When I arrived at Madame Trienne's fashion house I anticipated meeting my friends, confidants and bitterest enemies. A difficult pregnancy had kept me away for over four months. Now Maman was visiting from Brest and doted on her youngest granddaughter. Maman had gifted me my first free day since the birth. Naturally, I needed to immerse myself in juicy gossip.
On my arrival, House of Trienne was in an odd state of turmoil. Oh, a certain chaos is the norm, really. With 100% women and gay men (though sometimes we had our doubts about Pierre), there will be blood in the air on any given day. But instead of the usual hate fest sprung from pointless jealousy and too much shared intimacy I instantly sensed a strange mixture of eager dread, the like of which I hadn't encountered since our last royal fitting.
I pulled up a visitor’s stool to Jessica's desk. She's my best friend, despite the time she put a needle on my chair that went straight in my bum. Fair enough, I had stolen her beau – I married him, though, and still love him.
"What is happening?" I demanded. "You'd think they've put a tax on words now, no one tells me anything!"
She glanced up from her sketch just long enough to shrug minutely. "The Fashion Consultant sent us his card this morning! He's coming here - today!"
Which was nonsense to me, which well she should know. "Don't skimp on your words like a fish seller madam! Explain to me!"
"Ah, I forget! You've been away too long. You've fallen behind. You don't know the latest fashion craze!"
Which, yes, but Doctor's orders and all that nonsense. "I'm here now. Dazzle me. What card?"
"Not in the mail, but on Madame's desk, in white with gold relief. For a month now, two houses a week have received one. And then – he comes! Oh, what a man! There is none like him and his eagle eyes for fashion! He sees flaws where everyone else sees pure perfection! He breaks a house at his visit – or makes it!"
Before she could ramble on, a bell rang sharply and everyone went deathly quiet, turning towards the door – a prearranged signal, I assumed. The doors were flung open and He entered.
This Fashion Consultant wore a simple maroon shirt; snug soft leather trousers in rosy brown; black leather boots and a slim ox-hide leather belt. He was a tall man with shoulder-length, black hair – handsome without a trace of makeup. Even from the distance I saw the sharp flash of green in his stare. Without any introduction he turned to the first seamstress and glared balefully at her work.
"Disgraceful!" he growled, the hard, biting accent of Germany in his voice. "Those stitches are crooked like overcooked spaghetti. Seams are to be straight and true, that's what keeps the cloth together!"
And, yes, I always thought Marianne's stitches could use a little more finesse, even if "overcooked spaghetti" might be something of an exaggeration.
"Add more ruffles!" he ordered Lisa and pointed to the neckline of the top she tentatively held up for his appraisal. "It's too dull! Put flowers on it or something!"
For Jennie he had a quick nod. "I approve of those buttons! Makes it look more like a uniform!"
Unfortunately, Jennie never could take a compliment. I missed her words, but half the neighbourhood heard his reply: "Uniforms will never be out of fashion!"
Going down the line he pointed out sloppy cuts and bad cloth combinations and while I disagreed with some of his advice – really, "Make it sparkle at the top!" - the others obviously hung to his every syllable, especially Madame Trienne. Tears ran down her cheeks as he pronounced her latest wedding gown looking like "a strawberry on a tower of cream! Add more ruffles!"
I was glad I wouldn't have to hear his opinion of my own work.
After slamming the hotel door shut behind him, Klaus fell back against the wall, taking deep breaths. The Alphabets at work around the table looked at him with various degrees of concern. Z, who had curled up in the sofa, hastily put away Vogue Paris and got up. "We've made a list of fashion-sounding words that might assist you at the next visit, sir. 'Bateau', 'jabot', and 'angle cut'. Ah … is everything all right, sir?"
Klaus barely had the strength to focus on his subordinate. "I'll study it later," he replied curtly. "I … need to shower. I stink. And this shirt is an abomination."
He unfastened the buttons as he walked towards the bathroom, still muttering under his breath. Z thought he heard "… ruffles!" but wasn't sure.
Shaking his head, Z hoped they would find the Russian infiltrator very soon or he feared their brave major would go unhinged. This was one of the strangest missions yet, for sure. And he had never admired the major more. The man really did anything to accomplish his mission!
Dorian sashayed into the museum, eyes firmly on the familiar group to the right of the entrance to the grand exhibition – in particular on the tall man facing away from him, giving Dorian an excellent view of wide shoulders and narrow hips.
Major von dem Eberbach was there to protect something boring, which Dorian had no interest in. Still he hoped to garner some alone time with the man. The major had been awfully busy in Paris for several weeks while Dorian was planning the New York sting.
An agent must have spotted him before he reached them, as Klaus whirled towards him and looked him over with those sharp, unforgiving, green gimlet eyes.
"What are you wearing? Those seams are sloppy and the cloth is uneven! No decent fashionista would dream of being seen in daylight in those rags! That's not haute couture, that's fucking Prêt-à-porter!"
As Klaus turned back and marched off, Dorian promptly fainted.