Lies and Deception by Anne-Li
Author's disclaimer and notes: I don't own them, I just dream of doing so. Feedback is better than mother's Kinapanna. Corrections to my language or any other type of comments are welcome. Ask if you want me to archive it anywhere. You may link to this story if you want or to my main page. 23.327 words. Written in May 2007. Minor change on 070904 to correct an error.
Warnings: Crossover with Doubting Lucifer, but no prior knowledge is necessary (besides, no such knowledge is currently available).
Betaed by Heather Sparrows (hat off to you as always, Heather!) and Kadorienne (big thank you!). Remaining errors are all mine.
If you want you can also read/download the story as a doc file (without graphics).
Dorian turned and there Klaus stood, ramrod straight. Major von dem Eberbach wore a pale green shirt, brown trousers, his ox-hide belt of course , black shoes and a surprisingly attractive tie in gold-striped green. Dorian felt himself start to smile at the beloved sight. Though there was something ... different about his Iron Major, something in the way those lovely green eyes flickered towards Dorian and than away again; something in the way he held his arms and hands straight down his sides Dorian had seen Klaus do that before, but never when it was just the two of them - something in the way he seemed to wait, seemed to almost hesitate ...
Oh He looks so shy and sweet! Possibly no other man alive on Earth would call NATO's Iron Klaus either, but Dorian had always thought so at least during those few moments when he had seen the quicksilver-tempered German relaxed and without his game face. Not that Dorian would tell the man so no, Dorian might enjoy the thrill of high risks, but he wasn't suicidal.
"Ah, ah," he corrected gently. "We agreed on a first name basis, remember?"
The eyes flickered again and Dorian watched, delighted, as the man visibly took a steadying breath and then nodded ever so faintly. In the distance a waltz started to play, muted, barely within range of hearing.
The sound of his first name felt like a caress, bringing memories of that first, precious time Klaus had used it, just before kissing him.
"Much better, my dear. Now, did you want something, Klaus?"
He found himself drifting closer as he waited for the other man to answer.
"I ... Yes. I " Klaus looked down as if studying Dorian's knee-high, silver-studded, white calf leather boots. "I want I .." He looked up again, but kept his head down, so he was watching Dorian through his sinfully long eyelashes. The effect was stunningly seductive. Dorian could feel his body start to respond to the likely unintentional bed chamber eyes. "I think I am ready now."
Unable to resist, Dorian stepped even closer. They stood with a scant half metre between them. "Ready? For what?"
Dorian's lungs stopped breathing. His heart stopped beating. His blood stopped pumping. At least, that's what it felt like: as if the entire world came to an abrupt halt. He opened his mouth. No sound emerged.
"But you must be careful with me," Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach said seriously and drew his Magnum. "For otherwise I will shoot you in the head."
The gun filled Dorian's entire vision the enormous muzzle and, below it, Klaus's hand, with the finger on the trigger, squeezing ...
Dorian sat straight up from the shock: one hand pressed over his racing heart, the other at his throat, for a moment convinced that Klaus had actually shot him. Then, still gasping for breath, he fell back onto the large pile of satin pillows.
Mmmmm, that was a good dream. At least to start with. No wonder he didn't seem to be himself. Sigh ... That's something I'll never experience in real life: cautious virgin!Klaus asking for gentle sex ... Ooooh, but how delightful if the dream had continued for just an itsy, bitsy, tiny bit longer ... Well, not with the gun of course, but with what he wanted ...
Not that he would ever be rough, should he get the opportunity to teach Klaus about the joys that could be had when two men made a verb of love. Oh no! He would be the perfect gentleman. Especially now that he knew of his beloved's little ... irregularity. Dorian still wasn't sure what to think of that, but he was far from willing to admit defeat.
KNOCK KNOCK! KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!
Oh dear, that actually sounds like my dear Major. But he should be in, where was it, Chile, now? Yes, something like that. Now, where was I? Yes Frigidity. Oh, I know so little about it I need to do some research. Yes, absolutely. See what I'm up against. A trip to the good old British Library, then, to start with. Alone. Can't have the others knowing, Klaus would be livid. No Could do some other research too, at the same time, see if I can find more information about that darling little cup I saw at Madame Metzier. Yes, that's a good cover story. I do think I want it I could use it for my morning tea, perhaps? "Surround myself with beauty," that's my motto. Yes, and
"Lord Gloria! It's the police! Open up!"
Klaus couldn't make sense of Polar Bear's final comment. At the time he had been busy with explaining to a police officer just what he and six of his men had been doing fully armed in a bank, so he hadn't been able to ask the Russian and then it had been too late. What could Polar Bear have meant, though?
"Seems as if I was wrong about you and Eroica. My apologies, Iron Klaus. I realize now that you're not his type. I guess he just used you."
There were so many things wrong with that statement. What the fuck was Polar Bear thinking? Wrong about Klaus and Eroica well, yes, for Polar Bear had, for the longest time, seemed convinced that Klaus and Eroica were going at it like rabbits at any given opportunity, but ... what could have changed his mind?
Perhaps he saw Dorian with someone. Being ... romantic with someone, that is.
Klaus had waited for that, ever since his confession. Dorian had seemed to take the situation in stride and hadn't even seemed overly concerned, but perhaps he had finally thought things through and written Klaus off as a lost cause? Which would be a good thing, of course! Only, even if Polar Bear had seen the Brit gallivanting about with some male floozy on his arm, well ... It wasn't as if Dorian had ever stopped doing that, just because he happened to lay siege on Klaus. Dorian always surrounded himself with admirers and he was a very affectionate degenerate, hugging his entourage and even kissing them in public. Unless Polar Bear had managed to walk in on Dorian in a ... very compromising situation, how would he be able to tell the difference?
And "not his type"? Just "using" me? No, it simply didn't make any sense. It wasn't as if Klaus was a woman and Dorian used him as one of those ... facial hair ... beards? Yes, one of those "beards". Or was that for a man playing a lesbian's "husband"? Whatever.
An amusing thought occurred to Klaus. Unless he saw the fop with a woman! Ha! That would have shocked him. Dorian did have a selected few female friends actual females, not impersonators. Klaus had been subjected to meeting some of them, during various missions. Most of them actually seemed half-way decent, in sharp contrast to most of Dorian's male acquaintances.
Polar Bear's words still confused him. As he walked from the Alphabet's room to the Chief's, he snorted to himself.
Maybe that's the point. Spreading discord or some stupid shit like that. Bloody commie.
Of course, if so why try to do it that way? He couldn't be stupid enough to believe that Klaus actually liked Dorian following him around like a dog sniffing after a bitch? A bitch very much not in heat, thank you very much? Unless ... Klaus stopped, suddenly cold to the bone.
Unless Dorian told someone about me?
But no. Dorian was any number of things, but he was not cruel. He wouldn't tell anyone, not even if he got into a snit over Klaus fouling one of his heists again. Klaus knew that as he knew the exact number of bullets currently in his Magnum. If he hadn't trusted Dorian he never would have approached him to ask for his help.
When the Chief's secretary let him though, Klaus forced himself to stop thinking about frivolous things and instead concentrate on his work. The mission in Chile had been successful. Polar Bear had gone free, of course again - the man had an uncanny ability to keep his hands clean. They had the information they had gone to retrieve, though, and had also, in the process, stopped an armed robbery. The Alphabet currently busied themselves with writing the reports. Klaus would just give the Chief a quick, preliminary statement and check if there were any new missions in the pipeline. He hoped so. With tedious paper work ahead, to know there was something better in the works would feel good.
I wonder if this is how a junkie feels, trying to make sure there will be a new fix soon enough?
Then he was inside. As always the sight of his superior angered him, though he kept his face blank. He still hadn't forgiven the bastard for what he had attempted likely he never would. From their normal feud the Chief had crossed all lines in his attempt to try to get Klaus fucked literally. And Klaus had been forced to go to Eroica, metaphorical hat in hand. Dorian had come through, however, in more ways than Klaus could have dreamed of. Not only that, the Brit had been furious at the way the Chief had treated Klaus.
Klaus didn't consider himself a vindictive man, but he had to work hard not to smirk. Sometimes he cursed Dorian for this and that. Stealing Klaus's belt the nerve! And from around his own waist! Stealing his tank practically from under his nose! Stealing his breakfast china, for fuck's sake! At other times Klaus had the strange sensation that while Dorian certainly enjoyed teasing him and testing his defences, the small forages were never more than token efforts. The Earl never used his full strength around him, instead babied him along to get what he eventually wanted most. Even when Klaus had sent him on a wild goose chase to a place about to get bombed, Dorian's retaliation had been comparably mild embarrassing, certainly, but not overly so.
Not so, in case of the Chief. Dorian had shown no mercy, stealing everything from the man. Not just his art treasures had he ever had any that would make the Prince of Thieves look twice in the first place but, slowly, over a period of months, a couple of things at the time, everything that the man owned. Every piece of furniture, every piece of clothes, every scrap of paper, every ounce of food in his cupboards. Followed finally by the grand finale of the man returning home one evening to find his house vanished. Exactly how Dorian had managed that feat, Klaus didn't know, but he wasn't complaining. The Chief looked to have lost twenty kilos of fat, despite the fact that his coffee had to be so saturated with sugar that new additions floated momentarily before blending in. His wife had left him too, in the first month, after having received artistic photographs of her husbands with his hands on a surprising number of people blatantly not her and most of them of the male persuasion.
Strangely enough, however, the Chief didn't seem in such a bad mood. He actually smiled, even as he tested each sugar cube before dropping it into his coffee. Klaus had heard that occasionally some of them were replaced by other substances salt being just one of the kinder ones. The man wore a brand new outfit apparently Eroica still stole anything new that the man bought within a couple of days of him acquiring it. Well, not Eroica himself, presumably, but some thief in the Earl's vast contact net who owed him a favour or just wanted to please him. Klaus wondered how long the revenge would continue and if the Earl had more things in store.
After having quickly presented his initial report, Klaus asked if there was anything new coming up.
"Such a beautiful day today, Major Eberbach, and all you think of is a new mission? You should go out, smell the flowers! Why, I think I will go for a walk in the park myself later on. Such splendid, beautiful weather! New mission ... Yes. Two weeks from now there is a football cup final in London. Italy versus England. There will--"
Klaus mentally perked up. Football was fun, even when Germany wasn't playing. England though ... And in London to boot! Though with a little bit of luck It wasn't as if the fop was a football fanatic. The chance of him getting involved in Klaus's mission, for once, seemed minimal.
"be several interesting people at the game. We have gathered information that there will be an attempt to kill a visiting royal. The would-be-assassin is a man named Kal Henderson. He will arrive in London six days prior to the game, according to tickets he booked from Venice. He will be staying at St Giles. Since we don't know who his employer is, it is important to find this out and of course - stop the assassination. Rumour has it that it is part of a larger movement and that it will signal the start of a series of attacks. So, it is vital that we take care of this. The Primal Number Team are investigating him in Venice. If they don't come up with anything you and your team will deal with him in England."
"Since he stays at a regular hotel there won't be much security. We won't even need Eroica for this one," Klaus said, feeling rather pleased about that.
The Chief's smile dropped and he looked up sharply. "Don't mention that name to me! We're finally rid of him and good riddance!"
Unease started to spread in Klaus's belly. "Rid of him, sir?" he inquired calmly. "How do you mean?"
The manic smile reappeared, wider than ever. "Rid of him! Gone! He will never bother us again! No more stolen books and underwear and"
"What do you mean? Has he died?" There was something incomprehensible about the possibility. Klaus faced death every day; the Earl faced ... what? Broken nails? Split ends? Tears in his stockings? Except when he's ... at work. A trigger-happy security guard? A bounty hunter? A flock of hungry Dobermans?
The Chief looked so fucking happy that Klaus wanted to knock out his front teeth. "No, no we're not that lucky. He's alive, but safely behind bars and he will stay there for a good long time! Just think, Major; no more stolen Popes! No more interfering in your missions! No more 'accidental' thefts of the object you are looking for! You must be ecstatic."
No more daredevil stunts to get me what I need. No more reliable backup when everything else fails. No more ... colour. Which he couldn't say, of course, but there was nothing else he could say either. He felt unaccountably cold. Had the air conditioning gone on the fritz again? I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later, the sloppy idiot getting himself caught ...
"And you must be ecstatic not to have him follow you around," the chief continued blithely. "I saw that kiss he stole from you at the Christmas event last year. You were lucky Z got between you. Killing contractors sets a bad example. No more nasty rumours about the two of you. Now no one will believe the old ones either. Excellent! Rather a convincing liar, eh, that rotten little thief? I guess it comes with the territory. Clever plot though, I say, pretending to moon after a man such as yourself, Major, knowing he would never get anywhere."
Klaus had an odd sensation that he wasn't participating in quite the same conversation as the Chief. "I never asked him to moon after me," he said non-committally.
"We must just make sure you don't get involved in the proceedings. We don't want you accidentally tarnished by the same brush."
"Most everyone knows I have to work with the thief sometimes. I doubt they'll care."
The Chief frowned. "Thief? You think the Earl got arrested because he stole something?"
"Why else would the stupid bugger get himself arrested?"
"The Earl of Red-Gloria was arrested, Major Eberbach, because the man's a paedophile."
Castle Gloria's walls all but shuddered at the shrill screams. Repeated, over and over again, the single word, "No!"
The others kept their distance mostly because the sound level exceeded the pain limit, but finally Bonham took a deep breath and went up to the accountant, wrapped his arms around the small man and, forcing himself to block out the paint peeling sound, rocked him back and forth, mumbling, "There, there ..." even though he couldn't even hear his own voice. After a few moments he was joined by John Paul and then by Jones and, slowly, one by one, by the rest.
There weren't all that many of them left. More than half had sneaked away some on an obvious pretence, others with no excuse and a few without even a word.
Slowly the screams petered off to loud wails, interspersed with sniffs. "He wouldn't, Bonham! He wouldn't! You know he wouldn't! He wouldn't have done it! He didn't! He didn't! He saved me, Bonham, and he wouldn't have!"
"I know," said Bonham and felt John Paul's hand squeeze his shoulder. "He wouldn't. He never would."
Klaus sat down at his desk. As he opened the folder he reached blindly for his cup of coffee, bringing it to his mouth without stopping his reading. The report was very short, only preliminary. Since Eroica occasionally worked for NATO, they had tagged the Earl of Red Gloria as someone to be kept informed about. The Earl had been arrested early yesterday morning, charged with having had sex with an eleven-year-old boy, a friend of his sister's son. The crime had taken part several weeks earlier, but apparently there was reliable physical evidence.
After having read the paragraphs over and over, Klaus put down the folder. He drank some more coffee, then lit a cigarette. He lifted the folder and read it through, again. Then he sucked some smoke, blowing it out in a slow, even breath.
So that was what Polar Bear meant, he thought. He felt like banging his fists onto his desk. So he did. G screamed and all activity in the room stopped.
Dorian. Lord Dorian of Gloria. The Earl of Red Gloria. Eroica. Prince of Thieves. A child molester?
It made no sense. Oh, Klaus had never been shy about accusing the Earl of chasing anything that wore pants and lacked boobs, but Klaus knew the difference between a homosexual and someone who wanted to have sex with children. Some perverts might be both, he supposed, but all he knew about the sticky-fingered Earl pointed to the former. He surrounded himself with men. Some of them rather androgynous and none of them exactly swelling with muscles, but none of them childlike either. Excepting possibly the nutty accountant, but whatever his and Dorian's relationship was, Klaus didn't think it was sexual in nature. In appearance, maybe, but appearances are as always - deceiving.
Of course, that's the problem, isn't it? he thought as he listened to a wild-eyed K stuttering about a problem with his report. He heard his own voice answer the man, but apparently whatever was discussed didn't require him to actually break off his line of thought, for K quickly withdrew. Appearances are deceiving. The length someone goes to in order to hide a secret can be staggering. Could the Earl be a good enough actor to fool everyone? That was the crux of the matter. The Chief had had a point. What better disguise than to follow a man like Klaus around, a man who had no interest in bedding his pursuer?
And when he did get the chance to fuck me he didn't take it. Which no one else knew, certainly not the Chief and Klaus was sure that Dorian hadn't told anyone else either. Still. Klaus had given Dorian a perfect opportunity had offered himself; had seen no better solution to his predicament than to bed the Earl. And to bed they had gone to sleep, chastely, side by side. Klaus had been the one to initiate their kisses the Earl had even seemed reluctant, hadn't he? Yes ... Klaus hadn't understood that. Not at first. Then he had decided that the man had higher morals than Klaus could ever have imagined. Only ... What if in reality he finds the idea of having sex with me, a grown man, as repugnant as I find the idea of having it with him? Well ... repugnant perhaps wasn't the right word Klaus mostly thought of it as an unnecessary, fairly pointless activity.
No! No, he refused to believe it. He couldn't be so wrong about Dorian, no matter that it made some kind of sick sense. Dorian was a good person, not some sleazy pervert. Well, he is a pervert, but not a ... perverted one. There was a line. A very definite line. And he was sure that Dorian had never crossed it.
He stubbed out the cigarette. "A!"
"I'll be gone for ten. Hold the fort."
Still mulling things over, he marched back to the Chief's office, where he was immediately admitted.
"Major Eberbach? Is the detailed report already finished?"
"No, sir, though it is being worked on." Or so he guessed, as that must have been what K had blubbered about. "I want to look into the Eroica situation."
"What situation? We're rid of him! We should celebrate!"
"I'm not convinced of his guilt."
The Chief frowned. "We're all guilty of something and we know he has done enough to warrant many, many years in prison, yet we haven't given him over to Interpol. He gets what he deserves now. Besides, his guilt is hardly a matter of NATO investigation."
All good points in themselves. And yet ... "He is a NATO contractor. He can come in handy still. He has done us services in the past."
"We have other contacts that will serve just as well. Major Eberbach"
von dem Eberbach! von dem! Is that such a difficult concept for you? Few things annoyed Klaus as much as a fellow German "forgetting" to use his full name. Strangers he didn't bother to correct and he had pretty much given up on everyone non-German, but with the Chief he strongly suspected that the man did it simply to annoy him and perhaps that he had done it for so often and for so long now that he no longer did it consciously. This, however, was not the right moment to correct him.
"you should be very careful with handling or even commenting on the situation. People could get the wrong idea."
"I never cared for what anyone thought of me. I want to investigate."
"Not on NATO's dime you won't."
"Then I request leave time before the next mission."
"You're always after me for taking time off! Well, I'm taking it! Two weeks!"
"A can handle the other Alphabets for two weeks he's not completely incompetent. They will gather information only and get caught up with their paperwork."
"I'll ... encourage them to take the time off as well. See? You're always saying I should, so let me!"
After having asked four times for time off, Klaus felt he had done his share of begging. Normally he would never have asked more than once wouldn't even have asked that once unless forced to. Oh well. If asking nicely didn't work ... and threats were out of the question since the man happened to be his superior and why Klaus would never understand ... then it was time to try something different.
"I'll tell him to stop stealing your things."
The Chief startled. "He can't steal my things if he's in prison!"
"You don't honestly think he's been doing it himself? He has better things to do than spend months in Bonn stealing something not artsy." Especially not since Klaus had been away for most of the time. "He is having some contact of his doing it. He has a whole harem of them. They're a close-knit bunch. They won't stop just because of this. You'll never own anything for any lengthy period again. Give me time off and I'll ask him to stop."
Sure, Klaus would ask. Not that asking Dorian to stop stealing anything had ever actually worked, but ...
"Reliable physical evidence," Klaus muttered as he methodically unpacked at the London Ritz, room 507, six past ten the next day. He had taken a morning flight, then had insisted on checking in early. "What kind of reliable physical evidence can there be after several weeks?" By then most of his own wounds were memories or scars, impossible to attribute to any specific person.
Oh well, that was one thing he was there to find out more about. First stop, the police.
Four hours later found Klaus back at the Ritz. Things had not progressed as he had hoped. The only productive thing he had done was to eat lunch. He had been to the police, but had not been allowed to see Dorian. Not a relative; not Dorian's lawyer; he wasn't even in law enforcement connected to the case. He had been able to talk to the man in charge, if very briefly, but the Inspector was an arse and Klaus hadn't gotten any useful information from him. The man obviously believed Dorian to be guilty and seemed to think Klaus suspect for not having fully committed himself to this theory yet.
The only thing that the man had let slip was that the boy in question had identified Dorian by certain bodily characteristics that only someone who had seen him naked would know.
Which narrows it down to only a couple of hundreds. Great! For fuck's sake, even I have seen his pink arse! It had had freckles.
He was trying to formulate his plan - second step: get in touch with Dorian's lawyer, whoever that was, when someone knocked on his door.
Annoyed with the hotel's lack of peep holes he shouted, "Who is it?" rather than open the door, Magnum in hand, and scare the shit out of some maid.
"It's me, Bonham!"
Since it really did sound like Bonham, Klaus opened the door and took a step back as the Earl's second in command came into view. The man looked tired and sad, but his eyes were alert and focused.
"Heard you had flown over and wanted to hear if you be here for his Lordship's sake, then?"
"I owe him one," Klaus admitted grudgingly. It was the truth, even if it wasn't all of it. Then he stepped back further, inviting the man inside. Bonham was a reliable sort - for a Brit and a criminal.
"Will you be needing some help, like, then? Since the Alphabet aren't with you? Be ready to do just about anything."
Klaus considered the offer. He had to admit that Bonham was very useful at getting things done, even if they were dubious things that needed doing. Klaus had sometimes wondered where Dorian would be without this stocky man, so unlike most of the Earl's usual hanger-ons. Finally, he nodded once. "I suppose you won't be too much in my way."
He got a grateful grin, before Bonham leaned back out the door. "He said 'yes', boys! Come on in!"
A whole herd of thieves streamed into Klaus's hotel room. One of them, the smallest, was bound hand and foot, as well as gagged, so he had to be carried.
London. House Gloria. Opulent and overflowing with art objects of questionable origins. Also far larger than Klaus's suite at the Ritz. One of the many rooms was even a fully equipped conference room, complete with blackboard and a projector. Klaus carefully did not ask what the room was normally used for, though he could make an educated guess. Between the pedestals with Greek-patterned urns, overflowing with large, red, sweet-smelling roses, hung posters of various buildings the Louvre just to the right of the blackboard and the British Museum to the left. To both were additional pictures of paintings and urns and statues attached. From the British Museum poster's frame hung a plastic folder with what looked suspiciously like a blueprint. On a corner of the blackboard someone had written:
Dorian sells/ransoms things -> $$$$$$$$$$ Dorian gets to shop ££££££££|
Dorian keeps everything -> !!!!!!!!! Dorian starves to death and dies!!!!!!!!!!
A polished walnut table dominated the room, inlaid with a colourful mosaic portraying a scene with a black-haired knight armour partly removed - sleeping in a glade. Klaus refusing to acknowledge that the man looked remarkably like himself - took the chair closest to the blackboard. Before him lay a note-block open to a page with "We will need 6 gas containers for Nationalmuseumet" in the Earl's neat, calligraphy-like handwriting. The remaining dozen of Dorian's entourage settled along the oblong table, with Bonham and a very reluctant James flanking him. Only twelve. He had never been sure exactly how many men the thief had, but he estimated that they had been almost as many as his Alphabet. Though he couldn't help but to wonder how many of his own men would stick by him in a similar situation.
He swept his eyes over the remaining few. They looked back at him with different degrees of fear but also determination. "Right. You all know me. Counter-clockwise name and specialities."
"Bonham. I get things done."
"Joseph. Jewels. Forgeries and the real things."
"Jones. Scientist. The gas formula is my work."
"Wine. The Earl likes wine. I take care of his wine cellar."
"But you're " Klaus broke off and waved a hand, unsure of how to formulate himself.
"He knows about the thefts," Bonham said. "Besides, Johan has another speciality too, don't you, Johan?"
"Well, yes. Poison, not that it's necessary all that often, but I do prefer wine."
Klaus made a mental note not to drink any wine while in House Gloria. "Next."
"Jeremiah. I'm a lawyer."
Klaus only wavered for a second, then decided not to ask and instead moved to the last person, apart from the still pouting James, who he already knew all too well.
"Rudy? Not Judy?"
Rudy shook his head. Klaus remembered outrunning the lean thief repeatedly while exercising around North Downs. He felt tempted to ask if the red-head had ever considered a name-change. Joseph, John-Paul, Jones, Johan, Justin, Jimmy, Jen, Jeremiah, Josh and ... Rudy. He was good with names and faces he had to be, in his line of work - but that was just plain stupid. Right. There were twelve of them. He dismissed the Apostles, since he hoped none was of the Judas-type, Js or no. "January," he said, pointing at James, who blinked at him, then continued back clockwise. "February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December." There. Much better. "January you're in charge of the monetary situation."
"Anywhere you can get it. Legally! I want to know what kind of funds we have at our disposal and then I want you to double them."
The accountant stared at him for a moment with a huge, blue eye, then his lower lip started to tremble. "Yes, Leader!" he shouted joyfully and bounced out of the room.
"You might have made a mistake there," said December formerly known as Bonham.
Klaus shrugged. "Should keep him busy, shouldn't it? Besides, we might need money to post a bail and other ... necessities." Bribes. Bonham looked unconvinced. "Is there any coffee in this place?"
"Of course. Jen I mean, May get the Major's coffee." When May had left, Bonham turned back to Klaus. "I'm thinking you won't need explosives just yet, will you?"
"I don't plan on it, no. April. You have been in contact with the Earl?"
"Well ... I'm not so much his lawyer as I deal with ... making things legal. Kind of thing. His lawyer, Mr. Smith, is with him now. I have been in contact with Mr. Smith, though."
"His Lordship is holding up well."
"Irrelevant. What about the case? What do they have against him? What about those physical evidences? Were there witnesses? Does the Earl know this so called ... 'victim'? Where did the crime supposedly take place?" He had a dozen more questions, but by then April's wide, eye-lined eyes had started to look decidedly frantic.
"The ev-evidence. A scar. On his Lordship."
"So? He strips off his clothes at the drop of a hat and there's plenty of perverts around to ogle him."
"On ... it?" Klaus said with a wave towards his crotch.
April shook his head. "Close."
"And his Lordship doesn't strip off his clothes at the drop of a hat," said Bonham, sounding disapproving. "Remember at North Downs, at the conference, when you wanted him to take them off?"
Klaus restrained himself from rolling his eyes, but did acknowledge that Bonham had a point the Earl had, for whatever reason, seemed almost prudish that time. He nodded. "So, we're down to a couple of hundred lovers who might have seen it. Not much better odds."
"Begging your pardon," Bonham continued, with a little more annoyance. "It isn't that many. He's affectionate, but he's particular. Not over twenty, that I know of. Besides it wouldn't surprise me if he kept it hidden from most of them too. He's a bit vain, he is."
And the Pope is a tiny little bit religious, thought Klaus. "Add nurses and doctors and we're up to a large number anyway." He paused to drink, as May had just returned with coffee. Another 775 Jahre Stadt Eberbach mug, with the Eberbach city crest, he noted. May had also brought a couple of teacups and then left again, presumably to get more. "We need to find out the boy's identity and why he is doing this. I want to talk to the lawyer and I want to see the Earl myself. April you will go with me. Meanwhile, I want to know the word on the street. That Rogues' Gallery of yours. The Black brothers. Volovolonte. The Bakhials. Other contacts. Get on it and see if they know anything. December - two men, the best suited."
"Right. Ah ... November and Augu-, no, July, right?" The reddish blond July, at whom Bonham had been looking, nodded. "Have a look around. See who's friendly. Give me a holler if it feels iffy and I'll deal with that."
"Does the press know, yet?" Klaus then asked.
"No, thank the skies."
Klaus grunted. "Keep an eye on that. Enemies?"
"Not many. You know his Lordship he can charm a charging water buffalo. There are the people he steals from, but mostly it's museums and governments and people who don't appreciate what they have. Which isn't to say they're not furious, some of them."
"Make a list. Have it ready on my return."
"Most of them he got working for you, you know."
Oh, Klaus was well aware of that. "Completely irrelevant." Besides, it's not like I ask him, most of the time. "I will go through those myself. Most of the information is classified."
"Yes, Major. Ah ... Should we start looking into a ... contingency plan?"
"Don't call me that. I'm not here in any official capacity. What do you mean, contingency plan?"
"Well, for if we can't get him cleared, like?"
"If he isn't cleared, he will serve his time like any condemned convict."
The Earl's gang exchanged glances, then Bonham coughed. "Well ... There are ways around that. If you ... catch my drift?"
Realising that they were talking about simply breaking the Earl out, if pushes came to shoves, Klaus snorted. "Don't talk to me about anything illegal, even if it isn't my jurisdiction." He hesitated. "Though if you have some private project to work on, October and June can assist you."
"Got you, Leader."
"The rest of you start working on that list! We need more facts to go on. April, we're leaving in five, I need to take a piss first."
Klaus adjusted his glasses and tried to look meek as he followed April into the building.
The first thing he saw when inside was, bracketed by a tall, long-haired Arab and a burly member of the local police, was Dorian, dressed in one of his hideous drag outfits. Apparently the Earl had had enough and was now making a run for it. For a split second Klaus underwent a crisis of conscience. A fugitive was heading his way. It was his duty to stop the escaped criminal. On the other hand ... The man was innocent. Klaus was certain of this. Klaus had also all but agreed to at least take no notice of an escape plan being hatched under his very nose had given Bonham two men to deal with the possibility, even if he hadn't said so in as many words. To have the Earl safe and close as they worked on the case would also be beneficial. There were several things he wanted to ask the man about and surely the number of questions would only increase when the investigation got under way. To have to go through the lawyers would be a bother. On the other hand, an escape would have the entire police force breathing down their necks and would automatically label Dorian as guilty in the eyes of the public.
Dorian looked ... lacklustre. Not surprising, perhaps, after the day in arrest and the outrageous accusations themselves. Where had he gotten those drab clothes, though? Beggars can't be choosers, perhaps they must have been all he had found. For some reason they made Klaus remember a horrid repairwoman he had met briefly in Cologne, while guarding the British crown. Hmm. The outfit even managed to make Dorian look a little plump. Perhaps it were the obviously fake breasts much larger than Dorian usually bothered with.
Klaus decided to go over there, take Dorian to the side and explain that this was a very idiotic idea, which could very well wait. There was no use panicking before all other options were exhausted, no matter how unpleasant things got in the meanwhile. With Dorian's luck much on par with that of the Devil himself, in Klaus's estimation no one had yet noticed the theft of the clothes or that the main suspect in the case had deftly removed himself. They might yet be able to get him back with no one the wiser.
Klaus had only taken a few steps, however, when it dawned on him that the stupid outfit not only managed to make Dorian look plump it also managed to colour his eyes grey and reduced his height about a decimetre quite a feat.
He poked April in the shoulder, then nodded towards the ... Dorianesque being. "Who is that?"
April frowned, then turned away. "I believe that is Lady Margareth Disken, his Lordship's eldest sister. She came to see him yesterday, so we told her. I assume she is here to see him."
"Will she know anything?"
"I doubt it. I'm not sure she will be allowed to see him his Lordship will likely say no if they ask him. He doesn't like her much. Come this way now, Leader."
They met with Dorian's lawyer, an elderly man, short and round and in Klaus's opinion far too old to still be working, but bright-eyed and alert-looking. "John Smith," he introduced himself, smiling jovially as if he had heard every anonymity joke in existence, but his own name still amused him. He watched Klaus in an intent way, as if judging him. After the initial pleasantries, he brought them with him to a white, empty room empty, except for a table, four chairs and the current Earl of Gloria.
Dorian sat absolutely straight in the uncomfortable chair. He felt like slumping, but wasn't sure if he was watched or not. Should he happen to be, under no circumstances did he want to appear defeated or even overly concerned. So outwardly he projected complete calmness, utter certainty and serenity. In reality he wanted to climb into bed his own bed! , pull up the cover and have himself a really, really good cry.
They would pay. Oh yes! They would all pay for what they put him through. He wasn't sure what he could have done to deserve this, but he clung to dreams of revenge. Real revenge. Not like the playful little pokes he had given Klaus, when his beloved flexed his gorgeous muscles and tried to set him up, oh no! The revenge Dorian currently contemplated was quite dark and physical and not the least bit amusing. As soon as he knew who had set him up he would contact his cousins in Svart, oh yes, and call in a few favours, carefully hoarded over the years. Besides, for all feelings that Lutz, the leader of the Black pack, had no understanding of, revenge was not one of them. Revenge Lutz had been taught the meaning and importance of, at an early age. Dorian felt sure it would be easy enough to persuade him to lend some assistance.
The door opened and he looked up. For a moment he saw only his beloved mentor, John "It's-not-my-real-name,-but-I've-used-it-for-so-long-now-that-I-don't-remember-my-actual-one" Smith. The man was a very good thief but a brilliant lawyer. Retired for the last decennia, but up to speed with every development and there was no one Dorian would rather have protect him in a court of law, even if the accusation currently levelled against him was nothing he had ever contemplated as the possible cause for his downfall. Being revealed as Eroica, yes, that sometimes felt only as a matter of time before it happened, but this oh, no, never this ...
It took him a moment to even notice the quiet presence that followed his old teacher inside. Then Dorian's subconscious mind started ticking off details, such as long, black hair; a strong jaw; wide, delicious shoulders; the nose and ... those lips! As if stepping out from a shadow the presence solidified as none other than the joy of Dorian's existence: his very own Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach - in the flesh. For a moment Dorian forgot everything but the man who calmly looked back through the dark-tinted glasses. Had Klaus any idea how they changed him? He must have, since he often used them as part of his "disguises", though at other times he did use them casually anyway. Dorian didn't have the heart or guts to tell Klaus how they softened his sharp personality, giving him a strangely innocent, bordering on meek appearance. Delicious, really.
No, no, no, Dorian! Heel, boy! Down! Concentrate! Klaus! What is heHe's here! Oh thank you, thank you, thank you, whoever looks out for amorous art thieves down on their luck!
One of his greatest fears had been that Klaus would believe the lie and loathe him forever. That would have been truly, completely and utterly unbearable. Especially since they had just gotten past the way Klaus used to hate him at least that was how Dorian interpreted the events that had unfolded the last time they met. After all, Klaus had given him a kiss of his own accord, without even being prompted to do so and after that the entire mess had been dealt with. To have Klaus hate him again after that would have been horrible. But here Klaus was.
Suddenly Klaus whipped off his glasses and just as unexpectedly Dorian found himself looking at Iron Klaus: sharp, green eyes with a hint of grey. He also noted with fascination how Klaus's jaw tightened and his lips thinned.
I didn't even say anything! he wailed internally, wondering what he could possibly have done to anger Klaus now. I didn't get into this situation for the fun of it, you know!
"How did you get that?" Klaus demanded, his voice clipped.
Dorian looked down. He was wearing his own clothes slightly rumpled. He really hoped that he would get a change soon, for he felt as if he funked. The choker was his too or had been stolen such a long time ago that Dorian no longer remember when or from whom certainly not from Klaus, anyway. Belt? No, he had given that back. Shoes he never wore "second hand" if he could help it too difficult to wash properly. "What are you referring to, dar--, um ... Mr. ?" he asked for security's sake, in case Klaus used an alias and they really were watched.
"Did you get your brain scrambled? Who hit you?"
Oh. That. Dorian brought up a hand to touch his cheek. Drat, I must look dreadful! The area felt warm and slightly moist to his touch, not a good sign at all. My kingdom for some theatre make-up! "I walked into a door," he said, enunciating each word with care so that the obvious sarcasm shone through. "Two doors, in fact."
"I want names."
He sounds pissed. Only you are allowed to hurt me, is that it? Dorian ignored the decidedly unhealthy warmth that flushed him at the thought of his beloved Major being possessive. Then he shrugged. "They didn't bother to introduce themselves."
"That is all they did?"
He nodded, not bothering to mention the ribs. They didn't ache all that badly anyway and he would rather not talk about the ... incident. Later though ... He might not have any names, but he had an excellent eye for faces and would be able to draw both of the policemen's faces down to the least detail or pick them out from some distance. Still, that Klaus seemed to care felt like a little silver lining to the otherwise so black cloud he found himself surrounded by.
Maybe you're just here to repay your debt, my own, but ... it feels good nevertheless.
"Dorian?" said Mr. Smith kindly. "We have a couple of questions."
He answered all questions truthfully and without hesitating.
The scar? A childhood accident. He and one of his sisters had been playing in the garden, when he had fallen on a sharp peg. It was fairly small and he usually covered it by a low-hanging hip belt, which most of his lovers found a fetching accessory. Klaus snorted at that, possibly at the vanity of it, but Dorian didn't mind.
The boy? Yes, Dorian had seen him at the party Maggie had arranged. He had played with Willy, Maggie's son and presumably, unless something drastic occurred, the next Earl of Gloria. Dorian had actually considered getting a tall, black-haired, green-eyed surrogate mother and did Klaus, by any chance, have any female cousins? Irrelevant? Oh, well, maybe later, then. Willy hero-worshipped his uncle Dorian and had come up to him several times before the children had been sent away for the evening.
Enemies? Very few, all in all. He rattled off a few names, but honestly couldn't think of many. Bonham would know better. Dorian never bothered to keep track of such things. Most people liked him anyway. Check Saleem, perhaps, he and Dorian never did play well together.
If he needed a change of clothes? Oh, Bonham wanted to know. Well, it was getting a bit nippy, so yes. But not the winter clothes yet. Was everything all right back at the homestead? A bit unsteady? Ah. Well, that was to be expected. Hopefully James wasn't giving Klaus too much trouble?
"He seems rather eager to cooperate."
Maybe the world was ending. A very inappropriate suggestion of getting over virginhood before they all died was barely bit back as extremely bad taste given the circumstances. Pardon? Repeat, please.
"I promised Fatso to ask you to stop stealing from him," Klaus said, with a slightly pinched look on his face.
"Oh?" Why on Earth would you ever promise him such a thing, dearest?
"He wouldn't give me time off."
Dorian frowned. He hadn't had the man killed for what he had tried to pull on Klaus, since Klaus had expressly forbidden him to, but it seemed as if the man didn't fully appreciate the restraint Dorian had shown. If he gave Klaus more grief especially when Klaus was so gallantly charging to Dorian's rescue, revenge would be swift and heartfelt ... "So you promised to ask me to stop stealing from him."
For a second Dorian considered splitting semantics and actually having Klaus spell out the request. He did so adore hearing Klaus ask him for something. But Klaus would get pissed. So instead he smiled sweetly. "Then, consider your promise kept."
The pinched expression deepened minutely. "You will stop stealing from him?"
Slightly concerned that he had misread Klaus somehow, Dorian nevertheless answered truthfully, since he had made a habit of not lying to his Major. "Of course not, my dear."
And at that Klaus's brow smoothed out and the corners of his lips rose a fraction. Dorian's heart skipped a beat. Oh my ... Well, well, well ... Mr. Independent seems to like that I've gone to war for his sake. How delicious. Oh, sweet muses ... If I get out of this mess, I swear I'll never ask him for anything more than he can give. Even friendship, if that is all. Though perhaps ... a friendship with benefits?
Klaus had come for him and would put things right. For the first time since waking up in a fright from the pleasant dream yesterday morning, Dorian relaxed.
Bonham met them at the door to House Gloria. "We rounded up dinner. Should be done in fifteen. Do you want a meeting before then? We could put the food on hold for now."
Klaus realised that he did feel a bit hungry. "Food first. I'll prepare in the meeting room until it is ready."
"Ah ... Yes, do that. It's just "
Bonham visibly took a deep breath and met Klaus's stare with something akin to panic. "Your hotel room ..."
"What about it?"
"It's a long way off. We thought ... That is ... Me and the boys We installed you in the second master bedroom."
"You've done ... what?"
"Installed you in the second master bedroom. It's yours anyway, his Lordship had it built for you. It's better if you stay here saves time and expenses. January insisted."
"I'm not staying here!"
"Look his Lordship isn't even here, so he can't bother you none. Besides, it would help him. You tell him tomorrow and he will be happy all day."
"I'm not responsible for keeping him happy!"
"What harm can it do? He's probably right miserable now. Did he want his winter clothes, by the way?"
"No. What's that got to do with things? He's indoors, for fuck's sake!"
"Just means he's not desperate to get out. Had he wanted his winter things, we would have ... moved the schedule along, like. You didn't want us to talk to you about that."
"I still don't! Since you moved my things, I will stay here tonight but only for tonight! You will install me back in my hotel room first thing tomorrow!"
"Yes, Leader! Your room's this way."
Klaus reluctantly followed Bonham up the stairs and then to the right. "The second master bedroom?" he asked. "I would have thought he expected me to 'share' with him, if he ever caught me. Or is the idiot expecting me to share him with whoever he invites to the first master bedroom for the night?" If I can't keep him satisfied. Which I doubt I could even if I wanted to ...
Bonham whirled and glared up at him. "That was most unkind of you, Leader! The Earl is never anything but courteous to you! He is a bit of a flirt, but he's very serious in his devotion. Though the Lord knows I'm not sure why he bothers!"
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Klaus said, surprised by the normally so staid man's vehement defence of his employer.
Bonham threw him an annoyed glare, then continued down the hall. "That's his Lordship's room," he said as they passed a door. At the next one, he stopped and withdrew his keychain. After having unlocked the door he unhooked the small, golden key and handed it over. "It's the only one there is, so take care of it. His Lordship lost his once and had to jimmy his locks for two weeks. And you'll have to ask his Lordship about the rooms, if you really want to know." Then he turned and walked back the way they had come.
Feeling unfairly chastened, Klaus stepped into the room, warily looking around, wondering what kind of decadent nest of sin he had agreed to stay the night in. Well, if I could sleep in a muddy ditch with tanks rolling by, I should be able to sleep here too. If the bed's heart-shaped, I'll just sleep on the fucking floor or in the bathtub. Not that Dorian's bed, the one time Klaus had shared it, had been unacceptable, except for being on the soft side.
The second master bedroom was bright and airy, with very little clutter. The walls were a pale shade of grey; the floor a warm green. There was some art, yes unavoidable, perhaps, but the subjects weren't fat, naked women or pumpkin-panted men, not even those flower bunches that he had seen here and there in the rest of the house. The first thing he saw on the wall opposite to the door was a large painting of the Schloss, though from over fifty years ago, when there had still been a stable directly to the right. His grandfather had later had that building removed. The closest thing to "artsy art" was the rose bush to the side of the watchful boar that stood guard just to the right of a door in the west wall, clearly connecting to the suite next to his Dorian's.
To the side of the door, in the southwest corner of the rectangular room, stood the bed. Far from heart-shaped it proved to be long, yet narrow, with a sensible, dark green cover. Klaus's gaze was, however, immediately drawn to the object hanging above the head's end and then he had to go over there for a closer inspection. What hung above the bed's head was a Holland and Holland; unmistakable in its elegance. Klaus couldn't help but to touch the red wood in the stock with reverent fingers. Holland and Holland might not be a German brand, but ... damn, they were fine! And expensive. A piece of this calibre would not go for under 100.000 pounds and maybe far more than that. He had only ever touched one once, when his father had brought him along to an old friend's birthday. The proud owner had graciously allowed everyone to shoot with it and while Klaus normally didn't enjoy rifles as much as he did handguns, the Royal Double Rifle had since then frequented his carefully guarded list of things he knew he would never buy and always want.
Klaus unhooked the stand locks and lifted the rifle, then laid it up to his shoulder, meeting the slick wood with his cheekbone. The stock length matched him perfectly and the pistol grip melted against his fingers. He lowered the rifle, then slapped it up again, this time aiming along the barrel, following an imaginary trajectory across the wall. Oh, but that feels good ...
Abruptly he realised what he was doing and quickly hung the rifle back up again. I'm not some cheap floozy he can sway with pretty toys! he informed himself sternly. Besides, it's probably stolen!
Only, the platinum work displayed boars frolicking among roses, hardly a common pattern. It would have to be custom made and who but a foppish fag in love with a gun-crazed machine maniac would order such an odd combination?
Turning past the door he found a large Farinsaati gun safe. Klaus forced himself not to open it, though his fingers itched to touch whatever might be hidden within. Between the bed and the safe hung an arrangements of 26 gold frames, each with a good-quality image of one of Klaus's agents in suitable, alphabetical order. Beside the bed were also two smaller doors. Quick checks showed that one lead to a huge, walk-in wardrobe, where his suitcases had been stashed, and the second to an equally large bathroom. Along the other wall stood a large bookshelf - filled with books on tanks, rifles and other weapons, as well as some history books -, followed by a desk in the same shade of walnut as the rifle, with inlaid patterns of oak. The desk was beautiful, yet functional. Next to it ...
Klaus marched over and knelt, staring. He had never seen one in a private home before had never even considered the possibility. But there it stood, between the desk and the door leading out - a Nescafι automat, just waiting for one of six Eberbach mugs to be inserted!
Bonham had told the truth - the room had clearly been built for him. The question remained why? Why wasn't he expected to share the master bedroom? Surely that must be what Dorian preferred?
He can't really expect me to agree to some sharing arrangement. No. He's not that stupid!
Finally he took a closer look at the door in the west wall. The first thing he registered about it was that it had no lock.
Wants easy access, no doubt, that pervert!
Then he noticed a barrier, though such a laughably pitiful one that he first couldn't credit it. He stepped closer and saw something else. What he had thought were etched patterns on the wood were, in fact, hundreds of rows of tiny crystal bells. The barrier was a single rod of a clear material, no wider than Klaus's little finger. It lay on such flimsy supports that if the door was rattled it would likely simply hop off the hangers or, if judged by how sturdy it looked fragment.
"That thing wouldn't keep a butterfly out!" he grumbled.
Oh well. The butterfly normally inhabiting the room next to his was currently under heavy lock and key in a different area of London, so he should be safe enough.
Since the fifteen minutes to dinner had all but ticked down, he went to eat. Before the meeting, though, he did return to the room for coffee.
"Progress report! January and why are you sitting on the floor?"
"I sold my chair, Leader!" James peeped up from next to Klaus's knee. "I got 20 pounds for it! I'm happy sitting here. I have some calculations to make while you talk. We are currently good for" he said and mentioned a very respectable sum.
No wonder he could buy me awhy he could afford to buy a Holland and Holland. Why does he steal things? He can afford most of what he wants! Not everything though, which was probably the crux of the matter. Not to mention that most of the money was probably ill-gotten gains. Besides, Dorian would get bored with nothing to do. A bored Dorian was a scary possibility.
"Good. Keep it up! November, July report!"
November leaped to his feet, clutching a bunch of papers. He reminded Klaus acutely of B. A very thin B with finer features and make-up, but B nevertheless.
"W-we've only spoken to the Keyser. Well, not the Keyser himself, but his lawyer. No-one talks to the Keyser. Except the Earl. He likes the Earl. We think. Um Anyway. The lawyer said to tell you ... whatever we need will be given. The Keyser has his ear to the ground and will report if he hears anything. Ah ... Oh, and we've placed a message with Volovolonte's secretary. He will be calling back. Um ... And we called Svart, but apparently they're all in Sweden, participating in some kind of ski competition. I-I left a message for them too. And one with the Rogues Gallery's administrative secretary."
Klaus remembered that the Murg had looked forward to some cross-country skiing event. He hadn't been sure if it was real or a figment of their imagination, as he had learned early on to take anything the entity formed by Lutz's four younger brothers said with a grain of salt. Sometimes they lied about the most obvious things. "Keep at it. December list of suspects?"
"Ah ..." Bonham said and looked around. In his hand he held a transparent sheet with blue scribbles. "Where ... is the projector?"
"I got 50 pounds for it!" said an eager voice from the vicinity of Klaus's knees.
Klaus began to suspect that Bonham might have been right and that encouraging the greedy bug to get more money might not have been a smart move of keeping him out of Klaus's way after all.
"Ah," said Bonham, this time in a completely different tone of voice. Then he placed the OH sheet on the table before Klaus. The list contained eight names. Most of which Klaus didn't recognize. He mentally first added and then scratched off his own name from the short compilation. Fewer than he thought. They could work with that.
"February, March and May, you're to work on this list. Check their latest doings, if there's any word about a current plan. Anything you can find to tie them to this or remove them from the investigation. We will go over your findings tomorrow."
"Yes, Leader," they answered.
"August and September, you're to find out more about the boy. Who is he? Who are his parents? Why is he or they doing this? What does he or they hope to gain or avoid?"
"December, you oversee everything."
Remembering that the Months weren't like his Alphabet, but rather men closely connected to the "target" and who might have independent thoughts possibly even worth listening to, he asked, "Ideas?"
"Could be someone who wants to keep Eroica away from a heist," said June.
"Or his Lordship away from someone," January added. "Someone who's jealous of him and wants him out of the way!"
He nodded again.
"Blackmail," May suggested.
"We're not paying!" January quickly declared.
"Hush you!" said February and bapped the accountant over the head.
"They might not know that," Klaus said. Though he wondered what the little man happily pounding away at his Casio would do if a blackmail note really came.
"His lordship did get some extra money a while back," said Bonham. "When his mum died three months ago."
Klaus filed that away as an interesting detail. So soon to what had happened the extra money definitely could have pushed Dorian over some limit, making him interesting to a would-be blackmailer.
"No demand yet, though. No recent threats or oddities?" He assumed that there hadn't been any; otherwise the Months should have told him. But air-headed as some of them were, he thought it better to ask, just in case.
"No, Leader, nothing recent," Bonham confirmed.
"Leader?" April piped up. "Could it have something to do with NATO? To stop him from helping you on a mission?"
Klaus shook his head. "Doubtful. I have no current mission that might remotely require his assistance. Good thinking, though." Better than he would have expected from this bunch, even if he himself had already been over all those possibilities. "Back to June are any heists planned?"
They all looked towards Bonham. "No," he said. "Nothing has caught his fancy in a while. He's a bit impulsive, so he rarely plans anything for long."
"Any new ... lovers?"
Simultaneously they all shook their heads.
"Old ones then?" he pressed. "Like that Caesar kid?"
Again, the Months shook their heads, before the rest looked towards Bonham. "Suitors he has in droves, but there has been no one he has responded to, lately."
Klaus found that hard to believe, but conceded that perhaps Dorian didn't tell his gang all of his conquests. "April, next time you see him, ask him specifically."
"Right. The crime was supposed to have taken place at that gathering his sister held. December, what was the gathering about?"
"A celebration of their mother, after her death. A bit fishy if you ask me, but apparently it's a Red-Gloria tradition. Go out with fireworks, not wails, kind of thing."
Sounds like something Dorian would want. "Why did the sister arrange it, if it was family tradition? The Earl is the head of the family, isn't he?"
"Their mum was always closer to the girls. Lady Margaret asked and his Lordship agreed. Besides, it would have been an awkward party to have held here, with all of us and then her high'n'mighty hoity-toity friends. He's not ashamed of us, but when it comes to his mother ... it just felt best."
"So this family that the boy belonged to, they were friends of his mother?"
"I reckon so. Or the sister's."
"I will go visit the sister tomorrow. Anything else?"
There was no reply.
"Then get started! December, is there a phone in myin the second master bedroom?"
"Good. I'll phone some of my contacts. Report any new finding tonight to me there."
Klaus had had a very good night's sleep. The bed had been just right; to the squeak down to his own back home in Eberbach. If not for the fact that it was slightly longer and wider he would have been suspicious that Dorian might actually somehow have relocated the furniture. And to be able to get a good cup of coffee, straight from his own automat, first thing in the morning, was priceless! He had already decided on asking Dorian how he had managed to get the machine, once this unpleasant business had been dealt with. Perhaps I can get two. One for the Schloss and one for my apartment ...
Perhaps he had also lifted the Holland and Holland again, wishing he could test shoot it, just once.
When he descended to the kitchen he found July and October busy making stacks of sandwiches. They invited him to help himself, so he loaded a plate with four, then coffee mug in hand went to the conference room. Bonham was already present, together with a sleepy-looking November. Klaus settled in his usual spot and noted as he did that the opulent rose arrangements that had annoyed him the previous day had been removed.
"Anything to report?" he asked.
"We heard from Lutz," November quickly replied. "Just a note to let him know if there's anything we need. He will help with anything."
Great. Carte blanche from the world's head slaughterer. Though Lutz hadn't been so bad, once you realised his rather obvious ... limitations. Klaus's time in Svart had been ... interesting. He ruthlessly pushed the memories away, trying to bury them as deep as possible. Especially the one of TBM sneaking into his bedroom to sing Japanese songs at the top of his lungs to wake him up. "Anything else?"
"I will go see his sister. December, do you have her address?"
"Got it. You might want to wait until after ten. She's like the Earl in many ways, we hear, and to go before then would be pointless."
Klaus snorted. "Very well. I will go for a run first."
"Ah ... Leader?" Bonham said, eyeing him speculatively. "Did you intend to visit her like that?"
"What do you mean?"
"With the glasses on, like?"
"Ja. They make people think I'm meek, so they trust me more. Why?"
"Only you might not want to. She's like the Earl in ... many ways, we hear, as I said."
"I don't understand. She's lesbian? I thought she had a son? What does that have to do with my glasses?"
"No, she's not lesbian. She's like her brother in her, ah her taste in men. I just thought you might have an easier time to ... cough ... act as you do around him. She'll like that."
Klaus blinked. "I should knock her around and wave my gun in her face?"
"No! God, you don't think his Lordship really enjoys it when you do that, do you?"
"Ehm ..." Klaus had actually kind of begun to think that the other man did. Why else would he tolerate it?
"He just likes having your full attention, that's all. Ah, never mind, just behave as if she was the Earl and you really needed him to do something for you, right?"
"I'll take that under advisement," Klaus replied stiffly. What did I do to deserve this?
The sister's house was in the same area of London as the brother's: apparently the "right" area for nobility to live in or some such nonsense. Since Klaus didn't know the way he allowed February to drive him. Amazingly enough, when he stepped out onto the House Gloria yard a recent-model Benz waited for him. Right-driven the sacrilege!- but still a classy car. February drove acceptably and didn't babble incessantly at him.
At House Disken he gave his name to the butler and was shown into a study to wait for Lady Margareth. The room was stylishly decorated, but felt overdone in a way Klaus couldn't pinpoint. It wasn't the heedless clutter of valuable objects that so often annoyed him while visiting her brother, but he couldn't say what it was that offended him.
The lady of the house soon appeared. Klaus was once more amazed at how much the woman resembled Dorian in drag and that stinking repairwoman in Cologne ... A sneaking suspicion began to dawn on him, but he forced it on hold, to be examined and quite possibly screamed a lot about later. Instead he smiled, put his arms to his sides and bowed.
"Mr. von dem Eberbach," she greeted him and reached out her right hand at a vague angle.
Remembering Bonham's advice about acting as if she was a Dorian he needed something from, he took the hand and bent over it not that he would do that to Dorian, not in a million years! "Lady Disken," he said and smiled at her, gazing into her eyes. They looked decidedly wrong. Grey seemed so ... flat in that face. Her hair was curly, but far less animated than her brother's. Over all she looked pale and a little bloaty.
"von dem Eberbach ... You are of German descent, I take it? Do you live in London?"
"I'm merely here on business, Lady Disken," he explained smoothly. "I am an acquaintance of your brother."
Something in her face changed. "Oh," she said. "You are a ... friend of Dorian's?"
"Acquaintance only," he corrected her, his tone just a tad sharper than before.
"Oh. So you're not a ... friend of Dorian's, then?"
Hadn't he just said so? Twice, even. "No, my ladyship. I work for NATO. Your brother has, on rare occasions, proven useful for us." And for me, personally. When he doesn't prove to be a total nuisance. "I am investigating the accusations against him. I wish to make sure that it has nothing to do with his work for us."
"I see. Well, I will of course help you in any way I can. Do sit down. Anything to drink, perhaps?"
"Coffee, thank you."
She rang for a butler and ordered tea for herself. When the coffee arrived it tasted weak and uninteresting, nothing like Nescafι, but caffeine is caffeine and he drank it anyway, without even grimacing, as not to appear ungrateful.
"So, you work for NATO. How exciting. Now, how is it that the old saying goes is it the second son to the army? Or the third?" She smiled winsomely it jarred Klaus how much she looked like Dorian and yet possessed only a pale reflection of the man's nearly surreal charm.
"I'm the only son," he answered and made himself smile as if amused by her comment.
"But 'von dem Eberbach' that is an old German family, isn't it?"
"We're related to the German branch of the Habsburgs," he admitted smoothly, hoping to get her back on topic. "About the accusations levelled against your brother"
"Terrible, isn't it?"
"Yes," he answered honestly. It was terrible.
"Of course, we knew it was only a matter of time before he did something ... even more scandalous than his usual ... amusements."
Klaus's forced smile froze.
"Related to the Habsburgs," she continued. "Does that mean I should address you as Lord von dem Eberbach?"
"Germany no longer upholds the system of nobility titles. Before that my family held a Graf-title, though we no longer use it."
"Oh, a Graf! How exotic! My Lord Graf von dem Eberbach! Mother was so pleased when I married Earl Disken. He died six months ago it's been awfully lonely since then, with no man in the house. A Graf ... would that be equivalent to one of our Dukes?"
The cow eyes she gave him made him want to groan. What am I? Gloria-nip? "I wouldn't know," he lied swiftly, though in fact he did know that it was more in the rank of an Earl. When Dorian had pestered him for long enough he had checked, just to see who ranked highest, purely technically speaking. "Lady Disken, your brother"
"Oh, do call me Maggie. Lord Disken always did."
He took a deep breath to keep from calling her something else entirely. "Did anything happen that night? That you saw or heard?" Possibly a direct approach would lead somewhere.
"No. I had so much to do, though, I wouldn't have noticed a bomb going off. Germany ... Does it get very cold there in the winter? Colder than in England?"
"Sometimes. But we build our Schlosses and houses with the cold in mind. Besides, cold is a matter of discipline. The boy. His parents. Were they friends of your mother?" He remembered that the "party" had, in fact, been a wake. "I'm sorry about your loss." I'll have to remember to say that to Dorian later.
"Yes, it was awful, simply awful. She wasn't even 60 yet, it came out of the blue. One day she rode her favourite mare, when the beast threw her and trampled her. Desiree and Henry were friends of both me and Mother. Darling couple. Terribly shocked, by what happened. So am I, of course, dreadfully shocked. And under my own roof! I'll never be able to host a gathering here again, it just wouldn't do. Poor little Jojo ... I nearly fainted, when I heard. And I'm so glad Mother wasn't alive to see this. Of course, she wouldn't have been surprised either. Not after what happened to Dorian. And one hears things, doesn't one?"
"Pardon me?" Klaus said sharply.
"Schlosses, you say? The one thing I always regretted about Mother leaving Father was that we no longer could live at North Downs. A German Schloss ... I've seen them in movies, of course. So sturdy. Masculine, somehow. Can a building be masculine? Does your family, by any chance, have a Schloss ?"
"Schloss Eberbach. City of Eberbach. What happened to your brother?"
She leaned closer and put a warm hand on his lower arm. He resisted the great temptation of shucking it off, which he really wanted to do.
"When he was young," she said, so he reined in his impulse. "Lord Price. I don't know the details, but mother alluded to it on occasion. And you know what they say. Those it happened to do it themselves, and so on." She patted his arm twice, in a strangely thorough way, as if testing the firmness of his muscles. "Bonn ... I've never been there. It would be a lovely place to go for a vacation, I do so think." She paused, then added suggestively, "If only I could find a local guide ..."
For a split second Klaus felt himself falling into the cold pit of rationality that he inhabited during a mission when he might be about to kill someone. He forced himself to look into his coffee cup, rather than to meet her gaze. More than one person had told him that his eyes in such moments tended to glaze over in a way that made most people want to run away screaming. To send her running wouldn't be productive, even if he desperately wanted to get away from her. If I had been sexually molested as a child-- At least that was what he assumed she alluded to. and a sister of mine talked about it to some total stranger ... Saying she pretty much thought I would do it in turn ... If their mother was anything like her, no wonder Dorian turned out queer. Scarred for life, probably.
"Do NATO often send you abroad to do these kind of things?"
"Yes," he answered, forcing the corners of his lips up in a rigid smile. Dorian. Beautiful, carefree spirit. Abused? He needed more information. Ask Bonham. Later. "Is there anything else you can tell me about the situation?" Say "no". If I stay here much longer I will hurt you, woman or not.
"No, I don't really think so. I had so many things to do. I really wasn't paying attention. Your wife must feel very lonely with you away so often."
"I'm not married," he answered automatically and then wished he had lied as he was given a predatory smile. Oh yes, it appeared as if brother and sister did have some things in common, all right.
Back at House Gloria Klaus decided that he needed a shower. He felt soiled. Only luck and excellent reflexes had saved his arse from being pinched when he turned his back on Lady Disken. If forced to chose between the two of them, he had to confess if only to himself that he would have leaped for her brother. The shower in the bathroom connected to his room and only to his room was pure decadence, with eight shower heads pushing the hot water onto his skin. He hadn't even looked at the bath tub yet. So far he had showered trice during his stay and feared he would get waterlogged.
Blessed Nescafι automat! Maybe if he offered Dorian another kiss Dorian would simply let him take this one? The kisses really hadn't been all that horrible. And it wasn't as if the coffee machine would get any action without Klaus around. The Brits, with their sodding tea, would leave it to rot. Yes, it was practically Klaus's duty to make sure that it followed him back to Germany!
Feeling somewhat cleaner, Klaus returned to the conference room noticing that someone had removed the paintings in the hallway as well as those in the room itself. Also, one set of markers for the black board had gone missing he was fairly sure there had been two sets only the same morning. No Months were present, so he went to the kitchen, where he met February, who showed him to the great library, in which he finally located Bonham. The man was going over a paper with June and October.
"December! Word in private. Then we will have a new meeting to go over any news."
"Yes, Leader. Jimmy, ah ... June, I mean, gather the rest to the conference room." Then Bonham walked with Klaus to the far end of the library, where they wouldn't be overheard. "What do you be wanting, Leader?"
"I spoke to his sister."
"Piece of work, ain't she?"
He grunted. "She said a Lord Price hurt the Earl when he was young. What do you know of it?"
Bonham pulled back, frowning. "That's none of your business, von dem Eberbach! If I know or not - I'm not telling you. Have you asked any of the others?"
"I figured if anyone knew, you would."
Bonham's pale eyes narrowed. "Good. Don't you dare ask anyone else! Shame on you for even talking to me about it!"
Klaus blinked. He then remembered how he himself had felt when Dorian's sister had told him. For a second he lowered his gaze in shame. "To do so was poor judgement of me. I won't ask anyone else."
"See to it that you don't! Was there anything else ... Leader?" The last word was said with clear rebuke.
He shook his head. Bonham turned and strode away. Klaus followed in silence. It took all the way to the conference room before he had gathered himself. I will have to talk to Dorian himself about it. After this mess is dealt with.
"Another 4.978 glorious pounds and 33 pretty pennies to the account today, Leader!"
"That's good." He seriously didn't want to know how. "April. News?" The lawyer had visited Dorian again, together with Mr. Smith.
"No ... winter clothes?" Not that he would give his approval for breaking Dorian out, but at least if he knew that an attempt would be made he could try to prevent it. Or something.
April's eyes flickered. "Ah ... No Ah, he He said He said that Ah "
"Spit it out! Don't hem around!"
"He told me to tell you that ah that his confidence in you keeps him warm." Then April pulled back in his chair, as if expecting Klaus to explode.
Klaus just nodded. After all, as innuendos go, Dorian usually used far more blatant ones. Before he had time to move to the next group, November broke in. "Ah ... That won't be necessary. Um I mean There won't be a a snowball fight. Won't be need for one, that is."
"Of course there won't be a need for one!" Klaus growled. "We will find the guilty part. The Earl will be released."
"No, Leader I mean, yes, Leader. I mean ... Um Just in case. There's a a there doesn't need to be a snow ball fight anyway because um ... there's a desert storm blowing in?"
Klaus blinked. "I think this metaphor no longer works. What are you babbling about?"
July hesitantly pushed two papers Klaus's way. He grabbed them. The first was by far one of the sparsest, most to-the-point legally binding documents he had ever read. Only to believe the meaning proved a little more difficult.
"What's this shit?"
"Lutz thought it would be easiest that way. Just as a last resort, of course, if all else fails. Ah ... the ... the second paper ... Um ... The second paper is ... is ..."
Klaus swiftly switched documents, rather than waiting for an explanation. The second paper was almost identical to the first, with the exception of Dorian's name being exchanged for another.
|I, TSAR LUCIFER BLACK OF SVART, GRANT KLAUS HEINZ VON DEM EBERBACH DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY.|
Signed by Lutz and witnessed by all four members of the Murg, not an easy feat in itself, as to get all of them into a room at the same time was a recipe for disaster; Baal - and Klaus himself. At least the last signature looked like an utterly flawless copy of his own handwriting, down to the upwards stroke at the end of the h in Eberbach, which he sometimes made when annoyed. Dorian's signature had been Dorian's most artful calligraphy, complete with very nicely drawn rosebuds as dots over the i:s. Both documents were dated to three months prior.
Without a comment Klaus handed Bonham Dorian's paper, then carefully tore "his own" into confetti. He had actually liked some parts of Svart. Like the national armoury. And, though he had been very hesitant at first, to run with Lutz and the brothers mad or not, they could certainly stretch their legs. Lutz had actually offered him a prominent spot in the country's national defence. Tempting, in a way, but Klaus was who he was: German to the core and he would die that way. Preferably on his native soil.
"Leader?" Bonham said, sounding hesitant. "He doesn't want this immunity business. So ... we continue?"
Klaus looked up sharply, realising that they all waited for him to comment. "Of course we will bloody well continue. December how's the hate list going?"
"The Bakhials have been in touch, on behalf of the Rogues' Gallery. We've removed Saleem's name. Both the Keyser and Lutz say he's not our man. Word of honour."
Klaus snorted. "The word of criminals. That 'gentleman's agreement' thing they're supposed to have. Whatever. Keep checking the rest. We'll concentrate on the boy. October and June, I want you two on that as well. Primarily the boy himself and his parents. Their monetary situation and if you find any ties to either Dorian or one of the remaining names on the list. If you find that, or anything else of interest, come to me directly. I will be in myin the second master bedroom."
He would be calling around some more. Laurence. Mr L, maybe? While he didn't exactly know the man, he seemed to hold Klaus in high esteem. Hopefully there would be no further matchmaking with Melinda, the man's granddaughter, though. That would feel especially loathesome given the circumstances. He would also check if the Alphabet had heard anything. Not that he had especially ordered them to look into things. Oh no. That would be gross abuse of subordinates, to have them work on what essentially was his personal problem. On the other hand ... If he had told them where he was going and what he would be doing and if some of them had taken it upon themselves to do something on the side, like, who was he to not-send-to-Alaska them for it? Such as B through G as well as X, who didn't have anything useful to do anyway? Besides, he better talk to A regardless, to make sure the team didn't slack off.
Things progressed rather slowly, but then, the Months weren't exactly used to investigating these kind of things, so he had to make allowances. Even if they did work reasonably well better than he had expected.
They all quickly shook their heads. That's when Klaus heard a noise and looked up. As did March and July, so Klaus knew he hadn't just imagined the sound. "There's someone in the house," he said to inform those hard of hearing.
"Maybe it's one of the traitors," said Bonham. "Who has changed his mind and come back."
Klaus nodded. "October through December, you're with me. The rest, get to work."
He didn't expect trouble. Especially since whoever had entered again shouted a muted "Hello?" Nevertheless, he was prepared for if something were to happen, with his holster easily accessible.
The voice called again. Male, with an accent that Klaus placed on the south-east side of the Mediterranean.
"We be coming!" Bonham shouted back.
Moments later they found their guest waiting in the hallway. Klaus quickly accessed him to be 1.84, most of it legs, with wide shoulders and narrow hips. Arabic descent long, black hair, almost to his waist -, brown eyes, slightly over-dimensioned for his face. Young, not more than 20. Not one of the traitors, then, Klaus thought. At least as far as he knew none of Dorian's men had been from the Arabic countries. Something about the young man felt familiar, though ...
"What do you want?" Bonham asked.
The young man, however, ignored Dorian's second in command. Instead he flashed Klaus a grin. "What unexpected pleasure. Do you remember me, Major?"
Klaus had an excellent memory for faces but while that nagging feeling that he had seen the other before remained, no specific memory presented itself. "No," he said curtly.
"Then you won't honour your debt to me either?" the young man asked, sounding ... coy? Klaus flashbacked to Eroica, who sounded something like that when he knew he had Klaus over a barrel.
"I don't owe anyone anything," he stated, knowing that he had no outstanding debts, at least not to any stranger. To his family, maybe, and to Dorian, perhaps, still, but that was all.
The young man's smile widened and he stepped closer. "Mara bebus?"
Klaus blinked. "You're that punk! The one with the emeralds we met in Iran!"
Harlun inclined his head in a bow, still smiling. He pulled down his shirt to reveal a glitter of green stones stones Klaus remembered as being surprisingly heavy against his cat-suit.
"What do you want here?" Klaus demanded.
"I came to England a few months ago, to see the Earl. Now I heard of what had happened, so I decided to go here, to see if there is anything at all I can do to help. The Earl wasn't interested in me when I was a kid, so I know he didn't do what he is accused of. I tried to ring, but I couldn't find the door bell."
"I think James sold it," November whispered under his breath.
"There's nothing you can do to help," Klaus told the intruder. The other might have reached adulthood, but in Klaus's eyes he remained a snot-nosed kid, apparently still perverted.
"Don't you worry, though," Bonham added. "We're looking into it. Making progress already, though I can't go into that just now. And with Iron Klaus on our side, it'll be solved in a jiffy, just you wait. It's just a matter of time, now. I'll have the lawyer tell his Lordship you wanted to help, though, he'll like hearing that."
"Yes," Harlun responded. "Please do that."
No longer interested, Klaus turned away and marched back towards the stairs to get to his room. As he walked he dismissed the annoying Iranian from his thoughts.
That evening House Gloria served rump steak, salad and fried potatoes. With the meat thoughtfully pre-cut in bite-sized bits. The fried potatoes were very good, expertly done by November. It was, however, the first time Klaus ever ate fried potatoes with knife and spoon, since all the forks had vanished. Apparently, January had gotten 700 pounds for the lot of them.
On waking the next morning Klaus realised that he had utterly forgotten to move back to the Ritz. It is more practical that I stay here anyway. In case something happens and we must move fast. Besides, the hotel didn't have an in-suite Nescafι automat. Over the years his agents had become more or less adept at mixing coffee the way he liked it, but the machine did it just right every time. Was it any wonder why he liked machines so?
As he drank the day's first cup of life elixir, he walked restlessly around his room. The second master bedroom! he corrected himself sternly. He mustn't forget that. This was not "his" room, no matter that it had for all intents and purposes been built for him. He was merely a somewhat unwilling guest, out of convenience and common sense.
He found himself facing the door leading to the house's master bedroom Dorian's bedroom. Klaus himself preferred when he had the option to have familiar surroundings. His bedroom at the Schloss was slightly larger than the one in his Bonn apartment, but they were arranged in the same way and done in the same colours. As was this room, for that matter, if on a somewhat more luxurious scale. Dorian, on the other hand, was a gaudy peacock who probably insisted on different decorations in House Gloria than in his castle. Having seen Dorian's bedroom in North Downs, Klaus couldn't help but to feel ever so slightly curious about his London dwelling.
And all those bells that covered the door. How stupid! Out of curiosity Klaus lifted a finger and dragged it lightly over the "surface". A surprisingly loud, musical note rose. By far loud enough to wake a sleeper in either room. Though the room beyond lay empty and he needed only lift the bar for the door to open in order for him to see.
It is not my place, he thought. Then he turned and marched back to his desk.
After Klaus's morning run they held their customary 09.00 meeting. Klaus reported the promises given to him from both Laurence and L and how humiliating had that been? that they would let him know if they heard anything. The research into the boy and his parents progressed they knew where the family lived and general details about their occupations and lives, though nothing in depth. Klaus decided that it was well past time that he engaged himself in that line of investigation.
Then the door to the conference room opened.
"Ah, there you all are!" Dorian said and smiled brilliantly.
Klaus blinked. They had agreed to keep Lutz's offer, just in case, and that it would be up to Dorian if and when he wanted to use it. However, Klaus had through April and Mr. Smith made the Brit promise that if he wanted to use the "Diplomatic Immunity"-card, he would inform them beforehand. Dorian had promised and had April assure them all that the Earl had no wish to use said card if not forced. While a well-travelled citizen of the world, he was if in his own way a loyal subject of Her Majesty and had no intention of abandoning the land of his ancestors.
"What the fuck are you doing outside a cell?" Klaus growled.
The Months, who had been in various stages of getting up, no doubt to swarm over their employer, sank back in their chairs, flashing them both concerned looks.
Dorian's smile, if physically possible, brightened even further. "Oh, darling, you'll never guess what happened!"
"No, I won't," Klaus replied curtly, "for you will explain to me right this minute." If the simpering idiot had actually staged a one-man jail-break when given some scant opportunity, Klaus would personally throw him over his shoulder and carry him back. To be jailed was no walk in the park, but it was currently the best place for Dorian to be until Klaus and his team made a breakthrough.
"Oh, you spoil-sport, you! The most marvellous thing happened! That boy finally admitted that he lied! Someone put him up to it, as a practical joke kind of thing. Poor boy, they told me he was bawling his eyes out when he confessed. Isn't that amazing, though? It's still being investigated, of course. He is refusing to say who wanted to ... play such a 'joke' on me." He paused for a moment, frowning with a dangerous gleam in his eyes. "I do look forward to finding out exactly who this ... so-called prankster might be ... Anyway ... they let me go home in the meanwhile, just told me not to leave town. Mr. Smith drove us here."
Klaus narrowed his eyes. That was not how the story was supposed to go. They had been making headway in the investigation slower than he would have liked, but with the almost-amateurs he had to work with the slow progress was only to be expected. And now ... the hunt was off? Because some little brat had changed his story? It had all been some sort of stupid hoax? The Earl couldn't seriously think that really was all it was, could he? "How ... fortunate," he said.
"Isn't it, dear? And everyone, do you know who I have to thank for this? Do you?" He sounded thrilled. Then he reached behind the edge of the door and pushed a young man forward "It's Harlun, everyone!"
This time the young man wore a shirt, unbuttoned down to his chest. He appeared, however, to have left the emerald necklace at home. For a second Klaus's eyes met those of the Arab and in the dark depths he read defiance. Which turned to confidence and victory, when Dorian's arms briefly encircled the young man. A dark sensation filled Klaus momentarily: an almost overwhelming anger, which he at once efficiently suppressed. "How did he accomplish this?" he said, careful to keep the icy bite he felt out of his voice.
"Pure luck, Major von dem Eberbach," Harlun answered. "I was in the right place at the right time, happened to recognize the boy and had a little talk with him. I met him together with Dorian. He knew he was in trouble already, he just needed to have the possible consequences explained to him."
"Did you threaten him?" From what Klaus had heard, the boy was supposed to be eleven, only a child. If it had been an adult, even a teenager, Klaus might have done the same thing himself, to expose a lie, but to threaten a child never boded well. There were other ways.
"Major!" Dorian said, admonishingly. He then smiled as if in apology to Harlun.
Klaus felt that strange, clawing feeling again, rasping at his throat.
"Not at all," Harlun answered Klaus, though his smile was all for Dorian. "I merely spoke to him. I'm good at that sort of thing. In the evening I spoke to his parents. They were shocked, of course. Refused to believe him at first. They came around, though, and in the morning they went back to the police."
Klaus felt like stalking out. This was not meant to happen! Of course it was a good thing that the Earl had been released. Of course! That was what they had been working for. Any way to achieve the goal was a good way. Especially if it was legal and above board. Only ... to have this ... rank amateur hardly more than a child himself! - so easily beat him the Iron Klaus, a professional ... grated. "Very well," he said instead. "I'm glad it worked out."
Not that it was over. He felt that, to the marrow of his bones. His every instinct tingled. This "prankster" meant harm with his sick "little joke", of that Klaus was sure. At the same time ... it really had nothing to do with him any more. Klaus had come to England to protect Dorian. Now that he was out of prison, the magpie could look out for himself. He, too, must know that not all was well. He would take precautions. So Klaus's presence was no longer needed. Nor would he insist on staying anyway he was not one of Dorian's lap dogs, clamouring for the nobleman's attention. He would, however, monitor the situation. Even if he wasn't on site, he could still make use of his contact net, see what he could find out that way. December knew how to reach him, if necessary.
He rose and, as if on cue, the Months - No! Dorian's men, that's who they are. They're not my agents! - rushed their employer, to literally welcome him back into their eager embraces. Bonham, James and Jeremiah hung back, glancing nervously at Klaus, but he ignored them. He rounded the gaggle of criminals, intent on returning to his room and make one last phone call to Heathrow Airport, to book a seat on the first available flight to Flughafen Kφln/Bonn. Before he could make a clean get-away, though, Dorian emerged from the throng and made as if to take him by the arm. Klaus pulled away, but stopped to hear what the fop had to say.
"I do thank you so for your help, Major! The knowledge of your support and effort really kept my spirits up while I waited in ... in that horrible place."
He nodded curtly. 'Thank you for your help, Major, even if it was completely useless and of no help at all whatsoever,' he thought. "Stop stealing and you might not find yourself right back in again."
Perhaps some of his annoyance showed through, for Dorian's air of determination deepened. "I really am grateful, Major!"
"You are welcome," he answered shortly. He needed to escape from the concerned look in the other's eyes before he said something stupid. How, though? He sniffed delicately. "They aren't much for hygiene in British prisons, are they?"
Dorian's eyes grew huge and he stared down at himself. "I funk! Oh dear, I have to take a shower right away! Bonham be a dear and give Harlun a room in the western wing, would you? He will be staying with us for a bit."
Klaus's jaw tensed. Easier to give him a "hero's rewards" then, eh? Well, go on, I certainly don't want it!
"Yes, Milord," Bonham acknowledged, eyeing Harlun suspiciously. "If you'll come this way, Harlun."
Klaus swiftly marched away.
Klaus slammed down the phone. He had thought he would be safely back at the Schloss by nightfall, or at his Bonn apartment at the very least. Not so. Apparently the mother of all fogs had descended over Heathrow, one of the flying companies had gone bankrupt and half the flight controllers had been food poisoned. In short: utter chaos. Control didn't expect a single plane to leave London all day. They refused to even put him on a waiting list. The earliest flight he might possibly make it on would be 14.20, the following day.
"Fuck this entire incompetent country!" he growled.
Then he heard a musical note and whirled towards the door to Dorian's room. "Major?" was called from the other side.
He marched over, lifted the crystal bar and wrenched the door open.
Even as he did, he heard, "No, wait, don't open" and then he saw a flash of yellow and pink, which quickly vanished. "the door," Dorian finished. "Because I'm not entirely dressed and I don't want to shock your sensitive eyes, my innocent dear."
Klaus snorted, but kept a hand close by the door handle, prepared to close it again if the Earl flashed the least bit of skin. Beyond he saw the layout of the room in a deep, rich red with strokes of gold and paler red. What then gradually showed was the Earl's head. His curls hung dark and wet, dripping on the floor.
"Terribly sorry to inconvenience or disturb you, Klaus. The thing is ... I just got out of the shower when I realised that I didn't have a single towel in the bedroom. Could I, please, borrow four of yours? I don't know how it could be that I don't have any, but they're all gone, I assure you. You can check if you want."
'Come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly ...' Klaus thought. "I have no intention of going into your ... abode while you are indecently bare. Towels? I'm not your bellboy or servant."
"Klaus, please be a dear?"
"Whatever. Towels. Hm. Were the towels cashmere?" The ones in his bedroom were. Shamefully soft and quite unmanly, but they did mop up water adequately. And if Dorian's had been, then that would explain a remark that had puzzled him earlier.
"In that case I think that Janu that James got 200 pounds for them."
Then he firmly closed the door and went to fetch the towels.
Dorian buttoned the loose golden shirt and scrutinized himself in the mirror. Yes much, much better. Oh, he had been given new clothes while under arrest, but even if they had been fresh they simply hadn't felt clean. Perhaps the surroundings had immediately polluted them.
That was dreadful. Simply dreadful. Oh, I cannot bear being imprisoned. That time in Rome was horrid enough, even if it only lasted for a few hours. Days! Oh, had I not relied on my brave Major coming to my rescue ...
He sighed as he selected a black choker and tried it on. Then he couldn't help but smile widely.
He came! He came, he came, he came for me!
How many times had he done that girlish chant while waiting in his dreary cell or being interrogated in those dull rooms?
I would have gone insane without knowing of his presence, I know I would have.
Without Klaus he would have used the trump card of diplomatic immunity which Lutz had so sweetly sent in one of those "New York minutes".
The choker was discarded for a delicate Bismarc chain.
I will never go to prison, he vowed. He wouldn't. Oh, he wasn't infallible. One day he would be too slow or too brave or too ignorant of some detail in the steadily toughening field of science and security. Eroica would get caught. If he wasn't killed or decided to stop before then. He would never, however, serve time! He would sooner accept Lutz's offer. Which is not to say he would ever allow himself to become careless, with that as a security net while he walked the wire. No, he enjoyed his current life far too much.
He ditched the Bismarc chain, even if it was pretty. Too plain. In its place he tried on a large crystal in a silver setting, hanging from a thin, black leather cord.
First thing to do tomorrow morning: find whoever put the boy up to lying. I doubt it was just some harmless "prank". Had it been, whoever behind it would have shown himself as soon as it got overboard. No ... Someone did this to me and I will find out who and why. They will pay dearly, that they will. Might they have tried to get revenge for something? I just can't understand what ... Why else, though? No, no, Dorian, old chap not now! Try not to think about it right now! You need to relax, to calm down after that ... horrid experience. Tomorrow is soon enough. I'll call Lutz and Big K Bonham told me they both helped Klaus, so I must thank them anyway. I'm sure they'll help me find whoever it was. Who could it be though? Someone who wanted me out of the way? Someone who wantedNo! Dorian! Stop it! Not now! Tomorrow, do you hear me? Tonight we will rest and then we will deal with everything tomorrow!
No, the crystal was also too plain, so he replaced it with a more elaborate necklace in gold with green stones and hanging symbols a heart, an anchor, a four clover, a miniature lock-pick (fully functional), a little horse and a coin, to mention a few. A little silly, but for some reason better suited to his mood.
A shame about Harlun, though. The Iranian didn't fit the picture at all. It was supposed to have been Klaus who saved him. The set-up couldn't have been better if Dorian had orchestrated it himself. Him the Persecuted Innocent and with Klaus - his One True Love come to rescue him, sweep him up out of harm's way onto his white charger. Together they should have ridden off into the sunset. Not that Klaus in any way needed to "win" his love, but that was how the story was supposed to be written, damn it. Didn't the authoress know this?
The symbol necklace was replaced by a silver one with a single hang made from several small diamonds surrounding a huge one, on a bed of rose stones. Stolen in Italy, on a pure whim, from around a princess's neck.
Not that he was angry with Harlun. Harlun was a sweet young man. When Harlun had first come to England wanting to see him, Dorian had been very flattered. The boy he had met in Iran had grown into a promising young man very handsome, if a little lithe and too coltish to suit Dorian's current taste. Before he had met his Iron Major he probably would have adored the Iranian, but now that he measured all potential conquests against his darling Wire Rope they all fell flat or were so utterly uninspiring.
The rose stone diamond necklace fell out of favour. Instead he selected one braided from flat strands of yellow-, red- and white gold. Simple, yet elegant and unusual.
Perhaps I will offer Harlun a place on my team? He knew that the young man had spent a small fortune on getting to England, just to see him. Very sweet, that. Now Harlun had no money left. So, yes, perhaps he would offer him a spot. Or just money, for the trip back, if the young man wasn't too proud to accept it. I'll deal with that, too, tomorrow. Tonight I really must relax.
He removed the braided gold necklace and decided he looked perfect even without it. No enhancements were necessary. Some strands of his hair had gotten pushed in the wrong direction during his fiddling, so he quickly tamed them into order. Finally, he left his room to knock on the next door the one leading to a room he had only entered once since it had been finished. Even that time his visit had been just to ascertain that everything was as he had envisioned, fitting his darling Major to the T. Such a wicked temptation it will be in the future, to know you slept in the bed separated from mine only by a thin wall. I must instruct Bonham not to have the bedclothes changed when you leave, at least not for a few nights. That will heighten the temptation even more.
The door was soon wrested open and he gazed upon his beloved. His dear Major looked a little more sullen than usual. He's not happy being here, Dorian concluded with a pang of sadness.
"What do you want?" Klaus asked brusquely.
You, on your back, stroking yourself as you spread your thighs for me so sweetly. "Only to thank you again," he replied in a mild tone of voice.
"Stop nagging about it. Besides, I owed you for ... you know."
"I told you already, you needn't feel as if you owed me anything. But if you did, then consider your little debt now paid in full." He knew how proud the Major was and happily absolved him of any obligation, imaginary or otherwise. "More than filled. Is there anything I can do to show you my appreciation?" When he noticed how the Mosel green eyes narrowed he quickly added, "And I do mean that in a totally innocent way, Major." Since learning of the man's self-proclaimed frigidity, he had decided to be careful not to give Klaus undue stress while still not backing off. Oh no! A trifling detail like that would not get in the way of their eternal happiness. Their love would be legendary, he just knew it.
To his surprise Klaus glanced back into his room and then gave him a measuring stare, before his mouth thinned momentarily. "Nein. Your bloody country can't even manage to run a freakin' airport."
"Pardon me?" If there was one thing he wasn't all that keen about when it came to his darling Major, was the man's habit of making derogatory remarks regarding Dorian's home country. However, that was such a tiny flaw that he was more than willing to overlook it.
"No flights leaving London tonight."
"Oh dear." And why was Klaus telling him this? Klaus wasn't the type to make small talk, especially not with Dorian. But he had said it in the context of Dorian asking if there was anything he could do for him. So, translate that from Klaus-speech to ... "Then I insist that you be my guest tonight. I will be on my very best behaviour. So help me God."
"You don't believe in God."
How well Klaus knew him! It made Dorian fall that much deeper in love. "My word of honour then. Please do stay. As I said I will be on my very best behaviour. You would be doing me a favour, in fact. I still feel a bit rattled after my ... adventure. And who knows who put the boy up to that shameful thing? Whoever it was might still be out there!" Which was perfectly true. Tomorrow! We'll deal with that tomorrow! Right now Klaus is more important. "It would be so nice to have your solid presence close by."
Klaus snorted. "I'll be sleeping with my Magnum under my pillow."
Which means "thank you" I suppose. Besides, don't you always? Dorian had actually come to believe that. Very inconvenient.
"Whatever makes you comfortable, dear. And do feel free to shoot whoever enters your room without your permission. I assure you that everyone has the most strict instructions never to enter without it." And I did my best to proof it. To get in without waking you would be a true challenge even for me. I do wonder if you have noticed the gadgets Lutz and the boys added to the windows yet? "Now ... do you like yourI mean, do your find the room acceptable? I wish I could have shown it to you, when you first came." He had, actually, kind of looked forward to doing just that.
"It is adequate."
The answer had come swiftly enough, so he interpreted that as that the Major actually approved. One point for me, he decided.
Klaus sat in the surprisingly comfortable wicker chair surprisingly comfortable because it had looked suitably astern and official - reading The History Of Tanks complete with pictures and information about just about any model he had ever imagined - when someone knocked on his door. He memorized the page number and then carefully put the book back where he had taken it, not wanting to leave any sign that he had explored the content of the room more than strictly necessary.
What does he want this time, then? he wondered. Dinner, perhaps, trying to make a date of it? Or is he too busy with his new toyboy to bother with this old soldier?
To his surprise he didn't find the Earl of Red-Gloria loitering outside, but James gazing up at him, looking terrified, yet determined.
"What do you want?" he asked.
"May I still sell things?"
"You'll have to ask his Lordship about that." Let Dorian deal with the mess. Klaus had dealt with enough of the Brit's in the past.
The little man pouted. "If I join your Alphabet, can I sell NATO's things? I bet NATO has lots of things just lying around that no-one uses."
Klaus had, on occasion, considered recruiting Bonham. The Stingy Bug, though ... Then he couldn't help but to envision it James taking charge of NATO's budget, forcing everyone to scrounge for material, ordering them to ride bicycles rather than airplanes, cutting off the Chief's sugar supply ... Of course, that would also mean cutting Klaus's own budget possibly even his ammunition fund ... "No," he answered firmly.
The pout intensified. "We don't like Harlun," James then said.
"That is none of my concern," Klaus replied, even if he was in agreement.
"It wasn't supposed to be like that! We were supposed to solve it! We worked for it! We should have gotten lots of hugs and kisses, all of us!"
Klaus nodded. "Life is like that, sometimes," he said, wondering why he even bothered trying to console the strange little man.
"I don't even know how Harlun found out about it in the first place!" James grumbled. "We had managed to keep it away from the press and everything! We had to bribe people!"
Klaus felt a zing of electricity burn through him. "What is his Lordship doing now?" he asked casually.
"Resting in his room. He even yelled at me for selling his pillows! I got 423 pounds for them!"
Klaus reached down and gingerly put a hand on the Greedy One's slanting shoulder. "You were following orders, as you had been instructed. January gather the men and tell them to meet me at once at headquarters."
James's one eye blinked. Then he straightened himself, growing all of an inch higher. "Yes, Leader! Right away!" he said and ran off.
"Harlun," Klaus said and circled the word on the board. The marker made a loud, screeching sound. "His appearance was very timely and his story about the boy acting out some stupid 'hoax' very thin."
He turned back to the Months. They all nodded, looking serious and determined. It appeared as if more than he had thought the same thing.
"The police kept things under wraps. Apart from Dorian's immediate family, the investigators and ourselves, no one knew. So how did Harlun find out?" Well ... There was Polar Bear, but Klaus had no doubts that the Russian knew for the same reason that NATO did.
"He bugged the house!" January said. He was still sitting on the floor.
"If he did, that would be suspicious in itself. February, November, check the house, see if you find anything. Whatever you do, don't mention anything to Dorian. That goes for all of you. December were Harlun and Dorian " He took a breath to steady himself before saying the distasteful word. "intimate?"
Bonham shrugged helplessly. "I wouldn't know. Sometimes I can guess, but he doesn't gossip about it. They could have been, when Harlun first came to London."
"So he could have known about the scar?"
Some of the men gasped.
"I suppose. I don't know, as I said. But I really don't think so, Leader."
"August and September you continue with the boy and his family. March and May, help them. Find out any ties to Harlun. Bribe them and ask about what happened when he came there yesterday."
There was something fishy about Harlun. The more Klaus considered things, the more certain he became convinced that Harlun was involved in framing Dorian. Why, though? Besides - no amateur crook was going to beat Iron Klaus!
Dinner was to be eaten in the dining hall. They always ate together, Dorian and his men. The latter might be servants in the strictest sense of the word, but in truth they were his family, much more so than the women who had lain in the same womb as he once had. However, when Dorian entered, it was to find the room deserted except for the no doubt excellent meal already waiting under large silver covers for him and one other guest. There were only two settings, the head end and the one immediately to its right. Live candles fluttered. A romantic music played ever so softly.
He hesitatantly approached the table, when the unmistakable, military rhythm clatter of Major von dem Eberbach's boots approached. Dorian winced and as soon as the man himself came into sight declared his innocence. "I had nothing to do with this! Absolutely not, Major, you've got to believe me! I thought it would be dinner as usual, I didn't even know if you wanted to eat here or"
Meanwhile, Klaus glanced around the room. He snorted. "Matchmaking, are they? Twits." Then he marched over to the table and sat down, as if the romantic setting was nothing out of the ordinary. He lifted one of the silver covers and began to scoop fried potatoes onto his plate.
Dorian stared for a few seconds, then hesitatingly approached the table and sat down in the other seat, waiting meekly for Klaus to serve himself first. "You're not ... angry, then?" he asked, just to make sure. He had expected an explosion.
Klaus shrugged. "I must eat anyway, mustn't I?"
Dorian refrained from pointing out that Klaus could have been served in his room, if he had wanted to. To have this quite unexpected company of the man he adored held his tongue firmly in place and soon they ate, at first in silence. A raise for whoever thought this up, most definitely. They all deserve a raise, for that matter, if I can just persuade James. A little calm alone-time with the Major was the best thing possible: the one thing his doctor would have prescribed for the stress of having been accused and arrested. Not to mention that person or persons unknown might be out to frame him ... Someone I stole from? I never meant to hurt anyone ... MaybeNo, no, no! Tomorrow, Dorian! We'll deal with it tomorrow!
"Did you buy the Holland and Holland or steal it?" Klaus asked curtly.
"The rifle thingie? Bought it. For money legally earned too, as are all objects in your room."
"In the second master bedroom!" Klaus growled.
"Of course, dear."
"Don't call me that." Then Klaus frowned. "How do you earn money legally, thief?"
From someone else the added "thief" would have been a slur, but Dorian had come to realise that Klaus sometimes added his little descriptive nicknames more as explanations of the sentence itself in this case, "How do you earn money legally, since you are a thief?" At least he hoped he guessed this right, as he had never dared to ask and would not do so now either. "I didn't start out in the gutter, you know," he said before pausing to drink the wine an excellent vintage. "My family was fairly well off, both on my mother's side and on my father's. True, the money I myself earned has not been legally obtained excepting possibly what I earned working for you, Major, if one can consider breaking into the Vatican legal ... Anyway, for the second master bedroom I took every penny from my mother's inheritance. I thought you might prefer it that way."
He got a light snort. "Your mother. My condolences on her death. I heard only after I saw you in jail."
The thought of his mother's death no longer bothered Dorian overly. They had never been very close. "It is a very strange thing. I have three sisters"
Suddenly Klaus shuddered. "I met Lady Margareth."
Dorian smiled brilliantly. It appeared as if his sister hadn't made a conquest. "and I always thought Mother preferred them to me. She left me with Father, after all, when I was small. Imagine my surprise when the will was read. Half the money to the Save The Foxes Foundation, one of those anti-hunt organisations, and half to little old me."
"Maybe she thought you were a hunted fox yourself," Klaus said and shrugged.
The idea made Dorian laugh. Nothing pleased him more than when Klaus showed his carefully guarded sense of humour. That's it, my love. Lower the bridge over the moat and let me in, just a little bit.
"Perhaps so. Maggie was livid, though she quickly calmed down. I imagine they expected to inherit. Though Lizzie and Sam didn't seem overly worked up about things."
"Bonham said you're considering adding Harlun to your team."
It wasn't a question. Dorian wasn't sure how to respond. If it had been another man he would have hoped for jealousy, but with Klaus it was most unlikely. Still, better not chance things. "He doesn't have anywhere to go, poor boy, so yes, I'm considering it."
"Can't the punk go back to Iran?"
"I will offer him the money for the trip, should he accept it."
Green eyes flashed. "He doesn't have any money?"
"Spent it all getting here, I understand. Poor boy Don't tell him this, Major just between you and me: I find him slightly boring. Sweet, mind you, but boring. A little too easy."
"It is all about the conquest for you, then?"
Dorian almost made a joke, before he noticed a certain ... precision in the way Klaus had asked, nestling the question into the conversation when it normally wouldn't have been something he would comment on. If anything, Dorian had expected a terse, "Don't talk to me about sweet men!" There was also an almost imperceptible tension in Klaus's shoulders, in the way he kept his left arm back a little: not much more than a centimetre and probably completely unconsciously. As if to reach his gun easier.
"Not at all," he answered airily, careful not to appear as if he put any special thought into the answer. "Oh, the chase is fun, I'll admit, but it's proportional to how dear the object is to me. I wouldn't chase for so long something I didn't want to keep with me forever."
Klaus grunted and continued to slice the chicken. Dorian noticed absent-mindedly that the normal dining silver had been replaced with a simpler kind and wondered why.
"Since he was the one to approach you, you're not interested," Klaus stated.
"You could say that. I mean, I am grateful for his help in this mess, but how often have you saved my life, dear? What he did is just a drop in a bucket. Besides, he is so ... needy. And pushy. It was nice seeing him again, but after I made clear I wasn't interested in a relationship he still followed me around." Yes, he knew how similar that was to their own situation, but to keep Klaus in a good mood he would willingly suffer some glib comment.
Klaus snorted. "Annoying when the shoe is on the other foot?" He sounded amused.
Dorian laughed again. "I suppose. He even crashed my sister's reception after Mother's death, can you believe it? Say what you want of me and my persistence, darling, but that far I would never go. Too ... gauche."
"Some people don't take your butterfly flittering lightly."
"Oh, I don't deny that I've done my share of flittering, but these day I'm a one-flower butterfly. Incarnata Major is the only flower for me."
The Major turned directly towards him then, measuring him up. "You didn't fuck Harlun, then?"
It took Dorian a moment to switch to the less flowery language, then shook his head. "I kissed him in welcome and gave him a hug I hug and kiss everyone I like, dear, you know that. Well, everyone who doesn't discourage me with a Magnum, that is. I was charmed by his interest and felt flattered, but that was all." He wondered why Klaus suddenly looked so annoyed. No, not annoyed ... it couldn't be disappointment, could it? Why would he be disappointed? No, the fleeting glimpse he thought he had seen must have been of something else. "Dessert, darling? Oh, look, it's chocolate cake!"
"... no, thanks."
Klaus sprawled in his chair in the meeting room, not paying much attention to the others' comings and goings. Oh, he was aware of them and listened to their updates, but he needed to sort things through in his own mind before he could properly concentrate.
"He didn't know about the scar." That was the most damning thing, as it threw over Klaus's entire working theory. Harlun should have known about the scar and told the boy. Without that ... Maybe he had been wrong. Maybe I really am jealous and gripping at straws?
Jealous of that boy sneaking into Dorian's affections, even if Dorian by his own admission didn't particularly fancy him.
That's stupid! I don't even want to have sex with the man! He didn't. The disinterest was part of his nature and that hadn't changed. Perhaps he had come to view the Earl a little differently than he had in the past had perhaps come to trust him a little more. Since the Earl no longer tried to jump him and hump him, he didn't need to keep up as rigorous protection against him could relax a little more when he was near. Unbidden he remembered his thought while resting that one time in Dorian's bed "If this was all he wanted, I wouldn't mind giving this to him." He ruthlessly pushed the inconsequential thought away. Besides, what did it matter? That wasn't all that Dorian wanted and they both knew that fully well.
"Well, maybe he heard about it. But he would have needed money to bribe the boy. Dorian said he wasted all his money on getting here. The only thing he had of value were those stupid emeralds."
"Not even that. They're fakes."
Klaus whipped his head towards November, who, sometime during Klaus's muttering had settled beside him with a steaming cup of tea.
"What did you say?"
"The Shah of Iran had fake emeralds?"
November blinked. "I don't know about the Shah, but the necklace the young man wore looked fake to me. And I don't know if you remember, but"
"you're the jewelry expert," Klaus filled in with a nod. Baubles were all pointless, in his opinion, but he supposed that someone in these circles would know. He sat up straighter. "So, the punk sold them. Ha! Doesn't surprise me. Hmm ... Would the Earl recognize a fake from the real deal?"
"Most of the time, at a glance, yes, Leader. Some fakes are better than others, but these weren't very good. Likely cost a pretty penny, still, but ... nothing like the real thing."
"So he didn't sell them before getting here." He gave November an approving nod. "Good!"
"I don't understand, quite. Does it prove anything?" November asked carefully, tilting his head.
Klaus shrugged, trying not to let his personal belief interfere. "That he sold the necklace to get money to bribe the boy and his parents? Not in a court of law. Besides, he could have sold it for some other reason, after first showing to Dorian he still had it." To get money to try to woo the Earl with, for instance, when merely approaching him didn't help. The magpie sure liked shiny things.
Buy him some pretty jewelry or a painting with some fat, naked woman. Then let everyone gauge how far the Earl's one flower-butterfly-promise would carry. Though we are on a first-name basis now. Are we friends? Then it would be my obligation to buy him something for his birthday. I wonder ifOh fuck!
He leaped up and then ran straight to his room, causing terrified thieves to leap out of his way in the corridors. Well inside he grabbed the phone receiver, but forced himself to take a long, perfectly even breath before hastily dialling the number and standing at attention.
"von dem Eberbach!"
"Hello, Father! It is Klaus. Happy birthday, Father!"
He was a failure as a son, forgetting his own father's birthday and instead gallivanting around trying to save prett- ah, perverted art thieves!
"Good of you to call, Son. I thought you had forgotten your old man utterly, since your customary packet failed to arrive."
Shit! For a second he was tempted to lie, but while he could have done it well enough so that his father would have excused him a sudden mission or perhaps a faulty delivery or a large packet waiting at the Schloss, it wasn't his way. "I apologise profoundly, sir. You will have it shortly." Something nice too. Perhaps he could ask August though he had better make sure the man used his wine expertise and not his other expertise. He steeled himself for a dressing down.
"No matter, Klaus, I got a nice enough present anyway. What is this I hear about you visiting British nobility"
Klaus felt his stomach freeze. How could he have heard about me sleeping with Dorian ah, in his bed!?
", that is to say - visiting unmarried women in their home, hm?"
"I diI I'm not sure what you are talking about, sir."
"A widow, I understand. No matter, really. Sometimes a pre-driven version can be a good thing. Perhaps the worst of the thorns have been polished off, eh?"
"Wi ... dow?"
"Don't be shy, boy. If you're embarrassed that she's English, don't be. A little bit of new blood can be good for the family, once every few generations. A mother too, so she's fertile good, good."
"Sir? Are you talking about Lady Margareth Disken?" A shudder travelled down his spine. He was a bit rattled to find out that his father was apparently so desperate for his son to marry that he would accept an Englishwoman. Now, if Klaus made mentioning of an Englishman things would go differently, but still ...
"She does seem to be a good woman, if very forward. I'm worried though, Son. I'm pleased that you're finally showing some interest in the opposite gender. There was a time when I began to think you were like Uncle Eric. Never mind what worries me about this woman is her interest in our financial situation. While I understand her interest in knowing that we are financially stable, her with a young child and everything, it is really something that she should have spoken of to you. Besides, I asked around and apparently she isn't in the best economical health either, with debts from her late husband."
"Debts from her husband?"
"Apparently he fancied himself something of a horse expert without the skill to back it up or the money, towards the end. Played the ponies and drove the entire family to bankruptcy. You could do better, Son. But since it wasn't her fault, perhaps she is a good woman. Keep me posted."
"Yes, sir," he answered automatically. Then the call was disconnected.
Klaus sat back in his chair. That ... witch sister of Dorian's had actually had the unimaginable nerve to call his father! They had only met for less than an hour! Well, Dorian always claimed that the Red-Glorias fell fast and hard when they did, but ... that was ridiculous! The woman must be desperate!
Desperate for money! Ha!
It was just the second time he had even seen her! He hadn't even thought she was a woman at first he had thought she was Dorian in an uncommonly bad drag, that time, in the police station, when he had seen her
His training took over, presenting him with the image of the woman that first time he had seen her, painting her dress so drab, next to her brother's peacock flaunting. Her breasts, bulging over the tightly girdled waist. Blond hair, wavy like Dorian's, but less animated. Grey eyes. 175 cm, approximately 85 kilos. Klaus couldn't draw worth a damn - except for in his own head, where colours filled in and the image flash enlarged, showing the desk beside her, the burly policeman and on her other side, the tall, long-haired ...
Pulling in a deep breath, as a bloodhound tasting the prey on the air, he rose, eager to go in for the kill.
"My sister?" Dorian said. His face had gone pale and he rested one hand over his heart. "Maggie?"
It was two days later and meanwhile, Klaus and the Months had unravelled the entire story.
"Yes. My condolences." Klaus wasn't sure what else to say. He never had been good at this part. "After your mother's death she thought she and your other sisters would inherit. When she found out that they wouldn't, she didn't take this kindly. She met Harlun at the gathering you said he crashed. They hatched their plan together, only Harlun thought she wanted to help him ... win you. Be a hero and free you."
Dorian slowly shook his head. "But ... Why ...? I don't understand!" The last was the wail of a child, always beloved, who had suddenly been confronted with someone who didn't instantly adore him.
"She was going to contest your mother's will. Which would be simpler with you in prison for ... questionable activity. She had planned on having Harlun arrested as well. Next time they met, when they would decide on when they would have the boy reveal "the truth," she would have cried rape or thief or whatever, she hadn't decided. Apparently Harlun thought that I and the MontI and your men were getting too close to the truth. He felt pressed and acted without consulting her."
He decided not to mention that he had told the British police to have a second look at the death of the mother, just in case. Probably he was just being paranoid, but it couldn't hurt.
"Almost all her money was tied up in debts and law suits. She needed Harlun's money for it to work. He sold the emeralds. She knew of the scar though, having seen it when you were children."
"'What tangled webs we weave, when we first practice to deceive'," Dorian quoted under his breath, sounding sad. Then he smiled brightly, if tremulously. "My hero saved me in the end after all. All is well."
Klaus shifted his weight from foot to foot, feeling helpless. Then he boxed Dorian's shoulder gently, not knowing how else to reach out.
The Brit looked up at him. "Thank you, Major. I really mean it. Sorry about breaking down on you. It's ... not as bad as it looks. My sister and I were never close, it's just ... that anyone would do such a thing feels ... surreal." He breathed in deeply, then shook himself. "Now, my dear Major, my knight in shining armour, I am very much so in your debt and no doubt about it. Is there anything at all I can do to thank you?"
Klaus wasn't sure. Not at all. But he mustered his not inconsiderable courage and held firm as he spoke. "England is playing Italy Thursday after next. In London."
Dorian blinked and twirled a finger into his hair as he was wont to do when puzzled. And any other time at all, really.
A little annoyed that the man wouldn't just automatically understand, Klaus forced himself to slug on. "Want to go?"
Dorian blinked and frowned. "Go? To football? Watching sweaty men running around after a ball for no apparent reason, first in one direction and then in the other; eating hot dogs and drinking cheap beer while surrounded by hordes of unwashed people yelling in my ear?"
Okay, so that had been a tremendously stupid idea. How idiotic can you get, von dem Eberbach? Of course he doesn't want to do that! He shrugged and prepared to tell the thief that he had just worded the request for his assistance with a mission clumsily. He might be fluent in English, yes, but even so he was not above using the "not my native tongue"-excuse, if pressed.
"With you?" Dorian asked. Then, before Klaus had time to even nod, the Brit's most brilliant smile blossomed and he looked at Klaus with love sparkling in his eyes. "I would love to go to a game of football with you, Klaus."
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