Author's disclaimer and notes: I don't own them, I just dream of doing so. Feedback is better than white chocolate cookies. Corrections to my language are welcome as are comments! Ask if you want me to archive it anywhere. You may link to this story if you want or to my main page. 17.654 words. Written in January 2013. Crossover From Eroica With love/The Losers, with a hint of Primeval.
There will be more in this universe. Each part can be read by itself, though.
Betaed by Heather Sparrows, Kadorienne and Telwoman. Remaining errors are all mine.
I see Jensen listed as both Captain and Corporal and I've been told one is the comic and one is the movie. So I'm going with Corporal, as I prefer the movie.
"Mortuary Affairs, Lieutenant Hemsworth. How may I be of service?"
Frida took a short breath and counted silenty to five. "Mortuary Affairs, Lieutenant Hemsworth. How may I be of service?"
Right. Figuring that some clumsy-fingered fool had misdialled and didn't have the balls to admit his mistake (in Frida's experience women could usually handle apologising for dialling the wrong number, possibly thanks to the lack of aforementioned balls). Frida was just about to hang up and go get herself a Cappuccino, when she heard a quick breath through the phone and hesitated.
Frida blinked. Then she smiled. "Why hello there. My name is Frida. Who might I be talking to?"
"Are you trying to reach your momma or your poppa?"
"Right. So, can I help you with anything, then, sweetie?"
"Yes. I ..."
Frida had no children herself, nor did she think she had it in her to raise any, but she did have a soft spot for the little buggers. So while she was fairly convinced that the wrong number had been dialled, she didn't mind. She could use a mini-break from the grittier parts of her workday. So she waited patiently, wondering if the girl would hang up or not.
"My name is Carla Jensen 'n' you have everyone's dog tags, right? When they die? And no one claims them? 'n' I was wondering if we could have Uncle Cougar's dog tags too, so we can put them with Uncle Jake's dog tags, so they won't be so lonely any more?"
Frida blinked. The child had gone from next to non-verbal and anxious to blurting out words at such speed that Frida had to replay them in her head for them to make sense.
"Oh, honey, I'm so sorry to hear about your uncles, that must be horrible for you. Uncle Cougar, now, what's his real name?"
She only hoped that the little girl actually knew her uncle's real name. All too often she had grown men call in, asking about Hamster or Trip or Scotch, getting agitated when they realised that she couldn't search for call names.
"Cougar is his real name," she was calmly informed.
"I'm sure it is, sweetie, but he would have another name too, and a last name, and I can't search for call names." Which, in her opinion, was pretty darn stupid.
"Um ..." A long pause followed. Frida was about to give up, when she received a triumphant, "Carlos!"
Which at least sounded like a real name, even if you never knew. Could be a Carl with a hankering for Mexican food.
"Do you know his last name?"
This time, though, the final answer was a dejected, "No."
"What's your Uncle Jake's last name, sweetie?"
"They weren't married."
Which had Frida chuckling despite herself, because, well, it was just so unexpected. DADT and all that, but still. "That's fine, sweetie. I just thought that if I could find your Uncle Jake I could find your Uncle Cougar through him, that's all."
"Oh. That's smart. Jensen. That's our last name, Uncle Jake's 'n' mine."
"Jensen. Carla and Jake. That's nice, sweetie. Just let me check here for a minute, all right?"
The computer quickly spit out information about one recently deceased Jensen, Jake, Corporal. Frida winced when she realised that he was one of the men involved in the Bolivian helicopter explosion, where 25 children had died. Still, that had nothing to do with the sweet little girl now calling. Frida had plenty of experience separating the departed from those left behind. No matter what the Corporal might or might not have done, young Carla Jensen deserved peace. A reference link took Frida to the incident in question and on to one Alvarez, Carlos, Sergeant and quite possibly Cougar (and, if not, at the very least some serious Cougar bait. Frida wouldn't have minded a taste of that yummie morsel herself).
"Your Uncle Cougar, could his last name be Alvarez, sweetie, that ring a bell?"
"Oh yeah, that's what mom calls him when Uncle Jake gets him into trouble 'n' she says he's abetting him. So you found him? Can we have his dog tags now?"
"Sweetie, are you the daughter of Jenny Jensen?" Frida rattled off the address listed as Corporal Jake Jensen's next of kin. Jenny Jensen, who also, interestingly and potentially usefully, was listed as Sergeant Carlos Alvarez's contact person, while his family had a "DO NOT CONTACT"-warning sign. A sign which blinked in blue and green, something Frida had never seen before.
"Yes, that's my mom 'n' that's where we live. Can you mail us Uncle Cougar's dog tags or do you need for us to come 'n' get 'em?"
"Ah, no, sweetie." Even with the "DO NOT CONTACT"-order on the family, she would have to look into the matter carefully before sending the id tags to even a contact person. "I must do some digging about first. But I will look into it, I promise."
The thank you she received was so warm and hopeful and happy that Frida still smiled once the call had ended. She printed the files, to have them readily available - a bit of eye candy didn't hurt either - and started in on her investigation.
After a particularly long, exhausting mission, occasionally that very first day back in Bonn wasn't completely useless. To sit at his desk in the NATO HQ and look out over his Alphabet, making sure all 26 agents were accounted for and healthy: busy little bees, eagerly tapping away at their reports. He actually enjoyed that satisfying moment of solitude before you took a deep breath and forged on with what needed doing. Or perhaps he was just getting old.
He was getting old. 2010 - and when had all those years passed, anyway? In May he had been subjected to his 55th birthday party. While he finally had been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel he still held on to his job. His superiors had thought that a promotion would finally make him more amenable to leave field work for a management position, but he had flat out refused.
A few more years and they would want him to retire. Maybe he'd even let them. He ran a hand through his hair, still black despite the years and the stress. For now he'd just keep getting his work done. The Cold War was long over, of course. He had even visited his former arch-enemy, Mischa the Bear-Cub, in Russia, more than once. Mrs Bear-Cub actually made quite decent fried potatoes. There were new wars now, though: terrible wars and some of them as cold as the Arctic, with things happening that civilians were so much better off not knowing about.
True, he might be getting older, but Iron Klaus still did his share for the world, leading his agents to reach their mission objectives just as efficiently as three decades ago. Of course, only a handful from the old crew remained. He remembered all who had gone by - to promotion, to a civilian life or to a coffin. To him, they all remained his Alphabet and he kept track of everyone still breathing.
The phone rang in the old-fashioned, sharp way a phone should. Klaus held with none of that nonsense with cutesy tunes or even talking - the first time Agent C's phone had loudly announced to the room in a very suggestive tone that "I have a message for you, baby!" Klaus had made perfectly clear exactly what he thought of such idiocy. A discrete blip was enough to alert anyone with decent hearing to a message, so anything louder was obscene.
Despite the classic ring tone the phone was modern. Not one of those colorful, buttonless "smart" phones, but otherwise powerful - and sturdy, not a wafer-thin disaster which broke under the least pressure. He clicked the receiver button. "Lieutenant Colonel von dem Eberbach."
"Good morning, Lieutenant Colonel. My name is Lieutenant Hemsworth. I'm calling from Mortuary Affairs, Fort Bragg, North Carolina."
Klaus noted that considering the time difference the lieutenant must be an extremely early riser, had worked very late or was actually one of the few Americans who bothered to check the time in Germany before calling. As he still felt uncharacteristically mellow due to the successful mission, he decided to entertain the notion that the latter might actually be true.
"Morning. Can I assist you with anything?"
"Firstly, General Hmlian send his greetings."
One of the promoted Ks. It felt like only yesterday that Klaus had heard about the man's latest promotion and been told to write a congratulatory message.
"Thank you," he replied curtly. "I trust he is well?"
"As far as I know, yes. We are not acquainted. But he told me how to reach you when I consulted him on the matter I’m calling about."
Klaus made a mental note to call K and be very stern about not handing out Klaus's number left and right, General or not.
"As I mentioned I'm in Mortuary Affairs," she continued, as if Klaus had forgotten this in the last 30 seconds. His opinion of her instantly dropped. "I am researching the background of a recently deceased soldier. At first I hit what I thought was a dead end, but a more thorough search gave me an unexpected lead that I hope you might be able to assist me with."
Background check? Someone was suspected of being a spy? Or a blackmail victim, maybe? While the American army wasn't officially a sub-division of NATO, Klaus knew well how serious things could get if a background check turned out to be shaky. He decided to extend his help if he could. Of course, he'd have to verify that the caller was authentic and all that before handing over any information. Still, better to know what the other was after before blowing the whistle.
"Explain," he ordered and grabbed a pen, ready to jot down details he might want to check out.
"Lieutenant Colonel von dem Eberbach, were you on NATO assignment in collaboration with the CIA in Mexico in the autumn of 1978?"
"That's classified," he answered, annoyed at being asked such a stupid question.
The memory came, though. Mexico in the autumn and the thrill of the intense, challenging hunt. NATO had been after a South American terrorist, for a change, and had joined forces with some American operators. Lalaith, with a name like laughter; part Spanish, part Indian. Deep, brown eyes; long, black hair. A tiny thing, barely reaching his chest and little over half his weight, but with more spunk than his entire Alphabet put together. Likely the best female shooter he had ever met.
"I understand completely, sir. Only, and I'm terribly sorry for having to bring this up to you in this way. Agent Lalaith Alvarez bore a son in the summer of 79. As far as I can tell your name was erased from the birth certificate and I was wondering if there's any chance that he might still have been yours?"
Klaus worked the rest of the day in a controlled frenzy, concentrating fully on each paper put before him, ruthlessly pushing away any stray thoughts. Of course, once he closed the door behind him - long after all Alphabets had left - the accumulated pain hit him as if he had gone a round with Mischa, the ex-Olympian boxer turned KGB-agent never holding back an ounce of his massive strength.
Surely the pain should have lessened as he navigated the narrow streets of Bonn, having to divert a part of his attention to the rapid traffic, but when he had parked on Schumannstrasse and jogged up the steps to his apartment, he still felt raw like an open wound.
Soft tones from Beethoven's third floated in from the living room and from the kitchen came the unmistakable scent of boiling potatoes. For once Klaus wasn't the least bit annoyed to find that a thief had broken into his apartment and made himself at home.
"Darling!" Dorian appeared from the kitchen, with such a warm, welcoming smile that Klaus felt all his resistance and annoyance melt away, leaving only the sharp pain.
And it wasn't as if the apartment didn't belong to Dorian as well. They had, after all, been married for decades now.
So when Klaus held out his arms, Dorian’s loving smile faded away and instead he rushed up to hold Klaus - just hold him. The man enemy agents around the world had named Iron Klaus - out of respect and fear - would never dream of asking to be held, though at rare times he needed it as much as any other man.
"Was the injury worse than they thought? Was there a complication? Oh dear, H's poor old mother; she's so proud of him--"
Klaus shook his head to break off the litany. Agent H had been shot, sure, and was at Universitätsklinikum Bonn, but the wound had been nowhere near fatal. During the Cold War Klaus wouldn't even have allowed the man to laze about in a hospital, but would have had G sew him up on the spot. But he was getting old and he was getting soft and he felt himself lean against Dorian's strong body, breathing in the lavender scent from the mass of curls.
"Your father? He's--
He shook his head hard again.
"Oh, my god - Hilary! Is Hilary--"
Through sudden frustration so fierce it ached, Klaus heard himself make a sound half-growl, half something he had never heard from his own throat. "Hilary's fine, 's far as I know, I haven't spoken to him since Wednesday. Dorian, I--"
He couldn't explain properly until Dorian had hugged him so hard his ribs ached, and had then led him out to the living room, to sit down in the sofa - "It's a chaise," he could remember Dorian correcting him. "I should know. I stole it." - with Dorian straddling his legs and looking near frantic with worry.
"Whatever it is, my dear, you can always tell me. Are your superiors pressuring you again to leave the alphabet? Did you kill anyone? Do we need to flee the country?"
He leaned forward and rested a cheek against the warm flesh of Dorian's bare chest. His lover wore one of his favourite shirts, a red silk, blouse-like thing with a flower pattern, open to the navel and showing off a chest that a 20-year-old would envy. Klaus stayed like that for a moment, to feel the closeness to the man he loved. Then he leaned back and took a full breath.
"It was before I even met you," he said clearly. "Long before you caught me. I only met her once afterwards, in Houston. You were in Finland at the time. She died a few years later, I heard. Lalaith Alvarez. CIA Agent. One of their best. I worked with her on a mission of no importance." World peace might have depended on it, but currently that detail was irrelevant and Dorian wouldn't have been interested in hearing about it anyway, as no art had been involved.
Dorian hung to his words, nodding attentively. "Yes?"
"It ... was a long mission. Just me and her. No Alphabets. Ehm."
An ever so faint frown line marred Dorian's normally smooth forehead. "Darling?"
"I told you. Before you. Two women. I introduced you to Hetty in Los Angeles."
The frown line deepened and Dorian's lips pursed. Yes, Dorian had met Hetty in Los Angeles and had been intensely jealous of the little garden gnome, as Klaus still thought of her. "Hetty and Lalaith, then, I take it?" Dorian said in that controlled, British tone that Klaus knew meant that unless the situation hadn't been so serious he would have found himself in the dog house for, oh, hours.
Klaus nodded. He took another deep breath. "Today I learned that ..." He almost allowed himself to wimp out and trail off, wanting to prepare Dorian some more or perhaps just straighten his own thoughts. In the end he forged on, as he usually did, covering the faint pause with a cough. "Lalaith bore a baby boy the following year. There seems to have been a chance that he might have been mine."
Dorian made a strange noise. His mouth opened and his lips moved silently. He blinked again and then finally he said in a calm tone of voice: "Well, how marvellous. Hilary always wanted a larger family."
The acceptance layered around Klaus like balm, soothing his aches. So he lit a cigarette to cover his momentary weakness. His last physical had revealed impeccably clean lungs, despite decades of chain smoking, so he didn't give a fig for those so called health warnings. After having pulled long at the stick he shook his head dismissively and, feeling even older than his years, said simply: "He died four months ago."
Abruptly the tentative smile which had started to spread over Dorian's full lips melted away and he grabbed at his chest as if shot by an arrow through the heart. "Oh no ..."
"Yes," Klaus said. Oh yes … He swallowed. "How can I tell Father?"
The elder von dem Eberbach was 83, extremely spry for his age and still the terror of his domains. Klaus visited him monthly. Sometimes Dorian accompanied him as well. The early years had been cold and tense, but things had progressed enormously since then.
Dorian leaned forward and hugged Klaus as if trying to envelop him. "Oh, my dear ..." he mumbled into Klaus's hair.
"Father never said anything, but I know he wanted the von dem Eberbach-line to continue in blood, not just by adoption. Dorian, how do I tell him that I ... might have fathered a son, but that the boy's dead? How do I do that?"
Dorian keened softly in the back of his throat and hugged him harder.
For a long time they sat together in silence. Finally Dorian whispered, as if afraid that a loud noise would start an avalanche. "What do you know of him? What was his name? How did he ... die?"
Klaus sighed against him. He stared out in the apartment, but his normally so sharp, green gaze was unfocused. "His name was Carlos Alvarez. Sergeant Carlos Alvarez."
"Alvarez is Mexican?"
"Lalaith was half Spanish, half Indian. Asian Indian, not Native American." His few lovers didn’t have much in common. Different types, different genders and from different places, yet each had captivated him in their own right and he counted himself lucky to have been able to travel across the globe to find them. "He ... I was contacted by a woman in Mortuary Affairs. She emailed me an image of him. I ... can't tell if he looks like me. I printed it out. Would you have a look? You're good at ... bone structures and whatever."
"Oh, Klaus, of course!"
A hand so deft that Klaus hardly noticed the touch, dipped into the inner pocket of his coat and lifted the envelope he had stashed where he always kept things too important for his suitcase. Still staring blindly ahead he heard paper unfold and felt his muscles tense up.
"My, but he's quite a looker, isn't he? As a rule I don't go for the Spanish type myself, but I certainly can appreciate this. Oh, couldn't that girl have sent you a better image of him? This is cruel. That DECEASED-stamp makes me want to cry. In fact, oh, I am crying. Ignore me. But no, I can't tell. Sure, I see similarities, but I honestly can't tell. Long hair isn't hereditary and intense eyes are just ... intense. But he does have the same basic triangular face like you. Yours is a little longer, but, hm, he is considerably shorter than you and the skin tone is all wrong. Of course, if his mother was short maybe, and darker--"
"She was. Both."
Klaus glanced over to his lover, who subjected the picture to intense scrutiny, a far cry from his art thief's normally so carefree attitude. Finally, though, Dorian shook his head. "Well, that would explain that. No, I'm sorry, I can't say for sure either way."
That was how Klaus had reasoned too, unable to make up his mind, but he still felt disappointed. The boy took after Lalaith in a lot of things and the rest could be explained in other ways.
"Is there any way to find out for sure?" Dorian asked, hesitantly.
Klaus nodded slowly. "The US army keeps a DNA register on file of all their soldiers, for identification purposes. C, ehm, Major Schmidt, has ordered a comparison test to be run."
"To be sure either way would be good. How long does the test take? Do you have to have your blood drawn?"
"A few days, since no crime was committed. No, my DNA is already on file, with NATO. I ..." He was going to add something relevant, when he could no longer contain the pain bubbling in his chest. "Dorian, I had a son! Or I could have had one, at the very least - he could have been mine and now he's dead!" His voice sounded a little too loud for the apartment, making the small living room echo. Unexpectedly, irrationally, Klaus found himself wanting to go to the Schloss in Eberbach, to yell the words out over the Neckar. He could have had a son!
Dorian hugged him harder. "I'm so sorry, my dear, dear love. I'm so, so sorry!"
"And there's something ... hinky--" He pronounced the modern word with exaggerated care."--about the way he died."
Dorian, tears still rolling slowly down his cheeks, looked up sharply. "What? How do you mean?"
"I have the report from when he died. You should read it, see what you think. A bad death in a helicopter explosion, but there was more than that. Children killed. They say that his team went rogue. But the whole thing stinks. Something is wrong. I feel it in my bones."
And Iron Klaus's bones were never wrong.
Dorian nodded seriously. "You intend to investigate?"
He nodded. Of course. "I owe him that. Maybe that is all I can ever do for him."
For whatever reason, that made Dorian hug him hard again.
"I also want to learn more about him. Before I tell Father. If Carlos really was mine I would like to tell Father what kind of a man his grandson ... was. I want to talk to someone who can tell me more about him than what is on his official records. Dorian, he was a sniper. I checked his scores. They're--" For a second he was overwhelmed by a tearing in his guts. "--lovely."
Dorian wiped off his tears with a pale pink handkerchief with "Eroica" in elegant embroidery and a red rose in a corner. He gave Klaus his "you're talking about weapons as if they are art again"-smile, if a hint wobbly. "Shooting well could be a bit hereditary," he said, obviously forcing a positive note to his tone.
Klaus's heart twitched with the knowledge that his lover didn't hold this mess against him and instead seemed to genuinely want the unknown American to have been Klaus's son. But he had to shake his head in the negative.
"He might not even have it from me, if so. What Lalaith could do with an assault rifle was beautiful, Hilary would have adored her. Ehm. I think that might, ehm ... have been part of what attracted me to her." Hetty, too, was exceptional with any weapon at hand. Apparently he liked his women short and skilled with guns, while he liked his men tall and unable to hit a barn from the inside. Well, there had only ever been one man, but still.
"A girl, Carla Jensen, called in to Mortuary Affairs, asking for Carlos's id tags. That is what started all this. I want to know how she fits into this. I ... Her name." He caught Dorian's gaze. "Carlos. Carla. I wonder if ... if she might have been ... his."
Dorian's eyes widened dramaticallly. "Oh! But Klaus! That would make her your ... Oh, Klaus, we might be grandparents!"
Klaus almost hadn't even dared to think that thought.
Suddenly Dorian's eyes widened even further, which should have been impossible. "And speaking of Carla and Carlos, dear. It's not that huge a leap to Klaus either."
Klaus nodded. That possibility he had dared to consider.
Jonah Mortimerson, Agent Green of the Colour Team (aka the Rainbow Team, but never to their faces), NATO's New York division, had not gone to work as usual due to a health appointment at 10:30 half across town. He had finagled half a day off (not an easy feat, but he might have exaggerated some distances), slept in late, gone to the exam, then had lunch at his favourite Thai before returning to office. Very nicely planned and perfectly executed, if he did so say himself.
Apart from the part when he returned to the huge room shared by the Colour Team, to find chaos.
Major Matthew Schmidt, one of the steadiest, most reliable men Jonah had ever had the honour of serving under, had apparently taken Jonah's illicit morning off as the perfect opportunity to get a personality change. The Major was in his office chair, feet up on the seat, hugging his knees and telling the four agents gathered around him that they were all about to be sent to Alaska.
"Don't be silly, sir," Jonah heard Agent Purple say soothingly as he approached. His friend, Dave Thomson, Agent Blue, nodded towards him and started rounding the major's chair to meet him. "He doesn't have the authority to send us all to Alaska."
Jonah met Dave's eyes and lifted an eyebrow. Dave made a face and shook his head.
"He doesn't care!" Major Schmidt moaned in the background. "He'll do it anyway!"
"What's up?" Jonah asked, keeping his voice down as Dave led him away from the distraught major.
They stepped to the side to allow a slightly wide-eyed Agent Fuchsia to run up to Major Schmidt with a paper. As soon as he reached the chair, Agent Lilac rushed in the other direction with a determined look on her face.
"Or else Eroica will rob us blind!" Major Schmidt moaned. "Or seduce us! He seduced the Major! He can seduce anyone!"
"Something out of his past is coming back to haunt him," Dave explained, keeping his voice low. "Something from the old days. We're trying to retrieve important information, but it is not going well and he's ... I've never seen him like this."
"The old days? Like the Cold War?"
Dave nodded solemly. "Something like that. I think-- Oh. Gosh."
Yes, Dave actually said "gosh" sometimes. It was one of his many endearing treats and something Jonah hoped he would never stop doing, as each gosh made his heart throb a little harder. He might have a bit of a crush on Dave. Seeing his best friend stare over his shoulder towards the door, Jonah turned, hand casually straying inside his jacket from where a draw could be easily made.
In the door stood an astonishing study in contrast. Two men. Both tall, Caucasian, in good shape, clean-shaven with long hair and clean features, handsome, about 50 years of age. After that all similarities ended. One dressed in a grey trenchcoat, the other in an opulent outfit that reminded Jonah of Madonna during one of her outrageous phases. Maybe it was the hair that lent the impression; an enormous mane of stylish, blond curls, which on the forehead had been teased to a heart-shape. Jewels were strewn over him with the casual ease that would have looked cheap except for his regal bearing, which made clear that every one of those jewels was of highest quality, otherwise he would never have lowered himself to wearing anything so gauche. The other man had straight, black hair and no jewelry apart from a plain gold band on his left hand's ring finger. While the first man brought with him an air of warmth and happiness, the second man had sharp eyes and made Jonah want to salute him.
The two even moved differently as they entered the room. The blond walked fluidly, elegantly; while the dark-haired one marched, each step long, exact and precise. Yet they managed to move in unison, so in synch that their different movements blended effortlessly.
"Major von dem Eberbach!"
Major Schmidt rushed down to meet the two and actually saluted smartly.
The dark-haired man answered the salute. "Major Schmidt. I--"
"I meant Lieutenant Colonel! Sorry, Maj-- Lieutenant Colonel! Congratulations on your promotion! I always--"
"Thank you, Major Schmidt. Now, give me the results."
Whereupon Major Schmidt made a noise Jonah would have thought impossible for a grown man, like the "Meep!" of a young girl.
"Calm down, darling. Easy now, I'm sure we have time for a few niceties. Hello, dear C. Major Schmidt, is it?" The blond put his hand on Major Schmidt's shoulders and smiled down at him. "You carry those stripes so dashingly. I always did have a thing for a man in uniform. I love to strip them off and--"
The man who Jonah surmised was Lord Gloria, first name Dorian and gay as a whole barrel full of monkeys, laughed gaily. "Oh, darling, I simply adore that jealous tone in your voice. I must remember to flirt more with military men in the future. Hello my dears!" And the blond waved his fingers at Jonah and Dave. Half-charmed already, Jonah waved back - and saw Dave do the same. The black-haired man snarled dismissively at them both. "Quit it, Dorian. We're here on important business."
The blond backed off a step, looking somewhat contrite. "Of course we are, darling. My apologies. But it is good to see you again, C. All grown up and with a team all of your own and everything. You must interfere with one of my heists soon, so we'll have a chance to get together properly and gossip. But this is far more important. I'm honestly sorry, Klaus. So, did you have it, dear C?"
Klaus? Jonah thought. Can it really be? Iron Klaus? The entire Colour team was proud that their Major had once served under the notoriously harsh, successful spy master of Bonn, Iron Klaus himself.
For a second Major Schmidt looked ready to meep again, but instead their superior pulled himself up and visibly took a deep breath.
"Sir, I regret having to inform you that we have been unable to obtain the blood analysis you requested."
For a moment a suffocating silence seeped through the room. On its heels came the dark-haired stranger's voice, tinged with a sharp hint of a clear accent that Jonah was well familiar with from when Major Schmidt got irritated. "Explain yourself."
"The blood record of Sergeant Carlos Alvarez has been tampered with, sir. The information in the file was set back to default."
Strong jaw-muscles twitched. "How was his body identified?"
A drop of sweat dashed down Major Schmidt's forehead. "Their id tags were retrieved, sir. And higher up confirmed that his team all died in the helicopter explosion."
Jonah was impressed with the disappointment, suspicion, blame and warning the man managed to infuse in a single sound.
"Well, that's a bit of a cock-up, then," the blond said, "but hardly C's fault, Klaus. Sorry, I meant Major Schmidt. Major Schmidt, I assume you are investigating whatever could have happened with that file? Maybe you have one of those back-ups somewhere? Bonham always does those, every night, you could learn from him."
"Of course, milord, but the investigation only just started. I'm sorry, Lieutenant Colonel von dem Eberbach, but we don't have any news as of yet, please don't send us to Alaska, sir."
Again, the single sound was wrought with meanings.
"Oh, Klaus, don't be like that. The boy has done the best he can, I'm sure." The blond man's voice was surprisingly deep and sensual, especially as it cajoled. Jonah found himself wanting to do something for the man: anything just to please him. "Dearheart, let's have a bite to eat. I'm positively starving. I'm sure C, I mean Major Schmidt, will have some news for us by the time we return."
"I don't understand," Dorian slowly said a few hours later. He and his husband had eaten at a small Indian restaurant while Schmidt and the Colour team worked. Alas, by the time they returned no progress had been made with locating the DNA information. Klaus had become rapidly more annoyed and scary, until Dorian had felt forced to declare himself in need of tea so as not to have Major Schmidt pushed to a heart attack. Sometime during the decades he had managed to drum into Klaus's military mind that the need for tea was an imperative, never to be denied. Klaus had allowed Dorian to take him to a nearby cafeteria, escorted by two rather sweet young men under Major Schmidt's command. "Why would anyone erase a blood sample?" he asked, partly to let Klaus vent.
"Identification purposes," Klaus replied crisply. Which at least proved that he was listening to what Dorian was saying. Dorian hadn't been entirely sure, as Klaus had that completely cut off look that hinted at that he was planning something particularly dangerous.
"But they were identified. By those id tags. Higher up signed off on it, C said."
"Hm," Klaus grunted, with considerable scorn.
"And you don't believe a word of it."
Klaus shrugged. "One file set back to default values could have been clerical error. But all five files reset and multiple backup tapes accidentally destroyed? Accidental my arse. Why, I don't know yet. It could have something to do with another team member or even something completely unrelated. All I know is that now I ... might never know."
Dorian's heart tightened. "I realize that, my love. And I'm so terribly sorry. I do wish there was something I could do - anything."
Klaus nodded. "I can't sit on my arse while major Schmidt's boys run around like stoned chickens with their heads cut off."
Dorian glanced over to the sweet youngsters drinking coffee two tables over. They made such a nice couple. "All my contacts are at your disposal, my love, like always."
Klaus nodded briskly. "That Carla Jensen girl. Her mother never married."
"It's hardly the stigma it was a back in the day, darling." They had tried to set up a meeting with Hilary's mother, when they were worried that he might have a hereditary disease, but she had disappeared, covering her tracks well and then the situation had resolved itself without her aid.
Klaus nodded again. "She could be named Carla after Carlos. Possibly because he was friends with her uncle, Corporal Jake Jensen. But she could be his. I want to investigate. Perhaps the mother wanted to raise her child alone, with no official ties to the man. Some women do. The girl asked for his id tags. You don't do that unless you are family."
Dorian only had a somewhat hazy idea about id tags, though he enjoyed seeing Klaus in nothing but his - and maybe a shoulder holster. Hilary also had them, that he knew, but that was about it. He sipped the in all honesty not very interesting, lemon-flavoured tea. "Well, the girl was quite young, as far as I gathered. Maybe no one told her that. Her mother was listed as young Carlos's contact person, which is very interesting, but by all accounts he was a good friend of her brother and had some problems with his own family, which might explain that. Darling, I would love nothing better than a grandchild, but making Carlos out to be the girl's father based merely on what we have so far, dear - I really think that's a bit of a hop and a skip and a leap. "
Klaus shot him a look that told him that of course Klaus was very much aware of that, he wasn't an idiot. But a look which also hinted that Klaus would like to cling to his fantasy for a bit. And, since such self-indulgence happened only once every tenth blue moon, Dorian desperately wished to indulge his husband.
"On the other hand, dear, who knows? And if Carlos was that good a friend with both brother and sister, maybe he visited, as he seems to have no contact with his own family. Maybe there's a tooth brush or a hair brush or something. Or maybe just some better photos and she could tell you more about him."
Klaus nodded tightly and sipped his coffee. "This tastes like gasoline. I have the address. We will go there. If it seems possible we will ask for a DNA sample. If not, as you said, the mother might have pictures. I ... can't show Father a picture of his only blood-related grandchild stamped with DECEASED. And I want to be able to tell Father that Carlos was a ... good man."
Dorian squeezed his forearm reassuringly. "I'm positive that he was. With you for a father, how could he not be?"
"Dolls. Little girls, they like dolls. Dorian, should we take a doll?"
Dorian had never seen Klaus this rattled. Nazis, thermonuclear devices, wolves, Russians, a loaded buckshot rifle to his forehead: nothing really got a rise out of the man the enemy agents had so aptly named Iron Klaus. Apparently little girls were an entirely different ball game.
"We decided not to tell them about your possible connection to her Uncle Carlos to start with, dear, so I think a doll is quite unnecessary at this point." If the little girl really was Klaus's granddaughter, though, Dorian saw no end to the dolls that would soon be bought. What was Klaus’s was Dorian's and while Dorian for instance loved every little hair on Hilary's head, short though Hilary insisted on keeping it, Dorian would have adored a daughter to fuss over.
"Ja, you're right. It's just that, well, I bought a doll for a little girl once. You don't think they expect it?"
Dorian blinked. "When did you ever buy a doll for a little girl, dear?" Klaus was notoriously bad at buying presents. Why, Dorian could still remember the absolute horror he'd felt the year Klaus had proudly presented him with a Picasso.
Klaus shrugged restlessly. "Mission in London, before that mess with the airplane that landed us in Spain. I was sent to a doll store to pick up a doll. I thought it would have a secret message or something on it. Turns out that it was a birthday present to L's granddaughter, Melinda. Not my agent L, one of the British operatives. He wanted me to marry her."
"What? Darling! You never told me. First Hetty and then Lalaith and now--"
Klaus shot him a sour look. "For fuck's sake, Dorian! She was a child! L is a huge pervert! And fat like an elephant!"
Dorian giggled. Klaus was so cute when Dorian managed to rattle him. "Well, let's wait with the dolls until we know anything for sure about Carlos. Darling, you're not stalling for time, are you?"
"Of course I'm not!" Klaus glared at him, then turned off the Rolls Royce's engine. He had wanted to rent a Mercedes, but Dorian had been too fast. He let Klaus drive, though - Dorian was perfectly able to drive on the so called "right" side, but he was more than happy to let Klaus handle the American roads, which hardly intimidated a man raised on the Autobahn. Klaus exited the car, slammed the door and marched up towards the idyllic-looking little New Hampshire house. The building was single-story, but with a high roof that indicated a spacious loft. The roof was black and the facade pale blue with white edges. On the green area behind were a couple of smaller sheds. There was a rather cute, blue gate before a small white shingled road lead to the door. He left the Rolls Royce in a more unhurried pace and went up to join his husband.
Klaus had stopped by the front door, to stare in clear annoyance at the cheerful welcome-sign. Dorian reached past him and rang the bell. From inside he heard a tingling noise in reply. He stepped back and started to elegantly tug off his long gloves - the New Hampshire weather was just a hint nippy.
"Maybe no one is home?" Klaus said fifteen seconds later.
"Could be. We really ought to have called first."
Things had happened rather quickly. Major Schmidt had chartered them a plane and had them up in New Hampshire within the hour, almost as if he wanted to get rid of them. Strange, that, but Dorian had noticed what seemed like a disproportionate number of former Alphabets no longer living in Germany. C had become powerful, though, something Dorian heartily approved of. You never knew when you needed some clout on your side, even if you were Iron Klaus and Eroica.
Before he finished the saying, the door opened, though of course Dorian knew that Klaus had wanted to surprise the people inside, not give them time to put together a story if something strange was going on. Dorian, who was by nature less suspicious, smiled down at the girl who opened the door, inspecting her intently for any sign of the von dem Eberbach blood.
"Hello there," he said, taking the lead. Klaus was rather worthless with young children anyway, normally prone to make them pee themselves even when he tried not to frighten them - Hilary being a spectacular exception, which Dorian ascribed to fate and mutual gun fanaticism. "Would you be Carla Jensen, sweetheart?"
She looked back at him without fear - a von dem Eberbach trait to be sure, but sadly not a unique one. "That's me. Who're you?"
"My name is Lord Dorian Red, Earl of Gloria. This is my companion, Klaus von dem Eberbach."
The girl turned her full attention to Klaus and then, to Dorian's immense amusement, saluted him. Klaus stared back for a moment, then answered the salutation with a curt nod and a firm: "At ease."
"You're in the army, aren't you?" the girl said. "Only, you look like it. Ranger, maybe? Or Special Ops? Sniper? My uncles are in the army, but I can't tell you where."
"North Atlantic Treaty Organisation," Klaus answered succinctly. "I rank Lieutenant Colonel."
She saluted him again and when he answered she smiled at him so sunnily that Dorian felt his heart tighten, just a little. What a charmer she is, he thought. Which truly wasn't a Klausian trait, unless Klaus was trying to get some information.
"Is your mother in, little girl?" he asked.
She turned back at him and looked him over carefully. "You're not in the army," she informed him, not unkindly, and Dorian heard Klaus snort. Then she smiled widely, "But that's okay. I like you anyway, because you wear so many colours. Mommy! Mommy!" she shouted over her shoulder with great enthusiasm and lungs. "There's a Lieutenant Colonel here from the North Atlantic Treaty Organsiation, with a civilian Earl."
A tall, blond woman emerged from within the house, eyeing them with distrust.
"Lieutenant Colonel Klaus von dem Eberbach, NATO," Klaus introduced himself. His voice was firm, but to Dorian, who had known him for several decades now, his accent was a shade deeper than usual. "This is Dorian Red, the Earl of Gloria."
The woman blinked. Then she moved a blue and white chequered washing towel to her left hand before holding out her right. Dorian accepted the shake, noting a hint of cold dampness to the firm grip.
"Jenny Jensen. What can I do for you?"
"We’re conducting an investigation in the background of a NATO employee. A team-mate of your late brother came up as a possible person of interest to the investigation. You are listed as his contact person. As his relatives have a Do Not Contact-restriction we would like to ask you a few questions."
Technically speaking the story was perfectly correct, even if generally not even the feared spymaster Iron Klaus would be allowed to research his own background.
"Cougar?" she said uncertainly, eyes shifting between them. "Why would NATO be--"
"Uncle Cougs!" Carla Jensen squeed. "What do you want with Uncle Cougar?"
"Quiet now, honey, let me handle this," her mother cautioned. "You're here for Carlos Alvarez?"
"Yes, Miss Jensen," Dorian answered. "I'm a consultant in the matter. May we come inside? We have travelled a very long way and I am simply parched. Some tea would be divine. I do hope we are not intruding at some inappropriate moment?"
She rose in Dorian's esteem by first asking to see Klaus's identification papers, which he promptly provided. Then she studied the papers as if she actually knew what to look for in a forgery. Dorian himself would cheerfully admit that he couldn't have told a forged NATO identification from the genuine article, not without proper preparation. But, apparently satisfied with what she saw, she then did let them enter. They were led to a sunny kitchen and seated by a large carved-oak table, which could easily seat 8-10 people.
The tea was served in large, handpainted mugs. Dorian's was blue with a huge handprint in red and the word "Rogue" on it. He hesitated, but once he smelled a familiar aroma he sipped. His refined tastebuds encountered what was unmistakably Iskander, a lovely, silver grey tea he had tried in Paris. Klaus, of course, bless his heathen heart, asked for coffee, black, and received Nescafe without even specifying his preference. Dorian had attempted to get him to switch to something less common, but to no avail, and after a few years Dorian had reached the startling conclusion that Klaus actually liked the taste of Nescafe.
"So," Jenny Jensen said, finally sitting down opposite to them, also with a cup of Nescafe. "Why are you investigating Carlos? You are aware that he died in Bolivia, yes?"
"Yes," Klaus answered promptly. "We are not investigating Sergeant Alvarez himself, only his possible connection to the NATO employee in question. I'm afraid we can't be more specific. The investigation is classified, you understand. Be assured that we have no suspicion that Sergeant Alvarez was involved in anything illegal. In fact, he was likely utterly unaware of his possible connection to the NATO employee. At this point we are merely trying to establish the connection and get a handle of what type of a man Sergeant Alvarez was."
"Do you have any photos of him?" Dorian inserted smoothly, when his husband left a small pause, not wanting the woman to have time to think too much about what Klaus had just said.
"Anything you could tell us about Sergeant Alvarez would be much appreciated," Klaus filled in.
Jenny nodded and seemed convinced, so Dorian took the opportunity to borrow the loo. Not much later he sat with a large family album before him, slowly turning each page. Carla Jensen sat curled up next to him, eagerly pointing out any hint of her Uncle Cougar in the images. There were surprisingly many of them. Hints, that is. Actual shots were few and far between. The handsome Spaniard seemed to instinctively avoid having his picture taken, coupled with an impressive talent to get his hat to shield him from prying cameras. Once in a while, though, that skill failed him and Dorian saw deep, dark eyes that weren't Klaus's, but had an undeniable similarity, not in millimeters or angles or hues, but in simple presence and intensity. In the background Klaus asked Jenny questions, but Dorian gave them little attention. His lover would memorise the answers to go over with him later.
"That's the one!" Carla suddenly cried out and pointed to a particularly large image. "That's the best one!"
And Dorian had to agree that the image was very good.
The ever-present hat was, of course, worn. Dorian had started to worry that the hat might be used to conceal a budding case of male baldness, definitely not a von dem Eberbach-trait. On the other hand the hat, in all its plebian glory, was somehow the perfect accessory for the young man, crowning his head like a knight's helmet and almost impossible to erase from the image even with the cleverest imagination. In this particular photo, however, the hat had been pushed back. Strands of shoulder-length hair had fallen forward to form a dark glory around the man's face. Full sunlight glittered in his eyes and brightened his entire demeanour as he smiled a wide, happy smile. Dorian had seldom seen Klaus smile that way, but his beloved did have just such an impossible, bright smile when - once upon a blue moon - the German smiled just for joy’s sake: happy and at peace.
Carlos and a bespectacled, dark-blond man held Carla between them. The second man had an endearing, if somewhat goofy, smile. Dorian recognized him as Jake Jensen, Corporal, team-mate of Carlos, brother of the woman they were visiting and true blood uncle to the girl who might or might not be Dorian's granddaughter. Jake also looked very happy. He wore a pale pink T-shirt that stretched tight over a well-muscled chest - a twin to the shirt worn by Carla today, with "Go Petunias" on a flowery background. Dorian could only guess that this must hold some obscure, American meaning.
"So that young gentleman in stylish pink would be your Uncle Jake, then?" he asked Carla. While he himself only wore t-shirts when working out, he did approve of the color. Only real men dared to wear pink - even if he so far had failed utterly to make Klaus realise this.
"Yes! The Petunias are my soccer team."
Dorian refused to get into an argument with a young girl about why soccer rightly should be called football and why the bastard version of rugby with ridiculous amounts of protective gear truly should be given a different name, like "hands-and-kick-ball".
"Your Uncle Jake likes your Uncle Cougar very much, doesn't he?" He couldn't help but to notice how the young men had their arms slung over each other, nor how Carlos leaned his head into Jake's shoulder.
"Course he does."
"He does seem a very likeable man." Unlike the man who may or may not have sired him. Klaus was definitely an acquired taste. Though one well worth acquiring.
"Nuh-huh," she said, surprising him. "Everyone's scared of Uncle Cougar, unless he wants you not to be."
Interesting. "But you're not scared of him, are you?"
"Of course not! Uncle Cougar loves me. When he heard some boys at my school teased me for not having a father, Uncle Cougar came to pick me up and he glared at them! Like this!"
And then she glared at him. Dorian's heart skipped a beat. The emotion was softened by the girl's youth and sweet nature, but what he saw did look an awful lot like Klaus's "You're about to die a slow and horribly painful death"-glare.
"I'm gonna marry Uncle Cougar when I grow up," she explained to him.
Dorian found himself smiling.
Then she startled as if in sudden alarm. "If he was alive, that is. Uncle Cougar is dead. I was going to marry Uncle Cougar when I grew up, I mean. If he had been alive."
He nodded understanding.
"Oh, 'n' if Uncle Jake lets me, of course," she concluded blithely.
C had booked them a room at a Marriott Hotel, so they went there next. Dorian found the hotel acceptable, if not particularly inviting.
"What do you think?" Klaus asked as soon as he had swept the room for bugs.
"The girl is cute as a bug and there certainly seems to have been a close connection between her Uncle Jake and young Alvarez." The photo had only shown their torsos, with the girl held between them. Had the young boys been by themselves and the photo full-length, Dorian would have fully expected to see a certain closeness between girded hips, as it were. "Carla doesn't look much like either you or Carlos, though."
Klaus nodded. "Mother was blond. I remember her only from pictures."
"Well, the girl’s mother is blond, so don't get your hopes up, my dear."
"I texted Herr Hinkel. He will scan some photos of Mother and mail me."
"Right, dear. Did the sister know anything?"
"Not much. She knew nothing about the Do Not Contact order issued against his family. Carlos never spoke of them to her. But she said--" His countenance darkened,"--that the first year Jake brought Carlos home for Christmas she could have sworn that Carlos had never received a Christmas present before." Something in Klaus's sharp, green eyes reminded Dorian that while Klaus had little patience for frivolous activities and for all that he most often failed entirely to pick out suitable presents, Klaus never missed a birthday, Christmas or any reason to celebrate, not when it concerned their family. And unbidden came, of course, the memory of that magical Christmas many years ago, when they had finally brought Hilary home only days earlier and Hilary's eyes so huge and full of wonder when the entire Eroica gang had piled a mountain of presents before him. Even James had given him a particularly nice stone he had found in Italy. By Klaus's look now, son or not, if the family that had raised the Alvarez boy had in any way abused him, Iron Klaus would make them pay. Eroica would back him up.
"No. Did you get a sample from the girl?
"No, I'm sorry." In truth, the matter had slipped his mind. "There was this wonderful picture, I wish I could have asked for a copy. Maybe next time." He'd ask Beck to transfer it to an oil painting, if things panned out. "So, how do we proceed?"
"We might as well get some sleep, shake off this bloody jet lag." The last Klaus said with considerable scorn. They exchanged a wry look and Dorian didn't say what was on both their minds - back in the day they had both nearly habitually chased the dawn in cross-globe heists or missions. Going to bed so early would have been unthinkable. "In the morning we'll have the images from Herr Hinkel. Maybe C and his boys will have found something too. Then I want to reread the record of their last mission. I swear something strange was going on. I need to know what. And I want to study his background in detail."
They continued to speculate as they settled in for the night. Dorian considered offering a blowjob to help his lover relax, but Klaus fell asleep nearly at once, with hardly a "Mary had a little lamb" to be heard. Dorian waited a few more minutes, then reached into the suitcase he had left open by the bed. The cold tin of the can fitted well into his hand and he pulled it out, removed the lid with a practiced twist and then let a quick, gentle mist fall over Klaus's face.
His lover grimaced, but then his features smoothed out as he fell even deeper into sleep, urged on by the Eroica Sleeping Gas TM. The brief spray would only keep him under for ten minutes, but those minutes were all Dorian needed to get dressed again (yes, he could dress in under two hours, when properly motivated) and leave without waking his lover. With any luck, Klaus would never notice a thing and, well, if he did Dorian had always found it easier to apologise after the fact.
"Let me do the work for a bit, dear. By the time you wake up I might even have some answers for you."
He made sure Klaus breathed unhindered and then he left.
By the time Dorian pulled up the Rolls Royce at the Jensen residence, his three hundred thousand pound platinum and diamond Ratinienne wrist watch showed the local time as 20:25. A mite late for a young girl, possibly, but shortly after his knock Carla opened the door, beaming happily at him. "Hello Dorian!"
"Hello there, sweetheart. There's just one more question I wanted to ask. May I come in again?"
"Mommy left. She's visiting with my Aunt Jolene. Auntie just had a baby."
Dorian hid a frown. Leaving a little girl all alone and not even teaching her not to open the door to near-strangers? Very irresponsible. If that woman is not a fit mother for my possible grandchild, well ... Maybe Hilary and Connor could adopt her? Besides, Dorian was not quite as young as he had once been. With Hilary so stubbornly set in his military career maybe he should start looking for an heir to the Red cape. There had never been a female thief in the family, true, but ... Well ... Times were a-changing.
"Oh. Well, it's just a very minor question, I'm sure you can answer it just as well as your mother could. Perhaps you could give me some more of that tea, it was really quite nice?"
He used his best, "I'm a mite eccentric maybe, but utterly harmless"-voice, the one that even Klaus had fallen for now and then in the early days.
"Sure! Come on in! My uncles went to France 'n' there was a fight at a tea house 'n' they came home with lots 'n' lots 'n' lots of tea."
And it worked on little girls too. Good to know.
Dorian allowed his miniature hostess to escort him to the kitchen, where he sat regally as she prepared the tea. He vaguely remembered trying to boil water when he was a lad and making a right mess of things (Bonham had giggled at him for days afterwards and had many years later told Hilary the story with great relish), but young Carla handled the boiling water without hesitation. As the water boiled she turned back to him, inquisitively slanting her head. "What did you want to ask about?"
"About your Uncle Carlos, dear. Where is he?"
She blinked at him. "Uncle Cougar is dead," she said, looking sad, yet defiant.
"Is he really, my girl?"
She nodded, pouting firmly.
"Your mother mentioned that she lives alone." She had told Klaus this when Dorian had been busy with the picture album. "That there is no man in her life. Is that true?"
She nodded, still scowling. Alas, after his many years with Klaus, Dorian found scowling rather adorable.
"Sweetie, unless your mother is a very different woman than she gave every impression of being, I do believe your uncle and his team, hopefully including your handsome Uncle Cougar, was here not very long ago. I used your loo - that is, the bathroom - and I smelled no less than four different aftershaves in there."
Her lower lip trembled.
"Please, my dear girl. It is of utmost important that I speak with your Uncle Cougar. I assure you, we mean him absolutely no harm and he is in no kind of trouble."
She shook her head again. "He's dead! 'n' we had workers here! So there! In the kitchen! That's why you smell aftershaves!"
Dorian hesitated. Had he been mistaken? That did happen, after all, if rarely. And having workers over would be a reasonable explanation for the different scents. An excellent explanation, even. And could such a young child really have pulled that explanation out of the thin air with no hesitation or even a blush? Most children couldn't have, of that Dorian was reasonably sure, not that Dorian had all that much experience with young girls. Oh, Hilary could have spun such a tale, but Hilary was an exception in so many ways, bright as a button and street smart.
"I see," he answered smoothly. Right. Time for plan B, then. He had hoped to avoid plan B.
From his man bag - a large, glittery absurdity that Hilary and Klaus had proudly presented him with one year on his birthday and he had never had the heart to tell them how awful the thing really was, why it looked as if they had glued the sequins on it themselves - he pulled up a DIY DNA test swab kit. Well, a plastic bag and a couple of ear cleaner swabs, but he had watched CSI with Bonham and as far as he could tell, those would do the job. The cleaners were freshly bought, on his way over, so there was no chance Klaus could have contaminated them. Then he lifted the can with Eroica Sleeping Gas TM.
He waited until the girl had switched off the heat and poured the tea - which did smell very nice, chai if his nose did not deceive him. When she turned back from putting the tea pot on stove again, he sprayed her in the face.
The body felt alien in his arms - he hadn't carried such a small person in years. Even Hilary had been sturdier when they brought him home. As for a little girl ... He drew a blank if he had ever carried a little girl. Possibly some cousin's child or what-not, so while he didn't think it completely out of the realm of possibilities, that he had done so seemed a touch unlikely.
Dorian planned to put the girl comfortably on the sofa, swab her mouth and be out of the house before she stirred. He had carried the lithe body less than three steps when a tutting sound stopped him cold.
"You put Carla down or my sniper'll put a bullet through your ear."
Dorian slowly turned towards the voice and there they stood.
While he recognized them both it was the Spaniard's sharp, brown eyes that trapped his gaze.
He knew that sharp, focused stare. Knew it ... intimately.
"Nah, Gloria - no, that's the right way of addressing him in speech, Cougar, even if it sounds like a girl's name, because I used Lord Gloria before, see? You only do the whole The Right honorable, The Earl of Gloria in, like, formal announcements and such. But the first time you talk you use Lord, I don't know why, maybe to let him know you know or something, I suppose. Anyway, Gloria, the blood files thing - Max had 'em wiped so we couldn't prove our identities even if we wanted to."
"Do call me Dorian," Dorian offered smoothly, half hoping to avoid another torrent of words and besides that, feeling almost positive that the eventual DNA comparison would soon enough prove that the young men before him would count as family.
"Coolness! Cougar, I'm on first-name basis with a British aristocrat, isn't that cool, I think that's cool?"
The right corner of Cougar's lips twitched. His warm mocha eyes stayed firmly on Dorian and his fingertips rested on the table's edge as if ready to slip his hands down for a weapon at a heart beat's notice. Dorian had seen Klaus do exactly the same - both the corner of his lips’ twitch when reluctant to show great amusement and the fingers displayed in an "I'm unarmed" gesture so close to a lie that the truth made no difference. He wore a dark grey knitted sweater, while the blond wore a cyan t-shirt which proclaimed proudly that "Some Snipers Marry Hackers. Get Over It."
"Yep, that's cool! So, you wanna go vampire of Cougar's ass? I'll have to veto that, because that sweet little mound of globular perfection is all mine. I'd let you swab him, but no need, yours awesomely truly has back-up copies of all our files, who does Max think I am, an amateur? I'd let you have a copy, but how do I know you don't want it to make little Cougar-clones for NATO or something, if you're interested in his DNA? I mean, your file checks out, Mr Prince of Thieves - and it's so cool that Eroica's a British aristocrat. And I heard that you stole the Pope, was that just BS or did ya really?"
Dorian inclined his head. "I might have had a little help," he demurred. So nice to meet a youngster who appreciated the classics.
"And Iron Klaus - I mean, that's hard core. Heh, pardon the pun. Iron - hard, get it? Ow, Cougar, be gentle!"
Cougar had reached out in a slow, almost lazy-looking movement that the blond easily should have been able to avoid - and slapped him over the head.
"Yeah, right, sorry. I guess I'm a bit worked up. We don't get many visitors, with being dead an' all. Which, ya know, begs the questions, why are you here? Why do ya want to have a look-see at Coug's DNA? I mean, sure, little Cougar-clones would be the most adorable of all adorable things and-- Ow, Cougar, stop that! I'm serious, it wasn't as if I wanted a harem or anything, nuh-huh, I'm a one-Cougar kind of guy. But whatever you think Cougs might have done, he didn't. And those 25 kids that got killed - that wasn't us. It's this guy, his name's Max, yeah, I mentioned him already, and he's batshit insane, but he's powerful like you wouldn't believe and we're-- Ow, Cougar! It's not like it's top secret. Dorian - that's a rare name, I don't think I know any Dorians, but there's an exterminator in LA called Dorian. The Poochman stole his van when we needed a ride. Anyway, Dorian knows we're alive and we might as well tell him why, so he doesn't turn us in or anything, that'd really suck."
Dorian did his best to follow the friendly chatter. Actually, he was reminded just a little bit of some of James's tirades, though not as centered around monetary issues. The "powerful like you wouldn't believe"-reference made him frown as a protective surge rose in his chest, much like whenever Hilary called home asking for his Papa to talk to him about anything at all, to let him momentarily forget whatever difficulty his job had landed him in. He fought down the urge, at least for the moment.
"We have reason to believe that you--" He nodded towards the silent Spaniard. "--might be related to a person of interest to NATO, so we would like to run a DNA comparison test to find out, that's all."
The only outward reaction to his words was a slight widening of the dark eyes. At least from that side of the table.
"Wow, that has to be your real dad, Cou. I mean, 's not like they'd have to run tests against your mother's side of the family, right? They could have tracked down one of your alleycat sisters. I mean, sure, I put up that Do Not Contact-sign for you, but TPTB isn't known to respect boundaries, especially when you're dead. Anyway, not come here and interrogate sis about you. Much less try to take a sample from Carla without a green light - and I'm still pissed about that, by the way, and just the thought of Cougs doing the nasty with Jenny is a fucking horror B-movie with really cheesy zombies and glittery vampires, so I'm repressing that like hell, nuh-huh, never heard a word of it, all gone, brain-scrub complete, data deleted. Anyway, Cougar doesn't know anything about his biological father. His mom said he was tall and handsome, but not someone she could settle down with. She met him on a mission in Mexico; he was from Europe. Um -- Oh, shit! It's not you, is it? Fuck, I just assumed you were, well, um--"
The blond lifted a hand as if to demonstrate something, looked at the appendage, winced and quickly hid it behind his back. Dorian lifted an eyebrow expectantly - a gesture he might have learned while impersonating his husband on various occasions.
"--you were a bit, um ... kinda gay? But, it's, like, totally okay if you aren't. Um. Or if you are. Um. I just kinda thought you were, but then I thought maybe she couldn't marry you because, well, you're a British Lord and all and it was back in, like, forever ago, not that I'm implying you are old or anything, and--"
For a brief, but glorious moment, Dorian envisioned his mother's face upon learning that Dorian intended to marry a woman - but a half-Indian, half-Spanish American CIA agent and one of the best female shots in the world. Mummy dearest might even have fainted. It would almost have been worth to kiss a woman, just to find out. At least when he married Klaus, Mummy had been plenty prepared and had latched onto her new son-in-law's blue blood with near-desperation and a heart-felt relief that at least her only son had not married too far below himself.
He shook his head. "No, I assure you, I am quite, ah ... gay."
"Me too. And Cougs three. Um. Which my little sonnet about his ass might already have hinted at. Not that you couldn't sire a child if-- Holy shit! Holy shit! Holy bat, shitman! If it's not you, but you're here with him, fuck it, Cou - Cou, your father, holy fuck, it's Iron Klaus, isn't it? Holy fuck, they think Iron Klaus's your mom's baby daddy!"
Dorian felt a little impressed with the young man's leap of thought. Of course he might just as easily have been wrong. Klaus and Dorian could have been there on someone else's behalf entirely. However, that was neither here nor there, as the proverbial cat was out of the bag. Instead Dorian looked towards the third man at the table, not wanting to miss his reaction. Alvarez's eyes were wide like a young child's and his mouth opened as if he finally was going to say something. No sound emerged and Dorian began to seriously consider that he might have missed the information on the man's official file that he was actually mute.
"I really do think this is a conversation we need to have with Klaus present, don't you agree?" he said calmly and sipped the tea. The chai tasted just as fresh as it smelled.
"Wheee-eeeee! This car is amazing! It's gorgeous! I love this car! The Pooch would kill for this car! Jolene would get jealous over this car. Do they come in yellow?"
Dorian smiled indulgently. "I imagine that they do," he said. He made a mental note that if Cougar would be able to hyphenate his Alvarez with von dem Eberbach (which even Hilary would agree would be even more awkward than Becker-von dem Eberbach-Red) his significant other just might receive a bright yellow Rolls Royce for his next birthday.
"Wheee-eeeee! Cougs! Cougs? We need one of these cars. It would be the most awesome getaway vehicle ever, better even than our stretch Hummer. It would be epic! Cougs, Cougs, Cougs, do you think that--"
Dorian heard no reply from the man in the seat next to him, but the chatter from the backseat - near constant since they had left the Jensen residence (with the door properly locked and Carla firmly instructed to let nobody in, no matter what) - abruptly ceased. Well, at least paused for all of three seconds.
"Sure, Cougs, sorry. I know. Actually important stuff going on right now. Shut up, Jensen. Yes, sir, shutting up. Sorry, you know me, just-- yeah, shutting up now."
And then actual silence reigned. Dorian glanced sideways and saw the handsome young Spaniard - with possibly a good dash of German and Indian blood, but he did look a proper royal Spaniard to Dorian - look at him steadily. Then he indicated something with the tilt of his head and the angle of his chin, not to mention those dark, expressive eyes.
"Klaus is a good man," he answered softly. "He never even knew that you might exist. Ah, that Lalaith had a son and that there might be a chance that he was the father, I mean. She never let him know. If you really are his, please let him try to get to know you. He would really like that. Running the results will take a few days, but--"
"Days? Days?" the spiky-haired man piped up scornfully from the backseat, where he ran two laptops simultaneously. "Days is for when you're in line and have to wait for other results like you're doing it the boring way. Say hours."
"Yes, and dear C, that would be Major Schmidt, will do his best to hurry it along, I'm sure, but we still need to get that back-up copy file you had to him somehow. Could you email it to him? Then he will need to contact the proper authorities and so on and so forth." Dorian was a bit hazy as to what actually needed doing, despite those occasional CSI-episodes watched with Bonham.
"It's so cool that you know Major Schmidt and all. Heh, I was brought before him once, after a little prank I pulled, he seemed really competent and cool and stuff. But nah, I've got the comparison program spinning on Elle, that's my sweet baby laptop to the left here, as we speak. Took me a few minutes to hack NATO, but yeah, got her purring like one of those hairy, flat-nosed cats now, not that you should trust them. Cougars being the exception, of course. Hours, I tell, you, man, hours, tops."
"Excellent," Dorian praised as he pulled the Rolls Royce to a stop outside the Marriot. "Klaus will be so pleased. If there's anything he loathes, it's waiting."
"Let's hope that's not hereditary, then, because my man Cougar is, like, the king of waiting. Seriously."
Dorian led them into the hotel. "Well, Klaus can wait if necessary. He can do that whole, what do you call it, sniping thing? He just hates not being active and will grumble about it for, oh, days afterwards. But he always gets the work done. Right. If you two wait outside for just a mo', I want to prepare him first, he's always a bit grumpy after I've gassed him to sleep, even if it was just for a few minutes."
"Yeah, Cougar's like that too. Hey, maybe that's hereditary. Ow! Jensen promises never to slip Cougar a mickey again. You needed to sleep, you'd been up so long you started to hallucinate! You called me a rainbow unicorn and giggled. I have it on tape, you know, and I'm not afraid to put it on youtube! Sure, we'll just wait here."
Reaching for his wallet, Dorian half-turned to smile at the youngsters. The blond hugged the Spaniard from behind, with one hand on his left shoulder and the other spread wide over his chest, fingers of both hands tapping rhythmically on the grey sweater as if writing on a keyboard. He wondered idly if young Carlos could tell what was being typed on him.
He slipped the room card through the lock, got the green light and opened. On entering, he only took a step before stopping cold.
What is wrong?
He couldn't tell exactly what had alerted him, so he glanced around, trying to match the sitting room to his memory from before. Everything looked in order: nothing out of place that he could think of, no elements missing. And yet ...
That was what was wrong. There was no presence of Klaus in the room. Had someone entered, making as much noise as Dorian had, Klaus would have been instantly alerted. Maybe he had lain in wait for the intruder to identify themselves, but Dorian had just called out and yet nothing ...
"Dorian?" he heard from the corridor, but he was already on the move, dashing through the sitting room into the bedroom, where he had left his black-haired love.
He had clung to a hope of Klaus having woken up and, finding Dorian having fled the nest, had decided to follow and was descending on Casa Jensen that very minute. But there, in the bedroom, finally, were the obvious signs of something indeed having happened. A bullet hole in the wall; bedding pushed aside; the very bed shifted; a chair tilted to the wall.
Dorian didn't yell his husband's name a third time. Doing so would have been pointless.
Klaus was gone.
Someone had taken him.
Klaus hung in silence and darkness. He had woken up a few minutes earlier, but despite his feet barely brushing the floor, the position was oddly comfortable and he had opted to keep the appearance of still being unconscious, to see what information he could gain while whoever had captured him thought him still out for the count.
Something to do with the current investigation? The Cuba mission? Some old enemy? D saw Guerten in Beirut a few months ago.
It could be anything - or even nothing. Once Klaus had gotten kidnapped by amateurs who intended to blackmail Lord Gloria, that renowned art lover, for something as mundane and gauche as money. They had apparently been totally oblivious both as to who Klaus really was and Dorian's identity as Eroica, darling of the criminal world. Klaus, once he had convinced himself that the situation really was that stupid, had freed himself within minutes.
So, it could be just about anything. But Klaus's gut feeling told him that the mess had something to do with their investigating the death of one Carlos Alvarez, Sergeant.
He heard a distant voice in the darkness, progressively growing louder. Sounds turned into syllables which he could piece together. English. Or maybe not?
"--for the good of America!"
Not exactly English.
"--that, Wade? You were born in Quebec? Well, we'll do it for the good of North America, then."
Great. Just what I needed ... Americans ...
"Tea," Dorian said with icy calm resolution once they reached the Jensen residence. He had let Cougar drive the Rolls Royce going back, opting to sit in absolute silence in the other front seat, marshalling his thoughts while watching blindly as the landscape flickered past outside.
Then he refused to say another word as the tea was prepared. They tried to talk to him, but he merely shook his head, waiting.
When a steaming cup with rooibos was put before him he took the cup - watched carefully by three pairs of eyes: two blue and one brown. For a long moment he sat with the cup in his hands, letting the warmth penetrating the robust earthenware warm his fingers and palms as he breathed in the deceptively light, elegant flavour. A faint mist of warmth caressed his cheeks and eyelids. Then he blew carefully at the very surface before taking a small, measured sip.
Flavoured water on the verge of being too hot filled his mouth until he tilted the cup back, closed his eyes, held the warm mouthful for a few seconds and then swallowed, feeling the comfortable, smooth warmth roll down his throat, seemingly flood his chest and belly, spreading peace and strength.
Only then did he look up to see the worried half-circle before him. The tall blond in the tight, cyan t-shirt; well-muscled; round glasses; goatee. The white-flaxen blond girl in the pale pink Go Petunias-t-shirt, with the same determined look in her eyes. The Spaniard - shorter than his companion, but - if Dorian was any judge of the male body, and he was, thank you very much -, built with the same strong structure that gave Klaus his deceptively slim appearance, until you noticed how well his shoulders flexed and how muscular his legs really were.
"We investigated you. Your background. Your death too. Klaus thought there was something fishy about the helicopter explosion. And rumours of your death really do seem to have been greatly exaggerated. While I'm not discounting that this might be one of Klaus's old enemies, and Lord knows he has oodles of them, well ... Just who is this Max and why would he have you listed as dead in the first place?"
Besides, even if this Max character hadn't taken Klaus, Dorian might as well get that ball rolling too. They might not have conclusive evidence that the silent man who looked at him with such dark, lovely eyes really was Klaus’s offspring, but Dorian despised bullies anyway - and if Cougar really was Klaus's, well, then he was Dorian's too - and they both had a protective streak a mile wide.
Dorian sipped some more tea as Jensen filled him in. Then he put down the cup and, in the same movement, lifted his cell phone. Six quick clicks later, he lifted the slender device (a Nielly special, in 18 carat gold with diamonds on the buttons and in a boar and rose-pattern on the back) to his ear and waited for a single tone to ring through.
"I'm in Springfield, New Hampshire. America, that is. We have a situation, Bonham. Put out the alert, would you?"
"Certainly, milord. Who'm I to summon?"
Dorian closed his eyes for a second, the flavour of the rooibos tea still lingering on his palate. "Klaus has been taken. The likely suspect is some CIA super spook named Max. Seems like a shady character and I don't like him one bit. Call ... everyone."
And thus the hounds of war were released.
"--yes, Herr Minister, I do realise that America is a bit out of your jurisdiction, but--"
"Herr Minister?" Jake, just entering after having put Carla to bed, mimed the words to Cougar. His lover made the universal gesture for "You heard right and that's not even half of it, you should have heard who he called before that" (Cougar was the reigning world champion at universal gestures). Jensen walked up to his sniper and - since Cougar's eyebrows had shifted minutely during his gesture - gently pulled at the man's sweater to get him to lean against Jensen's stomach for a moment, hiding his face entirely under the brim of his hat.
"--please do, P, oh, I mean Herr Minister. Both Klaus and I would be sincerely disappointed if you didn't--"
Jake caressed Cougar's throat lightly, tapped out a quick "xoxoxoxo" with his ring fingers and then wound said fingers into the black hair.
"--and I do hear that Alaska is so cold this time of the year ... Ta-ta."
Jensen frowned. He might be a self-proclaimed king of non sequiturs, but even to him that was an odd way to end a conversation.
When the voice had been silent for ten minutes, Klaus decided not to waste any more time playing dead. Feeling fairly sure his hair would hide his eyes anyway, as he could feel strands against his face, he squinted at first and then opened his eyes fully when the faint light wouldn't let anyone see him too clearly anyway. He shifted his head minutely, to scout the area.
The room measured four by four meters, with concrete walls painted pale green. A door straight ahead stood ajar opening into a long corridor ending with an elevator with the doors propped open. No other doors led into the corridor, but within the room there were two, both also ajar - he glimpsed a bathroom to the right and a bedroom to the left.
While he wasn't alone he might as well have been, for all the attention paid to him. Max’s concentration was firmly on the object in his hands, and Klaus stared intently at it, trying to understand why it should be so important.
Weird. But then, he did seem to be an American.
Frowning, Dorian put down his phone. He had been unable to reach Hilary. Not only that, but there had been something distinctly worrisome about Connor's strained laughter and the way he had said that Hilary was temporarily out of reach, but that he was absolutely, 102 percent sure that Hilary very soon would be temporarily within reach again. Dorian hadn't wanted to give Hilary the message that his father was missing by way of Connor relay (the boy tended not to write things down and thus did not deliver quite the exact message entrusted). Instead he had extracted a firm promise to have Hilary call his Papa ASAP, as the youngsters said these days.
Feeling exhausted he downed the last of the tea - his third cup, if anyone cared to count, but tea was of course essential. As he drank he considered calling the former K currently doing service in the French Foreign Legion (seriously, the way K had changed his name and moved, one would have thought he didn't want anyone to contact him), to see if he could get the man to exact a bit of pressure through some of his family contacts. Or if perhaps he should try to reach Volovolonte again. The Italian mobster was in a retreat in Hungary, for whatever reason, and while his enforcer had firm instructions to give Dorian anything he wanted, up to and including the clothes off his back (and Julio was not an unattractive man. A few years back Dorian might have asked for the clothes, just for a lark), Dorian would feel much better from hearing Gian-Maria's steady voice and advice in the matter.
As he looked up, though, he saw a raised eyebrow to the right and to his left a blond man almost vibrating in place and waving his fingers to get his attention. Dorian opted to answer the eyebrow. "I couldn't reach Hilary, he's my and Klaus's adopted son. Your, ah, brother, possibly, if--"
"If! If!" the blond broke in with such a wide, happy grin that he looked positively deranged. "Scans run and match confirmed! Congratulations, it's a sniper!"
Dorian's heart stopped, just for a beat, then thundered on as he met the dark gaze of the silent Spaniard, who stared at him with a suddenly fragile expression. He felt a smile start to stretch his face. "How delightful. I ... always wanted a sniper," he said and reached out, placing his hand on the younger man's and pressing gently. He received a tentative, shy smile in response. "We need to get to know each other, of course," he allowed, "but just so you know, Hilary started calling me Papa and Klaus Father and it kind of stuck. Oh, but this is marvellous! We'll find Klaus, don't you worry, we always do, and when we have--"
"Now! Now!" The blond eagerly waved his fingers again. "Um, that is to say, I have a trace, anyway. I had to give up on his cell, he's somewhere isolated, I dunno, but I went back to the hotel - not physically, obviously, since I've been here the entire time and I suck at astral projection, but I pulled up a city map and I've been ripping into security cameras like you wouldn't believe, it's actually kind of fun, and--"
"Ah, yes," Dorian said, recalling. "One of Hetty's boys - you remind me just a little bit of him - did that for us when we visited Los Angeles about two years ago."
"Huh? Dunno, but I started at the Marriot and I saw him be dragged into a green van and, yup, its Max. I've only seen him once, but no mistaking that smile - batshit insane, I'm telling you, with a side of unhinged psychopath. Anyway, so I hacked the camera outside the garage exit and got the van leaving and I've followed it on traffic cams ever since. I'm not all that far behind now, it was rush hour, so Maxie-poo got stuck for a bit. I know you seem to have, like, half the armies of the civilized world converging on Springfield - and was that actually the capo di tutti capo you were trying to reach? I'm not sure I want to know the answer to that one and isn't the mob, like, major anti-gay? Though Cougs 'n' I saw this really neat movie, Friends & Family, it was brilliant. But, if you wanna I think I can get us a heck of a lot closer by the time that sweet Rolls has taken us to where I'm up to now. So I think we're in business. Especially if--"
"--that's Pooch and Pooch's our wheel man and he'll get us there even faster. Huh, at least I hope that's Pooch, because it'd be kinda embarrassing if I tried to use the perfect timing and it turned out to be the mailman with an Amazon delivery."
But Pooch it was. A solid, dark-skinned man with a friendly smile, he whooped on starting the Rolls Royce and Dorian had to admit that the car hadn't responded quite the same way when he did the driving.
"Iron Klaus," said the stranger. He was of medium height, with well-groomed, black hair; tanned skin and dark eyes that reminded Klaus of a cobra that had tried to kill him in a zoo in France.
Klaus inclined his head from his hanging position. For whatever reason he had found himself actually taped to the wall with large stripes of some green material - and stuck hard, as his mightiest heave had done him little good. He had barely been able to shift enough to get hold of the small knife sewn into his coat lining. The knife he now used to make tiny cuts whenever his captor looked elsewhere.
"You have me at a disadvantage," he replied evenly.
"We do, don't we?" The man grinned widely.
Royal we or is he part of a group? He had only seen the one man so far. Well, and the glass jar. "Who could 'we' be?" he asked evenly. Sometimes the bad guys actually answered questions, the morons.
As of yet he wasn't positive that his gut instinct had been right, that all this was due to investigating Carlos Alvarez's death, or if even after all these years there was still some nutjob who had it in his fat head to settle scores with Iron Klaus from some slight or other - he had stepped on many, many toes during the decades. Whoever he was, the man had made a serious mistake. Klaus was alive. And Dorian remained, as far as Klaus had been able to infer, free. If so, Klaus had no doubt that the full force of his husband’s not insignificant connections had already been unleashed. Dorian did tend to go just a little bit overboard when he worried. Hilary was quite likely the only 12-year-old regularly brought home by the RAF when he got lost in a market.
The single name clicked. Unless the man was some loony who idolized those one-name pop-artists, in the circles the likes of Iron Klaus travelled the name Max was, well, literally legend.
"I thought that name was retired in the 70s," Klaus said calmly. He had met Max once, in Amsterdam. Or a Max, anyway, as the name was part of a legend used for some of the most psychopathic super spooks of the CIA.
"And I thought Iron Klaus was a weak old man who should have retired from the field a long time ago to live with his sticky-fingered husband like a proper house wife," Max said with a friendly smile. "I might still be right. Considering that I find you snooping around things that you have no reason to snoop around. What interest do you have with that loser, Alvarez?"
Ah. So the kidnapping did have something to do with young Carlos. Klaus had been willing to accept another explanation, but it was always good to have reaffirmed that his gut reaction was still on the money. And, also, that something really iffy had happened in Bolivia. It must have, if a Max was involved.
"Tell me of your own interest," Klaus countered in a silken tone. "Maybe our goals need not be opposite."
And maybe James would start donating money to homeless shelters. There were nicer ways of exchanging information than kidnapping, especially since NATO and the CIA supposedly were on the same side these days, whatever side that was. Also, Klaus had excellent eyesight and despite the dim light he clearly saw the jar that the Max clutched to his chest. The Max he had met in Amsterdam had played with a few cards missing from his deck too. But, most important of all, overshadowing everything else Klaus's gut had no doubt that this was the man who had robbed Klaus of his parental rights. This man had killed Klaus's son.
Max might be legend. But this particular Max was very close to finding out just why Iron Klaus might also be a legend, but based on very hard, very real, unforgiving, unrelenting, unstoppable facts.
"--so, Cougar, how you feel about being The Honourable Carlos Alvarez, eh? That's the right title, isn't it, Dorian? Left, then two up and another right. The younger son of an Earl would be the The Honourable, right? Ow! Cougar! Be gentle! Now to the left!"
Dorian, who had been on the verge of getting just a hint annoyed with the enthusiastic babble, approved of the light slap heard from the backseat.
"They're always like that," Pooch confided in him while taking a corner on two wheels. "Like a pair of happy puppies, though one of them is all bark and the other's all bite. In the Hummer I had a water spray I used on Jensen when he's got too worked up, it worked sometimes. Or I told Cougar to sit on him, but sometimes I had to use the water spray on both of them after that. Cougar hates water. J?"
"Pull over, we're almost at touchdown. Do you live in a castle, Dorian? I hear England is pretty much Castles 'R' Us."
The Rolls Royce came to a smooth halt. A few minutes later they huddled behind a fence, studying a 14-story building, outside which the green van stood parked diagonally across two parking spots. The building was unlit and the windows gaped black, a FORECLOSURE sign on the entrance and grafitti like a colorful ribbon reaching almost two stories high.
Jensen offered a tablet to Dorian, smiling eagerly.
"Here's the blueprints and on behalf of the city government I apologise for the ease with which I could hack them for you. That was some of the lamest security I have ever seen, lame, lame, lame. I could have hacked it blindfolded. Heh. I have to try that at some point. Maybe I'll just turn the screen off. Huh. Right, so it looks abandoned, but I figured Maxie must use some electricity. So, I checked with the electricity company and, yeah, the elevator has been sucking a bit of juice and there’s something on the eight floor, smack in the middle. Sure, could be a decoy or whatever, but I bet that's where Max has his doomsday cavern. No telling what mechanisms he has for protection. We could wait for the cavalry or have a little look-see. Fuck, I wish Clay wasn’t out gallivanting with Aisha on some lead in Kiev which must obviously be a false trail if Max's here. Clay, that's our boss, he's a little, well, easily distracted by volatile women and his plans are a tad straight forward and all, but they do tend to work out."
"Plus or minus a shot or two in the legs," Pooch grumped.
Dorian ignored the chatter. Instead he studied the blueprints, clicking between floor levels. The place that had used electricity was marked in pale yellow. While he was sure that this Clay person was good enough at what he did, there was no building on Earth that could keep out the King of Thieves. If he had broken into the Vatican, he could break into a measly doomsday cavern.
"The elevator is out of the question," he said. "That Max-person would notice. Well, I can't say I particularly fancy eight sets of stairs, but I suppose there's no helping it." And he was, needless to say, in excellent shape for his age.
"'fraid not," said Jensen, puckering his lips. "Stairs're a no-go. Condemned building and our beloved goverment, a.k.a. 'we don't even own a firewall' tore down the stairs to prevent squatters."
Dorian raised an eyebrow. "But they kept the elevator? That seems a hint, well, counter-intuitive."
"I admire your Earth-logic," Jake said, which Dorian took for agreement. "Though, to give credit where very little credit is due, they did put it out of order. Apparently someone has tampered with it, so it's running again. And turned on the electricity in the first place. There's no record of an official decision, so that indicates someone with a bit of clout." Under his breath he sing-songed, "Ma-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-ax."
Dorian nodded, part of him enjoying a clever mind to bounce his thoughts with. Normally he tried out different angles of his plans until Bonham made them work.
"I mean, if we just wanted to get a packet out and didn't care for casualties we could just go in, Cougar's gun blazing, and-- Ow, Cougar! Be gentle!"
"I dare say that we do care," Dorian said dryly. "Now, I understand you know your way around a computer."
"Sure. And that Michelangelo dude sculpted a little."
"So he did. The elevator. Can you make it move from the outside?"
The blond shrugged. "Nah. Not without wiring it."
"Could you do it from the inside?"
"If I can touch the system anywhere, yeah, that's a beautiful Tennessee waltz."
"Could you do it from ... here?" Dorian pointed at the electric station on the roof, ignoring the waltz statement.
"Piece of pecan and white chocolate cake. Getting there'll be a bit of a problem, though, unless we steal another helicopter."
Dorian nodded regally. "Should be easy enough. Leave that to me. The problem is that we don't know how things look inside. What we need is the element of surprise."
Ten minutes after that the Zeppelin had landed them on the roof, Dorian had the full picture clear to him and frowned.
Oh, if only Klaus had been with them. Dorian could see a plan taking form. He could even see Klaus shake his head dismissively, but going along: of Klaus being able to go along like only a handful of men on Earth could. He remembered Klaus saying - his voice oddly clipped, almost as if embarrassed - how Lalaith had been the best female shot he had ever met. And then Dorian recalled which part of young Carlos's file Klaus had reacted to the most. How Carlos's scores were "lovely" - not a term Klaus used often. Dorian wasn't quite sure how shooting could have scores other than 1 to 10 (he had looked at targets, of course, if usually in puzzlement) and why any of that would be "lovely" was beyond him, but Klaus had sounded impressed. And you didn't impress Iron Klaus easily.
"And you, my dear boy," he said and caught the attentive, brown eyes, so similar to Klaus's. "I understand that you know your way around a rifle."
"You could say that," answered - of course not Carlos, but the chatterbox blond that apparently spoke for them collectively, and gave the Spaniard a big, sloppy kiss just under the hat - "and you could say that Leonardo da Vinci guy dabbled in painting."
"So he did."
Klaus was observant by nature, a talent schooled by his father and, later, by his instructors in the Army and the intelligence service. He noticed even the smallest details. As a spy master must, as in his profession the tiniest detail can - and does - mean the difference between life and death; success or failure.
"All I want to know," the Max said in an even, happy tone, "is all you know about that fucking bitch whore-son wetback Carlos Alvarez. Why you are looking for him, what you want with him and how I can find him, so I can grind him under my heel like a particularly annoying little piss ant - or better yet, get a huge magnifying glass and burn him to a little splot of cinder in the fiery heat of the sun." And then he smiled.
The tiniest details, like a small lamp above the elevator frame, previously shining red, to signal the elevator being present at their floor, switching off.
For someone who was, apparently certifiably insane, the Max had a charming, if completely deranged, smile.
Klaus also noticed larger details, like the elevator cabin moving, sinking smoothly and silently into the shack, followed by the cables.
"I was under the impression that Sergeant Carlos Alvarez died about four months ago," Klaus said calmly, using his best "listen to me, junior agent, and don't pull that trigger"-voice, the one Dorian called hypnotic. "In Bolivia."
Even without looking at them, as not to draw the Max's attention to what happened, Klaus saw the elevator cables twitch.
"Well, so you would think, wouldn't you? Considering that I, apparently, gave the orders. But no! I turn around and there those losers are, all but stalking me. It should be illegal. Burning up an entire plane full of money, stealing my snuke, shooting me in the shoulder and the fucking Mexican piss-ant made shish-kebab of my Wade!"
Something emerged from above the elevator shack. Klaus let his eyes focus, just for a split second. The shape made no sense - fit no pattern he knew. Looking at Max again he ran the image in his mind, but not until he turned it up-side down did it compute. An upside-down tarp hat.
The glass jar was held up in front of Klaus and shaken demandingly. To keep the attention on himself Klaus made a show of studying the mess of what looked to be splinters of human bones and some white, flaky substance. Klaus refused to consider what the latter might be.
Especially not since a new, quick glance showed that the hat perched on - hung from - a head with long, dark hair. That was about all Klaus could tell, as his line of sight was obscured by a rather large rifle - a Knight's Armament SR-25 if Klaus's eyes didn't deceive him - aimed in his direction.
"You want to know where to find Sergeant Carlos Alvarez, then?" Klaus calmly asked the Max.
The angle in itself wasn't difficult, but even Iron Klaus had to appreciate that the upside down position was strenuous even for the best sniper. They wouldn't have much time. Not to mention that a shot to take out the crazy American would hit Klaus as well, which was hardly ideal, even if he had been shot so many times that he should be used to the pain.
"Then come closer ..." Klaus said, almost in a whisper - and when the man actually did step closer, he swung out the fist he had managed to free. He lacked the leverage to do any real damage, even with the knife, but he hit the glass jar firmly, knocking it out of the man's grasp.
The Max fumbled to reach the jar - and a single shot ran out, slapping into the wall less than a decimeter from Klaus's arm. In a spray of red, the Max fell.
Klaus ignored the corpse, his entire focus on the elevator shaft. The sharp-shooter disappeared out of view. A few seconds later he reappeared, swinging down and taking a small, graceful leap into the corridor. The Knight's Armament SR-25 had relocated to a shoulder harness. There he stopped, looking towards Klaus. He pushed back his hair in a manner that Klaus unexpectedly recognized from both Dorian and Lalaith, when they didn't have time to brush theirs, but still wanted to make a good impression. Then the man approached.
He was not built wide, but he had a solid bulk nearly hidden by his graceful movements - not feminine, just the natural, smooth movements of a feline predator. Klaus saw it all.
Neither man paid the slightest attention to the corpse on the floor, in the ruin of the broken glass jar with messy bones fragments. Of course not. There was no way a son of Iron Klaus and Lalaith Alvarez could have missed a killing shot. Still.
"A lovely shot," Klaus said firmly. "Son."
Carlos "Cougar" Alvarez smiled tentatively. "Thank you, Father."
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