AUTHOR’S NOTE: My direct knowledge of emergency procedures in the State of Kansas is non-existent. I have taken serious liberties and consolidated several services for the sake of the story. I am, however, very familiar with the customs of the US (The airport codes are for real.) and all the wonderful stereotypes included herein.
The Iron Man & The Prince
By Margaret Price
DEAD MAN WALKING
A lone BMW raced along a country road in Kansas, far in excess of the posted speed limit, its ultimate destination several hours away. Before it could get there, however, it still had to reach the Interstate highway several miles further on. It was early afternoon, but the sky was growing dark with a gathering thunderstorm, mirroring the Major’s current mood.
“I’m never gonna forgive the Chief for sending me to this Godforsaken country again,” the Major growled. He threw an angry glance over at Eroica. “With you!”
Eroica simply rolled his eyes. “Major, I don’t know what you’re complaining about,” he replied calmly. “Your mission was completed with only a minor hiccup.”
“Minor! You call being booked at the wrong bloody airport a minor hiccup?”
“Well, I’m not the one who didn’t know there were two Kansas Cities, was I?” the Earl replied coolly.
“There’s only one Kansas City Airport.”
“So, what’s the problem then?”
The Major threw him an annoyed scowl. “The idiots had us flying out of Orlando, Florida, over a thousand bloody miles away!”
“What? How the hell did that happen?”
“Some damned fool put the wrong Goddamn airport code in. Instead of MCI, they put in MCO. When I find out who it was, they’re gonna be on the first plane to Alaska.”
“I’m sure they know that airport code,” Eroica said aridly.
“I should’ve known something like this would happen! Whenever you’re around, things always get fucked up one way or the other.”
Eroica sighed heavily. He’d heard it all before. “Major, if you could, you’d be blaming me for the weather. Anyway, it’s all straightened out, isn’t it? The airport’s just across the river.”
Just across the bloody Missouri River, probably at fucking rush hour, that’s all! The Major threw another angry glare in his direction. “I can still drop you off at Leavenworth.”
“Major, that wasn’t funny the first time.” Eroica folded his arms. “And don’t get mad at me because your contact lives in the middle of Nowhere, Kansas!” He received an indignant snort in reply. “Wouldn’t it’ve been easier for him to come to you rather than the other way round?”
The Major allowed himself a small smirk, but did not take his eyes off the road again. The clouds overhead were boiling now, dark and sinister. He could see lightning flashes starting in the distance. He knew what this meant, and had hoped he could outrun the storm before it turned into something more deadly. Unfortunately, the storm front was moving in faster than ever.
“That wouldn’t’ve given the others enough time to get to Washington,” the officer said cryptically.
The Major chanced a quick sideways glance in the thief’s direction. “They’re not the decoy, Lord Gloria. We are.”
“Agent Z isn’t taking reports to NATO. He’s taking the information we came after.”
Eroica’s mouth dropped open. “Are you saying…?”
“While the KGB waits patiently for Iron Klaus to return to Kansas City in the hopes of stealing whatever you may have procured for me, the real documents will’ve been safely delivered already.”
Eroica found himself at a loss for words. He never imagined that Iron Klaus would use himself as a decoy. But then again, neither would the KGB, which was probably the very reason the Major had done it. Before the Earl could think of anything to say, he was startled by a solid thump on the roof of the car. “What the hell…?”
Eroica’s eyes grew wide. “Hail? That size?” Chucks of ice were suddenly raining down around them, the smallest of which were the size of golf balls.
The Major did not reply. He was now too busy trying to keep the car on the road against the gusting wind. He looked in the rearview mirror, and then straight ahead. “Fuck.” The storm seemed to be surrounding them.
“What is it, Major?”
“We need to find shelter.”
This was not the reply the Earl expected. “Shelter? You’re not thinking of running through a hail storm, are you?”
“Hail is the least of our problems,” the Major replied, glancing in the mirror again.
Eroica turned to look out the back window, wondering what the Major could see that concerned him. All he saw was more black storm clouds. Then he jumped when a chunk of hail shattered the back window. “Bloody hell!” He turned around in his seat. “Can’t you outrun it?” he asked nervously.
“That would be extremely unwise.”
The car swerved suddenly, sending the Earl back against the door. “Major!”
“Look up there,” the Major snapped, nodding up ahead.
Eroica did, seeing a black cloud taking on a shape he had only seen on film. “Christ.”
“Have you ever been through a tornado?”
Eroica shook his head. “No. Have you?”
“Yes, several years ago.”
“Marvelous.” The Earl suddenly noticed why the Major had swerved so unexpectedly. They were heading up a drive to a large farmhouse. Shelter. Isn’t that what he had said? They needed to find shelter. Well, at least the hail stopped.
“Hang on,” the Major said as he hit the brakes, bringing the car to a skidding halt. It had barely stopped when the German was out the door. “Come on,” he ordered, looking up at the sky again.
“Are we going to break in?” Eroica asked nervously. It wasn’t the thought of breaking in that made him nervous. It was the thought that Americans in rural areas tended to have guns. They also tended to use them to shoot intruders.
“We’ll ask, very nicely, if we can hide in the cellar,” the Major replied tersely.
“You are joking.”
“You idiot—” The Major broke off when a siren suddenly sounded. He turned in the direction of the noise. Then he grabbed the Earl by the arm and pulled him toward the house. “That’s the tornado warning.”
“And that’s the tornado,” Eroica gasped, pointing in the direction they had been heading.
The Major turned to look, his eyes widening when he saw a second funnel cloud dropping to the ground. Then it started moving very near the first. If they came together, they would be even more deadly. The Dead Man Walking. He learned that the last time…
“Come on, we need to get inside.” By this time, the Major had to shout over the sound of the wind.
It took the combined efforts of both men to get the front door of the house open against the pressure of the wind. “Cellar,” the Major called. “Find the cellar.”
Eroica saw a door and pointed. “There!”
This time the door flew open in the Major’s hand, banging loudly against the wall. The pair were greeted by the startled screams of several children. A woman suddenly appeared at the bottom of the stairs, took one look at the strangers, and waved a hand for them to come down. “Hurry!”
“Have everyone get under something heavy!” the Major called down to her.
“I saw two tornados coming together. The dead man walking,” the Major said as he started down the stairs.
Eroica gave the Major a bewildered look. The woman, on the other hand, let out an alarmed cry and gathered up the children, herding them away from the stairs and further into the safety of the cellar.
Eroica made to follow, only to find he could not move forward. In fact, he was being pulled in the opposite direction. He grabbed at the doorjamb and held on for dear life. “Major!”
The Major was already hanging onto the railing with both hands and leaned against it before turning back. Eroica was straining against the forces trying to drag him away. The Major reached out and the Earl grabbed his wrist. Then he struggled to grab on with his other hand. Suddenly his feet were being lifted off the floor.
“Major, don’t let go!”
“Don’t you bloody well let go!” the Major called back, pulling with all his might to drag the Earl to safety. He wedged his body into the corner of the narrow stairwell in order to prop his feet against the wall. He hoped this would give him better leverage without being sucked out himself. If he could wedge himself in tight enough, he would be able to reach out with his other hand…
“Major, my hands are slipping!”
The Major looked up, his eyes locking with Eroica’s. A split second later, the Earl was pulled from his hand by the unrelenting forces of the storm. He felt the other man’s nails gouging into the back of his hand as he was torn from his grasp.
The last thing the Major saw before the world came crashing down around him was the horrified expression on the Earl’s face as he was carried out the front door.
* * *
The first thing Klaus became aware of as he slowly returned to his senses was small bits of dirt falling onto his face. The second was pain all over his body. The third was the reason for the first two. He was completely buried in debris. Then he heard muffled voices coming from above and wondered if this was what had returned him to reality. He looked around himself as best he could in the darkness, taking stock of his situation and possible injuries. He seemed to be trapped rather than actually injured, which was good, considering a three-story farmhouse seemed to have completely collapsed on top of him.
Klaus very carefully tried to move. His left arm seemed to be trapped under some boards, but his right arm was free. His hand came in contact with what seemed to be a stone wall that he was wedged up against. He wondered if he’d fallen through the floor, or had been thrown from the stairwell and up against it. Either way, it appeared to have protected him against the majority of the rubble.
The voices called again, closer this time. They seemed to be looking for survivors. Well, he certainly fit the bill and called out as best he could. Breathing with all the dust in the air was a challenge. There was a reply followed by the sound of debris being pulled aside.
Klaus held up his free arm, shielding his eyes from the dirt falling in on him as whoever was trying to get at him did so without bringing the rest of the house down at the same time. After a few minutes, he could see daylight. Then a woman’s face was looking down at him through a small opening.
“Are you hurt?” she asked.
“I don’t seem to be,” Klaus replied calmly. “Never mind me. There are children down here.”
“I know. I’m Louise Turner. This is—was—my house,” the woman informed shakily. “We got out through the ground entrance.”
“Yes. You saved our lives and I don’t even know your name.”
“Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach.”
Louise blinked. “That’s a mouthful. What was your first name again?”
“Klaus.” The last thing he needed was to get into his military rank while he was buried under a house. He’d worry about all that when he was above ground.
“I sent one of the older boys for help,” Louise was saying. “You look like you’ve got most of my house on top of you.”
Klaus sighed heavily but did not reply.
“Is your friend okay?”
“He was pulled out of my hands before your house collapsed.”
Klaus heard the woman catch her breath. To her credit, she did not tell him there was little hope of finding the Earl alive. Or of even finding him at all.
The Major found himself wondering if he could reach his cigarettes. He really needed a smoke. Then another thought struck him. “Has the gas been turned off?” he asked suddenly. “I’d prefer not to be blown up after being buried alive.”
“Oh, God! I never thought of that.” Louise looked around, trying to get her bearings in the now unfamiliar area. “Klaus, right?”
“Will you alright if I leave you?”
Where the hell am I gonna go? “Just leave something to mark the spot so you know where I am.”
Louise looked down the opening and wished she could see the face that went with the calm voice. Did he look as calm as he sounded? “You sound like you’ve been buried under a house before,” she remarked.
“I’ve had…survival training,” Klaus replied evasively.
“That explains it.” Louise found a curtain that had once covered her kitchen windows. She tied it to a board that was sticking straight up near the opening. “There. I’ll know right where to find you.”
Klaus listened as the woman carefully made her way away from him. He could hear the other voices. Most of them sounding like children.
As he waited for Louise to return—hopefully with someone to dig him out—Klaus once again took stock of his situation. Now that he had more light, he was able to see where he was trapped. He was lying, more or less, on the collapsed stairway. There were several beams that looked like they may have been main supports for the house that were tented over him, having acted as a roof and shielding him from the crushing weight of the house. He found he could just move his legs. Were it not for the fact that his left arm was pinned under something, he would have been able to wriggle free from the tiny space. That is, of course, assuming the area above his head wasn’t also blocked with debris.
* * *
Several hours after the house collapsed on top of him, a group of rescuers was carefully digging the Major free. The boy Louise had sent for help had returned with an ambulance crew and a truck full of volunteers.
After several minutes, Klaus was free enough to be able to slide out from under the support beams and far enough for his rescuers to pull him the rest of the way out. A moment later, he was being helped from the cellar. Even he marveled at how remarkably unscathed he was. He looked around as he climbed up to the surface, his eyes taking in the devastation.
Debris was everywhere, the remnants of the wood frame house strewn about like matchsticks. His rented car, which had been in the middle of the driveway, was now crushed beneath an enormous oak tree several metres from where he had left it.
“It’s like a war zone, isn’t it?” a paramedic who had identified himself as Nathan said as he led the Major to the back of an ambulance.
“Minus the smell of gunpowder, yes,” the officer replied knowingly.
Nathan gave him a quizzical look. Louise had said that Klaus had been remarkably calm the whole time, which made the paramedic wonder if he were in shock. He held out a hand, and told the Major to take a seat. “Let me have a look at that arm, okay?” he said mildly.
Klaus nodded and sat where indicated. He started to remove his jacket and winced. Aside from the obvious injury to his left arm, he was certain he had cuts and bruises all over his body, and had very probably pulled his shoulder when he was trying to drag the Earl to safety.
“Let me do that. Your arm might be—” Nathan broke off, his eyes widening.
Klaus gave the man a bewildered look. Then he followed his gaze to his gun.
“Are you a cop?” Nathan asked nervously.
This was a new voice and Klaus looked up to see a man, who turned out to be the local Sheriff, standing several metres away. He looked like a stereotypical small town Sheriff, all the way down to the toothpick between his teeth. His gun was still holstered, but the Major noticed that the safety strap had been removed and the man’s hand was resting on the grip. This was the first thing to impress the officer since his arrival in the United States.
“Major,” Klaus replied calmly. He nodded at the jacket that Nathan had just finished removing. “My identification is in the inside pocket.”
Nathan surrendered the jacket to the Sheriff before going on to check the Major’s arm, pulling a sharp cry of pain from him. Klaus turned back to glare at him.
“Sorry. I think you may have a broken arm,” Nathan said as he pushed up the Major’s sleeve, revealing a livid bruise on his left forearm.
“I expect I look like that all over,” the Major remarked aridly.
The Sheriff was checking over the Major’s ID and looked up in some surprise. “You’re a long way from home, son,” he remarked.
Klaus winced. Great. Now I’m going to get the good old boy routine. He took back his jacket and pulled out his cigarettes. The pack was completely crushed. “Scheiße!”
“Here.” The Sheriff held out a pack of cigarettes. “They’re nothing fancy.”
“So long as it burns,” the Major replied tersely, taking the offering and accepting the light. As he did so, Nathan remarked on the scratches on the back of his hand. “I had a civilian contractor with me. He was pulled out of my hands just before the building collapsed.”
Nathan and the Sheriff exchanged a knowing look, both thinking they were going to have to break the news to Klaus gently that his friend was very likely dead. There was also the likelihood that he would never be found.
Before either man could say anything, the Major went on to say, “I assume you have a morgue set up somewhere?”
Now the look the men exchanged was one of incredulity.
Klaus took a drag on his cigarette. “I’m not new to death or tornados,” he stated flatly.
“Apparently not,” Nathan remarked, turning to look at the Sheriff. “Louise said he told her that he saw the dead man walking.”
The Sheriff’s eyebrows went up upon hearing this. When multiple tornado funnels merge into one large F-5, it’s known as "The Dead Man Walking." Indian legend had it that if you see this in a tornado that is approaching you, you are going to die. “You saw that?”
“Not quite. They were close enough together to assume the worst.”
“Good thing, Major,” Nathan replied. He went on to tell the Sheriff that if the Major had not warned the others, they would have been directly under the majority of the debris and would most certainly have been killed.
“Seems you’re a hero, Major,” the Sheriff observed.
“Hero.” Klaus gave a snort. “I think your country is trying to kill me.”
The Sheriff gave a laugh. “Nathan is Major—?” He interrupted himself, asking, “What was your name again?”
“Just Major will do.”
“Suit yerself.” The Sheriff turned to Nathan. “If X-rays is all the Major needs, I can take him to the hospital for you. Dispatch just called in. All the houses on Trade Road were flattened.”
“Jesus,” Nathan sighed. He finished putting an air-splint on the Major’s arm and then he helped him down from the back of the ambulance. “He’s all yours, Sheriff.” He slammed the doors to the ambulance shut. “I’ll probably see you later, Major,” he added before striding over to the other rescuers who were in the process of rounding everyone up to go to the next site.
“This way,” the Sheriff said as he led the way to his car. “I expect once they get your arm fixed up you’ll end up at the Evac-Center.”
“Evac-Center?” the Major repeated.
“That’s what the kids call it. It’s just the main shelter,” the Sheriff grinned. In order to keep the hospital from being overwhelmed, people with injuries that were not life-threatening were being sent to a designated shelter after they were treated. In this case, it was the local high school. “They’ll be able to fix y’ up with some clean clothes, too.”
The Major gave a small grunt. “I already have some.” He nodded in the direction of his crushed BMW. “But getting to them is problematic.”
The Sheriff could not help but chuckle. “It’ll be a day or two before we can get that outta there.” He gave the Major a sideways glance. “Once the boys with the chainsaws start the clean up.”
The Major nodded. “Where do I register a missing person’s report?” he asked as he got into the car.
“For your friend?”
Friend! Damn the bloody idiot for getting himself killed in a fucking tornado. Yes, Eroica, I do blame the weather on you!
“You can give me all the particulars, Major,” the Sheriff said as he got in. “Just don’t expect to hear back for a while.”
The Major gave him a dark look but did not reply. He was keenly aware of the fact that it would be some time before he would hear anything definite. The Earl wouldn’t be the only person missing.
Klaus also needed to get hold of his superiors and let them knew where he was and what had happened. Unfortunately, nearly all the phone lines were down, power was out in the majority of the town, and emergency services were swamped with calls, which meant he was going to have to ask this hayseed Sheriff for help. Then he would have to try to find the one man he had been hoping would vanish off the face of the earth for years.
There truly was no God.
* * *
IRON KLAUS, GUARD DOG
The Major was not surprised to find the hospital overrun with casualties of the storm. He did find himself impressed at how organized everything was. He had seen numerous so-called Emergency Plans fall apart when finally put into practical use. Someone had obviously thought this one through. As soon as he arrived, his condition was assessed and he was given a color-coded tag indicating the severity of his injuries.
It turned out his arm wasn’t broken. Just very badly bruised. As he suspected, he had pulled his shoulder and was given something for the pain as well as some antibiotics. Then he was put with a group of others to be taken to the Evac-Center.
The only good point in all this that the Major could see was he was able to procure some halfway decent cigarettes while he was waiting. Another group of volunteers brought food for everyone, and it was only then that Klaus realized how long it had been since he had last eaten.
It was dark by the time the Major arrived at the Evac-Center and he dreaded thinking about how many hours he’d wasted sitting at the hospital. The Sheriff suddenly appeared out of nowhere and pulled him from the group.
“I have some news for you, Major,” the Sheriff said as he steered the officer across the school gymnasium. “Dispatch was able to get hold of your people in Washington, so they know where you are.”
The Major’s eyebrows went up. “Are the phones working?”
“No. They used a radio relay.” The Sheriff gave the Major an appraising look. “They said you’re some kind of security expert.”
The Major gave the man a sideways glance. “I’m an intelligence officer.”
“No shit!” the Sheriff laughed. “Like in the movies?”
Klaus gave a derisive snort. “No. Is your job like in the movies?”
The Sheriff laughed again. “Hell, no! It’s borin’ as all get out.”
“Except today, eh, JT?” a woman injected from behind them.
The Major turned, seeing a woman in her late-forties smiling up at them. She had her gray streaked brown hair pulled back in a short pony tail and was dressed in blue jeans and a sweatshirt that had the sleeves pushed up to her elbows. She looked as though she were ready to do any job that was thrown her way, which, as it turned out, she was.
The Sheriff turned and smiled. “Just the gal I was lookin’ for. Major, meet Martha Thompson, the heart and soul of the Evac-Center.”
“Martha, this is the Major.”
“Major what?” Martha replied with a grin.
“Don’t ask,” the Sheriff said quickly. “His name’s a real mouthful. He just likes ta be called Major.”
“Okie dokie, just Major it is.”
Klaus gave a small sigh and told himself not to lose his temper. He smiled with effort before asking why the Sheriff had dragged him away from the others.
“Ah, yeah, that brings up another point,” the Sheriff said hesitantly. “I was wonderin’, Major, if you wouldn’t mind acting as…well, sort of an unofficial security guard for the Evac-Center?”
The Major’s eyes grew wide. This was the last thing he expected.
“Security guard? You really think that’s necessary, JT?” Obviously, Martha did not think the center required security.
“There’s always someone ready to take advantage of a bad situation,” the Major replied knowingly.
Martha gave a disgusted snort. “Well, I don’t know where you come from, Major, but around here, we look after our neighbors.”
The Sheriff held up his hands. “It’s just till I can get this mess sorted out,” he said quickly. “I’m spread pretty thin tonight.” He turned to the woman glaring up at him. “Get the Major situated, Martha. Then you and I can talk about this, okay?” He waved a hand in the Major’s direction. “They pulled him outta Louise Turner’s place this afternoon and he hasn’t even had a chance t’ get cleaned up yet.”
Martha’s face suddenly lit up. “That was you!” She gave the Sheriff a playful swat on the arm. “JT, why didn’t you say so to begin with?” She turned, waving to the Major to follow. “Come on, we’ll get you fixed up just right.”
Klaus dreaded to speculate what this might mean and was surprised when he was shown into an office that had a cot in it.
“This is the Coach’s office,” Martha explained. “I guess if you’re gonna be our unofficial security, you probably should have some privacy.” She indicated another doorway. “That leads to the boys locker room and showers.” She lowered her voice as if someone might overhear. “If you hurry, you’ll be able to get ‘em to yourself. We won’t be opening ‘em to the public until tomorrow morning.”
The Major looked around the room and nodded approvingly. Spartan yet functional. Just what he required. “Thank you, Ms. Thompson.”
“Oh, aren’t you the gentleman,” Martha laughed. “Martha, please.” She did not wait for a reply and gave his ruined suit and appraising look. “I expect you’ll be needin’ a change of clothes. We have a lot of donated things…”
Klaus was already imagining every communicable disease ever discovered infesting the donated clothing.
“A group of volunteers has been washing clothes most of the day. There’s boxes in the locker room, separated by size. There’re towels on the benches. And there’s supposed to be a box of shaving supplies, but I haven’t had the chance to check on that.” Martha gave the Major another small smile before leaving, closing the door behind herself.
The Major sank into the chair behind the desk and sighed heavily before going on to light a cigarette. “Iron Klaus, unofficial guard dog,” he muttered darkly. “Bloody fucking marvelous.”
* * *
After a shower and change of clothes, Klaus felt a little more human again, although he was not pleased with the number of bruises that covered his body. Notwithstanding his pulled shoulder, he was going to be very stiff and sore for a while. He looked at the painkillers he’d been given at the hospital and then tossed them in the trashcan. He would take the antibiotics, nothing more.
Before showering, he had planned to check every entrance to the locker room to make certain no one would walk in on him while he was…exposed. Instead, he discovered there was a private shower in the Coach’s office that Martha apparently knew nothing about.
He gave the locker room a once over anyway, then looked at the collection of neatly folded clothing, carefully sorting through it. Some of the items were still warm from the dryer and had the smell of fresh linen. He found what looked like a jogging suit, sweat pants and zippered jacket, in his size, and then found a shirt to go under it. He looked over his selections and nodded approvingly. Now he would be able to wear his gun without scaring the hell out of everyone in the building.
When Klaus returned to the gymnasium, he was surprised to see how many people had appeared in the short time he was getting cleaned up. He looked over at Martha, who was having an intense conversation with the woman the Major would soon learn was Louise Turner.
Suddenly the officer found himself the center of attention, which was not a position he enjoyed, especially when the attention was from this many females. Before he could extract himself, Louise Turner said, “Klaus, did you hear anything about your friend?”
There was a titter of amusement from the others in response to this.
“You have a friend! Is he as handsome as you?”
“Oh, hush,” Louise snapped. “I’m being serious.”
“So am I.”
Martha suddenly seemed to appear out of nowhere. “That’s enough, girls.” She took the Major by the arm. “JT left some papers for you, Major. Right this way,” she said as she steered the stunned officer away from the group.
“Papers?” the dazed Klaus said once he found his voice.
Martha grinned. “I made that up. You looked like you needed rescuing,” she said calmly. “After your day, I reckon you’d just as soon get some sleep.”
The Major nodded. That he would. He could not quite believe it was still the same day. He felt as if he had been on a week-long mission in the space of twenty-four hours. “I’m not sure what the Sheriff expects me to do for you,” he said slowly.
Martha laughed. “I said the same thing. He just wants you to keep the kids from banging each others heads together when they get bored, that’s all.”
“Wonderful.” Iron Klaus, guard dog and babysitter. This was getting worse and worse.
“They won’t get rowdy until they’ve been cooped up for a day or two. And by then, things should be straightened out enough for you not to have to worry about it,” Martha said knowingly. She held up a hand. “Here. The key to the office.”
The Major took the key and pocketed it. “Thank you,” he said dully.
“You get some sleep, Major. You look like you could use it.”
Klaus nodded. That he did. With luck, the phone lines would be repaired the next day and he would be able to find out exactly what he was supposed to do. Remain to carry out a possibly fruitless search for the Earl, or return to Bonn and let the Americans handle it.
* * *
The morning brought far too much noise from squealing, crying children for the Major’s liking. He soon realized why the high school had been chosen as the main evacuation shelter. There was plenty of room in the gymnasium, ample toilet and shower facilities, as well as a good-sized cafeteria for food preparation and distribution.
When he went to see what might be considered edible for breakfast, he was amazed when someone managed to scrounge up a jar of Nescafé for him. The Major wasn’t sure if this was because he was supposed to be security or because he was being looked upon as a local hero. Either way, he was grateful not to have to endure what was currently being passing off as coffee. He decided he would endure the hero worship a little longer when it earned him a personalized breakfast and a carton of cigarettes. Now, if he could just figure out how to keep the tittering females at bay.
Just walking toward the noisy gymnasium was enough to give the Major a headache. He found himself questioning his decision to throw away the painkillers. He went outside to smoke, leaning against the building and taking in the bright, clear day that was so markedly different from only twenty-four hours earlier.
“You sick of it in there, too?” a voice said from nearby.
Klaus merely grunted as a boy who was probably only sixteen walked over to him.
“Yeah, me, too.”
Klaus lit a cigarette and noticed the boy looking longingly at him. “No,” he said firmly as he put the cigarettes back into his pocket.
The boy kicked at grass with the toe of his shoe. “It’s bad enough I gotta come here with my baby sister,” he moaned, “but I can’t even score any action.”
Klaus rolled his eyes, silently puffing at his cigarette.
“Y’know what I mean, man?”
“No,” Klaus said coldly. “I’m not here to score any action.”
“Good thing. That new guy has all the girls gooey-eyed.” The boy wiggled his fingers and made a face before going back to kicking at the dirt. “You hear what they’re callin’ him? Prince Charming? Can you believe it?”
Klaus was hoping this meant the females who had been dogging him the previous evening now had a new target. Then he heard the boy say, “Just because he’s got some fancy English accent they go all—”
“English accent?” the Major snapped. “What does he look like?”
“Who do you think, idiot? Bloody Prince Charming that you’ve been whining to me about.”
“What do you care?”
The Major gave a low growl and the boy took a step back. “Hey, man, I don’t want any trouble.”
“Good. Where is this…Prince Charming?”
* * *
Apparently, “Prince Charming” was holding court in one of the classrooms that was being used for those with minor injuries. There were several cots set up in each room. After hearing the description, Klaus had no doubt that Prince Charming was the missing Earl of Gloria, who had apparently arrived some time during the night after being pulled from a swimming pool.
The Major looked in one room after another, finally finding the one he wanted. Then he stood in the doorway, staring in a stunned silence. The man in question was indeed the missing Earl. He was sitting up in bed, covered with bandages, battered, bruised, and surrounded by women. Women? Fawning, gushing females were lavishing attention on the unprotesting Earl of Gloria. What the hell?
“Oh, you poor, poor man,” one of the woman was saying as she took a glass from the Earl’s hand. “What a terrible experience.”
“Yes, I suppose it must’ve been,” Dorian replied mildly.
Klaus scowled. Must’ve been? He was all the more bewildered when the Earl looked up at him, acknowledging his presence with only a small smile. “Is that all the greeting I get, Lord Gloria?” he asked as he entered, giving the women a disgusted look.
Dorian’s eyes grew wide and he sat up, suddenly seeming to forget his ardent admirers. “Do you know me?” he asked firmly.
Klaus gave a derisive snort. “You’re joking?”
The Earl’s eyes had a lost, helpless look that the Major had never seen before. Nor did his voice sound quite right. It lacked its usual edge of self-assurance, and there was a pleading quality to it that Klaus found very unnerving.
“I don’t know who I am,” Dorian was saying. “Nobody seems to know who I am.” He gave the Major a searching look. “Please, do you really know me?”
Several things flashed through the Major’s mind in the space of a few seconds. Eroica without a memory! Here was his chance to humiliate the Earl beyond reason. To turn him into a man. To mold him into a productive member of society. Then when—if—he got his memory back, he would hate him with every fiber of his being and leave him alone. Forever!
Klaus looked into the enormous blue eyes staring pleadingly at him and sighed heavily. “You are Dorian Red Gloria, the Earl of Gloria,” he stated flatly.
This caused a great deal of excitement among the Earl’s assembled worshipers.
“We were right, you are royalty!”
“Oh, an Earl. How romantic!”
“I like Prince Charming better.”
Dorian waved a hand for silence, repeating his own name to himself and shaking his head. It did not sound in the least familiar. “And you are…?”
“Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach.”
Again, the women reacted with titters and remarks about the Major’s military rank.
Klaus rolled his eyes. “Lord Gloria, if we could dispense with your…harem?” This remark received giggles of approval that made his skin crawl.
Dorian responded with a dazzling smile. This, at least, was no different. He turned to his admirers. “If you could excuse us, ladies?” he said politely.
The Major stepped aside as the group left the room. Then he closed the door, giving the Earl a steady look. “You had better not be playing me for a fool, Eroica,” he said coldly.
Dorian frowned. “I thought you said my name was Dorian.”
“Eroica is your…professional name.” Klaus took a seat and lit a cigarette. The Earl’s bewilderment seemed genuine, but he was not going to take this at face value. He was, after all, an excellent actor. “You remember nothing?”
Dorian shook his head and then regretted it, a hand going to his head. “Oh, my head is killing me.” He leaned back and closed his eyes. “I have a lovely bump on the back of my head that they tell me might be why I don’t remember anything.”
“What do you remember?”
“I remember waking up wet.”
Klaus scowled. “Wet?”
“I seem to’ve landed in someone’s swimming pool with very little clothing and a lot of wood.”
“You don’t remember the tornado?”
“Or being carried off?”
“No.” Dorian’s eyebrows went up. “I was carried off?”
Klaus held up the hand bearing the scratches. “You were pulled out of my hand.”
Dorian put a hand to his mouth, his eyes growing wide. “I did that?”
Dorian took hold of the Major’s hand to get a closer look at the scratches. It was all Klaus could do not to snatch his hand away. The Earl compared the scratches to the fingers of his own hand and then shook his head. “I don’t remember. I just don’t…” He sighed heavily, letting go of the Major’s hand. “They said I’ll probably remember in a day or two. That…something familiar will…” He shook his head again. “But nothing seems familiar.”
“That’s not surprising,” the Major remarked. “You’re not from here. We were just passing through and got caught in the storm.”
Dorian’s eyebrows went up. “That explains it, I suppose.” He gave the Major a searching look. “You really do know me?”
The Major had to fight not to voice his opinion on this. “We…work together from time to time,” he said evasively. He got to his feet. “You should rest.”
“Klaus…” Dorian broke off when a dark look came the other man’s face. “That’s your name, isn’t it?” he asked nervously.
“You call me Major.”
“Yes. We are not friends, Lord Gloria,” the Major stated flatly. He stopped short of telling him why, and that he hated him with every fiber of his being and wished him dead.
“Oh,” Dorian replied meekly. “I’m sorry if I offended you, Major.”
The Major’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Do you have a place to sleep?” he heard himself asking. Then he wanted to kick himself. The idiot will jump all over that one. To his amazement, the Earl did not respond with his usual indecent proposals and innuendo.
“They want me to stay in here for a bit.” Dorian replied mildly. He gave a small smile. “It’s supposed to be quieter, but the ladies…”
The Major rolled is eyes. “I have to check the other rooms,” he said as he turned to the door. “I’m supposed to be security here.”
“Will you…come back later?”
Dorian saw an angry look pass over the Major’s face. He could not help wondering if they were enemies. He tried to push this terrifying thought out of his head. Alone with no memory and with an enemy. He ended up giving the Major a confused look. “I…um…”
“Rest,” Klaus ordered. “We’ll talk later.”
Dorian watched as the man vanished through the door. “Later, Major.” He struggled to place the man’s face in his mind. Struggled to remember something, anything, beyond waking up cold, sore, and soaking wet. Nothing. He sighed heavily and curled up under the blanket. Perhaps if he got some sleep he would remember something. Hopefully.
* * *
THE PIED PIPER
When Klaus returned to the treatment room, he found the Earl sound asleep and nodded approvingly. At least without a memory the idiot did as he was told. He went back to the office that had been given to him as a room, hoping that the phones might be working. They were not.
The Sheriff appeared at some point in the afternoon and Klaus was able to get more information out of him. Power was being restored, the phone lines might be back in operation by that evening, and the National Guard was supposed to be on the way to assist with the clean up efforts.
The Major then informed the Sheriff that he had located the missing Earl.
“Damn, Major!” the Sheriff exclaimed. “You do good work.”
Klaus scowled but did not reply directly. “Is there a way of getting word to my superiors? I need to arrange transportation out of here.”
“You gettin’ tired of us already, Major?”
The Major resisted the urge to tell him that he was tired of them the moment he entered the man’s jurisdiction, reminding himself that he still needed his assistance. “I have a job to do, too, Sheriff.”
“Don’t you worry, Major. We’ll get you on your way as soon as the roads are cleared.”
This was not a promising response, but it would have to do. Klaus sighed heavily as the Sheriff strode off. He decided to have another cigarette before braving the crowded gymnasium again. Possibly two. Or even the whole pack.
* * *
Klaus flicked the butt of his eighth cigarette away, and turned back to the door to go back inside. He noticed that the noise level seemed to have gone down considerably. Hopefully, this was a good sign. Then he heard what sounded like a large group of children bursting into laughter.
Klaus entered and stopped dead in his tracks. On the far side of the room, he saw Dorian sitting in a chair in front of the bleachers that were occupied by dozens of children. He appeared to be telling them something that they found absolutely hilarious.
Martha was standing several feet away, and the bewildered Major crossed to her. “What’s that all about?” he asked.
“Haven’t you met Prince Charming, Major?” Martha grinned. “He’s quite the story teller.”
“He had the men who brought him here in stitches last night,” Martha explained. “And the kids have all fallen in love with him.”
Klaus gave a derisive snort but did not reply. Martha returned to whatever she had been doing, leaving him to watch the Earl on his own. He moved closer to hear what he was saying and then his eyes grew wide as he heard a very familiar story being told as if it were a fairy tale.
“The Prince was very afraid of the Iron Man,” Dorian was saying, “but he had to rescue his true love lest they be devoured.” There were a few horrified gasps from the smaller children. “So the Prince decided to be very cleaver and outwit the Iron Man. He dressed in a uniform, just like the soldiers the Iron Man had and sneaked in—” He lowered his voice. “—very, very quietly.”
Dorian got to his feet and tip-toed back and forth, much to the delight of his now enthralled audience. He lowered his voice further and practically whispered, “Then the Prince sneaked up on the Iron Man…” He grinned as all the children leaned in closer to hear. He made a sweeping motion with his arms, stood up and said loudly, “And snatched his true love away!”
There was a chorus of squeals and screams in response to this. Dorian made a show of running away as he returned to his chair and pretended to drive. “Then the Prince jumped into his sports car and raced away.”
The idea of a Prince driving away in a sports car rather then riding off on a white horse was apparently quite hilarious. The children collapsed into laughter. Someone asked if they got away and Dorian’s face became very serious.
“Oh, the Iron Man doesn’t give up that easily,” Dorian said darkly. “Do you know what he did?” He looked from one to the other, seeing wide eyes and shaking heads. “He followed the Prince in a tank! No, no, don’t laugh. He really did! A great big, shiny piece of polished steel.”
Dorian was pretending to drive again, making a show of looking back at the tank. “The Prince swerved this way and that way as he tried to get away.” He rocked in his chair and almost overbalanced himself. “The Iron Man followed, shooting at the poor Prince and blowing some very nasty holes in the road.”
By this time, Klaus was controlling his temper with visible effort as he listened to the story of the Iron Man and the Prince. He seemed to be the only one not amused by the tale, which wasn’t surprising, since he had apparently been cast in the role of the villain. Lost your memory, indeed, you Goddamn bloody liar.
Dorian was telling of the chase that ended with a collapsed bridge and a stand off between the Prince and the Iron Man. “The Prince was sure the Iron Man would take them both prisoners,” he said in a hushed voice. “He was very angry because the Prince damaged his tank.”
Some of the children covered their eyes, while others squealed in horror. “What did he do?” a small voice cried.
“You’ll never guess,” Dorian said with a bright smile. “He asked the Iron Man to sing.”
“Sing?” came the incredulous reply. This was followed by a chorus of giggles.
“Yes. The Prince knew this would lull the Iron Man into a trance, because his one weakness was that he loved to sing.”
“What did he sing? What did he sing?”
Dorian sat back, a bewildered look on his face. “Um…I don’t know.” The children persisted, demanding to know what the Iron Man sang and the Earl suddenly felt overwhelmed.
“You don’t remember the song?”
Dorian turned sharply at the Major’s quiet inquiry, seeing him standing directly behind him. “It’s only a story, Major,” he said helplessly.
“Is it?” Klaus replied cryptically.
“Tell them he sang das Panzerlied—” The Major broke off, translating, “The Tank Song.”
Dorian gave the officer a confused look and then nodded, turning back to the children. “Quiet, please.” He motioned with his hands. “The Major has very kindly reminded me that the Iron Man sang The Tank Song for the Prince.”
This was met with more laughter followed by demands to hear the song.
“Oh, dear, I was afraid of that,” Dorian remarked quietly. He looked back at the Major. “You wouldn’t happen to know if there really is a Tank Song, would you, Major?”
The Major’s eyes narrowed. “Iron Klaus does not sing for whinny brats, Lord Gloria,” he stated flatly.
Dorian’s eyes widened. Iron Klaus! Iron Man. Oh God, no wonder he looks so annoyed. “It will shut them up,” he said at last.
Klaus gave a low growl. “Fine.” Lost memory or not, I’ll get you for this, Eroica.
Again, Dorian shushed his audience. “Now, children, if you’re very quiet, and ask very nicely, the Major might be good enough to sing The Tank Song for us.”
There were gasps and giggles from the children. Dorian moved to the bleachers and sat down, motioning for quiet. Then in a whisper, he said, “Now, what do we say to the Major?” He put his finger to his lips at the same time.
All the children mirrored the Earl, putting their fingers to their lips before whispering out, “Please.” Some of them fell against Dorian, who gave them a playful shove and continued to grin like a fool.
The Major watched this performance in a stunned silence and found himself wondering if the Piped Piper had spirited away the children of Hameln in the same manner.
Finding himself committed, Klaus drew a deep breath and grudgingly sang the three verses of das Panzerlied that he knew. When he finished, he received applause not just from the children, but also from the adults who were watching nearby. He fought to keep his temper, giving the Earl a steady look. “Then what happened?” he asked coldly.
Dorian had to struggle to remember where he was in story. “Uh…then…then…Oh! Yes, of course. Then the Prince and his true love were able to escape.” He was still looking at the Major in amazement.
“Then what happened?” a child beside him asked.
Dorian turned sharply and grinned, getting to his feet. “You know how all fairy tales end,” he said, holding out his hands.
As one, the children all replied, “And they all lived happily ever after!”
“Exactly!” Dorian smiled and gave a theatrical bow before the applause of his appreciative audience. When he turned, he saw the Major still glaring at him. “Thank you for your help, Major,” he mildly. “I got quite muddled, didn’t I?”
“Martha tells me you are quite the story teller,” Klaus informed.
“I’m talking nonsense,” Dorian replied sullenly.
This took the Major by surprise. Wasn’t he supposed to say that?
“I don’t remember anything, so I talk gibberish. People seem amused by it.”
Klaus continued to study the man’s bewildered expression. “Have you eaten?” he asked suddenly.
“No wonder you can’t think.” Klaus turned on his heel and started across the room. “Come,” he said and led the way to the cafeteria.
Lunch had already been served and the volunteers were making preparations for dinner. There were still a few people sitting at some tables when the Major led Dorian in.
“Not much left, Major,” one of the volunteers called out, waving a hand to the end of a counter.
“Thank you,” Klaus replied politely. “We’ll manage.” He turned to Dorian, seeing the same lost expression on his face. “Now what?”
“Um, I know this will sound ridiculous, but…I don’t know what I like,” Dorian replied helplessly.
The Major’s eyes widened. Then he looked at the counter. “Here, stick with fruit.” He handed the Earl several pieces of fruit and resisted the urge to comment on the choice being appropriate. “And tea.”
“Yes, you bloody Englishman, you drink tea!”
Dorian could not help the small smile that came to his face. This was the first thing the officer had said that actually sounded…right. It felt so familiar having the man yell at him. Did that mean they really were enemies? Then he looked at the objects the Major was placing in his hands. “You don’t expect me to eat one of everything, do you?”
The Major gave him a sideways look as he selected an apple for himself. “You idiot,” he muttered as he turned to lead the way to a table.
Dorian followed the Major and took a seat, watching in silence as the officer pulled out a pocketknife and cut up his apple. He started to peel an orange and drew a deep breath. “You don’t like me, do you, Major?” he said finally.
Klaus looked up sharply, the remark taking him completely off guard. “Why do you…?” he began, only to stop. “No.”
The directness of the reply startled Dorian and he gave the man a searching look. “Then why…” He put a hand to his head, uncertain how to proceed. “Why are you bothering to look after me?”
“Because I was ordered to.”
“Lord Gloria, the reason we’re in this country is classified. The fact that you don’t remember that doesn’t change anything. I’m responsible for seeing that you get out of this country safely. Until that happens, my personal feelings are secondary.”
Now Dorian’s head was really spinning and he closed his eyes. “I don’t think you should tell me anymore.”
The Earl was clearly overwhelmed and Klaus sighed heavily. “Eat,” he said calmly. “You’ll be no use to anyone if you pass out.”
Dorian nodded and continued to peel the fruit. “I’m sorry for being such a nuisance to you, Major.”
A small smile curled the edges of the Major’s mouth. “Someday, Lord Gloria, I’m going to remind you that you said that.”
* * *
SLOW AND STEADY GETS YOU NOWHERE
Someone appeared in the cafeteria, telling the Major that the elusive Sheriff JT was waiting for him in the Coach’s office.
Not knowing what else to do, Dorian followed along. “Major…” he said mildly.
Klaus stopped and spun around. “What?” To his astonishment, the Earl actually flinched. He couldn’t recall a time he had ever done this.
“I…um, where…?” Dorian stammered out.
The Major gave him a steady look and sighed heavily. “Come on.” He turned, leading the way back toward the Coach’s office where the Sheriff was waiting with excellent news. The telephone lines had been repaired. He went on to say that the chainsaw crews were out and should already be attacking the tree that had crushed his rental car.
“Does this phone call out?” the Major asked, indicating the phone on the desk.
“I expect so,” the Sheriff replied. “I believe it’s a direct line.”
“Good.” The Major picked up his wrecked suit coat and pulled out a small book. “Now, if there’s nothing else, I need to call my superiors.” He dropped into the chair and looked up. “This might take some time.”
The Sheriff exchanged a puzzled glance with Dorian before they both left the room, closing the door behind them.
“So, you’re the Major’s missing business associate,” the Sheriff said conversationally.
“That’s what he tells me,” Dorian replied mildly. “I’m afraid I don’t remember.”
“Then we’ll start from scratch.” The Sheriff held out a hand. “I’m sure you can tell by the uniform I’m the Sheriff in these parts. Folks call me JT.”
Dorian shook the man’s hand. “JT. I’m afraid I can only tell you what the Major’s told me.”
The Sheriff laughed and then looked the Earl up and down, taking in his mop of long blond curls. “You don’t look the type who’d be doin’ intelligence work.”
The Sheriff’s eyebrows went up. “Didn’t the Major tell you that’s what he does?”
Dorian shook his head. “The Major doesn’t volunteer much information. He did say the reason we’re here is classified.”
The conversation was interrupted as a stream of curses in German issued forth from the Coach’s office. This was followed by the Major shouting at someone on the phone.
“That doesn’t sound good at all,” the Sheriff remarked.
“He must’ve reached his superiors,” Dorian replied aridly. He cocked his head to one side and listened as the Major argued with someone, the conversation continuing in German.
“Damn, he talks fast,” the Sheriff said, shaking his head. “Wish I knew what he was saying.”
“He’s telling someone what happened to us.”
“You understand all that?”
Dorian gave the man a startled look as he realized that he did. “Apparently.” He continued to listen, feeling his heart in his mouth as the Major started ranting about being stuck in the middle of nowhere with “that Goddamn bloody Eroica” who had been stupid enough to lose his memory.
“God fucking dammit!”
“You don’t have to translate that one.” The Sheriff cleared his throat. “I think I’ll leave now. I’ll be back after they’ve got the Major’s car out from under the tree.”
Dorian watched the man leave. With nothing else to do, he sauntered along the hallway while the Major continued to rant in the next room. He looked into the trophy cases and up at the seemingly endless team photographs on the walls. He found himself draw to the photos, and could not help admiring all the strapping young men in their short shorts and body suits. The photos of the wrestling team were particularly evocative.
Dorian jumped when the officer threw open the office door, a look of thunder on his face. “No joy, Major?” he said mildly.
“Shut the fuck you, you Goddamn bloody—” The Major broke off when a stricken look came to the Earl’s face. He waved a hand in the air. “Tomorrow, maybe, they tell me,” he said coldly. “Tomorrow!”
“What tomorrow, Major?”
“That’s when they think they might have someone available to come get us. Tomorrow!” The Major gave another growl.
“It’s as bad as Persia, isn’t it?” Dorian replied.
“Worse! It’s—” Klaus broke off and gave the Earl a stunned look. “What did you say about Persia?” Tomorrow. This one word had driven the officer mad when he was in Iran. Apparently, the Earl had been no less annoyed.
“I just meant…” Dorian’s voice trailed off as he realized he had no idea where the remark had come from. He put a hand to his head and gave the Major a confused look. “I don’t know what I meant.”
“I don’t know.”
The Major sighed heavily. “Don’t think about it.”
“That’s all I can do.” Dorian gave a small laugh of irony. “I think I need some fresh air.”
The Major headed down the hall. “Good. I need a cigarette.”
* * *
Several hours later, Klaus was back outside smoking a cigarette. Dorian had been dragged away by his ardent admirers to tell another story. The Major was beginning to suspect that it was just the parents’ way of having someone else look after their brats, not that he was complaining. It kept Eroica out from under his feet as well.
“I hope someone does come tomorrow,” the Earl remarked as he came out to join the officer. “I don’t think I can do that much longer.”
“I’m amazed you can do it at all,” the Major remarked, offering the other man a cigarette.
Dorian looked at the proffered cigarette a moment before accepting it. It seemed such an automatic gesture on the officer’s part that he decided that he must smoke, even though he had no memory of knowing how. “Why do you say that, Major? Am I not a good story teller?”
Before the Major could reply, some rough looking individuals walked over to them, along with some of the women who had been fawning over Dorian earlier.
“There he is,” one of the women said, holding out a hand. “Earl, this here’s Joe Bob. He and the boys wanted to meet you.”
“They did?” Dorian got a very confused look on his face as he looked at the group. He glanced over at the Major, seeing he was equally surprised. “Why?”
“We don’t get honest-to-God royalty around here very often, do we, boys?” Joe Bob said to the others. “Susie says you’re a Prince, or somethin’.”
“Earl, actually,” Dorian corrected hesitantly.
“No, shit? And she tells me you don’t remember too well.”
“Yes, well…that bit’s true.”
Joe Bob burst out laughing. “He talks real good, don’t he?”
The Major rolled his eyes. Great. From a hayseed Sheriff to a group of bloody rednecks. I’m gonna kill the fucking Chief for sending me here.
“Joe Bob and the boys’ve been cuttin’ down trees all day,” Susie explained.
“Would you be one of the chainsaw crews the Sheriff mentioned?” the Major injected.
“Yea, that’s us,” Joe Bob replied. “We came to pick up the girls.” He gave Susie a squeeze. “They’ve been volunteerin’ all day.”
Susie giggled. “We’re havin’ a cookout in the back, by the athletic field.”
“Indeed.” Dorian had absolutely no idea what she was talking about.
Joe Bob gave Dorian a toothy grin. “How ‘bout you join me and the boys for some authentic down home cookin’, Earl? Not that slop they’re servin’ in there.”
“Um, no, I don’t…” Dorian replied hesitantly. He gave the Major a helpless look. For the first time that he could remember, the officer saw the Earl completely out of his depth. “Major…?”
“You wanna come too, Major?” Susie asked sweetly.
“No,” Klaus replied tersely, adding, “Thank you,”
“Maybe it ain’t cookin’ from his home, Susie,” Joe Bob said happily. “You ain’t from England like the Earl, are you, Major?”
“The Major is from Germany,” Dorian quickly volunteered. Then he blinked, exchanging a surprised look with the Major. Perhaps he was remembering.
Klaus rolled his eyes but did not reply. Then Dorian gave him a helpless look.
“You don’t mind, do you, Major?”
The Major shrugged. “How much trouble can you get into eating home cookin’ in the back?” he said acidly.
Joe Bob laughed as he pressed a bottle of beer into Dorian’s hand and the clasped an arm around his shoulder, steering him towards the athletic field at the back of the building. The Major saw the Earl take a tentative sip from the bottle and then laugh, going on to take a swig.
“He has lost his mind,” Klaus muttered darkly, shaking his head.
* * *
GOOD OLD BOYS
Home cookin’ gave way to a couple of cases of beer and a bonfire. Dorian listened to the stories of the clean-up efforts, talk of sports he was sure he must have heard of, and then, invariably, women. Someone mentioned that his girlfriend had been a cheerleader and was in one of the photographs in the hallway.
Finally, Dorian thought, something he actually knew about, having looked at the very pictures he spoke of that afternoon. He mentioned this, going on to remark about the team photos.
“That’s really funny, Earl!” Joe Bob laughed.
“Is it?” the bewildered Dorian replied. He looked at the men’s faces illuminated in the bonfire and struggled to see what they found so amusing. “I’m sorry, chaps. I’m at a bit of a loss. What did I say that’s so funny?”
Joe Bob elbowed a man named George and snickered. “He don’t quit!”
“You mean you like the skimpy outfits on the cheerleaders,” George chuckled as he opened another beer. “You said the wrestlers!”
There was a chorus of chuckles and guffaws in response.
“I told you Prince Charming told good stories,” Susie chimed in.
Dorian looked from one to another. “No, I’m sure I said it the right way round.” He shook his head. “Perhaps there really is a language barrier.”
“Yeah, that’s it,” Joe Bob said with a grin. “Else wise, we’d think you was queer, or somethin’.”
“Queer? As in homosexual?” Dorian continued to scowl. “That’s a problem, I take it?” He realized he had said the wrong thing when the group became very quiet around him.
“Hey, Earl,” Joe Bob said dangerously. “You ain’t tellin’ us you’re a fag, are ya?”
“Yeah,” George replied as he got to his feet. “Or one a them Gay Rights whatchamacallits.”
“Activitists,” someone said helpfully.
“Yeah, one a them,” George said. “Cus, we don’t take kindly to queers round these parts.”
Dorian felt his heart in his mouth and put down the bottle in his hand before taking a small step back. How did things turn so ugly so fast? “Look, chaps—er, guys? I’m finding this conversation extremely unnerving.”
“He sure do talk pretty, though, don’t he?” another said as he moved in to join the others. “Almost too pretty for a man.”
“Maybe he’s a Queen and not an Earl!” someone called out, causing everyone to laugh.
Everyone, that is, except Dorian, who continued to back away. His heart was racing and he was sure he should run, but was afraid to take his eyes away from the group who suddenly seemed to be threatening him. It was only when someone picked up a board that he realized the true nature of the threat.
“Maybe we should show you what we do to faggots.”
“I wouldn’t advise it.”
Dorian jumped at the sound of the Major’s calm voice. He turned to see him casually leaning against a fence smoking a cigarette. Bugger, has he been there the whole time?
“You comin’ to the queer’s defense, Major?” Joe Bob snapped derisively. “You a activist? Or a queer, too?”
The Major’ face darkened considerably, his eyes growing cold. He made a show of sizing up the man. “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that,” he said dangerously. “There are at least six of you and only one of him. Not really a fair fight, is it?”
Dorian’s eyes grew wide. Was he going to have him fight these men one on one? He turned his gaze back to the group and started to wonder if he had any friends in the world.
“You reckon he can take us one at a time?” George challenged.
The Major flicked his cigarette into the fire. “I reckon you morons should be more concerned with getting your town put back together than beating up one bloody Englishman.”
“Oh, yeah! Sez you, ya lousy Kraut,” someone called out.
The Major rolled his eyes. “You call that an insult? Fucking amateur.”
By this time, Dorian had backed up enough to be only a few feet away from the Major. He threw a nervous glance in his direction and found himself wondering if he were any better off. The man had been hostile towards him from the moment he arrived, had openly admitted that they were not friends, and seemed in no hurry to get into a physical altercation with the men who were still menacing him.
“Look, Major, this is between us and the queer,” Joe Bob said. “So…unless you want us to rough you up too, you’d best stay outta ‘f it.”
The Major gave the man a piercing look, a small smile curling the edges of his mouth.
Dorian shivered when he saw this. Even though he did not know why, but he suddenly knew he was looking at the most dangerous person present. The Major wasn’t afraid, despite the fact that he was outnumbered. He was completely relaxed. So why did this make Dorian think of a coil of wire? Then he remembered the Major’s remark earlier. Iron Klaus. Was this what he meant?
“Teach the Kraut some manners, Joe Bob,” George called out.
“Yeah, maybe I will.” Joe Bob raised the stick in his hand and took a step forward. The next think he knew he had the muzzle of a very large gun to his forehead.
“I said I wouldn’t advise it,” the Major repeated quietly. “I don’t take kindly to being threatened.”
Joe Bob let out a small squeak of alarm and let the stick drop from his hands. Everyone else followed suit.
“I don’t give a shit if you idiots get stupidly drunk and beat each other’s brains out—assuming any of you fucking morons has any brains,” Klaus snarled. “But you’re not gonna do it only a few metres away from a building full of kids. Now, get lost before I forget that I’m not supposed to kill civilians.”
Dorian watched in amazement as the group dashed to their trucks and sped off. He turned a nervous glance in the Major’s direction, seeing him holster his weapon before calmly lighting another cigarette. It took several seconds for him to stammer out, “Thank you, Major.”
The Major turned a disapproving scowl in his direction. “Bloody, fucking pervert,” he grumbled. “If you have to forget something, forget I just did that.”
Dorian blinked, a hand going to his spinning head. “I don’t understand you, Major,” he said quietly. “You act like you hate me, but you come to my rescue. Then you insult me when I try to say thank you.”
“Until I get you back to England, you’re my responsibility,” the Major snapped. “That includes keeping you from being beaten to a pulp by a bunch of idiot redneck Yanks.”
“And…this is bad?”
The Major sighed heavily. “Lord Gloria, do you remember anything before waking up here?”
“You know I don’t.”
“Then leave it at that.” So saying, the Major started back toward the main building.
The Earl shook his head. “Did I ever understand you, Major?”
“I hope not.”
This actually made Dorian laugh and he followed the officer, hoping to leave the confrontation behind.
* * *
The Major was delighted to learn that someone had delivered the luggage from his flattened rental car in his absence. He hoped this was a sign of good things to come.
A reluctant Dorian came into the office and looked at the unfamiliar cases. “Dare I assume some of this is mine?”
The Major gave a snort, waving a hand at a set of bright red leather cases. “Those are yours. You don’t think I’d use something that…vulgar, do you?”
“I guess not.” Dorian gave the Major a helpless look. “Um, after what just happened out there, I hate to ask this,” he began hesitantly, “but…where do I sleep tonight?”
Klaus looked up sharply, his eyes narrowing. “You’re not even thinking about…” he began dangerously.
This adamant reply actually startled the Major. He gave the Earl a steady look and sighed heavily. “Let’s see if Martha can set you up with something,” he said at last. “The Sheriff said she was the heart and soul of this place. Let’s see if he’s right.”
Dorian nodded and meekly followed.
Within a few minutes, Martha had Dorian set up for the night in an area not too far from the Coach’s office. “We’ll be turning the lights down soon, so you’d best get go bed,” she said happily. “This is a first for me. I don’t usually get to tuck in a Prince for the night.”
Dorian gave her a small smile and settled down in his borrowed bedding for the night. He threw a quick glance over at the Coach’s office and saw the Major standing in the doorway. A moment later, he vanished into the office, closing the door.
The lights came down and Dorian closed his eyes. “Tomorrow…” he said quietly. “Maybe I’ll remember tomorrow.”
* * *
FROM A PRINCE TO A FROG
After a restless night, Klaus turned over on the small cot and winced, his body reminding him of the bruises still covering it and his decision to ignore the painkillers. He opened his eyes and focused on an odd shape near the door. Then he realized it was Dorian curled up on the floor. He sat up and turned on the desk lamp. “What the hell are you doing in here?” he demanded.
Dorian recoiled, pressing himself back against the wall. “Nothing!” he cried defensively. “Sleeping!”
“What the hell’s wrong with out there?”
Dorian sat up, pulling his blanket around himself. “I…was afraid.”
Klaus scowled. “Afraid? Of what?” His mind suddenly snapped into focus and he looked up at the door. “Did someone threaten you again?”
“Then what really? What the fuck are you doing in here?”
Dorian put a hand to his head and closed his eyes. “Major, please, I’m still very muddled, can you understand that?”
The Major’s eyes narrowed. The Earl wasn’t the only one who was confused. He sighed heavily, grabbing his cigarettes. Then he sat back, folding his arms. “Tell me.”
“Are you going to lose your temper?”
“Don’t push your luck, Eroica,” Klaus replied dangerously.
Dorian was uncertain how to explain. It seemed so ridiculous now that he thought of it. Perhaps he was overreacting because of the incident at the bonfire. Then again…
Dorian drew a deep breath and explained that, just after the lights were turned down, he was sure he heard whispering, not that this should have alarmed him. It was the fact that he heard his name mentioned followed by gasps or titters. He tried to ignore it and actually managed to fall asleep. Later, he awoke and went to the toilet. When he returned, he found his bedding had been moved away from everyone else, yet it didn’t appear as though anyone had moved.
“I found it…very unnerving, Major. It was like…I was being watched.” Dorian pulled his knees up to his chest.
“So you decided to hide in here?”
“Yes.” Dorian gave him a guilty look. “I thought I’d be safe in here.” He studied the officer’s angry expression and wondered if he had gotten that wrong, too. “I am safe in here, aren’t I?”
Klaus gave him a disapproving scowl but did not reply. He looked at his watch and sighed. It was almost five thirty. There was no way he would be able to get back to sleep now.
“You haven’t even asked me how I got in here,” Dorian said mildly.
The Major replied with a snort. “The last thing I need to ask is how Eroica got through a locked door,” he said as he got to his feet, much to the Earl’s bewilderment. Before Dorian could enquire further, Klaus asked, “Are you going to hide in here all day?”
Dorian pulled himself further into a ball. “I probably shouldn’t. I’m just…very confused about all this. I don’t know what to think. I know I’m supposed act one way, but that’s not the way that I feel.” He put a hand to his head before giving the officer a searching look. “Is it true, Major? Am I like they say? A…homosexual?”
This was the last thing Klaus ever expected Eroica to ask him. The man who had made every indecent and perverted overture towards him almost from the moment he laid eyes on him was actually asking if he were queer. Bloody hell.
The Major gave the Earl a steady look and decided to sidestep the issue entirely. He zipped open the garment bag that he’d hung up on a bookcase. “I’m going to shower and change,” he announced. And I’m not going to do it with you here. He looked over at Dorian, who had not moved. “Go get some breakfast. They should be starting about now.”
“Yes, alone,” the Major snapped more harshly than he intended. “There won’t be many people up this early. You’ll have the place to yourself.” He pulled out some clothes and laid them out. “Afterward you can make yourself presentable.”
“Alright.” Dorian slowly got to his feet and reached for the door. “I’m sorry to be so much trouble, Major,” he said mildly before exiting, leaving the officer staring after him.
* * *
The Major could not have been more delighted to be rid of the borrowed clothes for his own. He decided to forgo a tie, but wore his usual business suit…and gun. He strode through the gymnasium, seeing all was quiet. As he suspected, the majority of the occupants were still sleeping. He arrived at the cafeteria to find Dorian sitting by a window finishing his breakfast. The kitchen volunteers were making preparations for a hot breakfast, but there were plenty of baked goods available, along with hot coffee and tea.
The Major made himself a cup of coffee from his procured Nescafé that one of the kitchen volunteers had hidden away for him. He then selected a muffin before crossing to where the Earl sat staring out the window. “Did you eat anything?” he asked as he sat down.
“I wasn’t very hungry,” Dorian replied. He sat quietly a moment before saying, “I suppose I should go change.”
The Major nodded. “There’s a shower in the office. It will give you some privacy,” he informed. “Perhaps you’ll remember something when you look through your luggage.”
“I hope so.” Dorian gave the Major a steady look. “I’m sure you’ll be glad to be rid of me.” He did not wait for a reply, getting to his feet and leaving.
The Major watched him go and shook his head. Glad to be rid of him. He doesn’t know the half of it!
* * *
Just as Martha predicted, after a few days boredom set in, Klaus found himself breaking up a fight between two teenagers before breakfast was officially being served.
As if there weren’t enough injuries caused by the tornado, Klaus thought darkly, now he was dragging a couple of idiot teenagers to get themselves patched up. His only conciliation was when their mothers appeared as soon as he delivered them to be treated. The worst he could do to them was leave them to their mothers’ wrath, which he did.
When Klaus finally returned to the gymnasium, he was startled to see Dorian sitting in front of the bleachers that had been packed with children the day before. This time, they were completely deserted. Several small children tried to approach him, only to be pulled back by their mothers. One or two called out for him to tell a story, only to be hushed. Several individuals said something about not wanting to get the children over stimulated.
Just tell him you don’t want a faggot telling the children stories, Klaus thought. He was surprised at how angry he felt when he saw an injured expression on the Earl’s face.
Dorian turned to some of the women volunteers who had been fawning over him only twenty-four hours earlier. He asked if there were anything he could do to help. To his bewilderment, they pretended he wasn’t even there.
“I think people who put on fake accents just to impress people are so phony,” one said in an exceptionally shrill voice.
“And pretending to be somebody important is just so wrong,” another chimed in.
The group erupted into laughter as they continued toward the door, stopping dead when they came face to face with the Major, who stood glaring at them, his arms folded. “You ladies are talking very loudly,” he observed calmly. “One might think you were trying to draw attention to your inane chatter.”
“You can’t scare us, Major.”
The Major gave the woman a dark look, a small smile coming to his face when she flinched. “Oh?” he said mildly. “What makes you think I’m trying to scare you?”
“Aren’t you ladies supposed to be volunteering somewhere?” came Martha’s disapproving voice.
The Major turned to see the older woman scowling at the group. The younger woman he had been talking to said something vague about being on their way before the group vanished.
“If I didn’t need all the help I could get, I’d tell all those airheads to go home,” Martha said coolly.
The Major gave a snort of agreement but did not reply. He turned his gaze to the seemingly lost Dorian, who was still sitting in front of the empty bleachers.
“He’s quite the lost soul, isn’t he?” Martha observed.
“I wouldn’t know,” the Major replied evasively before heading for the nearest door. He needed some fresh air—and a cigarette.
Martha watched him go, a wry smile coming to her face. “Of course you wouldn’t.”
* * *
Dorian jumped when someone put a hand on his shoulder.
“You’re quite the fish out of water, aren’t you, dear?” Martha said mildly.
Dorian looked up, a watery smile on his face. He had gone through his belongings, finding himself astonished by the elaborate collection of garments. Some of them seemed vaguely familiar, although he was still surprised that he had ever worn such things. He had selected the least flamboyant apparel, which was not an easy accomplishment.
Then he decided that he should attempt to brave being seen in public, just to convince himself that he hadn’t been imagining the whispers the night before. He found the people who had embraced him the day before were deliberately shunning him. What had he done to deserve this?
“Are you sure you want to be seen talking to me?” Dorian asked bitterly.
“You’re joking? I’ve got the handsomest man in the county all to myself. Let ‘em talk!” Martha replied with a grin.
Dorian replied with a noncommittal grunt.
“Come on. If you’re gonna feel sorry for yourself, you might as well make yourself useful.” She held out a hand and waited until the Earl had taken it. Then she led him across the room.
“What do you need me to do, exactly?”
Martha gave him a bright smile. “I need you to keep me company.”
This actually made Dorian laugh. “I think I can manage that.”
“Good.” Martha pointed to a chair near the door. “You sit there. The people from FEMA are supposed to be setting up shop today. I have nothing to do until they get here.”
Martha waved a hand. “Nothing you need to worry about, handsome,” she said as she took a seat beside him. “What do people call you, anyway?”
Dorian scowled. “Pardon?”
This made Martha laugh again. “Oh, you really are a proper English gentleman, aren’t you?”
“Well, English, certainly. I’m not so sure about the gentleman part.” He gave the older woman a sideways glance. “I’m not supposed to like women.”
“That’s alright,” Martha said happily, putting a hand on his arm. “I’m not supposed to like men.”
Dorian’s blue eyes grew wide. “Martha!” he gasped. Then he started to laugh.
“So, does that mean I don’t have to call you your worship, or whatever it is the Major calls you?”
“Lord Gloria,” the Earl grinned. “He tells me my name is Dorian.”
Martha held out a hand. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, Dorian.”
Dorian took her hand and kissed it. “My dear Martha, the pleasure is all mine.”
* * *
After breaking up the fourth fistfight of the day, Klaus was beginning to wish he were in a third world nation. He was also wishing the Sheriff were present so he could wring his neck. The only good thing to come out of the day was the fact that the Earl had stopped following him around like a stray puppy, having attached himself to Martha.
Good, let him put in an honest day’s work for once in his life, the Major thought when he saw the Earl helping to get some government people situated. This was more good news. It seemed that several agencies were present, attempting to arrange temporary housing for those people whose homes had been destroyed. At the same time, others were able to return to their homes now that downed power lines had been repaired and water had been restored.
Dorian was more than happy to be of any kind of assistance. At least when he was busy he didn’t have to worry about not remembering anything about himself, and none of these official types seemed to care one way or the other about him. Thank goodness. He was beginning to wonder if there were a sign on his back proclaiming him as unclean.
Martha dragged him to lunch with her and they spent most of the afternoon chatting. Well, actually, Dorian listened and Martha talked, not that he minded. It wasn’t as though he had any memories to share.
When Martha went to check on the evening’s volunteer schedule, she sent Dorian back to the gymnasium to watch for the Sheriff. Normally he stopped by in the evening and she did not want to miss him. She wanted to tell him how many people had been able to leave the Evac-Center that day.
As Dorian headed back through the halls, Susie came up to him, a big smile on her face. “Why, hello, Earl,” she grinned.
Dorian stopped dead in his tracks and frowned. “I thought you weren’t talking to me.”
“Now, where did you get that idea?” she said sweetly, taking him by the arm and leading him down the hall.
“Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps it was when your boyfriend was threatening to beat the crap out of me last night,” Dorian replied tersely.
Susie laughed. “Why would he want to do a fool thing like that?”
“You are joking?”
“Susie, didn’t I tell you he don’t like girls?”
Dorian jumped when Joe Bob spoke. Before he could turn around, he was grabbed from behind and dragged down the corridor.
“We got unfinished business, Earl,” Joe Bob said coldly.
The next thing Dorian knew, he was being pushed into the locker room by three men. A fourth remained at the door and put a “Do Not Enter” sign up.
At the far end of the hallway, Martha stood with her mouth agape. Susie gave a laugh and turned, not even looking where she was going. The next thing she knew, she was face to face with the older woman, who grabbed her by the arm and dragged her along as she searched for the Major.
* * *
It did not take much searching to locate the Major. He was outside having a cigarette and wishing he were anywhere else. Even Siberia was preferable to this. He saw the two women approaching, Susie protesting loudly, and decided that Antarctica might be a better location.
Martha thrust Susie in the officer’s direction. “Major, Dorian’s in some kind of trouble,” she said succinctly. “And this troublemaker set him up.”
The Major’s eyes widened. “How?”
Martha told him exactly what she had seen, watching as his entire manner changed. His face turned to stone, his eyes going ice cold. He drew himself to his full height and turned his gaze toward the door. Martha had no way of knowing she was now in the presence of Iron Klaus.
Klaus gave the younger woman a cold look. “What are they planning?” he demanded.
Susie tossed her hair over her shoulder. “You can’t scare me, Major,” she said defiantly.
The Major’s eyes became even colder. “Young woman,” he said calmly, “you’re obviously under the delusion that I’m a gentleman.” He grabbed her by the hair and jerked her head back as he stood over her. “I am not a gentleman,” he snarled. “Now, what are they planning?”
It was all Martha could do not to interfere. Her hands went to her mouth as the officer threatened the girl, not that she didn’t deserve it. Then the story came bubbling out and she wanted to strangle the girl herself. She took charge of the now terrified Susie when the Major stormed off.
“Don’t bother coming back tomorrow,” Martha said as she dragged the bawling girl to the parking lot. “In fact, you can tell that bunch of airheads you were with today not to come back, either.” A small smile curled her lips as she added, “We don’t need your kind here.”
* * *
The Major returned to the gymnasium, seeing that someone was keeping watch at that locker room entrance, too. A small smile curled the edges of his mouth as he wondered if they knew about the third entrance.
Klaus was able to get to the Coach’s office without being seen by the “guards” on the doors. Fucking amateurs. He quietly opened the door to the locker room, hearing voices echoing further within. The group seemed to be in the shower area.
“Look, I really think this has gone far enough,” Dorian said in as firm a voice as he could manage. “I’ve done nothing to any of you.” He was backed up into a corner in the shower area, the three men a few feet in front of him, barring his escape.
“Man, he sure do talk pretty,” George said, repeating the observation from the previous evening.
“It’s called the Queen’s English,” Dorian replied defiantly. “What language are you speaking?”
“Ooo, ain’t he pretty when he’s mad?” Joe Bob snickered “You think you look pretty, Earl?”
Dorian sighed heavily. “I wouldn’t know.”
“Maybe too pretty for a man,” the third man named Roy said with a snicker. He turned to the others as if he’d just had a brilliant idea. “Hey! Maybe he ain’t a man after all! That’s why he don’t like women.”
“Hot damn, Roy! I think you’re on ta somethin’,” Joe Bob laughed.
Dorian rolled his eyes. “I can assure you…”
“Prove it,” Joe Bob challenged.
Dorian blinked. “Pardon?”
“Come on,” George chimed in. “Show us you ain’t got tits.”
“Alright, that’s it.” Dorian tried to walk out and was roughly shoved back against the wall.
“Show us you ain’t got tits,” Joe Bob snarled threateningly.
Dorian’s enormous blue eyes grew wide. Just how far were they going to take this? He reached up, unbuttoning the front of his shirt. His hands were trembling so badly that he had difficulty doing it. He pulled his shirt open, exposing his bruised chest. “There. Satisfied?” he said, wishing his voice weren’t shaking so much.
“Bah,” Roy snorted, waving a hand. “That don’t prove nothin’. My sister’s got a chest as flat as that.”
“Your sister got balls, too, Roy?” George laughed.
“How ‘bout you, Earl?” Joe Bob asked.
Dorian felt his heart in his mouth. “Look, I’m not—”
“I’ve never seen a fag’s balls,” Roy snickered. “Do they look different then normal ones, you think?”
“No,” Dorian stated flatly, crossing his arms. “And I’m not dropping my pants for you just to prove it.”
“I think you are, Earl,” Joe Bob said threateningly.
“And I think he’s not,” came the Major’s voice from behind them.
Dorian looked up, seeing Klaus standing behind his tormentors with a look of thunder on his face. Then he felt certain his knees were about to turn to water. He leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes, a hand going to his head. Major, thank God!
“You three perverts will have to get your jollies somewhere else,” Klaus went on coldly.
“We ain’t the pervert,” Roy objected, jerking a thumb in Dorian’s direction. “He is!”
The Major’s eyebrows went up in mock surprise. “Really? I’m sure I just heard you asking to see his balls.” He gave the Earl a steady look. “Were you asking to see their balls, Lord Gloria?”
“Hell, no!” Dorian replied sharply.
“Just as I thought.”
Roy gave a nervous laugh. “Look, Major. We was just havin’ some fun, that’s all,” he stammered out. “We weren’t gonna hurt him. We just wanted to scare him.”
The Major gave a small grunt. “I see. Lord Gloria, are you scared?”
“I’m bloody terrified, Major!”
The Major nodded as he turned his intense gaze on the trio. “It seems you’ve succeeded.” He reached over, pulling a stick out of Joe Bob’s back pocket. “And what was this for?”
“Nnnnothin’, Major…” the man stammered out.
“Nothing? That’s not what your girlfriend says,” Klaus said in disgust as he threw the stick to the ground. “Turn around and face the wall,” he ordered.
“Look, Major, we don’t want no trouble…”
“You should’ve thought of that before you dragged Lord Gloria in here,” Klaus replied coldly as he pulled his gun. “Now turn around and put your hands on the wall.”
Joe Bob’s eyes practically fell out of his head. Then he and the others did as ordered. Klaus pulled sticks out of the other men’s pockets, tossing them to the ground. Dorian’s eyes widened as he realized what might have happened had the officer not arrived when he did.
Just then, the Sheriff’s calm voice asked, “You plannin’ on using that cannon, Major?”
“Only if I have to,” the officer replied icily.
“Sheriff!” Joe Bob gasped. “Thank God you’re here! This Kraut’s gone nuts! Threatened to kill us—”
“Save it,” the Sheriff snapped. He was dragging the man who had been keeping watch at the door along with him. “Martha gave me the edited highlights. And your buddy gave me the details.” He shoved the man over with the others.
“There’s another one on the other door,” Klaus informed calmly.
“Is there now?” the Sheriff replied with a grin. “Well then, you keep an eye on these nit-wits and I’ll go collect him.” He vanished for a moment, returning with the fifth member of the group, whom he shoved over with the others. “I think you can put that way, now, Major.”
Klaus threw him a quick sideways glance and holstered his weapon, taking a step back at the same time. “If you don’t need me any further…?”
“No, I think I can handle these yo-yo’s.”
The Major nodded and turned to the visibly shaken Dorian. He held out a hand. “Lord Gloria…?”
Dorian looked up and nodded before shakily moving away from the corner. He faltered slightly and the Major started towards him to assist him from the room.
“Look at ‘em,” Joe Bob snorted turning to watched. “He’s gotta get help from his boyfriend.”
Before anyone knew what was happening, the Major had crossed back to Joe Bob and slammed him back against the wall, a hand clamped firmly around his throat. “Say that again!” the officer snarled.
“Major!” Dorian and the Sheriff gasped in unison.
“No, I want to hear you say that again,” the Major growled threateningly, his grip on the man’s throat tightening. “To my face this time.”
Joe Bob responded with a whimper.
“Anyone?” the Major thundered. The men flinched back in response. “I thought so, fucking cowards! It’s easy pushing someone around when you’ve got them outnumbered, isn’t it? Is that what you think it takes to be a man?” His lip curled back in disgust. “Look at you, whimpering like a baby.” He threw a quick glance in the Earl’s direction. “He’s more of a man than all you assholes put together. At least he stood his ground.”
Klaus released his grip and made a show of wiping his hand on his jacket. Then he looked back at the Sheriff. “You’ve just gone deaf,” he said cryptically. He turned and glared at the group. “If any of you idiots comes anywhere near Lord Gloria again, I will kill you. And I’ll make it legal.”
The five men blanched visibly. “Sheriff…?” someone said meekly.
“Hmmm?” The Sheriff gave the men an innocent look. “Sorry, boys. Must’ve gone deaf there for a minute.”
The Major’s eyes flickered. Then he turned his attention to the thunderstruck Dorian. He wordlessly crossed to him and held out a hand before assisting him back to the office.
“Well, now. I don’t know if I can add much more to that,” they heard the Sheriff saying happily as they left.
* * *
GET THE HELL OUTTA DODGE
Martha was anxiously waiting in the office doorway when the Major appeared with the visibly shaken Dorian. He led him to the cot and helped him to sit down. Martha snatched up the blanket Dorian had used the night before and went to wrap him in it. The Major took it from her hands and gave her a steady look. “Would you get Lord Gloria some tea, please?”
Martha frowned. “Tea?”
Klaus gave her an angry glare and Martha straightened. “Of course, Major, some tea,” she said and quickly vanished through the door.
Dorian pulled the blanket around himself as the Major placed it over his shoulders.
After a momentary silence, Klaus asked mildly, “Did they hurt you?”
Dorian shook his head. “No,” he said quietly. “They just scared the hell out of me.” He gave way to an involuntary shudder and put a hand to his head. It was all he could do not to burst into tears. “God, it was so…humiliating.” He found he could not stop shaking and drew his knees up to his chest to pull himself into a tight ball on the cot.
Klaus leaned back against the desk but did not reply.
“No wonder you dislike me so much,” Dorian went on shakily. “Having to come to my rescue every five minutes…”
The Major gave a derisive snort. “I don’t come to your rescue every five minutes, Lord Gloria.”
“I wish I could believe that.”
“Do you think I’m lying to you?” the incensed officer snapped.
Dorian looked up sharply, a stunned look on his face.
“Lord Gloria, I haven’t lied to you this whole time.”
“You haven’t exactly been truthful either, now, have you, Major?” Dorian countered in as forceful a voice as he could manage.
The Major’s eyes narrowed. “Believe me, you do not want to know the whole truth.”
“You idiot!” Klaus snapped. “You’ve just seen what happens when—”
“Why are you blaming me?” the incensed Dorian snapped back. “That was one of the most…degrading experiences. How can you even think to blame me! I did absolutely nothing wrong! I made one innocent remark and suddenly I’m a pariah. No, I’m worse than a pariah. I’m a leper.”
The Major sat on the edge of the desk as the Earl ranted on.
“I was everybody’s friend when they thought I was straight. But now they think I’m not, it’s okay to treat me like a lower class of human being?” He gave the Major a challenging look, his eyes blazing. “Well?”
The Major folded his arms, returning the steady look. “Lord Gloria, my opinion of you hasn’t changed. You’re a selfish, self-centered, narcissistic son-of-a-bitch,” he stated succinctly.
“Oh, thank you—”
“But,” the officer went on, “you’ve just proven that you are by no means a lower class of human being.”
Dorian’s mouth dropped open. Despite the fact that he did not remember anything, but knew enough to realize that this was not an easy admission for the Major to make. He sat staring at him for several seconds. “Do you really mean that?”
“I never say anything I don’t mean,” the Major replied tersely.
“Now that I believe.”
Suddenly the phone rang, causing them both to jump. Klaus snatched it up and listened a moment. Then he was rattling off in German again as someone gave him the message he had been waiting for. When he hung up the phone, he was actually smiling.
“Pull yourself together, Eroica,” the Major said happily. “We’re leaving.”
“Leaving?” This was Martha, who had just returned with the tea.
“Yes, leaving. They’re sending a helicopter for us from the nearest Military base.” The Major looked at his watch. “One of my men will be meeting us there. He estimates it’ll be about an hour before they get here.” He looked around the office. Then he remembered his procured Nescafé in the kitchen. There was no telling if he would be able to get anymore before he got back to Bonn and he dashed off to retrieve it.
Martha sat down beside Dorian, holding out the tea. “Do you want this, dear?”
“No, thank you, Martha.”
“I didn’t think so,” she said as she put the cup on the desk. “The Major just wanted to get rid of me so he could make sure you were alright.”
Dorian gave a snort. “He hates me.”
“Of course he does,” Martha laughed. “That’s why he’s been watching you like a hawk the whole time you’ve been here.”
Dorian laid his head on top of his knees and gave her a searching look. “He was ordered to.”
“Of course he was,” Martha said sardonically. She shook her head. “And if you believe that…”
“Never mind. You need to get this stuff packed up so you can get the hell outta Dodge.”
Dorian frowned. “Am I supposed to understand that?”
“Probably not,” Martha laughed. She gave him a steady look. “I know I said this before,” she began slowly, “but I am sorry about all this. You’re really not seeing my town at its best. There are a lot of very good people here.”
Dorian gave her a watery smile but did not reply, watching as she got down on the floor and started folding the clothes he had pulled out earlier. “Is all this yours?” she asked.
The woman looked up, giving him an appraising look. “You need a better tailor.”
Dorian’s eyebrows went up. “What? Do you have any idea how much those cost?”
“No. Do you?”
Dorian opened his mouth only to close it again. Then he laughed. “No. But I’m sure it was a lot.”
Klaus appeared at that moment and nodded approvingly when he saw Martha packing the Earl’s belongings. He gave Dorian a steady look. “Well? Will you be able to get yourself to the helicopter unassisted?”
“I don’t know, Major,” Martha cut in before Dorian had a chance to reply. “He’s still pretty shaken.”
Dorian’s eyes widened when he saw a concerned look flash briefly across the officer’s face. Then the Major was waving a hand at the desk. “No wonder,” he snapped. “I told you to drink some tea.” He picked up the cup and handed it to the Earl. “Bloody Englishman and their bloody tea,” he grumbled as he grabbed the garment bag containing his suits and strode out the door.
“Still think he’s just following orders?” Martha asked knowingly.
Dorian actually smiled. He took a sip of the tea and winced. It was little more than brown water with sugar in it. He put the cup down again. “That’s the happiest I’ve seen him since I arrived,” he remarked.
“I think he’s happy to be getting the hell outta Dodge,” Martha grinned as she jammed the last of the clothing into the case and struggled to zip it closed.
“Here, let me do that,” Dorian said, pushing down on the top of the case. Within a minute, the zipper finally closed.
Martha stood up and gave the Earl a steady look. “I’m not letting you go without a hug, you realize?”
A dazzling smile lit up the Earl’s face and he accepted the hug, closing his eyes at the same time. “Thank you,” he said quietly. “This will sound ridiculous, but…I won’t forget you.”
“Harrumph!” came the Major’s disapproving snort from the door. “This is not getting us out of here, Lord Gloria.”
“I thought you said we had an hour,” Dorian countered.
The Major snorted again, grabbing the freshly packed suitcase and striding off.
“I’d better get the rest of this out before he decides to leave me behind,” Dorian said with a grin.
Martha grabbed a smaller case and followed. “I don’t think you have to worry about that, Dorian.”
“I d’know,” the Earl replied playfully. “What if he was ordered to and just hasn’t gotten around to telling me?”
* * *
MY NAME IS DORIAN
The Major paid no attention to the Sheriff’s deputy who had arrived to round up the group that had been menacing Dorian earlier. Once he had all the luggage outside the building, he dragged out a chair and sat down to wait, pulling out a cigarette.
“Martha tells me you’re leavin’ us, Major,” the Sheriff said conversationally.
Klaus looked up at the man and sighed heavily. Now he’s going to give a goodbye speech, he thought darkly. “Yes.”
The Sheriff gave a small chuckle. “Sendin’ a helicopter for you?”
“Good. I want those morons to see I don’t ask just anyone to act as security.”
The Major frowned, turning to see the five men lined up beside a patrol car. “What are you gonna do with them?”
“I think a night in jail will teach ‘em to think twice before pushing somebody around in my county.”
Klaus gave a disgusted snort. “A slap on the wrists,” he said disapprovingly.
“It’ll get them into the system, Major,” the Sheriff said knowingly. “And I’m gonna make sure they know we’ll be watchin’ them from now on.” He threw a quick glance back at Dorian, who was just inside the door getting another hug goodbye from Martha. “I don’t tolerate hate crimes in my jurisdiction.”
“JT, are you making an election speech out there?” Martha called with a grin. “You already know you’ve got my vote.”
“Ha!” the Sheriff snorted. “Family don’t count.”
Dorian had stepped out the door and exchanged an incredulous look with the Major. “Family?”
“Didn’t she tell you she’s my baby sister?” the Sheriff asked with a grin.
“I’ll baby sister you!” Martha said playfully.
The Major rolled his eyes and was saved any further sibling altercations by the arrival of the helicopter. He got to his feet the moment he heard the sound of the rotor blades and walked out to the open field beside the building to watch for it.
Several minutes later, a twin-blade helicopter was landing beside the high school, much to the approval of the assembled evacuees. The side door slid open and a man in a jump-suit hopped out and crossed to the Major, giving him a quick salute.
“Major Eberbach? I have orders to deliver you and a civilian back to base.”
“The civilian is over there,” the Major replied. “And I have some bags that need to be loaded.”
“I’ll take care of that, sir,” the man replied. “You just get your party onboard.”
The Major nodded approvingly as the man loaded the luggage. He returned to the others, waving a hand at the Earl. “Lord Gloria, time to go.”
“Major…” the Sheriff said calmly.
Klaus turned, seeing him holding out a hand.
“Thank you for your help.”
The Major looked at the extended hand, sighed, and shook it. “You’re welcome,” he said tersely. Then he turned on his heel and strode off, leading the way to the waiting helicopter.
“Now, I’ll bet that hurt,” Martha said under her breath. Then she gave Dorian a shove. “Go on before he leaves you behind.”
Dorian grinned and then started after the Major. He was halfway to the helicopter when he stopped dead. Then he stood staring as if mesmerized.
When Klaus realized the Earl wasn’t following, he gave a low growl and went back to him. “Lord Gloria! Come on! We’re leaving.” He had to shout to be heard over the sound of the rotor blades.
Dorian gave the Major a dull look, his eyes glassy. There was something about the wind that had his head spinning. The dust in his face. The Major yelling over the noise. Then Klaus held out a hand and it all snapped into focus. Suddenly he was back in a farmhouse running for his life, grabbing onto the officer’s outstretched hand and hanging on for dear life.
Wind. There was so much wind. So much noise.
“What’s my name?” the Earl asked suddenly.
The Major blinked. “What?”
“God dammit, Eroica, this isn’t the time!”
“No, Major! Tell me! What’s my name? My first name.”
“Dorian!” the Major thundered back.
Dorian. Yes, my name is Dorian. Eroica looked at the Major’s bewildered expression and his eyes lit up. I remember, Major! You called my name.
Suddenly, the Major had him by the arm and was pulling him across the field. “This isn’t the time to freeze up! Let’s go!” he growled.
“Major!” Dorian said excitedly.
“Not now!” Klaus snapped. “And keep your head down.” He shoved the Earl into the open door of the helicopter before climbing in himself. He looked up, seeing the Sheriff and Martha standing beside the building, waving. Good riddance, he thought as he slammed the door closed.
He turned back, seeing the Earl had gotten into a seat and was strapping himself in. He nodded approvingly and called to the pilot to take off as he dropped into a seat opposite the Earl. A moment later, they were lifting off.
The Major leaned back and closed his eyes, heaving a sigh of relief. He felt like he was being evacuated from a war zone rather than from a civilian building. After a minute, he opened his eyes and pulled out a cigarette. Then he noticed the Earl was watching him with a very familiar look in his eyes.
“You fucking bugger,” Klaus snarled. “You remember, don’t you?”
Eroica gave him a knowing smile. “Yes.”
“When?” the Major demanded.
Eroica held up his hands. “Just now.”
“The helicopter, Major,” he said mildly. “All the wind. Just like that day…” He closed his eyes and gave way to an involuntary shudder.
Klaus sat back, his arms folded, the dark look on his face unchanged, the smoke from his cigarette forming a storm cloud above his head.
Eroica opened his eyes and gave the officer a bright smile. “You’re quite the knight in shining armor, aren’t you, Major?”
“I wouldn’t know,” the Major replied coldly.
“Oh, I would! I can’t wait to tell everyone how you came to my rescue.”
“You’ll do no such thing, you son-of-a-bitch!”
Eroica made a show of pushing his hair out of his face. It was so marvelous to finally have his memory back along with this newest insight into the Major’s personality. It was just too wonderful to let go without teasing him just a little bit. “Major, really. You don’t want me to tell everyone how macho you were with those rednecks?”
Just the thought of the idiots made the Major’s skin crawl. “No.” Then a sudden thought struck him and an evil smile curled the edges of his mouth. “Alright,” he said mildly. “You tell them. Then I’ll tell them how you were surrounded by a harem of fawning females.”
Eroica’s mouth dropped open. “Major, you wouldn’t!” he gasped.
Klaus sat back and puffed on his cigarette. “I’ll have to make sure I tell them about Prince Charming and your story telling, too,” he went on, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “And how much you enjoyed drinking beer with those rednecks…”
Eroica held up his hands in mock surrender. “Alright, alright,” he said quickly. “Truce?”
Another smile curled the edges of the officer’s mouth. “Truce.”
“Shake on it?”
“Don’t push it.”
Eroica grinned. “I’ll accept a cigarette, then.”
Klaus gave him a suspicious sideways glace before handing one over and lighting it.
The Earl sat back in his seat, looking out the window. After several minutes, he said seriously, “Before we get back to business as usual, there is one thing I’d like to say to you, Major.”
The Major’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “What?”
Dorian gave him a steady look and smiled. “Thank you.”
— END —