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A City Where Nobody Knows Me

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Dorian dropped theatrically into a soft armchair, sighing loudly. “Bonham love, I want you to book me a flight.”

“’Course, m’lord. Where to?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Anywhere. Anywhere a long way away from him!” Dorian glared at the closed door.

On the other side, James continued to batter his fists on the wood, wailing, “My Lo-o-o-ord!”

Bonham suppressed a grin. “Well, that gives you a lot of choice, m’lord. What d’you fancy? Europe? The Far East? Tropical islands?”

With a soft moan, Dorian leaned forward, clutching his forehead. “I think I’m getting a headache. Can you find me an aspirin, please, Bonham? Look in the top drawer of that bureau.”

How on earth do I put up with this? James can be so unreasonable – and so vocal about it, too.

“’Ere, m’lord. Aspirin.”

Dorian opened his eyes, and managed a weak smile at the obliging Bonham, who stood by the chair holding out two aspirin in one hand and a glass of water in the other.

“Thank you.” Dorian swallowed the tablets and handed back the glass.

Through the solid mahogany door, he could hear Jones saying, “Come on, James, stop making that racket. We need you down in the work room. We’ve got the Central Bank of Luxembourg on the phone; we need you to activate some inward money transfers.”

The phrase ‘inward money transfers’ did the trick: with an excited squeak, James stopped hammering on the door and raced off in the direction of the work room.

“Thank goodness. He’s becoming impossible, Bonham. I can’t put up with this.”

Bonham chuckled. “Well, m’lord, ‘e didn’t come out of the Alaskan caper too well. Losin’ that counterfeitin’ plate was bad enough, but when Uncle NATO confiscated the Goering collection after we got to Hawaii, I thought James’d ’ave a nervous breakdown. That tantrum ‘e threw was the worst I’d seen for a long time.”

Dorian sighed again. “I know it was hard on him, but I’m sick of hearing about it. There’ll be other opportunities. Bonham love, book me on a flight to Brussels, will you? For tomorrow.”

“Why Brussels, m’lord?”

“Because I don’t know anyone in Brussels. I can get some peace and quiet there.”

“All right, m’lord. I’ll make the arrangements. Will you be doin’ any work while you’re there?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Well, I’ll pack a spare passport and some extra foreign cash for you just in case you change your mind. If you need any of us to join you—”

“Yes, Bonham love, if I need you I’ll call you straight away. I don’t think I will, though. I just want to get away for a rest. And don’t you dare tell James where I’ve gone! If he doesn’t know where I am, he can’t follow me.”

“Oh, no danger o’ that, m’lord. Travel costs money. ‘E won’t come after you,” Bonham assured him.

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Dorian’s flight landed in Brussels early in the evening. In the taxi on the way to his hotel – a luxurious establishment near the centre of the city – he contemplated the pure indulgence of having time on his own.

James had been so difficult to deal with these past few weeks, constantly nagging Dorian about lost art collections, wasted money, and lack of income. Occasionally, when tempers flared, the real reason for his agitation boiled up to the surface: James was convinced that Dorian had become intimate with Major von dem Eberbach while they were in that cabin in the Alaskan wilderness together.

Sadly, thought Dorian, that was not true; he only wished it were.

For Dorian, the greatest disappointment about the Alaskan job was not the loss of the Goering collection or the destruction of the counterfeiting plate. For a while, he’d thought the Major was looking at him through new eyes, seeing him as an equal. He’d dared to hope that perhaps the Major would unbend a little, just enough to permit himself to sample the pleasures of love with Dorian. But it hadn’t happened.

Was he wasting his time, hoping that he’d finally win the Major’s trust? Perhaps some time on his own would help him to get it all in perspective.

At least now, in a city where he knew no-one and no-one knew him, Dorian could let himself unwind. He planned to enjoy a few days of solitary relaxation, take in some art exhibitions and perhaps go to the opera or the ballet. Then, when he felt more refreshed, he might seek some company: someone who wouldn’t whine and nag like James, or yell abuse at him like the Major. Nothing serious – just a little sensuous diversion, some flirtation and mutual flattery to mend his bruised ego.

The taxi came to a halt outside the hotel. While Dorian paid the fare, a bevy of uniformed men collected his luggage. Twenty minutes later, he was alone at last, luxuriating in a deep tub of hot, fragrant water, listening to the faint sounds of traffic in the street below. Outside, night was falling softly, and the lights were coming on across the city. Dorian closed his eyes and breathed in the scented steam.

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The days slid by effortlessly: a mosaic of late breakfasts, relaxed strolls through the streets and gardens, solitary lunches and dinners in carefully-selected corners of expensive restaurants. By the fifth day, Dorian felt relaxed and calm. Centred. Restored. Yes, he thought, clearly he had made the right choice in getting away.

On a whim, he stopped at a coffee house on the way back to his hotel, and picked up a newspaper to read as he sipped his coffee. The main article on the front page reported continuing unrest in Poland. Beneath that was something about the appointment of an adviser to the European Commission. Neither interested Dorian very much.

Turning the page, his attention was caught by a headline: BRUSSELS AWAITS ARRIVAL OF SOVIET DEFECTOR. He folded the paper into a neater shape and read the article that followed.

 

Former KGB strongman Yegor Kovalevsky
arrives in Brussels tomorrow, after his
recent defection from the Soviet Union.

A controversial figure even in his
own country, the former KGB unit chief
oversaw the repression of political
activists and critics of the Soviet
government. He was particularly
harsh in curbing dissent in academic
and artistic circles.

Kovalevsky has been quoted as saying
“Critics who hide behind intellectual constructs
and artistic fabrications are less honest
than thugs who throw stones in the street.
They deserve a harsher fate for their
attempts to poison the minds
of the proletariat.”

Homosexuals were also targeted
by Kovalevsky for “undermining
true socialist values”.

Kovalevsky claimed asylum in the West
after falling out of favour with the
Soviet leadership over his independent
methods.

“Kovalevsky’s defection has sent a powerful
signal to the Kremlin,” a NATO spokesman
said today. “Although his reputation
is controversial we expect his arrival
in the West to make a significant contribution
to international stability.”

A press conference has been
scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.


Disgusted, Dorian tossed the paper onto the tabletop. He’d heard of Yegor Kovalevsky and his oppressive methods. Bigoted cruelty was too mild a term to describe his hate campaigns against gay men. And now that Kovalevsky was in fear for his own safety, the West was allowing him to buy their protection, no doubt with stolen State secrets.

Espionage and intrigue. Can’t get away from it.

Dorian made his way back to his hotel, focusing his thoughts on how he might spend his evening, determined not to think about Soviet defectors, the KGB, or NATO.

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At half past nine that night, Dorian strolled down the narrow cobbled streets of the Old Town. He was in no hurry, and he had a mind to pass the time somewhere quiet and tasteful. If he met someone he wanted to spend time with, that would make a pleasant end to the day. If not – a little more restful solitude wouldn’t hurt. For now.

The bar he chose stood between a patisserie and a bookshop in a street too narrow for cars to navigate comfortably. Warm light and soft music beckoned him in. He took a seat at the bar and ordered a glass of cognac.

Sipping delicately, he turned on his stool to survey the room. There were some couples; a small group of older men at a corner table; some men sitting alone. Admiring looks and shy, hopeful smiles flickered in his direction, but he ignored them, glancing surreptitiously at his own reflection in the looking glass behind the bar. The soft lighting flattered the cornflower-blue tunic and embroidered indigo scarf he had chosen for the evening.

“Are you drinking alone? May I join you?”

Dorian hadn’t seen this man in his first survey of the room; he must have been hidden in one of the booths. The elegant cut of his suit and the velvet caress of his voice stirred Dorian’s interest straight away. He offered the man a dazzling smile.

“Please, join me.”

Gracefully, the man settled onto the next stool. “Are you visiting Brussels on holiday?”

“Yes, I am. You?”

The man smiled. “I am living here for a short time. While I work.” He held out his hand. “Anton,” he said. “You are…?”

“Dorian.” They shook hands. Anton’s hand was smooth and warm. “What work do you do?”

“I’m a composer. I’ve come to Brussels to finish the score for my new opera. These ancient cities have so much character; they nourish the creative mind.” Anton smiled again. “You must feel something the same, to come to this city for your holiday.”

Dorian returned the smile and added a soft flutter of eyelashes. “And where is home when you’re not living here?”

“Vienna. Have you been to Vienna, Dorian?”

“Many times. I travel a good deal. I’m an art collector. Vienna’s a city that appreciates the arts.”

The barman interrupted to offer them another round of drinks. Anton insisted on buying a bottle of champagne, and they moved to one of the booths at the side of the room.

When he’d set off from his hotel, Dorian had been ambivalent about how he wanted the evening to end. However, he had never been one to close his eyes to opportunity – especially not an opportunity like Anton: stylish, attentive, handsome … his softly-accented voice full of heat and promise.

Anton poured their champagne. Dorian asked him about his new opera. Anton asked Dorian about the art exhibitions he’d seen, and the works he had in his collection. And all the time, behind the words, another conversation was taking place: eyes carefully assessing, hands touching, tentatively at first and then with greater confidence.

They didn’t trouble to finish the bottle of champagne. After two glasses, their interest in each other had overtaken their willingness to keep up polite appearances in public. They left the bar, walked to the nearby town square, and took a taxi to Anton’s apartment.

Anton lived in a prosperous neighbourhood. Dorian imagined his neighbours would be affluent and inclined to keep to themselves; no doubt Anton had chosen the location for privacy, so he could work without interruption. Inside the apartment comfortable, understated furnishings filled a spacious drawing room. A grand piano occupied a bay-windowed alcove. Bookshelves lined the wall on one side; the other walls displayed a tasteful selection of artworks. Reproductions, of course, Dorian noted, but tastefully selected none the less.

They didn’t linger. Anton led the way to his bedroom.

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They lay together, skin still damp, breathing settling back into a quieter rhythm. Dorian drew Anton closer and kissed him. “Don’t go to sleep yet, darling. I want more of you.”

Chuckling quietly, his lover returned the kiss. “You’re very greedy and self-indulgent—”

“Anton! You wound me!”

“You can’t deny it, Schatz – but I don’t disapprove. In fact, I intend to indulge you some more.” Anton rolled Dorian over onto his back, pinning his arms above his head. “This time—”

Somewhere else in the apartment, a phone began to ring. Anton swore under his breath, and let Dorian’s wrists go.

“I’m sorry, Schatz – I’ll have to get that.”

Dorian pouted sulkily as Anton got out of bed, picked up his bathrobe, and made for the door. A few moments later, the phone stopped ringing. Several minutes went by before Anton returned, and Dorian’s ardour had cooled by the time his lover came back to bed.

Anton slipped under the covers, pulling Dorian close. “You are annoyed, Schatz.”

Dorian frowned, then tried to smile. “I’m sorry, Anton. I was disappointed when you got up to answer the phone.”

“Jealous that I’d put work before pleasure?” Anton laughed tolerantly. “I’m sorry, Schatz. I’ve hurt your feelings. But it was important. It was my librettist.”

“At this time of night?” Dorian glanced at the bedside clock: nearly three in the morning.

“He lives in Hong Kong. He has no idea about time zones. He calls at all hours – but I must put up with it, because we have a good collaboration.”

“Then I’m sorry for being annoyed.”

Anton tightened his arms around Dorian. “You’re very beautiful, Schatz, and I want to enjoy your body again, but we need to sleep now. Let’s make love in the morning.”

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The next morning they shared breakfast, made love once more, and then Anton put Dorian into a taxi and sent him back to his hotel.

“Would you like me to come back tonight?” Dorian asked, husky and hungry.

“Yes – but call me first, Schatz. I must work today.”

All day long, Dorian could not settle to anything. He went for a long walk, and considered visiting the Botanical Gardens, but ended up going back to his hotel in the afternoon to wait impatiently for evening.

Dorian couldn’t remember when he’d last enjoyed a night with a new lover so much. He had to see Anton again. So often, pretty faces and lithe bodies held no interest for him beyond a single sexual encounter. Anton had more substance. Handsome, sensuous, a skilled lover – and a willing, welcoming lover as well. A man who actively wanted Dorian; who delighted in pleasuring him and being pleasured by him.

If only the Major could be like that.

Idly, Dorian picked up the remote control and switched on the news.

The TV screen showed a crowded street in front of an imposing building. Men in uniform thronged the pavement. A large black car drew up, tinted windows obscuring the occupants.

“—the most publicised and at the same time the most controversial defection from the Soviet Union in the last decade.” The unseen commentator’s tone was solemn, in keeping with the significance of the occasion.

Dorian frowned. The Kovalevsky defection again. Did he really want to hear this? His thumb paused over the ‘off’ button.

“The decision to hold a press conference and televise Kovalevsky’s arrival has provoked widespread debate. The authorities have defended the decision on the grounds that Kovalevsky has provided vital intelligence expected to help stabilise relations between Russia and the West. Critics have claimed the publicity is an unnecessary provocation to the Soviet Union.”

Men in dark suits, shadowed by armed guards in uniform, surrounded the car. One opened the door. A man stepped out: Kovalevsky, smartly attired in a grey suit.

“NATO’s Director of Public Affairs and members of the Military Committee are waiting at the top of the steps. This is a historic moment—”

The camera zoomed in, following Kovalevsky up the shallow steps to where the NATO representatives were waiting. The commentator continued to drone about the controversy surrounding the event.

Then – a shot rang out. Kovalevsky lurched forward, and fell face down on the pavement, blood spreading outward from a wound that had severed his spine.

Around him, the guards and secret service men erupted into action. Weapons were drawn. The crowd was pushed back. Two men and a woman were on their knees beside Kovalevsky’s lifeless body. In the background, suited men with handguns drawn were looking upward, pointing up toward the high buildings across the street.

The commentary surged on, now in panicked tones, but Dorian didn’t take in what it was saying. Then, abruptly, the screen went black, and the live report was replaced by a newsreader at his desk in the studio.

“We regret that we must leave the live coverage there. It appears that there has been an attempt on the life of Yegor Kovalevsky. We will bring you an update on the situation later. In other news today—”

Dorian switched off the television.

Well, that was a public relations exercise gone wrong.

Frowning, Dorian went into his bathroom to shower. Really, whoever organised that press conference could have predicted that there might be trouble. Serve them right. Serve Kovalevsky right, too. The man had been behind any number of horrific acts. He’d used murder and torture to suppress dissent, and to intimidate people whose lives didn’t conform to his dour version of ideological correctness. And now, the man himself was dead. Good riddance to him.

Dorian let the hot water and steam wash away any more thoughts about Yegor Kovalevsky. He didn’t want to be distracted by events that, after all, had nothing to do with him. There were more important things to think about: he was going back to see his new lover, and he wanted to be in the right frame of mind for seduction.

It was a little earlier than he had planned when he climbed into a taxi to go to Anton’s apartment – but that shouldn’t matter. Anton would be delighted to see him, whatever the time – and Dorian didn’t want to be seen as predictable. That just wouldn’t do.

After knocking on Anton’s door, Dorian draped himself seductively against the doorframe, listening for his lover’s footsteps.

“Dorian. Schatz. I didn’t expect you so early. Come in.”

Anton held the door open. Dorian swayed sinuously past.

“I thought you’d telephone first, so I could tidy up.” Anton closed the door, engaging the deadlock.

“I couldn’t keep away any longer, darling. I hoped you wouldn’t be busy.” Dorian glanced at the grand piano, which was surrounded by manuscript paper crumpled into untidy balls.

Anton smiled. “It’s time I took a break. My work’s going well enough, but I’m getting stale. Would you like a drink, Schatz?”

“Mmm, yes please.” Dorian dropped his leather shoulder bag onto the floor beside the sofa. “Whatever you’re having.”

“Champagne, then.” Anton disappeared into the kitchen. As he passed the door to his study, he pulled it firmly closed.

Dorian wandered around the large room, looking at the paintings, reading the titles of the books on the shelves. He glanced idly at the manuscript on the piano.

Anton came out of the kitchen carrying a bottle of champagne and two glasses. He sat on the sofa; Dorian came and snuggled up beside him. Anton eased out the champagne cork, and poured the sparkling liquid into the glasses.

“A toast, then, Schatz. To fortunate meetings, to finding beautiful lovers with unrestrained appetites, to desire and passion.”

Dorian clinked his glass against Anton’s. “To us.”

They drank.

“Now, how have you spent your day?” Anton slipped an arm across Dorian’s shoulders. “Tell me what you’ve been doing.”

“Oh, this and that. Nothing of great import.” Dorian nodded toward the piano. “I’d love to hear some of your music, Anton. Will you play for me?”

They moved across to the piano, and sat together on the stool. Anton played some selections from his new score, and some older pieces that he’d composed. His music was thrilling and dramatic, interspersed with softer, more romantic sequences. Dorian floated on a cloud of music and desire, his head resting on Anton’s shoulder, his eyes closed in contentment.

The last notes of music died away.

“Schatz? Are you awake?”

Dorian opened his eyes to see Anton gazing at him with fond amusement.

“Anton, your music is divine. You’re so talented. You’re a master of your art.”

“Come to bed, Dorian. Playing for you has given me an appetite.”

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Dorian woke, rolled over and reached out for Anton, but the other side of the bed was empty. Shaking off sleep, he sat up. The sheets on Anton’s side were cold; he’d been gone for some time.

Feeling around in the dark, Dorian found a towelling robe lying on the chair beside the bed. He pulled it on, and padded out into the next room, which was also in darkness. A thin line of light leaked under the study door. If Anton was working, he might not want to be disturbed; but he might not be working, he might be reading, or writing a letter…

Quietly, Dorian pushed the door open.

Anton was sitting with his back to the door, leaning over his desk. When he heard the door opening, he whipped around - “Dorian—!” - but it was too late. Dorian had already seen what he should not. A disassembled semi-automatic sniper rifle, laid out on a clean white cloth.

Dorian stood white-faced in the doorway, staring past his lover at the orderly array of rifle parts on the desk. He could feel the adrenalin spiking in his blood – Run! Now! – but he made himself stand still, pull his eyes away from the rifle parts, and look Anton in the face.

“You were the sniper. You killed Kovalevsky.”

Anton’s eyes didn’t waver from Dorian’s. “Yes.”

Dorian swallowed. His thief’s instinct had automatically noted the exit points as he’d come into the apartment earlier: the front door (deadlocked), two windows (protected by decorative iron bars). There was no way out if he tried to run. He’d have to talk his way out of this.

Anton looked calm and watchful, like a predator considering his next move.

“Who are you working for, Anton?”

“Perhaps I killed him for personal reasons.”

“That killing wasn’t personal, Anton. That rifle’s a professional’s weapon. Who are you working for?”

With a chilling half-smile, Anton said, “Schatz, I might ask you the same question. An art collector who recognises sniper rifles? Perhaps there’s more to you than meets the eye. Perhaps you are working for someone who’s interested in what happened to Kovalevsky.”

Dorian shook his head. “No, Anton. I’m not.”

Slowly, deliberately, Anton reached into the top drawer of his desk, and lifted out a pistol. “Then it’s a great shame, because you’ve seen what you should not, and guessed what you should not.” He levelled the pistol at Dorian’s forehead, releasing the safety catch with a soft click. “I’m sorry, Schatz. Truly sorry.”

“Anton, put the gun down. Please.” The sure, cold focus in Anton’s eyes was frightening. “Please, Anton. Put the gun down. You don’t need it.”

For a long, long moment, neither of them moved, and then, with the slightest of gestures, Anton signalled to Dorian to move out into the big room. Slowly, carefully, Dorian complied, backing out of the study. Anton followed, the gun trained on Dorian. He switched the lights on as he passed.

“Sit. There.” Anton nodded at the sofa.

Dorian did as he was told, perching gingerly on the edge of the seat.

Anton lowered the gun, holding it loosely in his right hand. He looked agitated now, running the fingers of his left hand through his hair. “By rights, I should have killed you as soon as you opened that door. No witnesses. That’s my policy. It’s my clients’ policy, too: they’d be very displeased to find I’d let a witness live. Witnesses are messy loose ends. You can never guarantee their silence.”

“Then why didn’t you kill me?”

Anton shook his head distractedly. For a moment, he looked almost vulnerable.

Dorian leaned forward, speaking quietly, urgently. “Look, Anton. I’m not overly concerned that Kovalevsky is dead. The man was a pig. He persecuted men like us. I don’t even care very much that you were the one who killed him. What I am concerned about is who you’re working for, and how worried they’re going to be that I know you did it.”

The vulnerability evaporated from Anton’s face, and the hard mask fell back into place. His grip on the gun tightened. “It depends, Schatz, on what you plan to do with that information.”

“I don’t plan to do anything with it. What would I do with it? Who would I tell? Anton, I’m not working for anyone, I swear to you. When we met in that bar, it was – what were your words – just a fortunate meeting. I wasn’t following you.” Dorian kept his voice low and clear, willing Anton to believe him. “The first I knew about your connection with the Kovalevsky affair was when I saw the gun. Then I just put two and two together.”

“And you just happened to recognise, in an instant, that the assortment of parts on the desk was a sniper rifle,” Anton sneered. “An art collector on holiday? I don’t think so. Let’s see who you really are.”

Placing the gun on the bookshelf behind him, Anton snatched up Dorian’s shoulder bag from beside the sofa. Dorian watched apprehensively as he upended it, scrabbling through the contents that tumbled out onto the coffee table. Wallet, hotel room key, passport, city street map, hair brush, sunglasses – nothing out of the ordinary. Anton plunged his hands into the bag, pressing and bending the layers of leather and silk.

Dorian sat completely still, expressionless, as Anton pulled and tore at the lining. He showed no reaction at all as Anton drew out a second passport and threw it down on the coffee table.

“Two passports?”

“Go on, then,” Dorian said. “Look at them.”

Anton picked up the first, a British passport. Inside, the name Dorian Ruskin was printed below an unsmiling photograph. The second was a Dutch passport. It showed the same photograph, but the name in this one was Dedrick Rosendaal.

“I thought there was more to you than you were letting on,” Anton said darkly as he stacked the passports together and stuffed them back into the ruined shoulder bag. “Art collector.” He shook his head. “Are either of these identities real?”

“Neither of them, darling,” Dorian said lightly. “I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Anton Meisener isn’t your real name, either. But let’s not worry about that. As you see, I’m not un-acquainted with intrigue.”

“So what is your game, Dorian? Racketeer? Drug runner?”

“Let’s just say it’s convenient to move between identities sometimes.”

Anton dropped into an armchair, facing Dorian and within easy reach of his gun. The hard mask had slipped away again, and he looked tired and confused.

“What the hell am I to do with you? Whatever you are – whoever you are – you shouldn’t be tangled up in this.” He sighed. “You shouldn’t know what you know – and my clients would want you dead.”

“Anton, you don’t need to kill me. You don’t want to anyway, do you? Admit it. If you’d wanted to kill me, you would have done it by now.” Slowly, carefully, Dorian reached out and placed his hand on Anton’s knee. “I live with secrets all the time. You can trust me.”

The shrill jangling of the phone made them both jump. Snatching up his pistol, Anton seized Dorian by the arm and dragged him into the study with him. Shoving Dorian onto a chair, he picked up the phone.

"Meisener.” He listened, not taking his eyes off Dorian. His responses were brief. “Yes. ... Yes. ... Where? ... At what time? ... Understood.”

Anton hung up. He rubbed his temples hard, as if trying to clear his thoughts.

“Was that your librettist again?” Dorian asked.

Anton gave a wry half-smile. “Yes, it was.”

“And?”

Anton’s expression sobered. “There’s a loose end to be tied up. Before Kovalevsky was debriefed, he’d spent three days in the company of the NATO contact who brought him out of Russia. Who knows what he told the man while they were together? The contact has to be eliminated. I have a time and a place.” He looked almost sad as he said, “The question is, what am I to do with you? It would be simpler if I killed you.”

“But you haven’t.” And if you haven’t killed me yet, you’re not going to.

Dorian stood up slowly, and crossed to where Anton was leaning against the wall.

“Where will you go afterwards, Anton?”

“I’ll need to leave Brussels; lie low for a while.”

“And if I come with you?”

“Why would I take you with me? I’ll travel faster alone. Two men are more conspicuous than one.”

“Oh, I don’t agree. It’s a question of what people are looking for. If anyone’s looking for the person who killed Kovalevsky and his contact, they’ll be looking for a man travelling alone. Not two men heading off together for a holiday in the sun.”

He was close enough to touch Anton now. Close enough to hear his breathing, feel his warmth. When Anton didn’t push him away, Dorian settled gentle hands on his shoulders.

“Take me with you. You said it yourself: there’s more to me than meets the eye. I have connections. I can help you to drop out of sight in places your clients might not expect. Places where I have friends who don’t ask any questions.”

Narrowing his eyes, Anton said, “In my experience, friends who don’t ask questions want to be paid back at some point.”

“Oh, darling, I’ve already accrued plenty of credit with all of them. They owe me, Anton. Where do you want to go first? Italy? Beirut?” Dorian’s arms were around Anton’s waist now, their bodies pressed together lightly. “I know your clients won’t be pleased with you for letting a witness live – if they find out. All the more reason to disappear into my protection network, rather than your own.”

Anton touched Dorian’s face gently. “You’re a paradox, Dorian. Beautiful and baffling. Maybe dangerous.”

Dorian smiled at his lover. His smile felt forced, and he hoped Anton could not see the apprehension behind it.

“Come!” Anton straightened up, suddenly brisk. “This may prove to be the worst decision of my life, but I’m going to let you live. For now: bed. If I have made a mistake, I expect you’ll kill me in my sleep. If I wake up tomorrow – after I’ve completed the job, we’ll talk again about your offer of protection.”

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Dorian sat quietly at the kitchen table, watching Anton check his equipment and pack it away into an anonymous black canvas sports bag.

“I’ll be away for some time. Don’t expect me until early evening.” Anton zipped the bag up. “When I get back, be ready to leave straight away. I want to get on the road immediately.”

Dorian nodded and smiled. His lover looked elegantly casual in jeans and a light suede jacket. He might have been heading off to the sports club to play a few rounds of squash, he looked so relaxed and – well, ordinary. Nobody would guess that his bag contained a high-powered rifle, and that he was heading off to kill a man.

Anton had been quite matter-of-fact about the job. “Another homophobic bastard, Dorian,” he’d said. “No loss to the world.” Dorian wasn’t much concerned about the intended victim. Kovalevsky’s defection had been a dirty business, as far as he could see, and he had no sympathy to spare for anyone who was involved. His main concern was for Anton: that he would come back unharmed, and that the two of them could get away together undetected. Once they were in Italy, Gian-Maria Volovolonte’s network would hide them until they could see which way the wind was blowing.

He followed Anton to the front door. “Be safe, darling. I’ll be waiting for you.”

“Good.” Anton threaded his fingers into Dorian’s hair and kissed him softly. “And then you and I can leave, and drop out of sight together.”

Anton closed the door behind him; Dorian listened to the sound of the key turning in the deadlock.

He was locked in. There was no way out through the doors or the windows. Still, Dorian had no intention of going anywhere, because they’d come to an agreement: he’d wait for Anton, and they would leave Brussels together and go into hiding.

Once Dorian was alone, the previous night’s happenings played over in his mind. If he hadn’t got out of bed and gone looking for Anton, he wouldn’t have seen that damned rifle – and he would have remained blissfully unaware of Anton’s role in the Kovalevsky killing. Things would have stayed simple; Anton would have been nothing more than a holiday lover. Now, they had to become allies in crime – allies in an assassination – so that Anton could feel assured of Dorian’s silence. Assured enough to let him live.

For a while, Dorian had been afraid that Anton really was going to kill him. Thank goodness Anton had hesitated – and thank goodness he’d chosen to trust Dorian when he saw that he, too, had secrets to keep. Of course, once they left Brussels and headed off together, Anton might try to kill him after all – and Dorian was already planning how to escape as soon as he saw any indication that all was not well. He hoped, though, that Anton really did trust him, and that they could travel together for a while. If there was anything Dorian found irresistible, it was a handsome, talented, dangerous man.

He had hours to wait until his lover got back. He browsed through the bookshelves and read for an hour or two; he made a sandwich for lunch and ate it, gazing out of the kitchen window (the locked and barred kitchen window) at clouds and treetops, and birds on the neighbour’s roof. At a loss to know what to do next, he turned on the television.

A current affairs program was on, and Dorian found himself faced with yet another replay of the Kovalevsky assassination: the defector climbing the steps, the shot, the crumpled body; the agitated crowd; the armed men swarming back and forth, pointing upward.

But this time, the film didn’t end there.

First aid attendants pushed through to examine the fallen man. At the top of the steps, secret servicemen ushered the Director and committee members back into the building. A new figure now joined the throng, bounding up the steps from the direction of the car, barking orders at the guards and the secret servicemen around him – a tall man with long dark hair, carrying a handgun.

Oh, my god. It’s the Major. Dorian felt himself go cold all over, gripped by chilling certainty. The Major must have been the NATO contact who brought Kovalevsky out of the USSR. The Major is Anton’s new target!

Swallowing down the panic rising in his throat, Dorian made himself slow his thoughts. He turned off the television and dropped the remote control onto a chair.

I can’t let this happen. I have to stop him. But how? I don’t even know where he was going.

His shoulder bag still lay on the sofa, with the contents stuffed haphazardly into it. He pulled out his street map and spread it out on the coffee table – and there was the answer, there on the north-east perimeter of the city, marked on the map as a “point of interest”. NATO Headquarters. If the Major wasn’t there himself, someone there would be able to find him.

Next, Dorian considered his options for getting out. Through the ceiling seemed the best choice. Slinging his shoulder bag across his body, Dorian hauled a low cabinet over to the bookcase, and clambered upward, pulling books off the shelves to gain a toe-hold. The plasterwork ceiling yielded after a few sharp blows with a heavy book. Dorian enlarged the hole, climbed into the crawl-space of the roof, and wriggled toward the front of the building. Dislodging the roof tiles didn’t take long. He emerged into the open air, descended via a drainpipe, and sprinted down the street to the busy road at the end, where he hailed a taxi to take him to NATO Headquarters.

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“NATO, hey? Are you a journalist, sir, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“No, I’m not.” Dorian was disinclined to chat with the taxi driver. “And could you hurry, please? It’s urgent.”

The driver, shrugging, steered the car out into the traffic.

They made good time for the first part of the journey, but as they approached the Northern Quarter, the traffic became congested and slowed down, until they were reduced to a crawl.

“What’s happening?” Dorian became alarmed. He couldn’t afford to be stuck in a traffic jam.

“It’ll be all right, sir: we just have to get through this constricted area, then things will be freed up.”

Cars crawled along in both directions; the taxi was completely hemmed in.

“I can’t afford to be delayed! Can’t you take another route?”

The driver shrugged again. “I’m afraid not. We’re confined on all sides by the traffic, sir.”

Panic began to churn upward in Dorian’s chest. He felt helpless. He was trapped in a traffic jam, miles from his destination – and he didn’t know for sure whether getting to that destination was going to bring a solution or a new set of problems.

“You’re a visitor to our city, yes?” The taxi driver made another attempt at conversation. “This area’s an important business district. Banks and insurance companies, big corporations. A lot of development’s going on here, sir. See, at the end of the street? That building under construction? That’s going to be a new conference centre.”

Dorian didn’t answer. The driver gave up. The car edged forward.

In the street ahead, Dorian could see people on foot threading among the cars – large numbers of people, some carrying placards.

“What’s going on?”

“A demonstration,” the driver replied, pleased that his passenger had decided to talk. “Students from the university, mostly. Something to do with this Russian defector who was killed yesterday.”

Dorian felt vaguely sick. Kovalevsky again. Was there no escape from it?

“My son’s at the university. He told me this morning he’d be at this demonstration. I told him that he would be labelled a communist, going to these things, but he says the protest is about open communication.”

Amongst the protesters, a small number of uniformed police circulated ineffectually. As far as Dorian could see, they were doing nothing to manage either the traffic or the surging mass of people.

“Why here?” he asked. “Why is the demonstration here, if it’s the business district?”

“Because NATO officials are holding a meeting in that building there, with government representatives and the police. My son told me that. The information was leaked.”

Ahead, the crowd shifted aside grudgingly as a black car with tinted windows, travelling toward the taxi, drew up opposite the building. The car’s doors opened to let out the passengers – all men wearing dark suits. The last man to get out of the car was Klaus von dem Eberbach.

Dorian jerked the door open and leapt out of the taxi.

“Hey! You haven’t paid your fare!” the taxi driver yelled.

Dorian ignored him, and raced through the stationary traffic and the milling crowd toward the building – toward the Major.

Tall buildings loomed above the narrow street; the tallest of all was the conference centre tower under construction. From high up in that building, a person would be able to see everything that happened along the length of the street. A perfect place for a sniper to hide.

“Major! Major!”

When he heard the familiar – and unwelcome – voice, Major von dem Eberbach turned and fixed Dorian with a glare. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Major, you’re in danger!” Dorian panted. “An assassin is going to make an attempt on your life—”

“What are you talking about, Eroica? What bullshit is this?”

Protesters streamed past them, oblivious to what they were saying.

“Major, please listen! The man who killed Yegor Kovalevsky – he’s going to try to kill you. Today. Possibly here, right now.”

The Major turned away and began to stride toward the wide glass doors. “I haven’t got time for this, Eroica. Take your dramas elsewhere. Security! Remove this man, immediately.”

“Major! You have to listen—!”

Heavy hands descended on Dorian’s shoulders and he was forcibly steered across the street and dumped on the opposite pavement.

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From inside the foyer, Klaus watched Eroica being escorted across the street. When the security guards shoved him onto the footpath and left him there, he leaned close to the wall glancing nervously up toward the half-built tower at the end of the street.

Looking around, Klaus saw Agent Muehlenberg, who was in charge of security for the meeting. He beckoned the agent over.

“Muehlenberg, did your men sweep any of the other buildings in this street?”

“Some, sir. Others have good enough security systems of their own to notice anything untoward. We concentrated on the ones that don’t.”

“What about that building down there at the end?”

“The one under construction, sir? We went through it this morning. All floors.”

“What time?”

“Early, sir.”

“Send a couple of men down to take another look, will you, Muehlenberg? We may have a shooter.”

“Yes, sir.” Muehlenberg went off briskly to put the orders into action.

When Klaus turned back to look across the street, Eroica was gone.

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Half an hour later, Klaus was about to join the senior agency representatives in the conference room when Muehlenberg called him aside, looking worried.

“You were right, sir – we have got a shooter. My men found a sniper’s set-up on one of the floors looking down toward this end of the street: a Dragunov SVD with a cradle and a long-range scope.”

“The sniper?”

Muehlenberg shook his head. “Got away. Sorry, sir. All they found was his set-up; no sign of the man himself. Looks like he left in a hurry.”

“Humph,” Klaus grunted, looking displeased. “He must have heard them coming.”

“We’ll keep the place under surveillance, sir, in case he comes back for his gear – but I don’t think he will. Oh, and, sir? Agent Zimmerman from the Bonn office is waiting for you in the briefing room.”

“Zimmerman?” What the fuck was Agent Z doing in Brussels? He wasn’t attached to this mission. Did this mean the Chief was trying to push his nose into the operation?

Klaus strode down the corridor and pushed open the door to the briefing room – to be greeted by the sight of Eroica at the head of the meeting table, surrounded by local agents and uniformed security guards, all drinking coffee and hanging on his every word.

“What’s going on here?” Klaus snapped. “Back to your posts, all of you. I want to talk to Agent Zimmerman in private.”

When the door closed behind the last of them, Klaus expected some wisecrack about wanting to be alone together, but Eroica looked deadly serious.

“I’m sorry, Major, but it was the only way I could get in. I told them I’d been roughed up by some demonstrators who made off with my wallet and identification. Luckily I could quote Z’s rank and serial number.”

“I won’t ask you how you know those things,” Klaus growled. He sat down at the table. “All right, Eroica, what’s going on? How do you know about the sniper?”

“I can’t say, Major,” Dorian said stiffly. “I can’t reveal my sources. All I can tell you is: the man who killed Kovalevsky also has orders to kill the agent who brought him out of Russia, and he’s making his move today.”

There was a knock on the door; Muehlenberg looked in. “Beg your pardon, Major, but they need you in the conference room.”

Klaus stood up. “All right, I’m coming. Muehlenberg, look after Agent Zimmerman for me, would you? Make sure he’s here when I get out of that meeting.”

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The meeting finished just after six thirty. Outside, darkness was falling and the business district was emptying. Klaus came back to the briefing room where Muehlenberg and ‘Agent Zimmerman’ were talking amiably.

“I’ll take over here, Muehlenberg. Go and see if your men have any updates on the situation.” He sat down. He thought Eroica looked tired. “I suppose you’ve wormed some information out of Muehlenberg?”

“I know his men found a rifle in that building.”

“But no sniper.” Klaus looked at Eroica thoughtfully. “Eroica, I’ve dealt with you enough times to know that if you don’t want to tell me something, you won’t – but let me try, anyway. Do you know who the sniper is?”

Eroica gazed back at him, expressionless.

Swearing under his breath, Klaus stood up. “Come on, then, they’re closing up the building for the night. You’ll need to come with me; you’re a material witness, and I’ll need to talk to you tomorrow. We’ll provide you with somewhere secure to spend the night.”

Out in the foyer, agents and officials were making their way out to a line of waiting cars. Across the street, the remnants of the protesters stood jeering and chanting, held back by police. Agent Muehlenberg, Klaus and Eroica went outside together.

Dorian felt bone-weary. He stood with Agent Muehlenberg, waiting to be told which car to get into. The Major moved amongst the groups gathered on their side of the street, talking to this one and that one.

Across the street, at the edge of the group of protesters, Dorian’s attention was caught by a man moving purposefully through their ranks toward the front – a man more expensively dressed than most of the people surrounding him – a man wearing an elegantly cut suede jacket.

“Major!” Dorian started to run, shouldering people aside as he went. “Major, behind you!”

The Major turned.

On the other side of the street, the man pushed clear of the crowd and raised his pistol.

“Anton!” Dorian screamed. “Anton, don’t shoot!”

The half-second’s distraction was enough. Muehlenberg and his agents raced past and tackled Anton to the ground.

Around them, the protesters surged back in confusion. Civilian meeting delegates were hurried into their cars. Dorian stood in the middle of the street, watching as Anton was led away.

The Major now came and stood beside him. “You knew him, didn’t you?”

He nodded. “Yes – but I didn’t know until last night what he did. I didn’t know until this afternoon that he was looking for you.”

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Five days later, Dorian was driven to the Brussels Airport by Agent Muehlenberg. He’d hoped the Major might take him, but he wasn’t surprised when the job was delegated to one of the agents.

Dorian had spent the five days in secure accommodation provided by NATO. He’d had an agent with him twenty-four hours a day to ensure his safety – although Dorian thought it felt more like being under house arrest. Another agent had been sent off to his original hotel to collect his belongings and pay the bill. (James would be pleased about that, Dorian thought.) The Major had brought him in for questioning twice, but most of the time he’d been left alone to amuse himself as best he could, shut in and under supervision.

Muehlenberg pulled into a parking space and turned off the engine. He turned to face his passenger. “Your plane leaves in an hour, Lord Gloria. Is there anything else that you’d like me to do for you before you leave?”

“No, thank you.”

“Major von dem Eberbach asked me to convey his personal thanks for your part in this operation.”

Dorian sniffed haughtily. “He could have told me himself, instead of sending a messenger.”

Muehlenberg looked mildly amused. “He said you’d be offended. Thing is, he’s already had to go back to Bonn. Something to do with the EC Expo in Cologne.” He grinned. “I know the Major can be pretty economical about thanking people or handing out praise. He gets embarrassed by it. It also makes him look hard-arsed if he doesn’t do it, and that’s a reputation he wants to cultivate. I thought he was an arsehole when I first worked with him – but after a while you get to see that there’s another layer under that.”

Dorian knew what he meant. He’d caught glimpses of the Major’s “other layers” – like his appreciation of the beauty of polished steel, or his fondness for churches. The Major was a more complex man than he liked people to think.

“He appreciated your help, you know.” Muehlenberg looked thoughtful. “Would I be right in saying you and the Major go back a long way?”

“You could say that; but I think he despises me.”

“He doesn’t, you know,” Muehlenberg said in serious tones. “He told me you had balls. He told me about you facing off against Mischa the Bear Cub with an empty gun.”

Wide eyed with surprise, Dorian said, “He told you that?”

Muehlenberg grinned again. “He also said you’re a danger junkie, and one day that’s going to get you into more trouble than you can handle. He didn’t say so, but I kind of got the impression he hopes he’ll be around when it happens so he can pull your arse out of the fire.”

Incredulous, Dorian stored that up for further thought later. Perhaps – just perhaps – this was a hint that the Major was not as dismissive of Dorian as he pretended to be.

Muehlenberg looked at his watch. “You’ll need to check in, Lord Gloria.”

“Yes, of course.” Dorian gathered up his coat and his shoulder bag, making a mental note to go shopping for a new one as soon as he got the chance. “So, what will happen now? I suppose there’ll be a trial. Will I have to give evidence?”

Muehlenberg shook his head. “Probably not. The prisoner’s own confession covered everything that you told the Major. He freely admitted to killing Kovalevsky; his confession’ll make that part of the trial straightforward.”

“What do you mean, ‘that part’?”

“We’ve linked the prisoner up with a number of other killings going back ten years or so.”

“Oh.” A chill ran down Dorian’s spine. “Was he KGB?”

“The Kovalevsky sanction was ordered by the KGB, of course – they wanted him dead because he’d traded state secrets, and they wanted the Major dead in case Kovalevsky had told him anything over and above what he’d given NATO in his debriefing. But no – the prisoner wasn’t KGB himself; he was an independent specialist that they’d hired. He’s a dangerous man: he’s been responsible for at least four killings that we hadn’t been able to clean up before. Who knows how many others, that aren’t on our radar?”

Dorian felt cold. Anton probably wouldn’t have hesitated to kill him if they had gone away together, if things didn’t go as planned. He shivered.

He got out of the car, shook Muehlenberg’s hand, and went inside.

Once his baggage had been checked and he had his boarding pass, Dorian strolled into the First Class Lounge to wait for his flight to be called.

The EC Expo, he mused; I wonder if there’ll be any opportunities for a little treasure-hunting? As soon as I get home, I must get the boys to do some research.