illustration by Kyuu
Eroica story by BT, writing as Edelweiss Unglaublich
This is going to be great. I was waiting around for another of those stupid seminars (I think it was on "Integrating teams without bringing about psychological dependence," but none of them tell you anything you don't know or use a single word shorter than four agglutinated syllables) that they try to keep us busy with when there's nothing much going on. But then someone I'd thought was waiting for it too turned out to be waiting for me, and handed me an envelope.
Well, you know what that means, and sure enough, I was in to see two of the senior supervisors in no time. It was Tieff and that dreadful other one they just call the Chief -- it's because his name's Altmann and he doesn't like it -- and they said it was a voluntary job, going under cover as one of a married couple.
Aha, I thought, but with who? It must be with someone they think will screw it up and they want me to keep him in line. Uh-oh, I thought, it's one of those ditzy people with the letter codes for sure, and can you imagine one of them getting anything right for ten minutes at a time?
But no. It was worse. That is, better. They've assigned the Alphabet leader, that major who never smiles. But whatever it is, the letter-code people all swear he does their work and gets it right. Ha, I'll bet. But the loyalty is rather touching and anyway once I remembered who it was, it didn't matter.
I said I'd do it for the sake of getting the job done and Tieff sighed and looked relieved, but Chief Altmann snickered. But I donít think it was at me.
And have you seen that man! The Major, I mean, the undercover husband on this operation. He's tall and he wears his clothes so well they just have to come off well... But anyway, they say he's terribly professional about women, but I haven't met anyone who stayed professional under covers.
First briefing. Major Eberbach is going to be a good partner, I can tell. He's really terribly polite and said he respects the job too much to take advantage of its circumstances.
Like I said, we'll see about that. And he's just gorgeous up close, and his full name is von dem Eberbach and he's really from Eberbach. I asked if he'd ever been married and he said of course not -- I wonder why he puts it that way?
I spent the whole day memorizing a book's worth of details for the mission. That's what they say in the Alphabet, "mission." Even though it's only in Vienna. Okay, I grew up in Vienna and they wanted that instead of being dazzled by my training scores, but so what? It's a mission with the Major -- I'm supposed to call him "Klaus," but when I did, he glared at me like you wouldn't believe -- and we're assisting some Interpol case that's not supposed to have any NATO Security implications, but if that's true, why are we there?
Maybe I'm supposed to find out. Or maybe I'll find something else to make it worthwhile.
Second briefing. Major Klaus knew all his homework too, so it's a good thing I'm pretty quick at memorizing that kind of thing. Today when I said "Klaus," he got this really odd look on his face, but he didn't glare. I wonder how I looked when he called me "Liesl" instead of "Fraulien Tauber"? But it would have sounded nice, if only he wouldn't growl.
Well, he's not going to be easy. We got here and set things up in the apartment, a little three-room place full of old furniture. It's kind of stuffy and crowded, but the Major, I mean Klaus, doesn't care. I'm not sure he noticed. We're in here as Herr and Frau Sadler, and it's incredibly domestic.
We've got listening taps all over everything, hoping to find out early what the thieves' plan is -- if they have one. I'm still looking for the Polish agents or whatever the real mission is. I saw a couple of really cute men on the way to the bakery shop who looked foreign, that is, not Viennese. I couldn't flirt with them while I'm "Frau Sadler," so I didn't see as much as I'd've liked to, but I told the Major they were there. He said not to bother him with nonsense. But I'm sure they're not from Vienna.
In the evening I made dinner and he read the paper. It was very sweet except that he reads five papers, so fast the pages flap. I'm supposed to read them too -- does anyone really, except the Major? Then we went to bed.
I did expect something, no matter how much he says he respects a mission while he's in the office with Tieff and Altmann probably listening half the time. It would've been pretty easy, too -- he undresses even better than he looks, and I almost hoped he'd try... well, what any other man would have tried. But he didn't. He went off to sleep and I lay there waiting for the other shoe to drop. So to speak.
No interesting news on the listening taps yet, nothing at all. Not a nibble. Major Eberbach, I mean Klaus, ate breakfast and went out for a run, he said. Later on he stayed with the taps and I went shopping. I could have got something gauzy and seductive, but wouldn't that be too obvious? And anyway, he's likely to decide soon enough that forbearance isn't the better part of valor. And I want him to make the first move. It's so romantic that way.
Nothing. Nothing inside or outside. No information coming in except a few random noises and passers-by having conversations, nothing at all useful. And there's absolutely no action on the married-couple front. Another night of fully scheduled sleep. What is the man waiting for?
Maybe for something gauzy and seductive?
Finally the listening taps are giving us something. I was on them, and when the voices started up, I signaled the Major (I mean, Klaus), and he got his earphones half on and then just froze in his chair. They were speaking English, but we'd nearly expected that. The Major sat there staring at the wall and swearing -- also in English. That was funny. He won't say so much as "Verdammt" in German, not even when I dropped that box on his foot, but he just sat listening to the taps and saying nothing but the worst English cursing I've ever heard, even from Englishmen, as though it was a contest between him and the other end of the tap-line! Not moving a muscle.
When the voices stopped he took off his headset and just glared at it for a while. I was glad we were recording the tap input and not the room sound.
Then he said that it was a thief he'd followed on missions before, an international scourge of the art world. That's exactly what he said, "international scourge." I rather like the way he talks most of the time. But he didn't apologize or anything for the bad English, and he knows I speak it. Everyone in the Department does. I wonder if he thinks I wouldn't understand the sort of language he was using?
Okay, I tried the gauzy nightgown. I'm not really sure he noticed. At least, he didn't say anything. It might have taken him a whole minute to fall asleep instead of thirty seconds, maybe. And he didn't say anything in the morning, either, just drank his coffee and ran out to work up a sweat. It looks good on him -- even better than pajamas.
He came back from his morning run all steamed up. He'd seen two members of the thief's gang -- he said he recognized them. I said were they medium-height and slim, one with smooth long mouse-blond hair and the other with a gray-tweed raincoat and brown shoes. He said, yes, and he looked surprised for almost a second. I said I'd seen them the first day, the two men who weren't Viennese. He nodded, and I hoped he'd remember that. I asked who they were, and he said the names weren't important, but had I heard them use any alias? Unfortunately, I hadn't.
I asked what he's learned about the thief's gang, but he went all stone-faced again and wouldn't talk any more. Mr. N did say the Major liked to follow up some leads without explaining to the juniors at first, and I suppose I'll have to be the junior here for a while. Unless my other plan works out.
Progress. I spent just hours in the museum this morning, watching to see if anyone from the thief's gang was there, or if I could spot anyone we didn't have on file who might be working with them. If I could sniff out two gang members the first day, Klaus aid, I should try to find out something useful. Maybe I did. There was a really young boy -- maybe 19 -- with the most gorgeous long blond hair. It must made you want to run your hands through it, and nothing about him made you want to stop with the hair, either. I remembered just in time that I was Frau Sadler, but anyway, the thing was that he had to be English. He was all in new Viennese clothes, but the hair was styled in English, if you know what I mean, and his German was totally Viennese but he'd slip and use English art terms a little too often. We had a nice conversation, actually. He told me all kinds of things about pigments and composition and perspective and tromp l'oeil (and his French was good, but it was a bit English instead of a bit German). He really does love art.
Oh, dear, I suppose an art thief probably would.
Then the boy's older brother came in, who was even taller and blonder and more English, with curls, and you should see how sweet they look together. But I had to leave then for my turn on the listening taps. I don't suppose Soviet agents disguised as English art thieves are a real possibility?
I reported all this to Klaus, who looked like he'd swallowed a green persimmon and went out to take up the museum detail, he said, while I listened to the taps that were doing absolutely nothing. For hours.
When he came in for dinner, he went back to the taps himself and swore at them. He was up late, swearing extra. I got ready for bed, and when I fetched him a cup of tea he told me I was courting a cold in my flimsy nightdress. I said, "Do you think so, Klaus?"
He harrumphed (which he does in a very quiet, well-bred way) and asked what else I thought he could mean.
I'm not sure what I said then, but the next thing I remember is asking when he was going to seduce me. He looked at me all cross-eyed and said, never. I said, why not. He said this was a mission and I was introducing irrelevancies. I said it wasn't irrelevant that a man and wife slept in the same bed.
He said that in case I hadn't noticed, the activity I referred to wasn't sleeping, and that it behooved two NATO agents to sleep wherever they were assigned without introducing irrelevant complications. He looked really luscious while he was winding up this whole speech, sort of pink and very very calm, as if he had to work at it.
I said, well, we were supposed to look married to anyone who saw us around the apartment house and courtyard. Shouldn't we add some verisimilitude?
He said, good heavens, Fraulien Tauber, are you a virgin? Act the part for them, if you believe it needs reinforcement.
That was my cue, so I blushed and said I was a virgin.
Well, he noticed that. I saw his eyes get greener -- an interesting effect. Then he said that he most certainly on no account would consider seducing a virgin and did I care to wear more comfortable nightclothes in future?
I ignored the part about the nightclothes and said, why not, and he said, it's personal. So I said yes, it was, but I'd told him anyway.
And he said, no, it was too personal for him, and then he stomped into the bathroom and put on about three layers of pajamas and came back out and was asleep in fifteen seconds.
Maybe he's a robot.
I finally fell asleep and when I woke up it was morning and he was just getting up for his run around the Ringstrasse, but he stopped for a minute to check the taps and then he swore again, harder than ever, and sat down and listened to the overnight tapes, all of them.
He wouldn't eat breakfast or anything, and he'd just finished going through them all when the art thief's blond brother, the one with the curls, came calling. I opened the door and was surprised, because the only reason he'd have to come to the apartment would be to find me -- but he'd never looked at me once in the museum -- or if he was part of the mission. And he wasn't one of ours, and what does that leave?
Klaus started talking to him to his face the way he'd been swearing at the listening-taps all week, but the man interrupted, all smiles, to say, "Congratulations on your marriage, Herr Sadler."
Klaus turned purple, but he wouldn't let me leave the apartment while they talked. That is, the Englishman talked. "What a pity you're following me around on your honeymoon. Or is it poor little Caesar Gabriel you're after this time?"
Klaus growled out, "I think you know why I'm here. I trust you are warned against continuing with your plans."
There was a lot more like that. We'd been tapping the Englishman's hotel, it turned out, and at least on my shifts we'd been getting a lot of nothing. I don't know what Klaus had been hearing the rest of the time, but he said he expected the authorities would be told of certain arrangements that were illegal in a god-fearing nation if the gang of thieves (he used a lot of stronger words than thieves) wasn't out of the city by tomorrow.
"But Vienna is such a beautiful city," said the Englishman, in German, and Klaus shouted at him and threw him out. After that Klaus said it was no good using the taps any more and we should pack them up, as he expected us to be able to leave tomorrow.
We put the stuff back into boxes all afternoon, and after dinner I sat around brushing my hair and waiting for a chance to chat with Klaus. He came into the bedroom not too much later, sort of humming, and paid me no attention at all. He put on a black jumpsuit that should be illegal in a god-fearing nation and went out. Without a word!
He came in at dawn, not smiling, since the Major never smiles, but looking satisfied.
Not like a robot. Maybe it was the only time the whole week that he didn't look like one, in fact.
We packed the rest of our things and went back to Bonn, and my application for the Alphabet squad was turned down, but with a nice note from Chief Altmann that said I'd showed good initiative on the operation. And later one of the letter codes asked me out to dinner, and the week after another did, and still neither of them could get anything right for ten minutes at a time.
I wish I knew what happened to the Englishman.