The Roses of the Alp

by Anne-Li

~The Roses of the Alp are no longer white; the blood of love colors them.~

Illustration by Agent S

  Quiet never really reigned in the office. With 27 men at work there, their very breathing prevented total silence. G, H and R added faint sniffles at uneven intervals, courtesy of persistent colds since a mission in Stockholm. U, P and W spoke over the phone, luckily in different corners, as not to disturb each other's conversations. Several others filled in forms or reports; the soft scratches from their pens underlining the room's remaining noises from turned sheets, tapping feet and a chair someone shifted his weight on. Some read up on their next mission. K through N would soon leave to investigate the possible sighting of an internationally wanted arms dealer.

  The lamp above B blinked every ten minutes. He considered changing it before Major von dem Eberbach made his annoyance known. The man himself sat at his desk, eyeing a report as if its very existence insulted his intelligence. The smoke from his cigarettes had used to bother B when B first started working there, but he no longer sensed it. Strangely, none of the Alphabet smoked, at least not in the office. Whenever someone did make a sound louder than a scratch the Major would glare at them. He had grown increasingly more restless lately, something B in his heart of hearts attributed to the uncharacteristic absence of the person otherwise known as The Depraved One. Major Eberbach had even gone as far as start planning an extensive series of training sessions, to be implemented should K through N's scouting fall through. B feverishly hoped that this would not come to pass.

  A knock sounded, startling loud in the stillness, and then the door opened.

  B turned, as did they all. There were many options, some much more welcome than others. The Chief on one of his unscheduled inspections? Though unlikely. Unscheduled or not, G always found out and wore something less feminine than his common garb. Currently he wore his very finest everyday clothes and even B admitted that for a guy G looked cute enough. The start of a new mission, then? They could only hope. A delivery? An unannounced visitor? An eager novice amongst the NATO staff, sent by cruel co-workers to be pitted against NATO's most feared taskmaster? The latter was always good for a laugh - in private and after hours, of course.

  A sombre quintet entered. The door fell shut behind them. All five wore black, black and some more black; from head to shiny shoes. The effect jarred all the more since B was used to these men in gaudy colors - lime green, fresh blood red, royal purple and sky blue, with ruffles, beads, feathers, gold buttons and jewels as if they would go out of fashion. He only knew two of them by name. Bonham, Eroica's second in command, with his round face and moustache, looking every so slightly out of place amongst the Earl's butterfly-pretty men - until he opened his mouth. The man's strong, gilded voice could charm the shyest doe from the forest - at least according to G, who seemed quite enamoured by the silver tongued thief. Then James - or The Nuisance as the Major had dubbed him. His black suit had black patches, stitched on with black thread. His black hair and pale skin would have given him a monochrome look, except for the sharp red of his eyes, like those of a blood-crying vampire. The three nameless men were of standard Eroica supply; tall, slim and pretty, bordering on handsome - two blonds and one brunette. They stood in a half-circle behind James, who glared towards the Major with such hatred that B wanted to shudder.

  "What do you lot want?" the Major demanded. He marched up to the quintet and eyed them with his proud nose wrinkled in distaste.

  B, not wanting to miss what would happen, rounded Z, Q and H to get a better view. He found himself vying for position with G, but they quickly arranged themselves so that B could see over G's shoulder.

  The black clad men all watched the Major, but none of them answered him. Not that he gave them much time to oblige, before smashing his right fist into the wall. "Well? Why are you here? And why isn't the fop with you?"

  Whereupon the Nuisance promptly cried out and burst into tears. The brunette quickly knelt, turned the diminutive man and laid long arms around his shoulders.

  "Answer me before I have you all arrested. And stop that perverted hugging! Where's the Earl of Red Gloria?"

  B noticed the Major's shoulders tense and relax, an ever so faint tick that they all had come to fear, as it usually occurred right before the Magnum was drawn with murderous intent.

  Bonham cleared his throat. "We come to bring you some good news, you miserable sod."

  Green eyes widened. "How dare you address me like that?!" The Major's right fist unfolded - something that could have been a good sign in other men, but merely heralded the lifting of his gun.

  "Do you want to hear what we came here to say or not, loud mouth?" This voice of Bonham's wasn't the one that could charm squirrels from their hideouts, but rather the one that could make them drop dead to the ground.

  The voice seemed to work reasonably well on Majors too, for Major von dem Eberbach stared at Eroica's SIC in shock when he otherwise likely would have attacked fists first. "What?" he said in a somewhat calmer, if cautious, manner. "He finally found himself a husband?"

  When Bonham spoke again, though, his honey warm tones made everyone listen. "Our Lord, he ... God knows what he was thinking, you overgrown closet case, but he had gotten into his blond noggin to court you with wine and flowers. Mosel wine, of course - Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr, for the sake of your eyes. And no ordinary flowers - no, Edelweiss, of course, fresh from the mountain and plucked by his very own hand, nothing else would do to prove his love for you."

  As Bonham paused, Major von dem Eberbach rallied. "Ha! Roses and wine. As if that would sway me! Pervert! I'm not a woman for him to sweep off my feet! Where's the fop now, then? Are you here to kidnap me? Not setting up a picnic, is he? I'll make him regret the day he ever thought up such degenerate, foppish nonsense!"

  "Oh shut your trap, soldier boy. He climbed Mount Ahwer for an Edelweiss, for he thought it might impress you. He could be an idiot sometime, but he were our idiot, right, and we did all we could for him. But we couldn't help him then. He fell, all right? He fell and now he's gone and at least we'll never have to pretend not to hear him cry over your ice cold stone of a heart any longer."

  The Major visibly swayed. "Fell?" he repeated, as if the word might have changed its meaning since last he had heard it.

  "Your bloody painting is back at your Schloss, all right?"

  To B's mounting astonishment the Major swayed again - this time putting a hand to the wall to steady himself. "But ... the painting ..."

  "He let you keep a copy and you never saw the difference, did you, you uneducated twit? You can come by North Downs for your leopard tank. Within the month, if you want it back, or off it goes with the rest of the furniture."

  James wailed and one of the blonds knelt by the brunette, joining in the effort to calm him.

  "He wanted you to have both of them or I'd have burned them myself. Us he bequeathed to Ceasar Gabriel, he thought the lad has the making of a good thief if he just sets his mind to it. So, we'll be off. Good riddance to you, Uncle NATO, I curse the day his Lordship ever lusted for your lanky carcass." With that, Bonham turned and reached for the door.

  "Wait!" Major von dem Eberbach cried out, with a high note to his voice that B had never heard before. "What-what about, about the-the funeral? I must-- He-- I-- When--"

  Bonham whirled back. "If it was up to me, you would not be welcome there. As it happens, there will be no funeral. His Lordship was never recovered."

  The Major paled further. "You left him in the snow, by the mountain side?! What kind of subordinates--"

  "We never found his body."

  Another wail from James drowned out the first words of the Major's response. "--he is dead then?! He might still be up there! He might have lost his memory, hitting his head and not remembering who he is! You incompetent fools! He must be found, right away! Z! A through F, prepare to depart! H, arrange the trip to Mount Ahwer! J, you're in charge here while I'm gone. What are you waiting for, you overfed slackers! On your feet! We leave in twenty minutes. I'll be back in five!"

  The Major barrelled past Eroica's men and heartbeats later the door slammed behind him. B breathed out a deep sigh. He looked around, judging the others' reaction. Then he slowly brought his hands together. Once, twice and thrice he clapped. "Hat off, Bonham. That's the best performance I ever saw."

  "Aw, thanks, mate. I did my best, I did. Felt rather good, to tell you all the truth, getting to tell him some things I've been meaning to say for quite a bit now."

  James wailed again and the second blond joined his friends.

  "We better leave before he gets back. Remember now, when you reach the cabin, let soldier boy in first, then pull the stilts out. They're marked in green, so you can't go wrong. Careful, mind you, that you don't get caught in the snow. Yell there's an avalanche or something and jump back. His Lordship'll take care of the rest. They have supplies for a week, so no need to bother them until then."

  B nodded. He felt confident that the adventure would be a success and the dreaded training sessions put on an indefinite pause. To hunt for Majors was no easy feat, but they had set the trap well and the bait had a vested interest.

Illustration by Leah, age 10