Major inhaled deeply, and watched him back.

“Is that my lighter?”

Lord Gloria laughed. The light went out. Nimble fingers found the lapel of Major Eberbach’s suit. The lighter slipped into an inside pocket, the iron warm from the Earl’s fingers.

“Nothing gets past you, does it, love?”

“Damned thief,” the Major muttered, then added, “Don’t call me that.”

“Thank you, Major.”

 “What for.”

“Don’t play daft, darling. It doesn’t suit you.”

The Major blew out a cloud of smoke. It was a shade lighter than the night around them. Morning was looming at the horizon. The garden was dark and quiet. Within it, both men were but silhouettes.

“Take your own advice.”

Lord Gloria chuckled. He lay his head against the Major’s shoulder briefly, the pressure barely registering before it disappeared. The Major pretended not to have noticed.

“You had dealings with Price.”

“I did.”

The Major smoked. Earl Gloria watched the sky

“My family had too much to lose in the event of a scandal, and I,” the Earl sighed, “I was a fool, and a coward.”

“You were a child! Damn it,” the Major ground the cigarette butt under a heel and stormed off. The Earl hastened after him.

“Where are we going?”

“Bonn. Get in the car.”

The Earl did as told. Bonham was already behind the wheel. The Earl spoke with him quietly while the Major glared and lit another cigarette. Bonham sized the Major up before reluctantly making his way to John Paul’s car. The Major yelled at them to get going. The car peeled away with a loud screech, accompanied by a whoop of delight from Sam. Lord Gloria chuckled.

“What’s so damn funny?”

“Your concern is scarier than most people’s anger, darling.”

The Major muttered something dark. His curses got more inventive when he realized the car they had been left with was an automatic.

“You are a stick-man, hm?” Lord Gloria drawled. The innuendo was heavy enough that even the Major caught it. The NATO officer sputtered and threatened to throw the pervert out of the car. While it was still moving.

“Eroica,” Lord Gloria called over the rumble of the motor.

“What?”

“My friends call me Eroica.”

“Are all of them fops?”

Lord Gloria laughed. He entertained himself at the Major’s expense all the way to Bonn. The Major shouted himself hoarse. Both found the journey relaxing.

The reports were waiting for them, as promised. So was Agent G.

 

It was a long, trying mission.

 


 

Birds sang in treetops. Dawn pinked the skies and gilded the battlements of Schloss Eberbach, bringing to mind glory of old.

"Nein! NEIN! You useless morons! Pack your damn parkas, you're on the first plane north!"

Major Eberbach slammed the receiver over J's terrified apologies. He resumed his caged pacing, eyes narrowed to green flints. Smoke filled the room. The ashtray was full. Half a dozen coffee cups sat in a neat row along the desk. The Major gave them a passing glance, and yelled for Herr Hinkel.

"There is someone for you downstairs, Sir."

Major Eberbach grunted. "Coffee?"

Herr Hinkel emptied the ashtray and moved onto airing out the room. "I really do not think you should have more caffeine, Sir," he said impassively.

The Major grunted again. "Who's here."

"A very pleasant young man, and his parents. He said he has something for you."

"Show them in, then."

"Yes, Sir."

The Major met his guests in a comfortably furnished atrium on the first floor. He held his tongue until Herr Hinkel departed, the man blubbering about tea. The Major crossed his arms and fixed his guests with a suspicious glare. Rory wilted. The woman standing beside him nodded in recognition.

"Major Eberbach."

"Officer Kuman. NATO appreciated your assistance."

Kuman nodded. She had been among the officers who volunteered to oversee the care of the witnesses during their stay at the Embassy. "My husband," Kuman introduced. Rory waved awkwardly. "You remember Samuel." Sam grunted.

"What is this about?" the Major asked.

"Young Master!" Herr Hinkel scolded. He set a tray laden with tea and scones on a table and tried to usher everyone into a seat.

"Thank you, but we are actually only dropping something off. Sam?"

"Here." Sam thrust a large envelope at the Major. He had changed much in the months following Price's trail. The vicious, haunted look had left him entirely. In its stead was the natural surliness of a teenager.

"Did your paperwork go through?"

"We are on our way to sign the adoption documents right now," Kuman offered. "Thank you for your help, Major."

Rory patted Sam's shoulder meaningfully. "Thanks," the boy muttered.

Herr Hinkel saw the Kuman family out. He packed the scones to go, much to Sam's unvoiced delight.

The Major took the envelope to his office. He suspected he knew the sender. The contents still came as a shock.

"Bonn, A speaking."

"Cancel the retrieval mission."

"Sir?"

"Are you deaf, Agent?"

"Shall I contact the airline as well, Sir?" A asked hopefully.

The Major grunted in vague agreement. He was preoccupied with the folder Sam had brought - or rather, the documents within it. The very documents a French operative had lost to the KGB a month prior. The Major inspected each page. He picked up the calling card last. The scent of roses clung to the thick paper. The Major flipped it over.

From Eroica, with Love, he read.

Major Eberbach snorted. He put the documents in his briefcase and shrugged on a jacket.

(The card went in an inside pocket, next to the Major's lighter.)