Chapter 1: Not So Horrible
After a perfunctory knock, Klaus entered the Chief's office. This time D had really done it. Normally one of Klaus's steadier agents, D had blurted out NATO secrets on the street while talking to J. The information had been picked up by some busybody and spread to the seedier elements. Klaus had gotten a phone call from Eroica about it, for fuck's sake! The Brit had even sounded concerned! D was going to Alaska – no, fucking Greenland if Klaus could swing it.
"Ah, Major Eberbach! Come in, come in, I was just about to send for you."
The Chief ... smiled at him. Fatso's up to something. Trying to make me leave G at the office again? But no, that long, on-going debate could not have prompted the Chief's current jolliness.
"Is there a new mission for me, sir?" Klaus asked, feeling somewhat hopeful. He could do with a good mission – as long as the sticky-fingered limey stayed away.
"Funny you should ask – why, yes, I do have a new mission for you, Major Eberbach. A very important one. Sit. Interpol has asked our help with handling one of the most dangerous criminals in the world. Lucifer Black. Have you heard of him?"
"Bits and pieces. A killer for hire. Some call him 'The Tsar of Death'. Utterly mad. A bit of the netherworld boogie man. I'm to capture him?" While glorified hitmen weren't Klaus's favourite target among the scum – he preferred dealing with terrorists, Russians and Neo Nazis – he had an idea that this Lucifer Black might be worth his time.
"No. He has diplomatic immunity, so there's not much that can be done about him. Legally."
"Tough. So, what does NATO want me to do, then?"
The Chief's smile widened. If Klaus had been the type to do so, he might have crossed himself. His sixth sense, the one all good agents develop warning them of impending danger, tingled like a spider-web with a newly caught horse fly.
"Little is known about the Tsar," the Chief said, "but from what our sources tell us you would be ideal to send to find out more about him. A reconnaissance mission, if you will. On Friday you fly to the capital of Svart, where he lives. It's in Africa, near Egypt. Here, Major, are the mission details."
He handed over a flat, grey folder. The mission summary consisted of a single page. Half-way through, Klaus casually lowered one hand to hide a balled fist away from sight under the Chief's desk. The folder also held what he didn't have to examine closer to recognize as merely background information and the necessary papers to prepare him for his undercover role. They can't seriously expect me to go along with this.
"Major Eberbach, I hope I don't have to remind you that if you refuse this mission we will have no choice but to suspend you from your duty." The Chief sounded ever so slightly smug.
"Of course not. I know that an agent must accept an assigned mission," Klaus replied, adding, "sir," after a sufficiently long pause as to make it seem as if he had forgotten the honorific. But I can't do this. I just bloody hell fucking can't!
"This is an important mission to prepare for the capture of - or possibly elimination of - Mr Black. If you won't do your part, we will have to send someone else. Z, perhaps?"
His eyes were most likely to betray him. He could keep his face fully blank or make it display any emotion at will, but his eyes tended to give him away if he didn't concentrate. When he looked up, he tilted his chin just so. "That's twice you've more or less implied this would make me balk. Sir. I have said nothing of a kind. If this is what NATO asks of me, this is what I do."
Oh, if it had been a regular mission and there had been something for him to complain about – which most of the time there was - he would have ranted and shouted and made it all sorts of clear that he wasn't happy about the situation. This though ... The Chief had it in for him. Klaus had known for some time that something was brewing, but he hadn't thought that even Fatso would sink to this depth. This was personal. If he flinched; if he even blinked the other would know that he had finally found leverage to keep Iron Klaus in check. Besides, Klaus also knew the man well enough to know that the unnecessary warnings were no bluffs. If he refused he might very well get suspended. Fired. They might send Z.
He considered his suspicion confirmed when the Chief actually looked taken back.
Disappointed, are you, you slimy pest? Did you think you could break me this easily?
"The mission doesn't start until Friday, sir. I came here to request a couple of days off. A minor, personal problem have come up that I wish to deal with. Especially before this, so that I can concentrate properly on my mission. I trust this won't be a problem. You're always after me that I should take time off. I will bring the folder with me to familiarise myself with the details before Friday."
The Chief looked hesitant and Klaus decided then and there that if Fatso denied his request he would go AWOL and damn the consequences. He would return by Friday anyway, to make sure they didn't send Z. Fatso might not have any problem with sending the boy, but Klaus would have no such a thing on his conscience. If he was forced to take leave without permission he would see the mission through, yes – but afterwards, NATO could go to Hell.
"Of course you may take the next couple of days of, Major Eberbach. Good luck with your personal problem. I expect you to report in on Friday morning. Perhaps you should fill Z in on the particulars before you leave. Just in case you get ill. Or something."
Why don't you eat some more fucking sugar cubes, have a heart attack and die?
"Very well, sir, I'll do that." Klaus stood, tucked the folder under his arm and left. Not until the door had fallen shut behind him did he carefully unfold his loosely fisted left hand. Blood stained a half circle just below his little finger, where he had gouged his thumb nail to keep from showing any emotion during the last part of the short conversation. As he absentmindedly licked off the red fluid he considered how to put Z out of commission for the week. Just in case.
As the ring sounded, the see-through telephone lit up from the inside in a warm, inviting red. The colour peaked and then faded.
The next colour was blue. Dorian stopped playing the piano to admire the technology.
Bonham answered before the green really had time to blossom. "The Earl of Red Gloria's residence, North Downs, Bonham speaking."
"Yes, the Earl is home. He will take the call on another telephone. Hang on ... John Paul. Old chap."
Frowning, Bonham hung up and turned to his employer. Dorian met his eyes expectantly, with his fingers steepled before him. "Something wrong, Bonham, since you wouldn't let me take it right away? Friend of yours? John Paul?"
"No, that's just it, my Lord. I haven't the faintest as to who that is, but he seems to know me. 'Bonham, old chap,' he said. 'This is John Paul Jr. speaking. Is my old chum Dorian there?'"
"'John Paul,' he said? No, the name doesn't ring a bell. A fellow countryman, then?"
"Yes, but I'll be hung if I could tell you where he's from. A bit of Oxford, perhaps. Upper class, I wager, but more than that I haven't got a clue."
"Well, I guess there's only one way to find out. Hand me the receiver, that's a dear, Bonnie."
"Earl Dorian Red-Gloria speaking," he said in the half-singing lilt he used to answer the phone.
"Ah, Dorian, old chum! Splendid! Good to hear your voice, old chap."
Dorian blinked. The voice spoke upper class English, yes, just as Bonham had said. Male. Something about it was ever so slightly familiar, but normally he could always match a name to a voice. Now he had both a name and a voice, but neither produced a face. So, should he admit the embarrassing truth that he had forgotten someone who apparently considered himself a friend? He pondered the matter for a split second. "John Paul, how good to hear from you! I don't think I've heard from you since, oh—"
"That time in Rome. Oh yes, we had more fun there than that time you stole Sister Theresa's tape of the Beethoven Eroica Symphony. Brilliant stuff, marvellous. Say, Dorian, old chum, I'm having a yearning for some good traditional English Alphabet Soup and thought I would pop on over. Are you still up at North Downs? What say you if I come on over? I'll bring a magnum bottle of that Mosel wine you're always on about and you can show me that major renovation you've done to the place. It'll be just like that time in Russia."
"I ... ah ... suppose so. Yes. Yes, I'm still at North Downs."
"Splendid! Well, I'll just go find my belt then and I'll be on my way. I'll be there before you can say Alaska. Ta ta."
"Ta ... ta."
Rome. John Paul? Junior? The Eroica Symphony. Alphabet--
"My Lord? Is something wrong?"
"I ... think so, yes. Bonham ... I never thought I would ever have to say this, but ... Initiate the Mona Lisa defence."
Klaus hadn't worked for NATO for so long without learning how to slip away undetected. Granted, he didn't think Fatso would have him followed. Their feud wasn't official in any way. If he wasn't back by Friday the word would be out quick enough that Iron Klaus had chickened out, but until then no one should really care where he went. The trick was not to have anyone find out by mistake or have someone guess what he had been up to. That would be too embarrassing to consider.
From the depths of his wardrobe he retrieved a scarlet jogging suit jacket and shoes to match. These he squeezed into his overnight travel bag. Then he drove towards Eberbach. About twenty minutes down the road he detoured into the forest. To change plates on his Mercedes was a moment's work. He also changed clothes, braided his hair tight and pushed back his forelock with gel, before donning a Stetson. To further change his face he put on square, brown-tinted glasses. Then he turned the car around and headed back towards the Flughafen Köln/Bonn. Where tickets waited for him under the name of John McAffrey, Englishman of Scottish descent. One of his many identities, but noticeably one of the few not arranged courtesy of NATO. An invitation to a shooting competition in London dealt with the gun issue. Not that he didn't trust NATO as a whole, but there were bad peas in all pods and to use a NATO identity for a private flight might be reported. Early in his career he had decided to always have a second plan ready, should the worst happen. While far from "the worst", the Chief's stunt felt important enough to use a fake identity for. He could always arrange another, regardless if he stayed with NATO or not.
The whole business with arranging the flight and using the secret identity kept him occupied until he boarded the plane for Heathrow. Then the situation began to catch up with him and he wondered what the hell he thought he was doing. He waved off the very attentive flight attendants and sat the entire flight with his eyes firmly closed. Some thought he slept, others – based on his stiff back and clenched jaw – that he was afraid of flying. Not until the wheels bounced onto British soil did he look up again, less sure than ever of what he was about to do. Since he had only brought hand luggage he soon found himself in the "Arrivals" part of the airport. There he rented a car, not even bothering to make a fuss about the vehicle being of an inferior, British make rather than a good German car.
He drove to North Downs mostly on automatic. If he hadn't had to pay attention to driving on the "wrong" side of the road he probably wouldn't have remembered anything about the trip afterwards. He felt exhausted, as if he had been on a non-stop mission for several weeks. Perhaps I should have waited. Have had a good night's sleep. Gone tomorrow morning instead. 't wouldn't have made much difference. Except that then he would have still been in Germany for another night. Perhaps something would have happened and he wouldn't have had the chance to make his escape. For that was what it was, part of him grudgingly admitted, if only to himself. An escape. He had turned tail and fled. True, he had all intention of returning, but he wouldn't have made his get-away if the Chief hadn't played his trump card.
He almost drove the little blue car straight into the gate to the wall surrounding North Downs. Which was kind of strange, because he had never seen the gate closed before. Nor did he have a memory of the walls being topped by spear heads and rolls of barbed wire. That's not very ... What's that word he uses? ... aesthetic at all. After the car had screeched to a stop he glanced around to make sure he hadn't taken a wrong turn somewhere, but there was the castle, all right, the ancestral home of the Red-Gloria clan.
The gates began to open and he wondered who was on detail to keep the road in sight. During the trip he had removed the braids, combed out his hair and taken off the glasses as well as the loathed scarlet jacket, so he should be easily recognizable. He couldn't help but to give a tired sneer at the thought that he actually trusted the fop's men not to give away his whereabouts when he wouldn't have even hinted about it to one of his own agents – not even to Z, who – if Klaus's calculations were correct – currently was having his stomach pumped at a local hospital in Bonn.
As he continued up the white- and pink-shingled road to the castle he noticed that most of the building's windows were shuttered. Why would the wankers do such a stupid thing? It's stifling hot outside. Of course - hot and cold were just a matter of discipline, but the thieves had repeatedly proven that they had very little of the latter. And then – the surprise made him actually shift the car almost onto the grass beside the road – he saw his tank! Not only that – it moved at a slow speed over the luxurious lawn, heading for the gate!
He didn't intercept the Leopard, since he had called ahead. They had known for some time that he was coming, so if they had wanted to hide it from him they could have done so with plenty of time to spare. Klaus shook his head. At least they seem to have fixed it and kept it operable.
Something swift and close to the ground moved in a far away area by the wall. Klaus couldn't make out any details, but guessed at something canine.
The last part of the road went through a lovely little birch alley, where sunlight played in the trees and dappled the road prettily. Or used to. At first Klaus assumed that the fickle Earl had tired of the alley and perhaps had wanted a clear view from the castle over the miniature labyrinth rose garden. And perhaps so. But if so, his change of heart had come very recently. The trees still lay where they had fallen and Klaus couldn't imagine Eroica allowing such a blemish on his perfect home for any period of time longer than absolutely necessary.
Before he had even stopped the car, the castle gate opened. Bonham emerged and Klaus could only stare as he mechanically turned off the engine and grabbed blindly for his bag. If he had been the theatrical sort he might have hummed the Twilight Zone theme song. Bonham wore one of his regular T-shirts; so far, so good. A black one which read "My Boss went to Eberbach" in white letters on the front. What rocked Klaus was the camouflage-coloured green pants and the military boots. Not to mention the ammunition belts and the gun holster. Maybe I am in the Twilight Zone. Maybe I switched universes while passing the English Channel. Maybe when I get back home I will find my wardrobe full of pink uniforms.
Or, far more likely, I bet they're playing some kind of kinky, stupid game. After all, Eroica did seem to have something of a military fetish. Maybe he would leave me alone if I became an accountant? Somehow he doubted it.
"This way, Major," Bonham called and waved for him.
Ignoring a nagging sense of foreboding, Klaus followed the other into the castle. When the gate was not only closed behind him, but locked and bolted, a cold shiver tickled down his back. He tightened his arm muscles minutely, just to feel his own gun holster. His jacket was open in the front. If the perverts tried anything he would have easy access.
Bonham led him through several narrow corridors and up three sets of stairs. They passed two others in Eroica's entourage. That both of them also were dressed like some sort of pseudo-military – albeit one with a manic obsession for fashion – did nothing to soothe Klaus's tingling sixth sense. Then Bonham opened the door to a cosy little library. A small fire burned in the fireplace and living candles fluttered here and there. The window wasn't shuttered, but had been enforced with gold and silver bars on the inside. "Here, Major von dem Eberbach. Sit down. The Earl will be with you in a minute." When Klaus had sat down, Bonham made as if to leave, in the process showing "and all I got was this lousy T-shirt" on his back.
Klaus decided to indulge his curiosity. "I've been a bit occupied. Did England declare war when I wasn't looking? Or did the thief finally get around to raiding the Louvre?"
He expected a quick smile. Which he got, but it wavered. "Well, Major ... Funny you should mention the Louvre ..."
No. No, no, no! Oh, shit! It felt as if someone had thrown a bucket of ice water over him. "Tell me that the idiot didn't! Tell me—"
"No, no, no, Major! Calm down! He didn't. It's just – we call this—" He gestured to the windows and at his own outfit. "—the Mona Lisa defence."
"The Mona Lisa defence?" Klaus repeated.
"Yes. My Lord had everything installed by experts, oh, years ago. It's for if—"
"—if I ever get something immensely precious in here which I need to protect," said the Earl.
Lord Dorian Red-Gloria stood in the door. Even Klaus had to admit that the man cut a fine figure in close-fitting black with white ruffles and white boots. The fashion-mad military designer had been at work there too; not as much with guns and ammunition as with gold-ornamented knife sheaths – two, four, seven, ten – at least twelve of them, likely more. All occupied, of course, and Klaus knew from experience that while to put guns anywhere near the Earl was a recipe for disaster, the man could wield anything sharp like nobody's business.
"Oh Major! What's wrong?" Dorian broke his pose and all but leaped up to Klaus's chair, where he sank to his knees. He put a hand on the left armrest and actually looked worried. "What do you need me to do? What happened?"
Klaus wondered what had betrayed him this time. He had kept a blank face, that he knew, and he had thought he had control over his eyes as well. Apparently not as much as he could have hoped. Or perhaps the sissy would have done the same no matter what?
"I need to talk to you," he said, adding a terse, "Alone." He would rather run naked through Moscow than make his request in front of an audience. Especially one in close contact with one of his more gossip-prone men.
The Earl made a jerking gesture with his free hand and Bonham was out of the door within heartbeats. "There. Just the two of us. Major ... You look so tired. What is it? Have you been awake for several days during a mission again? Shall I stand sentry for you? You do look so sweet when you're asleep."
Klaus reminded himself sharply to have patience. "No. Sit in a chair, would you?" The presence of the other, so close, made his skin itch.
Dorian stood, perhaps a little more stiffly than normally would have been the case. Possibly due to the knives. "Of course. Oh, and where are my manners? Would you like something do drink? Perhaps some Earl Grey with lemon, old chap?"
Klaus smiled weakly. "Coffee, if you have it."
"Nescafé. Gold Blend. No milk. No sugar. Of course I keep a stash, just for you. Coming right up."
He had turned and reached half-way to the door – Klaus counted another four knives from the new perspective – before Klaus had time to add, "And some whisky."
Dorian hesitated, then continued. "Of course. Just a moment." He soon returned. This time he settled in the chair beside Klaus, first turning it so that they could look at one another.
Or so you can ogle me, anyway.
"Bonham will come up with it shortly. And now – what's with all the cloaks and daggers, my dear?"
"I would ... appreciate it if you told your men not to tell anyone I was here." He lit a cigarette and took a long drag.
"Consider it done. But darling, you're frightening me here. Who is after you? Or does this have anything to do with those ... sensitive papers D spoke of to J? Do they think you have them on you? Or do they think you've done something? Are the police after you? Or do they—"
"Nothing like that. Do you know of a Lucifer Black? Goes by the nickname of 'The Tsar of Death'?"
While he had looked worried before, Dorian had still smiled – up until he heard the name. "Of course I know Lutz. He's a member of the Rogues' Gallery. He was here that time you actually expressed an interest in seeing me naked, and—"
Klaus clenched his jaw. "I wanted your underwear, not you." He tried to remember who else had been there the first time he had visited North Downs, but he couldn't remember anyone in specific who might match the very sparse description in his file. Or rather, there had been several tall blonds present.
"Yes, yes, details, details ..." Dorian waved off his refutation and then placed his right hand dramatically on his chest. "I can still remember the flutter of my heart as you looked me straight in the eyes and told me to take off my pants."
"Whatever. What does he look like?"
Dorian frowned. "Major ... You know I would do a lot of things for you, but we in the Rogues' Gallery have something of a gentleman's agreement between us. We do not reveal information about one another to people who might not have our best interests at heart. If you've come here, expecting me to sing like a nightingale for you—"
Eroica sounded annoyed, which did not fit into Klaus's plans at all. "I only asked since you said he was here when I was here. Forget it."
"Very well then. You know you are always welcome here, Major, but – and do forgive me for repeating myself – why have you come? Not for this 'traditional English Alphabet Soup' you mentioned, I trust. You seem to have left some key ingredients for it back in Germany."
"I shouldn't tell you. To do so is against the NATO rules, so don't betray me in this. You are aware of that Lucifer Black has diplomatic immunity?"
"Yes. Quite handy, that."
"I have been given a scouting mission. I will go to Svart to find out more information about him."
"Darling ... If you have come here to ask me to break into the Svart Royal Palace ... Again, I will do my best to help you with whatever you need, but it is my professional opinion that it is not physically possible to break into the Svart Royal Palace. The Black's know their business. I would much rather take on Buckingham Palace for you, dear. In fact, I have this—"
"The Svart Royal Palace?"
"Well, they don't call him 'Tsar' for nothing, you know."
Klaus felt an insistent headache creep up on him. "I didn't know. They forgot to mention that."
"How negligent. That's why he has diplomatic immunity. As I said, quite handy, that. Hmm ... King Dorian of Redde. Does that sound good to you? I think I have a position open for King-Consort, if you would be interested."
A knock saved Klaus from having to answer. Bonham entered, carrying a tray with a coffee mug; a tea set; a whisky bottle and two small glasses.
"Thank you, Bonham. Just a moment, please, though, before you go. Major von dem Eberbach, love of my life, I'm still not quite sure what it is you want of me, but am I at least to understand that you are in no immediate danger? You didn't come here with Lucifer in high pursuit, did you?"
"Nein. I just needed to get away with no one at NATO the wiser." He accepted the coffee mug from Bonham. Somehow he was not at all surprised to see the Eberbach boar, in black, trotting over the blue water of Neckar, on it. Below read the caption "775 Jahre Stadt Eberbach". Absentmindedly he wondered just how often Dorian visited his home-town. The mug was warm against his hands and he gratefully took a sip.
"Good, love. Bonham, tell everyone that Major von dem Eberbach was never here. He never called; he never came; he never left – and Major, you are welcome to stay for as long as you like. Stay forever. Oh, and Bonham, it seems as if I was a tiny bit rash on initiating the Mona Lisa defence. Be a good man and get everything back to normal."
"Of course, my Lord. Ah ... Though if it's all the same to you, I think I'll wait a bit on telling James. He seems so happy in the bunker."
"You might as well wait a bit with that, yes. Very good. Thank you, Bonham."
Bonham left again. Klaus opted to push the conversation himself, since Dorian had a tendency to distract him. "I don't want you to break into the Svart Royal Palace. It's a one man mission. I have an identity ready and will go there by plane on Friday. I am to work in the Royal Guard. So I guess someone knew about the Tsar-business not being just a fancy nickname."
"Oh. You're a little dark-haired for most of the guards, my own, but not unbelievably so. Most of the guards are blond."
"You've been there?"
"Only to visit. How did you think I know that the palace is as burglary-proof as it gets? You didn't think I took someone's word for it, did you?"
The headache intensified. Not now. I can't afford a headache right now. He drank some more coffee. "I'm to work in the Royal Guard, find Lucifer Black and get the information the ... old-fashioned way."
Dorian pulled back. "Torture and scopolamine?" he asked in a high tone of voice. His tea cup clattered against the plate when he put it down.
Klaus snorted. "You watch too many spy movies." He cleared his throat before giving the correct answer. "Pillow talk."
Dorian blinked twice, slowly. "Pillow talk?" he repeated, enunciating the word as if Klaus had accidentally spoken it in German.
"Ja. Him talking while his head is on the same pillow as my head. Normally while we are lying in bed. Traditionally after having had sex." He spelled it out not only for Dorian's sake, but a little for his own as well, listening carefully if his voice would waver. It didn't.
"I forbid it!"
"I forbid it! Who do they think they are? How could they make you do such a thing? And you're going to do it?! How can you just do that? How can you just sit there and tell me that you're going to whore yourse--"
Klaus had grabbed the Earl's ruffled outfit and shook him hard. "Lord Gloria!" he hissed. "Shut! Up!" He gave the Earl one more violent shake and then flung him back into the chair. All his instincts screamed for him to leave. To stop himself he grabbed the Eberbach mug again, holding it with both hands and looking at the heraldic shield. That's what he thinks of me now. A whore. Well, perhaps that's just as well. That should teach me not to trust other people. Perhaps I should-- Oh, no-- Words forced their way out of his mouth when he had had no intention to give away his pain. "It's not like I want to!"
"Major? I ..." Dorian's voice, now sounding more horrified than angry, trailed off.
He made himself look up from the Eberbach boar and meet the Earl's eyes. Next thing he knew, Dorian was on his knees again. This time he held onto both arm rests, effectively hemming Klaus in.
"Oh, God, Klaus – I'm so, so sorry! I can't believe I said that! I'm so sorry!" The Earl's anguished wail broke through the wall Klaus had started to erect around himself. "Klaus? Forgive me! I'm so, so sorry! I'm really, really sorry. My stupid mouth, I just blurted it out! Please – I didn't mean it! Klaus?"
Carefully, long fingers reached up to touch Klaus's hands. Merely touch them, fingertips to his cold skin, as if Dorian feared he would bolt like a scared horse. Which was just as much touch as Klaus felt he could tolerate.
"Klaus? Major von dem Eberbach?"
He shrugged, unable to deny the honest pain in Dorian's eyes. He opened his mouth to speak, when he to his absolute horror felt something swell in his throat. If you start crying, von dem Eberbach, I'll blow your brains out all over his fancy fireplace! He took a deep breath and, when the air didn't catch in his chest, told Dorian the truth. "It is a demand NATO can make of its agents, if it is unavoidable. Many—"
"Then fuck NATO!" Dorian hissed. His blue eyes glimmered dangerously.
"—female NATO agents are asked to perform this duty. That a male agent—"
"Fuck them all, they have no right!"
"—is asked is more rare, but it happens. As a NATO agent, I must follow given orders—"
"Not when the orders are idiotic!"
"—no matter how idiotic the orders might be. If I refuse to accept an assigned mission—"
"It's not a mission, it's a fucking travesty!"
"—I will get suspended. Depending on the reason for my failure to comply—"
"You don't need NATO, Major! I know you love your country and your work, but—"
"—I might get fired. I do love my country. I do love my work. I don't want to do this. I—"
"Then don't! Again – you don't need them! There are tons of available jobs out there for you, Major!"
"—have to do it! It's my duty! I can't shirk it just because I don't—" and his voice did waver then, no matter how much he tried to prevent it,"—like what I've been told to do. I—"
"Fuck your duty! Join me, then! You're welcome here, you know it! No strings attached, I swear it on my father's grave!"
He closed his eyes. "—can't let him win, can't you see? He thinks this will break me. I won't give him the satisfaction. I must—"
"Who's 'he', Major? Tell me his name and I'll have him killed this very night, I swear!"
The cold, serious, calculating tone in Dorian's voice made Klaus focus on him again. "For fuck's sake, no! You'll do no such thing!"
"What he wants you to do is no better than if he had raped you himself!"
He lowered his gaze again, looking at the Earl's ruffled outfit and the swirls of gold in the knife hilts. "And if I don't go, he made clear that they will send Z."
Which shouldn't be possible, considering the nifty little tape/band aid thing he had fastened to Z's ear – and he had thought Z would have some sort of attack when he ruffled his hair. For as long as the adhesive held, Z would be down for the count. Only, Klaus couldn't be sure of how long that would be. Z might accidentally scratch it off or something.
"Oh, darling! That's a marvellous idea!"
Klaus prided himself with his quick, agile mind. What took him so long to compute the Earl's exclamation was the man's pleased tone in combination with the words themselves. Neither were within the range of Klaus's possible responses in regards to sending innocent Z to a madman's bed. He stared at the Earl, who smiled; bright and happy as if this solved all their problems.
"You—" he began and then had to stop as he mentally rattled through his entire – and rather impressive, by most standards – store of insults, spanning not only German and English, but Spanish, Italian, Norwegian, Russian and even a few from various oriental languages. They all failed to express his fury. He considered just going through them all out loud, anyway - it was either that or simply deck the fucker - when hands grabbed his wrist.
"No, Klaus, no! I didn't mean it like that! Listen to me! He'd be safe, I swear it!"
Then why can't you swear it for me? he wondered and just kept glaring. The intrusive touch burned his skin, but he forced himself to ignore his unease.
"Klaus – if Lucifer wouldn't have recognized me I would have offered to take your place in a heartbeat. I would have been just as safe. Lucifer would have just ... tickled under my chin—" The Earl sat straighter, pushed back his shoulders and reached up towards Klaus's face. Klaus batted his hand away. Dorian withdrew, still smiling just a little. "—called me 'such a pretty one' and sent me off to play with the other boys. As he will do with Z, I guarantee it."
"Why would he?"
"Same reason the guard is predominantly blond. Lucifer adores blonds – but purely, and I mean this, purely platonically. He has brothers – a number of brothers, I'm honestly not sure how many – all of them blond. I'm guessing that's why, anyway. Blonds are a total turn-off for him."
Klaus sighed. "You shouldn't have told me. Now I have to tell Z to colour his hair if he must go."
"That won't help. One of Lutz's brothers colours his, so that's just as bad. Unless Z was to colour his hair ... all over. And even so – dear Z doesn't look the type to have much knowledge of this kind of thing. To keep your body hair – all your body hair – perfectly coloured is not easy. I tried it once, so I'm talking from experience here. And I'm sure I don't have to tell you that if Lucifer finds out that Z colours all of his body hair to suit Lucifer's taste, Lutz will know that something is up."
Disgusted, Klaus threw Dorian's hand which still lingered on his arm off him. "And you had to tell me that too, didn't you, you id—..." He bit off the last word, reminding himself sternly what he had spent the entire trip preparing for – not insulting Dorian. True, Klaus's normal slurs seemed to roll off the thief like water off a goose, but on occasion Klaus wondered how much of it really did and how much of the serene acceptance was Eroica's game face. "Now I have to tell them that too."
Dorian brought his hands back to the arm rests and smiled brilliantly. "So they can't send Z! Wasn't that what you wanted, dear?"
"No! I mean ... yes! Of course! But they would send someone else, then. Who should I have on my conscience, Lord Gloria, if I chicken out?"
Dorian's smile fell. "Oh. I didn't think of that." He sat back on the Persian carpet and brought his arms around his knees.
After a minute or so in silence Klaus reached for the whisky. Something Scottish - The Original Dimple – established in 1627, this particular kind 15 years old. "You want some?"
"Then sit up."
Of course Dorian could have drunk where he was, but Klaus was getting a little itchy with having him there. The Brit didn't question the order, but returned to his chair. Klaus tossed back a glass before pouring another one for himself and filling up Dorian's. The shivering fire of the alcohol spread down his throat and stomach before slowly starting to work its way outwards. They sat in silence, drinking and thinking. When Dorian held out his glass again, Klaus filled it and topped his own, before placing the bottle on the floor by Dorian's chair. He did have a great capacity for drinking, but he had a feeling that if he let himself he would drink himself into a stupor. That wouldn't help.
"So ... " Dorian said, swirling the golden liquid in his glass thoughtfully. "You intend to go through with this madness?"
"Because you don't want anyone else to have to do it in your stead."
"That's part of it."
"Oh, yes. Let's not forget that you also intend to do it because you're a proud son of a bitch who won't turn down a mission no matter what it costs you to go through with it."
"That's why they call me Iron Klaus. Or partly why, anyway."
Dorian smiled. "And that's partly why I love you. I still don't approve in any way, you realise. What if they do it again, then? What if they do it over and over again?"
Klaus shook his head. "No."
"But they could. You said it yourself. What if ... what if I were to do the Louvre and say they could have her Ladyship back if I get to get lucky with Major von dem Eberbach?"
Klaus looked up sharply. The fop watched him with an expression ... it wasn't expectant as if he gauged the possibility of doing just such a thing. He didn't leer. There was nothing about him that indicated that he was aware of that he had said something that very well could be taken as an – if somewhat subtle - blackmail attempt. Or at the very least as the limey's normal teasing, completely out of line for the occasion. He looked concerned, if anything, as if he actually worried about NATO's possible surrender to such a demand. Though he had begun to frown a little, so perhaps he had started to consider what he had just said. Klaus shook his head again, to prevent another case of Dorian fawning at his feet. "No," he repeated. "Once I can do it, to show them I would if necessary. If they try again, I can turn them down – and I will. And if they insist--" He took a deep breath. "--perhaps that job offer you mentioned might still be open. Not the King-Consort one."
Dorian laughed sadly. "Major – if you had meant the King-Consort one, I would have started a revolution. But the no strings attached one will always be open. Not that I actually think you want it."
Klaus swirled towards the window, in time to see the metal bars slide into the window frames. Left were tiny pegs which fitted right into the décor.
"Elaborate system, your Mona Lisa defence."
"I did want something that wouldn't clutter things up unless absolutely necessary. I have some cousins who are very good at these sort of things. They did the Svart Royal Palace too, though that is far more elaborate. Now, Major von dem Eberbach ... It seems as if I can't persuade you to drop this and elope with me—"
Klaus rolled his eyes.
"—so I'm more or less back to my original question. I will assume that the German noblesse doesn't have an etiquette that requires one to personally inform unwanted suitors that they are about to get their hearts broken. So. Why are you really here, Major? What do you need me to do?"
"Do you know what The Tsar of Death does?"
"Yes, Major. He's a killer. A good one. The best, some say."
"The worst, I'd say. Lord Gloria – he has killed more people than some wars. He has practically committed genocide on a one by one basis. He's an insane, cold-blooded serial-killer who happens to have found a way to get paid for his jollies."
Klaus drank the last of his whisky and eyed the bottle speculatively. Perhaps just one more glass wouldn't hurt? No. Not now. Not yet. You're almost there, now. Then you can drink some more. Just wait a little longer. "They call me Iron Klaus."
Both of the Earl's eyebrows went up. "Yes, I do believe I've heard that moniker being used."
"Iron is rough, hard and cold. And so am I." He put away the whisky glass and looked Dorian in the eyes. "I'm frigid."
"'m frigid. Not into sex. Of any kind. I have no interest or desire to touch anyone. Man, woman, child or animal. I hardly even masturbate. When I do it, it is just to relax my body. The idea of having sex with anyone is to me, frankly, repulsive."
He had never told anyone before. On some level it felt good to have someone else know.
Dorian groped for the bottle without moving his big, staring eyes. He quickly refilled his glass, holding the Dimple out in a mute offer. Klaus considered it, then held out his glass. He didn't drink though, just kept the alcohol in reserve.
"Maybe you just haven't found ... Miss Right yet?" Dorian suggested in an uncertain, tentative tone.
Klaus shook his head. "I doubt it. I just don't feel the urge."
"Maybe the people you've ... been with, so far, haven't been very ... skilled?"
"Lord Gloria – I'm a virgin."
He had timed it to the second. Dorian had just taken a chug and now coughed desperately. Klaus rewarded himself with a quick sip. In a way it was kind of amusing, how Dorian looked at him – tough in a way rather sad too.
"So it wasn't just that you found me repulsive, then, Major?"
He shook his head. In fact, from a little distance he could very well admire the other's looks. It was just when Eroica got too close and started pawing at him that his stomach would tighten up and all his nerve endings tickled.
"Well ... I suppose that is at least something good. I was wondering a little if I had lost my charm."
Klaus shrugged. He certainly wouldn't say anything that might give the bugger any ideas.
"Major ... I feel a little bit as if I've been dropped into the Twilight Zone. I wasn't expecting ... this, when you called."
He snorted. "When Fatso gave me the mission—"
"So it was him."
"Ja." He saw no problem with revealing that. For the Prince of Thieves it would be easy to find out such a thing. The glint in Eroica's eyes hinted strongly that something would be done, but as long as the man didn't say anything out loud, Klaus could ignore it. And as long as no one actually died. "When Fatso gave me the mission—" he repeated, "—I told him that I needed a few days off before Friday to deal with a personal problem."
The calculating gleam instantly vanished, replace by attentiveness. "Yes?"
"So, can you help me?"
"I'll do anything in my power to help you. More exactly with what, my love?"
"My virginity. I want to get rid of it."
This isn't happening. None of this is happening. The last shipment of sleeping gas was contaminated and I've managed to inhale some. I'm hallucinating. Please, sweet muses, don't let me wake up!
Major von dem Eberbach watched him with a gleam of his usual disdain. If he had been any other, Dorian would have expected him to, at any minute now, start laughing and going, "Fooled you!" However, the major's sense of humour was far more direct and tended towards the physical. Nor would he go to such an extent just to lull Dorian in. Which meant ... "You're serious?"
The major shrugged. "Rather you than him. Besides, perhaps that'll get you off my back too. Two birds with one stone and all that crap."
Dorian frowned. "I suppose I should be grateful that you consider me a step up from a homicidal maniac, my dear. Though I'm certain you will be disappointed in the latter. I don't give up easily."
Klaus abruptly stood. "We'll see. So. Your bedroom is two corridors to the left, second door from here, right? Let's go." He jerked his chin towards the door.
"Who-a, there, Major! Who-a! Sit down again. I don't think this discussion is quite finished yet." Nor did he think his knees would carry him if he got up.
All but growling in frustration, Klaus threw himself down on the chair again. What's wrong, you fucking—Oh, to Hell with this. "What's wrong, you fucking wanker? I hand you myself on a fucking platter and you fucking want to have a fucking conversation?"
Dorian gave a helpless laughter. "I know, Major, I know - it's absurd. It's just ... maybe we really are in the Twilight Zone. It certainly feels as if we are."
"Get yourself together, man. We're not." At least Klaus didn't think so. "Look, Lord Gloria, it's very simple. I want to prepare for my mission. I will have to perform something I have no prior knowledge of. I need to get educated. I get an expert to teach me. You're an expert in your field. Teach me."
"It sounds so easy when you say it like that, my own, but ... I can't help feeling that I would be helping ... him. Fatso. Your chief."
"You'll be helping me. Isn't that what you said you would do? I need to know at a bare minimum what to expect." What he hadn't expected was to have to persuade the pervert to take advantage of him.
"I don't like it. It still feels like some kind of rape. You are not here of your own free will."
Klaus mentally threw up his hands. "Well, if you hate it so much, I can go back to Germany and pick up a prostitute."
"Why didn't you? If all you wanted was an ... expert in my field."
To admit the truth was difficult, but apparently necessary. "Trust."
"I ... think I misheard you, my love. What did you say?"
"I could do it, but I wouldn't feel safe. It'll be difficult enough as it is. You I know where I've got. If you hurt me, I can find you." He didn't mean physically hurt, though the thief would come to regret that too, if things went overboard.
"And you trust ... me, of all people?"
Klaus shrugged. "What choice do I have? No one seems much interested, anyway. It's not like I have herds of screaming fangirls chasing after me."
He glanced over to Dorian, wondering with considerable annoyance what else he could say that might do the trick. Or perhaps he should just revert to Plan B, which had been – if he had chickened out from talking things over with Dorian – to throw the man over his shoulder, march to the castle's master bedroom, dump the thief in the bed and strip. Plan B felt more tempting by the minute.
Dorian stared at him. Then he blinked. And stared some more. His mouth hung half-open.
Is it finally sinking into your little brain or what?
"No one? Seems much interested? Klaus – I'm going to call you Klaus, if we're going to make love I damn well will call you by your first name - tell me, which colour is the sky in your part of the Twilight Zone?"
"You don't count."
"I always count. However, there are other human beings out there who haven't had their ocular nerves damaged. Klaus – the only reason why you aren't pursued like a bitch in heat is that you carry a friggin' Magnum!"
"Oh, if I wanted to have sex with anyone I could find partners. What I mean, Lord Gloria—"
"—is that they aren't serious. No one has ever made a real effort. Except for you. They might want my body, but you're the only one who ever has seemed to want ... me." And that was the high and low of it. Without the use of heavy drugs it would take a skilled torturer days to get it out of him, but if he had to have sex with anyone, at least he wanted it to be with someone for whom it would matter – someone for whom he mattered.
"Then they are fools."
"So are most people."
"But what about ... what about Z, then? Z loves you."
If he had been drinking, this would have been his turn to snort liquid through his nose. "Like a brother! Don't judge everyone by your own standards, Lord Gloria—"
"—Z might have a bit of a hero worship thing going on with me, but he's a good, heterosexual boy!"
"You keep telling yourself that, love. G, then?"
"That's just subterfuge. I protect him and draw interest away from someone he actually likes. At least lately. Besides, come on, Lord Gloria—"
"—would you sleep with one of your—Never mind, forget I asked. And if you even breathe a word about Laurence I will use your head as a football."
"I wasn't about to, dear. There are things man was not meant to think of and that would be one of them."
They sat in silence for a few minutes.
"So ... You want me to show you – teach you? – about what exactly? Oral and anal penetration?"
"Both as a top and as a bottom?"
"Ah ... You do know what those words mean, right?"
"I'm not fucking stupid!"
"Okay, okay, just checking. I'll throw in some kisses and some rimming too, though you might want to stay on the receiving end on that one, dearest."
"Whatever." In truth, he wasn't quite clear on what that last part entailed, but he felt sure he could take anything the Earl dished out.
"Right. I'm still not all happy about the situation, but I want two things in return."
That did it. The headache blossomed. "You get to have sex with me, you degenerate! And you have the gall to ask me for more?!"
Dorian got off the chair again and – for the third time – knelt before Klaus. You enjoy that position or what, you pervert?
Tentative hands stroked over Klaus's own. "It's not like that. I wouldn't ask if I didn't think it was absolutely necessary. Hear me out?" The cool, light touch was acceptable, hardly offensive at all.
"You have until Friday before you must be back in Bonn. I want one more day with you. Not with sex! Just one day when we are both on our best behaviour, getting to know one another. You're always a bit on the edge, but right now you're so tense I fear you will snap. We need to ... get a little bit more comfortable with each other. So. Tonight we just sleep together. No sex. That's for tomorrow night."
"This is stupid. I'll get more tense, not relax. I want this over with today."
"What did you call me? An expert in my field?"
"You came to get expert help. I'm the expert. It is in my expert opinion that we should wait."
The fop's mouth was set in a determined line and he sounded as if he wasn't going to budge. Besides, what did Klaus really have to get back to in Germany? He was in no hurry and with a headache to boot. "And the second thing?"
"A cousin of mine is coming over tomorrow evening. He won't stay for long. Ten minutes – fifteen tops. I don't require you to do anything but to be present while he is here and not object when I allude to the two of us being in a relationship."
"I won't let you trot me around like some kind of bloody trophy wife!"
"I wouldn't do it like that, Klaus. Please agree to this. It's very, very important to me." The Earl cocked his head and pouted a little. His blue eyes glittered up a storm.
Theatrical little shit. Klaus snorted. "I suppose I can stand it for ten minutes, Lord Gloria."
"Dorian," he was, once more, gently reminded.
They ate in Dorian's private dining room. Beef filet, both medium well, with three sauces and a small mountain of fried potatoes. Klaus half expected Mosel wine, but what Dorian poured for both of them was of some different sort, no doubt horribly expensive. They spoke little and only of general things. Which is to say – Dorian spoke of general things and Klaus concentrated on filling his belly. Now and then he snorted, injected a grunt or shook his head. At one point, when Dorian regaled him with a story of something incredibly stupid Rufus, one of Dorian's men, had done, Klaus admitted that E had done the very same thing.
After dinner Dorian walked him around the castle. Klaus automatically memorized the artwork, for later checking against the Interpol database. He was fairly sure he recognized some and had a nagging suspicion that Dorian would find hanging copies gauche. Other than that he saw little of interest and merely allowed himself to be led. He did perk up when they, in a room neighbouring Dorian's suite, reached North Down's armoury.
Who would have thought? There are some useful things in this place after all.
Knives. Swords. Garrottes. Even a couple of ornamented axes, for fuck's sake! Most bore the fop's stamp of prettiness in jewels, damascened blades and patterned hilts, but not more so than that they could still be used - and they were obviously cared for. Some hung on the walls, mounted on shields of dark wood. Others were in display cabinets. Here and there a small spotlight glittered in diamonds or made a sharp edge cast reflections.
"I shan't be a minute," Dorian promised, though in fact it took him almost five to divest himself of the carried knives. The final count added up to 26. Klaus felt slightly amazed that the man had been able to move, much less with his usual, effortless grace.
They proceeded to Dorian's bedchamber. "Normally I would be up a little longer, but it's been an exhausting day," Dorian said. "For you too, I'm sure. So, I suggest we retire. Do you need to borrow some pyjamas, dear? Not that I would mind sleeping next to your naked body, but I do happen to have something in just your size that I think you wouldn't find too offensive."
"I have something." Not that he had thought he would get to wear it this night – at least not for long - but he had brought his regular overnight bag, so there should be sufficient clothing. Feeling a little awkward he hefted the bag and looked around.
"My bathroom is through there, if you need to freshen up."
By the time Klaus got back after having put on his pyjamas and brushed his teeth, Dorian had also changed, into rich, dark blue pyjamas with a gold pattern to rival a pasha's ceremonial costume. The thief greeted Klaus with a smile and put down the phone before he himself went into the bathroom for the last preparations for the evening. Klaus found himself standing by the bed, staring at the red and gold quilt. It had tassels along the edges, in the same colours. He poked the covers and sighed inwardly. I should never have agreed to this. Where did I go wrong? He was to jump me as soon as I indicated that I might not break his jaw if he tried. It wasn't supposed to be this entire production.
He glanced around the opulent room. To him it was overfilled with artsy objects, packed so tight that surely it must be considered gaudy. I don't belong here. He should be home, in Germany, studying up for his mission. The folder on the Tsar had been paltry – surely there must be more information to be had. Fatso must have short-changed him somehow. Some books might have helped him with that whole "sex with a man"-issue. Besides, perhaps him being a virgin might actually have worked in his favour with the Tsar. Some men liked virgins, he knew. That didn't make much sense to him – surely a skilled partner would be preferable? But since he had no personal experience, perhaps there was something he was unaware of.
The bathroom door opened again. Dorian went over to the bedside table, from which he lifted two knives. "I forgot about these, before, I'll just go put them up. Why don't you get into bed in the meanwhile? Either side you want is fine by me. I'll be with you in a moment."
Klaus opted for the right side, closest to the door. The bed was as disgustingly soft as he had suspected and the covering just as thick and warm.
Dorian came back, lit a rose-shaped lamp by the bed's head, returned to the door and put out the overhead lights.
"I can't breathe in here," Klaus told him. "Open a window."
"Of course." On his way back Dorian detoured to open a small side-window. The glass was mosaic in bright colours; mostly red and green and gold. From the angle Klaus couldn't see it clearly, but it looked like a black-haired knight on a white horse, surrounded by roses. Then Dorian lifted the edge of the sheet and crept in. A few moments later he turned off the rose-light. The evening was still bright enough to let Klaus see fairly clearly, if in varying shades of grey.
He expected to get pawed at, no matter that he had been promised a reprieve. When Dorian shifted closer, he forced himself to remain still, sure of what would come. Instead soft lips pressed against his cheek. "Good night, my Major." Then Dorian shifted away and laid down.
"'night," he replied. If it was be good or not, he would decide come morning.
He closed his eyes. What a fucked up day. Right. Summary. Worked out. Went to work. Phone call from the fop. D spilled secrets. Chewed him out. Cry-baby. Went to Fatso. Fucker. Mission to seduce the Tsar of Death, starts on Friday. Claimed time off for personal problem. Not a lie. Travelled to England. Used John McAffrey. Reached North Downs. Convinced fop to help me. In bed with him now. Not naked. He's still an idiot, but seems to understand. We haven't had sex yet. Sex. He was going to have sex with Lord Dorian Red-Gloria - the Earl of Red Gloria. A.k.a. Eroica, the Prince of Thieves. The thought made his stomach churn, but perhaps less so than he would have anticipated. Of course, the Earl had been after him for so long that in a way he had come to get used to the idea that no doubt sooner or later the Earl would snare him. At least this way he had the initiative and could control what happened. And, to be honest, there really was no one else he had ever even considered being with. Might as well get it over with. Millions of people do it every night, I might as well try to find out what the fuss is about. He had been tortured, if not to any extensive length. It couldn't very well be worse than that. Still, the thought of being tortured never had him sweating and wanting to avoid a mission. Maybe, when things came down to it—
"Klaus? You can't sleep?"
What do you think, you daft degenerate? That I'm awake for the fun of it? Or are you trying to wake me up if I had actually managed to doze off? Do you want to do something with me anyway?
"Klaus? Sleep now. Rest your weary eyes. Things will look better tomorrow."
How, you damn idiot? How can they possibly look better tomorrow?
"Klaus? Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb—"
When Klaus opened his eyes again, hands touched his shoulders. One on his left, from a hand wedged in under him, and a second curled over his right with the weight of an arm over his chest. Heat leaned against his left side and across his legs. When he breathed in, he smelled something sweet and familiar. A flood of flaxen curls over his left arm and shoulder further jogged his for once slightly sluggish memory.
He quelled his first reaction to push the Brit off – perhaps with a fist. How did the little shit creep so close without me waking up? He can't have been singing lullabies all night! Or, knowing the Earl, perhaps he had, for the privilege of snuggling Klaus's sleeping body. Klaus looked around, but saw no clock. The room was fairly light, but it was almost summer, so it might still be early. If he had been back home, he would have guessed he had overslept somehow, but he didn't have an automatic feel for what hour the light heralded in England. He would like to think it was 6:25, when he usually woke up, but considering the full day yesterday, the time differences between the countries and that they had gone to bed early, he couldn't be fully sure.
Time to get up, anyway. He glanced at the man curled half around him. The additional body heat on top of the already warm bedding – the open window had made a good effort, but hadn't succeeded to cool the room to his liking – felt sticky and oppressive. He quelled a second reaction to push the Brit off, even if this time he hadn't been planning on using his fist. Instead he began to extract his leg from under Dorian's, nudging the other's limb on its way with his right.
The Earl of Red Gloria pulled back his leg, but rubbed his face against Klaus's pyjamas and murmured happily, "Darling ... My own ... My love ..."
Klaus quelled a third reaction. Get used to it, von dem Eberbach! That's why you're here! He sighed quietly. Though he had to admit that apart from the sticky warmth he was fairly all right with the current situation. If this was all he wanted, I wouldn't mind giving this to him. This far he could go.
Perhaps some kissing wouldn't be too disgusting either. He had some little experience with that – both of the non-sexual kind from various female Eberbachs and of the more sexual one while experimenting in his youth. Skin-kisses posed no problem, on his face or neck or even hands. Kisses on the mouth were also tolerable, though at first he hadn't known how to turn to avoid nose-collisions. Open-mouth kisses began to turn him off and normally the pawing that accompanied them did the rest of the trick. Besides, it all felt so ... pointless. I'm just not wired the right way. A sense of shame always followed the acknowledgement. However, things were as they were and he couldn't deny them. The best he could do was to get over his instinctive withdrawals and make a good show.
He took a deep breath and rolled a little, enough so that he could reach the Earl's half-open mouth. The other sighed and moved closer, meeting him with lips soft yet strong. Dorian murmured something, obviously still asleep, but the syllables made no sense. Klaus pulled back, which earned him a pleading moan. He took a new breath and leaned down again, continuing the slow kiss. Lips moving against lips – it still felt rather pointless, not igniting passions as it was supposed to do. There was no great hardship involved, only a vague sense of regret. Something wet touched – licked - at him, so he opened his mouth and made his own tongue reach out in turn. He tensed a little, waiting for the tastes to start bothering him. Only, he was in luck. True, the Earl didn't exactly taste minty fresh after the night, but neither did he taste overly bitter or overly sharp. The taste bordered to sweet without passing into repugnant. All in all, it was fairly inoffensive.
The body now half under his stiffened. Then the foreign tongue in his mouth snapped back and the Earl pulled away. "Klaus! What are you doing!?"
He didn't bother to reply, as the answer was pretty obvious.
The Brit actually frowned. "We said we would wait until tonight, dearheart."
"One would think that you were the virgin here! I just kissed you, not fucked you in your sleep. I felt relaxed and thought I might as well try it."
Dorian scooted further away and sat up. Klaus did the same.
"Yes, darling. Ah ... That ... That's good. I ... That's good. Ah ... I just ... I'm not exactly my best in the morning. I apologise. You were doing great. Very good."
Then the Earl came at him. Klaus tensed, prepared to be mauled. Yet the Earl only took one, tender kiss – he didn't even linger before pulling back with a beatific smile.
"I feel as if all my dreams have been fulfilled. Well, not all of them, perhaps ..." He yawned. "I only wish you weren't such a morning person, dearest. I – Oh, heavens, it's not even seven o'clock!"
Apparently there was a clock somewhere, do doubt hiding as an antique.
"Good time to get some exercise then, Lord Gloria."
"We settled on first names last night, my love. No, Klaus, it is a splendid time to go back to sleep."
"Then go back to sleep. I want to run."
Dorian crawled back down. "You do that, love. Just follow the road to the gate and then there's a track around the inside of the wall. You might see Ruby, he should be up and running now too. Disgusting habit, that. So the dogs are in. Have fun, dear, and I'll see you later. If I'm still asleep when you come back you may wake me up with another kiss, if you want. That was the best wake up call I have had in years."
Klaus had a good run, going several laps around North Downs and passing the Ruby-thief three times. On returning to the bedroom he obediently woke Dorian in the requested manner, but had then been shooed to the bathroom, since, "Your masculine essence makes me want to ravish you. So you better shower." He suspected that actually meant "you stink" in foppish.
On exiting the bathroom he had been kissed again. Apparently Dorian no longer hesitated about doing so or had perhaps set about to desensitize him. Klaus let the Earl take his liberties, but the session only lasted for a couple of seconds, before Dorian breezed past him with a casual, "We'll breakfast when I'm decent." Which Klaus privately thought meant he would starve to death, though he choose to wait until the Earl got out of the bathroom. Which certainly took an indecent amount of time. When Dorian finally emerged – fully dressed and looking quite flushed – Klaus submitted to more kisses before they went to eat.
The day slowly progressed from then on. Klaus spent some time on and in his tank, going over it in detail before declaring it fit for usage. They argued about Dorian returning it, but the fop had been surprisingly firm in that he had no intention of doing so. They had lunched by way of picnicking under a massive oak in the further end of the opulent garden. Dorian insisted on getting to lie with his head in Klaus's lap, which Klaus had reluctantly agreed to. He hadn't been happy about being used as a pillow, but took secret delight in "accidentally" dropping breadcrumbs in Dorian's hair.
They kissed some more.
Around two-ish Klaus felt restless and jittery. When he announced that he might as well go for another run, Dorian instead led him to a long building hidden in the forest beyond the garden. "I hardly ever go here, but I know that Bonham keeps things in shape and I think Timmy and Peter use it quite frequently. Silly boys. My cousins too, when they visit, they're the ones who insisted." "Here" turned out to be the last thing Klaus would have expected on a property belonging to the Earl, since the fop was completely incompetent in the area. A shooting court.
"There should be some weapons in the safe over there too, if you want to have a look."
He did and there was and he spent the rest of the afternoon more or less enjoying himself. Dorian stayed with him, occupying himself with sketching Klaus as he went about his business. Since the fop's favourite angles seemed to be from mostly behind him, Klaus had no problem with that. He was quite used to having an audience while shooting at a court.
And they kissed some more.
Afterwards they did run. Dorian kept up fairly well, even if he did excuse himself after five laps.
When Klaus had freshened up – again ... – Dorian led him back to the small library to which Bonham had taken him the first day. "My cousin called from the airport a while back. He is on his way and should be here shortly. As I said, he won't stay long. You remember what you are to do?"
"Not object to anything you say."
"Yes. And Klaus –I beg of you – act civilly. No matter what you think or want to say or do – just don't, all right? Please? Think of it as one of your precious missions. You're undercover and everything will be ruined if you do something wrong." The Earl sounded tense and worried.
Klaus snorted and sat in "his" chair.
Dorian stomped. "I'm serious! Please pay attention! As I said – this is very important to me. Please?"
"Ja, ja, whatever."
Dorian went over to the window. "This has been a good day, hasn't it, dear?"
"It hasn't been a complete waste." In fact, if his last "vacation" had been anything like it, he might actually have been away for the full time instead of returning after only a couple of days.
"And you slept well, right?"
"The bed was too soft and the room too warm."
"Those things are easily fixed, my dear. And the kisses? They weren't too horrible, were they?"
Klaus considered it, then admitted, "Not so horrible, no."
"Good. Then I know I can still hope. Ah, here he comes."
Dorian's step away from the window took him almost up to Klaus's chair. It wasn't a very large room, after all. In the same fluent movement he turned and straddled Klaus's lap.
Klaus recoiled. "Lord Gloria, what do you—"
Then Dorian's mouth was on him. This kiss was the deepest so far, with Dorian's tongue mapping Klaus's mouth, almost frantic in its eagerness. Klaus felt a little queasy and tried to pull away, but short of physically overpowering the Earl he had no means of doing that. And while he certainly could have done it – hell, all he had to do was to get up and the other man would have been dumped on his arse - he stayed in the seat. Again – this was why he was there, wasn't it, to learn to tolerate such behaviour? So he placed his hands firmly on Dorian's hips and concentrated on pushing the invading tongue out with his own. That actually proved somewhat amusing, as they did battle that way – a form of war he had never experienced before.
Dorian threw his head back, panting hard. He stared at Klaus with pupils dilated with passion. Slowly he leaned forward and rested their foreheads together for a few seconds. Then he stole one more, quick kiss, just on Klaus's lips, no tongues involved.
"Not so horrible, eh? Maybe, in time, it might even start to feel good, my own."
He abandoned Klaus's lap and stretched quickly before padding over to the door and opening it. Then he was lifted in the air – up, up and up. A giant of a man strode into the room, carrying the Earl as easily as a toddler. His whitish flaxen hair all but brushed against the ornamented ceiling, which easily put him at 2.30 or thereabout, with wide shoulders to match. He dressed in an immaculate black suit and when he over Dorian's head looked in Klaus's direction, Klaus saw the family resemblance. They were eerily similar, yet different, as if the huge man was a primitive copy of the refined Earl. He could have been Dorian's ancestor; a dozen or so generations removed and the family since then bred for noblesse.
"Cousin Dorian," the man said. He spoke slowly and with a voice so deep that if Klaus had had any leanings what so ever towards poetry he would have started thinking about comparing it to the sea or the mountains. "Always good to be in your presence. And this is your current beau? Such a pretty one."
Klaus's stomach tensed up, but he didn't let anything show. Undercover mission. Right. Pretend to be "boyfriend". He set his face in a vapid smile.
"Past, current and forever, dear cousin. He is all I ever dreamed of. Let me down. Come, sit with us. I have a surprise for you."
"I love surprises."
Dorian pulled a tassel hanging by the fireplace. "Bonham will be in with it shortly."
"Not the sweet little thing?"
"Ah, no. Jamie is currently ... testing some aspects of the Mona Lisa defence."
"Pity. Yes, we noticed you had it on for a bit yesterday. False alarm, I take it. Good you called, the Murg insisted we go on over."
"Oh yes. So. Did you have a nice flight?"
He's not English? On the other hand, the casual 'ja' hadn't been a German 'ja' either, though it apparently served the same purpose. He has no accent that I can hear. Where's he from, then? Scandinavia, perhaps, they have the same 'ja' as we do.
Dorian arranged his chair so they would form a rough triangle, before sitting. "How are your brothers?"
"Baal is well. The Murg is currently terrified of drops of water. They send their love."
"Good that you live in a desert country, then. Give them all hugs and kisses from me, when you get back. And how are—Ah, Bonham! Capital. Let me hold that for you. Push the table over here. Thank you, dear, you go now."
The Eberbach mug steamed, which spoke for coffee for him, at least. Then a tea set – two cups this time. And ... yellow buns? Dorian offered a plate with them – shaped like two joined balls and topped with raisins – to his cousin. Who leaned down, closed his eyes, obviously smelled deeply and gave a beatific smile before opening his eyes again. "Lussekatter," he said, reverently.
"I baked them myself. Well ... Johan helped, just a little. Not as good as your grandmother's, of course—"
"No one makes buns as well as she did."
"You are absolutely right. But I hope you will like these."
"I'm sure I will," he said, in an utterly serious tone of voice, and took one.
Dorian held out the plate to Klaus, pleading with his eyes. "They're made with saffron," he explained.
Klaus reluctantly took one, gingerly putting it on his leg and hoping that the fabric of his trousers wouldn't be stained. The bun was still a little warm and, he had to admit, did smell rather nice. He then received his mug and drunk deeply.
"Klaus works for NATO. He's one of their best agents!"
He almost choked. Idiot! You're worse than D! Bad enough that my name is bandied about in spy circles, there's no need to spread it to all and sundry!
"That is good work. Useful."
"Oh, nothing like that. Oh – as I was saying – how is Matthew doing? Is he still being ... difficult?"
The big man had begun to nibble on his bun and obviously swallowed before answering. "Yes. I will go visit him soon, though. Fraco said he think he's weakening. I hope so."
"That's wonderful to hear! I do so hope it works out for you. A winter wedding, perhaps? I do expect to get invited. Since I and Klaus finally got together I've been ecstatically happy. I don't know how I managed without him."
Klaus drank some more, wishing for the rest of that nice whisky he and Dorian had shared the other night.
"I'm glad for you. And of course you will be invited."
They both drank from their tea cups. Then the cousin's eyes turned Klaus's way, studying him intently. "Looks strong," he said after a moment.
"Oh yes! Klaus is very strong. He can shoot a Magnum one-handed, you know!"
The Earl sounded so fucking proud. Klaus wanted to groan, especially so when the stranger, still looking at him, slowly lifted an eyebrow. Then, for one strange moment they connected, sharing an amusement over the Earl and ... something else, which Klaus strongly felt but couldn't put into words. He felt ever so slightly relieved when the cousin turned his attention back to Dorian. "Looks as if he can run too."
"Oh yes, he can! All day, if he wants too."
How does he do it? Manage to say something totally innocent and still pollute it with a sexual connotation?
"That is very good."
"Oh yes! So, cousin mine, have you considered my proposal? It really would mean the world to me!"
The man drank again. As he did, his eyes wandered lazily over Klaus's body.
Great. Another pervert. Is the family breeding for it, or what?
"It is an interesting proposal," he finally said. "I think it might be mutually beneficial."
"Absolutely not! The benefit is mine and—"
"Not that, little one. I know better. I meant the situation in itself. It won't be a burden. With Matthew and everything, it might be to my advantage. And it is always good to get the security tested."
Are they discussing a theft? I don't understand. Gah, I'm getting another headache ...
"Oh. Splendid, then! I'm sorry if I spoke sharply to you. It's just ... Well, you know."
"I know. Of course. Don't worry. I took no offence." The giant put down his tea cup, looked mournfully at the last piece of his yellow bun and then popped it in his mouth.
Like a magician, Dorian produced a small plastic bag, filled with the lusse-things. "For the trip," he said. "And with my gratitude."
A smile lit up the cousin's face. For a moment his features didn't look so rough and the family resemblance to the Earl was much clearer. "Thank you," he said and took the little bag, holding it to his chest. "It is much appreciated." He stood again, towering like a creature out of a fairytale. Once more he looked towards Klaus. "It was nice seeing you, Major von dem Eberbach. Perhaps, one day, we will run together."
I hope you mean that in the literal sense, you overgrown wanker. Klaus nodded. "It is nice to have someone to run with," he said, though in fact he didn't mind in the least to run alone.
The other smiled. Dorian got up and was again lifted into the air by a hug, before being carefully deposited on the floor. A large hand ruffled his curls and then the giant strode over to the door and left.
Dorian collapsed into his chair, tipping his head over the back and breathing out a long sigh.
Klaus refrained from asking, "Was that all?" since – obviously – it had been. The whole thing hadn't even taken ten minutes. "Long trip for tea and a yellow bun," he instead said. He gingerly lifted his own bun – the leg of his trouser didn't seem stained – and put it back on the plate. Then he chugged the last of his Nescafé. Maybe I should ask for some whisky? Might be good to relax a little before later tonight. He glanced out and noted the first signs of the impending dusk.
"Lussekatt," Dorian corrected. Then he sat up again and smiled a bit shakily. "You did your part well. Thank you."
Klaus shrugged, still hoping that he hadn't been part of some thieving agreement. If the Louvre is raided when I get back from my mission ... he thought, but couldn't make up his mind exactly what he would do if that was the case.
Something about the fop's serious, yet hesitant tone alerted him and he looked over. "He knew my name," he said. "You've spoken about me to him before."
"Well ... yes. They're family and I do speak about you a lot. I can't help it, Klaus. I'm hopelessly in love with you. I've told you that."
He grunted. For someone proclaiming to love me, you're remarkably slow in getting on with your "love-making" lectures.
"Besides, I had to tell him about you and your work to get him to agree with helping me."
No. No. I don't want to hear this! Damn it, if you use me to make a deal with one of your fellow magpies, at least have the brain not to tell me about it!
"And he needed to come here so he would see us together and approve of you."
"What the fuck are you talking about? I'm not helping you steal anything, you kleptomaniac wanker!"
The cornflower blue eyes widened. "Steal something? Klaus, I ... Um ... How to explain this ... My name is Dorian Red Gloria, Earl Dorian Red—"
"I fucking Hell know your name! I wish I'd never heard it, but I know it!"
"Yes, dear. Only ... I know of a writer named White. And one by the name of Green too, come to think of it. And there's that ... John Brown, from that song, you know, 'John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave, but his soul goes marching on. Glory, Glory, Hallelujah! Glory, Glory—"
"Stop! Singing! What are you blathering about?"
"Colours, Major. I'm talking about colours. Red, white, green, brown – they're all colours."
Klaus nodded knowingly. "It's finally happened," he said, not unkindly. "You've lost your mind."
"What I'm trying to say, Klaus, is that while Red-Gloria is an old family, it is far from the only family to take its name from a colour. Normally colour-families aren't related at all, though some of them are. Red is a very nice colour; the colour of blood – of love – of passion ... Other colours have other associations. Have you ... had contact with any other family with a colour surname lately?"
Klaus was still fairly convinced of the "Eroica has finally snapped"-theory. However ... "Lucifer Black? What about him?"
"I'm not explaining very well. Black isn't an actual colour – its more of an absence of colour. Or is it all colours at the same time? I always forget. Anyway – Black; Red. There's a connection, you know."
The Earl's expressive eyes tried to tell him something. Something important. Something he was fairly sure he wouldn't like.
What wouldn't I like for him to say right now? Red? Black? A connection? In the Rogues' Gallery. Tall. Blond. Live in a desert. Near Egypt. Oh, fucking God ... He worked his jaw, but couldn't utter a sound. Colours. Some of them are. Related. Association. Fuck! "Your ... c-cousin ..." He actually stuttered.
"He gives great piggy back rides," Dorian said defensively.
"Your cousin! You fucking prick! That was-- He was-- That was him! Wasn't it?!"
"I know Lutz has a very bad reputation, but he's always been very good to me. He cares about family, you know. It's very important to him."
Klaus held Dorian by the throat before he had even given conscious order for his hands to do so. He hauled the man off the chair and shook him hard. "You! Outed! Me! To! Lucifer! Black! You ruined my mission! You—"
"You didn't even want the mission!"
He shook him violently again, then gave in and boxed him hard over the ear, only reining in his strength enough as not to beat him unconscious at the first go. Oh no! I'm going to take my time! I'm going to fucking enjoy this!
"Not the fucking point, you worthless, interfering wanker! Idiot! I hate you! Why are you doing this?"
He struck again, a few centimetres lower this time.
"Ow! Klaus! I—"
He squeezed harder, seriously contemplating murder. "Don't you fucking Hell 'Klaus' me! We're not friends of any sort, you depraved traitor!"
"You can still go!" the Earl wheezed.
"With him recognizing me? You moron! He'll have me killed!" He lifted his hand again.
Something pressed against his throat. Something sharp.
"Stop hitting me, Major von dem Eberbach! I don't want to hurt you, but you're much too strong for me to let you hit me again!"
The thief sounded desperate enough to actually make some damage, so Klaus reluctantly lowered his hand. A slender dagger moved away from his skin, but was kept protectively between them.
"He won't kill you, Major, I swear it! That's what I arranged with him! Let me go and I'll explain."
Klaus tossed the thief into his chair, already regretting not hitting him just one more time, just hard enough to render him unconscious. It wouldn't have been too difficult and the degenerate wouldn't have had time to cut him. Then take his bloody knife and slit his fucking throat! Good thing I came in disguise. I'll kill the rest too and burn the castle down!
The Earl moved his hands and the dagger vanished, apparently secreted up a ruffled sleeve or into a hidden pocket.
"All this was a fucking charade! You mocked me – got me into your bed – tricked me!"
"I tricked you, yes – I needed to keep you here to let cousin Lutz see you and not have you run off and do something stupid! I called him and asked him to come. But I did not take advantage of you! I feel that under the circumstances I was the model of restraint! And let the record show that you initiated the kissing, not me! Major von dem Eberbach – if you intend to holler rape I will be sorely disappointed!"
"Listen to me, Major. I know my cousin. What did you call him? 'An insane, cold-blooded serial-killer who happens to have found a way to get paid for his jollies'? The jollies part I will refute, but the rest is true. He is insane, has little understanding for human feelings and is as rich as Croesus. James worships him. If you'd tried to infiltrate his guard and seduce him, he would have found out and killed you - slowly. That is my firm belief and I needed to protect you."
"I don't need no fucking protection from you, faggot!"
"Major – I've heard what my cousins do to people who betray them. I couldn't risk it! I'd rather that you hate me forever than you being dead. Look – your mission is safe, Z is safe – you are safe. You can go down there, stay a while and then return to NATO with whatever you find. You don't owe NATO more than that, not when they treat you like this! Lutz will even give you some information titbits that will be worth something. You won't be compromised and in the future you can turn down similar missions without anyone thinking you weak."
"And what do you get out of this, you pervert? I'll be at your beck and call or you tell them the truth, is that it?"
"Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach! Really! For your information, if I wanted to take advantage of you I could have had you yesterday! I could have had you this morning! I could have had you at lunch! I could have had you this afternoon! I could have had you just before Lutz got here! Remind me - did I at any of these points actually have you?"
"No," he reluctantly acknowledged and sat down. But there had to be a catch somewhere. "What do you want, then?"
"Oh, Klaus ... I wanted to help you – that's all I ever wanted. Though the kisses was a nice bonus, I will confess."
Ah yes. The kisses. "I should go," he said, testing if the prat would actually let him off the hook without trying to get a little something more for his effort.
Dorian looked towards the fireplace, where nothing burned. "Perhaps you should," he said. He sounded tired.
Klaus stood. "Your plan might work, " he admitted. After a moment he added, stiffly, "Thank you for your assistance, Lord Gloria."
Dorian dropped his head to the back of his chair again and closed his eyes. "Think nothing of it. My pleasure." His voice was thin and strained, but British aristocracy held up to the last. "You can find your own way out, I trust. Ask anyone you meet if you get lost."
"It wasn't so horrible after all," Klaus said. "Dorian."
The thief looked up again, just as Klaus kissed him. The half-swallowed yelp he made was quite gratifying. Then Klaus straightened, nodded once and walked away.
Not so horrible at all.
THE END. Continue in Part 2.
Chapter 2: Lies And Deception
Dorian turned and there Klaus stood, ramrod straight. Major von dem Eberbach wore a pale green shirt, brown trousers, his ox-hide belt – of course –, black shoes and a surprisingly attractive tie in gold-striped green. Dorian felt himself start to smile at the beloved sight. Though there was something ... different about his Iron Major, something in the way those lovely green eyes flickered towards Dorian and than away again; something in the way he held his arms and hands straight down his sides – Dorian had seen Klaus do that before, but never when it was just the two of them - something in the way he seemed to wait, seemed to almost hesitate ...
Oh … He looks so shy and sweet! Possibly no other man alive on Earth would call NATO's Iron Klaus either, but Dorian had always thought so – at least during those few moments when he had seen the quicksilver-tempered German relaxed and without his game face. Not that Dorian would tell the man so – no, Dorian might enjoy the thrill of high risks, but he wasn't suicidal.
"Ah, ah," he corrected gently. "We agreed on a first name basis, remember?"
The eyes flickered again and Dorian watched, delighted, as the man visibly took a steadying breath and then nodded ever so faintly. In the distance a waltz started to play, muted, barely within range of hearing.
The sound of his first name felt like a caress, bringing memories of that first, precious time Klaus had used it, just before kissing him.
"Much better, my dear. Now, did you want something, Klaus?"
He found himself drifting closer as he waited for the other man to answer.
"I ... Yes. I … " Klaus looked down as if studying Dorian's knee-high, silver-studded, white calf leather boots. "I want … I .." He looked up again, but kept his head down, so he was watching Dorian through his sinfully long eyelashes. The effect was stunningly seductive. Dorian could feel his body start to respond to the – likely unintentional – bed chamber eyes. "I think I am ready now."
Unable to resist, Dorian stepped even closer. They stood with a scant half metre between them. "Ready? For what?"
Dorian's lungs stopped breathing. His heart stopped beating. His blood stopped pumping. At least, that's what it felt like: as if the entire world came to an abrupt halt. He opened his mouth. No sound emerged.
"But you must be careful with me," Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach said seriously and drew his Magnum. "For otherwise I will shoot you in the head."
The gun filled Dorian's entire vision – the enormous muzzle and, below it, Klaus's hand, with the finger on the trigger, squeezing ...
Dorian sat straight up from the shock: one hand pressed over his racing heart, the other at his throat, for a moment convinced that Klaus had actually shot him. Then, still gasping for breath, he fell back onto the large pile of satin pillows.
Mmmmm, that was a good dream. At least to start with. No wonder he didn't seem to be himself. Sigh ... That's something I'll never experience in real life: cautious virgin!Klaus asking for gentle sex ... Ooooh, but how delightful if the dream had continued for just an itsy, bitsy, tiny bit longer ... Well, not with the gun of course, but with what he wanted ...
Not that he would ever be rough, should he get the opportunity to teach Klaus about the joys that could be had when two men made a verb of love. Oh no! He would be the perfect gentleman. Especially now that he knew of his beloved's little ... irregularity. Dorian still wasn't sure what to think of that, but he was far from willing to admit defeat.
KNOCK KNOCK! KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!
Oh dear, that actually sounds like my dear Major. But he should be in, where was it, Chile, now? Yes, something like that. Now, where was I? Yes … Frigidity. Oh, I know so little about it – I need to do some research. Yes, absolutely. See what I'm up against. A trip to the good old British Library, then, to start with. Alone. Can't have the others knowing, Klaus would be livid. No … Could do some other research too, at the same time, see if I can find more information about that darling little cup I saw at Madame Metzier. Yes, that's a good cover story. I do think I want it – I could use it for my morning tea, perhaps? "Surround myself with beauty," that's my motto. Yes, and—
"Lord Gloria! It's the police! Open up!"
Klaus couldn't make sense of Polar Bear's final comment. At the time he had been busy with explaining to a police officer just what he and six of his men had been doing fully armed in a bank, so he hadn't been able to ask the Russian and then it had been too late. What could Polar Bear have meant, though?
"Seems as if I was wrong about you and Eroica. My apologies, Iron Klaus. I realize now that you're not his type. I guess he just used you."
There were so many things wrong with that statement. What the fuck was Polar Bear thinking? Wrong about Klaus and Eroica – well, yes, for Polar Bear had, for the longest time, seemed convinced that Klaus and Eroica were going at it like rabbits at any given opportunity, but ... what could have changed his mind?
Perhaps he saw Dorian with someone. Being ... romantic with someone, that is.
Klaus had waited for that, ever since his confession. Dorian had seemed to take the situation in stride and hadn't even seemed overly concerned, but perhaps he had finally thought things through and written Klaus off as a lost cause? Which would be a good thing, of course! Only, even if Polar Bear had seen the Brit gallivanting about with some male floozy on his arm, well ... It wasn't as if Dorian had ever stopped doing that, just because he happened to lay siege on Klaus. Dorian always surrounded himself with admirers and he was a very affectionate degenerate, hugging his entourage and even kissing them in public. Unless Polar Bear had managed to walk in on Dorian in a ... very compromising situation, how would he be able to tell the difference?
And "not his type"? Just "using" me? No, it simply didn't make any sense. It wasn't as if Klaus was a woman and Dorian used him as one of those ... facial hair ... beards? Yes, one of those "beards". Or was that for a man playing a lesbian's "husband"? Whatever.
An amusing thought occurred to Klaus. Unless he saw the fop with a woman! Ha! That would have shocked him. Dorian did have a selected few female friends – actual females, not impersonators. Klaus had been subjected to meeting some of them, during various missions. Most of them actually seemed half-way decent, in sharp contrast to most of Dorian's male acquaintances.
Polar Bear's words still confused him. As he walked from the Alphabet's room to the Chief's, he snorted to himself.
Maybe that's the point. Spreading discord or some stupid shit like that. Bloody commie.
Of course, if so – why try to do it that way? He couldn't be stupid enough to believe that Klaus actually liked Dorian following him around like a dog sniffing after a bitch? A bitch very much not in heat, thank you very much? Unless ... Klaus stopped, suddenly cold to the bone.
Unless Dorian told someone about me?
But no. Dorian was any number of things, but he was not cruel. He wouldn't tell anyone, not even if he got into a snit over Klaus fouling one of his heists again. Klaus knew that as he knew the exact number of bullets currently in his Magnum. If he hadn't trusted Dorian he never would have approached him to ask for his help.
When the Chief's secretary let him though, Klaus forced himself to stop thinking about frivolous things and instead concentrate on his work. The mission in Chile had been successful. Polar Bear had gone free, of course – again … - the man had an uncanny ability to keep his hands clean. They had the information they had gone to retrieve, though, and had also, in the process, stopped an armed robbery. The Alphabet currently busied themselves with writing the reports. Klaus would just give the Chief a quick, preliminary statement and check if there were any new missions in the pipeline. He hoped so. With tedious paper work ahead, to know there was something better in the works would feel good.
I wonder if this is how a junkie feels, trying to make sure there will be a new fix soon enough?
Then he was inside. As always the sight of his superior angered him, though he kept his face blank. He still hadn't forgiven the bastard for what he had attempted – likely he never would. From their normal feud the Chief had crossed all lines in his attempt to try to get Klaus fucked – literally. And Klaus had been forced to go to Eroica, metaphorical hat in hand. Dorian had come through, however, in more ways than Klaus could have dreamed of. Not only that, the Brit had been furious at the way the Chief had treated Klaus.
Klaus didn't consider himself a vindictive man, but he had to work hard not to smirk. Sometimes he cursed Dorian for this and that. Stealing Klaus's belt – the nerve! And from around his own waist! Stealing his tank practically from under his nose! Stealing his breakfast china, for fuck's sake! At other times Klaus had the strange sensation that while Dorian certainly enjoyed teasing him and testing his defences, the small forages were never more than token efforts. The Earl never used his full strength around him, instead babied him along to get what he eventually wanted most. Even when Klaus had sent him on a wild goose chase to a place about to get bombed, Dorian's retaliation had been comparably mild – embarrassing, certainly, but not overly so.
Not so, in case of the Chief. Dorian had shown no mercy, stealing everything from the man. Not just his art treasures – had he ever had any that would make the Prince of Thieves look twice in the first place – but, slowly, over a period of months, a couple of things at the time, everything that the man owned. Every piece of furniture, every piece of clothes, every scrap of paper, every ounce of food in his cupboards. Followed finally by the grand finale of the man returning home one evening to find his house vanished. Exactly how Dorian had managed that feat, Klaus didn't know, but he wasn't complaining. The Chief looked to have lost twenty kilos of fat, despite the fact that his coffee had to be so saturated with sugar that new additions floated momentarily before blending in. His wife had left him too, in the first month, after having received artistic photographs of her husbands with his hands on a surprising number of people blatantly not her – and most of them of the male persuasion.
Strangely enough, however, the Chief didn't seem in such a bad mood. He actually smiled, even as he tested each sugar cube before dropping it into his coffee. Klaus had heard that occasionally some of them were replaced by other substances – salt being just one of the kinder ones. The man wore a brand new outfit – apparently Eroica still stole anything new that the man bought within a couple of days of him acquiring it. Well, not Eroica himself, presumably, but some thief in the Earl's vast contact net who owed him a favour or just wanted to please him. Klaus wondered how long the revenge would continue and if the Earl had more things in store.
After having quickly presented his initial report, Klaus asked if there was anything new coming up.
"Such a beautiful day today, Major Eberbach, and all you think of is a new mission? You should go out, smell the flowers! Why, I think I will go for a walk in the park myself later on. Such splendid, beautiful weather! New mission ... Yes. Two weeks from now there is a football cup final in London. Italy versus England. There will--"
Klaus mentally perked up. Football was fun, even when Germany wasn't playing. England though ... And in London to boot! Though with a little bit of luck … It wasn't as if the fop was a football fanatic. The chance of him getting involved in Klaus's mission, for once, seemed minimal.
"—be several interesting people at the game. We have gathered information that there will be an attempt to kill a visiting royal. The would-be-assassin is a man named Kal Henderson. He will arrive in London six days prior to the game, according to tickets he booked from Venice. He will be staying at St Giles. Since we don't know who his employer is, it is important to find this out and – of course - stop the assassination. Rumour has it that it is part of a larger movement and that it will signal the start of a series of attacks. So, it is vital that we take care of this. The Primal Number Team are investigating him in Venice. If they don't come up with anything you and your team will deal with him in England."
"Since he stays at a regular hotel there won't be much security. We won't even need Eroica for this one," Klaus said, feeling rather pleased about that.
The Chief's smile dropped and he looked up sharply. "Don't mention that name to me! We're finally rid of him and good riddance!"
Unease started to spread in Klaus's belly. "Rid of him, sir?" he inquired calmly. "How do you mean?"
The manic smile reappeared, wider than ever. "Rid of him! Gone! He will never bother us again! No more stolen books and underwear and—"
"What do you mean? Has he died?" There was something incomprehensible about the possibility. Klaus faced death every day; the Earl faced ... what? Broken nails? Split ends? Tears in his stockings? Except when he's ... at work. A trigger-happy security guard? A bounty hunter? A flock of hungry Dobermans?
The Chief looked so fucking happy that Klaus wanted to knock out his front teeth. "No, no – we're not that lucky. He's alive, but safely behind bars and he will stay there for a good long time! Just think, Major; no more stolen Popes! No more interfering in your missions! No more 'accidental' thefts of the object you are looking for! You must be ecstatic."
No more daredevil stunts to get me what I need. No more reliable backup when everything else fails. No more ... colour. Which he couldn't say, of course, but there was nothing else he could say either. He felt unaccountably cold. Had the air conditioning gone on the fritz again? I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later, the sloppy idiot getting himself caught ...
"And you must be ecstatic not to have him follow you around," the chief continued blithely. "I saw that kiss he stole from you at the Christmas event last year. You were lucky Z got between you. Killing contractors sets a bad example. No more nasty rumours about the two of you. Now no one will believe the old ones either. Excellent! Rather a convincing liar, eh, that rotten little thief? I guess it comes with the territory. Clever plot though, I say, pretending to moon after a man such as yourself, Major, knowing he would never get anywhere."
Klaus had an odd sensation that he wasn't participating in quite the same conversation as the Chief. "I never asked him to moon after me," he said non-committally.
"We must just make sure you don't get involved in the proceedings. We don't want you accidentally tarnished by the same brush."
"Most everyone knows I have to work with the thief sometimes. I doubt they'll care."
The Chief frowned. "Thief? You think the Earl got arrested because he stole something?"
"Why else would the stupid bugger get himself arrested?"
"The Earl of Red-Gloria was arrested, Major Eberbach, because the man's a paedophile."
Castle Gloria's walls all but shuddered at the shrill screams. Repeated, over and over again, the single word, "No!"
The others kept their distance – mostly because the sound level exceeded the pain limit, but finally Bonham took a deep breath and went up to the accountant, wrapped his arms around the small man and, forcing himself to block out the paint peeling sound, rocked him back and forth, mumbling, "There, there ..." even though he couldn't even hear his own voice. After a few moments he was joined by John Paul and then by Jones and, slowly, one by one, by the rest.
There weren't all that many of them left. More than half had sneaked away – some on an obvious pretence, others with no excuse and a few without even a word.
Slowly the screams petered off to loud wails, interspersed with sniffs. "He wouldn't, Bonham! He wouldn't! You know he wouldn't! He wouldn't have done it! He didn't! He didn't! He saved me, Bonham, and he wouldn't have!"
"I know," said Bonham and felt John Paul's hand squeeze his shoulder. "He wouldn't. He never would."
Klaus sat down at his desk. As he opened the folder he reached blindly for his cup of coffee, bringing it to his mouth without stopping his reading. The report was very short, only preliminary. Since Eroica occasionally worked for NATO, they had tagged the Earl of Red Gloria as someone to be kept informed about. The Earl had been arrested early yesterday morning, charged with having had sex with an eleven-year-old boy, a friend of his sister's son. The crime had taken part several weeks earlier, but apparently there was reliable physical evidence.
After having read the paragraphs over and over, Klaus put down the folder. He drank some more coffee, then lit a cigarette. He lifted the folder and read it through, again. Then he sucked some smoke, blowing it out in a slow, even breath.
So that was what Polar Bear meant, he thought. He felt like banging his fists onto his desk. So he did. G screamed and all activity in the room stopped.
Dorian. Lord Dorian of Gloria. The Earl of Red Gloria. Eroica. Prince of Thieves. A child molester?
It made no sense. Oh, Klaus had never been shy about accusing the Earl of chasing anything that wore pants and lacked boobs, but Klaus knew the difference between a homosexual and someone who wanted to have sex with children. Some perverts might be both, he supposed, but all he knew about the sticky-fingered Earl pointed to the former. He surrounded himself with men. Some of them rather androgynous and none of them exactly swelling with muscles, but none of them childlike either. Excepting possibly the nutty accountant, but whatever his and Dorian's relationship was, Klaus didn't think it was sexual in nature. In appearance, maybe, but appearances are – as always - deceiving.
Of course, that's the problem, isn't it? he thought as he listened to a wild-eyed K stuttering about a problem with his report. He heard his own voice answer the man, but apparently whatever was discussed didn't require him to actually break off his line of thought, for K quickly withdrew. Appearances are deceiving. The length someone goes to in order to hide a secret can be staggering. Could the Earl be a good enough actor to fool everyone? That was the crux of the matter. The Chief had had a point. What better disguise than to follow a man like Klaus around, a man who had no interest in bedding his pursuer?
And when he did get the chance to fuck me he didn't take it. Which no one else knew, certainly not the Chief and Klaus was sure that Dorian hadn't told anyone else either. Still. Klaus had given Dorian a perfect opportunity – had offered himself; had seen no better solution to his predicament than to bed the Earl. And to bed they had gone – to sleep, chastely, side by side. Klaus had been the one to initiate their kisses – the Earl had even seemed reluctant, hadn't he? Yes ... Klaus hadn't understood that. Not at first. Then he had decided that the man had higher morals than Klaus could ever have imagined. Only ... What if in reality he finds the idea of having sex with me, a grown man, as repugnant as I find the idea of having it with him? Well ... repugnant perhaps wasn't the right word – Klaus mostly thought of it as an unnecessary, fairly pointless activity.
No! No, he refused to believe it. He couldn't be so wrong about Dorian, no matter that it made some kind of sick sense. Dorian was a good person, not some sleazy pervert. Well, he is a pervert, but not a ... perverted one. There was a line. A very definite line. And he was sure that Dorian had never crossed it.
He stubbed out the cigarette. "A!"
"I'll be gone for ten. Hold the fort."
Still mulling things over, he marched back to the Chief's office, where he was immediately admitted.
"Major Eberbach? Is the detailed report already finished?"
"No, sir, though it is being worked on." Or so he guessed, as that must have been what K had blubbered about. "I want to look into the Eroica situation."
"What situation? We're rid of him! We should celebrate!"
"I'm not convinced of his guilt."
The Chief frowned. "We're all guilty of something and we know he has done enough to warrant many, many years in prison, yet we haven't given him over to Interpol. He gets what he deserves now. Besides, his guilt is hardly a matter of NATO investigation."
All good points in themselves. And yet ... "He is a NATO contractor. He can come in handy still. He has done us services in the past."
"We have other contacts that will serve just as well. Major Eberbach—"
von dem Eberbach! von dem! Is that such a difficult concept for you? Few things annoyed Klaus as much as a fellow German "forgetting" to use his full name. Strangers he didn't bother to correct and he had pretty much given up on everyone non-German, but with the Chief he strongly suspected that the man did it simply to annoy him – and perhaps that he had done it for so often and for so long now that he no longer did it consciously. This, however, was not the right moment to correct him.
"—you should be very careful with handling or even commenting on the situation. People could get the wrong idea."
"I never cared for what anyone thought of me. I want to investigate."
"Not on NATO's dime you won't."
"Then I request leave time before the next mission."
"You're always after me for taking time off! Well, I'm taking it! Two weeks!"
"A can handle the other Alphabets for two weeks – he's not completely incompetent. They will gather information only and get caught up with their paperwork."
"I'll ... encourage them to take the time off as well. See? You're always saying I should, so let me!"
After having asked four times for time off, Klaus felt he had done his share of begging. Normally he would never have asked more than once – wouldn't even have asked that once unless forced to. Oh well. If asking nicely didn't work ... and threats were out of the question since the man happened to be his superior – and why Klaus would never understand ... then it was time to try something different.
"I'll tell him to stop stealing your things."
The Chief startled. "He can't steal my things if he's in prison!"
"You don't honestly think he's been doing it himself? He has better things to do than spend months in Bonn stealing something not artsy." Especially not since Klaus had been away for most of the time. "He is having some contact of his doing it. He has a whole harem of them. They're a close-knit bunch. They won't stop just because of this. You'll never own anything for any lengthy period again. Give me time off and I'll ask him to stop."
Sure, Klaus would ask. Not that asking Dorian to stop stealing anything had ever actually worked, but ...
"Reliable physical evidence," Klaus muttered as he methodically unpacked at the London Ritz, room 507, six past ten the next day. He had taken a morning flight, then had insisted on checking in early. "What kind of reliable physical evidence can there be after several weeks?" By then most of his own wounds were memories – or scars, impossible to attribute to any specific person.
Oh well, that was one thing he was there to find out more about. First stop, the police.
Four hours later found Klaus back at the Ritz. Things had not progressed as he had hoped. The only productive thing he had done was to eat lunch. He had been to the police, but had not been allowed to see Dorian. Not a relative; not Dorian's lawyer; he wasn't even in law enforcement connected to the case. He had been able to talk to the man in charge, if very briefly, but the Inspector was an arse and Klaus hadn't gotten any useful information from him. The man obviously believed Dorian to be guilty and seemed to think Klaus suspect for not having fully committed himself to this theory yet.
The only thing that the man had let slip was that the boy in question had identified Dorian by certain bodily characteristics that only someone who had seen him naked would know.
Which narrows it down to only a couple of hundreds. Great! For fuck's sake, even I have seen his pink arse! It had had freckles.
He was trying to formulate his plan - second step: get in touch with Dorian's lawyer, whoever that was, when someone knocked on his door.
Annoyed with the hotel's lack of peep holes he shouted, "Who is it?" rather than open the door, Magnum in hand, and scare the shit out of some maid.
"It's me, Bonham!"
Since it really did sound like Bonham, Klaus opened the door and took a step back as the Earl's second in command came into view. The man looked tired and sad, but his eyes were alert and focused.
"Heard you had flown over and wanted to hear if you be here for his Lordship's sake, then?"
"I owe him one," Klaus admitted grudgingly. It was the truth, even if it wasn't all of it. Then he stepped back further, inviting the man inside. Bonham was a reliable sort - for a Brit and a criminal.
"Will you be needing some help, like, then? Since the Alphabet aren't with you? Be ready to do just about anything."
Klaus considered the offer. He had to admit that Bonham was very useful at getting things done, even if they were dubious things that needed doing. Klaus had sometimes wondered where Dorian would be without this stocky man, so unlike most of the Earl's usual hanger-ons. Finally, he nodded once. "I suppose you won't be too much in my way."
He got a grateful grin, before Bonham leaned back out the door. "He said 'yes', boys! Come on in!"
A whole herd of thieves streamed into Klaus's hotel room. One of them, the smallest, was bound hand and foot, as well as gagged, so he had to be carried.
London. House Gloria. Opulent and overflowing with art objects of questionable origins. Also far larger than Klaus's suite at the Ritz. One of the many rooms was even a fully equipped conference room, complete with blackboard and a projector. Klaus carefully did not ask what the room was normally used for, though he could make an educated guess. Between the pedestals with Greek-patterned urns, overflowing with large, red, sweet-smelling roses, hung posters of various buildings – the Louvre just to the right of the blackboard and the British Museum to the left. To both were additional pictures of paintings and urns and statues attached. From the British Museum poster's frame hung a plastic folder with what looked suspiciously like a blueprint. On a corner of the blackboard someone had written:
Dorian sells/ransoms things -> $$$$$$$$$$ Dorian gets to shop ££££££££
Dorian keeps everything -> !!!!!!!!! Dorian starves to death and dies!!!!!!!!!!
A polished walnut table dominated the room, inlaid with a colourful mosaic portraying a scene with a black-haired knight – armour partly removed - sleeping in a glade. Klaus – refusing to acknowledge that the man looked remarkably like himself - took the chair closest to the blackboard. Before him lay a note-block open to a page with "We will need 6 gas containers for Nationalmuseumet" in the Earl's neat, calligraphy-like handwriting. The remaining dozen of Dorian's entourage settled along the oblong table, with Bonham and a very reluctant James flanking him. Only twelve. He had never been sure exactly how many men the thief had, but he estimated that they had been almost as many as his Alphabet. Though he couldn't help but to wonder how many of his own men would stick by him in a similar situation.
He swept his eyes over the remaining few. They looked back at him with different degrees of fear – but also determination. "Right. You all know me. Counter-clockwise – name and specialities."
"Bonham. I get things done."
"Joseph. Jewels. Forgeries and the real things."
"Jones. Scientist. The gas formula is my work."
"Wine. The Earl likes wine. I take care of his wine cellar."
"But you're …" Klaus broke off and waved a hand, unsure of how to formulate himself.
"He knows about the thefts," Bonham said. "Besides, Johan has another speciality too, don't you, Johan?"
"Well, yes. Poison, not that it's necessary all that often, but … I do prefer wine."
Klaus made a mental note not to drink any wine while in House Gloria. "Next."
"Jeremiah. I'm a lawyer."
Klaus only wavered for a second, then decided not to ask and instead moved to the last person, apart from the still pouting James, who he already knew all too well.
"Rudy? Not … Judy?"
Rudy shook his head. Klaus remembered outrunning the lean thief repeatedly while exercising around North Downs. He felt tempted to ask if the red-head had ever considered a name-change. Joseph, John-Paul, Jones, Johan, Justin, Jimmy, Jen, Jeremiah, Josh and ... Rudy. He was good with names and faces – he had to be, in his line of work - but that was just plain stupid. Right. There were twelve of them. He dismissed the Apostles, since he hoped none was of the Judas-type, Js or no. "January," he said, pointing at James, who blinked at him, then continued back clockwise. "February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December." There. Much better. "January – you're in charge of the monetary situation."
"Anywhere you can get it. Legally! I want to know what kind of funds we have at our disposal and then I want you to double them."
The accountant stared at him for a moment with a huge, blue eye, then his lower lip started to tremble. "Yes, Leader!" he shouted joyfully and bounced out of the room.
"You might have made a mistake there," said December – formerly known as Bonham.
Klaus shrugged. "Should keep him busy, shouldn't it? Besides, we might need money to post a bail and other ... necessities." Bribes. Bonham looked unconvinced. "Is there any coffee in this place?"
"Of course. Jen – I mean, May – get the Major's coffee." When May had left, Bonham turned back to Klaus. "I'm thinking you won't need explosives just yet, will you?"
"I don't plan on it, no. April. You have been in contact with the Earl?"
"Well ... I'm not so much his lawyer as I deal with ... making things legal. Kind of thing. His lawyer, Mr. Smith, is with him now. I have been in contact with Mr. Smith, though."
"His Lordship is holding up well."
"Irrelevant. What about the case? What do they have against him? What about those physical evidences? Were there witnesses? Does the Earl know this so called ... 'victim'? Where did the crime supposedly take place?" He had a dozen more questions, but by then April's wide, eye-lined eyes had started to look decidedly frantic.
"The ev-evidence. A scar. On his Lordship."
"So? He strips off his clothes at the drop of a hat and there's plenty of perverts around to ogle him."
"On ... it?" Klaus said with a wave towards his crotch.
April shook his head. "Close."
"And his Lordship doesn't strip off his clothes at the drop of a hat," said Bonham, sounding disapproving. "Remember at North Downs, at the conference, when you wanted him to take them off?"
Klaus restrained himself from rolling his eyes, but did acknowledge that Bonham had a point – the Earl had, for whatever reason, seemed almost prudish that time. He nodded. "So, we're down to a couple of hundred lovers who might have seen it. Not much better odds."
"Begging your pardon," Bonham continued, with a little more annoyance. "It isn't that many. He's affectionate, but he's particular. Not over twenty, that I know of. Besides – it wouldn't surprise me if he kept it hidden from most of them too. He's a bit vain, he is."
And the Pope is a tiny little bit religious, thought Klaus. "Add nurses and doctors and we're up to a large number anyway." He paused to drink, as May had just returned with coffee. Another 775 Jahre Stadt Eberbach mug, with the Eberbach city crest, he noted. May had also brought a couple of teacups and then left again, presumably to get more. "We need to find out the boy's identity and why he is doing this. I want to talk to the lawyer and I want to see the Earl myself. April – you will go with me. Meanwhile, I want to know the word on the street. That Rogues' Gallery of yours. The Black brothers. Volovolonte. The Bakhials. Other contacts. Get on it and see if they know anything. December - two men, the best suited."
"Right. Ah ... November and Augu-, no, July, right?" The reddish blond July, at whom Bonham had been looking, nodded. "Have a look around. See who's friendly. Give me a holler if it feels iffy and I'll deal with that."
"Does the press know, yet?" Klaus then asked.
"No, thank the skies."
Klaus grunted. "Keep an eye on that. Enemies?"
"Not many. You know his Lordship – he can charm a charging water buffalo. There are the people he steals from, but mostly it's museums and governments and people who don't appreciate what they have. Which isn't to say they're not furious, some of them."
"Make a list. Have it ready on my return."
"Most of them he got working for you, you know."
Oh, Klaus was well aware of that. "Completely irrelevant." Besides, it's not like I ask him, most of the time. "I will go through those myself. Most of the information is classified."
"Yes, Major. Ah ... Should we start looking into a ... contingency plan?"
"Don't call me that. I'm not here in any official capacity. What do you mean, contingency plan?"
"Well, for if we can't get him cleared, like?"
"If he isn't cleared, he will serve his time like any condemned convict."
The Earl's gang exchanged glances, then Bonham coughed. "Well ... There are ways around that. If you ... catch my drift?"
Realising that they were talking about simply breaking the Earl out, if pushes came to shoves, Klaus snorted. "Don't talk to me about anything illegal, even if it isn't my jurisdiction." He hesitated. "Though if you have some private project to work on, October and June can assist you."
"Got you, Leader."
"The rest of you start working on that list! We need more facts to go on. April, we're leaving in five, I need to take a piss first."
Klaus adjusted his glasses and tried to look meek as he followed April into the building.
The first thing he saw when inside was, bracketed by a tall, long-haired Arab and a burly member of the local police, was Dorian, dressed in one of his hideous drag outfits. Apparently the Earl had had enough and was now making a run for it. For a split second Klaus underwent a crisis of conscience. A fugitive was heading his way. It was his duty to stop the escaped criminal. On the other hand ... The man was innocent. Klaus was certain of this. Klaus had also all but agreed to at least take no notice of an escape plan being hatched under his very nose – had given Bonham two men to deal with the possibility, even if he hadn't said so in as many words. To have the Earl safe and close as they worked on the case would also be beneficial. There were several things he wanted to ask the man about and surely the number of questions would only increase when the investigation got under way. To have to go through the lawyers would be a bother. On the other hand, an escape would have the entire police force breathing down their necks and would automatically label Dorian as guilty in the eyes of the public.
Dorian looked ... lacklustre. Not surprising, perhaps, after the day in arrest and the outrageous accusations themselves. Where had he gotten those drab clothes, though? Beggars can't be choosers, perhaps – they must have been all he had found. For some reason they made Klaus remember a horrid repairwoman he had met briefly in Cologne, while guarding the British crown. Hmm. The outfit even managed to make Dorian look a little plump. Perhaps it were the obviously fake breasts – much larger than Dorian usually bothered with.
Klaus decided to go over there, take Dorian to the side and explain that this was a very idiotic idea, which could very well wait. There was no use panicking before all other options were exhausted, no matter how unpleasant things got in the meanwhile. With Dorian's luck – much on par with that of the Devil himself, in Klaus's estimation – no one had yet noticed the theft of the clothes or that the main suspect in the case had deftly removed himself. They might yet be able to get him back with no one the wiser.
Klaus had only taken a few steps, however, when it dawned on him that the stupid outfit not only managed to make Dorian look plump – it also managed to colour his eyes grey and reduced his height about a decimetre – quite a feat.
He poked April in the shoulder, then nodded towards the ... Dorianesque being. "Who is that?"
April frowned, then turned away. "I believe that is Lady Margareth Disken, his Lordship's eldest sister. She came to see him yesterday, so we told her. I assume she is here to see him."
"Will she know anything?"
"I doubt it. I'm not sure she will be allowed to see him – his Lordship will likely say no if they ask him. He doesn't like her much. Come this way now, Leader."
They met with Dorian's lawyer, an elderly man, short and round and in Klaus's opinion far too old to still be working, but bright-eyed and alert-looking. "John Smith," he introduced himself, smiling jovially as if he had heard every anonymity joke in existence, but his own name still amused him. He watched Klaus in an intent way, as if judging him. After the initial pleasantries, he brought them with him to a white, empty room – empty, except for a table, four chairs and the current Earl of Gloria.
Dorian sat absolutely straight in the uncomfortable chair. He felt like slumping, but wasn't sure if he was watched or not. Should he happen to be, under no circumstances did he want to appear defeated or even overly concerned. So outwardly he projected complete calmness, utter certainty and serenity. In reality he wanted to climb into bed – his own bed! –, pull up the cover and have himself a really, really good cry.
They would pay. Oh yes! They would all pay for what they put him through. He wasn't sure what he could have done to deserve this, but he clung to dreams of revenge. Real revenge. Not like the playful little pokes he had given Klaus, when his beloved flexed his gorgeous muscles and tried to set him up, oh no! The revenge Dorian currently contemplated was quite dark and physical and not the least bit amusing. As soon as he knew who had set him up he would contact his cousins in Svart, oh yes, and call in a few favours, carefully hoarded over the years. Besides, for all feelings that Lutz, the leader of the Black pack, had no understanding of, revenge was not one of them. Revenge Lutz had been taught the meaning – and importance – of, at an early age. Dorian felt sure it would be easy enough to persuade him to lend some assistance.
The door opened and he looked up. For a moment he saw only his beloved mentor, John "It's-not-my-real-name,-but-I've-used-it-for-so-long-now-that-I-don't-remember-my-actual-one" Smith. The man was a very good thief – but a brilliant lawyer. Retired for the last decennia, but up to speed with every development and there was no one Dorian would rather have protect him in a court of law, even if the accusation currently levelled against him was nothing he had ever contemplated as the possible cause for his downfall. Being revealed as Eroica, yes, that sometimes felt only as a matter of time before it happened, but this – oh, no, never this ...
It took him a moment to even notice the quiet presence that followed his old teacher inside. Then Dorian's subconscious mind started ticking off details, such as long, black hair; a strong jaw; wide, delicious shoulders; the nose and ... those lips! As if stepping out from a shadow the presence solidified as none other than the joy of Dorian's existence: his very own Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach - in the flesh. For a moment Dorian forgot everything but the man who calmly looked back through the dark-tinted glasses. Had Klaus any idea how they changed him? He must have, since he often used them as part of his "disguises", though at other times he did use them casually anyway. Dorian didn't have the heart – or guts – to tell Klaus how they softened his sharp personality, giving him a strangely innocent, bordering on meek appearance. Delicious, really.
No, no, no, Dorian! Heel, boy! Down! Concentrate! Klaus! What is he—He's here! Oh thank you, thank you, thank you, whoever looks out for amorous art thieves down on their luck!
One of his greatest fears had been that Klaus would believe the lie and loathe him forever. That would have been truly, completely and utterly unbearable. Especially since they had just gotten past the way Klaus used to hate him – at least that was how Dorian interpreted the events that had unfolded the last time they met. After all, Klaus had given him a kiss of his own accord, without even being prompted to do so and after that the entire mess had been dealt with. To have Klaus hate him again after that would have been horrible. But here Klaus was.
Suddenly Klaus whipped off his glasses and just as unexpectedly Dorian found himself looking at Iron Klaus: sharp, green eyes with a hint of grey. He also noted with fascination how Klaus's jaw tightened and his lips thinned.
I didn't even say anything! he wailed internally, wondering what he could possibly have done to anger Klaus now. I didn't get into this situation for the fun of it, you know!
"How did you get that?" Klaus demanded, his voice clipped.
Dorian looked down. He was wearing his own clothes – slightly rumpled. He really hoped that he would get a change soon, for he felt as if he funked. The choker was his too – or had been stolen such a long time ago that Dorian no longer remember when or from whom – certainly not from Klaus, anyway. Belt? No, he had given that back. Shoes he never wore "second hand" if he could help it – too difficult to wash properly. "What are you referring to, dar--, um ... Mr. …?" he asked for security's sake, in case Klaus used an alias and they really were watched.
"Did you get your brain scrambled? Who hit you?"
Oh. That. Dorian brought up a hand to touch his cheek. Drat, I must look dreadful! The area felt warm and slightly moist to his touch, not a good sign at all. My kingdom for some theatre make-up! "I … walked into a door," he said, enunciating each word with care so that the obvious sarcasm shone through. "Two doors, in fact."
"I want names."
He sounds pissed. Only you are allowed to hurt me, is that it? Dorian ignored the decidedly unhealthy warmth that flushed him at the thought of his beloved Major being possessive. Then he shrugged. "They didn't bother to introduce themselves."
"That is all they did?"
He nodded, not bothering to mention the ribs. They didn't ache all that badly anyway and he would rather not talk about the ... incident. Later though ... He might not have any names, but he had an excellent eye for faces and would be able to draw both of the policemen's faces down to the least detail – or pick them out from some distance. Still, that Klaus seemed to care felt like a little silver lining to the otherwise so black cloud he found himself surrounded by.
Maybe you're just here to repay your debt, my own, but ... it feels good nevertheless.
"Dorian?" said Mr. Smith kindly. "We have a couple of questions."
He answered all questions truthfully and without hesitating.
The scar? A childhood accident. He and one of his sisters had been playing in the garden, when he had fallen on a sharp peg. It was fairly small and he usually covered it by a low-hanging hip belt, which most of his lovers found a fetching accessory. Klaus snorted at that, possibly at the vanity of it, but Dorian didn't mind.
The boy? Yes, Dorian had seen him at the party Maggie had arranged. He had played with Willy, Maggie's son and presumably, unless something drastic occurred, the next Earl of Gloria. Dorian had actually considered getting a tall, black-haired, green-eyed surrogate mother and did Klaus, by any chance, have any female cousins? Irrelevant? Oh, well, maybe later, then. Willy hero-worshipped his uncle Dorian and had come up to him several times before the children had been sent away for the evening.
Enemies? Very few, all in all. He rattled off a few names, but honestly couldn't think of many. Bonham would know better. Dorian never bothered to keep track of such things. Most people liked him anyway. Check Saleem, perhaps, he and Dorian never did play well together.
If he needed a change of clothes? Oh, Bonham wanted to know. Well, it was getting a bit nippy, so yes. But not the winter clothes yet. Was everything all right back at the homestead? A bit unsteady? Ah. Well, that was to be expected. Hopefully James wasn't giving Klaus too much trouble?
"He seems rather eager to cooperate."
Maybe the world was ending. A very inappropriate suggestion of getting over virginhood before they all died was barely bit back as extremely bad taste given the circumstances. Pardon? Repeat, please.
"I promised Fatso to ask you to stop stealing from him," Klaus said, with a slightly pinched look on his face.
"Oh?" Why on Earth would you ever promise him such a thing, dearest?
"He wouldn't give me time off."
Dorian frowned. He hadn't had the man killed for what he had tried to pull on Klaus, since Klaus had expressly forbidden him to, but it seemed as if the man didn't fully appreciate the restraint Dorian had shown. If he gave Klaus more grief – especially when Klaus was so gallantly charging to Dorian's rescue, revenge would be swift and heartfelt ... "So you promised to ask me to stop stealing from him."
For a second Dorian considered splitting semantics and actually having Klaus spell out the request. He did so adore hearing Klaus ask him for something. But Klaus would get pissed. So instead he smiled sweetly. "Then, consider your promise kept."
The pinched expression deepened minutely. "You will stop stealing from him?"
Slightly concerned that he had misread Klaus somehow, Dorian nevertheless answered truthfully, since he had made a habit of not lying to his Major. "Of course not, my dear."
And at that Klaus's brow smoothed out and the corners of his lips rose a fraction. Dorian's heart skipped a beat. Oh my ... Well, well, well ... Mr. Independent seems to like that I've gone to war for his sake. How delicious. Oh, sweet muses ... If I get out of this mess, I swear I'll never ask him for anything more than he can give. Even friendship, if that is all. Though perhaps ... a friendship with benefits?
Klaus had come for him and would put things right. For the first time since waking up in a fright from the pleasant dream yesterday morning, Dorian relaxed.
Bonham met them at the door to House Gloria. "We rounded up dinner. Should be done in fifteen. Do you want a meeting before then? We could put the food on hold for now."
Klaus realised that he did feel a bit hungry. "Food first. I'll prepare in the meeting room until it is ready."
"Ah ... Yes, do that. It's just …"
Bonham visibly took a deep breath and met Klaus's stare with something akin to panic. "Your hotel room ..."
"What about it?"
"It's a long way off. We thought ... That is ... Me and the boys … We installed you in the second master bedroom."
"You've done ... what?"
"Installed you in the second master bedroom. It's yours anyway, his Lordship had it built for you. It's better if you stay here – saves time and expenses. January insisted."
"I'm not staying here!"
"Look – his Lordship isn't even here, so he can't bother you none. Besides, it would help him. You tell him tomorrow and he will be happy all day."
"I'm not responsible for keeping him happy!"
"What harm can it do? He's probably right miserable now. Did he want his winter clothes, by the way?"
"No. What's that got to do with things? He's indoors, for fuck's sake!"
"Just means he's not desperate to get out. Had he wanted his winter things, we would have ... moved the schedule along, like. You didn't want us to talk to you about that."
"I still don't! Since you moved my things, I will stay here tonight – but only for tonight! You will install me back in my hotel room first thing tomorrow!"
"Yes, Leader! Your room's this way."
Klaus reluctantly followed Bonham up the stairs and then to the right. "The second master bedroom?" he asked. "I would have thought he expected me to 'share' with him, if he ever caught me. Or is the idiot expecting me to share him with whoever he invites to the first master bedroom for the night?" If I can't keep him satisfied. Which I doubt I could even if I wanted to ...
Bonham whirled and glared up at him. "That was most unkind of you, Leader! The Earl is never anything but courteous to you! He is a bit of a flirt, but he's very serious in his devotion. Though the Lord knows I'm not sure why he bothers!"
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Klaus said, surprised by the normally so staid man's vehement defence of his employer.
Bonham threw him an annoyed glare, then continued down the hall. "That's his Lordship's room," he said as they passed a door. At the next one, he stopped and withdrew his keychain. After having unlocked the door he unhooked the small, golden key and handed it over. "It's the only one there is, so take care of it. His Lordship lost his once and had to jimmy his locks for two weeks. And you'll have to ask his Lordship about the rooms, if you really want to know." Then he turned and walked back the way they had come.
Feeling unfairly chastened, Klaus stepped into the room, warily looking around, wondering what kind of decadent nest of sin he had agreed to stay the night in. Well, if I could sleep in a muddy ditch with tanks rolling by, I should be able to sleep here too. If the bed's heart-shaped, I'll just sleep on the fucking floor – or in the bathtub. Not that Dorian's bed, the one time Klaus had shared it, had been unacceptable, except for being on the soft side.
The second master bedroom was bright and airy, with very little clutter. The walls were a pale shade of grey; the floor a warm green. There was some art, yes – unavoidable, perhaps, but the subjects weren't fat, naked women or pumpkin-panted men, not even those flower bunches that he had seen here and there in the rest of the house. The first thing he saw on the wall opposite to the door was a large painting of the Schloss, though from over fifty years ago, when there had still been a stable directly to the right. His grandfather had later had that building removed. The closest thing to "artsy art" was the rose bush to the side of the watchful boar that stood guard just to the right of a door in the west wall, clearly connecting to the suite next to his – Dorian's.
To the side of the door, in the southwest corner of the rectangular room, stood the bed. Far from heart-shaped it proved to be long, yet narrow, with a sensible, dark green cover. Klaus's gaze was, however, immediately drawn to the object hanging above the head's end and then he had to go over there for a closer inspection. What hung above the bed's head was a Holland and Holland; unmistakable in its elegance. Klaus couldn't help but to touch the red wood in the stock with reverent fingers. Holland and Holland might not be a German brand, but ... damn, they were fine! And expensive. A piece of this calibre would not go for under 100.000 pounds – and maybe far more than that. He had only ever touched one once, when his father had brought him along to an old friend's birthday. The proud owner had graciously allowed everyone to shoot with it and while Klaus normally didn't enjoy rifles as much as he did handguns, the Royal Double Rifle had since then frequented his carefully guarded list of things he knew he would never buy and always want.
Klaus unhooked the stand locks and lifted the rifle, then laid it up to his shoulder, meeting the slick wood with his cheekbone. The stock length matched him perfectly and the pistol grip melted against his fingers. He lowered the rifle, then slapped it up again, this time aiming along the barrel, following an imaginary trajectory across the wall. Oh, but that feels good ...
Abruptly he realised what he was doing and quickly hung the rifle back up again. I'm not some cheap floozy he can sway with pretty toys! he informed himself sternly. Besides, it's probably stolen!
Only, the platinum work displayed boars frolicking among roses, hardly a common pattern. It would have to be custom made and who but a foppish fag in love with a gun-crazed machine maniac would order such an odd combination?
Turning past the door he found a large Farinsaati gun safe. Klaus forced himself not to open it, though his fingers itched to touch whatever might be hidden within. Between the bed and the safe hung an arrangements of 26 gold frames, each with a good-quality image of one of Klaus's agents – in suitable, alphabetical order. Beside the bed were also two smaller doors. Quick checks showed that one lead to a huge, walk-in wardrobe, where his suitcases had been stashed, and the second to an equally large bathroom. Along the other wall stood a large bookshelf - filled with books on tanks, rifles and other weapons, as well as some history books -, followed by a desk in the same shade of walnut as the rifle, with inlaid patterns of oak. The desk was beautiful, yet functional. Next to it ...
Klaus marched over and knelt, staring. He had never seen one in a private home before – had never even considered the possibility. But there it stood, between the desk and the door leading out - a Nescafé automat, just waiting for one of six Eberbach mugs to be inserted!
Bonham had told the truth - the room had clearly been built for him. The question remained – why? Why wasn't he expected to share the master bedroom? Surely that must be what Dorian preferred?
He can't really expect me to agree to some sharing arrangement. No. He's not that stupid!
Finally he took a closer look at the door in the west wall. The first thing he registered about it was that it had no lock.
Wants easy access, no doubt, that pervert!
Then he noticed a barrier, though such a laughably pitiful one that he first couldn't credit it. He stepped closer and saw something else. What he had thought were etched patterns on the wood were, in fact, hundreds of rows of tiny crystal bells. The barrier was a single rod of a clear material, no wider than Klaus's little finger. It lay on such flimsy supports that if the door was rattled it would likely simply hop off the hangers – or, if judged by how sturdy it looked – fragment.
"That thing wouldn't keep a butterfly out!" he grumbled.
Oh well. The butterfly normally inhabiting the room next to his was currently under heavy lock and key in a different area of London, so he should be safe enough.
Since the fifteen minutes to dinner had all but ticked down, he went to eat. Before the meeting, though, he did return to the room for coffee.
"Progress report! January – and why are you sitting on the floor?"
"I sold my chair, Leader!" James peeped up from next to Klaus's knee. "I got 20 pounds for it! I'm happy sitting here. I have some calculations to make while you talk. We are currently good for—" he said and mentioned a very respectable sum.
No wonder he could buy me a—why he could afford to buy a Holland and Holland. Why does he steal things? He can afford most of what he wants! Not everything though, which was probably the crux of the matter. Not to mention that most of the money was probably ill-gotten gains. Besides, Dorian would get bored with nothing to do. A bored Dorian was a scary possibility.
"Good. Keep it up! November, July – report!"
November leaped to his feet, clutching a bunch of papers. He reminded Klaus acutely of B. A very thin B with finer features and make-up, but B nevertheless.
"W-we've only spoken to the Keyser. Well, not the Keyser himself, but his lawyer. No-one talks to the Keyser. Except the Earl. He likes the Earl. We think. Um … Anyway. The lawyer said to tell you ... whatever we need will be given. The Keyser has his ear to the ground and will report if he hears anything. Ah ... Oh, and we've placed a message with Volovolonte's secretary. He will be calling back. Um ... And we called Svart, but apparently they're all in Sweden, participating in some kind of ski competition. I-I left a message for them too. And one with the Rogues Gallery's administrative secretary."
Klaus remembered that the Murg had looked forward to some cross-country skiing event. He hadn't been sure if it was real or a figment of their imagination, as he had learned early on to take anything the entity formed by Lutz's four younger brothers said with a grain of salt. Sometimes they lied about the most obvious things. "Keep at it. December – list of suspects?"
"Ah ..." Bonham said and looked around. In his hand he held a transparent sheet with blue scribbles. "Where ... is the projector?"
"I got 50 pounds for it!" said an eager voice from the vicinity of Klaus's knees.
Klaus began to suspect that Bonham might have been right and that encouraging the greedy bug to get more money might not have been a smart move of keeping him out of Klaus's way after all.
"Ah," said Bonham, this time in a completely different tone of voice. Then he placed the OH sheet on the table before Klaus. The list contained eight names. Most of which Klaus didn't recognize. He mentally first added and then scratched off his own name from the short compilation. Fewer than he thought. They could work with that.
"February, March and May, you're to work on this list. Check their latest doings, if there's any word about a current plan. Anything you can find to tie them to this or remove them from the investigation. We will go over your findings tomorrow."
"Yes, Leader," they answered.
"August and September, you're to find out more about the boy. Who is he? Who are his parents? Why is he or they doing this? What does he or they hope to gain or avoid?"
"December, you oversee everything."
Remembering that the Months weren't like his Alphabet, but rather men closely connected to the "target" and who might have independent thoughts possibly even worth listening to, he asked, "Ideas?"
"Could be someone who wants to keep Eroica away from a heist," said June.
"Or his Lordship away from someone," January added. "Someone who's jealous of him and wants him out of the way!"
He nodded again.
"Blackmail," May suggested.
"We're not paying!" January quickly declared.
"Hush you!" said February and bapped the accountant over the head.
"They might not know that," Klaus said. Though he wondered what the little man happily pounding away at his Casio would do if a blackmail note really came.
"His lordship did get some extra money a while back," said Bonham. "When his mum died three months ago."
Klaus filed that away as an interesting detail. So soon to what had happened the extra money definitely could have pushed Dorian over some limit, making him interesting to a would-be blackmailer.
"No demand yet, though. No recent threats or oddities?" He assumed that there hadn't been any; otherwise the Months should have told him. But air-headed as some of them were, he thought it better to ask, just in case.
"No, Leader, nothing recent," Bonham confirmed.
"Leader?" April piped up. "Could it have something to do with NATO? To stop him from helping you on a mission?"
Klaus shook his head. "Doubtful. I have no current mission that might remotely require his assistance. Good thinking, though." Better than he would have expected from this bunch, even if he himself had already been over all those possibilities. "Back to June – are any heists planned?"
They all looked towards Bonham. "No," he said. "Nothing has caught his fancy in a while. He's a bit impulsive, so he rarely plans anything for long."
"Any new ... lovers?"
Simultaneously they all shook their heads.
"Old ones then?" he pressed. "Like that Caesar kid?"
Again, the Months shook their heads, before the rest looked towards Bonham. "Suitors he has in droves, but there has been no one he has responded to, lately."
Klaus found that hard to believe, but conceded that perhaps Dorian didn't tell his gang all of his conquests. "April, next time you see him, ask him specifically."
"Right. The crime was supposed to have taken place at that gathering his sister held. December, what was the gathering about?"
"A celebration of their mother, after her death. A bit fishy if you ask me, but apparently it's a Red-Gloria tradition. Go out with fireworks, not wails, kind of thing."
Sounds like something Dorian would want. "Why did the sister arrange it, if it was family tradition? The Earl is the head of the family, isn't he?"
"Their mum was always closer to the girls. Lady Margaret asked and his Lordship agreed. Besides, it would have been an awkward party to have held here, with all of us and then her high'n'mighty hoity-toity friends. He's not ashamed of us, but when it comes to his mother ... it just felt best."
"So this family that the boy belonged to, they were friends of his mother?"
"I reckon so. Or the sister's."
"I will go visit the sister tomorrow. Anything else?"
There was no reply.
"Then get started! December, is there a phone in my—in the second master bedroom?"
"Good. I'll phone some of my contacts. Report any new finding tonight to me there."
Klaus had had a very good night's sleep. The bed had been just right; to the squeak down to his own back home in Eberbach. If not for the fact that it was slightly longer and wider he would have been suspicious that Dorian might actually somehow have relocated the furniture. And to be able to get a good cup of coffee, straight from his own automat, first thing in the morning, was priceless! He had already decided on asking Dorian how he had managed to get the machine, once this unpleasant business had been dealt with. Perhaps I can get two. One for the Schloss and one for my apartment ...
Perhaps he had also lifted the Holland and Holland again, wishing he could test shoot it, just once.
When he descended to the kitchen he found July and October busy making stacks of sandwiches. They invited him to help himself, so he loaded a plate with four, then – coffee mug in hand – went to the conference room. Bonham was already present, together with a sleepy-looking November. Klaus settled in his usual spot and noted as he did that the opulent rose arrangements that had annoyed him the previous day had been removed.
"Anything to report?" he asked.
"We heard from Lutz," November quickly replied. "Just a note to let him know if there's anything we need. He will help with anything."
Great. Carte blanche from the world's head slaughterer. Though Lutz hadn't been so bad, once you realised his rather obvious ... limitations. Klaus's time in Svart had been ... interesting. He ruthlessly pushed the memories away, trying to bury them as deep as possible. Especially the one of TBM sneaking into his bedroom to sing Japanese songs at the top of his lungs to wake him up. "Anything else?"
"I will go see his sister. December, do you have her address?"
"Got it. You might want to wait until after ten. She's like the Earl in many ways, we hear, and to go before then would be pointless."
Klaus snorted. "Very well. I will go for a run first."
"Ah ... Leader?" Bonham said, eyeing him speculatively. "Did you intend to visit her like that?"
"What do you mean?"
"With the glasses on, like?"
"Ja. They make people think I'm meek, so they trust me more. Why?"
"Only you might not want to. She's like the Earl in ... many ways, we hear, as I said."
"I don't understand. She's lesbian? I thought she had a son? What does that have to do with my glasses?"
"No, she's not lesbian. She's like her brother in her, ah … her taste in men. I just thought you might have an easier time to ... cough ... act as you do around him. She'll like that."
Klaus blinked. "I should knock her around and wave my gun in her face?"
"No! God, you don't think his Lordship really enjoys it when you do that, do you?"
"Ehm ..." Klaus had actually kind of begun to think that the other man did. Why else would he tolerate it?
"He just likes having your full attention, that's all. Ah, never mind, just behave as if she was the Earl and you really needed him to do something for you, right?"
"I'll take that under advisement," Klaus replied stiffly. What did I do to deserve this?
The sister's house was in the same area of London as the brother's: apparently the "right" area for nobility to live in or some such nonsense. Since Klaus didn't know the way he allowed February to drive him. Amazingly enough, when he stepped out onto the House Gloria yard a recent-model Benz waited for him. Right-driven – the sacrilege!- but still a classy car. February drove acceptably and didn't babble incessantly at him.
At House Disken he gave his name to the butler and was shown into a study to wait for Lady Margareth. The room was stylishly decorated, but felt overdone in a way Klaus couldn't pinpoint. It wasn't the heedless clutter of valuable objects that so often annoyed him while visiting her brother, but he couldn't say what it was that offended him.
The lady of the house soon appeared. Klaus was once more amazed at how much the woman resembled Dorian in drag – and that stinking repairwoman in Cologne ... A sneaking suspicion began to dawn on him, but he forced it on hold, to be examined – and quite possibly screamed a lot about – later. Instead he smiled, put his arms to his sides and bowed.
"Mr. von dem Eberbach," she greeted him and reached out her right hand at a vague angle.
Remembering Bonham's advice about acting as if she was a Dorian he needed something from, he took the hand and bent over it – not that he would do that to Dorian, not in a million years! "Lady Disken," he said and smiled at her, gazing into her eyes. They looked decidedly wrong. Grey seemed so ... flat in that face. Her hair was curly, but far less animated than her brother's. Over all she looked pale and a little bloaty.
"von dem Eberbach ... You are of German descent, I take it? Do you live in London?"
"I'm merely here on business, Lady Disken," he explained smoothly. "I am an acquaintance of your brother."
Something in her face changed. "Oh," she said. "You are a ... friend of Dorian's?"
"Acquaintance only," he corrected her, his tone just a tad sharper than before.
"Oh. So you're not a ... friend … of Dorian's, then?"
Hadn't he just said so? Twice, even. "No, my ladyship. I work for NATO. Your brother has, on rare occasions, proven useful for us." And for me, personally. When he doesn't prove to be a total nuisance. "I am investigating the accusations against him. I wish to make sure that it has nothing to do with his work for us."
"I see. Well, I will – of course – help you in any way I can. Do sit down. Anything to drink, perhaps?"
"Coffee, thank you."
She rang for a butler and ordered tea for herself. When the coffee arrived it tasted weak and uninteresting, nothing like Nescafé, but caffeine is caffeine and he drank it anyway, without even grimacing, as not to appear ungrateful.
"So, you work for NATO. How exciting. Now, how is it that the old saying goes – is it the second son to the army? Or the third?" She smiled winsomely – it jarred Klaus how much she looked like Dorian and yet possessed only a pale reflection of the man's nearly surreal charm.
"I'm the only son," he answered and made himself smile as if amused by her comment.
"But 'von dem Eberbach' – that is an old German family, isn't it?"
"We're related to the German branch of the Habsburgs," he admitted smoothly, hoping to get her back on topic. "About the accusations levelled against your brother—"
"Terrible, isn't it?"
"Yes," he answered honestly. It was terrible.
"Of course, we knew it was only a matter of time before he did something ... even more scandalous than his usual ... amusements."
Klaus's forced smile froze.
"Related to the Habsburgs," she continued. "Does that mean I should address you as Lord von dem Eberbach?"
"Germany no longer upholds the system of nobility titles. Before that my family held a Graf-title, though we no longer use it."
"Oh, a Graf! How exotic! My Lord Graf von dem Eberbach! Mother was so pleased when I married Earl Disken. He died six months ago – it's been awfully lonely since then, with no man in the house. A Graf ... would that be equivalent to one of our Dukes?"
The cow eyes she gave him made him want to groan. What am I? Gloria-nip? "I wouldn't know," he lied swiftly, though in fact he did know that it was more in the rank of an Earl. When Dorian had pestered him for long enough he had checked, just to see who ranked highest, purely technically speaking. "Lady Disken, your brother—"
"Oh, do call me Maggie. Lord Disken always did."
He took a deep breath to keep from calling her something else entirely. "Did anything happen that night? That you saw or heard?" Possibly a direct approach would lead somewhere.
"No. I had so much to do, though, I wouldn't have noticed a bomb going off. Germany ... Does it get very cold there in the winter? Colder than in England?"
"Sometimes. But we build our Schlosses and houses with the cold in mind. Besides, cold is a matter of discipline. The boy. His parents. Were they friends of your mother?" He remembered that the "party" had, in fact, been a wake. "I'm sorry about your loss." I'll have to remember to say that to Dorian later.
"Yes, it was awful, simply awful. She wasn't even 60 yet, it came out of the blue. One day she rode her favourite mare, when the beast threw her and trampled her. Desiree and Henry were friends of both me and Mother. Darling couple. Terribly shocked, by what happened. So am I, of course, dreadfully shocked. And under my own roof! I'll never be able to host a gathering here again, it just wouldn't do. Poor little Jojo ... I nearly fainted, when I heard. And I'm so glad Mother wasn't alive to see this. Of course, she wouldn't have been surprised either. Not after what happened to Dorian. And one hears things, doesn't one?"
"Pardon me?" Klaus said sharply.
"Schlosses, you say? The one thing I always regretted about Mother leaving Father was that we no longer could live at North Downs. A German Schloss ... I've seen them in movies, of course. So … sturdy. Masculine, somehow. Can a building be masculine? Does your family, by any chance, have a Schloss …?"
"Schloss Eberbach. City of Eberbach. What happened to your brother?"
She leaned closer and put a warm hand on his lower arm. He resisted the great temptation of shucking it off, which he really wanted to do.
"When he was young," she said, so he reined in his impulse. "Lord Price. I don't know the details, but mother alluded to it on occasion. And you know what they say. Those it happened to do it themselves, and so on." She patted his arm twice, in a strangely thorough way, as if testing the firmness of his muscles. "Bonn ... I've never been there. It would be a lovely place to go for a vacation, I do so think." She paused, then added suggestively, "If only I could find a local guide ..."
For a split second Klaus felt himself falling into the cold pit of rationality that he inhabited during a mission when he might be about to kill someone. He forced himself to look into his coffee cup, rather than to meet her gaze. More than one person had told him that his eyes in such moments tended to glaze over in a way that made most people want to run away screaming. To send her running wouldn't be productive, even if he desperately wanted to get away from her. If I had been sexually molested as a child-- At least that was what he assumed she alluded to. –and a sister of mine talked about it to some total stranger ... Saying she pretty much thought I would do it in turn ... If their mother was anything like her, no wonder Dorian turned out queer. Scarred for life, probably.
"Do NATO often send you abroad to do these kind of things?"
"Yes," he answered, forcing the corners of his lips up in a rigid smile. Dorian. Beautiful, carefree spirit. Abused? He needed more information. Ask Bonham. Later. "Is there anything else you can tell me about the situation?" Say "no". If I stay here much longer I will hurt you, woman or not.
"No, I don't really think so. I had so many things to do. I really wasn't paying attention. Your wife must feel very lonely with you away so often."
"I'm not married," he answered automatically and then wished he had lied as he was given a predatory smile. Oh yes, it appeared as if brother and sister did have some things in common, all right.
Back at House Gloria Klaus decided that he needed a shower. He felt soiled. Only luck and excellent reflexes had saved his arse from being pinched when he turned his back on Lady Disken. If forced to chose between the two of them, he had to confess – if only to himself – that he would have leaped for her brother. The shower in the bathroom connected to his room – and only to his room – was pure decadence, with eight shower heads pushing the hot water onto his skin. He hadn't even looked at the bath tub yet. So far he had showered trice during his stay and feared he would get waterlogged.
Blessed Nescafé automat! Maybe if he offered Dorian another kiss Dorian would simply let him take this one? The kisses really hadn't been all that horrible. And it wasn't as if the coffee machine would get any action without Klaus around. The Brits, with their sodding tea, would leave it to rot. Yes, it was practically Klaus's duty to make sure that it followed him back to Germany!
Feeling somewhat cleaner, Klaus returned to the conference room – noticing that someone had removed the paintings in the hallway as well as those in the room itself. Also, one set of markers for the black board had gone missing – he was fairly sure there had been two sets only the same morning. No Months were present, so he went to the kitchen, where he met February, who showed him to the great library, in which he finally located Bonham. The man was going over a paper with June and October.
"December! Word in private. Then we will have a new meeting to go over any news."
"Yes, Leader. Jimmy, ah ... June, I mean, gather the rest to the conference room." Then Bonham walked with Klaus to the far end of the library, where they wouldn't be overheard. "What do you be wanting, Leader?"
"I spoke to his sister."
"Piece of work, ain't she?"
He grunted. "She said a Lord Price hurt the Earl when he was young. What do you know of it?"
Bonham pulled back, frowning. "That's none of your business, von dem Eberbach! If I know or not - I'm not telling you. Have you asked any of the others?"
"I figured if anyone knew, you would."
Bonham's pale eyes narrowed. "Good. Don't you dare ask anyone else! Shame on you for even talking to me about it!"
Klaus blinked. He then remembered how he himself had felt when Dorian's sister had told him. For a second he lowered his gaze in shame. "To do so was poor judgement of me. I won't ask anyone else."
"See to it that you don't! Was there anything else ... Leader?" The last word was said with clear rebuke.
He shook his head. Bonham turned and strode away. Klaus followed in silence. It took all the way to the conference room before he had gathered himself. I will have to talk to Dorian himself about it. After this mess is dealt with.
"Another 4.978 glorious pounds and 33 pretty pennies to the account today, Leader!"
"That's … good." He seriously didn't want to know how. "April. News?" The lawyer had visited Dorian again, together with Mr. Smith.
"No ... winter clothes?" Not that he would give his approval for breaking Dorian out, but at least if he knew that an attempt would be made he could try to prevent it. Or something.
April's eyes flickered. "Ah ... No … Ah, he … He said … He said that … Ah …"
"Spit it out! Don't hem around!"
"He told me to tell you that … ah … that his confidence in you keeps him warm." Then April pulled back in his chair, as if expecting Klaus to explode.
Klaus just nodded. After all, as innuendos go, Dorian usually used far more blatant ones. Before he had time to move to the next group, November broke in. "Ah ... That won't be necessary. Um … I mean … There won't be a … a … snowball fight. Won't be need for one, that is."
"Of course there won't be a need for one!" Klaus growled. "We will find the guilty part. The Earl will be released."
"No, Leader – I mean, yes, Leader. I mean ... Um … Just in case. There's a … a … there doesn't need to be a snow ball fight anyway because … um ... there's a desert storm blowing in?"
Klaus blinked. "I think this metaphor no longer works. What are you babbling about?"
July hesitantly pushed two papers Klaus's way. He grabbed them. The first was by far one of the sparsest, most to-the-point legally binding documents he had ever read. Only to believe the meaning proved a little more difficult.
"What's this shit?"
"Lutz thought it would be easiest that way. Just as a last resort, of course, if all else fails. Ah ... the ... the second paper ... Um ... The second paper is ... is ..."
Klaus swiftly switched documents, rather than waiting for an explanation. The second paper was almost identical to the first, with the exception of Dorian's name being exchanged for another.
I, TSAR LUCIFER BLACK OF SVART, GRANT KLAUS HEINZ VON DEM EBERBACH DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY.
Signed by Lutz and witnessed by all four members of the Murg, not an easy feat in itself, as to get all of them into a room at the same time was a recipe for disaster; Baal - and Klaus himself. At least the last signature looked like an utterly flawless copy of his own handwriting, down to the upwards stroke at the end of the h in Eberbach, which he sometimes made when annoyed. Dorian's signature had been Dorian's most artful calligraphy, complete with very nicely drawn rosebuds as dots over the i:s. Both documents were dated to three months prior.
Without a comment Klaus handed Bonham Dorian's paper, then carefully tore "his own" into confetti. He had actually liked some parts of Svart. Like the national armoury. And, though he had been very hesitant at first, to run with Lutz and the brothers – mad or not, they could certainly stretch their legs. Lutz had actually offered him a prominent spot in the country's national defence. Tempting, in a way, but Klaus was who he was: German to the core and he would die that way. Preferably on his native soil.
"Leader?" Bonham said, sounding hesitant. "He doesn't want this immunity business. So ... we continue?"
Klaus looked up sharply, realising that they all waited for him to comment. "Of course we will bloody well continue. December – how's the hate list going?"
"The Bakhials have been in touch, on behalf of the Rogues' Gallery. We've removed Saleem's name. Both the Keyser and Lutz say he's not our man. Word of honour."
Klaus snorted. "The word of criminals. That 'gentleman's agreement' thing they're supposed to have. Whatever. Keep checking the rest. We'll concentrate on the boy. October and June, I want you two on that as well. Primarily the boy himself and his parents. Their monetary situation and if you find any ties to either Dorian or one of the remaining names on the list. If you find that, or anything else of interest, come to me directly. I will be in my—in the second master bedroom."
He would be calling around some more. Laurence. Mr L, maybe? While he didn't exactly know the man, he seemed to hold Klaus in high esteem. Hopefully there would be no further matchmaking with Melinda, the man's granddaughter, though. That would feel especially loathesome given the circumstances. He would also check if the Alphabet had heard anything. Not that he had especially ordered them to look into things. Oh no. That would be gross abuse of subordinates, to have them work on what essentially was his personal problem. On the other hand ... If he had told them where he was going and what he would be doing and if some of them had taken it upon themselves to do something on the side, like, who was he to not-send-to-Alaska them for it? Such as B through G as well as X, who didn't have anything useful to do anyway? Besides, he better talk to A regardless, to make sure the team didn't slack off.
Things progressed rather slowly, but then, the Months weren't exactly used to investigating these kind of things, so he had to make allowances. Even if they did work reasonably well – better than he had expected.
They all quickly shook their heads. That's when Klaus heard a noise and looked up. As did March and July, so Klaus knew he hadn't just imagined the sound. "There's someone in the house," he said to inform those hard of hearing.
"Maybe it's one of the traitors," said Bonham. "Who has changed his mind and come back."
Klaus nodded. "October through December, you're with me. The rest, get to work."
He didn't expect trouble. Especially since whoever had entered again shouted a muted "Hello?" Nevertheless, he was prepared for if something were to happen, with his holster easily accessible.
The voice called again. Male, with an accent that Klaus placed on the south-east side of the Mediterranean.
"We be coming!" Bonham shouted back.
Moments later they found their guest waiting in the hallway. Klaus quickly accessed him to be 1.84, most of it legs, with wide shoulders and narrow hips. Arabic descent – long, black hair, almost to his waist -, brown eyes, slightly over-dimensioned for his face. Young, not more than 20. Not one of the traitors, then, Klaus thought. At least as far as he knew none of Dorian's men had been from the Arabic countries. Something about the young man felt familiar, though ...
"What do you want?" Bonham asked.
The young man, however, ignored Dorian's second in command. Instead he flashed Klaus a grin. "What unexpected pleasure. Do you remember me, Major?"
Klaus had an excellent memory for faces but while that nagging feeling that he had seen the other before remained, no specific memory presented itself. "No," he said curtly.
"Then you won't honour your debt to me either?" the young man asked, sounding ... coy? Klaus flashbacked to Eroica, who sounded something like that when he knew he had Klaus over a barrel.
"I don't owe anyone anything," he stated, knowing that he had no outstanding debts, at least not to any stranger. To his family, maybe, and to Dorian, perhaps, still, but that was all.
The young man's smile widened and he stepped closer. "Mara bebus?"
Klaus blinked. "You're that punk! The one with the emeralds we met in Iran!"
Harlun inclined his head in a bow, still smiling. He pulled down his shirt to reveal a glitter of green stones – stones Klaus remembered as being surprisingly heavy against his cat-suit.
"What do you want here?" Klaus demanded.
"I came to England a few months ago, to see the Earl. Now I heard of what had happened, so I decided to go here, to see if there is anything at all I can do to help. The Earl wasn't interested in me when I was a kid, so I know he didn't do what he is accused of. I tried to ring, but I couldn't find the door bell."
"I think James sold it," November whispered under his breath.
"There's nothing you can do to help," Klaus told the intruder. The other might have reached adulthood, but in Klaus's eyes he remained a snot-nosed kid, apparently still perverted.
"Don't you worry, though," Bonham added. "We're looking into it. Making progress already, though I can't go into that just now. And with Iron Klaus on our side, it'll be solved in a jiffy, just you wait. It's just a matter of time, now. I'll have the lawyer tell his Lordship you wanted to help, though, he'll like hearing that."
"Yes," Harlun responded. "Please do that."
No longer interested, Klaus turned away and marched back towards the stairs to get to his room. As he walked he dismissed the annoying Iranian from his thoughts.
That evening House Gloria served rump steak, salad and fried potatoes. With the meat thoughtfully pre-cut in bite-sized bits. The fried potatoes were very good, expertly done by November. It was, however, the first time Klaus ever ate fried potatoes with knife and spoon, since all the forks had vanished. Apparently, January had gotten 700 pounds for the lot of them.
On waking the next morning Klaus realised that he had utterly forgotten to move back to the Ritz. It is more practical that I stay here anyway. In case something happens and we must move fast. Besides, the hotel didn't have an in-suite Nescafé automat. Over the years his agents had become more or less adept at mixing coffee the way he liked it, but the machine did it just right every time. Was it any wonder why he liked machines so?
As he drank the day's first cup of life elixir, he walked restlessly around his room. The second master bedroom! he corrected himself sternly. He mustn't forget that. This was not "his" room, no matter that it had for all intents and purposes been built for him. He was merely a somewhat unwilling guest, out of convenience and common sense.
He found himself facing the door leading to the house's master bedroom – Dorian's bedroom. Klaus himself preferred – when he had the option – to have familiar surroundings. His bedroom at the Schloss was slightly larger than the one in his Bonn apartment, but they were arranged in the same way and done in the same colours. As was this room, for that matter, if on a somewhat more luxurious scale. Dorian, on the other hand, was a gaudy peacock who probably insisted on different decorations in House Gloria than in his castle. Having seen Dorian's bedroom in North Downs, Klaus couldn't help but to feel ever so slightly curious about his London dwelling.
And all those bells that covered the door. How stupid! Out of curiosity Klaus lifted a finger and dragged it lightly over the "surface". A surprisingly loud, musical note rose. By far loud enough to wake a sleeper in either room. Though the room beyond lay empty and he needed only lift the bar for the door to open in order for him to see.
It is not my place, he thought. Then he turned and marched back to his desk.
After Klaus's morning run they held their customary 09.00 meeting. Klaus reported the promises given to him from both Laurence and L – and how humiliating had that been? – that they would let him know if they heard anything. The research into the boy and his parents progressed – they knew where the family lived and general details about their occupations and lives, though nothing in depth. Klaus decided that it was well past time that he engaged himself in that line of investigation.
Then the door to the conference room opened.
"Ah, there you all are!" Dorian said and smiled brilliantly.
Klaus blinked. They had agreed to keep Lutz's offer, just in case, and that it would be up to Dorian if and when he wanted to use it. However, Klaus had – through April and Mr. Smith – made the Brit promise that if he wanted to use the "Diplomatic Immunity"-card, he would inform them beforehand. Dorian had promised – and had April assure them all that the Earl had no wish to use said card if not forced. While a well-travelled citizen of the world, he was – if in his own way – a loyal subject of Her Majesty and had no intention of abandoning the land of his ancestors.
"What the fuck are you doing outside a cell?" Klaus growled.
The Months, who had been in various stages of getting up, no doubt to swarm over their employer, sank back in their chairs, flashing them both concerned looks.
Dorian's smile, if physically possible, brightened even further. "Oh, darling, you'll never guess what happened!"
"No, I won't," Klaus replied curtly, "for you will explain to me right this minute." If the simpering idiot had actually staged a one-man jail-break when given some scant opportunity, Klaus would personally throw him over his shoulder and carry him back. To be jailed was no walk in the park, but it was currently the best place for Dorian to be until Klaus and his team made a breakthrough.
"Oh, you spoil-sport, you! The most marvellous thing happened! That boy finally admitted that he lied! Someone put him up to it, as a practical joke kind of thing. Poor boy, they told me he was bawling his eyes out when he confessed. Isn't that amazing, though? It's still being investigated, of course. He is refusing to say who wanted to ... play such a 'joke' on me." He paused for a moment, frowning with a dangerous gleam in his eyes. "I do look forward to finding out exactly who this ... so-called prankster might be ... Anyway ... they let me go home in the meanwhile, just told me not to leave town. Mr. Smith drove us here."
Klaus narrowed his eyes. That was not how the story was supposed to go. They had been making headway in the investigation – slower than he would have liked, but with the almost-amateurs he had to work with the slow progress was only to be expected. And now ... the hunt was off? Because some little brat had changed his story? It had all been some sort of stupid hoax? The Earl couldn't seriously think that really was all it was, could he? "How ... fortunate," he said.
"Isn't it, dear? And everyone, do you know who I have to thank for this? Do you?" He sounded thrilled. Then he reached behind the edge of the door and pushed a young man forward … "It's Harlun, everyone!"
This time the young man wore a shirt, unbuttoned down to his chest. He appeared, however, to have left the emerald necklace at home. For a second Klaus's eyes met those of the Arab and in the dark depths he read defiance. Which turned to confidence and victory, when Dorian's arms briefly encircled the young man. A dark sensation filled Klaus momentarily: an almost overwhelming anger, which he at once efficiently suppressed. "How did he accomplish this?" he said, careful to keep the icy bite he felt out of his voice.
"Pure luck, Major von dem Eberbach," Harlun answered. "I was in the right place at the right time, happened to recognize the boy and had a little talk with him. I met him together with Dorian. He knew he was in trouble already, he just needed to have the possible consequences explained to him."
"Did you threaten him?" From what Klaus had heard, the boy was supposed to be eleven, only a child. If it had been an adult, even a teenager, Klaus might have done the same thing himself, to expose a lie, but to threaten a child never boded well. There were other ways.
"Major!" Dorian said, admonishingly. He then smiled as if in apology to Harlun.
Klaus felt that strange, clawing feeling again, rasping at his throat.
"Not at all," Harlun answered Klaus, though his smile was all for Dorian. "I merely spoke to him. I'm good at that sort of thing. In the evening I spoke to his parents. They were shocked, of course. Refused to believe him at first. They came around, though, and in the morning they went back to the police."
Klaus felt like stalking out. This was not meant to happen! Of course it was a good thing that the Earl had been released. Of course! That was what they had been working for. Any way to achieve the goal was a good way. Especially if it was legal and above board. Only ... to have this ... rank amateur – hardly more than a child himself! - so easily beat him – the Iron Klaus, a professional ... grated. "Very well," he said instead. "I'm glad it worked out."
Not that it was over. He felt that, to the marrow of his bones. His every instinct tingled. This "prankster" meant harm with his sick "little joke", of that Klaus was sure. At the same time ... it really had nothing to do with him any more. Klaus had come to England to protect Dorian. Now that he was out of prison, the magpie could look out for himself. He, too, must know that not all was well. He would take precautions. So Klaus's presence was no longer needed. Nor would he insist on staying anyway – he was not one of Dorian's lap dogs, clamouring for the nobleman's attention. He would, however, monitor the situation. Even if he wasn't on site, he could still make use of his contact net, see what he could find out that way. December knew how to reach him, if necessary.
He rose and, as if on cue, the Months - No! Dorian's men, that's who they are. They're not my agents! - rushed their employer, to literally welcome him back into their eager embraces. Bonham, James and Jeremiah hung back, glancing nervously at Klaus, but he ignored them. He rounded the gaggle of criminals, intent on returning to his room and make one last phone call – to Heathrow Airport, to book a seat on the first available flight to Flughafen Köln/Bonn. Before he could make a clean get-away, though, Dorian emerged from the throng and made as if to take him by the arm. Klaus pulled away, but stopped to hear what the fop had to say.
"I do thank you so for your help, Major! The knowledge of your support and effort really kept my spirits up while I waited in ... in that horrible place."
He nodded curtly. 'Thank you for your help, Major, even if it was completely useless and of no help at all whatsoever,' he thought. "Stop stealing and you might not find yourself right back in again."
Perhaps some of his annoyance showed through, for Dorian's air of determination deepened. "I really am grateful, Major!"
"You are welcome," he answered shortly. He needed to escape from the concerned look in the other's eyes before he said something stupid. How, though? He sniffed delicately. "They aren't much for hygiene in British prisons, are they?"
Dorian's eyes grew huge and he stared down at himself. "I funk! Oh dear, I have to take a shower right away! Bonham – be a dear and give Harlun a room in the western wing, would you? He will be staying with us for a bit."
Klaus's jaw tensed. Easier to give him a "hero's rewards" then, eh? Well, go on, I certainly don't want it!
"Yes, Milord," Bonham acknowledged, eyeing Harlun suspiciously. "If you'll come this way, Harlun."
Klaus swiftly marched away.
Klaus slammed down the phone. He had thought he would be safely back at the Schloss by nightfall, or at his Bonn apartment at the very least. Not so. Apparently the mother of all fogs had descended over Heathrow, one of the flying companies had gone bankrupt and half the flight controllers had been food poisoned. In short: utter chaos. Control didn't expect a single plane to leave London all day. They refused to even put him on a waiting list. The earliest flight he might possibly make it on would be 14.20, the following day.
"Fuck this entire incompetent country!" he growled.
Then he heard a musical note and whirled towards the door to Dorian's room. "Major?" was called from the other side.
He marched over, lifted the crystal bar and wrenched the door open.
Even as he did, he heard, "No, wait, don't open—" and then he saw a flash of yellow and pink, which quickly vanished. "—the door," Dorian finished. "Because I'm not entirely dressed and I don't want to shock your sensitive eyes, my innocent dear."
Klaus snorted, but kept a hand close by the door handle, prepared to close it again if the Earl flashed the least bit of skin. Beyond he saw the layout of the room – in a deep, rich red with strokes of gold and paler red. What then gradually showed was the Earl's head. His curls hung dark and wet, dripping on the floor.
"Terribly sorry to inconvenience or disturb you, Klaus. The thing is ... I just got out of the shower when I realised that I didn't have a single towel in the bedroom. Could I, please, borrow four of yours? I don't know how it could be that I don't have any, but they're all gone, I assure you. You can check if you want."
'Come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly ...' Klaus thought. "I have no intention of going into your ... abode while you are indecently bare. Towels? I'm not your bellboy or servant."
"Klaus, please be a dear?"
"Whatever. Towels. Hm. Were the towels cashmere?" The ones in his bedroom were. Shamefully soft and quite unmanly, but they did mop up water adequately. And if Dorian's had been, then that would explain a remark that had puzzled him earlier.
"In that case I think that Janu— that James got 200 pounds for them."
Then he firmly closed the door and went to fetch the towels.
Dorian buttoned the loose golden shirt and scrutinized himself in the mirror. Yes – much, much better. Oh, he had been given new clothes while under arrest, but even if they had been fresh they simply hadn't felt clean. Perhaps the surroundings had immediately polluted them.
That was dreadful. Simply dreadful. Oh, I cannot bear being imprisoned. That time in Rome was horrid enough, even if it only lasted for a few hours. Days! Oh, had I not relied on my brave Major coming to my rescue ...
He sighed as he selected a black choker and tried it on. Then he couldn't help but smile widely.
He came! He came, he came, he came for me!
How many times had he done that girlish chant while waiting in his dreary cell or being interrogated in those dull rooms?
I would have gone insane without knowing of his presence, I know I would have.
Without Klaus he would have used the trump card of diplomatic immunity which Lutz had so sweetly sent in one of those "New York minutes".
The choker was discarded for a delicate Bismarc chain.
I will never go to prison, he vowed. He wouldn't. Oh, he wasn't infallible. One day he would be too slow or too brave or too ignorant of some detail in the steadily toughening field of science and security. Eroica would get caught. If he wasn't killed or decided to stop before then. He would never, however, serve time! He would sooner accept Lutz's offer. Which is not to say he would ever allow himself to become careless, with that as a security net while he walked the wire. No, he enjoyed his current life far too much.
He ditched the Bismarc chain, even if it was pretty. Too plain. In its place he tried on a large crystal in a silver setting, hanging from a thin, black leather cord.
First thing to do tomorrow morning: find whoever put the boy up to lying. I doubt it was just some harmless "prank". Had it been, whoever behind it would have shown himself as soon as it got overboard. No ... Someone did this to me and I will find out who and why. They will pay dearly, that they will. Might they have tried to get revenge for something? I just can't understand what ... Why else, though? No, no, Dorian, old chap – not now! Try not to think about it right now! You need to relax, to calm down after that ... horrid experience. Tomorrow is soon enough. I'll call Lutz and Big K – Bonham told me they both helped Klaus, so I must thank them anyway. I'm sure they'll help me find whoever it was. Who could it be though? Someone who wanted me out of the way? Someone who wanted—No! Dorian! Stop it! Not now! Tomorrow, do you hear me? Tonight we will rest and then we will deal with everything tomorrow!
No, the crystal was also too plain, so he replaced it with a more elaborate necklace in gold with green stones and hanging symbols – a heart, an anchor, a four clover, a miniature lock-pick (fully functional), a little horse and a coin, to mention a few. A little silly, but for some reason better suited to his mood.
A shame about Harlun, though. The Iranian didn't fit the picture – at all. It was supposed to have been Klaus who saved him. The set-up couldn't have been better if Dorian had orchestrated it himself. Him – the Persecuted Innocent – and with Klaus - his One True Love – come to rescue him, sweep him up out of harm's way onto his white charger. Together they should have ridden off into the sunset. Not that Klaus in any way needed to "win" his love, but that was how the story was supposed to be written, damn it. Didn't the authoress know this?
The symbol necklace was replaced by a silver one with a single hang made from several small diamonds surrounding a huge one, on a bed of rose stones. Stolen in Italy, on a pure whim, from around a princess's neck.
Not that he was angry with Harlun. Harlun was a sweet young man. When Harlun had first come to England wanting to see him, Dorian had been very flattered. The boy he had met in Iran had grown into a promising young man – very handsome, if a little lithe and too coltish to suit Dorian's current taste. Before he had met his Iron Major he probably would have adored the Iranian, but now that he measured all potential conquests against his darling Wire Rope they all fell flat or were so utterly uninspiring.
The rose stone diamond necklace fell out of favour. Instead he selected one braided from flat strands of yellow-, red- and white gold. Simple, yet elegant and unusual.
Perhaps I will offer Harlun a place on my team? He knew that the young man had spent a small fortune on getting to England, just to see him. Very sweet, that. Now Harlun had no money left. So, yes, perhaps he would offer him a spot. Or just money, for the trip back, if the young man wasn't too proud to accept it. I'll deal with that, too, tomorrow. Tonight I really must relax.
He removed the braided gold necklace and decided he looked perfect even without it. No enhancements were necessary. Some strands of his hair had gotten pushed in the wrong direction during his fiddling, so he quickly tamed them into order. Finally, he left his room to knock on the next door – the one leading to a room he had only entered once since it had been finished. Even that time his visit had been just to ascertain that everything was as he had envisioned, fitting his darling Major to the T. Such a wicked temptation it will be in the future, to know you slept in the bed separated from mine only by a thin wall. I must instruct Bonham not to have the bedclothes changed when you leave, at least not for a few nights. That will heighten the temptation even more.
The door was soon wrested open and he gazed upon his beloved. His dear Major looked a little more sullen than usual. He's not happy being here, Dorian concluded with a pang of sadness.
"What do you want?" Klaus asked brusquely.
You, on your back, stroking yourself as you spread your thighs for me so sweetly. "Only to thank you again," he replied in a mild tone of voice.
"Stop nagging about it. Besides, I owed you for ... you know."
"I told you already, you needn't feel as if you owed me anything. But if you did, then consider your little debt now paid in full." He knew how proud the Major was and happily absolved him of any obligation, imaginary or otherwise. "More than filled. Is there anything I can do to show you my appreciation?" When he noticed how the Mosel green eyes narrowed he quickly added, "And I do mean that in a totally innocent way, Major." Since learning of the man's self-proclaimed frigidity, he had decided to be careful not to give Klaus undue stress – while still not backing off. Oh no! A trifling detail like that would not get in the way of their eternal happiness. Their love would be legendary, he just knew it.
To his surprise Klaus glanced back into his room and then gave him a measuring stare, before his mouth thinned momentarily. "Nein. Your bloody country can't even manage to run a freakin' airport."
"Pardon me?" If there was one thing he wasn't all that keen about when it came to his darling Major, was the man's habit of making derogatory remarks regarding Dorian's home country. However, that was such a tiny flaw that he was more than willing to overlook it.
"No flights leaving London tonight."
"Oh dear." And why was Klaus telling him this? Klaus wasn't the type to make small talk, especially not with Dorian. But he had said it in the context of Dorian asking if there was anything he could do for him. So, translate that from Klaus-speech to ... "Then I insist that you be my guest tonight. I will be on my very best behaviour. So help me God."
"You don't believe in God."
How well Klaus knew him! It made Dorian fall that much deeper in love. "My word of honour then. Please do stay. As I said – I will be on my very best behaviour. You would be doing me a favour, in fact. I still feel a bit rattled after my ... adventure. And who knows who put the boy up to that shameful thing? Whoever it was might still be out there!" Which was perfectly true. Tomorrow! We'll deal with that tomorrow! Right now Klaus is more important. "It would be so nice to have your solid presence close by."
Klaus snorted. "I'll be sleeping with my Magnum under my pillow."
Which means "thank you" I suppose. Besides, don't you always? Dorian had actually come to believe that. Very inconvenient.
"Whatever makes you comfortable, dear. And do feel free to shoot whoever enters your room without your permission. I assure you that everyone has the most strict instructions never to enter without it." And I did my best to proof it. To get in without waking you would be a true challenge even for me. I do wonder if you have noticed the gadgets Lutz and the boys added to the windows yet? "Now ... do you like your—I mean, do your find the room acceptable? I wish I could have shown it to you, when you first came." He had, actually, kind of looked forward to doing just that.
"It is adequate."
The answer had come swiftly enough, so he interpreted that as that the Major actually approved. One point for me, he decided.
Klaus sat in the surprisingly comfortable wicker chair – surprisingly comfortable because it had looked suitably astern and official - reading The History Of Tanks – complete with pictures and information about just about any model he had ever imagined - when someone knocked on his door. He memorized the page number and then carefully put the book back where he had taken it, not wanting to leave any sign that he had explored the content of the room more than strictly necessary.
What does he want this time, then? he wondered. Dinner, perhaps, trying to make a date of it? Or is he too busy with his new toyboy to bother with this old soldier?
To his surprise he didn't find the Earl of Red-Gloria loitering outside, but James gazing up at him, looking terrified, yet determined.
"What do you want?" he asked.
"May I still sell things?"
"You'll have to ask his Lordship about that." Let Dorian deal with the mess. Klaus had dealt with enough of the Brit's in the past.
The little man pouted. "If I join your Alphabet, can I sell NATO's things? I bet NATO has lots of things just lying around that no-one uses."
Klaus had, on occasion, considered recruiting Bonham. The Stingy Bug, though ... Then he couldn't help but to envision it – James taking charge of NATO's budget, forcing everyone to scrounge for material, ordering them to ride bicycles rather than airplanes, cutting off the Chief's sugar supply ... Of course, that would also mean cutting Klaus's own budget – possibly even his ammunition fund ... "No," he answered firmly.
The pout intensified. "We don't like Harlun," James then said.
"That is none of my concern," Klaus replied, even if he was in agreement.
"It wasn't supposed to be like that! We were supposed to solve it! We worked for it! We should have gotten lots of hugs and kisses, all of us!"
Klaus nodded. "Life is like that, sometimes," he said, wondering why he even bothered trying to console the strange little man.
"I don't even know how Harlun found out about it in the first place!" James grumbled. "We had managed to keep it away from the press and everything! We had to bribe people!"
Klaus felt a zing of electricity burn through him. "What is his Lordship doing now?" he asked casually.
"Resting in his room. He even yelled at me for selling his pillows! I got 423 pounds for them!"
Klaus reached down and gingerly put a hand on the Greedy One's slanting shoulder. "You were following orders, as you had been instructed. January – gather the men and tell them to meet me at once at headquarters."
James's one eye blinked. Then he straightened himself, growing all of an inch higher. "Yes, Leader! Right away!" he said and ran off.
"Harlun," Klaus said and circled the word on the board. The marker made a loud, screeching sound. "His appearance was very timely and his story about the boy acting out some stupid 'hoax' very thin."
He turned back to the Months. They all nodded, looking serious and determined. It appeared as if more than he had thought the same thing.
"The police kept things under wraps. Apart from Dorian's immediate family, the investigators and ourselves, no one knew. So how did Harlun find out?" Well ... There was Polar Bear, but Klaus had no doubts that the Russian knew for the same reason that NATO did.
"He bugged the house!" January said. He was still sitting on the floor.
"If he did, that would be suspicious in itself. February, November, check the house, see if you find anything. Whatever you do, don't mention anything to Dorian. That goes for all of you. December – were Harlun and Dorian …" He took a breath to steady himself before saying the distasteful word. "intimate?"
Bonham shrugged helplessly. "I wouldn't know. Sometimes I can guess, but he doesn't gossip about it. They could have been, when Harlun first came to London."
"So he could have known about the scar?"
Some of the men gasped.
"I suppose. I don't know, as I said. But I really don't think so, Leader."
"August and September – you continue with the boy and his family. March and May, help them. Find out any ties to Harlun. Bribe them and ask about what happened when he came there yesterday."
There was something fishy about Harlun. The more Klaus considered things, the more certain he became convinced that Harlun was involved in framing Dorian. Why, though? Besides - no amateur crook was going to beat Iron Klaus!
Dinner was to be eaten in the dining hall. They always ate together, Dorian and his men. The latter might be servants in the strictest sense of the word, but in truth they were his family, much more so than the women who had lain in the same womb as he once had. However, when Dorian entered, it was to find the room deserted – except for the no doubt excellent meal already waiting under large silver covers – for him and one other guest. There were only two settings, the head end and the one immediately to its right. Live candles fluttered. A romantic music played ever so softly.
He hesitatantly approached the table, when the unmistakable, military rhythm clatter of Major von dem Eberbach's boots approached. Dorian winced and as soon as the man himself came into sight declared his innocence. "I had nothing to do with this! Absolutely not, Major, you've got to believe me! I thought it would be dinner as usual, I didn't even know if you wanted to eat here or—"
Meanwhile, Klaus glanced around the room. He snorted. "Matchmaking, are they? Twits." Then he marched over to the table and sat down, as if the romantic setting was nothing out of the ordinary. He lifted one of the silver covers and began to scoop fried potatoes onto his plate.
Dorian stared for a few seconds, then hesitatingly approached the table and sat down in the other seat, waiting meekly for Klaus to serve himself first. "You're not ... angry, then?" he asked, just to make sure. He had expected an explosion.
Klaus shrugged. "I must eat anyway, mustn't I?"
Dorian refrained from pointing out that Klaus could have been served in his room, if he had wanted to. To have this quite unexpected company of the man he adored held his tongue firmly in place and soon they ate, at first in silence. A raise for whoever thought this up, most definitely. They all deserve a raise, for that matter, if I can just persuade James. A little calm alone-time with the Major was the best thing possible: the one thing his doctor would have prescribed for the stress of having been accused and arrested. Not to mention that person or persons unknown might be out to frame him ... Someone I stole from? I never meant to hurt anyone ... Maybe—No, no, no! Tomorrow, Dorian! We'll deal with it tomorrow!
"Did you buy the Holland and Holland or steal it?" Klaus asked curtly.
"The rifle thingie? Bought it. For money legally earned too, as are all objects in your room."
"In the second master bedroom!" Klaus growled.
"Of course, dear."
"Don't call me that." Then Klaus frowned. "How do you earn money legally, thief?"
From someone else the added "thief" would have been a slur, but Dorian had come to realise that Klaus sometimes added his little descriptive nicknames more as explanations of the sentence itself – in this case, "How do you earn money legally, since you are a thief?" At least he hoped he guessed this right, as he had never dared to ask and would not do so now either. "I didn't start out in the gutter, you know," he said before pausing to drink the wine – an excellent vintage. "My family was fairly well off, both on my mother's side and on my father's. True, the money I myself earned has not been legally obtained – excepting possibly what I earned working for you, Major, if one can consider breaking into the Vatican legal ... Anyway, for the second master bedroom I took every penny from my mother's inheritance. I thought you might prefer it that way."
He got a light snort. "Your mother. My condolences on her death. I heard only after I saw you in jail."
The thought of his mother's death no longer bothered Dorian overly. They had never been very close. "It is a very strange thing. I have three sisters—"
Suddenly Klaus shuddered. "I met Lady Margareth."
Dorian smiled brilliantly. It appeared as if his sister hadn't made a conquest. "—and I always thought Mother preferred them to me. She left me with Father, after all, when I was small. Imagine my surprise when the will was read. Half the money to the Save The Foxes Foundation, one of those anti-hunt organisations, and half to little old me."
"Maybe she thought you were a hunted fox yourself," Klaus said and shrugged.
The idea made Dorian laugh. Nothing pleased him more than when Klaus showed his carefully guarded sense of humour. That's it, my love. Lower the bridge over the moat and let me in, just a little bit.
"Perhaps so. Maggie was livid, though she quickly calmed down. I imagine they expected to inherit. Though Lizzie and Sam didn't seem overly worked up about things."
"Bonham said you're considering adding Harlun to your team."
It wasn't a question. Dorian wasn't sure how to respond. If it had been another man he would have hoped for jealousy, but with Klaus it was most unlikely. Still, better not chance things. "He doesn't have anywhere to go, poor boy, so yes, I'm considering it."
"Can't the punk go back to Iran?"
"I will offer him the money for the trip, should he accept it."
Green eyes flashed. "He doesn't have any money?"
"Spent it all getting here, I understand. Poor boy … Don't tell him this, Major – just between you and me: I find him slightly … boring. Sweet, mind you, but boring. A little too … easy."
"It is all about the conquest for you, then?"
Dorian almost made a joke, before he noticed a certain ... precision in the way Klaus had asked, nestling the question into the conversation when it normally wouldn't have been something he would comment on. If anything, Dorian had expected a terse, "Don't talk to me about sweet men!" There was also an almost imperceptible tension in Klaus's shoulders, in the way he kept his left arm back a little: not much more than a centimetre and probably completely unconsciously. As if to reach his gun easier.
"Not at all," he answered airily, careful not to appear as if he put any special thought into the answer. "Oh, the chase is fun, I'll admit, but it's proportional to how dear the object is to me. I wouldn't chase for so long something I didn't want to keep with me forever."
Klaus grunted and continued to slice the chicken. Dorian noticed absent-mindedly that the normal dining silver had been replaced with a simpler kind and wondered why.
"Since he was the one to approach you, you're not interested," Klaus stated.
"You could say that. I mean, I am grateful for his help in this mess, but how often have you saved my life, dear? What he did is just a drop in a bucket. Besides, he is so ... needy. And pushy. It was nice seeing him again, but after I made clear I wasn't interested in a relationship he still followed me around." Yes, he knew how similar that was to their own situation, but to keep Klaus in a good mood he would willingly suffer some glib comment.
Klaus snorted. "Annoying when the shoe is on the other foot?" He sounded amused.
Dorian laughed again. "I suppose. He even crashed my sister's reception after Mother's death, can you believe it? Say what you want of me and my persistence, darling, but that far I would never go. Too ... gauche."
"Some people don't take your butterfly flittering lightly."
"Oh, I don't deny that I've done my share of flittering, but these day I'm a one-flower butterfly. Incarnata Major is the only flower for me."
The Major turned directly towards him then, measuring him up. "You didn't fuck Harlun, then?"
It took Dorian a moment to switch to the less flowery language, then shook his head. "I kissed him in welcome and gave him a hug – I hug and kiss everyone I like, dear, you know that. Well, everyone who doesn't discourage me with a Magnum, that is. I was charmed by his interest and felt flattered, but that was all." He wondered why Klaus suddenly looked so annoyed. No, not annoyed ... it couldn't be disappointment, could it? Why would he be disappointed? No, the fleeting glimpse he thought he had seen must have been of something else. "Dessert, darling? Oh, look, it's chocolate cake!"
"... no, thanks."
Klaus sprawled in his chair in the meeting room, not paying much attention to the others' comings and goings. Oh, he was aware of them and listened to their updates, but he needed to sort things through in his own mind before he could properly concentrate.
"He didn't know about the scar." That was the most damning thing, as it threw over Klaus's entire working theory. Harlun should have known about the scar and told the boy. Without that ... Maybe he had been wrong. Maybe I really am … jealous and gripping at straws?
Jealous of that boy sneaking into Dorian's affections, even if Dorian by his own admission didn't particularly fancy him.
That's stupid! I don't even want to have sex with the man! He didn't. The disinterest was part of his nature and that hadn't changed. Perhaps he had come to view the Earl a little differently than he had in the past – had perhaps come to trust him a little more. Since the Earl no longer tried to jump him and hump him, he didn't need to keep up as rigorous protection against him – could relax a little more when he was near. Unbidden he remembered his thought while resting that one time in Dorian's bed – "If this was all he wanted, I wouldn't mind giving this to him." He ruthlessly pushed the inconsequential thought away. Besides, what did it matter? That wasn't all that Dorian wanted and they both knew that fully well.
"Well, maybe he heard about it. But he would have needed money to bribe the boy. Dorian said he wasted all his money on getting here. The only thing he had of value were those stupid emeralds."
"Not even that. They're fakes."
Klaus whipped his head towards November, who, sometime during Klaus's muttering had settled beside him with a steaming cup of tea.
"What did you say?"
"The Shah of Iran had fake emeralds?"
November blinked. "I don't know about the Shah, but the necklace the young man wore looked fake to me. And I don't know if you remember, but—"
"—you're the jewelry expert," Klaus filled in with a nod. Baubles were all pointless, in his opinion, but he supposed that someone in these circles would know. He sat up straighter. "So, the punk sold them. Ha! Doesn't surprise me. Hmm ... Would the Earl recognize a fake from the real deal?"
"Most of the time, at a glance, yes, Leader. Some fakes are better than others, but these weren't very good. Likely cost a pretty penny, still, but ... nothing like the real thing."
"So he didn't sell them before getting here." He gave November an approving nod. "Good!"
"I don't understand, quite. Does it prove anything?" November asked carefully, tilting his head.
Klaus shrugged, trying not to let his personal belief interfere. "That he sold the necklace to get money to bribe the boy and his parents? Not in a court of law. Besides, he could have sold it for some other reason, after first showing to Dorian he still had it." To get money to try to woo the Earl with, for instance, when merely approaching him didn't help. The magpie sure liked shiny things.
Buy him some pretty jewelry or a painting with some fat, naked woman. Then let everyone gauge how far the Earl's one flower-butterfly-promise would carry. Though we are on a first-name basis now. Are we friends? Then it would be my obligation to buy him something for his birthday. I wonder if—Oh fuck!
He leaped up and then ran straight to his room, causing terrified thieves to leap out of his way in the corridors. Well inside he grabbed the phone receiver, but forced himself to take a long, perfectly even breath before hastily dialling the number and standing at attention.
"von dem Eberbach!"
"Hello, Father! It is Klaus. Happy birthday, Father!"
He was a failure as a son, forgetting his own father's birthday and instead gallivanting around trying to save prett- ah, perverted art thieves!
"Good of you to call, Son. I thought you had forgotten your old man utterly, since your customary packet failed to arrive."
Shit! For a second he was tempted to lie, but while he could have done it well enough so that his father would have excused him – a sudden mission or perhaps a faulty delivery or a large packet waiting at the Schloss, it wasn't his way. "I apologise profoundly, sir. You will have it shortly." Something nice too. Perhaps he could ask August – though he had better make sure the man used his wine expertise and not his … other expertise. He steeled himself for a dressing down.
"No matter, Klaus, I got a nice enough present anyway. What is this I hear about you visiting British nobility—"
Klaus felt his stomach freeze. How could he have heard about me sleeping with Dorian – ah, in his bed!?
"—, that is to say - visiting unmarried women in their home, hm?"
"I di—I – I'm not sure what you are talking about, sir."
"A widow, I understand. No matter, really. Sometimes a pre-driven version can be a good thing. Perhaps the worst of the thorns have been polished off, eh?"
"Wi ... dow?"
"Don't be shy, boy. If you're embarrassed that she's English, don't be. A little bit of new blood can be good for the family, once every few generations. A mother too, so she's fertile – good, good."
"Sir? Are you talking about Lady Margareth Disken?" A shudder travelled down his spine. He was a bit rattled to find out that his father was apparently so desperate for his son to marry that he would accept an Englishwoman. Now, if Klaus made mentioning of an Englishman things would go differently, but still ...
"She does seem to be a good woman, if very forward. I'm worried though, Son. I'm pleased that you're finally showing some interest in the opposite gender. There was a time when I began to think you were like Uncle Eric. Never mind – what worries me about this woman is her interest in our financial situation. While I understand her interest in knowing that we are financially stable, her with a young child and everything, it is really something that she should have spoken of to you. Besides, I asked around and apparently she isn't in the best economical health either, with debts from her late husband."
"Debts from her husband?"
"Apparently he fancied himself something of a horse expert – without the skill to back it up – or the money, towards the end. Played the ponies and drove the entire family to bankruptcy. You could do better, Son. But since it wasn't her fault, perhaps she is a good woman. Keep me posted."
"Yes, sir," he answered automatically. Then the call was disconnected.
Klaus sat back in his chair. That ... witch sister of Dorian's had actually had the unimaginable nerve to call his father! They had only met for less than an hour! Well, Dorian always claimed that the Red-Glorias fell fast and hard when they did, but ... that was ridiculous! The woman must be desperate!
Desperate for money! Ha!
It was just the second time he had even seen her! He hadn't even thought she was a woman at first – he had thought she was Dorian in an uncommonly bad drag, that time, in the police station, when he had seen her—
His training took over, presenting him with the image of the woman that first time he had seen her, painting her dress – so drab, next to her brother's peacock flaunting. Her breasts, bulging over the tightly girdled waist. Blond hair, wavy like Dorian's, but less animated. Grey eyes. 175 cm, approximately 85 kilos. Klaus couldn't draw worth a damn - except for in his own head, where colours filled in and the image flash enlarged, showing the desk beside her, the burly policeman – and on her other side, the tall, long-haired ...
Pulling in a deep breath, as a bloodhound tasting the prey on the air, he rose, eager to go in for the kill.
"My … sister?" Dorian said. His face had gone pale and he rested one hand over his heart. "Maggie?"
It was two days later and meanwhile, Klaus and the Months had unravelled the entire story.
"Yes. My condolences." Klaus wasn't sure what else to say. He never had been good at this part. "After your mother's death she thought she and your other sisters would inherit. When she found out that they wouldn't, she didn't take this kindly. She met Harlun at the gathering you said he crashed. They hatched their plan together, only Harlun thought she wanted to help him ... win you. Be a hero and free you."
Dorian slowly shook his head. "But ... Why ...? I don't understand!" The last was the wail of a child, always beloved, who had suddenly been confronted with someone who didn't instantly adore him.
"She was going to contest your mother's will. Which would be simpler with you in prison for ... questionable activity. She had planned on having Harlun arrested as well. Next time they met, when they would decide on when they would have the boy reveal "the truth," she would have cried rape or thief or whatever, she hadn't decided. Apparently Harlun thought that I and the Mont—I and your men were getting too close to the truth. He felt pressed and acted without consulting her."
He decided not to mention that he had told the British police to have a second look at the death of the mother, just in case. Probably he was just being paranoid, but it couldn't hurt.
"Almost all her money was tied up in debts and law suits. She needed Harlun's money for it to work. He sold the emeralds. She knew of the scar though, having seen it when you were children."
"'What tangled webs we weave, when we first practice to deceive'," Dorian quoted under his breath, sounding sad. Then he smiled brightly, if tremulously. "My hero saved me in the end after all. All is well."
Klaus shifted his weight from foot to foot, feeling helpless. Then he boxed Dorian's shoulder gently, not knowing how else to reach out.
The Brit looked up at him. "Thank you, Major. I really mean it. Sorry about breaking down on you. It's ... not as bad as it looks. My sister and I were never close, it's just ... that anyone would do such a thing feels ... surreal." He breathed in deeply, then shook himself. "Now, my dear Major, my knight in shining armour, I am very much so in your debt and no doubt about it. Is there anything at all I can do to thank you?"
Klaus wasn't sure. Not at all. But he mustered his not inconsiderable courage and held firm as he spoke. "England is playing Italy Thursday after next. In London."
Dorian blinked and twirled a finger into his hair – as he was wont to do when puzzled. And any other time at all, really.
A little annoyed that the man wouldn't just automatically understand, Klaus forced himself to slug on. "Want to go?"
Dorian blinked and frowned. "Go? To football? Watching sweaty men running around after a ball for no apparent reason, first in one direction and then in the other; eating hot dogs and drinking cheap beer while surrounded by hordes of unwashed people yelling in my ear?"
Okay, so that had been a tremendously stupid idea. How idiotic can you get, von dem Eberbach? Of course he doesn't want to do that! He shrugged and prepared to tell the thief that he had just worded the request for his assistance with a mission clumsily. He might be fluent in English, yes, but even so he was not above using the "not my native tongue"-excuse, if pressed.
"With you?" Dorian asked. Then, before Klaus had time to even nod, the Brit's most brilliant smile blossomed and he looked at Klaus with love sparkling in his eyes. "I would love to go to a game of football with you, Klaus."
THE END. continue in part 3
Chapter 3: The Name of the Game
The heart of Schloss Eberbach was not the grand ball room, where the grafs of old had held their stately parties. Nor was it the smaller library, even if it was to that cosy little haven that the gentlemen so often retreated to in order to escape the strain of everyday life. It wasn't even the master bedroom - which had seen little enough action in the last decades. Some, more aware of the habits of the current head of the revered family, might have put their money on the well-stocked and often visited gun room. Admittedly, the latter must be counted as close to the heart of the matter, but in truth the real Schloss centre, around which everything else revolved, was the kitchen.
Post-war the family had found themselves in need of fewer servants. Some had retired, due to age, until a bare minimum remained. On the rare occasion when more staff was required, they were hired from the nearby village on a temporary basis. The kitchen staff consisted of only the chef and two maids. When they had nothing else to occupy them the latter also helped with cleaning. These days the kitchen mostly provided food for the other servants, rather than for the Eberbach family. Young Master Klaus, as the butler always thought of him, stayed at the castle regularly, but his taste was most ascetic. He frowned upon those lavish meals that the chef, Herr Gottschalk, longed to make - seven courses, served with the finest wines and made from ingredients specially imported from exotic countries. The Young Master did have a weakness for potatoes, yes. That little tidbit was a most well-known secret, jealously guarded by his employees. Potatoes was just about the only thing they could indulge him in. Possibly he didn't even realise how hard his employees worked to find rare species and variations of the edible root and how carefully they studied his least reactions to each new treat presented.
However, while the kitchen - if barely - kept busy during the day, from the wee hours of morning when the gardeners snuck in for their first cup of coffee, at 21:00 sharp the room became absolutely and strictly verboten. No excuses accepted, as many a careless maid had learned the hard way when returning to retrieve some dropped glove or bag. At nine the kitchen became the sole territory of the most feared man in the castle.
Not Young Master Klaus. Oh, the servants had all developed a very healthy respect for him - both due to his sometimes sharp temper, but also because of what little they knew of his line of work in the service of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Nor his father - Master Eberbach Senior himself only seldom visited the castle, preferring the more lenient seasons of Switzerland or even Italy. On the rare occasion he showed up he often fussed over the least detail, but they all knew he would soon leave, so while they tried their best not to upset him, they didn't fear him overly. No, ruler of Schloss Eberbach - not in name or in theory, but in practice - was Herr Hinkel, the butler.
From 21:00 Herr Hinkel expected the kitchen to be void of all workers. Within 15 minutes of that set deadline, he would make one final pot of coffee - the strong, dark Nescafé Gold Blend that his Young Master favoured. Then he would gather all newspapers - on one of the Young Master's rare days off often bought by the Young Master himself while running around the countryside, at other times by the groundskeeper, Herr Ibtsam, on his last round for the day - and sit himself down at the small table to the left of the stove. There Herr Hinkel would sit, slowly reading through each paper. Der Spiegel, Focus, Frankfurter Allgemeine and Stern, sometimes even The Tatler and The Times. The English magazines got sent to him irregularly by a colleague and associate of his, native to Great Britain. On occasion he would reach for big scissors hanging on the wall close by, and carefully cut out some article or ad. Sometimes the clippings regarded interesting new potato variations, more often recipes involving large amounts of potato and at other times they connected to the work performed by his Young Master for NATO. Herr Hinkel had a rather extensive archive of the latter and was most proud of the man his green-eyed little hellion had grown up to be. Lately some interesting thefts had also caught his attention, so they, too, had been added to his ever-growing collection. When this, his last task of the day, had been meticulously dealt with Herr Hinkel would finally add the newspapers to the paper pile, carefully place his cup and saucer in the large kitchen sink and retire to his small room on the top floor of the southern wing.
Thus had been Herr Hinkel's routine for nigh on 25 years. Of course, he only followed it when the ascetic bedroom in the northern wing, that of Young Master Klaus, was occupied. On other nights Herr Hinkel merely put the gathered newspapers in a separate pile, to be worked through when the Young Master was home once more. And finally, once upon a great, great while, Herr Hinkel's routine was disturbed for a very different reason than forgetful maids, luckless thieves or intruding enemy agents. This was such a night.
A minor headline in Stern had just caught his attention - " Kartoffelsuppe Rheinische Art" (Potato Soup Rhenish Style). He was glancing through the short text to see if the article might be suitable to add to Herr Gottschalk's experiments, when a waft of cold air touched his legs. This alerted him that the kitchen door had been opened. A faint swoosh followed, indicating that the door had then, once more, been closed. Without moving as much as an inch Herr Hinkel lifted his eyes to the silver serving dish hanging by the table - in perfect angle to show an intruder in its extremely well-polished surface. An intruder who was not a maid or a gardener or any other staff-member - but the tall, dark-haired Young Master of the castle himself. Young Master Klaus looked around the area as if to reacquaint himself with its nooks and crannies. He only very seldom visited. For all that Herr Hinkel knew it might have been ten years since Young Master Klaus last had come down. At other times, when an errand required his presence, of course, but not on an evening such as this. The butler lowered his gaze again, returning to the admittedly rather promising article. No matter if ten or fifteen or twenty years had passed, he knew his Young Master well - better than anyone, perhaps. If he acknowledged the boy, ah, man before he had made his final approach, Young Master Klaus would immediately retreat.
Skittish like a deer, Herr Hinkel thought affectionately.
So he kept reading and waiting and finally he reached for the scissors and made his cut. Oh, he did wonder what had prompted Young Master Klaus to come, of course he did, he was only human, but he also knew that only if he played his cards right, would he ever find out. When the chair next to him was pulled out he could no longer pretend to be unaware of the company. So he gave a little start, just to keep up appearances - the Young Master would have been so disappointed, had he known how readily he had been spotted. Then he bowed his neck in acknowledgement, before once more returning to the paper.
A memory of old came to him - of sitting just so that first night so long ago - around 25 years ago, in fact - at the time cutting out articles about companies of which Master Eberbach Senior was a shareholder, when his then even younger Young Master had made his appearance, sitting down and meeting his eyes defiantly, all but daring Herr Hinkel to mention that Young Master Klaus had been up way past his bed time.
After having finished with Stern he put it onto the pile of papers already examined. Instead of reaching for Der Spiegel he lifted his cup and drank.
"Coffee?" he then asked casually. "I do believe there might be a small cup left. It would be a shame to waste it."
Once, a long time ago, he had said "ice cream" and "bowl" rather than "coffee" and "cup".
The answer had been the same, though. Even as a child Young Master Klaus hadn't been very talkative. Without commenting on the taciturn reply, Herr Hinkel rose and deftly poured a second cup. The pot he had made earlier held two, even if he always only drank one. He placed the cup - early 19th century bone china with the Eberbach city boar - before the Young Master, who took it at once and lifted it to drink. The staff had long since come to the conclusion that it was Nescafé only that passed muster. A shame that, as otherwise a whole new venue to please their employer would have opened. He really was quite addicted.
Duty done, Herr Hinkel sat down again and started in on Der Spiegel. He had one more paper left, but if in a pinch he had a few old issues he had already examined that he could go over again. While he would normally finish by a quarter to eleven at the latest, on a night such as this he would keep going until the Young Master had had his say. Which could take time.
Midway through Focus came the question – spoken with a hint of annoyance, as if it had already been asked and he hadn't paid attention.
"So if the girl follows you home for one of those 'nightcaps' - do you drink before or after?"
As if 18 years hadn't passed from that time they had spoken about ladies following a gentleman home for a "nightcap" and what that euphemism really stood for? Still, the butler calmly replied, "It is always polite to offer the lady refreshments once you are inside, but let her decide what she prefers. Normally she will indicate what she is most interested in to start with. If she is nervous a small glass beforehand might be good, but do have something ready for afterwards as well. Just something small, unless the lady insists."
"But before is acceptable?"
"Yes," he affirmed with a small nod.
"What if she follows you home for a nightcap and doesn't want to ... well, what if she really just wants to drink?"
"If you have treated her well on your date; made sure that the evening is all about what she wants to do, and she then follows you home for a nightcap, by doing so she gives her permission that what goes on once you are back at your place is for you and what you want, Young Master Klaus. Needless to say, though – of course a no is always a no, should the lady happen to change her mind in the last minute."
He received no reply and ventured a quick glance at the serving dish. The Young Master looked pensive, as if something about the answer hadn't been quite what he had hoped for. Still, the butler couldn't have given any other advice. So, he just waited and went through The Tatler. He did wonder, though. Had the Young Master really never made use of the advice given to him all those years ago? And did he now finally contemplate doing so? The butler had actually started to give up on ever getting to put together another Eberbachian wedding - and maybe getting to see another generation of headstrong - if adorable - tykes growing up ...
"The date is for her, afterwards is for him," said the Young Master, parroting the butler's own words from 18 years ago.
"Exactly, Young Master Klaus."
"But she might not be a real lady if she does do this?"
"Normally a true lady would not do this, no. Possibly very close to the marriage."
"It is not considered proper. But it is proper for the man?"
"Yes, of course."
"That is how the world is."
They sat in silence for a short while. The final newspaper done with, Herr Hinkel bent to retrieve a bunch of old ones, carefully selecting a Focus he knew he hadn't made any cuts in, and continued. No further questions came. Finally, the Young Master got up and left. Herr Hinkel waited a few minutes longer. Then he carefully placed the cups and saucers in the large kitchen sink and retired to his small room on the top floor of the southern wing. While doing so he wondered, slightly morosely, how many more years would pass before he was once more needed for consultation. Still, he would sit at the kitchen table again tomorrow night, at 21:00 sharp. Of course he would.
The day was beautiful. More than beautiful! It was wonderful! Radiantly so. As had been, actually, every day for the past week - regardless of hesitant sunshine and far less hesitant torrential thunderstorms. At least as far as one of the citizens of North Downs was concerned.
"Hello, my dear Bonham!" Dorian greeted his SIC on cornering him in the library.
"Do you, my dear Bonham, know what day it is today?"
"Why, so it is! Beautiful Tuesday! And do you know what day it will be tomorrow, my dear Bonham?"
"Exactly! Gorgeous Wednesday. And do you know what day it will be the day after that, my dear Bonham?"
"None other! Blessed Thursday! And do you, my dear Bonham, know what I will be doing on Thursday?"
"I believe you mentioned something about going to London, Milord."
"Yes, yes, yes! But what will I be doing in London, my dear Bonham?" The mastermind of the Eroica gang fairly bounced in place, all but shivering with anticipation.
Bonham, who very well knew exactly what his employer would be doing in London come Thursday, nevertheless played along. Dorian seldom played silly like this, so he wanted to indulge him. "Why, no, Milord. Whatever will you be doing in London, Milord?"
"I will be going on a date! A date, my dear Bonham! And do you happen to know just who I will be going on this date with, my dear Bonham?"
"No, Milord. With whom will you be going on a date?"
"On Thursday I will be going to London on a date, my dear Bonham, with none other than Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach! A date! A date, Bonham! We'll be going on a date! Me and Klaus! A real date!"
"That sounds wonderful, Milord. I'm really happy for you. Best of luck!"
"Thank you, my dear, dear Bonham. Rudy? Rudy, wait!"
Dorian flittered off to the next thief, who hadn't quite succeeded in sneaking out of the library past their employer's back. Bonham shamelessly listened in on the start of the following conversation:
"Do you, my dear Rudy, know what day it is today?"
"I do believe it might be Tuesday today, boss."
"Why so it is! Beautiful Tuesday! And do you—"
Smiling faintly, Bonham turned away. He was very happy for Dorian, he truly was. They all were, each and every one of the remaining twelve members of Dorian's crew. This had, however, been going on for well over a week now ... Thursday couldn't come soon enough for any of them.
With mixed emotions, Klaus dialled the well-known number and waited until he got Dorian on the line.
"Hello, Klaus!" The limey sounded so very happy to hear from him that Klaus almost winced.
"Dorian," he greeted in return, then started in on his planned speech. "I regret to have to inform you that—"
"You're bailing." The words fairly dripped disappointment. "I knew it was too good to be true."
Klaus winced now. "I have no choice. The situation has changed." It had.
"You've had time to think things through, that's what you mean." Accusing now.
"That's not it. I will not be in England that day. Otherwise, I ... looked forward to it." And he really had looked forward to the coming Thursday. Granted, mostly because of the football game. He seldom had the time and made the effort to do something like that, but truth be told he enjoyed football. Had he had more time to spare he would have liked to go more often. The other part, the ... Dorian part, he was less sure of - but he had made up his mind and would have followed through.
"Oh. So did I. Very much." Dorian's tone had become much softer; much more intimate. Klaus wasn't sure if that was better or not. "What happened?"
"I can't tell you. NATO business. Changed circumstances. We won't go until Friday, after the game." Because His Highness had changed his mind and instead attended a bloody camel race in Tunis or whatever. The would-be-assassin sat tight, though, waiting for his chance. "Orders from the Chief," he added, since he wanted it clear that he didn't break his word of his own accord, but really was forced by circumstances.
"Does he know?" At this a bit of sharpness returned to Dorian's voice.
"About the ... football game? That you were accompanying me?"
"Nein, I told no one." Especially not the Chief. What did Dorian think, that Klaus wanted to telegraph his surrender to the entire world? "We have nine tickets, but only seven were going." It was standard in such circumstances to have a couple of extras, in case they needed to bribe someone or meet informants. Since the original plan had been for them not to go to England until the day before the game he hadn't thought they would have accumulated the need of either, though if pressed he could have left an agent outside the arena to make room for Dorian. Dorian almost counted as an agent anyway. On occasion he had been very useful. Thus Klaus had had few qualms about claiming a ticket for personal use. Besides, Eroica was a business contact as well. Had anyone dared to question his decision Klaus could have spun a tale of greasing the man to ensure future cooperation.
Dorian hummed, an indeterminate noise that seemed to imply that he took Klaus's latest statement into consideration. "I am still most displeased."
Part of Klaus realised that he should probably insert an apology, but he had already said he regretted the entire thing, hadn't he? There was an awkward pause. A few seconds later, Dorian broke it. "We could do something else, though," he said tentatively. "Couldn't we? Some other time? I would really like that."
"We could," Klaus agreed, relieved that the man hadn't started screaming, like a woman Klaus had tried dating had done in a similar situation. Unlike that woman, he would actually run into Dorian again - of that he had no doubt - and that would get even more awkward. "Ehm ... I don't know when ..."
"I'll think about it and contact you later?" Dorian offered.
Klaus would have preferred to have the initiative, but figured he owed this to the Brit. "Very well."
After yet another awkward pause, they both hung up.
When John Paul entered the library Bonham looked in his direction. He had been reading up on the specification of a new type of safe, the Farinsaati 500, and the many technical details had yet to make sense, so he welcomed the interruption.
"Code blue," John Paul said, sounding dead serious. "We have a code blue. The Earl is depressed. I repeat: the Earl is depressed." He smiled wryly. "Seems as if Operation Football has been cancelled ..."
So Bonham said the only thing he could think of. "Crap!"
Dorian lay across his Francois Linke, Ormolu-mounted mahogany bed with a cornucopia design. Originally it had been owned by one of his lovers. After having found the man cheating on him Dorian had ditched the man - and stolen the bed. He lay with his hair carefully freed to tumble down the side, rather than to be tucked under his neck and shoulders. Too tired to even glance up when his bedroom door opened, he kept staring dimly into the air. He recognised Bonham anyway. The cockney's somewhat heavy, slow gait separated him from all of Dorian's other employees.
"Tea's getting cold, Milord," was said softly.
"I'm not in the mood," he replied listlessly. From his position he had a good view of the door leading to Klaus's room, the second master bedroom. In deference to the man himself, on this side the door was solid oak, with tasteful ironwork.
"Not in the mood for tea, Milord? You be ill, then?"
He shrugged. What did tea matter, when life had let him down so utterly ruthlessly?
A weight next to his shoulder rocked the water mattress, as Bonham settled beside him.
"Grandma always said that a cuppa will help you order your thoughts, Milord."
He glanced in Bonham's direction. The man, bless him, looked worried. "What I need, Bonham, is to go to a football game." And he didn't even like football!
"You don't even like football, Milord."
He closed his eyes briefly. "I know, Bonham ..."
So, Dorian did. He trusted Bonham. For all that Dorian was the supreme, undisputed leader of the Eroica gang, he most often ended up following Bonham's advice. Dorian might have the skill and the charisma, but Bonham had his own brand of savvy - Bonham got things done.
A slight rocking indicated that the Cockney kicked his legs while listening. When Dorian had finished his SIC hummed thoughtfully. "So. Uncle NATO is standing you up - but only because he has orders to stay put in Germany."
"Yes ..." The world was a cruel, cold place with no justice.
"Otherwise, Leader would have taken you out on your date."
As always, the moniker bestowed on the major by his gang made Dorian smile, if this time slightly tremulously. Knowing Klaus, he had always wondered how come the man had allowed them to use it. The German translation of "Leader" was "Führer", something which might have easily put Klaus off. He must have understood, though, that whoever came up with it hadn't know this and so he had instead taken it as an appreciation – as it surely had been intended. "He said so, Bonham. And I believe him." Even if he sometimes wasn't sure why Klaus had actually come with his unprecedented offer.
A hand, rather on the chubby side, floated past his line of vision. Then a careful finger deftly pushed his forelock away from his right eye, where it had fallen. Bonham smiled lovingly down at him. "This isn't like you, Milord."
"But he was going to take me out, Bonham! I wanted to go!" He had been willing to go to a football game, for love's sake!
"Of course you did. And he wanted to take you, that stone-faced Germanic ice-statue. Good for him, Milord, and good for you! And now you're pining like a 13-year-old ninny whose father has forbidden him to look at that handsome butcher boy down at the shop."
Dorian blinked, not used to hearing that tone from his unswervingly loyal Second In Command. "It was Mother who forbid me to do that. Father never minded."
"And what did you do when Lady Gloria did that, Milord?"
"Snuck out, so I could go look at him anyway."
Bonham nodded sagely. "You wouldn't let your mum stop you."
"Of course not. There was no harm in looking at the boy. He didn't understand why, though, I think. Not until I met him again six years ago. He still blushes when he sees me down in the village, the poor dear." The man was still of the handsome sort, even if Dorian had long since moved on to bigger and better prey.
Bonham patted the shoulder closest to him. "So why are you giving up so easily now, Milord? What's that personal policy of yours, again?"
Dorian blinked. "Whatever I want, I get."
He got another pat, a little harder this time. "So, Milord - make sure you get it, then."
Slowly, as he began to see the error of his ways , Dorian smiled.
"You know, Bonham, I think I'll have that cup of tea now."
The chief read a report on the progress of infiltrating certain key elements of the Russian government - a top secret operation, of course, which he desperately hoped would not land on Major von dem Eberbach's desk eventually. Before him stood a steaming cup of coffee. Mildred, replacement secretary while his ordinary secretary was on vacation, had just brought it in, favouring him with a sunny smile as she did. Lovely creature that she was - the chief enjoyed beauty of both genders - he didn't let her fool him for one second. In all likelihood she was one of the Enemy's henchpersons. He didn't want to know what the coffee contained, for all that it smelled so utterly delightful. Oh no - he had learned his lesson well. Nowadays he only drank water taken by himself from public restrooms at random and kept in a thermos never out of his sight. In the last month alone he had lost four kilos.
He hesitated, eyeing the phone. Then he took a deep breath and reached for the receiver. Before lifting it to his ear he studied the plastic carefully, to make sure that it at least looked untampered with. There had been ... unpleasantries.
"Yes?" he then said, making sure to sound brisk and businesslike. Meanwhile he wondered if the call would turn out to be yet another prank. They came often, yet irregularly. Traceable - oh yes, to various places - public phones, restaurants, police stations, the homes of persons currently vacationing abroad: places with nothing in common. He no longer even bothered having them traced.
"Hello, Director," said a bright, almost-purring, male voice. "So good to hear you." English. Upper class. Laurence? No, then there would have been that little half-chuckle at the end, indicating "We're all jolly good friends, are we not? Comrades in arms!"
"Ah ... hello?" he said tentatively. The voice had sounded familiar, yes, but he didn't know who it might be. "Who is this?"
"Oh, but you wound me. Am I really so easily forgettable?" The tone turned a little coy, flirtatious even ... Suddenly, an image jumped to his mind and his gut clenched.
"Oh - you do remember me! I am so very pleased!"
"Why are you calling?! When will you stop tormenting me?!"
A bright laughter answered him. Evil! Evil!
"Well, that little 'joke' you tried to play on my dear Major von dem Eberbach - I'm afraid I didn't find that the least bit funny. To tell you the truth, I was quite vexed," said the Enemy, his voice still close to a cat-like purr. "However, given the right inducement I might be willing to negotiate a ... well, let's call it a truce, shall we? Let bygones be bygones and all that ..."
What? He blinked, repeatedly. Could this be true? Could it be possible? "He's yours," he said hastily.
Another bright laughter. Perhaps not quite as evil this time. "Tsk, tsk, my dear Director. While I do appreciate the offer - oh, how I do dream of such a thing - I thought that was the very thing I just mentioned? The sweet major is not yours to make a gift of."
Danger! Danger! "I meant no offence!"
"Well, it was really sweet of you to offer. Now, as I was about to say - if you do me this itsy bitsy, tiny little favour, I would be willing to forgive you. My dear major has looked so dreadfully tired lately. I do believe that a small vacation would be very good for him."
No! He began to sweat. "He refuses to take them! We try to make him! He just won't go!"
"Not to worry. I will deal with that part."
He must be dreaming. A wonderful dream that never would survive him opening his eyes. "He can have as many days off as you want!"
"Thank you, dear, but one will do excellently. Thursday. Major von dem Eberbach was going to be in England that day, but you called it off."
"Oh, that's quite all right. But Germania can manage without her favourite son for just one little day, can't she?"
"Anything you want! He was supposed to go to England on a mission, but it was delayed, so—"
"Send him. Only him. Secret mission. He's on stand-by. Tell him that he will be contacted if there's a need for him to get involved. Of course, you will only disturb him if it is unavoidable. If you've heard the announcement of World War III, for instance. No, wait - strike that. You may contact Major von dem Eberbach if there's something you think he would want to know, otherwise he will be quite peeved and we don't want him in a bad mood, do we? Have I made this clear?"
"Crystal! And ... ah ... then you will, I mean, you won't ..."
"Truce until Klaus returns to Germany. Longer if everything proceeds well. Oh - and you won't tell him about our little chat, will you? Let's make this agreement our little secret. I trust you will take care of everything. Oh, and Director? Mildred really does makes excellent coffee. I do think you will like it. Ta-ta."
The phone disconnected with a click. Hardly able to believe his good fortune he cautiously reached out to take the coffee cup. He braved one tiny sip. It tasted wonderful.
Dorian carefully placed back the receiver on the telephone, then shifted back in the luxurious 18th century north Italian gilt wood armchair that served as his office chair.
"You look as if you should be having a fluffy white cat to pet," said Bonham.
"You look like a criminal mastermind. And pleased with yourself too."
Dorian laughed lightly. Then he lifted his tea cup - 1890 Russian silver-gilt and cloisonné enamel with a pattern of loose floral sprays in shades of red, white, blue and green - and smelled the still steaming brew before drinking deeply. "A good cup of tea really does work wonders, my dear Bonham."
"So, will Leader be coming, then?"
Dorian was mid-swallow and it took a moment before he could answer. "Well, I have no doubt that Fatso will arrange everything and then I ..." He trailed off, suddenly frowning.
" Milord? What be you thinking?"
"What if he doesn't?"
"By now he'd be doing anything to have some peace, that man. A shame, that. I kind of looked forward to stage 6."
"No! No, no, no, Bonham! Not him. Fatso'll do as he's told. But - but what about Klaus? What if he doesn't?"
"If Leader doesn't do what, Milord?"
"Call me! What if he doesn't call me!? What if he just ... doesn't? What if he's changed his mind?" Dorian now stood, tea cup forgotten. He could see it all too clearly. "Don't you see, Bonham? This is perfect for him! He thinks that I think he'll be in Germany that day! What if he goes to London on the Chief's order and never calls me about it?!"
His SIC shrugged a bit helplessly. "I don't know what to say, Milord. Leader's a honourable man. I don't think he would be doing that."
Not quite convinced, Dorian sat back down. He lifted the tea again. He held the cup in both hands, letting the heat warm them. "If he doesn't call, I'm taking Z to the game instead," he grumbled.
Luckily for everyone involved - and possibly especially Z - Klaus did call. He sounded slightly hesitant, maybe confused, but otherwise his usual, efficient self.
"There has been another change in circumstances."
"And hello to you too, my dear Klaus. It is lovely to hear your voice again, and especially so soon after your last call. Dare I hope you have thought about me and a possible rescheduling of our little get-together?"
"As I said - there's been a new development change in circumstances. I will be in London on Thursday after all."
"Oh, but how marvellous! Klaus, I'm so happy!"
"There are limitations!"
"I'm not sure how you mean, dear? Um ... Is it that I shouldn't—"
"I need to reach central London within the hour of being notified."
"Oh. Well, that should prove no obstacle. Would that be all?"
"Yes, as long as you realise that if I am called, everything else is off. I must go and that will be that."
"I can't say that I'm thrilled, but as long as I get a rain check if that happens, I understand. Don't worry, Klaus. Your work is important to you. I know that. Where will you be staying? You always have a room with me, but—"
"I will stay at the Ritz."
"As you wish. When will you arrive precisely? "
"My flight arrives 12:13 to Heathrow."
"I'll pick you up."
"Not in your pimpmobile you're not!"
"Of course not, darling. I'll have John Paul polish that darling little Benz you used last time you visited."
"I suppose that'll be acceptable."
"Capital. Then that's settled. Ah ... Klaus? I'm really happy about this. I really do look forward to it."
"... Football is an interesting sport."
"Oh, Klaus ... Well, I do look forward to seeing you. Goodbye."
"Hello, my dear Bonham!"
"Do you, my dear Bonham, know what day it is today?"
"Why, so it is! Beautiful Tuesday! And do you know what day it will be tomorrow, my dear Bonham?"
"Exactly! Gorgeous Wednesday. And do you know what day it will be the day after that, my dear Bonham?"
"None other! Blessed Thursday! And do you, my dear Bonham, know what I will be doing on Thursday?"
Bonham smiled, but obligingly provided the same answer as last time they had gotten this far in the proceedings. "I believe you mentioned something about going to London, Milord."
Dorian's blinding smile assaulted him. On the rare occasion when Bonham wondered why he stuck around, he reminded himself that it was for moments such as this, when Dorian's happiness could fill an entire room with its radiant warmth and joy. "I will, Bonham! I will. Operation Football has been reinstated!"
"I'm most pleased to hear that, Milord. I know we all are."
Thursday morning. Flughafen Köln/Bonn. Klaus was half an hour early to his flight. The Chief had - surprisingly forcefully so - told him he was not to show his face at the office that morning, but was to head straight to the airport. Why, Klaus wasn't quite clear on, nor why he had been sent alone - or indeed why the order had been given in the first place. Some secret mission again, no doubt. So secret that they couldn't even tell him about it. Such things happened. Granted, last time he had been subjected to such an idiocy, it had all been a demented conspiracy to force him to take a vacation ... This time, however, he had been instructed to be available at short notice so perhaps there really was something that might require his - and only his - assistance. He carried a beeper, which would alert him to contact base if necessary.
The gate to his flight had yet to open when he reached it, so he went over to the tiny kiosk, eyeing the goods dubiously. Then he studied the just as small coffee shop. A cup of coffee was never wrong. At airports they actually usually had almost acceptable brews, strong and dark just like he preferred his coffee. The line wasn't too long either. Finding nothing more productive to do with his time he walked over, stopping at a fair distance from a fat man in a flower-patterned shirt that threatened to make Klaus's eyes bleed. The man smelled quite strongly too - revolting, really. Klaus hoped that the man was a foreigner, even if he knew all too well that some of his compatriots for whatever reason went insane when vacationing. Yet another reason not to do such a thing, for why tempt fate? He momentarily contemplated leaving instructions that should he ever be seen in such a shirt, he must have been replaced by a clone and therefore should be shot on sight. Then he sighed inwardly. Sooner or later there would be a mission that would require this of him, that was just the nature of his life.
The friendly, inquisitive noise so close to his ear made Klaus twirl, backing up into the brightly dressed traveller as he did. "Pass doch auf, wo du hinläufst!" was blurted at him, but Klaus's attention remained fixed on what was before him. Or "who", possibly, but sometimes the jury still seemed to be out on that one.
He hadn't been crept up on. Had someone else suddenly appeared practically plastered to his back he would have assumed so (and normally, this other person would have been Dorian). When Klaus himself didn't deliberately sneak, he tromped forth, a military habit so ingrained he had never bothered to correct it. Before him stood one of the few persons he had encountered who managed - no matter on what surface, no matter wearing what type of shoes and no matter what the situation – to move as if footsteps were something that happened to other people. Klaus remembered vividly how disconcerting it had been to run together with this man and never once hear a sound but those that came from his own two feet.
"Lutz," he said by way of greeting. "Why are you here?"
Even Klaus knew that such a direct question was less than stellar politeness - but he also knew that Lutz didn't mind: knew that Lutz would, in fact, prefer the direct questions to more wrapped up niceties.
"Miii," came again, from between the giant's lips: a ridiculous sound that quickly had begun to grate on Klaus's patience, but which he had never had a choice but to put up with. "Waiting."
The incomplete statement would also have annoyed Klaus greatly, except for that he knew more than well that Lutz considered it a perfectly acceptable answer. If Klaus wanted precision he should have asked a more detailed question. "What are you waiting for?"
"Raphael and Gabriel."
Klaus began to scan the crowd for two medium-length, platinum blonds. "They are here?"
"When will they get here?"
"I don't know."
"When is your plane leaving?"
"I don't know."
"What does it say on your ticket?"
"I don't have it."
"Where is it?"
"One of them has it. Gabriel, I think. It could have been Raphael."
"What is your destination?"
"I don't know."
Klaus had no doubt that the faintly smiling Swede - 2.25 in his socks and built like a muscular Greek statue - told the truth. Lutz usually saw no reason to lie, for all that he did so flawlessly. Baal had explained it once, when Klaus had double-checked one of Lutz's stranger statements with his slightly shorter - and comparatively more sane - twin. "When most people lie, they feel upset, guilty or worried. Lutz feels none of those things, so he shows nothing."
"Was darf es sein?"
He turned to find himself first in line - if at a good distance from the cashier. He quickly walked up. "Do you want coffee?" he asked Lutz, who nodded, so he ordered two. Then they brought their steaming cups to a table close to Klaus's gate.
After having taken his first sip he continued the slow questioning. "Are you going home?"
"I said I don't know."
"Out on business, then?"
That earned him a look that he could have sworn was ever so faintly amused. "First rule about Fight Club: you never talk about Fight Club."
Lutz bent his neck and then cocked his head. "What year is it?"
Klaus patiently answered this odd question.
"Oh. Then I got it mixed up with another movie. Never mind." He lifted a hand. Klaus saw it approach and steeled himself. Before the touch came, though, the motion came to a halt - and then the hand turned into a fist, with a raised index finger wagging in time to Lutz's words. "First rule about Klaus: you never touch Klaus's hair." Words spoken most seriously and with great determination.
Klaus snorted. "You better believe it."
"Baal told me that. I never understood why," Lutz said, having lowered his hand and gone back to drinking. "Others don't mind. Your Dorian loves it when I pet his hair. He is like a kitten. You are going to see him now?"
"Yes. And you don't have to understand it - just don't do it. I dislike it."
"I won't. London is nice at this time of the year. I took Mormor there, once. She really liked the city. Cousin Dorian is nice too. You will tell him we say 'hello'. It is good that the bad situation he was in was resolved."
"Yes. He appreciated your offer of diplomatic immunity."
"He told me so. It will remain open - for him as well as for you. You are family too, now. Miii." A lazy smile accompanied the silly meow.
Klaus deemed it less than appropriate to decline hotly - and to explain thoroughly why he never could accept such an offer would take much too long time. So in the end he said nothing, just continued drinking. Not much later came the announcement that passengers travelling on the Lufthansa flight to London Heathrow now could start boarding, so he downed the last sip of coffee and bid Lutz happy hunting. For a tense moment he feared that the giant man would try to hug him - he vividly remembered one such occasion that had almost ended very, very badly. But Lucifer Black merely smiled again, in that strange little way of his, nodded and then appeared to shift Klaus out of his awareness. Puzzled - but feeling ever so slightly relieved - Klaus went on to board.
Thursday. Finally, the blessed Thursday! Dorian had felt certain that he would be unable to sleep through the night, that he would toss and turn and worry about the day to come. Much to his surprise, however, he had slept like the dead. So on waking he felt relaxed and ready - enjoying life and eager to get the show started. It was, as his father would have put it, "A good day to be alive."
He had woken up at an ungodly hour - a quarter past seven. Normally he slept to at least nine. Since he had Important Things to do that very day his clock had actually been set as early as eight. On waking 45 minutes early on a normal day he would have just turned over and gone back to snoozing. This Thursday morning he rose at once and started in on his morning ablution. A long, hot shower; washing his hair; then letting the leonine mane self-dry as he used various creams. With his curls still damp he went on to an all in all rather nice breakfast. The days of dry three-day-old breads were gone, missed by none except possibly their initiator. Partly because Dorian had pulled off some rather interesting coups lately, making his stingy accountant approve a larger food-budget. Of course that there were fewer of them to actually eat helped. Many of his former gang-members had proven themselves untrustworthy during The Bad Thing. Some of them had tried to return, but he had hardened his heart and refused to accept them back into his service. And partly he suspected that the increased food budget correlated to the fact that James lately had been seen researching the Eberbach family affairs - and gloating about whatever he found there. This was something that ever so slightly worried Dorian.
After breakfast Dorian went to visit one of his new employees. The slim brunet, Jox, had been hired as a fulltime stylist. With Dorian's hair, a stylist really was necessary. Timothy, the man who had previously held the position, had been the one of the Unfaithful Ones that Dorian had been saddest to see go. Jox slowly proved to be an excellent replacement, though. He was also a most accomplished cat thief and had pulled off a few fairly complicated heists. Dorian had, however, not yet clued Jox in on the criminal aspect of his own nature, preferring to wait until Jox had proven himself trustworthy. Bonham would set traps to see if the man would try to steal from the Gloria household. After that, they would see. Meanwhile, Dorian made good use of Jox's talents with scissors and hair drier.
Then to get dressed properly for the day. For once, Dorian found his usually vast selection somewhat limited. He had never been shy about dressing his best in front of Klaus - but for whatever inane reason Klaus often seemed to find Dorian's best strangely inappropriate. This would most often prompt Dorian to chose something even more outrageous, just to see Klaus amp up that annoyed glare of his. Quite sexy, in Dorian's not so humble opinion. However, this day promised to mark yet another turning point in their slowly budding relationship. Dorian was bound and determined to do nothing that might make Klaus uneasy or annoyed with him. Perhaps his good intention was doomed to failure, as he and Klaus simply weren't on the same wavelength regarding important issues such as clothes and fashion, but he had vowed to give it his very best try. Which included wearing something he hoped Klaus would, if perhaps not approve of, then at least find not completely outrageous. Dorian wasn't prepared to change the way he lived for Klaus, no, - but on important occasions such as their first date he would happily compromise.
Eventually he selected a suitably dour brown costume, with a green-and-black tie, a black jacket and a charming dark green hunter's hat with a black band. Neither unbearably dull nor exaggerated peacock flashy. On occasion he wore it when playing proper Lord at some soirée. The cut was, of course, flawless, showing off his narrow hips and strong shoulders. He knew he looked smashing.
Then a second trip to the kitchen, to pick up the basket with necessities. Perhaps not the necessities he dreamed would one day be counted as necessities - i.e. condoms and lube, but thermoses with hot beverages; a very sizeable blanket; a stack of neatly wrapped sandwiches; some fruit and, what he wasn't quite sure of, but considering the evidence was willing to give a whirl - four small bags of Ready Salted Walkers. Heaven forbid that Klaus would find him an inconsiderate date. And since chocolate and roses were right out, well ... he had to play with the cards dealt to him. He had considered bringing a bottle of Koningsmosel, but football just didn't feel like a wine sort of event. Beer would probably have been better, some brand suitably German to tempt Klaus's taste buds. On the other hand, he hadn't wanted to bring alcohol and later be accused of trying to affect Klaus's judgement or get him drunk during a mission or whatever such nonsense. Klaus could be so strangely petulant, at times. Perhaps, as the day unfolded, he could hint at some store carrying beer so that Klaus could make his own decision. That was, in the end, always the best thing to do with his darling Kraut.
Finally done with the preparations he checked his Belle Epoque wristwatch to find himself right on schedule. He had allotted one hour twenty to reach the airport and 30 minutes for Klaus to disembark, collect his luggage, usher his way through passport control, collect his Magnum and enter the arrivals department at Heathrow. The Louis XV gilt wood cartel clock in the second hallway struck 10:45 just as Dorian walked down the stairs to the main door while correcting his white leather driving gloves. On reaching the bottom level he found Bonham, John-Paul, Jen and James waiting for him. He smiled at them all: his brightest, happiest smile. James's eye got a little greener, as it did when he detected something valuable. Jen sighed. John-Paul blushed faintly and Bonham rubbed his knuckles over his eyes, as if he had just gotten something in them.
"We just be wanting to wish you best of luck, then," said Bonham. The others nodded.
"Thank you, my dears," he said. "I do believe I need all good wishes I can get."
He favoured them all with another sunny grin and then turned towards the door, just as the bell rang.
Dorian had a vivid, second-long waking nightmare, of the door opening to a soaked and lethally pissed off Klaus. He had misunderstood the pick-up time and the major - being his stubborn, pigheaded, lovely self - had jogged in from Heathrow to House Gloria during the morning rain.
However, he was spared that fate. Bonham smartly opened the door. Normally, this would have been the butler's task, but he, too, had been a traitor, and they had yet to find a fitting replacement. On the other side stood ...
"Lizzie! And Willy!" Delighted - if slightly puzzled - Dorian put down the basket and moved forward to embrace his middle sister. She hugged back, slightly stiffly, but not unfriendly. Then he knelt to give Willy a quick squeeze too, and to ruffle his hair. The lad already showed the Gloria trademarks: midsummer sky blue eyes and next to untameable, blond curls. His ... other sister ... had always shorn the boy close. Lizzie, who had temporary custody of the boy pending the outcome of Margareth's trial, had let the hair grow: it was already fluffy and showed clear attempts at rebellion. "What a most unexpected surprise!" A nice surprise too, if slightly mistimed.
"Dorian!" Elizabeth greeted in return. She sounded glad to see him too. Of course, they both had the strict upbringing of the British nobility and could easily smile winsomely in the face of their worst enemy. "I trust we have not come at an inconvenient time? May we enter?"
He mentally winced. "Actually - and I do hate to have to say this, dear Lizzie. You and Willy - my boy, you look quite the young gentleman in that suit - caught me just as I'm on my way somewhere important. I truly need to be going in the next few minutes."
Lizzie pursed her full Gloria lips. "Oh, Dorian - surely whatever it is can wait for another day? I came to discuss the ... current situation."
"Which is really important and it was good of you to come, but darling Lizzie, you really should have called first. Normally I wouldn't have hesitated for a second to put everything on hold for you, but it happens that today I simply can't." He held out his arms imploringly. "It is completely impossible."
"Whatever can you be doing that is so important, Dorian? You don't work and you have no businesses to take care of. What could possibly be more important than to discuss Willy's future and ... well ... Margareth and the trial and so on?"
True, but ... if he was late Klaus would not be impressed - he would in fact be most annoyed and God help them all if he felt slighted - Dorian might never get the chance again! Simply out of the question. "I'm dreadfully sorry, Lizzie, but it does happen to be quite important." He said the words firmly. "I need to go and I need to leave right away. You are absolutely right that we do need to discuss everything, but not today. I will contact you tomorrow and we will talk about it then. Are you thirsty or anything? Bonham, do serve my sister and Willy any refreshment they require, then make sure they get home safely. Sorry, Lizzie, but I really have no choice, I must be off now."
Elizabeth's displeasure was evident by the line of her mouth. What was worse - Willy looked sad - the latter tore at Dorian's heart as he really liked the little tyke and didn't want him to feel unwanted, as Dorian himself had done at times when his mother clearly had preferred the girls. But Elizabeth really ought to have called before coming over, so he refused to feel too guilty. Today was his day. His and Klaus's.
With a kiss to his sister's rouged cheek and another tousle to Willy's hair, he said, "I'm sorry, Willy, I really am. I'll talk with you too, tomorrow. Maybe we could do something together? Go riding or visit Madame Tussauds, perhaps?" The he hefted the basket again, and left.
By the time the road signs told him to turn left for Heathrow, Dorian was a nervous wreck, having half convinced himself that the entire situation was all one gigantic pull-the-Dieb's-leg stunt.
"He wouldn't do that!" he informed himself quite sternly.
"Why not? Think of that time you left him on the Hallelujah Express. Or he fooled you into digging for the lost treasures of King Assurbanipal. Or that time he took the Raphael basically out of your hands, leaving you to explain to the Shah that you really weren't trying to get into his harem ... Or when—"
"Yes, yes, but that was then! That was ... before! He wouldn't do that now! Not after ... everything!"
Only ... maybe Klaus would? They had played one another some spectacular tricks over the years. To pretend to set up a date would be more cruel than most of them, true, but the notion that Klaus would voluntarily go out on a date with him was almost as unthinkable - and it had been Klaus who had suggested it in the first place!
After having parked the car, Dorian remained behind the wheel for a few seconds, calling himself both paranoid and gullible. Finally, he got up and forced himself towards the revolving doors. Paranoid he might be - or gullible: the only way to find out which was the case was to enter Heathrow Airport and find out.
Paranoid - Klaus would come to him.
Gullible - Klaus wouldn't.
And if you're not coming, I'm on the next flight to Bonn, Dorian promised, to make you mine the hard way. In tears and blood.
Well, no. He never would. But a brief imagining of doing just that, in case Klaus really had made a royal fool out of him, was not beneath him.
He went inside, glancing up to check an Arrivals screen for progress. The Köln/Bonn plane had landed right on time, as fitted German precision. Glad that at least no delay would draw out his suffering he went up to the area where the passengers would emerge and waited ...
and waited ...
and sweated ...
Dorian all but felt his ears twitch.
Tromp, tromp, tromp.
That ... That really does sound like ...
Tromp, tromp, tromp, tromp, tromp!
It is! It is! It must be!
Still, he dared not fully believe. Not until the tromper exited from the inner area of the arrivals hall, cautiously glaring around as if expecting to find a hall full of KGB spies. Feeling his face split in a relieved grin, Dorian hurried forth. Klaus's eyes passed over him, lingering for just a second before continuing, obviously having identified him, but also catalogued him as a non-threat.
"Major!" he greeted. For the moment "Darling" felt just a hint unsuitable. He was well aware that Klaus might have agreed to a date, which was promising, but that didn't mean that the war was anywhere near won. To be on his very best behaviour was still highly advisable. "So," Wonderful, "good to see you." You gorgeous hunk of a man whom I wouldn't mind shagging right here and now. "How was your flight?"
"On time. Which is the only good thing I can say about it. Lousy food, coffee weaker than G's left hook, screaming toddler, dirty seats, pilot having fun doing bloody loop-de-loops - probably drunk anyway. Flight attendants - why do they put a Danish crew on a flight from Germany to England? - with a bigger cup size than IQ - and that includes the male ones. Are we going to stand here all day?"
Oh dear. The major did seem to be in a less than stellar mood. Not a promising start. Well, the schedule Dorian had drawn up might help to improve matters. He could always hope. "That does sound dreadful. And no, we can leave at once." He made a small gesture towards the exit. "Your chariot awaits."
Klaus hefted his small travel bag, then threw him a suspicious glance. "You promised to bring the Benz. If you have horses out there—"
"No, no, no," Dorian hastened to reassure. The thought had never even occurred to him - though come to think of it, the idea had its merits. He remembered sled rides when visiting his cousins during a winter a few years ago. Yes, he could easily envision it - cold, snow, bells and running horses - and being pressed against Klaus's warm side under a thick blanket. Kissing going on and perhaps letting hands stray a little without the coachman noticing (or more likely ignoring their antics). Maybe one day - if I play my cards just right, he thought and resolved to do just that.
Back in central London Dorian parked fairly close to the Ritz. Then he tagged along as Klaus checked in and went up to his room. Klaus had given him a funny look in the lift, but Dorian felt positive that if Klaus hadn't wanted him to come along, Klaus would have said so. That was, in Dorian's not so humble opinion, one of the good things about Klaus's bluntness - you never had to worry about him suffering in silence.
The hotel suite was sizeable. Not luxurious, but with two rooms: bedroom and a fair-sized second room with a big chair as well as a sofa easily seating five. No doubt because once the Alphabet joined their superior, this would serve as their headquarters. Still, Dorian was glad NATO hadn't made Klaus stay at some dump. Of course, if they had maybe the man would have been more inclined to stay at House Gloria. The Alphabet would also have been welcome.
"If you wish to shower, go right ahead," he said.
He was answered by a snort that said in no uncertain terms, "And have you spying on me? Ha!"
"I can wait down in the lobby if you wish," he expanded mildly.
"Thank you," Klaus said, somewhat stiffly. He knelt by the small bar, stuffing two bottles from his luggage inside, "but I'm in no need of showering." His trousers stretched quite fetchingly in that position.
"Are you hungry? Fancy a bit of—"
"Nein. Didn't you listen? I ate on the plane." He rose, grabbed his bag and continued towards the room leading to the bedroom. Even if the concept of "Klaus-in-bedroom-naked-in-bed!" did flash through Dorian's mind, he found it best to stay lounging on the large sofa as he waited.
Since Klaus hadn't closed the door Dorian merely raised his voice slightly to continue their conversation. "Yes, but you said it was lousy, so—"
"It was swill, but at least better than army chow."
"I see. Food later, then. Do you need to check in with NATO or something?"
"Already did," Klaus said, emerging again from the bedroom. He stopped by the sofa and stared down at Dorian with his arms crossed forbiddingly before him. "At the airport, before coming out. Nothing yet and Fatso said he thought nothing would happen for a while."
Dorian very carefully did not smile. Fatso's behaving. Maybe he will get some reward still, when this is over. If things progress well. "Capital. Then I'm wondering if you would care to accompany me as I run an errand? There's this little thing I'm thinking of procuring and your opinion would be most valuable to me."
Was it his imagination or did Klaus look relieved for a moment, before the look turned into suspicion? "I'm not following you around like a puppy while you're shopping for clothes."
At that, Dorian smiled. "No clothes, you have my word."
"Though you look decent for once," was said roughly. "Almost like a man."
Part of Dorian wanted to feel insulted by that, but he had a feeling it hadn't been meant as such, so he politely thanked Klaus for the compliment. "Well, if you're ready, then, major, let us be on our way."
Klaus was in heaven. Or at least the nearest thing to Heaven he'd ever been outside Germany. Who had known such a place even existed? Well, by the knowing smirk on his face, Herr Dieb had known - and had known enough to take Klaus there, to let him enjoy it.
He hadn't had a clue what to expect when he and Dorian had once more gotten into Dorian's Benz. If anything, he had felt slightly relieved to leave the hotel, because being in there reminded him that the two of them would return there at the end of the day – bar any interventions from whatever Fatso thought might happen - and ... well, they would at least start with a nightcap, even if it was his place and not Dorian's. He had even brought his favourite schnapps from Germany. He would get some alcohol into him before whatever else might take place.
But ... this!
Since he hadn't really thought Dorian would haul him along to some bloody fashion show or to scout out some potential target, he had felt slightly lost as to what the Brit might be in the market for. They already had the game tickets. Food would be necessary in a few hours, but apart from that they were set. If the thief was heading to some disreputable Soho shop to get some damned sex thingamabob, Klaus would get the hell out of Dodge. He would return to the Ritz all on his own to spend the evening polishing his Magnum.
They passed Green Park, took east on Piccadilly, up Berkey to park on Bourdon before walking down to Burton. Where Dorian - looking surprisingly good in his unusually masculine outfit -determinedly led the way to a rather unassuming store. Still with some trepidation, Klaus had entered on his heels, never expecting to find ...
... the Holland and Holland London Gun Room!
Dorian relaxed back onto the very comfortable sofa, sniffing the excellently brewed tea - Darjeeling - as he watched Klaus flitter about the shop. Well, "flitter" might not be the right word for the man's determined steps, but he found it most amusing to see a full fledged march be redirected mid-step as something else obviously caught Klaus's attention.
The Eberbach family is well off. Very well off, by the look of things. And especially by how happy James has been lately. Yet Klaus looks like a boy who has just stepped into a candy shop for the first time in his life. Oh well, I'll happily play "sugar daddy" to this "little boy". Perhaps the words should feel inappropriate, considering what he had so recently been accused of, but with the "little boy" in question being a 6 foot 2" trained killer - and about as likely to accept the notion of having a "sugar daddy" as Dorian was to fall in love with a buxom female and start breeding his own football team of little Red-Glorias, well ... The thought amused him.
"Is the tea to your liking, Lord Red-Gloria?"
Dorian tore his eyes away from where his major had his nose practically pressed against a red mahogany glass cabinet containing six rifles of varying shapes, to look at the store manager. "Quite," he said, using his most regal tone. "You have our thanks."
"Everything for our clients. Might I enquire if you are satisfied with your acquisition?"
"Quite," he repeated with a brief nod. In truth he wasn't fully sure of Klaus's reaction to the weapon, but based on the almost-awed tone in Klaus's voice when he spoke about it Dorian considered the money well spent. He had wanted to be present when Klaus first saw it, though. Alas, that had been impossible and the second master bedroom - Klaus's room - at House Gloria had no hidden cameras, even if the notion had been tempting for a few seconds when Bonham had brought up the possibility. But Klaus would never have forgiven cameras.
He noticed how the store manager glanced between himself and Klaus. Very discreetly, of course, the man was of old British stock and no doubt well used to the quirks of nobility. Likely he had drawn the conclusion that Klaus was Dorian's lover and the gun bought as a token of affection - or possibly even to assure said affection. Dorian didn't mind overly. It was sweet, in a way, to have at least someone believing them to be lovers. Though the notion that he would be forced to buy Klaus's affection rankled. Did he look like someone who would have to resort to something so ... distasteful? He just hoped Klaus wouldn't catch that particular clue bus. Of course, the man could be surprisingly dense regarding such matters. Possibly due to his little ... affliction.
As he wool-gathered he let his gaze follow the major on automatic. He had considered the major being frigid - or possibly being "autoerotic", a term he had seen mentioned. Funny - he had thought that would mean something entirely different. Between the horror of being arrested and the aftermath of that dreadful little drama he hadn't had much time to read up on things yet. To get everything back under control - and to prepare for both this very day as well as for revenge on the people who had treated him badly while it happened - oh, Dorian had plans, he really had ... had simply taken up too much of his time. Nor was it something he could delegate, not even to faithful, trusted Bonham. He had gone to a lending library at Boston Spa, West Yorkshire, then had suddenly felt like a 12-year-old schoolboy staring wide-eyed at the door to a sex store, mind unable to comprehend what might lie beyond and blushing at the very idea of girls having different parts than boys. Not that he had ever been such a boy. Living with three sisters made him he well aware of the difference, fairly disgusted by it and not the least bit intrigued.
He had ended up grabbing the first book he saw with a likely title, hiding it under his cape and then running off, actually blushing brightly.
What was it that Klaus was holding now? It looked like a ... well, it couldn't be, not with Klaus looking so pleased to examine it, but it did look just the right shape ... and maybe it could be used for that, even if it wasn't? Dorian quickly adverted his eyes. Autoerotic? Well, he automatically found Klaus erotic, if that was any clue. Though from what he had gathered the expression seemed to indicate a person who only found him- or herself attractive, not anyone else. But that didn't seem to be the case either. Based on what Klaus had said he did masturbate on occasion, but it hadn't sounded as if he truly enjoyed the experience. Oh, Dorian just didn't know what to think. What he had read had seemed to be mostly about women anyway. He really should have researched the subject more, not just glanced at the book he had hidden in the Dorian's Very Private Everyone Keep Out-box. What he did know was that he must take things slowly and carefully. He must treat Klaus like the precious thing he was, but for all that was holy never make him feel cosseted or jollied. Not an easy task, considering what a short-tempered, intelligent man Klaus was. Dorian was honestly surprised he had gotten as far as he had.
Klaus was looking through a large book on the wide glass counter, asking one of the staff members something. Dorian glanced at the clock. 15:35. Still plenty of time, but they couldn't spend all day at the Gun Room either. They still needed to get something edible before the game and he didn't want to hurry that along. Who knew when he might be able to sit down for a meal with Klaus again? Besides, he had already drunk two cups of tea and the store manager eyed him in a half-worried manner as if gearing up to ask if he wanted thirds. As he was slightly less open than Klaus to use an available wall to relieve himself at, he rose and strolled over to the counter. He glanced at the book. It appeared to depict a selection of available calibres and models. All very exciting, he was sure.
"That's a pretty one," he said and pointed at a rifle. It was. The pattern on the side was a kind of speckled rainbow colour and the stock was a warm, blacklined bay.
Klaus blinked at him as if only now remembering his presence. "It's a 20-bore, single trigger, 28" barrel, sidelock ejector, straighthand grip, splinter style forend. It's not pretty - it's efficient. It's a J. Purdy and Son."
"Golly, who could have imagined. Major, it has occurred to me, perhaps you would be good enough to do me one tiny favour?"
The book was abruptly closed and he could all but see Klaus pull in on himself, frowning. "What?"
What did Klaus think would be asked - demanded? - of him? Dorian honestly couldn't even begin to imagine and he had a vague feeling he would be surprised if told. He decided it best to pretend not to have noticed the unease. "Well, if you remember that darling little rifle in the ... second master bedroom? It just occurred to me—" And they both knew what a lie that was, but if Klaus wanted to call him on it he could. "—that I don't even know if it works."
"Of course it bloody well works! It's a Holland and Holland! They're the finest hunting rifles there are!"
"I'm sure, but anyone can make a mistake, can't they? What if it ... got damaged during the shipping?" Or when he had run around with it, pretending to be the Great White Hunter, but no one had seen that and he would tell neither Klaus nor anyone else in a million years. He put up his best, most innocent face.
Klaus's suspicious look made clear he wasn't buying it.
"Seriously, Klaus - I would feel a right fool if someone was to try it and it didn't work properly."
"Why would you—" Three words were said angrily, then Klaus bit off the rest of the sentence.
Interesting. "Let anyone use my rifle?" possibly? Oh, it is yours and we both know it, even if you refuse to accept it in as many words. Dorian decided to ignore that. "Why, I would feel terribly humiliated. So - just for my peace of mind and as a personal favour to me, couldn't you - please? - give it a try and check if it is any good?" Normally, this would have been where he lowered his voice and ran a finger up someone's chest as part of his seduction routine, letting the words mean something else entirely. As it was he kept his voice even, just a hint pleading.
Sharp, green eyes studied him, as if he had asked Klaus to please just taste test this chocolate cake to see if it has been poisoned or not ... But then the sharpness ... eased and ... was that a twinkle? No, it couldn't possibly be!
"Wouldn't want you to blow someone's head off," Klaus said dismissively.
"So ... you'll do it?"
"I suppose I must."
"Capital! At North Downs, then, at the shooting court?"
Klaus shrugged, then turned away, attention caught by a particularly large rifle in yet another cabinet. Dorian decided to take that as a yes and felt giddy with the knowledge that he had all but scored a second date. Well, time to do more about that later. Now he must concentrate on this first one, to make it as good as possible.
He glanced around, caught the manager's eyes and imperiously waved him closer. "The weapon I bought. I find that I am in need of one of those Cleaning Kit boxes you suggested after all." In fact, he had held off on buying it - not due to the price, a mere 250 pounds - but to have a reason to return just like this, with Klaus along.
"Very good, sir. This way."
This time it was Klaus who trailed after him and then insisted on checking the cleaning kit's quality - for Dorian's sake, of course. The kit, however, an elegant black box full of oil and cotton wool and what to Dorian looked vaguely like drumsticks, was met with approval. No money exchanged hands, as Dorian had set up an account the previous time he had visited. That was always easier in the long run, even with James being uncharacteristically generous, especially when "Leader" was involved.
The case would be delivered to House Gloria later the same day. Then they returned to the Benz, Klaus with some obvious reluctance.
"I believe they might have one of those rooms in New York as well," Dorian mentioned off hand as he turned on the engine.
"Huh. Maybe I'll have a look one day."
Which said a lot about how much Klaus had enjoyed the place, if he was willing to risk an American version of it. Dorian counted the visit as a complete success.
"I don't know about you," he went on to say, "but I could do with a bite to eat now, before we head on to the stadium." To tell the truth, he had skipped lunch in case Klaus would have wanted to grab something and now felt rather starved.
So after a bit of fuss Dorian manoeuvred his way down to Piccadilly again to park off Arlington, from where they walked on over to Fortnum & Mason, a combined shopping and eating department store, which he found somewhat charming and therefore on occasion frequented. It wasn't a cosy hideaway with romance in the air, more somewhere he would take a gang member on a birthday or a group of them when they could escape from under James's watchful eye. The choice of restaurant was deliberate. He knew dozens of places in London alone, where the atmosphere was far more inductive to a make a couple feel alone in the world with one another. Oh, he wanted to romance Klaus; wanted to win him over; wanted to sweep him off his feet. However, all his instincts screamed that the other was far from ready. To try simply wouldn't have the desired effect. A place like Fortnum's was better, at least for now. Open and airy, so Klaus wouldn't feel restrained, yet with a solid back wall, to make Klaus feel more secure - from where they would be sitting he would also be able to see anyone coming and going. Decent enough food; good, attentive staff; enough space between the tables so they wouldn't have to worry much about being overheard, should the conversation stray to delicate topics. Fairly central too, so they would have no trouble reaching the stadium on time - or, for Klaus's sake, reaching anywhere within central London within the allotted time to make to his rendezvous, should the Chief be desperate enough to contact him.
Dorian could tell that Klaus was initially confused, when he was led through the shopping part of F&M, then up the stairs to the little dining area, white and bright with round, small tables. A uniformed waiter stepped forth to greet them. He used Dorian's full name, with that hint of respect that Dorian knew was well rehearsed: not so strong as to be fawning, but enough so that a visitor would know himself recognized. The waiter: a slim, short, red-head, was rather cute, so Dorian favoured him with a smile as they were led over to one of the tables close to the wall. Apart from being a fairly regular visitor who tipped well, he was also a good friend to a close friend of the owner. This time of the day there usually was no trouble to get a table, but he had given them a call in advance, just in case. He would have felt silly at the thought of having taken Klaus all that way and then being forced to start all over again.
Three minutes later they had settled at the table. Dorian, who was still in a generous mood, had pretended not to notice Klaus manoeuvring him so that Klaus sat facing the room with Dorian in front of him - not only blocking Klaus from view of the other patrons, but allowing him a view of the stairs. Dorian didn't mind. Normally he preferred Klaus's position himself - not for protective purposes, but to see everyone and - since no one would sit directly in front of him - to be admired by them in turn. He knew that Klaus's need outweighed his - and besides, this way he could imagine Klaus guarding him as well, which made him feel warm and pleased.
They ordered - Line Caught Sea Bass with fennel confit and sauce verge with spring beans and tomato salad for Dorian and Highgrove Beef Rib Eye Steak with mashed potatoes for Klaus. Dorian often had the Bass on going there and was particularly fond of it.
"So," Dorian said, keeping his voice low. "This job you are in town for, does it need a thief?"
"Because you know you only have to ask, don't you? Even if I would have to steal something ...—" He shuddered dramatically. "—ugly."
That earned him a light snort. "No heist being currently planned, then?" Klaus asked in turn.
Only that of your heart, my dear. If I even can pull that off. "Not at the moment. Nothing new has caught my fancy in a bit." My obsession for you is hardly new. "Well, I was thinking of making a small visit to an old favourite haunt of mine, just south of here, Christie's. You see, that's where—"
"If it's illegal - don't tell me."
"Very well." So, he wouldn't tell Klaus, though he might show him, one night, sometime in the future. If he was a very, very lucky little Red-Gloria. The visit to Christie's would be to retrieve the Shah's emerald necklace once given to Harlun. Who had sold it to secure means to bribe the parents of the boy who had lied so about him. To steal something that he had already given away - even if he had stolen it in the first place - did make him feel something of an Indian giver, but Harlun really had no further right to the necklace and so Dorian would reclaim it. Perhaps one day, if he and Klaus finally did become lovers and if he could guilt-trip Klaus for some reason or maybe ask for it on his birthday, that necklace would be all Klaus wore to bed one night ...
"Met your cousin again," Klaus said, then they stayed quiet as the waiter replaced Klaus's cutlery and put down their glasses.
"Lutz. At the Flughafen Köln/Bonn. Meowed in my ear. I thought I'd jump through the fucking ceiling. He's a weirdo." A half-accusing glare accompanied the words.
Dorian felt his lips pull back to an affectionate smile. "Was he coming or going?"
"Going. Didn't know where to and I haven't got a clue how he got inside the terminal without a ticket."
"I've found it best not to speculate. You know - as a whole he's not really all that dangerous. Oh - in situations when he needs to be, but other than that he's like a big, lazy lion with his belly full." Unable to understand some human reactions, sure - but also not very interested in inflicting pain or suffering. All in all, Dorian actually liked the biggest of his cousins - if preferably at a distance. "I guess the Holland and Holland isn't your usual fare of weapon, Klaus? Or do you hunt?"
"Not unless the prey shoot back. Father hunts. Not much nowadays, but more when I was young."
Dorian simply had to ask. "Boars?"
A shrug. "Boars, deer, rabbit, pheasant. He travelled abroad too - buffalo and moose and elk and cougar. Haven't you seen the trophy room?"
"I must have missed that one. Perhaps you can show me one day?" Not that he really wanted to see, but on the remote chance it would buy him an invitation to Schloss Eberbach he was willing to fake an interest. "Foxes?"
"Good he never got to meet mum, then, I suppose. But I never heard her mentioning liking them. Actually, Father hunted some too - mostly rabbits and roe deer at the country estate."
"I thought he was a poof."
"Sexual leaning doesn't disqualify someone from hunting, you know. Besides, it is a classic pastime for us British nobility. Foxhunting and the like. Not that I ever found it remotely interesting. Funny you should mention moose, though. Every year my cousins sends us prime moose meat from their hunting ground up in Dalicarlia, in Sweden. Twenty kilos or more. Pleases James to no end - one of the few times we eat meat regularly."
Klaus snorted. "I never understood why you let that little twerp top-ride you like he does. You're his boss: you should be in charge."
It was far from the first time someone had asked Dorian just that. Bonham, for one, asked it every couple of weeks. With a quick smile, Dorian gave his standard answer. "Well, it's not like I can give him back, can I?"
"How do you mean?"
"I suppose you will accuse me of being horribly sentimental now, but dear James is a ... a kind of trophy, if you will. A remembrance."
"Of my first heist," Dorian said and smiled beatifically. "He was the first thing I ever stole." He had timed his explanation to the cute waiter bringing their plates, so he could enjoy Klaus's look of annoyance when he couldn't question him any further until they were, once more, alone.
"... and when she had had enough John-Paul's mother took him in. Lovely woman, runs a small B'n'B now up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He visits her a couple of times a year. Brings back the best vegetable soup I ever ate. Anyway, James stayed there for two years. Then Father died and I was floundering so badly with the family fortune I began to fear I would have to get a real job or get married or something awful like that. I think John-Paul heard about my plight from Bonham and then all three of them showed up. James spent 48 hours with a cross-ruled notebook, a pencil, a Casio and all my papers. We were well into the red by then, but he found some loop hole or whatnot. I really don't understand it, but in the end we came out in the black."
They had all but finished their meal. Klaus had vehemently declined any kind of dessert, but had - not too grudgingly - agreed to coffee. He had listened to the story in silence, but had seemed interested enough and at at least one point Dorian could have sworn he saw a hint of a smile.
"So, you see, I can't possibly give him back."
Which earned him an harrumphing noise that very well could be interpreted as agreement. "Doesn't mean you have to keep him around all the time either."
"Perhaps not, but we're kind of used to him. When he's happy he's a joy. And he does his job better than anyone. If I didn't have James I would have had to try to seduce you for your money rather than because I happen to love you."
A sharp look. "Don't talk about that now. What did the police say about ... ehm ... your mother?"
Dorian lifted an eyebrow. "I wasn't aware that you followed the investigation." He had been shocked to learn that they had exhumed his mother, performing an autopsy to try to find out if she had died from anything but an accident.
"I'm in intelligence."
"And pray tell me what can the situation regarding my mother's death possibly have to do with national security? Or NATO security? Or any type of security?"
"They knew I helped you and that NATO is interested in you. Professional courtesy."
"Oh?" Dorian wasn't sure if he liked that or not. Who were "they" anyway and did they know about his extracurricular activities as Eroica? "I'm surprised that you don't know the details already, then. Well, she died - as previously known - from a broken neck when Shanjah threw her off. Nothing else." Of course, the notion that perhaps not all had been fair play had gotten him thinking as well. His mother had been thrown off, yes - but why had the mare bucked in the first place? Shanjah was a well-mannered horse, unlikely to misbehave without cause. That someone might have deliberately made the horse buck caused his stomach to turn and his tea cup clattered when he put it back down. "As you said before - let's not talk about that. Are you sure I can't convince you to try some Amedei Chocolate Brûlée? It is really most divine."
"Then I suppose we are ready to go. I'll just make a quick stop in the loo, be back in a mo'."
When the Brit had left Klaus caught the eye of the sissy waiter and signalled for him to bring the bill.
So far he had had a good day. He would never have thought to look up the Holland and Holland Gun Room by himself, but it had been a really interesting place to visit. Very high quality stuff, even if they weren't German. And Dorian's not too subtle invitation to North Downs to "check if the weapon worked" might be as transparent as that veil Dorian had worn in Egypt, but, well ... he couldn't kid himself. His fingers practically itched to try out the rifle, ever since he had first laid eyes on the sleek gun. Which would mean, on the other hand, a second date - would Dorian want more sex then? More than what they would do tonight? Well, maybe it wouldn't be so bad, all things considered. One thing at a time. If it was beyond what he could bring himself to endure he could always simply decide not to go.
The bill came and he paid without hesitation. He wasn't sure what was the proper code in situations such as this, but it wasn't like either of them had to scrounge for the money, especially not such trifling sums. At least not when Stingy Bug wasn't present. If Dorian took offence they could always argue it out later.
The food had been decent and the fop well behaved. He hadn't made any untoward advances - had hardly even mentioned the possibility or hinted at what he wanted. He had even dressed surprisingly masculine, almost decently. The mass of hair still made him stand out in a crowd, needless to say. On the other hand, Klaus well remembered how the Brit had looked with short hair: almost waif-like and quite unDorianesque. Perhaps, though, if he merely combed his hair back hard and put it in a pony tail - would that even be possible? Klaus did that himself, sometimes, when his got so long he really should cut it, but he hadn't had time yet. Dorian had much thicker hair, though, and the curls didn't make things easier. He remembered Lutz mentioning that Dorian liked to have his hair petted.
When the steady hum of voices around him suddenly rose Klaus abandoned contemplating Dorian's hair. He looked around to find the cause of the whispering. Then he groaned and hid his face in one of his hands.
He should have known.
He really should have known.
Or if not exactly known, he damn well should have guessed.
"What?" was asked in well-modulated, upper-class British. Eroica had a surprisingly dark voice, for a fop. "Is there something wrong? I thought this was a good time to get changed? Isn't this traditional football wear?"
Klaus glanced once more, this time through his fingers.
No, the monstrosity remained. At least there was no glitter, only shiny clothes in brightest red, sky blue and purest white. Klaus didn't mind blue. He could have lived with white. Red was ... well, red was Dorian, so it wasn't as if he had ever believed he would get rid of it. But the combination, so totally void of all common decency! The fop looked like a walking (and very foppish!) incarnation of the British flag!
Not that everything was in colour. There were pompons too. White pompons with black hexiconals. A pair of miniature footballs hung from a long, silver necklace. Around one wrist he spotted a bracelet with similar decorations.
"You ..." he found himself saying. Then he had to stop, unable to continue.
Dorian performed an elegant little pirouette, revealing more football pompons, hanging from his belt and scarf. Then he stood still again, watching Klaus expectantly. Klaus took it all in. From the red and blue-chequered shoes - with little footballs on the straps, he noted - up over the shiny, tight trousers - left parts of each leg white, right part red, crotch in reverse, to the predominantly blue upper half - with the English flag helpfully distributed throughout, just in case some daft person had problems associating the colours or - god forbid - might think them American in origin.
Then, he began to laugh.
Dorian stood, enthralled, and listened to the low, rhythmic sound of Major von dem Eberbach laughing. It sounded slightly rusty and he could imagine that the major seldom laughed like this, almost helplessly. Did he ever? Surely as a child he must have and sometimes even as he became older. Rarely, though, that was for certain. Even if the mirth happened to come from having seen him, Dorian, in his football finest, Dorian didn't mind being laughed at. Not by Klaus. Not if it afforded Dorian the joy of hearing this lovely sound - one he would surely give up dreams for, to get to hear again.
Still, to join in wouldn't do, so he pouted artfully and pretended not to understand. "I should have drawn flags on my cheeks, shouldn't I? Drat, but I forgot the make-up box at home. Do you think I will look dreadfully out of place? We could stop on the road and buy some. I could do you too at the same time, if you wanted to?"
The laughter ceased as if cut by a knife. "Do?" was asked, tone laden with suspicion.
"Flags? On your cheeks? If you would like? I do believe I could manage the German one, but we'll be in the British section and sadly I wouldn't trust all my fellow countrymen to recognise the Italian flag from the German one."
That got him a snort as if Klaus could fully believe that. "I'll pass. And you look like you belong at a circus. You had that in the basket? I'm surprised you don't have one of those caps on with huge hands that clap if you pull a string. Where are your old clothes? Put them back on."
"B-but isn't this proper?" He widened his eyes, to look innocent. "Besides, no one will recognize me like this."
He was watched for a few long seconds and he could have sworn he saw Klaus's lips twitch. "You can keep the jacket," was the final verdict, "but ditch the trousers."
To hold back his automatic response was impossible. "You keep telling me that, darling - a man could get ideas. Do you want me to do it here and now? No, no! I was just jesting! Right, another mo' then, I'll be back in a minute!"
Then he retreated back to the restroom.
Wembley Stadium was already filling up nicely by the time they found their seats near one of the twin towers. Klaus had let Dorian take the lead, hanging back mostly to watch the eyes following his - as always - attention-fetching companion. He had expected more of a reaction as Dorian, even in the more demure trousers, still was a sight to behold. Especially considering his hair and his general manners. But as the man determinedly used the basket and his considerable charm to make a path through the filling up stand it seemed as if people - at least people within hearing distance from his litany of "Coming through; do forgive; nice tan; please make way; if you could only—; why thank you; how kind; where did you buy that lovely—; I do appreciate; excuse me; pardon" instead started smiling. Of course, this was England and Dorian had the air of a true nobleman. The people must react to that, that was the only explanation Klaus could come up with.
Finally, however, they were sitting.
Neither the English nor the Italian team was anywhere near as good as their German counterpart, needless to say. Even so, the game was reasonably interesting. The crowd was really into the game and the sun not too hot. Klaus wasn't sure why Dorian had seemed disappointed when he had declined the use of the (football-patterned) blanket, though later he noticed that the man didn't even use it himself.
Klaus had contemplated cheering for the wops, mostly to be contrary, but had then decided that to do so would be childish. Besides, England really did have the better team. If he couldn't cheer for Germany, at least he wanted to be on the winning side.
He followed the game eagerly, allowing himself to get engrossed until his muscles twitched as if wanting to join in. Memories of his own football days returned to him. He had been good. Good enough to compete outside school, even in the higher league. Perhaps even for Germany, if he had chosen that track rather than the military one. Not that he regretted his choice - no, it had been easy, in the end: football mostly a wistful kind of dreamy "could have been". In different circumstances, maybe, if he hadn't been who he was. But he had been, so that was all there was to it. Klaus was not a man much given to contemplating might have beens. Still. Football was fun. NATO actually had a team. Had he been more given to socialising that might have been fun to try out.
I'd never have time to make it to all the games, let alone practice, he told himself firmly and pushed that wistful notion out of his head. NATO needed him on the real field, not on the grass one.
Slowly he realised that something bugged him. Not the English shouting all around him. Not that both teams wore the wrong colours. Not even that he was there on some kind of date - with a man ... No, it was an out of sync movement in the corner of his eye. Since he was not a man to let things keep bothering him - all too often they turned nasty - he turned to check.
Rather than leaning forward like most spectators, Dorian sat well back in his chair. Not due to complete disinterest, though - no, he intently followed the game through very small binoculars. They were only about finger length and with a yellowish surface that glimmered faintly.
"Isn't it difficult to follow the game with that?" Klaus asked.
Dorian moved the opera glasses away from his eyes long enough to flash him a bright smile. "Not at all. Do you wish to try them out?"
"I can see well enough with my own two eyes."
"Very well, then," said Dorian and put the object to use again.
Klaus watched for a few seconds. Something still bothered him. Then he glanced out on the field. It took him a few seconds to find the action. A look back at Dorian confirmed his misgivings.
"You're not watching the game."
"I have my eyes firmly on the field."
"The ball is on the other side."
Dorian nodded up with his chin in the direction he faced. "The man with those delicious thighs isn't."
Klaus couldn't help but turn his head in the direction he knew Dorian's opera glasses to be aimed. Seeing a tall, swarthy Italian he briefly closed his eyes, then dropped the entire conversation. Later during the game, glancing towards his companion, he would find him smiling faintly and obviously not following the ball, but studying something else which had caught his attention. At other times, he found him with the opera glasses in his lap, apparently actually following the game.
Dorian had promised himself not to rattle Klaus's cage if he could help it, but he didn't want the man to suspect that Dorian might have had been kidnapped by the KGB and replaced by a pod person either. Besides, most football players had very nice bodies to rest his eyes on in between following the game itself. Many with very nice legs. Dorian liked legs. Especially Klaus's legs; long and sleek, yet impressively powerful.
Yes, those legs would be very useful, not just for carrying Klaus around. For Dorian to lean his head on, for example, if they watched television together. Klaus liked football - it was shown often on the telly, so if Dorian could snooze on the sofa while Klaus watched they were set to go.
For Dorian to grab hold of as he performed oral sex. All men enjoyed oral sex, that was an absolute in Dorian's experience. Surely Klaus would at least be curious enough to let him try? He could very well imagine kneeling before the man, running his hands over those long legs as he worked; feeling those hard muscle bundles and the short hair - soft, no doubt, as Klaus wasn't the type to shave more than his face. Very nice ...
And then, of course, for Dorian to have them wrapped hard around his back as Klaus held him in place while Dorian frantically—
"Hello? Dorian? Are you sleeping with your eyes open now? It's half time. The players are gone. No more ogling for you. What are you staring at?"
Dorian blinked. Had he really been that deep in thought? Why, it appeared so. "Sorry, I was thinking about something else."
"You bored? Want us to leave?"
"No, no! Not at all! Don't mind me. Look, I brought coffee and sandwiches, I have them right here."
The evening was not cold enough to warrant the blanket. Darn it, as Dorian had kind of looked forward to sharing one with Klaus. As it was he had to make do with Klaus's body heat as Dorian had shifted close enough in his chair to feel him. And warm coffee felt very good, even if he normally preferred tea.
It amused him that Klaus, while very sceptical about the Walkers, after having gingerly tried one, then ate an entire little bag. He even hesitated when Dorian offered him a second one, as if he had really wanted to take that one as well.
Dorian pointed to two fallen players, struggling to get untangled. "You know, you can actually have sex in that position."
Klaus's eyes widened. "You ... can?"
"Oh yes. But I wouldn't recommend it. It's dreadfully uncomfortable."
Unexpectedly, his seat mate stood, screaming, "He was offside! Are the judges all blind or are some of them just drunk? He couldn't be more offside if he had bunny jumped over the line and waved his hands at the line judges!"
Then he sat back heavily, snorting his displeasure at the incompetence witnessed on the field. They sat in silence for a few seconds.
"I thought you didn't know anything about football?"
Dorian looked questioningly at him, then bit his lower lip. His still winter-pale cheeks darkened ever so faintly. "I don't know why you would think so."
"Because you asked me if they played two or three halves. Because you asked me in the beginning 'Are they facing off now?'. And maybe because when that blond guy headed the ball into goal, you asked 'Isn't that a foul?'" Klaus didn't raise his voice, just used his pleasant 'Interrogation? Oh no, I'm merely asking. It's if you don't answer me that I will start interrogating you"-tone.
Dorian bowed his head in acknowledgement. When he looked up again his eyes shimmered in mirth, though his cheeks were still a bit flushed. "Oh, all right then. Of course I know a thing or two about football. I'm British! And I did go to an all-boys school. We often played. I'll have you know I was actually considered a rather promising forward. We beat several other schools. Seriously though, darli— ah, major, nowadays it's not my cup of tea. Bonham often watches it on the telly and I catch a few minutes here and there. I've never gone to a real game like this before, though, on that you have my word."
In the end England won 2-1, after a very interesting last five minutes. They were both in a fairly cheerful mood as they exited the stadium. Or almost, anyway. As the car approached central London and the din from the football stadium no longer rang in his ears, Klaus all but felt himself tense up.
He had tried his best during the day not to think about the night ahead. The conflict in his mind confused him and for once he wasn't sure what would be the best option. In all his life he had been taught that if you said 'A' you must always say 'B', to do otherwise would be cowardly or cheating. He considered himself neither a coward nor a cheater. Even if he might have been the one to suggest the football event, he hadn't protested when Dorian had turned what should have been mostly work into a date, complete with good food and things Klaus himself enjoyed far more than Dorian did. A day during which Dorian catered to his, Klaus's, likes. He had been fairly young when Herr Hinkel had first explained about such things like dates and nightcaps, but that didn't mean he hadn't understood how things were supposed to work. And when Klaus had asked him again, just little over a week ago, Herr Hinkel had confirmed this.
That he and Dorian were both male was an unexpected complication, yes. A complication that basically meant that due to circumstances that more or less had snuck up on him, Klaus had found himself on the woman's side of things. Not where he wanted to be. Not due to disrespect for women, but because it limited his choices in the matter. Especially since he really wasn't a woman and since he wasn't one there could never be a marriage. Since there would never be a marriage he had no reason not to give Dorian what Dorian after such a date had every right to expect.
And even with Dorian being so obviously gay and fawning and everything, which would normally make Klaus think him the more feminine one, Dorian did want the sex. The man in a relationship was the one who was supposed to want sex. Klaus didn't, not really. Which, again, pushed him towards the woman's side of things. Women often didn't want sex, that he also knew. He had heard his fellow soldiers complain about women often enough during nights in the barracks, calling some of them frigid bitches. That particular f-word had always jarred him and made him want to defend the unnamed persons: to stand up and challenge the insulter. He was an excellent fighter and could surely make them regret ever having opened their mouths. In the end he hadn't, but he had felt ashamed for not doing so. And ashamed about his own shortcomings, which he hadn't wanted anyone to know about.
Dorian knew, though. Dorian hadn't spoken ill of him because of this. At least he couldn't imagine Dorian ever doing that. Dorian seemed ... patient and understanding. And ... part of Klaus actually did want to know what it was like to have sex. Actual, real sex with another person, not just jerking off with his own hands. It wasn't that he wanted it or even imagined that it would be mind blowing, but on the off chance that it might perhaps be better than he thought. Perhaps he would actually like doing it after all? It couldn't be totally awful, could it really? Not if millions of people did it every day? And after that if anyone dared to question his experience he could at least say he was no virgin. That would be a nice bonus. Besides, he was positive that there was nothing that Dorian could dish out that he would be unable to take.
He had still spent most of the day hoping for the beeper to go off. He had even checked it a few times during the game, just in case he wouldn't have heard it over the ruckus. If the beeper beeped, well ... then everything would be out of his hands and he would have to go. Alas, no such luck. And now it was likely too late for such an interference. Whatever mission was going on probably wouldn't need him this late in the day, leastwise he didn't think so. If it had been a night mission, Fatso surely would have told him.
"Here we are, then," Dorian said out of the blue.
Klaus looked around and swore silently to himself. He was slipping, like some amateur not paying attention to his surroundings! That was dangerous. Things like that got an agent killed. Dorian was all good and well: a trusted, known part, but he was not a trained agent. To leave their security to him was an unforgivable lapse on Klaus's part. He looked out the window and stared morosely up at the towering Ritz. It was lit, in a strangely vibrant way.
He tossed around in his mind around for something to say, but found himself drawing a blank.
"So, about checking that rifle of ... mine, when do you think we could slot that in?" Dorian asked amiably.
Can't we bloody well go through one of these things at a time? "I don't know."
"Next month, perhaps? Would that work for you?"
"I don't know." He didn't want to commit to anything. Not yet. Afterwards ... After tonight, then perhaps he knew how he felt about things. Though he had promised to check the gun, hadn't he? He should have kept his mouth shut. But ... No, it was just too much to think about right now. Afterwards. Afterwards he would think about it.
"I see. How about if I give you a call a week or two from now and perhaps then you will have a better idea of your schedule?"
"I don't— Yes. Do that." Why was Dorian nagging about it anyway? Why couldn't they talk about that in the morning? "We're blocking the road. Aren't you going to park?"
"So we can get in and have a drink." He wanted a drink, damn it.
"Oh. I didn't realise you wanted me to go in with you. Hang on then, I'll get the Benz parked."
Stunned, Klaus realised that he had just made a monumental mistake.
Stupid! I'm stupid! A stupid, bloody idiot!
Klaus has liked the day! He must have! Else he never would have invited me up for a drink! Capital! Dorian counted the day as a roaring success. Actually, he had even kind of liked the football game, with England victorious and everything. Certainly not something he wanted to do every other week, but once in a great while he would be willing to accompany Klaus, no question about it. Perhaps eventually Klaus would let him hold his hand as they sat. Would leaning his head against Klaus's shoulder be too much to ask for? Yes, probably, when they were out in public. Inconvenient that. Oh well.
He stood back as Klaus - who had been silent all the way into the hotel and up the lift - opened the door and let them both in.
Careful now, Dorian! You must behave! Be a proper gentleman, just like Nanny Mary always taught you to be. This is a very important day and if you ruin it you will never forgive yourself!
It was difficult, though. There was the sofa, looking so very inviting. He should sit down in the left corner, furthest away from the chair. That way Klaus would also have to sit in the sofa, as not to look silly sitting so far away. As they talked Dorian would gradually slip closer, little by litte, until they once more sat close together ... He would sit almost sideways, so his arm would already be on the headrest. From there it would be so simple, so very simple, to bend forward. Their lips would meet and—
"I only have schnapps. If you want something else you'll have to get room service, if they deliver."
Dorian blinked. " Schnapps will do fine." He forced himself over to the chair and sat down, pulling his legs up so he could lean against the armrest closest to the sofa. The chair was far from being as comfortable as his own back home, but he doubted he would be staying very long - he didn't want to trust himself in holding back his baser instincts for too long and risk turning the blessed day into a total disaster.
After a grunt and little looking around - Klaus must be oblivious to the very nice view he once more presented crouching by the refrigerator - two glasses filled with honey-coloured brew as well as a tall, slender bottle was brought to the table. Klaus handed Dorian a glass and then sat on the part of the sofa closest to him and immediately lifted the second glass to take a swig.
Seeing that Klaus appeared to be deep in thoughts, Dorian lifted his own glass and took a small sip. The alcohol burned nicely on his lips and tongue before trailing down his throat. He knew well that he had a tendency to get tipsy easily, so while he kept hold of the glass he didn't continue to drink. Instead he took time to study his date for the evening (and for life, if he had any say about it). Klaus held his own glass in both hands, as if warming them with it - but that couldn't be the case, since the glass must be as cold as Dorian's own. He had already gone through half of the contents and didn't seem ready to stop just yet. Something about this bothered Dorian. Klaus was uneasy, he could feel that, but he wasn't sure what exactly it was that had caused the sudden change in mood. It had started not long after they had left the stadium, but it had become noticeably worse after getting out of the car or sometime thereabout.
He cast about for something to break the newly set ice with. "I met Willy this morning. Poor dear, Lizzie told me just the other day that he was dreadfully upset. Both about his mother and his little friend, of course."
"My nephew. Lord Wilhem Josiah Disken, we call him Willy. He seemed much better today, but still more silent than usual."
"Betrayal always hurts." Green eyes still studied the glass in Klaus's long-fingered hands, as if he wondered where it had come from.
"They - Willy and Lizzie - came by just as I was leaving for Heathrow. Lizzie wanted to talk things over. Hadn't called first. I promised to get back to them tomorrow. Couldn't keep you waiting now, could I?"
"Family is important."
"Of course." Dorian lapsed into silence, wondering if that would work better. Obviously Klaus was only listening with one ear, providing barely fitting answers.
Finally Klaus reached for the bottle again, filling up his glass. To empty it had been short work. As he leaned back in the chair again, he seemed to hold his breath for a moment, before saying clearly, "I had a good day."
"Good," Dorian allowed and, since Klaus still wasn't looking at him, toasted himself with another sip. Here's to many more good days to come. Maybe even some nights, if I'm really lucky.
Klaus was now sloshing his schnapps around in the glass as he stared at it. Then he looked over to Dorian, barely meeting his eyes before looking back at his hands. "My father had three brothers. Heinz - named after Great-uncle Heinz as I am - died when he was four. Uncle Johann lives in Cologne, he has a son and a daughter, three grandchildren. Uncle Eric lives in Stockholm, in Sweden. He is not married."
Not sure why he was told the family circumstances, Dorian said, mostly to keep the conversation flowing, "No sisters?"
"Nein. I ... When I was here before, when you had just got out, I spoke to Father. He thought I might be courting your sister."
Dorian shuddered and quickly took a new sip. What a disaster that would have been! He said nothing, though, just waited for Klaus to continue.
"Uncle Eric is, apparently, a homosexual."
That did catch Dorian's attention, as it was unexpected. "Oh?"
"I never knew. It must have been what Father meant, though. Father said, he said that 'There was a time when I began to think you were like Uncle Eric.'"
"Oh. Did he ... Ah ... Did he sound— How did he sound?" That was an important part - he knew that Klaus's father had a great influence over his son.
"I don't know. He sounded pleased I might be interested in your sister. I just don't know."
"How does he act around your Uncle Eric?"
That got him a turned head, as Klaus looked at him for a second or two before turning back. For some reason Klaus didn't seem to want to have this conversation face to face, which made it difficult for Dorian to judge his thoughts. "I have met Uncle Eric less than ten times, I think," he said, sounding thoughtful. "Sometimes he would fly down for Christmas, but rarely. Father didn't seem to avoid him or try to discourage him from coming. He rarely even mentioned anything about him until now. He rarely mentions Uncle Johann either, though."
"Maybe you could bring it up with him based on what he told you? Ask him about it? See what he says?"
Wide shoulders shrugged lightly. "Maybe."
Which Dorian actually interpreted as "Not a chance in hell!" but what else could he suggest when he wasn't even sure where Klaus was going with this? He took another sip, surprised to see that his glass now contained only enough for one last swig.
Klaus drained the last of his second glass. It still wasn't enough to get him drunk, but he felt warm inside and perhaps a little calmer when thinking about ... things. He was also starting to get slightly annoyed with Dorian just ... sitting there. Shouldn't he be making a move? Doing something? Trying to kiss him? Anything?
Instead Dorian just sat there, seemingly content with sipping his schnapps and talking.
Come on, damn you! Let's get this over with!
He put the glass down.
He can't honestly be waiting for me to do something, is he? Damn him, he knows I'm not good at this!
Well, time to get the show on the road.
"I will have to meet the Alphabet at 9:30 at Paddington."
So how about if we get started? So I can get some sleep before then? He had decided to follow through on things, so if Dorian could now just get on with the program before he had time to change his mind again, that would be good.
Dorian blinked at him. "Oh. Yes. Of course. I see. I ... Yes, of course." Then he started to get up, eyes intent on Klaus.
Finally he's doing something!
Dorian wasn't sure if he would dare. Or rather - of course he dared, he just wasn't sure if he ought to. But ... The day had been so good! Perfect, almost. And there was just one, tiny, itsy bitsy thing that would make it utterly, perfectly perfect. Either that, or ruin it entirely. So, do or don't? Fight or flee? Man or mouse?
Standing before the table he looked down at Klaus - who looked up at him with an unreadable gleam in his green eyes. He seemed to be waiting for something. On the plus side, his melancholic mood seemed to have eased.
And you did say you had a good day. I have behaved. Surely you won't begrudge me this? Oh, by Saint Dismas, Jean-Paul always says I was born under a lucky star. Let's see if he was right.
So he walked up to the sofa and, putting a knee on the slightly giving surface, leaned in. Klaus didn't move from his position, which he would most definitely have done if he hadn't accepted Dorian's advance. The movement likely would have been a fist to Dorian's very vulnerable belly - or an uppercut to his chin. Alas, Klaus sat still, staring at him, looking almost frozen with tension, but not from anything near resembling fright.
He leaned in further and to his delight Klaus bent his neck slightly backwards, to accommodate him. Feather light, their lips met. Klaus's were a hint dry and he moved them awkwardly to follow Dorian's ministrations, but he did move them and Dorian wanted to cry with the perfection of it.
It wasn't their first kiss. They had kissed before - Klaus had even kissed him voluntarily before. But it felt as if this was their first one: so sweet and gentle and loving. Simply perfect. He would remember it and treasure it always, no matter what.
When the time came that the kiss ended, he pulled back, still looking deeply into Klaus's eyes. "Thank you," he said softly. "I had a great day too."
Then he stood and swiftly adjusted his jacket.
"Good night, my dear. And about your mission - from Eroica with love: good luck!"
And so he left.
Klaus stared in disbelief at the retreating figure. However, he could neither move nor say a word to stop him. Not until the door had already closed and the thief was long since gone. Then he, frowning, moved his right hand up to touch his kissed lips.
"But ..." he said with a slightly plaintive tone to his voice, even if no one could hear him. "I ... I think I might have wanted you to stay."
The End. Continue in part 4
Chapter 4: Layers
Half-naked women! All around him! Pushing towards him: bellies, thighs, legs, arms and breasts!
Klaus pushed his way shoulder-first through the throng, but the herd of females screamed; howling their bloody lungs out - breasts bobbing nauseatingly! Stupid bints! Couldn't they see that his Magnum wasn't aimed towards them? Though on their way past many of them slapped him - some with surprising force. He almost stumbled when a particularly hard slap impacted with - for no apparent reason - his arse!
He kept pushing, shouting for the closest Alphabets to follow him. Now he saw the target, to the side and half-covered by more semi-naked women - how many of them were there?! But the cloud of scarcely dressed females he had worked to get past was dissipating. He raised his Magnum higher ...
... and mid-step felt his strength drain, as if all his muscles had simultaneously gone to sleep. He had already stretched his right leg to take a new step, but instead of catching his weight and carrying him further, the knee gave. The Magnum slipped from suddenly nerveless fingers and he couldn't even move his hands to catch himself as he was hurled towards the floor. Foppy, blue-veined marble rushed up to meet him, but before the impact he experienced a fleeting darkness. Then the world vanished.
"It's all that Kraut's fault!"
Lady Elizabeth Red patted her sister's hand. They sat kitty-corner at a small white table, as close as circumstances allowed. Elizabeth felt quite out of her depths. This was her first visit to Margareth since the incarceration and she had never before been forced to enter such a cold, white and brutally serious place. On television she had seen absolute horrors in similar situations, though, so things might have been drearier. Strings had been pulled, allowing her to meet Margareth in a private room. Under supervision of a guard who had already threatened to end the meeting just because she had hugged her sister longer than the man apparently deemed suitable. He hovered by the wall, rudely staring at them. He clearly could hear each spoken word. Even so, Elizabeth made a point of keeping her voice down. Her sister, however, opted not to.
"I tell you, that man is behind this, this ... ghastly misunderstanding!"
Elizabeth took her sister's right hand between her two - the maximum contact allowed, she had been told prior - and clucked in distress.
Margareth waved her other hand expansively. "It's dreadful here!" she said.
"Oh, I understand fully! It's so awful! Such an awful, awful situation! My dear, dear sister! How could all this happen? What do you mean, a misunderstanding?"
"No, it's more than a mere, tragic misunderstanding, it's a conspiracy! I've been conspired against! Oh, Lizzie, I need your help!"
"Anything! Family always comes first and I'm here for you, Maggie! Do tell me everything. How do you mean you've been conspired against? Who is this German you speak of?"
Margareth heaved a great sigh. Then she lifted her free hand to wipe off a set of large tears slipping down her cheeks.
"A horrible man. Quite a lout - a hoodlum! He approached me in my own home, asking the strangest questions! About Willy and Willy's little friend and about Dorian. He claimed to be some sort of friend of Dorian's."
"Oh, a ... friend-friend or ...?" Elizabeth flipped a limp wrist. Their brother's little peculiarities had always made her somewhat uncomfortable, but while she found them inconvenient and slightly sordid she mostly just tried to avoid any confrontation.
"Well, I can't be certain, but the man all but leered when he spoke about Dorian. It was quite unseemly. And then, oh, I almost can't speak about it! The lout propositioned me!"
Lizzie gasped and lifted a hand to her mouth. "What?"
"I was completely shocked! I almost fainted! That hoodlum! Well, I certainly don't want to talk about it! He must have thought I was desperate for male company after my dear Count Disken's death. No, I absolutely will not talk about it! I simply can't! That man was saying all sort of indecent things ... and he tried to touch me! I would have screamed to wake up the neighbourhood, see if I wouldn't have! I can hardly bring myself to think about how his large hands reached for my bosom, so please don't ask me to tell you! I informed him in no uncertain terms that I was not interested in any sort of dalliance, yet the man would not desist!"
"Oh, Maggie! How dreadful! Are you telling me that the man assaulted you?!"
"No, no, sweet Lizzie. As I said, my lips refuse to utter a single word about the dreadful incident, but I managed to dissuade him and send him packing! Don't you worry, I've dealt with more than one lecher in my days and while the memory still makes me absolutely mute with horror, his rough hands are now but a bad memory. Though I am certain that is why he is doing this! He was furious at my rejection of his advances. Now he is doing all this just to get back at me!"
"The man must be insane! But I have heard that some men will go to any length to get back at a woman who has spurned them! Oh, Maggie! Have you told the investigating officers?"
"Of course I have! Over and over again! Yet they will not listen to me! You see, this man is in the military, some part of NATO apparently, and with some connection in German high society. Through blackmail, I don't doubt. Besides, you know how men are when it comes to these sort of things - always backing each other up, never listening to a poor, innocent female. Oh Lizzie, you must help me, you simply must!"
Elizabeth nodded with great determination. "Of course I will! But you must tell me every detail."
"It will tear at my very soul to have to relive that horror. But I shall! Oh, but before I forget - how is Willy?"
For the first time since entering the dreary building, Elizabeth smiled. A spinster, she had no children of her own and thoroughly enjoyed having the tyke around. "He misses you something terrible, naturally. And he is still rather confused about the whole mess. But all in all I think he is bouncing back fairly well. Perhaps I could bring him here later to see you, though I'm not sure this is a good environment for a little boy. I left him with Dorian today, I think he had a full schedule planned to entertain him."
Margareth's eyes narrowed. "Lizzie, I'm not sure that's such a good idea. Lord knows what kind of ideas Dorian will put in the boy's head! Dorian has much too many fancies. Besides, that hoodlum German did approach me insinuating that he was one of Dorian's friends, in whatever sense that might mean and whether it is true or not. What if that dreadful Major von dem Eberbach tries approach Willy at Dorian's place?"
Elizabeth gasped again. "I must warn Dorian as soon as I see him!"
The darkness surrounding him brightened minutely, turning from midwinter night black to slate grey smudge, tinged with red. Red ...
"--Yard and Interpol. Major? Major? Can you hear me? What do you want us to do? Major?"
Most words swished through his ears, making no impact. He vaguely recognized the voice as coming from someone reasonably trustworthy and that its owner wanted something important, but that was all.
"Major? Are you in pain? Major? Can you hear me? What do you want us to do?"
The grey blended further into red. Red ... With a supreme effort he worked his jaws, forced his tongue to move and his lips to form words.
"Take me to ... House Gloria."
Dorian's leg muscles felt pleasantly sore and he was just a hint tired. Not to wonder. He had been up and about since the ungodly hour of nine. Since then he and his nephew had managed to squeeze into a tour consisting of most of central London. Though they had paused regularly - ice cream at Leicester Square, lunch in Knightsbridge, cake at Harrods, dinner at F & M - his feet now reminded him gently that he wasn't used to walking for quite that long at a time. The day had been very nice, though, a grand success.
"There. Home, sweet home," he said as he manoeuvred the Lamborghini through the House Gloria gate and up the short driveway. "Ready to play the safe game, Willy?"
They had been to Madame Tussaud's, Hamleys, pony riding, Harrods, a matinée at the Leicester Square Theatre, a small section of the British Museum as well as numerous smaller shops. Dorian hadn't been quite sure of exactly what would go down well with his nephew, since he met the boy so seldom. To his delight each suggestion had been greeted with enthusiasm, though the British Museum had been voted on as needed to be taken in parts - a wise decision.
"William!" said William. "I don't want to be called Willy! It's a stupid name that means stupid things! Call me William. Or Bill! Like Billy the Kid!"
Dorian very carefully did not smile. "As you wish, William, my dear boy. Out you go now, here comes Rudy to park the car for us. Or do you want to go through the garage again and look at the other cars?"
The trip had been a success. Not to mention that at no less than three times had they been mistaken for father and son! Twice by total strangers: a waiter asking "If you and your son would step this way, please," - and an older woman who found William utterly adorable. She commented on how Dorian must have looked just like "yer wee laddie" at the same age - which he had - and had then pinched William's cheek and told him to grow up just like "Yer daddy, then, laddie, there are far too few beautiful men in this world o' ours." Dorian understood the strangers. Willy - ah, William - was a chip off the old block. The Red genes ran strong, not bothered by various attempts at diverging the line, and the resemblance was every bit as great as if the boy had sprung from Dorian's own loins. The third person, however, had been the owner of the restaurant Dorian had suggested for lunch. Mr. Meschais had looked so baffled at the possibility of Dorian having a son that Dorian hadn't been able to stop smiling for several minutes.
The suggestion to visit the garage again was rejected. So Dorian handed Rudy the wheel and followed the still very energetic William inside. The boy had only visited a handful of times over the years - something Dorian hoped now would be remedied, as Lizzie seemed much more at ease with the prospect than Margareth. Still, the boy apparently had the layout of the house clear in mind and marched unerringly straight up to the small, yellow library. On their way they met Jeremiah, so Dorian ordered refreshments.
William had rushed ahead and now waited for him, bouncing a little on his heels in anticipation. Just as he opened the door Dorian heard the crescendo of Beethoven's third, courtesy of the house phone.
"Do sit, William," he said, motioning towards the table. "Lemonade and biscuits are on their way. If we are really lucky Johan will have made his world famous flarn biscuits of Delight."
Actually, he knew perfectly well that Johan had done so and had anticipated this treat for most of the day.
"Yummie!" William declared, already climbing onto the pale yellow canapé - genuine 18th century France, of course, and very recently stolen from House Santern, to replace a settee which had gone "missing" when Major von dem Eberbach had temporarily lost hold of his sanity and given James free rein to bring in money. "They're the best!"
Dorian joined his nephew, leaving the door slightly ajar. "I couldn't agree with you more, my boy." The flarns really were the best. And they contained everything bad for you - butter, sugar, cream and treacle just for starters, with generous amounts of each. Not to mention that they were quite addictive. Luckily, Johan only made them on special occasions or Dorian knew all too well that his current waist measurement would be a long lost cause.
Footsteps approached. John-Paul entered, " Phone for you, Milord. Urgent."
"Right-o. Willy, my boy--"
"Of course, how dreadfully silly of me. William, my boy. I have to see what it's about. I'll return in just a mo', though. Save me a flarn, there's a good boy."
"Maybe, uncle." William's eyes glittered. "But you'll have to be quick. If you're not back soon I'll eat them all!"
The lad's cheeky smile made Dorian chuckle. Still smiling he followed John-Paul through the corridor to the large yellow library, where the phone waited off the hook.
"Yes?" he said, hoping that the call wouldn't take long. "Gloria here."
"I've done my best to divert the locals. Hopefully they won't bother you."
"That's good," Dorian replied seriously, torn between wondering who this person was and not wanting to appear stupid by asking when the person clearly assumed Dorian recognized him. The accent sounded German and the voice faintly familiar, but he couldn't place either. He had never been good at matching voices to their owner.
"I thought you might want it this way. I can't speak, Mildred just signalled. It would be nice to have an occasional update. I must stop, they're here now. Auf Wiederhören, Herr Roth-Ruhm!" Then the call disconnected.
Dorian blinked. Then he turned to John-Paul. "Did he introduce himself when you answered?"
"No. Sorry, Milord. Trouble?"
"Perhaps. Alert everyone. Now that I think about it - he mentioned a Mildred and had a German accent. Spoke a few German words, even. It might have been Fatso, I mean - Major von dem Eberbach's boss. Yes, it sounded somewhat like him. I must return to Willy, ah, I mean William. Have Bonham investigate the matter. Prepare an evacuation, but I don't want to drag William away from here unless forced, so we'll stay put for now. Besides, Fatso - if it was him, but I tend to think it was - said that hopefully we won't be bothered. Strange, though. Inform me the minute you find anything out."
"Yes, Milord. Count on us."
Still concerned by the strange call, Dorian returned to the small, yellow library. The boy sat by the table, kicking his legs, drinking lemonade and munching on a flarn biscuit. A silver dish had appeared before him, with a crystal jug half-full with hazy, pale yellow liquid. By the chair opposite to William stood an empty glass and, on a bright red napkin with "Gloria" embroidered in gold, lay a single flarn. The remaining biscuits were stacked high on a matching napkin by William's glass. A hand hovered protectively near the goodies, in case Dorian would attempt to snatch some.
"I see," Dorian said. "You did save me one flarn."
William nodded. He was grinning so widely that he had to hastily bring up a hand to his mouth to prevent himself from dribbling biscuit crumbs.
Pretending not to notice, Dorian sat down and filled his glass from the jug. Then he took his one flarn - a rather large flarn, he noted, easiest the largest not yet consumed - and nibbled regally. The intensely sweet taste, with just a hint of tartness, hit his taste buds with full force as he let the first crumble melt on his tongue to properly savour the flavour. Should he no longer be able to support them by pulling off heists, the gang could start the Eroica Bakery and sell Johan's flarns. They would be rich in no time flat. He was constantly surprised that James hadn't insisted already.
"So," he said once the first nibble had been properly savoured. "Ready to play?"
William's cornflower-hued eyes widened. He nodded rapidly, only barely avoiding to spill lemonade from the big glass he had just lifted. The unoccupied hand's fingers drummed hard on the table cloth, apparently to show eagerness. Then William visibly swallowed his current mouthful. "Yes! Let's!"
Dorian took another nibble, then stood and went over to the opposite side of the room. By the hearth stood a small foldable table, with the high, rectangular-shaped content covered by vibrantly red Kanchi silk. He pinched the fine material at the very top and then, after having turned back to face his attentive audience of one, swept it off.
"Brilliant!" William abandoned both lemonade and biscuits to join his uncle. "What is that?"
"This, my dear William, is a Faransaati 22, one of the very oldest Faransaati models. Remember, we looked at 498 the last time you visited?" Which, in Dorian's not at all humble opinion, had been much too long ago.
William nodded repeatedly. "This is much smaller and it's not as ... tight? As the other one. And the name isn't engraved, it's in ... ri-li-e-vo."
"Well spotted, my boy. Yes, the modern ones are water proof and they do tend to be much larger, though the factory manufactures smaller versions as well. Popular for private homes and with gun owners. They use a different technology now, sadly enough. This one is still with real cog wheels. A joy to work with. We'll look closer at the lock later, it's a piece of art all by itself. Now, what is the rule about safes?"
William's eyes narrowed as he obviously worked hard to remember. "If there's something in it and ... if you open it and ... if no one ... what was it?"
"Sees you, yes! If no one sees you and if no one can catch you! Then you get what's inside and it's yours forever and ever."
Dorian smiled melancholically. Oh, the innocence of youth! You only get to keep it until James sells it.
"Exactly! Very good, my boy! And I happen to know that there's something very nice inside this particular safe that I'm sure you would like, William." The Faransaati actually contained a Royal Worcester Welsh Mountain Pony statuette, custom glazed to a portrait of William's favourite pony. "My dear, dear, boy, do come closer so that I can show you how to work the locking mechanism."
John-Paul was on his way from the kitchen to the meeting room. He carried a tray with cheese- and ham-sandwiches, an Eroica tea pot and four sets of Eroica tea cups. Bonham, Jimmy and Justin were already in the room, busy trying to find out what the strange call had been all about. So far they had made no progress, which was getting frustrating. They had jointly decided that it was time for tea.
As he passed the front door he saw Jones sitting on the look-out on a wide windowsill. With a smile he detoured to drop a kiss on the man's head and get a pat on the butt in return. He had only taken three steps more when Jones called his name with some urgency.
"Incoming! Get up and tell his lordship. Sister two is on her way and she looks upset."
John-Paul paused only to place his tray on a nearby table. Then he rushed up the stairs. He knocked, but didn't bother to wait for clearance before opening the door. This earned him a very annoyed look from his employer, but he knew this might be important. "Your sister is on her way in a hurry," he explained. He didn't specify which one, as sister three hardly ever left her suburban apartment.
"Auntie!" said the boy next in line for the Gloria title.
The current title holder's eyes widened, then he turned to his heir apparent. "An excellent time to rehearse the next part," he said with a confident voice. "It's the police! They've discovered us. We must act swiftly. What do we do?"
After having blinked a few times, the youngster nodded determinedly. "We hide the evidence!" he said.
"And how do we do that?"
John-Paul watched with interest how the boy frowned and then looked around, obviously deep in thought. Then William nodded once more. "You," he said, pointing a small, pink finger imperiously at John-Paul. "Stand in front of the safe. Uncle, back to the table. You can have another flarn from my pile. I'll read to you."
Trying to look as wide as possible, John-Paul obeyed. Dorian sat down and took the offered treat. Meanwhile, the youngest Red family member rummaged in his backpack and finally unearthed a thin book with pigs on the cover.
"So – proud and boarish,' the pink boar said," read the youngest Gloria, "nonchalantly turning over the muddy ground with his snout, nibbling a root or a beetle here and there. 'So – strong.'"
Dorian listened with interest. Had the authoress really intended for the story to have such obvious homoerotic subtext? He assumed an elegant, leaned-back pose, glass with lemonade in one hand and flarn biscuit in the other. When the knock came he nodded gravely towards his nephew.
"Come in," he called. Elizabeth entered, ushered in by Jones. She wore a blue Dior dress, which Dorian didn't think suited her, though he knew better than to comment. "Oh, Lizzie! What an unexpected, yet most pleasant surprise! I didn't think you would join us for another hour at the very least. Lemonade? Though I fear that our young William has monopoly on the flarns, so you will have to negotiate if you feel peckish."
"Hello, Aunt Elizabeth! We've been to the British Museum and Madame Tussaud and I rode a fat, black pony with white feet and I petted a red pig. I had lots of fun!"
"That's good, Willy."
"William, Aunt Elizabeth! My name is William! It's just my mother who calls me Willy! I don't want to be called Willy any more."
"You should respect your mother's wishes, William. Now I need to talk to your uncle Dorian. Ah, Dorian ...?" She waved vaguely. Her red gold bracelet with triple rows of mixed diamonds and agates glittered fetchingly. Not the highest quality, Dorian noted, but sweet.
"Of course, Lizzie. Jones, why don't you take William to the white gallery? Show him the new paintings. William, my dear boy, I do think you will like them a lot."
The young boy frowned. "But, Uncle Dorian, we were--"
"William! Be a good boy now and go with Jones. He will explain the paintings," Dorian lifted his eyes to the slightly worried-looking gang member, "and everything else. I shall see you later. And next week we can go to the London Zoo, would you like that? Perhaps they keep both pretty, pink pigs and brave, wild boars."
"Yes, uncle Dorian," said the young man, though he pouted noticeably. He voiced no further protests, however, just followed Jones out.
John-Paul remained by the safe. His smile had started to look somewhat fixed.
"Come, sister, let us go to the next room," Dorian said smoothly and held up the door to let her precede him.
"So, what is on your mind, dear sister?" She looked very stern, so he could only guess that whatever she wanted was serious.
"I spoke to Maggie today."
"Ah. Yes, I suspected that was why you left William with me. Though I do hope you will let him visit more often. Perhaps we can set a specific day each week? Wednesdays? That would give you time to shop and whatever you like without a young boy following you around."
"I do have servants to help taking care of him, so that really isn't necessary, Dorian. Though I do thank you for offering."
Warning bells began to toll. Dorian had had a most enjoyable day with his nephew. He saw no reason why they couldn't have such nice days every week. "The boy's my nephew too," he said mildly. "I assure you, he is no bother. I enjoy having him here."
"That is good, Dorian, but ... Ah ..."
"Maggie disapproves?" Margareth had always been the sister who had the most problems with his lifestyle. If she tried to prevent him from seeing William, Dorian would be quite vexed. In fact, the very notion angered him. Margareth had given him enough trouble lately, and that was putting things mildly. Since she was already incarcerated he hadn't felt the need to be too vindictive. That didn't mean he was willing to put up with just anything.
"Not exactly, dear brother. She ... did voice some concern, but not primarily aimed towards you." Her hesitant tone told Dorian that she, too, had at first assumed the same as he.
"So," he said with a curt nod. "What, pray tell, are these concerns of hers? Perhaps I will be able to put her mind at ease."
Or, at least, Elizabeth's mind, as she was William's current caretaker, pending the outcome of their sister's trial. But had Elizabeth felt that Margareth's concerns were complete nonsense she would have dismissed them out of hand. If Margareth was the sister who resembled Dorian the most in looks, Elizabeth was the most open-minded and Victoria the most intelligent.
"Sister Maggie told me the most disquieting thing about her current situation and what might have caused it. I really do feel that--"
Knock, knock, knock!
"We are busy," Dorian called out.
Knock, knock, knock, knock, knock!
"Not now!" Really, that was most impolite of whoever knocked. Then he recalled that they had some sort of situation going on, with the mysterious phonecall. He turned back to Elizabeth. "Dreadfully sorry, Lizzie, but perhaps I must--"
The door opened.
Most annoyed that someone would be so rude as to disregard his orders and intrude on his important talk with his sister, Dorian got to his feet. Then Justin backed in, throwing worried glances at Dorian over his shoulder. "I couldn't stop them, Milord. I didn't think you'd want me to, but I couldn't, and--"
Dorian no longer heard the stuttered explanation. Justin was followed by agents A, Z, E and H. In their grip hung a limp Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach. Five more agents, G among them, followed. They all fixed Dorian with worried, expectant eyes.
"Herr A! What is going on? What happened to Klaus - I mean, to Major von dem Eberbach!? He has blood all over him!" He found himself reaching out towards the man in question and aborted the gesture, not wanting to risk hurting him.
"That's just a nose bleed. Nothing too serious, we hope. But he told us to take him to you." A's eyes darted between Dorian and his sister. "He must be hidden. Us too."
His sister! Who did her own share of eye darting, precisely lip-sticked mouth half-open. Damage-control time. Only, by the frantic look on the agents - not to mention that Klaus was unconscious! - there was just no time.
"Lizzie!" Dorian said and took hold of her arms, looking deep into her eyes. "Listen to me. I must deal with it. I'm not sure what has happened, but trust me, this is important. Give me your family word of honour that you will tell no one of what you have seen. Take William and go home. I will call you as soon as I can and explain everything, I promise! Now - family word of honour!"
She blinked, obviously not happy with his demand.
"I don't like this! But yes, naturally. Family word of honour. But you must explain everything to me later, Dorian!"
"Yes, yes, please just go now!"
Dorian already ushered the agents out the room and towards the second master bedroom. He didn't even see his sister leave. "Herr A - what happened? Tell me everything! Why do we need to hide him? Who is after you? How is he? What happened? Is he very hurt?"
"It's a long story, Milord. I'll tell you everything, but he needs to be put to bed first."
"Yes, yes, of course, Herr A. Right this way."
On his way out after his previous visit Klaus had left the key to his room in the lock. Dorian had added the key to his personal keychain, so now he didn't even have to pick the lock to get in. Then he guided the agents over to the bed, where they carefully put down their superior. For a few moments Dorian watched anxiously as G took the still man's pulse. Then he turned to Klaus's second in command.
"Now, Herr A, I won't wait another moment! Tell me everything."
Herr Hinkel oversaw the unpacking of a huge box previously stored in the attic, when Herr Muhlen, one of the gardeners, alerted him to the Graf's Mercedes approaching the Schloss. On hearing the news Herr Hinkel instructed Fräulein Karger to prepare the master bedroom. Graf von dem Eberbach seldom visited, so his bedroom wasn't swept daily, though it wouldn't take the maid long to have the room ready. Then he sent Herr Muhlen on to the kitchen, to inform Herr Gottschalk that an Eberbach would be in residence. Since it was only mid-afternoon there would be plenty of time for the chef to prepare an excellent meal to be ready at the traditional dining hour. Those details dealt with, Herr Hinkel opened the front door just in time to let in the master of the house.
"Sir," he acknowledged with a bow. "Welcome home!"
"Thank you," the elder von dem Eberbach answered. He let Herr Hinkel divest him of his coat. Herr Hinkel, in turn, handed the clothing over to one of the maids for it to be hung. "I will go to the library. Herr Hinkel, please accompany me. We have an important topic to discuss."
Feeling slightly apprehensive, Conrad followed his employer through the Schloss. His apprehension grew when the Graf told him to pour Kirschwasser for them both. Over the years they had shared several of those glasses. In celebration, such as their Klaus getting excellent grades or being accepted to NATO service and rapidly promoted. Sadly, they had also done the same in more difficult times. Her Ladyship dying. Klaus getting temporarily expelled for smoking and starting fights. Klaus going MIA - more than once ... Or less monumental occasions, such as simply needing to unburden feelings of guilt and hopelessness. Herr Hinkel simply had no idea what had prompted the current request. He poured the Schnapps, filling the small glasses generously. Then he, gingerly, sat down opposite his employer.
There he sat, in silence, smelling the unmistakable, sweetish aroma of cherry from the Schnapps.
"I have heard worrying things," said the Graf.
So. Bad news - or at least worrying ones. "About our Klaus?" Normally Conrad would have said "the young master" or "Young master Klaus", but on these special occasions, between him and Heinz, they always just referred to him as "their Klaus".
Heinz von dem Eberbach nodded. "I'm not sure what is going on," he stated seriously and then paused to sip from his Schnapps. "But I think our boy has managed to get himself mixed up with a questionable female."
Herr Hinkel sighed deeply. "I knew it was too good to be true."
"The boy was asking me for some advice regarding how to, well, court a woman." That hadn't exactly been what his young master had asked about, but Conrad hardly thought it proper to inform the father of the young man in question that his son by all accounts contemplated taking up a physical relationship with some woman.
Heinz shook his head. "Then he really is serious about her!"
"But surely this is a good thing? He does appear to be something of a ... late bloomer, if you do excuse me for saying so."
For a second Conrad allowed himself to visit the most cherished of all his daydreams. Grandmasters!
Heinz nodded again. "That is true. Between you and me, Conrad, there have been times when I've wondered if our boy wasn't like, well, you know ... my brother Eric."
Conrad also nodded. He, too, had considered the very same thing, though he had never seen it as his place to bring up something that potentially sensitive. Besides, he had more than once noted the handsome, blond Brit who sniffed around his young master - and Klaus hadn't seemed particularly interested in him either. "Your younger brother is a good man who visits much too seldom," he said instead. He liked Eric far better than Johann, whom he found quite a lout.
"Well, yes, but never mind that now. Recently I was approached by a woman who seemed very interested in our boy. She asked many questions, but it soon dawned on me, Conrad, that she wasn't as interested in the boy himself as in his, well, financial situation."
"Ah. A gold-digger."
"Exactly. She claimed to be a lady. That much appears to be true. I did a little investigating. Her husband lost most of their money gambling on the ponies, then shot himself. A scandal, of course, but it was hushed up. Klaus called me on my birthday. He had almost forgotten about it. The silly boy tried to make me think my present was just late, but he couldn't lie to his father to save his life. He didn't deny meeting this woman and I'm convinced that she is the one who made him forget his own father's birthday!"
Conrad was most displeased with this news. "She already has him in her thrall, then. I have feared this, given his lack of experience, that some woman would get her claws into him and turn his head entirely. Our boy can be so gullible at times."
Heinz swept the last of his Schnapps. "Exactly. Conrad, I came here today not sure what needed to be done. What you said makes it clear to me. This woman must be investigated in depth. If she has improper designs on our Klaus, she must be dealt with. I will travel to London to meet her face to face. I want you to accompany me. Our boy needs us!"
"This is most disquieting," said Victoria.
Elizabeth nodded. "I think so too, Sammy. They hauled the man into the room. He was unconscious. Drunk, probably! Blood all over his face! The men said that he had to be hidden! From what, one wonders? And Dorian didn't bat an eye! He just made me swear not to tell anyone what I had seen. Family word of honour! But you are family, of course, so you don't count. But I'm sure you see what this implies?"
She had already related the conversation with Margareth to Victoria, to bring the third sister up to date. Victoria, who lived in a modest apartment in Redbridge, paid little heed to the on-goings in the family - though she had, naturally, been informed of the past difficulties with Dorian being accused of that horrible crime, and Margareth's subsequent arrest.
"Of course I do," Victoria said, even as she tugged more yarn from the ball and continued the clatter of her needles. "This man, what was his name again?"
"von dem Eberbach. Of German descent. A NATO Intelligence major, according to Maggie. Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach."
"Quite a mouthful, that." Victoria nodded thoughtfully. "Handsome, she said?"
"Almost beautiful, though with a hint of cruelty in his eyes. And you know Dorian ..."
"All too well. Wave an object of beauty his way and he'll be on the trail like a yapping terrier. Yes, yes. Maggie feared that this man would try to contact William through Dorian?"
"Yes, Sammy, I think so."
"Hmm. Considering that he knew Dorian before he tried to chat up Maggie, it makes me wonder what he really is after. Maggie has little money left after her husband's gambling. If money is what that major wants - and what else would it be? - it would be far easier for him to get it from Dorian. Especially considering how those men of his you mentioned--"
"At least ten of them, Sammy! All dressed the same, like a band of thugs."
"They expected Dorian to take care of this major?"
"Yes, they just told him that he needed to hide them - and Dorian didn't even bat an eyelash, just told me to leave at once and not to tell a soul! Family word of honour, no less!"
"So you said. So they had reason to think Dorian would assist them. Does this major have a hold on him, possibly? Sister dear, describe the man to me again."
"Well, I didn't see much of him. He appeared lanky. Long, black hair hid most of his face: I only got a quick look. Dressed in a trenchcoat over a tuxedo. The others all wore trenchcoats."
"Ah. Turn on the telly, that's a dear."
Elizabeth blinked, but did her sister's bidding. She opened the chest of drawers that hid the small television. Then she turned on the apparatus, which slowly clucked to life. After a few seconds the image cleared to show a desert landscape and a man on horseback riding away from the camera.
"Check the Beeb," Victoria suggested.
Elizabeth switched channel. Again, the machine responded only slowly, flickering out entirely before clearing anew, this time to a news reader. "--wishes to hear from anyone who can give out any information concerning roughly ten individuals, wearing trenchcoats, who were last seen leaving the Embassy. The main suspect is reported to be around 6 feet, with long, black hair, wearing a tuxedo. The public is--"
"You can turn it off now," Victoria said quietly. She had continued her knitting all through the short segment. "I heard it forty minutes ago, on the radio. An assassination attempt. We can't be sure, of course, but the description sounds similar to the man described by Maggie and yourself, don't you think?"
"But, Sammy! That would make the man a murderer! He tried to kill someone!"
Victoria finally put down her knitting. She looked towards her sister and nodded once. "A would-be-murderer, if nothing else. Currently hiding out in House Gloria, with Dorian's blessing and under his protection. I always said that Dorian's pursuit of beauty would be his undoing. It seems I was right. It is good that you got William out of there. We must keep him away from Dorian until we see how this ends."
Waking up with a severe headache is never a good sign. At least he found himself in a bed - and not a too soft one either. In fact the bedding felt much like his own back home. The air felt lighter somehow, less stuffed perhaps. With a hint of flowers? Abruptly Klaus remembered the combination and deemed it safe enough to open his eyes and look around.
Yes. "His" room at House Gloria. Especially tailored to him, apart from possibly the lavish decorations on the laughably pitiful barrier leading to the house's master bedroom.
And, in case he harboured any doubt, the current Earl of Gloria sat curled up in a large wicker chair by the bed; arms crossed over his chest, eyes closed and mouth partly open.
The room wasn't exceedingly bright, but the light level was still harsh enough to hurt his unexpectedly sensitive eyes. He felt slightly dizzy. What he really wanted was to sleep. Amazingly the pillow seemed an exact duplicate of his own and fitted his head perfectly. His eyelids began to slide down. He resolutely forced them back up.
"Hey, you?" he said. Something in his throat burned and his mouth tasted salty, as if he had a throat infection. "You? Hey? Gloria? Wake up! Hey!"
A shudder went through the long shape in the chair. Then Dorian blinked before finally focusing on him. A smile lit his face. At the sight something in Klaus's stomach turned. He began to cough violently. After a few seconds a weight settled beside him. When the attack had abated enough for him to look up again, Dorian sat there, offering Klaus a glass of water. Feeling exhausted, Klaus still managed to slurp up some liquid. The fresh water soothed his irritated throat. He accepted a few more gulps, then turned away.
"What happened?" he asked, his voice rough. He recalled a herd of half-naked women, but little else.
Dorian's smile widened. "Do you have amnesia, dear? Because if you do, we're actually a couple. We're madly in love and you worship the ground I walk on."
Klaus snorted, not deigning to acknowledge something so ludicrous with even a word.
"Yes, yes, I know," Dorian continued blithely. "But you can't blame a man for trying, can you? Seriously, major, how are you feeling?"
"Like I've been stampeded over. And like I got the flu as a bonus. Why am I here?"
"The Alphabet got you here. B hot-wired a car, I'm so proud of him! Our boy, all grown up! Then, well, I thought you'd prefer this room, since you've slept here before. You would be welcome in the bed in the next room too, but--"
"Nein, not here-here. Why did they bring me to your house in the first place? What happened? What went wrong?"
"You told the Alphabet to bring you here, dear. I was most flattered."
"I did not!" Klaus had no idea why he would have done such a stupid thing and found the notion highly suspicious.
Dorian merely kept smiling. "Well, I wasn't there, so I don't know for sure, but that is what Herr A told me. I don't know why he would lie. But you are a wanted man, my dear - perhaps they simply took you to the person they knew wanted you the most. What is the last thing you remember?"
"A gang of women milling about, that's all." Actually, what he remembered most was how their tits had bounced as they moved, barely concealed by scant slips of shiny cloth, but he saw not reason to share that detail with the fop, who wouldn't be interested anyway. "What do you mean 'wanted'?"
"By the Yard. And Interpol. For questioning only, officially, though I dare say that if you hadn't been with NATO they might have phrased themselves differently and simply called you a murder suspect."
"Murder!" Klaus began to sit up and realised that he wore pyjamas. "Who undressed me?" he asked suspiciously.
"A, B and C. I did provide them with that charming outfit, though I promise that I did not as much as peek. Yes, the Yard and the 'pol believe you were a very naughty boy, shooting at some higher up diplomat. He didn't die, though. Tsk, tsk, Klaus, that's not a nice thing to do. I thought we agreed that I was to be the one wanted by Interpol in the family?"
Klaus clutched his aching head and laid down again. "We're not a family," he grumbled.
"Figure of speech, darling."
"I didn't try to murder him." Of that he was sure. He might have wanted to, but he certainly hadn't. Recollection was slowly coming back to him.
A light hand patted his shoulder - he shrugged it off.
"I guessed as much. But what happened? Oh, don't give me that look, tell me or you know I'll find out regardless and get in your way. Do we need to smuggle you out of the country? I thought we could colour your hair fiery red. That should put most people off track."
Klaus snorted. "Is the Alphabet all here?"
"No. A few are held in custody and Herr B went out again to gather the ones that got separated from you in the melee. There's plenty of room for everyone here, though, until this clears up. And there's an excellent escape route, in case it becomes necessary. Oh, and your boss knows you're here."
Klaus felt one of his eyebrows rise. "I thought Fatso would have thrown me to the wolves in a situation such as this."
Dorian smiled, one of his oh so innocent smiles that made Klaus very much want to check his wallet. "Oh, I'm sure he knows that would annoy me greatly if he did. Now, darling, why don't you tell me some more of what happened?"
Dorian leaned forward to smack him, lightly, on the arm.
"It's me, the art thief who stole from the Pope's vault for you. I'm a NATO contractor, remember? Well, contract me then, if that makes you feel better. Shall I call for James to negotiate? Or he can just hide under your bed and I can kick him now and then."
Klaus weakly lifted a pillow and threw it in Dorian's direction.
"I'll take that as a no," Dorian said, catching the projectile with ease and handing it back. "Which is good, because James is elsewhere at the moment. Anyway, contract me and my men to provide backup and, well, whatever assistance necessary to solve this situation. In return I want ... Hmm ... Dinner for two at the Schloss and that would be you and me, my dear, not Herr P and Herr Q. Can you cook? Otherwise Herr Gottschalk could do it, I'm sure."
Klaus threw the pillow again. "Can I still push you out of a plane afterwards?"
"No, dear. Now tell me. Klaus, seriously - I need to know if I will be able to help you."
"We were at the reception at the Embassy. I had ten Alphabets in the main hall, spread evenly, especially guarding the four entry points. The big door led out; a servants' entrance to the rear; to the guest quarters to the right and then an entrance to a smaller room to the left, in which the diplomat guy kept his harem."
Dorian's eyes widened. "Forgive me, my dear, but ... harem?"
"Yeah." Tits. Bouncing tits and naked legs. Much, much too much skin. "I have eighteen men in England. Five are back in Bonn, holding fort; the rest are with the Prime Numbers Team in Switzerland, digging up leads. I had secured the surroundings as much as I was allowed. There had been metal detectors at the main entrance, but it still would have been easy enough to smuggle something in."
Dorian nodded. "Oh yes!"
"Well, you'd know. Anyway ..."
Why do they insist on these stupid events? Klaus thought, mentally shaking his head. He stood by the main entrance, with A to his right and M to his left, ready to do his bidding. It's a nuisance for everyone involved, the food is pitiful and I can't imagine anyone having a good time. Except possibly the people who own the catering business.
Maintaining his fixed smile he swept his eyes over the scene again. All agents were in place, good, good. Of course, they had scanned the room in detail prior to the event's start and he had instructed them individually on what he expected. If any one of them went astray he would have to kindly allow them time off to contemplate their mistake - in Alaska.
Another six men were on the outside, scanning all buildings with views of the hall windows. The latter were, naturally, covered from the inside to prevent a sharpshooter from seeing more than shadows. No, the real danger lay inside. Each guest had been specially invited, but that meant little in the end. The festivity was a diplomatic affair and the host didn't actually know everyone - not that even that would have improved matters much.
Klaus's warning sense buzzed faintly. Not at top volume yet, no, but like a continuous reminder - "Stay alert!" "Stay alert!" "Stay alert!" He fully expected something to happen. He always did, in these situations. Better safe than sorry and all that crap. He took a long step to the right, to keep the target in sight.
Truth be told, Klaus wouldn't mind terribly if the target did get himself shot. They had exchanged fixed smiles earlier, but both knew enough diplomacy not to disturb one another while working. Even if the wanker was an absolute and utter moron. Klaus had firmly instructed himself that to get the snot offed on his watch would stain his record. That was as good a reason as any not to be flippant about the situation.
The target moved again. Klaus took another step to the right. From the security aspect the mingling was the worst part of any event. People mindlessly running back and forth and little chance of keeping everyone under watch. The only viable option was to scan the area constantly and hope for a non-verbal cue from whatever assassin might have found his or her way into the crowd. A too long gaze towards the target. A tenseness to the shoulders. An unwillingness to move with the flow of the mingling. With some people you could simply tell that they carried, no matter how they tried to appear casual. The assassin, this Kal Henderson, was reputedly a professional, so likely he would not be as courteous.
Arabic music played: soft, yet insistent and full of cadences and bells; the rhythm almost hypnotic. A live band played on the other side of the servant's door. X and F were stationed with the musicians, to keep an eye on them. Here and there a near-naked woman danced provocatively. Belly-dancers! At an official reception! The nerve! But such was the target's idea of what was proper. That crass wanker. Klaus found the entire thing rather gross. Though he could at least write off the girls as potential assassins, since they had nowhere to hide weapons - unless they ripped off their scant clothing and used the straps as garrottes. Professionally he had to acknowledge that the women appeared in excellent shape - a pity they used those strong bodies for something indecent.
The women circled the room in their dance, weaving a pattern through the guests. Several men followed the parade with bug-eyed expressions. As did, Klaus noted with annoyance, M and Z. Both seemed slightly preoccupied when approached by some doe-eyed female with less clothes than jewellery. Klaus made a mental note to have a stern talk with both agents. M was a womanizer. While that could be an advantage on some occasions, M couldn't afford to get distracted. And as for Z, well ... The poor boy really was much too innocent for his own good. Not that Klaus himself had had much contact with the females of the species, but at least he could keep his eyes on important matters, rather than on T & As.
After each woman had circled the room, she disappeared into the second room. That room had been roped off for the harem's exclusive use - their and the he-goat of a target's, of course. No other men permitted. Klaus had insisted on putting an agent inside, but they had even refused to let G in! Most annoying.
Something changed. Klaus couldn't put his finger on exactly what, he merely knew that his sixth sense had gone from sending "Stay alert!"-signals to "It's about to happen! It's happening! It's happening now!" Perhaps he had seen - or heard - something, which his consciousness hadn't registered, but which his sub-consciousness had. This had happened before, plenty of times, and Klaus had learned to trust his "sixth sense" - even to rely on it. The only questions in these situations were "What was actually happening?" and "Where is it happening?"
"Where is it, sir?" A whispered. "What do you see?"
The agent scanned the crowd more intensely now. Even if A had no sixth sense of his own - at least not as far as Klaus had been able to tell - the man knew his superior well and must have sensed the change in his interest level. But Klaus had no answer, not yet. He took a step closer to the target. Then another. By then the entire Alphabet was on highest alert - belly dancers completely forgotten or rather viewed no differently than any other possible killer. Sure, Kal Henderson in specific was male, but he might not be the only one out to get the target. Henderson might also have an accomplice.
Some of the guests had also been alerted, starting to clear the area in front of Klaus. Though he and his men were dressed to blend into the crowd, that didn't fool all of the seasoned party goers - some of them even recognised Klaus from previous occasions.
Klaus continuously moved his eyes, trying to find out from where whatever had alerted him originated. That window? No. That window? No. That door? No. That group of people? No. That one, then? No. Her? No. The old man? No. But the process took time and was not completely accurate. He began to walk faster, wanting to get to the target before--
"Say, Klaus, I can't help but to notice that you seem to avoid saying the name of this 'target'. Is there any specific reason for this?"
"Professionalism. It is best for all concerned to keep a distance."
"Oh. So it's not that I would know who he is?"
Klaus, eyes open and innocent, shook his head.
Dorian didn't buy the act for a minute. "Spill, or I'll rip the blanket off and you'll be naked."
Klaus's eyes widened even further. "I'm wearing pyjamas!"
"Ah. But you'll be naked under the pyjamas."
"Idiot!" Klaus crossed his arms defensively over his chest - accidentally locking the blanket tight under his arms.
Dorian tugged again. "Come on, Klaus. Spill. We're a team, right? I'm a NATO contractor. I need to know these things. Tell me or I will just ask A. Who was, now that I think about it, strangely reticent about telling me any details. Tell me or I'll find out if you're ticklish or not."
"Ah, but you might be lying. Come on, Klaus, who is it? I'll nag you until you give in and tell me. It can't be that bad, can it?"
Klaus sighed. "I don't like the jerk either and I know you have a problem with him, but work is work and it must be done."
"Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach, exactly who--"
"You sound like Father! Don't!"
Klaus sighed again.
He began to walk faster, wanting to get to the target before whatever was happening actually happened. Saleem wore that stupid--
"Saleem!? Saleem! Klaus, that's the annoying twit who--"
"The wanker who stole the Lubjanka report, yes."
"That was not what I was going to say! He almost carved me up with that scimitar of his!"
Klaus snorted. "Forgot how to use a sword quickly, did you?"
"I am an excellent swordsman, I'll have you know! With a real sword! The technique used with scimitars is entirely different. Plus, I hadn't had breakfast! Why are you helping Saleem?"
Klaus rolled his eyes. "It's called professionalism. Look it up in a dictionary."
"Hah! Really, Klaus--"
"All that Kuwait oil money makes my superiors giddy as school girls. But I have my orders and must follow them. Sometimes they are unpleasant, but that can't be helped."
Dorian sat up a bit. "Ah, yes. Like that time. When you came to me at North Downs. Oh well. I understand. I suppose if you must help that woman-fixated lowlife, you must. Dare I hope that he at least got shot? Not fatally, of course. Do continue."
"Saleem wore that stupid outfit of his, pin-striped suit and a towel on his head. He stood surrounded--"
Saleem stood surrounded by a herd of the scantily dressed females. For many of them the veil was the most substantial item of clothing they wore.
That sixth sense of Klaus's was pounding now, "Behind him! Behind him! Behind him!" Finally, he had a fix on what had alerted him. The second room, that of Saleem's harem girls. He should have known. The area had been checked before, of course, but not since the girls' arrival. To boot, the only guard inside was one of Saleem's own. A female. Was the man allergic to men or what?
Berating himself for eventually being forced to accept Saleem's refusal to let him post a guard in there, Klaus pulled his Magnum. Someone screamed, but he hardly heard. More screams followed - from within the room as well now. Women started to pour out - what looked like dozens of them. All wearing about a handkerchief's worth of material. Slim bodies with disproportionally large, bouncing breasts moved towards Klaus at speed.
Not a very noticeable sound at all, more like a short, metallic sneeze. Defying all logic, since it shouldn't have been audible over the din of hysterical females. Yet Klaus heard it clearly. A shot had been fired.
He was wading through the women now, pushing against naked flesh, snagging against slips of clothing - a particularly loud scream hinted that the clothing had been actually torn. Half-naked women! All around him! Pushing towards him: bellies, thighs, legs, arms and breasts.
Klaus pushed his way shoulder-first through the throng, but the herd of females screamed; howling their bloody lungs out - breasts bobbing nauseatingly! Stupid bints! Couldn't they see that his Magnum wasn't aimed towards them? Though on their way past many of them slapped him - some with surprising force. He almost stumbled when a particularly hard slap impacted with - for no apparent reason - his arse!
Trying hard not to get distracted Klaus kept pushing, shouting for the Alphabet to follow him. Finally, the throng of nubile flesh lessened and he saw that Saleem was down on the now blood-stained floor. Or he saw part of Saleem, anyway - most of the wanker's body was covered by human shields. Very bare human shields, with rosy, soft flesh, rounded and vulnerable. But the cloud of scarcely dressed females Klaus had worked to get past was dissipating. He raised his Magnum higher ...
... and mid-step felt his strength drain, as if all his muscles had simultaneously gone to sleep. He had already stretched his right leg to take a new step, but instead of catching his weight and carrying him further, the knee gave. The Magnum slipped from suddenly nerveless fingers and he couldn't even move his hands to catch himself as he was hurled towards the floor. Foppy, blue-veined marble rushed up to meet him, but before the impact he experienced a fleeting darkness. Then the world vanished.
"And that's the last you remember?"
"Yes. Now get me my clothes, I need to start cleaning up this mess."
"Dr. Brightersom says you should stay in bed at least for today. Oh, and he asked if you have ever fainted that way before, if you ate properly this morning and--"
"Of course I ate! And no, I've never fainted like that before! Besides, I didn't bloody well faint! I lost consciousness because something happened! I wasn't shot?"
"No. No noticeable injury - though your nose got a turn, you had a nosebleed! Jimmy is doing his best with your shirt, but I fear it's a lost cause. Your nose wasn't broken, I'm happy to report. Not that I would have loved you any less if it had been, but just so you know it. Herr A was right beside you. He says you went down as if clobbered on the head, but he saw no one hit you - not hard enough to take you out, anyway. If Mischa had to hit you eight times to take you down--"
"He was cheating! I had been shot! And he hit me three times on my wound too!" Klaus didn't intend to forgive that in any foreseeable future.
"Yes, yes, of course he cheated, darling. Anyway, if Mischa had to hit you, ah, eleven times when you had already been shot to take you down, I doubt one of those dancer ladies could have done it by slapping you, for all that I hear they are often quite strong. Saleem and the ladies accused you of pulling your gun and shooting at Saleem. The police was going to arrest the lot of you. Herr A swears you came to and told them to take you to me, so M to P arranged a diversion by releasing six cows into the building as the rest snuck you off. Some got separated in the confusion, but Herr C said you had agreed on some meeting point in advance, in case something happened. Rather like when you were on a field trip with your class and the teacher told you that if you got lost you were to wait by the church or something, I imagine? I do remember something like that, when my class visited some museum. Though I went away on purpose, so I never--"
"Quit nattering and get me clothes! I'm not an invalid and I need to clean up this mess!"
"Well, we are roughly the same size, so I could lend you some of my clothes I suppose. What would you favour, then? Purple with gold or lime green with lots of ruffles? I also have this charming, red--"
"Don't be stupid or I'll break your nose for sure! I've been here before, remember? There are clothes in the closet that are actually decent! Get them for me!"
"No, darling, the good doctor told me that you should rest. Especially since we don't know why you fainted, ah, I mean, fell unconscious. If you want to discuss things with Herr A, I'll be happy to ..."
Dorian's voice trailed off as Klaus, after one last, withering glare, sat up and swung his legs off the bed. Then he pushed the blanket aside and got up. Dorian leapt to his feet, torn between staying close enough to catch Klaus, should he fall - and far enough away to properly admire the lean form in the all in all rather form-fitting pyjamas.
"You win!" Dorian finally said. "Stop - and sit down again. I'll get you your clothes, you stubborn boar of a man. But sit. Dr. Brightersom will have my hide if I let you fall."
Klaus would have refused, but then felt his knees tremble. Rather than having to be rescued like a wobbly maid, he sat.
Damn, but the man has a fine arse, Dorian thought happily, as he had seen said posterior rather nicely when Klaus turned. Not that the pyjamas showed all that much more than Klaus's trousers usually did, but they were softer-looking, as if he actually might get away with touching them without having his jaw busted. Not to mention that he knew that while concealing or not, in Klaus's mind the nightwear was but a tiny step up from Dorian seeing him in his underwear - and noticeably Klaus hadn't gone to extreme lengths to shield himself!
"Well, get the clothes then!" Klaus ordered and glared again at Dorian, this time with obvious distrust. He had pulled the cover up over his chest again.
"Right away, dear," Dorian said, and went to do his major's bidding.
Klaus's legs still trembled slightly as they walked down to the meeting room he and the Months, ah, he and Dorian's pack had used as their base while searching for the truth behind Dorian's earlier predicament. The back of his throat itched. He felt like in the end stage of a very bad cold: sensitive eyes, facial skin too tense and nose runny.
"Feels like you got me with that fucking knock-out gas of yours," he grumped.
"Take your paws off me! I'm not a doddering old man who needs to be steadied! Yeah. Throat, skin, eyes and snot, the works; disgusting."
"Hmm ... Well, you know, I do think that cousin Baal mentioned that they make the stuff to sell as well. At an extremely high price, of course. They are all immune, so it can't hurt them any. It's very popular in some circles. But if it really is the same stuff, then that is a good thing, dear. Do be careful!"
"I said to get your hands off me! I've been walking since I was one. Why the fuck would it be a good thing if it is the same fucking stuff?"
They had almost reached the meeting room and Klaus certainly didn't want to be led inside like some cripple.
"All new members of my gang get exposed, during the immunization process. So we know what works to get rid of those side effects. Bonham, go get a slice of sleeping gas cure for the major."
Inside were nine of Klaus's agents and seven of Dorian's lot. The agents all sat at the right corner of the table, with Dorian's men opposite. To Klaus's relief the nuisance known as James still was not present. Bonham greeted them both with a smile and then left. Klaus took his accustomed place at the head of the table. "What is it? I'm not taking any meds if I don't know what they are. Especially not if you're not even sure if they'll work."
Dorian sat down beside him. "Oh, the cure can't hurt, that I can guarantee. Except possibly your stomach measurement, but just once should not affect those lovely, flat abdominals of yours."
Klaus did not trust these words, but they had more important things to deal with. "Status?"
Herr C cleared his throat. "B hasn't reported back in yet, nor any of the others."
"Lazing about without me, no doubt," Klaus decided. "Probably at some café or restaurant, spending NATO money on their bellies. Continue."
"Officially we are all wanted for questioning."
"You should have stayed! Why didn't you? This looks very suspect!"
"Y-you told us to, sir."
Klaus narrowed his eyes. "So I've been told," he said with a hint of venom, "and this will be thoroughly investigated. Whatever, what is done is done and that can't be changed. Did Saleem at least bleed?"
"No, sir," said C, voice slightly steadier now.
Klaus grunted. "Too bad, it would have served him right to get a flesh wound. What else?"
"One of the harem girls was shot. In the arm. Just a scratch, really, but Sheik Al Sabaah was fawning over her like you wouldn't believe. Other than that Al Sabaah was furious, sir, he was going to tear up Heaven and Earth to find you, sir."
"Both him and the police think we did it?"
"Brilliant! Did you bother to tell them to check the security cameras? The killer was in the harem room. If they check bullet trajectory paths they'll see that. Unless some of you got careless and opened fire?"
"No, sir, we didn't! At least none of us here did. Ah ... Security cameras ... No? There, ah, wasn't time."
Klaus snorted. "Some at the Yard are actually marginally competent, so they might think of it on their own. But if they're anything like Lawrence we'll drop them a hint. In the meanwhile we'll keep a low profile, stay here and start our own investigation."
The door opened to let Bonham in again. He carried a small tray, which he placed in front of Klaus, then he hastily scurried to the opposite end of the room. Klaus took in the sight before him with increasing disbelief.
"Is this some fucking joke?"
Then the smell hit him, unmistakable and sickening. His stomach turned.
"No," said Dorian. "Though the flarns aren't strictly necessary and I'll bravely sacrifice my own waist line to eat them for you, if you don't want them. But the chocolate cake will really work wonders for the side-effects."
Graf von dem Eberbach disliked travelling by airplane, even Lufthansa, but he sadly couldn't take the Mercedes to London. He and Herr Hinkel arrived at Heathrow with only a minor delay and so had - the wonder! - their luggage! From the airport they took a cab to central London. Elsewhere they might have rented a car for the duration of their stay, but the British idiocy of driving on the wrong side of the road appealed to neither of them.
Before leaving the Schloss Herr Hinkel had phoned ahead. He had secured two singles at the Ritz. While some time still remained in the day, they had decided to retire for the night. They were both in good shape, but still of an age where a few hours of rest now could spare considerable grief later.
They still discussed their next move - Dorian wanted to use his connections in the Rogues' Gallery, but Klaus didn't want to involve organised crime - when Josh entered. "Phone, Milord. Same caller as last time."
"Who's that?" Klaus asked quickly. He had eaten his chocolate cake like a good boy, grumbling throughout about the disgusting taste. As for the biscuits, they had within the first minute, and without even a nibble, migrated over to Dorian. While Klaus hadn't commented afterwards, though, he did appear a bit more bright of eye and his intelligence certainly was up to par.
Dorian, who had just been about to explain this very thing, decided that at times Klaus could be just a hint demanding. "Nothing to worry about," he said, smiling brightly. "Just my current bit o' fluff." He actually felt rather proud of himself for managing to pull that off without gagging.
And Klaus's face ... changed. He neither flinched nor frowned or even made a grimace of distaste. Dorian couldn't put a finger on what the exact change entailed. Perhaps there was something about the eyes, in how they studied him, as if there was a sudden distance in them, a coldness which he hadn't seen for a while.
"It's your Chief!" he blurted out.
Klaus eyes widened, almost comically. His jaw fell open.
"Not like that!" Dorian hastened to assure. "Of course not! That's disgusting! I was just jesting! It's your Chief. At least I think that was him who called before, to alert me that something was going on. Sorry - that was a stupid jest, I know. Oh, do come on, then, you had better talk to him yourself or you'll never believe me."
Klaus still eyed him distrustfully as they crossed the house to the main library, where Josh had answered the phone.
Memo to self, Dorian thought, Do not joke about current lovers around Klaus.
Not that there were any current lovers - and utterly unlikely that there would be any. Not as long as there was a chance of Klaus himself eventually assuming that position.
Klaus's reaction had been interesting, though. Very interesting. Dorian wasn't completely sure if the look had meant anything close to what he hoped, but hope he could - and so he did.
He only listened with half an ear to Klaus's end of the clipped conversation. Then Klaus hung up and turned to him.
"You mentioned an escape route? The cops are heading this way. Someone spilled that you know me and might harbour me. Saleem probably, that little weasel of a tell tale. What do we do?"
Dorian found himself smiling, as he remembered saying those very words to his nephew only hours earlier. "We hide the evidence!"
They hurried back to the meeting room.
"Bonham," Dorian called as they entered. "We're doing a Narnia! I'm with the major. Alphabets, please come with us and hurry now. Jimmy, bring Herr B and the others to us when they show up. Post a guard outside, in case they arrive inopportunely. Ah, do tell the coppers about the surveillance cameras, so we have that angle covered. Snap to it now, everyone."
Leaving his trusted gang to deal with the defences he led the major with Alphabet up to his own bedroom, waving them all inside. Then he hurried over to the wardrobe. "Just follow me," he instructed. Even as he entered he heard Klaus mutter something about closets and wished he could have heard the words clearly. It probably would have been one of those dry comments that were surprisingly funny once you had thought a bit about what Klaus might actually have meant by them.
Half-way in he stopped and turned to lift a pile of mink coats. Reaching past the cold, intensely soft fur he found the switch and flicked it. Air swished at him from the further end, telling him that the secret passage had opened successfully. He dropped the coats back in place and continued. At the very back of the wardrobe he lifted the plastic-covered tuxedos off their hanger. Reaching through the revealed opening he flipped a light switch.
"Just go down, but be careful, the steps are a bit narrow. Wait downstairs."
When the last one, T, had passed, Dorian stepped through. To hang up the tuxedos again was a bit tricky from that angle. Then he pushed the secret door back in place before following the agents to the bottom floor. Squeezing past them, managing a pat to Klaus's thigh in the process, Dorian used his miniature lock pick to unlock the door. He ushered everyone inside, then flicked off the stair light. That way nothing would shine through should someone search the building and look into the wardrobe. Then he finally joined them. The door fell shut behind him.
"Welcome to the Eroica Secret Hiding Room," he said and spread his hands.
The room was roughly the size of the recently abandoned meeting room, with similar table and chairs. There were also a television; a phone; a small cubicle shielded off for washing; a toilet; a tiny kitchenette with enough preserved food for a person to get by for a few days comfortably or a group of people for a much shorter time. A few treasures lay scattered from the latest Eroica operations.
"I do apologise for the lack of service, but I haven't had time to interview for a new butler. By the way, major, I'll show you later, but the other leg of the fork in the corridor upstairs leads to your-- ah, to the second master bedroom. Everyone - no shouting. That means you too, major. The walls here are rather thick, but not impenetrable. That door leads to the basement of the tool shed in the back garden. In a worst case scenario we flee through there, but the door is a bit difficult to open, since we put shelves on the other side to hide it."
His duty as a host done, he sat down in the small, red velvet sectional by the table's end, arranged his legs comfortably and put his arm on the armrest.
"Now, Major, where were we? Ah, yes, you know, on second thought I agree with you. Perhaps we ought to wait with alerting the Gallery. You see--"
C had noted the difference. Of course - he would have been a very poor agent if he hadn't. Something had changed between the major and the Earl. The tension remained, yes, but it had transformed into something he couldn't quite put his finger on. He wished his wife was there. She was much better than him at reading people.
After a few hours Bonham had come down to the secret room. He told them that the police had searched House Gloria in vain. They stayed in the secret room anyway, in case there would be more searches or some sort of surveillance. Forty minutes later B showed up with most of the missing men. They had snuck in through the garage, after Justin had gone out in the van and picked them up. Since the garage connected to the house, no one had seen them enter. They were filling in both groups on what the other had been doing when the door once more opened. Bonham, again.
"Good news! As you instructed, Milord," Bonham said to the Earl. "We told the first lot about the cameras. Well, reminded them; they should have thought about that themselves. I don't even know if they told anyone we said as much. And Leader, ah, I mean, Major von dem Eberbach, your boss phoned again. He says that they've contacted him. They've had a look at the tapes, and they know you and your men didn't fire. M to P have been released and wait at the Yard. The coppers still want to talk to you."
C marvelled that the major hadn't reacted to being called "Leader" by Eroica's crew. He had, of course, heard of what had happened. Some of them (himself included) had even been drafted prior to help to clear the Earl's name from the accusations. Still, the knowledge hadn't prepared him for the apparent cease-fire that currently prevailed.
"Finally! Took the lazy buggers long enough! I want to see those tapes. We'll go there now. A, B - you're with me. We'll pick up M to P in the process. The rest of you continue as planned."
A and B got up and began to shrug into their trenchcoats. The major had already started towards the door, when he stopped and turned back. For a moment he stared at the Earl. "Well, are you coming or not?"
Lord Gloria smiled graciously. "Thank you. I'd be delighted to." Then he, too, rose.
C wanted to shake his head in wonder. He didn't, though, knowing well that such things only tended to focus his superior's attention on whoever made them. Which was something they all tried to avoid. Except Lord Gloria. Who was mental. Or in love.
Herr A drove the Benz - the same that Rudy had driven Klaus around in a couple of days prior. Klaus and Dorian sat in the back seat. Herr B rode shotgun.
Klaus couldn't justify to himself just why he had invited Dorian along. Well, there was the fact that the man would have come anyway, had he wanted to - as he usually did want to tail Klaus whenever possible. Which shouldn't be encouraged, especially not without reason. So Klaus shouldn't have asked. He mentally shrugged. Too fucking late to change his mind now.
"You don't think they are setting up a trap for you?" Dorian asked. He sounded mildly concerned, but not overly worried.
Klaus dismissed the notion with a shake of his head. "They wouldn't dare to lie to NATO."
"Very well. Just remember to ask for winter clothes if they do arrest you."
It took Klaus a second to remember that the nonsense was Eroica gang code for wanting a jail break. He snorted. Then he noticed that the Brit looked a little pensive. Why? He recalled visiting Dorian at New Scotland Yard, that time before. How Dorian had been bruised and claimed - in a very ironic tone - that he had "walked into a door. Two doors, in fact". Was the fop anxious, due to this? That was stupid - he had been cleared from the accusation. No one would bother him. Especially not on Klaus's watch. Still. Some fragment of an all but forgotten course in how to handle trauma victims made itself remembered. Unfortunately, not accompanied by anything actually useful, such as advice on how to handle this situation. Besides, Dorian had said he wanted to come! It wasn't Klaus's responsibility to coddle him! The fop could stay in the car if he wanted! However, the law of machismo forbade Klaus to suggest this simple solution outright. He flung about for some graceful way to ask, then gave up.
"What happened to the cops who clobbered you?"
Dorian visibly startled. Then he, unexpectedly, smiled. "Sorry. I was thinking about my nephew. Never mind. The cops? Oh, they've been dealt with."
So he had been mistaken. Tough shit. "They came home one day and found that all their belongings had upped and gone?" he guessed. Like the Chief. Who was currently a good deal more respectful to Klaus. Which was nice.
"Oh no," Dorian responded and suddenly his eyes sparkled.
Some vague phrase echoed in Klaus's mind: Beware when Irish eyes are smiling. Idiotic in itself, since the Earl wasn't Irish.
"Would you believe," Dorian continued," that they are all currently under investigation for accepting bribes?"
Klaus considered this for all of a second. "Yes," he said.
"Apparently someone offered them a bribe; apparently they accepted and then apparently the person doing the bribing reported this to their superiors."
"You," Klaus said, "are not a man to cross, Lord Gloria."
Dorian inclined his head elegantly. "Most people do try to avoid doing so," he said sweetly. "Of course - present company excluded."
It was Klaus's turn to incline his head. "Likewise," he replied. "Likewise."
Minutes later they reached New Scotland Yard. Klaus efficiently reported his recollection of the incident, then demanded to see the surveillance tapes. He only had to insist a little bit before they agreed. Good for them. He still had a headache and was in a piss-poor mood.
Four tapes had been taken from the Embassy, but only one showed Klaus's own actions. The rest he left to A and B, saying he would review their findings afterwards.
"I would have remembered if someone sprayed me," he told Dorian as they waited for the technician to forward the tape to the right time. On their way inside the Earl had been remarkably well behaved, though he had played the airheaded nobleman to perfection. The lead investigator had been annoyed with him for concealing Klaus and the Alphabet's whereabouts, but Dorian had calmly claimed to have been elsewhere at the crucial time. He had promised to sternly reprimand his servants and order them to cooperate with the police hereafter. He sounded remarkably sincere, even to Klaus, who knew better.
They watched the tape. To no avail. They watched the interesting slice again. Nothing. And again. No.
"There," Klaus finally said with a decisive nod. "Rewind 20 seconds and play it again," he instructed the technician, before bending even closer, shifting sideways to give Dorian room. "Look there," he said and tapped the screen.
B's tape was being rewound, so he took the opportunity to stretch. As he did, his glance happened to move over to the third of the currently running machines - and the two men in deep study of the screen. Both tall with long hair - one with blond curls and one with straight, black strands. They stood so close that one of them really should have put an arm around the other. Noticeably the black-haired one did not try to desperately move away from the blond - or beat him unconscious.
He looked over to the second table, meeting A's gaze. A made a face which B had no trouble reading after all these years - "Yes, I see them too and I have no idea what to think."
His tape flicked on again and B bent back to his assigned task. He and A would talk later. They always did.
"Yes," Dorian said, nodding. "The blond. She moves against the stream. And she--"
"Slapped my arse!"
Dorian had to smile at the plaintive tone. "I will admit that it is a most tempting target, but given the circumstances--"
"Given the circumstances she should have been running like the devil was chasing her."
"So you think--"
"She moved against the stream to reach me. And then she slapped me. Do you carry a mirror?"
"I wouldn't leave home without one," Dorian said, truthfully, and handed it over. "Why?"
"I'll be right back," Klaus said and left the room.
Dorian shrugged helplessly at the rather cute technician. "Can you, I don't know ... zoom in, I think it's called? On that woman?"
The man, who seemed to have some difficulties moving his eyes away from Dorian's person - sweet, really - smiled. "I'll do my very best," he promised.
"This house looks half-way decent," Heinz delivered his verdict. He and Herr Hinkel stood before a large building of clear neoclassical French design.
"Could do with a bit of maintenance," Conrad countered. "Look at the hedges. Someone has not been doing his duty. And those rose bushes need weeding. Look at all the old leaves. Herr Muhlen would be mortified if his precious Eroicas looked that way."
"Those are the new ones, aren't they? The big, red ones?"
"Yes. Our Klaus despises them, but he hasn't told Herr Muhlen. I'm not sure why, though." He had originally thought the feeling was because of the roses also being called "Eroticas", due to the sexual connotation a son might not want near a memorial of his mother. However, Herr Muhlen had told him that he had expressly used the less suggestive name, "Eroica", for this reason - and that hadn't helped. "Shall we?"
They marched up the short stairs side by side. Heinz rung the bell. Nothing happened. Conrad muttered that if he had been in charge, a visitor would have been spotted even as the car turned onto the driveway. A suitable servant would have already stood just inside the door, waiting for the bell to sound, to open the very next second. Anything else was unforgivable sloppiness.
Heinz had been about to give up, when something did happen. An elderly butler opened the door halfways, watching them with obvious hesitation. Heinz noted that the man combed his hair over his skull just like Conrad did - but with far less hair to start with.
"Yes, sir?" the man asked.
"We are here to see Countess Disken," Heinz replied firmly.
"Regrettably, the Countess is not home at the moment. Do you wish to leave a message or your calling card?"
"When is the Countess expected to return?"
"Regrettably, she has not given a time for her return, sir."
"Will she be back this evening?"
"Regrettably, her ladyship didn't say, sir."
"Look here, you - we have come from Germany to talk to her and we cannot stay for long. Where is she?"
"Regrettably, I am not at liberty to give out this information, sir."
Heinz snorted and he got a certain sharpness to his eyes, something many who knew his son would very easily recognize. "That might be so," he said and smiled mirthlessly - a smile these same people who knew his son also would recognize all too well. "But I think you will find that you will tell me regardless." And - possibly - regrettably.
Klaus entered the cubicle, closed the door and carefully locked it. Moving swiftly, he unbuttoned, unzipped and pushed down his trousers, together with his underwear. Then, feeling somewhat stupid, he used the toilet mirror in combination with Dorian's hand-held one, to examine the evidence, as it were. With a little diligence he found what he had suspected. A hard prod to the area even produced faint tenderness.
After putting the room to its normative use, he returned and handed back the mirror to Dorian, who pocketed it with slightly raised eyebrows.
"I've got a puncture mark."
"Aww ..." Dorian said, pouting. "I could have looked for you."
Klaus snorted. "Don't be stupid."
"Does it hurt? I could kiss it better."
"Shut up! Don't be perverted either."
As they descended the stairs of House Disken Conrad watched Heinz with some concern. The Graf's leg injury sometimes troubled him when going down stairs - one of the reasons, Conrad suspected, why the man no longer visited the Schloss very often. But the descent went fine and they continued to their waiting cab. On the flatter surface Heinz stomped his walking stick in a manner Conrad knew meant that the man felt rather pleased with himself. The visit had been both a hit and a miss. Countess Disken really did seem absent. The butler - a shame to the profession, in Conrad's humble opinion - had managed just enough balls as not to betray his lady's destination, but he had finally begged them to ask elsewhere. More specifically at the house of Countess Diskens's sister. A Lady Red!
"I know this name," Conrad said. " Our Klaus gave orders that a Dorian Red, Earl of Gloria, was never, ever, not on pain of death, be allowed to enter the Schloss."
"Sounds like bad news. When was this?"
"A few years ago. I was confused at first, for I had no idea who he meant. Later I found out. A British Lord. The man had visited earlier, to view the Eberbach Collection. He is apparently something of an art admirer. I remember him being fascinated with the collection. I saw him later, in London, at England Art. He acted ... oddly." Conrad still hadn't a clue what those bananas the Earl had given him had been about.
Heinz grunted. "Good that someone enjoys the collection. Lord knows neither Klaus nor I have the gene for it. Red, you say. Strange name. But still, it sounds oddly familiar. For some reason it brings to mind the old family chronicles. Never mind. Why did Klaus ban him?"
"I don't know." That was what in butler circles was known as a "lie". In fact he was fairly sure that the unprecedented request was due to the way the blond Brit had seemed to - if in a rather awkward way, like a boy trying to get a girl's attention by tugging at her braids - to court Klaus. But Conrad felt this was an inopportune time to bring up such a notion. "The order hasn't precisely been rescinded, but Lord Gloria has visited the Schloss on more than one occasion since. He and Klaus appear to be ... acquaintances now."
"Hmm. So Klaus might have met this Disken woman through Lord Gloria. Red is not a common name, so they must be related. Noble blood not just by marriage, my contact said, so that sounds reasonable. Perhaps this Earl even introduced them."
"Perhaps," Conrad answered. Though to him that seemed unlikely, considering his suspicion about the British Earl. He was beginning to feel hesitant about this and wondered if he ought to inform Heinz.
"Well, we shall pay a visit to Lady Red tomorrow. See what she says. If we're in luck, perhaps Countess Disken is even visiting her."
The technician had been unable to zoom in much, so they still knew little of the woman who had injected Klaus with the sleeping drug. She had white flaxen hair - probably bleached, as such a light tone rarely occurs naturally. Slender built, medium length. B-cup, according to Klaus, and Dorian saw no reason to suspect otherwise. Not a dancer - she actually wore decent clothes. Another tape showed her entering the room only minutes prior to the attack. She didn't come from the main entrance, but from the back rooms, where the toilets were located, yet she hadn't been visible any earlier on the tape. A few - often blurred - images showed her flittering between groups, never staying long at any given one. Klaus remembered seeing her in the throng, but no further details. The best still from the tape was printed and distributed.
The surveillance camera tapes yielded nothing further, since Saleem had refused to allow one in the "harem room", from where the attack later originated. Nor had he afterwards allowed his women to be questioned by the British police, since the first police officers at the scene had apparently said something insensitive and sent the women into hysterics. Since they were all under diplomatic immunity, there was little that could be done to persuade him otherwise.
They continued to Saleem's penthouse at the Ritz. Klaus intended to question the women personally, but his group wasn't even let into the suite. Saleem not only refused to have his brave little doves disturbed any further, he flat out refused to talk to Klaus himself. He even disdainfully declined NATO's continued protection!
"Claims I carry a grudge!" Klaus growled to the world in general when they were back in the car, this time heading back towards House Gloria.
"Well, you did yell at him," Dorian pointed out. He had stayed out of Saleem's sight, but had heard everything.
"I barely raised my voice! Besides, so what if I carry a grudge? I'm a professional! I would have protected him to the best of my abilities anyway! I did!"
"Yes, Klaus, you did. Actually, I think Saleem plans on finding the shooter himself - in his culture it is a great insult to hurt a woman, even if she wasn't the intended target. But things are the way they are. Must you return to Germany right away?"
"I'm not on that Arab's pay cheque. Wrong gender for one thing, it seems. He can't order me about. Until we're given counter orders we will remain here."
Dorian had to smile. Obviously Saleem's remark had wounded one of the most vulnerable parts of Klaus - his pride in his work ethic.
"I will assist you any way I can," he assured, pleased to have his beloved around for a bit longer. "What is your next move?"
"That harem flock of his. Or the dancers. They must have seen something!"
"Undoubtedly. So, you intend to infiltrate Saleem's harem?"
"Oh, to be a fly on that wall when you do!"
"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?"
"I have this green dress. It would go splendidly with your hair and your eyes, and--"
"Not me, you pea-brained, perverted fool!" Outrage made Klaus's eyes flash in a way that made Dorian want to kiss him.
"Of course I understood that." Under his breath Dorian added, "Though I would pay good money to see you in that dress." Just once, though. While he found Herr G, for instance, charming in a feminine outfit, he felt no direct desire to see Klaus don such garb on a more permanent basis. That would just be plain wrong. Klaus's eyes narrowed dangerously. Dorian couldn't help himself, but had to ask: "Not even as a nun?"
He had wondered if Klaus liked nuns because they, too, were fairly asexual.
Now Klaus's eyes widened instead. "Don't be blasphemous! Besides, I hardly think Saleem would be attracted to a Holy Sister!"
"One never knows. Some men do like that type. I can see the charm. Something about the forbidden, about those stern virgins who live only for their duty. Wanting to get beneath that strict exterior in hope of finding a hot, passionate--"
"Shut up!" Klaus growled. "Don't say such things!"
Dorian blinked, taken back by the sudden surge of anger flashing in the once more hard eyes. Realising that he must have overstepped some line he hastily withdrew. "That is neither here nor there. Still, I do believe I have an idea of how we can go about this."
"You're not putting on a dress! He'll spot you a mile away!"
Dorian pouted, slightly put off by his beloved's distrust in his abilities. "I wasn't going to suggest it. I'll show you later tonight. Or rather tomorrow morning, I think, considering how late it is. Ah, home, sweet home!"
As Herr A guided the car up the last stretch to House Gloria Dorian wondered if his little surprise really would be one - or if Klaus already knew.
E and F were getting ready to sleep. E, who was a night showerer, had just performed his evening ablutions and was drying his hair enough before sleeping on it. As he did he listened to the rants of his associate - who was a morning showerer.
He was also, regrettably, a homophobe.
"I can't believe it! I was sure Major von dem Eberbach was the most stand-up guy in NATO! Now he's being lured over by that piece of ... fluffy blond hair and wriggling arse!"
E privately thought that F was paying a little too much attention to the wriggling arse in question. He hummed non-committaly. Regardless of his opinion of F's statements, he needed to get along with the guy. As long as he doesn't turn into a security risk. Briskly towelling his hair gave him a good excuse for not answering.
"I mean, it's disgusting the way that Gloria is smarming up to him and trying to get close to him! But I really thought Major von dem Eberbach was on the up and up! Now he seems not to mind so much! I tell you, I think it's disgusting!"
E finally had to lower his towel. "Perhaps you should consider requesting a transfer," he suggested mildly.
Klaus felt out of sync. Possibly because of staying in House Gloria. Perhaps the lingering perfume fumes were getting to him. Or perhaps it was the shitty mission itself. After having debriefed the Alphabet and reported to the Chief he had gone to bed early - a whole hour before his regular bed time. No doubt that had also affected his sleep pattern. He had woken up at 02:00 sharp, alert and fresh as if after a full night's sleep. Of course, had he been on a mission which would necessitate him sleeping "on guard" that would have been natural, but he hadn't sung "Silly Sheep Go To Sleep", just "Mary Had A Little Lamb", as usual.
So, he had woken up at bloody two o' fucking clock in the morning. Repeated Marys hadn't helped lull him back. He felt an almost overwhelming urge for Nescafé and the automat just on the other side of the room seemed to send out a quiet siren call, insinuating all kind of lovely things about a brew as black as midnight and a perfect taste on his tongue; smoothness; invigorating with just a hint of bitterness, not to mention that lovely heat slipping down his throat ... I must get such a machine for home, he thought once more. Alas, two o'clock just wasn't the perfect time for coffee, no matter what. He needed to rest. Caffeine would not help.
So he stayed in bed, tried "Mary Had A Little Lamb" one more time; considered a cigarette - but definitely not a lovely, warm, smooth cup of Nescafé with that delicious, thin layer of golden-brown crème on top, signalling that the content had been blended to perfection. He tried to think of nothing - or at least of fluffy little white and black sheep jumping around, going "määä määä". His muscles had all relaxed, obedient to his will, and his eyes had closed, sending him into darkness, but his stubborn mind had put up more of a resistance, skipping through different topics almost at random. He had many questions and while some were less important than others, some were - on the other hand - far more persistent than the actually important ones.
And perhaps in the middle of the night and with everyone else snug as bugs in their beds was a proper time for such questions. The actually important ones would by necessity have to wait until after dawn.
He got up and, after a very brief hesitation, dressed. Hopefully what he planned wouldn't take longer than a few minutes, but he didn't fancy being half-naked while doing it. He did not look wistfully towards the Nescafé automat. If a pregnant woman should follow whatever insane urge she gets on the basis that her body knows what it needs, what is there to say that I don't actually need some Nescafé right now in order to stay healthy? My body knows what it needs just as well as any woman's! Oh, fuck it! In a few hours it'll be breakfast and I will have a big mug. As he always did. Maybe two mugs!
Then he marched to the bell-covered, stupid door that separated his room from the first master bedroom. Not one to hesitate once his mind had been made up, he rapped the door twice with his knuckles. The bells let out a cadence of shimmers, clicks and plongs, which luckily quickly died out.
For several seconds nothing happened. He rapped at the door again, then contemplated giving up and returning to bed (Or - if I can't sleep anyway, a cup of Nescafé and then get some work done?), when a voice called out from beyond. "Yes, major? Everything all right?"
"Get decent. I want to talk to you."
"I'm covered from head to toe. The lock is on your side."
He snorted. Lock! Ha! But he lifted the wafer-thin pin bar and tugged at the handle. The door opened with enough noise to wake the dead. Light spilled in from beyond. On the other side stood Dorian. Covered from head to toe, yes. In sheer silk, red like heart's blood and embroidered in gold, glittering in candle light. The cloth's billowing edges seemed to glow and the contour of his sleek, yet strong body showed clearly through the thin material.
"Decent is a relative term," Klaus said. "We're not using the same dictionary."
Dorian smiled and sauntered up to the door, where he leaned in to rest a wrist against the frame. The candle light also glittered in his hair, which was slightly tousled, pushed together on the right side, as if he had lain on it. "I'm hardly showing any skin at all."
"Nor do you leave anything to the imagination."
The smile turned decidedly coy. As if by accident a curl of hair fell before one eye. "Do you imagine me often, Klaus?" he asked, his voice a husk.
Klaus snorted and nodded his chin up to the man. "I don't have to use my imagination," he said pointedly.
With a light laugh, Dorian tossed his head, making his hair fall back again. "It's not really transparent, you know. Less is more and all that. Which seems to be working. But enough about my fabulous night wear. Why did you knock? Do you want me to sing you a lullaby?"
"I have two questions. Depending on your answers I might tell you something."
Dorian's eyebrows rose. "That sounds intriguing. Go ahead. I'm all ears."
Klaus opened his mouth to launch into his interrogation, when he found himself hesitating. The questions were so simple, yet to blurt them out suddenly felt inappropriate. Idiot! Out with it! Then perhaps you can sleep.
"Why am I here?"
Dorian blinked. "Ah ... Um ... Do you have a headache, dear?" He stepped forward. "I know I should have insisted on having Dr. Brightersom check up on you again."
"No, you fool! I still don't have amnesia! I meant here-here." Klaus waved to the room behind him.
Dorian looked around, as if he half expected Klaus's room to have turned into a Martian landscape or a seedy Greek bar. "Klaus, I don't understand? Would you rather share a room with one of your agents? Though their rooms are, ah, more colourful than yours. I assure you, this is the most 'you' room in the house. Is something bothering you?" He was winding a curl of hair around a finger again. Utterly pointlessly - it wasn't as if his hair could get any curlier. "It is the roses in the boar painting, isn't it? Oh, I knew they were a bit over the top, but the boar looked so fierce and proud - I just couldn't resist buying it. Take it down, I won't mind at all if you do."
"Quit blabbering! No, it is not the bloody roses!" In fact, he had hardly noticed them - and besides, Herr Muhlen grew such roses at the Schloss. Herr Hinkel had once told him that the Gräfin had ordered a row with the largest, reddest roses that could be naturally grown. While Klaus considered most flowers rather pointless, he did respect the roses at Schloss Eberbach as a small legacy from the mother he had never had the time to get to know.
Annoyed, both with himself for not explaining properly and with the thief for not just understanding, Klaus took a deep breath and tried again. "Why do I have this room?" Yeah, yeah, so he acknowledged that the second master bedroom was "his", but hopefully the fop wouldn't make a scene.
Dorian twirled his hair some more. When he did answer he spoke slowly, as if thinking through the words even as he uttered them. "Because I wanted you to have a space for yourself in my life?" He tilted the very last words to a question, yet at the same time his voice was buoyed by an ever so faint hopefulness.
Finally they were getting somewhere! Still, that particular answer didn't belong to the question he had been trying to ask. "But why a second room? Why not--" He nodded his chin up past Dorian, towards the warm red and gold beyond.
"Oh! Sorry, I guess I'm slow on the uptake this time of night, my dear. But the answer is pretty much the same. Of course I would love to have you in my room. You are always welcome there." It was Dorian's turn to gesture vaguely. "The door remains closed only for as long as you want it to be. I just thought, well ... I was thinking about what you said, about you, about your ..."
"My frigidity?" Funny, the word was easier to say this time, when it came as no surprise to either of them.
Dorian nodded, looking relieved. "I love you, Klaus. I've told you that before and, well, last time we met I felt as if ... there might be some ... hope? For me? But I've thought for a long time that you might not always appreciate having me in your face day and night, even if we did get together. So I wanted to show you that it wouldn't have to be that way. You can have all the solitude you need and I will still love you. At this point, Klaus, I don't think I could stop loving you."
P and Q enjoyed reading, though their tastes varied. Q preferred fantasy novels and was rereading the Narnia series. He was currently on The Magician's Nephew - again. It was one of his favourite books in the series. P, on the other hand, mostly read non-fiction, though he had been known to browse a Sci-Fi novel or two. Currently he was half-way through a thin volume on obscure customs, since Major von dem Eberbach had often enough said that it was always good to know such things, as you never knew when you might run around a corner in high pursuit, only to find yourself in the middle of a crayfish party.
Both also suffered from insomnia, which was why they were still reading at this hour. Normally they would turn the lights out at one. Four hours of sleep was all they ever got and they might as well do something useful until they were tired enough to sleep, rather than to lie awake and do nothing. However, since they would get to sleep in a little, they had decided to stay up for a while longer. In a way it was a luxury.
Just as Aslan had shown up for the first time, Q smiled happily - that scene always moved him. However, he had yawned once already and felt another jawstretcher coming on. "You ready?" he asked.
"Ja, I think so. We are private enough, aren't we?"
"I wouldn't think anyone would enter here without knocking," Q replied and handed P his book. P had stood and now put both books on his bed.
Q lifted his blanket invitingly and P climbed in. After some shifting they lay with Q's back to the wall and P in his arms. Neither man were really looking for sex, not tonight, but just enjoyed lying together.
"They seem to be getting closer," P whispered.
Q felt no need to ask who "they" were. "Yes, they do," he said. "That's nice. Everyone should have someone to care for and who cares for them. It'll be interesting to see how this develops."
At this point, Klaus, I don't think I could stop loving you.
Frilly, foppish words of love and devotion. Nothing Klaus had ever needed nor sought. They weren't even what he had wanted to hear this night; not why he had asked about the sleeping arrangement. Still. The words weren't as tedious to hear as he might otherwise have assumed.
Then he spotted a loophole and frowned. "You had the room ready long before I was here last time."
"Well, hope springs eternal, as they say. You've always come across as a very private man, my dear. At first I just wanted to show you that I could respect that."
Klaus snorted. "So you're still interested, even though I've told you I'm abnormal?"
"Of cou-- Wait, I mean - of course I am! But you are normal, Klaus!"
"I'm not interested in sex!" Was Dorian mocking him? "That's not normal for a grown man!"
"At least you're socially acceptable," came the quiet answer. "And it's not as if you are a necrophile or into coprophilia."
"Coprophilia?" Klaus might be fluent in English, but sometimes the fop used words Klaus suspected he wouldn't have known even in German.
"You don't want to know."
Klaus rolled his eyes, but decided not to press for more information. Likely Dorian was right anyway and he wouldn't want to know. "I really need a fag - a cigarette, not a ... Oh, fuck it. Let's sit."
"Right you are. I'll get a chair and I can put it on this side of the door and then you can get a chair and you can--"
"Idiot! Get your arse inside. Consider my room a temporarily demilitarized zone." Klaus marched over to the small group of large armchairs and sat down, grabbed the packet of Seven Stars he had left on the table, shook one out and lit it. "Want one?"
"No, thanks." Dorian slowly made his way to the chairs, while looking around the room as if he had never been there before. Finally he settled gracefully into the chair next to Klaus, arranged his hands primly in his lap and leaned back, smiling faintly.
Klaus puffed smoke and studied his sometime-foe. It occurred to him that he seldom really looked at Dorian. That first time he met him, in the Schloss Eberbach Collection Hall, he had automatically taken stock of all identifying features. He might be shit at drawing, but he could have described the man well enough for a phantom image and he could have made a positive identification years later, even if fate hadn't thrown them together repeatedly since. He could have imitated the surprisingly dark voice, though he would have balked at the sometimes seductive, honey-laced tones.
During the years since that first meeting he had often enough been annoyed by the outrageous clothing; the flamboyant air and the leonine mane of useless, bouncy curls. All those things remained. Yet, in some ways the man had changed. The bright sheen of those intense eyes had never dulled, but had transformed into something stronger; from a near mindless need for the thrill of the hunt - a need Klaus knew well, though he had never hunted for art and beauty - to the sure strength of a man who no longer believed himself invincible, but who knew how to overcome obstacles and prevail.
Maybe they had both grown up a little, since that first day.
"At the Ritz? Why did you leave?"
Dorian, who had openly looked back at him, studying him without bashfulness, did a double take. "At the Ritz? Leave? Well, it was getting rather late, wasn't it? The Alphabet was coming the next day. You had to be up bright and early and--"
"Why didn't you fuck me?"
In a room in the opposite corner of House Gloria, G lay sleepless, staring at the ceiling. Occasionally a tear slipped down his cheekbones. When one splattered on his ear, he listlessly lifted a hand to wipe off the moistness.
"It's not as if I ever thought I'd have a chance with either of them, you know?" he said and sighed.
"I know," H replied. He lay in his favoured position, on his right side with his hands tucked under his chin.
"They are both far out of my league. I know that."
"I know." Though H's eyes were shut and he breathed with long, even breaths, he was far from asleep. He merely rested as efficiently as possible while still providing support to his depressed team member.
"I just never thought the major would actually give in to the Earl, you know?"
H nodded slowly, still without opening his eyes. "I know."
At first the words had no meaning. The question was too odd. Possibilities bounced across Dorian's mind as he tried to reformulate what he had heard into a question Klaus could possibly have asked. Finally, he latched on to what had actually happened. That was, after all, what Klaus must have asked about. Dorian had wondered if Klaus would bring up the taken liberty of that one, stolen kiss, so such a question made sense. He must simply be more tired than he thought, reading too much into the almost congenial attitude displayed by the man who watched him with such sharp, green eyes.
"Why I kissed you? Well, I do apologise, but you know I love you, and--"
"No, you deaf, idiot pea-brain. Why didn't you stay? Nightcap. Sex. Why didn't you fuck me?"
"Well, ah ... I? I was being, I was ... polite? Going? I kissed you because I thought that would, that the night would be, would be perfect if-- Staying? Ni-nightcap? Se ... x? I ... Ah ... It never, I-- Why-- Could I; would you, ah ..."
He was well aware that nothing he said made the slightest sense and that Klaus looked more and more annoyed by the moment. So he raised his hands in a "just wait a second" gesture and took a deep breath. Finally, he managed to gather his thoughts enough to form a coherent sentence.
"I honestly hadn't thought that to, that for me to ... stay might have been an option."
"No," said Josh. He gave his hand to N, who folded it over and spread the cards before collecting them again and discarding them.
John-Paul turned to M and challenged him with a superior smile. "Seems like the action is on you," he said.
"You're bluffing," M said, sounding sure of this fact. "I raise four bullets."
"Three bullets and two buttons," John-Paul countered and folded his cards to his chest. He then leaned back towards the wall. The six of them had pushed together M and N's beds and were sitting cross-legged on them, with the pot in the middle. O - claiming a sore back - and John-Paul had lucked out and sat against the wall. John-Paul counted the position as a point in his favour, since more than one of his opponents had already started to shift and stretch. "So ..." he said slowly, judging that it was time to rattle the Alphabets. "Interesting development, wouldn't you say?"
"What is?" said N, who looked intently at his cards as if he didn't quite know what to make of them.
"About the bosses. Your leader seems to be folding."
O dropping his cards was a far better reaction than John-Paul had hoped for.
Klaus nodded slowly. After having considered the evening in question for a long time, he had pretty much suspected as much. At first he had considered the possibility that the Earl might no longer be attracted to him physically - or at least not enough to follow through on his seduction routine. That theory had, however, only been briefly entertained. Though earlier, when Dorian had made that revolting "joke" about his "latest piece of fluff", the notion had swiftly - if briefly - resurfaced. For even if the Earl might accept that some parameter of his chase had irrevocably changed, he wasn't the type to give up fully - or ever. Not when things could still be achieved.
Good. He had wanted his hypothesis confirmed. Because ...
"What I said still goes," he warned. "It all feels pointless and I don't think it'll end anywhere near what you've been going on about."
Small, querying wrinkles appeared around the blue eyes so intent on his own. Obviously, Dorian didn't understand what he was trying to say - or perhaps didn't dare to understand the underlying meaning. Klaus breathed in quickly, then he forged on.
"You've been talking about endless love and blah-blah-blah, I don't know what. The way I see it, relationships are about mutual lust and a shard of friendship to keep two people together. I've told you that I can't give you the lust you want, but you don't seem to get that. The shard of friendship ... perhaps I could. I think you already have it."
Faint frown lines smoothed out as the Brit began to smile. Not widely, but in that supremely pleased way that usually made Klaus want to punch the living daylights out of the man. This is an extremely piss-poor, idiotic, fucking idea, he decided, and continued anyway.
"But that's all I can give in the long run. That's not enough."
"It is!" Dorian leaned forward and then reached out. Long fingers landed on Klaus's and caressed lightly upwards. Then his hand was squeezed softly. "It could be. We could make it work. I-- I understand that you're hesitant in regard to ... everything, but please don't dismiss the possibility out of hand. I know you're a passionate man, Klaus. You have shown me that in so many ways!"
"About my work; about my missions. Fine. But--"
"You're loyal to a fault, to your men and to Germany and to NATO. To your friends."
"I don't really have any. Friends. Never did. Acquaintances. Some guys I hung out with in the military, but I forgot them the minute I got transferred."
"You would kill for the Alphabet, wouldn't you?"
"Of course, but that's NATO business. It is my duty to care for my subordinates." That had absolutely nothing to do with things.
Dorian nodded seriously, but an infuriating softness in his eyes said that he disagreed.
"Work is work," Klaus said with determination. "You propose a ..." Suddenly, there was no word for him to use. A marriage - no, that was impossible. A couplesome? Was there even such a word? A coupling? No, that sounded much too much like sex. A ... "... relationship. That is different. I don't think I'm capable of handling a relationship."
His hand was lifted and one of Dorian's pushed in beneath it. Klaus knew he ought to hit the fop with his free hand, I'm leading him on, but he couldn't bring himself to move.
"I think you do," Dorian countered with equal determination. "You're not impotent and as for the sex-drive, well ... I could be flippant and say that I have enough for us both, but that would solve nothing, would it? But you have never tried. Maybe if you did try, start out slowly and built progressively? Maybe it would come to you."
"I doubt it works that way."
"But you don't know for sure, do you? So, what's the harm in trying?"
His hand was raised again, higher this time. Blond curls shimmered as if sprinkled with gold dust. Soft lips touched the sensitive skin on the back of his hands. Then the head almost in his lap lifted. Intense, blue eyes sought out his again.
"You know how persistent I am," Dorian said in a low, intimate tone. "We could make a deal. You give what you can give and I give all I've got. We'll make it succeed. Besides, you're Iron Klaus, aren't you? You always accomplish your mission, don't you? Please? What's the harm in trying?"
Use my weakness against me, will you? Bastard. "I could kill you," he then replied levelly. "By accident, if you touch me the wrong way when I sleep. How would you like to wake up with blood gushing down your throat to fill your lungs?"
Score! Dorian let go of his hand and quickly shifted back, eyes wide with alarm. Klaus had just about time to congratulate himself on winning an argument - finally! -, when Dorian leaned forward again and - Damn it all! - the bloody fop was smiling again.
"I'm not stupid, you know, Major," said the fiend, putting stress on the title used. "Yes, you could do that - if you were on edge. But you would never tie yourself to such a dangerous reflex if it couldn't be switched off when necessary. It's another damn song, isn't it?"
Klaus didn't answer.
"Come on, I know there's at least two of them. I've heard you hum them. Took me ages, I thought one of us was bonkers for sure, but they're more than lullabies, aren't they? They instruct your body how to sleep, don't they? And sometimes you know you might be awakened by stray touches. You can't kill people just because of that. True?"
Klaus shrugged. Damn that bloody limey for being too perceptive. Of course there was more than one song. "Whatever," he finally admitted.
"Here's my offer, then, Klaus. You promise to try not to kill me for accidental touches when we snuggle - and I haven't forgotten that we've slept in the same bed once already. In return I promise not to molest you in your sleep without proper warning in advance."
"I think I've mentioned this before, but when you call me an idiot, I see that as a positive answer."
"Good. Just so we are on the same page."
Then the Earl of Gloria shifted his chair closer, leaned in and kissed him. Klaus felt himself freeze up, not sure what he was expected to do . With an effort he began to move his lips along with Dorian's. Hands framed his face. Warm, smelling faintly of lavender. They caressed down his sideburns, then gently over his ears and into his hair. The kiss continued for a few seconds. Then Dorian opened his mouth, just a little. Something wet touched Klaus's lips and he jerked back. Dorian was pulled along, then withdrew.
For a moment they looked at one another. Then Klaus, feeling stupid about his reaction, half expected Dorian to say something. Which he did, eventually, but with no scorn, no ridicule.
"We won't go further tonight," he said. "A kiss. Two. Ten. A hundred. Whatever you want. How many you want. If you want them. Nothing else. Not tonight. Tomorrow is another day."
Morning in House Gloria. Z had had a nice enough night. He was military trained and had slept on hard floors and the cold ground far more times than he cared to remember. But there was some speck of degeneration deep within him which luxuriated in the wide, incredibly comfortable beds in House Gloria. He shared a room with Y, a quiet man who was good with mechanics and listening, but who only seldom said anything voluntarily. They had shared so often that Z no longer found the complete silence in the least bit daunting. They nodded Gute Nacht before the one closest to the light switch flicked it off, and they nodded Guten Morgen when first their eyes met after they woke up. Truth be told, Z often found the silence soothing. He widely preferred the calm to T babbling about his ex-wife or M about well-shaped ladies in general. On the rare occasions he shared with Major von dem Eberbach there had also been strict silence, but a far more strenuous one, as if something would snap at any moment.
The only problem with sleeping in House Gloria was, well ... that it was House Gloria. He had half expected to be woken up in the wee hours and ordered to help hiding a body. Sure, the Earl and the major had seemed unusually chummy the previous day, in that decidedly worrisome "Something will go wrong at any minute now"-way that Z knew much too well. Normally he associated the feeling with rare moments of peace just before the major realised that something the Earl had said really hadn't been as innocent as the major had thought. Sometimes Z reflected that the Major could be surprisingly naive. And then everything went to hell in a handbasket.
Breakfast was served at 07:30 sharp in the House Gloria dining room. The major had insisted on 06:00, but the Earl had said nineish. Eventually they had agreed on the middle time, mostly due to the Earl claiming the house to be grossly understaffed. If they wanted to eat any earlier, he had said, they would have to bring food in from a caterer. The major had, eventually, and most grudgingly, conceded. Z, for one, hadn't complained! To get to sleep in until seven during a mission was an unheard of luxury!
Z and Y walked to breakfast in companionable silence. On the way they picked up four more agents and two sleepy-looking thieves. In the dining room the meal was set up in hotel restaurant fashion, with baskets of bread, muffins and scones; large platters with different types of ham, scrambled eggs and cheese; grilled tomatoes and grilled kippers; small squares with butter; some chips; both tea (six different flavours) and coffee (and not just Nescafé either!); one bowl with various fruit, a second with grape slices and a third brimming with boiled eggs. Z took a plate and piled it up with food. Then he sat down by A, as he usually did. The older man had always been very nice to him, helping him to feel at home with the Alphabet and their capricious superior.
Who just entered side by side with the man who had, until very recently, been his arch-enemy (or one of his arch-enemies, anyway, Major von dem Eberbach was fully capable of keeping an entire rooster of arch-enemies). The major carefully carried a steaming Eberbach mug. He didn't even glance at the mounds of food, just marched to the head of the table and sat down, lifting the mug to his mouth without as much as putting it down first. Z was comforted that at least some things hadn't changed. Unless they were in a particular rush, the major always drank his coffee first, then ate before he, finally - drank some more coffee.
"So," Major von dem Eberbach then said. "What was that idea you said you had, Dorian?"
Further down the table R dropped a fork into his coffee, knocking the cup over and spilling the content onto S and T.
Z raised his eyes and met Y's. The man looked just as stunned as Z felt.
Lady Red's house was less luxurious than her sister's. Still, the building was well-shaped and looked nicely planned, with traces of Tudor. There was a nicely kept little garden surrounded by a high, blossom-girded hedge. So close to central London the place must have cost a sizeable sum.
Conrad and Heinz paused outside to study the lay of the land. Both agreed that while more modest the building was in better shape than the one they had visited the previous day.
Then they marched up to the house with Heinz in the lead. He lifted his hand to ring the tulip-shaped door bell, when they heard rapidly approaching steps. However, there was a certain lightness to the steps, rather than a pounding. They turned to look towards the side of the house. In another second a waist-height, blond figure in a red cape came into view. The cape and the curly hair was all they saw, as he had pivoted around the corner and now faced the direction he had come from.
"Ha! Ha, ha and ha! Ha, ha! Got you! Ha! And you! Ha!" The "ha"s were less laughter than some kind of sound effect. An abrupt twitch of the narrow shoulders under the cape also accompanied each "ha". "And you! Ha!"
Then the character pivoted back, leaped in their direction, obviously saw them, misstepped, fell and landed on its butt on the thick, white gravel. A long, black rapier slipped out of a small hand and bounced with a decidedly unmetallic crash. Large, very blue eyes stared at them for several seconds. Then the boy agilely got back on his feet, retrieved his weapon of choice and approached them with some suspicion. "Hallou, " he said.
"Hello there, child," Heinz replied. To smile kindly was easy. Not that he had ever allowed Klaus to wear such a flamboyant cape during his adventures - and the weapons Conrad had far too often confiscated tended to be real, smuggled out with great skill and determination from the Eberbach Armoury Collection. The sight still brought back fond memories.
"Hallou," was repeated.
"Do you live here, child?"
"Is your mother home? We wish to speak with her."
"My mother had to go away. But you don't mean my mother, do you? You mean my Auntie. I live here with my auntie. Auntie Elizabeth?"
Clever child, Heinz thought. "Yes, I meant Lady Red. That is your Aunt, yes?"
"Yes. Are you reporters? I'm not allowed to talk to reporters." The thick plastic rapier rose between them in warning.
Heinz gently parried with his walking stick. "We are not reporters, young man. Though you would do well to remember that advice. Reporters are never anything but trouble. If you give them an inch they'll take your whole hand."
The boy laughed brightly, eyes shimmering in mirth. He was an uncommonly beautiful child. "If you're not reporters, who are you? I'm not allowed to talk to strangers either." He rapped the walking stick lightly with his rapier, as if in challenge.
"That is also wise advice, young man," Heinz said and blocked another blow. "My name is Heinz, Graf von dem Eberbach. I come from--"
"Eberbach! Are you a very poor person?" The rapier withdrew and he was scrutinized in detail, as if the boy had never seen a very poor person before.
Heinz frowned. "Certainly not, young man. The Eberbach family is very well to do. We have holdings in many countries and an established family fortune. Why would you ask such a thing?"
"My aunts talked about you. I hid in the servant elevator." The rapier once more attacked the walking staff.
"About me? Oh, yes, about ... me. What did they say about me?"
"That you need money. I have almost 50 pounds in my piggy bank. But I always get money from my uncle when I need any. Unless uncle's James is there. They said you were out to trade money."
The walking stick's next impact with the rapier might have been slightly hard, but the boy took the blow gamely. Then he bashed the walking stick severely for its offence.
"I'm sure your aunties are mistaken. Do you remember their exact words?"
"Exactly? No. They said you would ... trade money roughly? No ... That you were! Yes, that's it! That you were rough trade for money! That's what they said! What does that mean? You don't trade money, you buy things for money. Uncle's James says that you can have the world itself if you have enough money. Uncle's James is strange, though."
Heinz was busy defending himself from the increasingly more aggressive rapier and formulating his next question, when the door to the house opened. A smartly dressed man in his forties observed the mock battle with reproach. The rapier was lowered.
"Master William, you better come inside. Sirs, how may I be of assistance?"
"We are here to see Lady Red."
Klaus waited, without much patience, while Dorian blotted his lips with a napkin.
"As we discussed yesterday," Dorian finally said, "you want to infiltrate Saleem's harem and learn what the girls know. They must have seen something. Saleem must know too, but he isn't telling."
"Stupid Arab probably thinks the bloody thing can be dealt with tomorrow or something fucking idiotic like that. Or else he's starting a bloody blood feud."
"That sounds like him. Anyways, since you cast doubts on my ability to sneak in under his radar--"
"The man'd make you with his back turned. Besides, he's already seen you in drag."
Dorian snorted and turned up his nose. "And since you think dear G wouldn't past muster either--"
"Not for more than five seconds. The bastard gets physical with his women - and quickly too. I've seen him. Disgusting! Like a horny dog surrounded by willing bitches!"
"And since you seem dead set against even a highly respectable kilt uniform, dear--"
"Showing knees is for little boys! Not for grown men!"
"--, though I would bet a Michelangelo that you would look extremely dashing that way, I do have something else in mind." Dorian turned towards the door. "Do come in, my dear."
"Rough trade!" Heinz grumbled as the cab wound its way back towards central London. This visit, too, had been a bust, as Lady Red had been off, visiting a relative. "Those women were calling our Klaus rough trade!"
"Outrageous," said Conrad, who wasn't quite certain what that term actually meant. "That boy was remarkably well-behaved for someone who has apparently grown up with such rude women."
Heinz had to smile. "My thoughts exactly. Quite a little charmer, wasn't he? Though he could use a haircut. But those women! Rough trade! This can't be tolerated! Granted, our Klaus might have a few rough edges, but we reared him ourselves! The boy's a gentleman!"
Butler-trained reflexes prevented Conrad from betraying his own sentiment on that particular subject with even a blink. "Of course, sir."
"Conrad? I've heard the term, but ... What does that actually mean? Rough trade?"
"I'm not sure."
"Well, whatever it is, it doesn't sound good! I will not have these Limeys call our good boy bad names!"
Klaus snorted. So, Dorian had realised that Klaus wasn't going to let him make a spectacle of himself and had therefore dressed up one of his thieves as a woman. Didn't he think that Klaus would recognize the man?
Pushing back his chair he stood. As he approached the transvestite he noted that the man looked rather uncomfortable and while the curves were roughly in place, he didn't give off a more feminine air than Dorian himself usually did. The blue skirt was pretty enough, though, if one liked that sort of things: clinging to the hips and showcasing long, narrow legs.
He turned back to Dorian. "This is your grand master plan? Saleem will see through this charade in four seconds flat! Look at these!" He gestured at the small protrusions on the dressed up thief's chest. "Besides, Saleem likes them top-heavy. You could at least have stuffed the front some more. This is hardly even a B-cup. And the lines are wrong! What did you use, cotton? They're supposed to be shaped more like this," he said and grabbed the rightmost bulge, intending to fluff it into proper shape.
Then he froze.
The thief squealed.
Klaus couldn't move.
"You know," said Dorian. "I'm starting to get a little jealous. Could you please let go of Jen's tit?"
"Mr. Wymer and I have had business together for years," Heinz explained as the cab took him and Conrad through London's dwindling streets. "A bone china company near Newcastle, one of my first more lucrative investments."
"I remember it well." They had drunk Schnapps to celebrate that too.
"Yes, well, Mr. Wymer's not a member of the aristocracy, but I'm fairly sure he'll be able to answer a few of our questions."
"Very good, sir. Since Mr. Wymer isn't directly involved I shall attempt to speak to his servants. They might have some additional insight."
Plan complete, they both leaned back in their seats, ready to get started.
Dorian stood in the hallway outside Klaus's room and knocked softly. He had tried twice already, with no success. "So, I have a transvestite in my gang. You have one too. I don't see why you should be so--"
The door was wrenched open. "That's a woman!" Klaus growled. He was briskly drying off his right hand. His shirt edge looked suspiciously wet, as if Klaus had been in a real hurry to wash himself.
"I am aware of that," said Dorian. "We just don't talk about it. Didn't the name give you a clue? Jen is short for Jennifer, you know. But Jen's actually transgender. That means--"
"I know bloody well what it fucking means!"
"Good. Then I'm sure you appreciate that it took me quite a bit of encouraging before Jen agreed to dress like a female. But I do think Saleem will be convinced, don't you? Even if he gets grabby. Like certain other persons whom I will not mention."
"I thought it was cotton!"
"Yes, yes, likely story." Dorian made honking motions with both hands. "Herr A has told me how--"
"I did! I had no idea!"
Klaus was looking rather wild-eyed, so Dorian decided to relent. He walked up to him, put his hands on the man's hips and leaned in for a kiss. The lips under his were tense, but accepted his attention. During the night they hadn't exchanged a hundred kisses - or even fifty. Actually more like seven. The ones exchanged had been delightful, though, and he most definitely wanted thousands.
"It's fine," he said and traced a line of kisses up Klaus's neck. "I'm just yanking your chain. Of course I understand. Everything's fine."
As long as Klaus allowed him to touch, everything was fine in Dorian's world.
"I sent Jen off to infiltrate Saleem. Jen's one of my best, actually. Very competent. I'm sure it'll work out well." He pressed closer and batted his eyes, mostly hoping to tease Klaus out of his annoyance. "You're not angry with me, are you?"
Klaus snorted. "I'm pissed with myself. I should have seen. You're bad for me. You make me lose my edge."
Alarmed, Dorian withdrew. That sounded potentially extremely ominous.
Klaus eyes, however, were not cold as Dorian for a second had feared to find them. Instead of renouncing their budding relationship, the German shrugged. "Keeping my head around you will be a challenge. I must smarten up." Then the corners of his lips twitched upwards. "I like a good challenge."
Bonn. NATO Headquarters. Alphabet's room.
The five Alphabets remaining in Germany might not be working quite as diligently as their superior would have approved of, but then again, they very seldom did even when he was present. Possibly they took his absence as an opportunity to laze about just a little. Still, they were all working, when D's phone rang.
D, senior Alphabet and thus in charge, quickly lifted the phone. Major von dem Eberbach was in the habit of calling in to check on them at uneven intervals and he expected the phone to be answered promptly.
"It's me, H. I can't speak long. Are I and J there?"
"Sure. U and V as well."
"Good. Put me on speaker."
D waved everyone over and switched on the speaker. The others, who had paused to hear who called - all of them fearful to find out if it was the major and if he was on his way back, perhaps even in the lobby already - quickly surrounded his desk. "They're listening."
"I can't speak long. I? It's on! It's happening!"
"Are you sure?"
"Almost! You should see them! Major von dem Eberbach is using Eroica's first name and they sit together and the major hasn't hit him even once! B swears he saw the major touch Eroica's back once!"
U and V began to whisper amongst themselves in excited tones. J reached for the nearest phone, the one on C's desk. "I'm calling the team in Switzerland," he announced.
"But you have no positive proof yet?" I asked. At some point the agents had assigned him to be the official -though, of course, unofficial- information collector on the von dem Eberbach-Red situation. At the moment he was very frustrated at not having been chosen among the men selected for the London assignment.
"No," H answered. "I'll keep you posted. I must go now, we're about to move." Then he disconnected.
D hung up. The five men shared meaningful looks. All of them were smiling.
"Mr. Wymer told me that a Lady Dross is holding a ball tonight," Heinz said. "Everyone who is anyone will be there. If Countess Disken moves in society she might very well participate. Mr. Wymer had an invitation and was kind enough to give it to me. He has accepted, but doesn't really want to go. I must use his name, of course, but we're similar enough that I doubt an usher will make a scene. Do I have suitable clothes with me?"
"Certainly. Since I knew that you would visit noblesse I told Fräulein Karger to pack with this in mind. I noticed a tuxedo in the large green bag."
"Excellent, Conrad. I knew I could trust you. You're a gem. Did the servants have any information?"
Conrad hesitated. "Well, it appears that there recently was a bit of a scandal surrounding Lord Gloria. He was falsely accused of some crime. And currently there is another one brewing regarding Countess Disken and their mother, the late Dowager Countess Gloria. The city's all abuzz with rumours, everything from Countess Disken poisoning the Dowager Countess to the Dowager Countess dying from shame due to something Countess Disken said regarding Lord Gloria. Ah ... I heard plenty of gossip about Lord Gloria as well. Nothing else criminal, more about him being ..." He couldn't just come out and say that the man appeared to be "Light enough in his loafers to climb Everest without a Sherpa, if you catch my drift, eh?" and madly in love with their Klaus. "... somewhat eccentric and notoriously interested in art and beauty."
Heinz grunted. "Any word about Countess Disken and our Klaus?"
"Not about our Klaus and Countess Disken, no. They ... did link his name to Lord Gloria, though."
"Oh? Well, as I said before, he must have introduced Klaus to that woman. Bad form, that. She's his sister, the man ought to know she's a gold digger. Still, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he will also be at the ball."
"We have received Intel that a new assassination attempt will be made tonight. And your ... man ... reported that Saleem's been invited to some fucking ball," Klaus said, frowning.
"Lady Dross has always been terribly fond of hosting events. She arranges balls at least three times a year. She'd do it more often if she could afford to, but it's a bit of an open secret in society that, well ... The family fortune is dwindling. Nothing noticeable to outsiders, mind you, she keeps up appearance." Dorian noticed Klaus looking at him blankly, but kept going. "Still, her balls are most popular, some of the highlights of any season. She always features some visiting dignitary, but also always has some surprise planned, be it an exotic animal, a circus act or whatnot. I'll never forget, and this is quite amusing, one year she even--"
"A simple 'yes' would have done. How's the security? Do you have the blueprints?"
"Seriously, Klaus - I haven't broken into every estate in London. Besides, her son was two years below me at Eton. "Fammy" we used to call him. Sickly boy, broke his bones left and right as I recall it. Lady Dross was an old acquaintance of my mother; I saw her at the funeral. Our families visited on occasion. I get invited to all her balls. I've gone a handful of times, mostly when friends of mine--" Boyfriends, though temporarily such. "--expressed an interest in participating. I don't keep track of all affairs I'm invited to, but I would be sorely surprised if I don't have an invitation to tonight's event hiding somewhere. Normally my butler would have reminded me to send a declination, but, well, you know the situation. I haven't accepted either, but that never is a problem, not for me. Someone must have put all envelopes somewhere. I'll ask Bonham if he knows where they are, but I'm sure he does."
"Whatever. Is there anything in that wardrobe in my room that I can actually wear to a ball? You said my tux was ruined."
Again, Dorian felt a warm thrill at having Klaus refer to the room as his. He didn't let it show. "The wardrobe should be stored with all basic necessities, so there should be." An idea occurred to him. "Want me to help you change?"
Klaus threw him an annoyed glare. "I can get dressed by myself."
"I'm sure you can, darling. I was more thinking of helping you get out of the clothes you are currently wearing."
Klaus privately thought he reacted well to Dorian's clothes of choice for a large society function ball. "You look like a plum which a bird has shat on," he finally said.
The sharp look he received amused him.
"Philistine," Dorian said with a snort, then turned up his nose and walked past him towards the entrance of Lady Dross's oh so humble home.
"Idiot," Klaus answered gamely. He felt like a penguin himself. Surprisingly though, the outfit found in the vast wardrobe hadn't been too gaudy.
"The Earl of Gloria," he heard Dorian announce to the usher as he handed over his invitation. "With companion."
Which would be me. Fuck, how did I get myself into this mess? We're going to a fucking dance together. What's next? Will I pull his hair and ask him "Willst du mit mir gehen?" Or a bloody movie and making out in the back seat?
It wasn't even just "a dance". It was a bloody ball and he was going with the man prone to be voted "Most likely to be seen in any crowd, including in a circus". He was introduced as Dorian's "companion". If only to an usher, but still. Everyone knew what a "companion" meant. At least when the companion in question accompanied a flamboyant dandy like Dorian. Dorian had no doubt brought boytoys to previous events.
But it wasn't a real date or anything! It really is for a mission, Klaus reprimanded himself sternly. Now you are going to go in there and you are going to stay by his side and you are going to smile and you are going to catch that bloody killer before that fucking Arab gets himself offed.
Then they were inside. Dorian had spent considerable time chatting with Lady Dross over the phone. Apparently he had charmed her since childhood and she hadn't hesitated to agree to help. She had already let in a few Alphabets, disguised as waiters. More would join as guests during the event. Klaus would have preferred to go as a waiter himself, but on being informed of this fact Dorian had gone temporarily deaf. So Klaus had found himself dressed up penguin-style and escorted, first to House Dross and then inside. Where people stared at him left and right and gossiped to high heaven about him being there with a man!
No, they're not, you're just being stupid and paranoid. If anything, they're staring and gossiping about the peacock you're with. Not about you. If anything, half of them probably would like to trade places with me, so they could get into Herr Peacock's pants.
Dorian, who - Sigh, when doesn't he? - primped around, gaily being the centre of attention and gracing one cluster of people after another with his brightness. Klaus allowed himself to be swept along, paying scant attention to his immediate surroundings as he instead scanned the layout of the hall, noting various Alphabets and trying to kick-start his sixth sense into alerting for any danger.
So far, nothing.
A hand brushed his and he turned towards Dorian, who chatted with a bloated mademoiselle who looked like a velvet blueberry.
"This is Lady Dross, Klaus. My lady, my companion, Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach."
"Oh - military, how charming!"
She held out her hand, palm vaguely downwards. Klaus - who had been drilled for many a long, boring hour on how to respond - automatically took the offered appendage and bent over the heavily veined flesh. The act always made his skin crawl, but tradition was there for a reason and this one had been engraved in him from an early age. Besides, the old biddy could get them all thrown out if displeased. Klaus might not be the politest man in existence, but he would do anything to accomplish his mission, even smarming up to such a woman. He smiled stiffly while she and Dorian chatted, but after a few minutes he nudged Dorian that it was high time to move on.
"Saleem is expected to arrive about now. Until he shows up we should blend in with the other guests."
So they circulated at a leisurely pace as Klaus took stock of the already arrived guests and familiarized himself with the surroundings. He also cursed Saleem for taking Lady Dross up on her invitation. House Dross was a security nightmare. Anyone could get in. There weren't even any metal detectors. Luckily the layout was fairly open and not completely impossible to keep track of. At least eight meters to the ceiling. An elegant staircase led up to the uppermost floor - wide at the bottom, narrow in the middle to swell again towards the top. White marble pillars lined the very sides of the room - ornamental only, presumably, not holding up the ceiling, but with enough space around them for someone to play hide and seek. Same thing with the large marble urns with various flower arrangements in all the colours of the rainbow. In one corner a long-haired man hammered on a huge, black piano, looking half stoned. Beside him loitered two flute players, a clarinet player and two violinists.
X, carrying a tray with bubbly, approached them. Dorian took one of the crystal glasses and lifted it to his lips. Klaus also took one. He would hold on to it for a while - also lift it occasionally, but without drinking. He would not risk getting drunk on a mission. He had done that once already, which was unforgivable, with Mischa in Spain. Afterwards he had sworn that that time must be the last.
"Report," he muttered.
"We have covered all entry points. Nothing suspicious so far, sir, but this is not a secure area."
Klaus snorted. By lifting his drink, he signalled that X should resume circulating. Of course the area isn't bloody secure. It is a fucking security nightmare!
"Here comes the Desert Stallion," Dorian said sotto voce.
Klaus turned towards the door. Oh yes. There came the Arab, all right. In some demented show of respect he had limited his harem to only a modest four women. None of them half-nude, but all scantily dressed for a fancy ball. One of them wore a white gauze bandage on her upper right arm. All four cosied up to Saleem as the man deigned to kiss Lady Dross's hand. Klaus wanted to shudder - and if F even hinted at a second hand kiss through Lady Dross Klaus wouldn't just send the man to Alaska, he would send him to fucking Siberia. Their undercover agent with the KGB - codename Pink Ant Eater - was due to be relieved anyway. It disgusted him to see Saleem lean in close to Lady Dross and apparently say something that made the old dame giggle and blush like a school girl. Did the man have no shame? The woman could be his grandmother!
"Should we move away so he doesn't see you?" Dorian asked.
"Nein. He might distrust NATO, but he can complain to Fatso all he likes. You have the invitation and Lady Dross knows the score. He can't get us thrown out. Fuck that wanker."
"I would really rather not, dear. The man's a buffoon! No sense of artistic beauty at all." The latter words spoken with great determination and revulsion, as if that was the worst possible crime.
Klaus nodded, more for the buffoon sentiment than for the artistic bullshit.
Then Saleem saw them. He actually misstepped, his eyes went wide and one hand slipped over one of his hanger-on women's titties. Then he marched towards them, leaving his entourage behind with his long-legged gait. He stopped before them, looking from one to the other, before addressing Klaus.
"So, you let the queer catch you at last?"
Perhaps it looked that way. And perhaps he had. But never mind. "The fop's nothing but a convenient way to get inside," he said, allowing his annoyance to bleed into his voice and let Saleem read whatever he wanted into the tone. Klaus wasn't concerned about Dorian actually believing the words. Dorian was smart - for a Brit - and he would know that Klaus wasn't just using him that way. Besides, if Klaus actually had been doing just that, he would never have been so blunt right in front of him.
Saleem's right eyebrow rose. "What's his price for escorting you here, then? Are you spreading your thighs for NATO?"
The women had finally caught up with their sheikh. Now they tittered and glanced between Klaus and Dorian. The one with the gauze in particular looked as if she envisioned that scenario right then and there.
Klaus, on the other hand, envisioned an uppercut to the smirking Arab's chin - or perhaps a quick foot to the man's groin. He was torn between the tempting options and his duty to NATO. Wanker!
"So crude, Saleem," Dorian broke in. "Sadly, that option was never on the bargaining table. I will get a certain painting instead. One I think you might remember."
Saleem pulled back his head and if looks could have killed Dorian would have been severely wounded. Klaus watched the men's interaction with interest. Somewhat to his surprise it was Saleem who finally turned away from Dorian's triumphant gaze. "By Allah's will I will find the man who shot at my doves," he told Klaus. "Don't get into my way!" Then he started to lead away his mini-harem.
"What was that about?" Klaus asked once the man got out of hearing range.
"Nothing, really. Saleem and I had a discussion about a certain painting a while back. I let him think I got it, that's all." Dorian lifted an eyebrow. "Or would you have preferred if I let him believe that your virtue is negotiable?"
Klaus snorted. "We must circulate. I must keep everything in check."
While he looked around he let Dorian decide in which direction they moved. Dorian spoke to guests and easily took up any slack Klaus gave in his surveillance. As they walked, the evening's entertainment started. Lady Dross had engaged a group of professional dancers to show the guests the steps. Two pairs instructed while two others showed off. Klaus identified the dance as vaguely Spanish.
Twenty minutes later Klaus shook his head in annoyance. "Mein Gott, the Arab could just have painted a target on his fucking back and sat down on the stairs outside. That assassin could be bloody well anywhere!"
Dorian mouthed his champagne. He too had drunk sparingly, presumably also wanting to keep a clear head. Suddenly he started to cough. Thinking that the sparkly had gone down wrong Klaus lifted a fist and prepared to whack the other on the back. A hand was held up, stopping him. "No," Dorian said, then continued to cough a couple of times. "Well, I mean - yes, but no. They're dancing over there."
Klaus stopped scanning the crowd and blinked, then quickly turned. The dancing exhibition continued. A blue and a golden couple now instructed, while a black and a green one danced. It was the last pair which had caught his full attention.
The killers were, indeed, dancing over there.
Effortless elegance. Two bodies moving as if directed by a single mind. Never a missed beat; never a hesitation. Legs moving, skirt billowing, ridiculously long scarf fluttering. Expressionless faces gazing over the partner's shoulder at nothing at all. As much emotion as animated dolls - eerie, but standard for professional dancers. Klaus had seen the like before. The petite woman's head hung back as if her neck lacked support; as if she actually was a doll in the large man's arm. Despite her otherworldly gaze she never made a move out of step, apparently trusting her partner utterly.
A twirl and a hop and a lift and a skip - and like the sun coming out - the leading partner smiled. Blindingly so and his face transformed, showing so much love that girls in the audience gasped with envy. Perhaps the expression especially captivated them since the man was - supposedly - a professional dancer, who shouldn't show such emotion as not to distract the viewers from his moves. Klaus could just about hear the females in the audience think, How that man must love that girl, to smile so against all rules!
Klaus found dancing rather pointless. Still, even he must admire the skill displayed. The nearness between the bodies, flowing together in a socially accepted parody of intercourse, somehow loaded with simmering passion and boundless love.
And all of it. Every single bit of it. Every move; every expression; every shared look. A lie.
It wasn't even a man and a woman dancing.
Well, perhaps not everything was a lie. There was a nearness there that bespoke an intimate knowledge of one another's bodies. Only - not from sex. At least Klaus sincerely doubted the possibility. But he had seen the smaller partner in the larger's lap, sleeping as content as a petted kitten and with just as little concern about possible sexual connotations.
And the smile - so bright and warm and unexpected. It had been nothing but the most carefully taught expression, deemed suitable for the occasion, to distract the onlookers and deepen the illusion of a couple deeply in love. Klaus even doubted the taller partner capable of feeling such strong emotion.
Whatever else he was, Lutz Black was not a passionate man.
"This is wrong," Klaus muttered, just loud enough for Dorian to hear. "We have reliable information about the killer. He is supposed to be a man named Kal Henderson. We have a folder on him dating back to 1958."
"Far from be it my place to cast doubt on NATO's skill as an information gatherer, my dear," Dorian answered. "But fact remains that I am seeing relatives of mine over there, pretending to be professional dancers - and doing a fair job of it too, look at that lift there - expert! Unless they have taken this up as some sort of hobby - which I judge highly unlikely - something smells funny."
"Agreed. They are here for something and it is not to teach some high and mighties to do the fucking tango. We can't arrest them, though, there is no outstanding warrant. At least that explains the sleeping gas. I'll inform the 'bet." He clicked on the sender on his wrist and spoke into it. "Index here. Highest alert. The green dancers."
As he spoke he felt Dorian's hand touch the small of his back. When he lowered his wrist, the hand patted him once.
"They won't hurt me without reason. Shall I try talking to them?"
They had already been seen. Lutz's eyes - pale like water just before it turns to ice - had repeatedly traversed the entire room. While they remained half-slitted as if the man concentrated completely on the dance and the "woman" in his arms, Klaus had no doubt that both Lutz and the murg -Raphael? Gabriel? Pointless even to guess. - took full stock of everyone in the area. For all Klaus knew the murg might even occasionally lead the fancy steps, leaving the older brother free to surveil. The unofficial national sport of Black, Tower Bandy, relied on half of each team steering the blindfolded partner by a hand to the shoulder. If the murg could control his brother thusly while in a flat-out run, then a tango or whatever they did should be a piece of cake.
Just then, the dance ended. Each pair exchanged bows and curtsies. Then arms were ritually offered and accepted. The couples walked away from the floor, presumably for a pause. A red and a golden pair took their place and the music started up again, a little quicker this time.
Klaus still watched the retreating figures. For a moment he was struck by the height difference between the murg and its brother. During the dance he had seen a tall man and a petite woman. For a moment though - but no longer - he saw a medium-height "woman" and a giant.
A number of questions demanded answers. What would the presence of the Black brothers alter? What were they planning? Killing Saleem? If so, how did they plan on doing it?
Damn everything to hell! He must get Saleem out of there, snotty wanker or not.
"Go after them," he ordered.
But before Dorian had time to take more than a step, the first shot rang out.
The bang was muffled, but Dorian hadn't spent the last years pursuing a gun maniac without learning the difference between a popped champagne bottle and a rifle shot.
But they just left the room!
Another muffled bang and a woman started to scream.
Klaus studied the ceiling, turning his head this way and that. His Magnum had materialised in his hand, but he didn't appear to aim it anywhere yet.
"Second story," Klaus then growled. "Get Saleem--"
"--out of here!"
"Yes, but do be--"
Klaus already rushed towards the door Lutz and the murg had disappeared through.
"--careful," Dorian finished.
Fighting an urge to follow Klaus he turned and dashed towards the protection of a marble pillar. Not that he thought that his cousins would hurt him. Still, he wasn't completely convinced about the brothers' guilt. Yes, they were assassins and they were, undoubtedly, present. But the first attempt had failed. And not due to a daring rescue, courtesy of his beloved major. The latter he would have bought, in an immovable object up against an irresistible force kind of way. But apparently the shooter had, simply, missed. That was highly unprofessional and unthinkable for a shooter of Lutz's or a murg's calibre! While not particularly talented in the field himself - oh, all right then, he stunk - he had seen the brothers train. On one memorable occasion they had done so blindfolded, using a similar sort of sound-based aiming system as used for shooting for the visually impaired. So ...
A rather worrisome idea occurred to Dorian. Perhaps the brothers' presence was owed to the assassin, rather than the assassination. He knew that the brothers - and Lutz especially - were used as some kind of boogie men in criminal circles. "Behave or Lucifer'll get you." Perhaps this was some sort of shake down of the underworld. The brothers might be there to take out the assassin. If so, the shooter himself would have no reason to avoid hitting Dorian. The Blacks would avenge him, sure, but Dorian didn't want to be avenged. Dorian wanted to be alive.
He wished he could have shared his thoughts with Klaus. He also wished he could run after him, to help him with whatever needed doing. Just to see that everything was all right. But that was neither here nor there. As he worked his way towards where Saleem lay half-hidden under his harem, worry tore at him. What if Klaus gets wounded, even--
He told himself sternly not to be silly, that nothing had changed - that nothing likely ever would change in this regard. Not for many years, anyway. Klaus would leap like a happy dolphin into dangerous situations until the day he was retired - and likely beyond, if Dorian knew the man. Short of kidnapping him and tying him to Dorian's bed - not a bad idea in itself, mind you, and possibly an option worth considering if Klaus refused to take vacations in the future - there was nothing that could be done about it.
Luckily, Klaus was really more of a killer whale than a sweet dolphin. The man could take care of himself. Or so Dorian hoped.
Torn between wanting to reach the second floor, to deal with the shooter, and common sense, which told him that Lutz with brother must have something to do with what had happened, Klaus was glad he had previously scoped out the route he now followed. At the end of the twisting corridor a stair would lead to the first floor.
There was no time to wait for the Alphabets - Where are the lazy sobs anyway, napping? - so he pushed forward, gun aimed at chest-height; eyes and ears at highest attention.
The corridor turned and he quickly scanned the new area. Several doors, all to the right. The first one with a sliver of light shining through to the side. Obviously a trap. Or coincidence? Or neither. The assassins he sought might have gone through and in their haste had not managed to fully close the door.
A sound - Click. - came from further down the corridor. Another trap? A board setting in a wall panel? Or someone shifting his weight.
No dust on the floor, so no visible footprints. As to be expected of a high-class residence, sure. Still a bloody nuisance in these situations.
The brothers might have continued down the corridor, so all rooms were empty or had servants in them, cleaning or whatever. Or the Blacks could be hiding, waiting for him. if he continued they might - or might not - jump out after him.
Damn it! Where are those 'bets? I don't have time to wait!
A split second later he heard the sound again. This time he located the origin as one of the last doors before the corridor turned out of sight. Repetitive sound - a trap, surely? Or something completely harmless. A servant, cleaning. Two servants, fucking. Whatever. The Black brothers were professionals - they would not make that much noise. Not if they were hiding. But it might be a trap ...
Better safe than sorry and to have checked the first room needlessly. If he did, at least the 'bet would have time to catch up with him. Klaus went for the slightly opened door. He could be wrong, but then, that's the nature of the game. He really had no time to ponder matters. Mind made up and Magnum levelled, he pushed open the door.
The first thing he saw on stepping inside was the tall figure standing motionless by the window, looking back at him with blank disinterest. Lutz and--
And that was when a weight pummelled into him from behind, making him stumble forth.
Dorian reached Saleem in time to note that the four harem ladies had the situation well in hand. One had been wounded - judged by the relative lack of blood, the bullet must have only burned her skin on passing through her shoulder pad. Another woman showed Saleem how a bullet had ripped her miniscule purse. Saleem himself sat leaning against a marble pillow. The third lady - she must have thrown herself over him to protect him bodily. Saleem, for his part, looked shell-shocked, but fussed over each woman equally.
Since no further shots had been fired and Saleem was currently in a protected area, Dorian opted to stay put, rather than to get back out into the open.
That no more shots had been fired actually worried him.
Come on, Klaus! What is going on?
Before he had time to fire claws sharper than razors settled over his throat, icy cold against his skin. Three grams of pressure, Klaus knew that all to well. Three grams was all it would take. "A gnat can land on your finger," Baal had explained. "But if it presses down, that's all she wrote." Then the scalpel-like blades would break skin and slice right through the vein pulsing beneath. He'd bleed out on the floor before he'd even fired a shot. Klaus kept still.
Behind him, the door closed with a click.
Before him, Lucifer Black, dressed in form-fitting, glittering green, moved the corners of his lips back into a smile. "Hello," he said. Then the smile dropped. "Don't scream."
"Hello," Klaus replied, keeping his voice down. He didn't scream. Not because he was terrified by the prospect of abrupt, wet death, but because a) screaming would accomplish nothing and b) since the Black brothers hadn't killed him yet there was a good chance that they didn't plan to. He didn't mind taking risks, but to invite needless death was plain stupid.
"Hello," said the murg and leaned into Klaus's field of vision. It smiled too, but unlike its brother, it managed an expression that looked completely natural. Only its eyes drooped some, as if it felt sleepy.
He, Klaus corrected himself. Not an it. It's a he. He's a he. Whatever.
Currently dressed more like a 'she', but that was merely an assumed role. The face was fairly androgynous though, with smooth features; clear, blue eyes, and white flaxen hair, flowing down to the shoulders. Far longer than he remembered from visiting the country of Black, but then, that was a few months past now.
"I hope you are well," said Lutz, tilting his head slightly and opening his eyes a little wider in a question.
As long as your brother's claws don't slip, Klaus thought. They weren't actual claws, of course. Merely an interesting arrangement of slivers of sharp metal running down the inside of the fingers. Deadly as any large predator's claws, though. "I'm fine," he said. "What happens now?"
Lutz turned his eyes to the murg and waited.
The murg blinked once and looked confused.
Dorian watched, slightly disgusted, at how Saleem fawned over the women - especially the more recently injured one. He understood enough of the rapid Arabic to get the gist of how Saleem called them his beloved little doves; his brave kittens and so on and so forth. In between he also made a series of interesting threats towards whoever had ordered him to be assassinated.
A group of Alphabets were back in the main hall. Together with the guards they herded the remaining guests out of the building. Lady Dross helped them even though she cried continuously. Dorian made a mental note to write her in the morning, saying that he had enjoyed himself immensely. That he couldn't wait to see what she had thought up for her next party.
That is, as long as Klaus came back without a scratch. Dorian did realise that these things could take some time, but ... He started to get very nervous.
Then he noticed a movement along the side of the room. A man walked towards him, against the general stream. Not anyone he knew, yet the man looked oddly familiar.
"You are here to stop Saleem from getting killed, right?" asked the murg.
Klaus didn't nod, as to do so would require an ambulance on stand-by at the very least - if not a hearse. "Ja."
He was smiled at brightly. "Well, then we really don't have a problem. You see, he won't get killed."
"How come? You are here. Are you not here for him? Are you here for the assassin, then? Kal Henderson? Are you also protecting Saleem from him?"
"Ah, no, not as such," said the murg. With its unoccupied hand it scratched lightly under its fall of semi-white hair. The blades at Klaus's throat shifted. "You smell good. Lutz, can I tell him? About Kal? I think that would be easiest, really. And he's almost like family, isn't he? Through cousin Dorian?" Lashes batted towards the big brother. "Please? Love you bunches and bunches?"
Lutz's head tilted some more. Finally he nodded. Then he looked Klaus in the eyes and fucking meowed! Klaus hated being meowed at.
"Goodie good!" said the murg. Then it lowered its hand from Klaus's neck. "Kal was a nice man. A bit set in his ways and stubborn as a red goat, but I liked him. He was our guest for well over a month. I think he would have done well in our family. But he is dead now. These hands killed him." Hands were raised and fingers fluttered. For some reason Klaus got the impression that "these hands" really were the raised appendages in question, rather than those of some other murg, which otherwise could have been the case. "We use his name for special work. Also, Saleem knows us and if he knew it was us he would try to get us to tell him who hired us."
With the scalpel blades no longer pressed against his throat, Klaus felt reasonably sure he could get a shot off, if necessary. He'd have to be quick, though, and one shot would be all he got. The murg might have lowered his hand, but the "claws" were still close enough to gut Klaus within a second if he moved unexpectedly. For a little while yet, though, he was willing to listen.
"What do you mean by 'special work'?"
The murg glanced up at its big brother again. Lutz merely looked back. He appeared faintly bored. "Failing," the Murg finally confided. "Raphael shot to miss."
A distinct headache began to burn behind Klaus's right eye. "Why?"
"They wanted to impress Saleem, of course. So that they could be all brave and save him and he would like them best and not flirt as much as he does."
Klaus felt an almost overwhelming need to forcefully introduce his forehead to a wall. Repeatedly. "So the wanker was never in any danger?"
"Of course not."
He really would bang his head against a wall. Repeatedly. But not right now. "And why this get-up? Why are you dressed as dancers?"
The murg finally pulled away. It pirouetted, making the long dress flutter about, then fell backwards onto it's brother's lap. "Amn't I pretty?"
"'Aren't I, for some reason. I hate the English language. And I've seldom seen anyone so colourful. But why are you dressed up?" He was now the only one aiming a weapon. A fact that didn't seem to bother the brothers in the least. Very annoying.
Gabriel smiled sunnily.
"Raphael is dressed just like me. We'll do the switch and split. Two persons look the same, both go in at different times and both go out at different times. No one will realise. I don't have any gun powder residue. Easy pie! We do that all the time."
Klaus nodded slowly. "Smart. I get it. Are you done shooting at the git?"
"At least for now. They only paid for two attempts to start with."
"And all of them are in on it? The entire bloody harem?"
"Jopp." Which, Klaus knew, meant "yes".
Making sure that the gestures were non-threatening, Klaus holstered his Magnum and scratched his right eyebrow.
"Right. Fine. Whatever. Then I can leave His Highness to his messed up sex life and get on with some real work. Oh, and if the bints want to try this crazy shenanigan again, tell Raphael from me that he really doesn't have to miss completely. A little flesh wound never hurt anyone."
The man really did look familiar. Something about that strong nose; that narrow, long face and those large eyes with disproportionally small irises. Something ...
The stranger had reached Dorian. He studied him with inscrutable eyes. His posture was straight; his bearing impeccable. Then he bowed. The move was barely more than a few degrees of angling the neck. Dorian all but expected to hear the sounds of heels clicking together. Then the man straightened. He was about Dorian's height, perhaps an inch or so taller.
"You are Dorian Red, the Earl of Gloria," was stated, in a clear, clipped, German accent.
"Correct. You have me at a disadvantage, sir. I'm afraid I do not know who you are."
"Heinz von dem Eberbach. I believe you know my son."
The End. Continue on part 5.