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A Good Wife

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Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach was almost always in a bad mood, but there were variations. There was plain bad; simmering bad; explosive bad; and, worst of all, homicidal bad. Fortunately for everyone, homicidal bad did not come by very often and it never lasted too long, but when it did come it was life-threatening indeed. No one who knew him at all dared to be within striking distance of him at those times, with the exception of a certain blond English thief, the only person on the planet who wasn’t scared off even by this kind of earth-shaking rage. Then again, this might be because said English thief was most of the time responsible for his spells of homicidal bad mood.

 

Well, currently he was in a homicidal bad mood, but this time around was by far the worst in living memory. For one, it had lasted much longer than usual; normally his homicidal tendencies wore off after a day or two, but this time he was in that lethal mood for almost a month, with no indication of improvement in the foreseeable future. The other difference was that for once the aforementioned blond English thief had nothing to do with it. The cause of his nerve-wrecking frustration was none other than his own father.

 

Fed up with Klaus repeatedly brushing off his long-distance nagging to get married and produce a new generation of von dem Eberbachs, his progenitor had finally decided to bring the war to the enemy’s camp. He had come from Switzerland unannounced about a month ago, settled himself in the Schloss, and declared he would not be leaving again until he saw his son a married man. Needless to say, the outbreak of World War Three would have caused Klaus less dismay than this declaration. He tried to offer the usual excuses about his work, its dangers and so on and so forth, but his father would have none of it. He was determined to hook him up with an eligible fräulein and that was final.

 

To make a bad situation worse, the Major had no acceptable excuse to make himself scarce for the time being. He had hit a dry spell at work; there was no mission for him at the moment, only paperwork, and not even enough of that to justify him staying over in his townhouse in Bonn instead of returning to Eberbach in the afternoon. And with that kind of free time on his hands, there was no way he could refute his father’s demands to meet up with the prospective brides he industriously lined up for him.

 

It took but a few admittedly disastrous dates with pretty, well-bred and utterly empty-headed and annoying young ladies for the Major to hit the bottom of his already meager patience. But he was not the only one who found them disagreeable and repulsive; apparently most of them, appalled by his curtness and indifference towards etiquette, had given some mighty nasty reports about his conduct to their fathers, who in turn did not waste any time in relaying them to his father. The end result was that his father had reprimanded him severely, and he had not been able to refrain from saying exactly what he thought of those young ladies and where they could shove their complaints, and it kind of went all downhill from there. Indeed, it was pretty inevitable for things to turn out this way. Klaus and his father had only one way of communicating, which was his father giving orders and him obeying them. If he failed to obey, there simply wasn’t any alternative form of communication. And because ever since Klaus reached adulthood he was not all that inclined to obey his father’s dictations unquestioningly, to say their relations were strained would be a very mild way of putting it. Those few times his father came over to visit, they barely lasted a week together before finding each other’s company completely intolerable. Of course they never fought openly, his father’s sense of dignity and Klaus’ sense of filial duty prevented them, but when his father left again they were barely on speaking terms.

 

However, this time they were thrown together for a month now, and after what had transpired the first couple of weeks the atmosphere in the Schloss was nothing short of unbearable. Fearing the continuous altercations with his father would eventually drive him to patricide, the Major had finally resorted to guerilla war tactics. He rearranged his schedule completely (an additional annoyance for a man of steady habits such as he was) so as to have the least possible contact with his father. For example, for the past ten days or so he woke up at 5.30 a.m., an hour earlier than usual, breakfasted and then went running for two hours instead of one (he needed the extra exercise to work off at least a part of his frustration). That way he left for work while his father was still eating breakfast, thus successfully avoiding him for the better part of the day. On the downside, though, the morning papers were not yet in at such an ungodly hour, and he had nothing to occupy his mind with during his run. And when his mind was not otherwise occupied, it tended to think.

 

As he ran through the dense woods around the Schloss, Klaus kept asking himself over and over again why was it so darn difficult for his father to understand his reasons for wanting to stay single. He acknowledged the need for an heir to the family but it wouldn’t be such a big deal if he came from one of his cousins instead of him; it happened to ancient families all the time, including his own. Frankly, he could not consider that need as reason enough to get saddled with the permanent ball and chain commonly known as ‘wife’, especially since he could think of numerous other reasons not to get married.

 

For one thing, there was his profession. Klaus was never a very trusting person to begin with, but after he had joined NATO Intelligence, paranoia and suspicion had become second nature to him. Even his own team and his supervisor he trusted only to a degree, which is why he usually took the most dangerous parts of every mission upon himself, allowing them only a supporting role. As for his home environment, it was exactly the same, if not worse. Even though he knew every one of the servants at the Schloss all his life and never had any reason to doubt their loyalty, he still was reluctant to have anything other than a master-servant relationship with them. He made a point of never bringing work home and never allowing any questions regarding his job. They had met his subordinates and the Chief on occasion, but other than that the only thing they knew about his work was that they must never ask anything about it. Friends he had none, and his only family member, his father, had been an army man but never an intelligence agent and thus could not be expected to fully understand the implications of the Major’s work, even if he had expressed any interest in hearing about it, which he hadn’t. Not that the Major would be at all willing to confide in him, as that would put him in no little danger. No, solitude suited him best; the way things stood now, all the espionage world knew that it was useless to go after anyone related to Iron Klaus, because he never shared his secrets with anyone.

 

But if he got married, all that would change. He would have to allow a woman – more to the point, a woman he hardly knew, – complete access to his home. She would be able to watch him at all times, learn his habits, even demand of him to trust her – he, who didn’t trust anyone! And how was he to know his enemies would not try to bring her over to their side, or capture her and use her to trap him? If he had to worry over all that for the rest of his life, he’d go insane for sure! For the life of him he could not understand how Mischa managed it with his wife. Then again, hard as it was to believe, according to his information Mischa had married out of love, and apparently when you loved someone you could not help but trust that person as well. But Klaus had never been in love with anyone, and thus he could not fathom how that was possible.

 

But besides his work issues, he also had personal reasons for not wanting a spouse in his life. For instance, he’d have to spend time with her, a prospect he did not find at all agreeable. He’d have to talk to her – and even worse, listen to her talking about clothes, and household chores, and gossip, in short everything that bored him to death (he was not optimistic enough to believe he could find a woman who would be willing to talk about guns and machinery). He would have to take her out to restaurants, theaters and other loathsome places women liked so much in his free time instead of doing what he liked, namely cleaning his guns, practicing his shooting, repairing stuff that needed fixing and so on. But most revolting of all was the thought of some woman he didn’t even know existed until recently suddenly invading his personal space and demanding…intimacies. Fucking gross! As if wasting his time on some silly female wasn’t bad enough, he would be also expected to do something with her he did not enjoy one bit!

 

The Major had had his first sexual experience during his student days, the same way most boys of his age did, by visiting a brothel. It wasn’t that he had any particular desire to have sex, but he had heard his fellow students talking about it all excited and was curious to see what the big deal was all about. After he went, he still couldn’t figure out what the big deal was all about. He had been able to perform all right, but it didn’t feel all that different from when he dealt with his needs on his own. Afterwards, he’d retried it a few more times to see if something would change, but no matter what he did, it felt more like a bother than a pleasure. He was fully functional, but the act had no effect to speak of on him; trying out a new gun was significantly more exciting in comparison. In the end, he had concluded that the whole sex thing was grossly overrated and given up the sport entirely. The prospect of having to do it again, on a regular basis, no less, and with someone he didn’t even think well of to boot was something he would most certainly go to great lengths to avoid. Yes, he definitely had lots of very good reasons for not wanting to marry. There was no call to assume that his refusals to his father’s demands meant that he was a rebellious son, or a defective member of society, or –

 

Klaus stopped short, not liking the way his thoughts were going at all. He shook his head violently and increased the speed of his running, in a vain attempt to drive away certain very undesirable memories which had once again crept uninvited into his head. Verdammt, not that. Not now. Now was one hell of a time to be remembering that.

 

‘That’ was a conversation he had happened to overhear at work about a year ago. He had been called yet again by the chief of personnel to be lectured for the umpteenth time about assigning too much overtime work to his alphabets, an issue that never failed to anger him exceptionally. As if that moldy bureaucratic relic gave a rat’s ass about his agents’ welfare; all he cared about was the overtime compensation he’d have to pay them. After a lengthy, loud and rather uncivilized conversation, he had left in a particularly foul mood, and on the spur of the moment decided to take a longer route to his division office instead of the usual one, in order to give himself some time to calm down. He had an upcoming mission at the time, and opted not to fray the already abused temper of his agents even more than usual just before things got tough. Therefore he took a roundabout way that eventually brought him to a relatively deserted corridor not too far from his office. That corridor at some point made a right turn, and exactly after the turn there was a not too frequently used coffee vending machine. The Major was approaching that very turn in his usual long strides, when he heard voices speaking – voices he knew well.

 

He stopped in his tracks and listened carefully. Yes, these voices certainly belonged to his alphabets – A, and G, oh, and Z too. So these three fools had taken advantage of his absence to slack off from work, huh? Well then, he definitely ought to make it so in the future they would never even think of playing hooky again. But just as he got ready to charge in and give them the browbeating of their lives, his ear caught the word ‘Major’ and he realized they were speaking about him. Of course, that realization only served to further fuel his anger. On top of lazing about, they were gossiping about their commanding officer behind his back too! His first impulse was to march out there and order all three of them summarily to Alaska, but then he thought better of it, and decided he might as well do some information-gathering first. After all, a good Intelligence officer was supposed to keep tabs on his subordinates as well. He walked noiselessly up to the edge of the corridor, flattened himself against the wall and strained his ears to listen. And this is what he heard:

 

“…I’m telling you, he’s gay,” G’s high-pitched voice was saying persistently. “Oh, I know he doesn’t look it, and that he acts like the biggest homophobe on the planet, but even so he’s just as gay as I am.”

 

“Come on, that’s just your wishful thinking, G,” – this was Z’s voice now. “Everyone here knows that you have a crush on the Major, but even you should have realized by now that you don’t stand a chance in hell with him.”

 

“I know that,” G snapped irritably, “but not for the reasons you think. Honestly now, how many straight men do you know who get goosebumps when a woman so much as gets within three feet of them?”

 

“But you gross him out too, G,” Z’s voice countered again, “and you’re not a woman, are you?”

 

“No, but I look like one. I’m tiny, I have a girly face and I like wearing women’s clothes. Being with me would be no different than being with a woman as far as he’s concerned. That’s why I don’t stand a chance in hell, Z, not because I’m a homosexual.”

 

“So he’s a misogynist,” intervened A calmly. “That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s gay as well.”

 

The Major unwittingly caught himself nodding with approval at A’s words. That’s right, he was a misogynist. That A knew him really well after all. Klaus knew there had to be a reason why he had been able to stay his second-in-command for so many years.

 

G, however, was not that easily convinced. “Hmph,” he snorted, “I don’t expect you straights to understand. It takes one of our kind to know one, you know. Why do you think Lord Gloria still keeps pursuing him after all these years? If he was convinced that he was straight, you can take it from me that he would’ve given up a long time ago. There’s not one of us who doesn’t know that a man’s sexual orientation does not change after a certain age.”

 

G seemed ready to elaborate even further on the subject of homosexual mating rituals, but all of a sudden A cut him short. “Oh no, look at the time. Come on, let’s head back; if he returns before us we’re done for. And you,” he addressed G, “had better keep those opinions of yours to yourself. If the Major ever hears about any of this, he’ll order you not just to Alaska, but to the North Pole on foot.”

 

“Don’t I know it,” grumbled G, then there was a sound of hurried footsteps, and then silence.

 

For the remainder of that day and several days afterwards the Major mulled over and over that conversation in his head, all the while trying his utmost to keep his fury from showing. Were it any other situation, he would never bother to restrain his anger, but he felt that if he punished his agents for what they had said it would be tantamount to admitting that G was right about him, so over the next few days he was really careful not to display any more than the usual amount of anger. He did exact a small revenge on G later, though, by sending him, regrettably not to Alaska, but to a month-long Special Forces training camp, with emphasis on outdoors training. When he returned, his usually well-groomed hair was overgrown and unkempt, his fingernails were a mess, and he looked marginally more like a man. He still grossed out the Major, though. Unfortunately, Klaus wasn’t sure whether that meant he wasn’t a homosexual or that he could not see G as a man no matter what.

 

But the real question that kept popping into his head was, why was he so angry about it? He kept telling himself it was because his own agents were gossiping about him behind his back, but deep down he knew this was not his real reason. It wasn’t anything new for him to be badmouthed behind his back; over the years, all those who knew him, be it enemies or colleagues, had accused him of practically everything short of cannibalism. He’d been called cruel, cold, ruthless, violent, brutal, rude, uncivilized, you name it. And he had never lost any sleep over any of these accusations; but the one thing that invariably incensed him was when someone insinuated that he was a homosexual. In the past he had never wondered why was he so touchy about that particular subject, but after what he had heard that day he had started thinking about it only to find out that, try as he might, he could not come up with a satisfying answer. He could put it down as an affront to his morals, but that would be pretty hypocritical of him since aside from his sense of duty he did not have any other morals to speak of. He had never once hesitated to lie, cheat, steal or even kill in order to attain his assigned goal. Someone else might take comfort in believing that it was all ‘for the greater good’ or for a ‘noble cause’, but Klaus refused to delude himself with such notions. Certainly duty was an important reason for what he did, but equally important was his own stubbornness, desire for victory and refusal to admit defeat. Nor did he find it at all reprehensible to admit that seeing his missions through at any cost was a great source of self-gratification to him. Therefore, if he had no qualms about committing just about any other sin in existence, why was he so obsessively averse to that particular sin?

 

After hearing that conversation among his agents, every so often that question came back to haunt him, and every time the Major pushed it forcefully into the back of his mind again, unwilling to deal with it at all, let alone look for an answer. Or maybe he did know the answer already, but did not wish to acknowledge it. Whatever the case, he resolutely ignored it, but unfortunately could not make it go away entirely; it would always come back at the most inopportune times, like now. And it was not the only distressing thought this conversation had spawned.

 

For there was something else that had disturbed him deeply, and that was G’s words: ‘It takes one of our kind to know one.’ Could it be true? He tried his damnedest to assure himself it could not possibly be true; he told himself again and again it was absurd to believe even for a second that G or Eroica or any queer for that matter could possibly know something about him that even he ignored. Especially something like his own sexual orientation. But G had spoken with such conviction…and besides there was the undeniable fact of Eroica’s unnatural tenacity in chasing after him. Any normal person would have definitely given up after so many years of rejection and mistreatment. Granted, Eroica was not what one would call a normal person, and he was most stubborn when setting a target in his sights, but even he had given up at times when he thought some theft or other would be impossible. Could it be, then, that he did not consider the Major an impossible target? And where did he get that kind of confidence from? Klaus had certainly never done anything to encourage him, had he? Or was it possible that he encouraged him without even realizing it? It was admittedly odd that most of the times the Earl met his abuse not with disappointment but with a knowing smile, as if saying ‘I knew you were going to say that.’ But the whole idea was just preposterous! Who on earth would consider this kind of abominable treatment as encouragement? Nevertheless, those nagging doubts were now settled in his head permanently, and no matter how hard he tried he could not drive them away; during this past year his mind was constantly being plagued by questions upon questions, and the worst of it all was he could not bring himself to face them. He who had never backed down from any confrontation in his life finally found out there was one thing he did not dare confront and that was his own self.

 

However, even if he wanted to, this was definitely not a good time to get started on a journey of self-discovery. He had a far more urgent problem to deal with, which was finding a way to get his father out of his hair without sacrificing his freedom in the process. Unfortunately, even the Major’s exceptional brain had not been able to work out a solution for this problem. All ideas he had come up with so far were rather inexcusable in the eyes of the law, and therefore he had been forced to abandon them. As a result, with each passing day the Major gained a whole new understanding of what being cornered meant, and he did not like it one bit. And like any cornered animal, he was becoming increasingly aggressive and dangerous to be around these days, much to the chagrin of everyone around him. In the Schloss, the servants ran for it every time they heard him approach; even Herr Hinkel the butler who had raised him since birth and regarded him as his own son purposely avoided being in the same room with him any longer than absolutely necessary. And at work his horrific disposition had thrown his entire department into complete disarray. More than two-thirds of his alphabets were on sick leave, and they were not faking it either; it was mostly due to nervous breakdowns or stomach ulcers acting up after a particularly vicious scolding on his part. Even the Chief had rushed to take his summer vacation a whole month earlier than usual, obviously hoping that the Major would have calmed down by the time he returned. And those few of his team who were still able to come to work took off on errands outside the office at the first opportunity, in an evident attempt to preserve their sanity. At first he had resented this, but later he decided it was best to allow it; the less people in his immediate vicinity while he was in that state, the less likely it would be for him to inadvertently kill someone in a fit of rage. However, this did not solve anything; it merely postponed the inevitable disaster. The only way out of this mess was to somehow resolve the situation with his father, and fast.

 

That’s what Klaus kept thinking during the rest of his run and on his way to work. Upon arriving on the fifth floor of the NATO Headquarters building where his division was stationed, it occurred to him that the floor was unusually quiet for this time of day; there were far less people in the corridors than usual, and even those he did see dashed out of sight as soon as he came near. As for the alphabets’ office, it was nearly empty except for two or three agents, but even they did not stick around for long. Barely had the Major entered and directed his customary glare at them when they jumped up, mumbled some lame excuses and fled the office as if the Evil One himself was after them. Klaus sighed wearily and put a hand to his forehead; at this rate, even if a mission did come up he would be unable to take it on without his team. He had to find a solution as soon as possible. For now, he might as well be left alone; at the very least he would have some peace of mind for a few hours. He walked to the door to his own office, opened it…and nearly got a heart attack. For on his desk chair, where no one but him had any business sitting, sat an all too familiar figure. A figure with flashy clothes, abundant curly blond hair and a sunny smile that was presently directed straight at him.

 

Mechanically the Major entered his office and closed the door behind him, the blood in his veins pounding so furiously that his ears were ringing. Great, just fucking great. The last person in the world he wanted to see right now. Eroica. The one man capable of exasperating him more than anyone and anything – and also of stirring his nether regions in ways he had never thought possible, although that last part he refused to admit even to himself. The blasted thief always had a flair for bad timing, but this time he had exceeded even himself. He could not possibly have picked a worse time to come lavish his maddening attentions on the Major. In the past, even at the height of Klaus’ fury, he had got away with a punch or two at most; but in his present state of mind the Major could feel that even the slightest provocation would send him spiraling out of control, and he really did not want his career to end for murdering a civilian, even if that civilian was a degenerate faggot thief. He took one menacing step forward, clenching his fists in an effort to keep himself in check.

 

“How did you get in here?” he grunted ominously. He might as well find out beforehand how the building’s security had been breached, since after he was through with him the thief would probably be in no condition to speak. He can’t have come through the front door, or these idiots would have told me, right? But then, the way I am now, they might have been too scared to tell me. Bloody morons…wait until they come back. They won’t even know what hit them.

 

“Darling, so nice to see you too,” Eroica beamed at him, as if the Major’s murderous glare was not meant for him at all. “It’s been so long since I last saw you, and as I happened to be in the neighbourhood I simply had to pay you a little visit. But I thought I shouldn’t disturb your poor overworked boys while on the job, and so I came through here,” he said, pointing gracefully at the window. The Major stared at him in wide-eyed astonishment; how on earth did that demon of a fop manage to climb five floors in broad daylight without being seen? Eroica must have sensed his surprise, because he laughed and said, “Oh, no, I did not climb all the way from the ground floor, dearest. It was only from the window of the office next to yours. Never mind how I got there, though; I think it’s best if you don’t know. By the way, darling, is today some German holiday I haven’t heard of? I thought it would be pretty busy around here, this being a weekday and all, but this entire floor is practically deserted.”

 

The Major winced at Eroica’s words; they only confirmed what he himself was suspecting earlier. Apparently his reign of terror had expanded to the other offices on the floor as well. Of course, that reminded him of his troubles again, and he felt his blood pressure rising to record heights. He really ought to get Eroica to leave here before something irreparable happened.

 

He drew in a deep breath and forced himself to stay still, glowering steadily at his personal nuisance. “Eroica,” he ground out through clenched teeth. “Even though you don’t deserve it, I’m going to give you fair warning. I’m in a very, very, VERY bad mood these days. If you value your frivolous existence at all, you will turn around NOW and go out that window and as far away from me as possible. Or, better yet, jump from it and make my day.”

 

Eroica’s smile softened a little, and the look in his eyes changed to something like affectionate concern. “Darling,” he replied serenely, “I do value my fabulous existence, but even more than that I value yours. And now that you mention it, you do seem to be a tad more tense than usual. Something’s troubling you, right? I know it can’t be me, since I just got here, so it has to be something else. Perhaps you’d like to talk about it? I know you’re always so secretive and don’t like sharing your problems with others, but if you get it off your chest you might feel…”

 

“ENOUGH! SHUT YOUR GODDAMNED MOUTH!” roared the Major, beside himself with fury. Losing the last remaining shreds of his self-control, he lunged towards Eroica with murder in his eyes. Finally catching on the seriousness of the situation, Eroica jumped up from the chair in alarm just in time to avoid the Major’s hands which were aiming straight for his throat. Klaus pounced on him but the Earl, agile as a cat, managed to slip away in the nick of time and dashed to the other side of the desk, trying to keep at least one piece of furniture between himself and the berserk Major.

 

But even at this moment, when his well-being was in such danger, Eroica was not chiefly concerned about how to escape. Rather, what worried him the most was his beloved Major’s condition. He had seen Klaus stressed out and angry before, but never like this. What was going on? Maybe a particularly difficult mission? But if that were the case, where were his alphabets? While waiting for the Major to arrive Dorian had taken a peek at the outer office, and had seen that most desks were unoccupied, in fact they looked like they had been unoccupied for days on end. And from what he had been able to overhear, the Major was being ‘quite impossible’ for some time now, but the agents had no idea why that was. Clearly something very distressing had happened to his darling, and it had not yet been resolved, otherwise the Major would have already put it behind him like he always did. Eroica determined he would find out what it was no matter what; come hell or high water, he would never leave his loved one’s side while he was suffering so. But first he’d have to stay alive long enough for the Major to calm down and give him at least a clue about what was worrying him.

 

“Major, please, get ahold of yourself!” he cried out. “Killing me won’t get you anywhere! Let me help you just this one time! And don’t say to me you don’t need help when it’s obvious that you do! You don’t have to tell me what this is about if you don’t want to, just tell me what it is you need me to do!”

 

“I need you to stay still so I can catch you and kill you with my bare hands,” growled the Major in a manner reminiscent of an unhinged tiger. Without warning, he suddenly sprang over a chair and landed directly in front of Eroica, grabbing him by both arms and shaking him like a rag doll. The Earl struggled desperately, but he knew right from the start it was no use trying to escape the Major’s grasp, especially when he was boiling with rage like this. For the first time he really started to panic, but that would not do; if both of them lost it right now, something really bad could happen. He breathed in and grasped the Major’s forearms in turn, squeezing them as hard as he could. Although he didn’t look it, Dorian had very strong fingers. Startled by the sudden pain, Klaus momentarily ceased shaking him and Dorian seized his chance at once. Staring hard into his eyes he said in a calm but emotionally-laden voice, “Major, please, listen to me. I know you don’t trust me or my feelings for you but no matter what you do you can’t stop me from caring. I cannot – I will not leave you in this state, so you might as well allow me to be of assistance to you. I’ve no idea what’s going on, but whatever it is you can tell me about it! I love you! If it means helping you out, I would do anything – you only need to say the word!”

 

“SHUT UP YOU IDIOT! EXCEPT DISAPPEARING FROM MY SIGHT THIS MINUTE, THERE’S NOTHING YOU COULD POSSIBLY DO FOR –” And just like that, the Major froze, thunderstruck by the most insane, outlandish and brilliant idea he ever had! Still grasping Eroica, he stared blankly into space, trying to get his mind around what he had just thought. It was madness, it was stark raving lunacy, and yet…and yet…the more he thought about it…He could already feel the plan taking shape in his mind, and it was perfect! Flawless! Menschenskind 1, this could actually work! And if it did…if it did…all of his problems would be gone – for good!

 

Dumbfounded by Klaus’ sudden immobility, Dorian stared at him anxiously. Carefully, he disengaged one of his arms from the Major’s grasp and passed his hand over Klaus’ eyes – no reaction. This ominous silence caused him a lot more panic than the Major’s outburst moments earlier. His beautiful blue eyes widening in fear, he grabbed the Major by the arms and shook him forcibly. “Major? Major! Speak up, man! Oh, dear Lord, he had a stroke. I made him too angry and he had a stroke, and what am I going to do now? Help. That’s it, I’ve got to get help.” But just as he was ready to storm outside and call for help, the Major’s grip tightened around his arms again. “I’m all right, you idiot.”

 

“Major! Oh, thank God! Don’t ever scare me like that again! This is too cruel a joke, even for you!” exclaimed the Earl, but the Major cut his protests short. “Shut your trap and listen.”

 

Eroica looked like he wanted to say something more, but he changed his mind and closed his mouth as instructed. Judging from the Major’s change in attitude there was no immediate danger to his life at the moment, so he might as well listen to what he had to say. Still gripping his arms, the Major stared at him with such intensity he could practically feel his hard green eyes burning holes in him, and when he spoke again his tone was no longer angry, but deadly serious.

 

“Eroica,” Klaus said without preamble. “I’m going to ask you a question and for once in your life you’d better tell me the truth.” Dorian nodded without a word, all of a sudden sympathizing a great deal with every secret agent who had had the misfortune of being interrogated by Iron Klaus. At this moment he was keenly aware that whatever the Major asked, he would have to answer truthfully even if it meant revealing his most closely guarded secrets. Staring straight into his eyes, the Major asked,

 

“What you said just now, that you would do anything I asked of you – anything at all – do you really mean it? Or is this just another of your tricks to get into my pants?”

 

For a second, Lord Gloria just stared at the Major, blinking in confusion. He hadn’t really had the time to speculate what the Major’s question might be, but this certainly he did not expect. However, this was not the time for stalling; the Major wanted an answer and he wanted it now. Pulling himself together, the Earl gazed steadily into his beloved’s eyes and said in firm, crisp tones, “Really, Major, after all this time you’ve known me, I think you hardly need to ask this of me. I’ve even defaced art for you, in case you don’t remember. But if you want me to be perfectly honest…” He paused and considered for a second, the Major’s eyes still trained on him. “…I might not be able to kill another person for you, but you wouldn’t need me for something like that, would you?”

 

“Of course not, idiot.” Abruptly, the Major released his arms and tore his eyes away from him. For a few moments, he stared fixedly at the opposite direction; it was evident that he was thinking intently about something. Then, without warning, he spoke again.

 

“Very well. For the first and only time, I will take the ENORMOUS risk of actually putting any faith in something you say,” he said sharply. Eroica opened his mouth to protest again, but the Major silenced him with a look. He crossed over to his desk and scribbled something on a piece of paper. Then he went back to Eroica and showed him the paper without giving it to him. It was just an address in Bonn, the name of the street didn’t mean anything to him. After waiting for a few seconds, the Major asked, “Have you memorized it?”

 

“Yes, but what is it?” Of course he had memorized it; in his line of work, Eroica had to remember entire blueprints and floor plans by heart, memorizing a single address was nothing. Klaus took out his lighter and burned the paper in his overflowing ashtray until only ashes were left. Then he turned back to Dorian.

 

“You said you wanted to know what’s troubling me. I’m prepared to tell you, if you come to this address tomorrow at eighteen hundred hours. Come alone, and try not to draw attention to yourself…as much as you possibly can, anyway,” the Major said with a hint of his usual scorn. “If you are even one minute late, or if anyone of your circus of thieves shows up with you, it’s all off. Now get out of here the way you came, and make sure no one sees you. I don’t want anybody to know you’ve been here today at all.”

 

“Why all this secrecy?” asked Eroica curiously. “That’s a bit excessive, even by your standards…” Suddenly he thought of something, and directed a suspicious glance at the Major. “You’re not planning to kill me and make it look like an accident, are you?”

 

“As tempting as that sounds, you’re of no use to me dead,” replied the Major quietly. “But if you so much as breathe a word of this to another soul…I will not be as lenient with you as I’ve been in the past. Consider yourself warned.”

 

Somehow this low-key statement frightened the Earl far more effectively than any of the Major’s customary loud-mouthed threats. Making a considerable effort to keep his composure, he said in his most dignified tone, “There is no call for threats, Major; blabbering about something you told me in strict confidence would hardly be fitting of my status as an English gentleman. As for my men, you need not worry about them; they are all in England at the moment. As it happens, this time I was travelling alone.” He paused, pondering for a moment. “But I might need their services soon, right? What excuse should I offer to bring them here, since I obviously cannot tell them the truth?”

 

“You won’t be needing them. This is a one-man job,” said the Major curtly, dismissing him with a gesture. “Now get going already. Everything else you want to know, you’ll learn tomorrow…if you come to the appointment, that is.”

 

“Oh, as long as I live and breathe, I will most definitely come, Major,” Eroica said decisively, already halfway out the window. “I wouldn’t miss it for all the artworks in the world. Until tomorrow then, from Eroica with love…” He blew a kiss to the Major and withdrew as swiftly and silently as a ghost, before the love of his life changed his mind and took a shot at him or something.

 

However, for once the Major seemed well-disposed enough to overlook even this ever-infuriating punchline. As soon as he made certain that Eroica was gone, he sat behind his desk and rigorously attacked the paperwork in front of him. He needed to get it over with as quickly as possible; there were a lot of things he’d have to get done this day and the next, but if all went well, this would be the beginning of the end for all his present worries.