Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!
Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!

By Any Other Name

by Kay Reynolds

 

Chapter Thirteen

 

Klaus got up in mid afternoon, took a shower, fed the cat and prepared a meal. Checking outside, he found they'd had another light dusting of snow. Happily, he didn't spy any unwelcome footprints approaching the house. He radioed in but that didn't consume much time. As the day progressed, he replenished the firewood and cleaned out the hearth. Dorian slept. The Major went on to wash dishes and finish the book he'd started when he'd first begun his investigations. Dorian slept. Eventually, Klaus bundled the thief up in the comforter, stripped the bed and changed the sheets. He was quick, careful and thorough but it was still an awkward job. Dorian didn't even flicker an eyelash, he just kept on sleeping. Back in the main room, Klaus did some push ups and sit ups and fashioned a set of weights out of available materials. He cleaned his guns. He fed the cat again and made himself another meal. Once the sun set, he found a new book and read for a while. Afterwards, he played a few hands of solitaire. Klaus performed a final clean up sometime before midnight and went to bed. Nestled solidly beside him, Dorian slept.

The next morning, Klaus began his routine again. He took his coffee down to the basement and called in. The Chief was waiting to talk with him this time. "When are you coming back?" Twitterswell inquired.

"I have no idea," Klaus replied.

"What do you mean?" the old man sputtered. "Of course you have an idea. Is this a joke?"

"No."

"Is everything all right?"

Klaus hesitated a moment before answering. "No," he said. "But it will be."

"Is anything happening I should know about?"

"No."

Panic flooded Twitterswell's voice. "What have you done with Eroica?"

"Nothing."

"He is still there with you?"

"Yes."

"Let me speak with him."

"No."

"Why not?"

"He is sleeping."

"Sleeping?"

"Sleeping. Do you not have ears to hear me?"

"I have ears to hear your insubordination," Twitterswell snapped. "What the hell is going on out there?"

"What is going on is that I have accumulated several years of vacation. I have decided to use some of that time now."

"You can't be serious."

Klaus laughed. It wasn't a completely unfriendly sound. "Surely you, of all people, know what a serious man I am. You have remarked on it often enough."

"Get Eroica on radio."

"I told you - no. You will not speak to him now. No one speaks to him, not you, not his staff, not even the Queen of England. Nobody speaks to him, nobody sees him until he is ready. If he has something to say when he wakes up, he will radio you."

"You're out of line, Eberbach -"

Klaus shut off the transmitter. Waited. It was less than two minutes before the Chief worked his way through secure channels and the radio buzzed again. Klaus considered not answering. Briefly.

The silence on the line was broken only by the static crackle of the air waves. Just when Klaus was beginning to wonder if anyone was there at all, Twitterswell's voice came through.

"How much time do you need?"

"I do not know," Klaus said frankly. Then swallowed. "I have no plans. Just now, I am thinking about breakfast."

"Can you use any help?"

"No. Thank you."

"Got anything you can tell me?"

"No."

"Is there anything going on I need to worry about? You are free to speak, aren't you?"

"Yes. I did not intend to create that concern." Klaus found himself wondering how to finish. "I have Eroica with me. We are both well. There is nothing to worry about."

"Right. Stay in touch." The Chief paused before signing off. "And keep in mind that Volovoi and Kello are still at large. I'm not the only one who'd like to nail your ass to a wall."

"I will remember," Klaus said and closed off again. He sat for a moment, staring at the instrument. Then he secured the false panels that hid the set from immediate view and headed back upstairs. He walked into the bedroom and checked on the thief. Dorian was curled on his side, still fast asleep. The cat raised its head and stared back at him, squinting, from its guard position on the mattress.

Klaus turned and went into the kitchen to fix himself something to eat.

It was nearly afternoon before the Major detected less than cat-like movement from the bedroom. Some small time passed but Dorian finally appeared at the doorway. He stood there or, to be more exact, he swayed there, peering about with sleep-drunk eyes until he caught sight of Klaus seated at the kitchen bar. The Earl didn't say anything, just nodded and reeled off towards the bathroom. Soon afterwards, Klaus heard the sound of running water and then the shower.

Most of the day was passed in silence. Dorian didn't talk and Klaus didn't press him. Generally, the thief moved about the house like a wistful zombie ... when he bothered to move at all. He ate some of what Klaus prepared for him. He drank some tea. He sat at the window and stared out at the snow, occasionally stroking the cat who had made a home out of his lap. Later, he moved to the hearth and sat on the floor in front of the fire. He ate a modest amount of dinner, sipped some wine and dozed with the cat in close attendance. Then he went back to bed.

Throughout it all, from time to time, Klaus would look up from wherever he was in the house to find Dorian watching him. There was no change in expression, no start of guilt, fear or even pleasure when Dorian noted that his surveillance was discovered. If anything, he seemed relieved to make eye contact. It was as if he was reassuring himself that Klaus was still there. That night, when the Major sat down on the couch to continue his reading, Dorian slid over from his seat on the floor to lean against Klaus' leg. When Klaus left off from his book - as if he could concentrate anyway - to stroke that head of curls, Dorian reached up and grasped onto the Major's hand. Inevitably, Klaus came down to the floor and sat beside him. He placed his arm around Dorian and continued to hold him when the thief turned to settle against him. That stayed like that until Klaus urged them into the bedroom and sleep.

The next day, Dorian began talking again.

At breakfast Klaus asked, "Do you want more coffee?"

And Dorian said, "No."

Later Klaus said, "We could go outside for a walk. Would you like that?"

After some consideration, Dorian said, "Yes."

So we are not ready for Shakespeare, the Major acknowledged. Still, it is a start. He was immeasurably pleased with himself - and so relieved he felt almost sick.

The afternoon was clear and bright. The temperature had risen and the snow was going slushy although it still made an attractive picture. Graceful and slow, Dorian hiked along beside Klaus as if he'd fallen prey to some languorous virus. But as time passed in the fresh, crisp air, his movements became more animated. He kept up with, then exceeded the pace Klaus initially set for them. The activity brought color back to his face.

Dorian traced squirrel and bird tracks in the snow. Klaus pointed out a set of rabbit prints crisscrossing themselves over the whitened meadow.

"We've got some bread and fruit we can put out for them, haven't we?" Dorian asked after a long while.

The sound of his voice - and so many words, too - nearly threw the Major into cardiac arrest.

"Ja," Klaus said. "We can spare some bread and fruit."

"Good."

They walked on a bit farther before turning back.

"Would you like to hear a joke?" Dorian asked as the house came into view.

"Yes," Klaus agreed, more prepared this time. "A joke would be good."

"All right." Dorian nodded. "Do you know what a real man's idea of group therapy is?"

"No. I do not."

"World War II."

Klaus thought about it. "You feel as though you have been in combat?"

"I wouldn't presume to go as far as that ... but, yes, a little beaten upon. Not by you," he added quickly.

"It will get better."

"I can't believe how tired I feel."

"That will pass, too. Wait and see."

"Very sure of yourself, aren't you?"

"Yes," Klaus told him. "But I am also sure of you."

Dorian thought about that. They crunched through the snow in silence for a time. Finally, the Earl said softly, "She's still my mother and I love her. But I won't ever be able to forgive her."

"No," Klaus agreed. There was nothing else to be said on the matter.

Dorian sighed, linking arms as they approached the safehouse steps. "Thank you for staying with me," he said. "For taking care of me. You didn't have to."

"Yes, I did."

The thief darted him a look.

"It was my pleasure," Klaus finished, attempting a show of gallantry.

"No," Dorian told him and smiled. "But maybe later."

"We will see. If you are up to it."

"I'm certain," the Earl said with a return of mischief in his eyes, "that given the proper stimulation, I could be."

Back inside the house, Klaus set about making dinner, this time with Dorian's assistance. There would be sausages - lots of them - and potatoes.

"I don't much care for sauerkraut," Dorian announced.

"Mix it in your potatoes, you will not taste it so much," Klaus advised. "Or do not eat it."

The Earl peered skeptically at the boiled mass of spuds. "Shouldn't you have peeled these first? I mean, before you boiled them?"

Klaus shrugged. "It is too late now."

Dorian nodded, compliant, and set to with the potato masher. It was much rougher going, squashing spuds with the skins on. Some of them were still quite firm in places as well. It took genuine effort, and a lot of milk and butter, to whip them into some semblance of shape. By the time he was finished, his arms ached.

"No scarky comments allowed," Dorian warned bringing them to table. "Just keep in mind, there's nothing in that bowl that will kill you."

"You seem to be feeling more like yourself," Klaus observed.

"Should I be feeling like someone else?"

"No." Klaus sliced off a piece of sausage, dipped it in mustard and popped it into his mouth.

Dorian nibbled at his food. The potatoes tasted better than they looked.

"Do you mind if I ask a question?" Klaus asked.

Blue eyes darkened, wary. "Depends on the question."

"It is just that ... well, I have wondered, after what happened to you with Victor Marsh, why you still enjoy music so much and...."

"Sex?"

"Yes."

"I never actually associated either sex or music with Victor Marsh," Dorian said. "I already loved music, he couldn't spoil it for me. Besides, I think you have to have at least some respect for a person before you can care what he thinks of you. I didn't much care what Marsh thought or said about ... well, anything. All I cared about was not getting hurt. As for the rest of it...." He sighed. "How do I know? I enjoy sex, it's the closest thing to heaven on earth when it's all working properly. But I know how to use it, too. To get what I want." A frown settled on Dorian's face. "Had to learn that somewhere, didn't I? God knows, I've had enough willing teachers."

The Earl lapsed into silence, retreating within himself again. Klaus finished off his sausage without tasting anything, wondering how to bring him back.

"Perhaps your abstinence during all these years was not such a burden after all," the Major offered.

"Perhaps not."

"I certainly hope this does not mean you intend to stop now."

Dorian glanced up sharply. Then grinned. "Don't you look half put out?" he laughed. "Wouldn't that be a switch? You chasing me about?"

Klaus shrugged, uncomfortable.

"Don't worry, darling. No one would believe it." Dorian laughed again. "So what do you think is best?" he asked brightly, regarding a forkful of mangled, brownish potatoes. "Eating or sex?"

"Do you have to ask?"

"Yes."

"Sex is better," Klaus conceded. "As long as it is with you."

"I am relieved to hear you say that." Dorian chewed along, looking pleased. "You know, I really don't have any intention of giving it up."

"I am also relieved to hear that."

They fell into quiet again, concentrating on their food, drinking their beer. As usual, Klaus could feel him even across the table. It was a very tangible sensation like the way one felt heat. Even when Dorian had been sleeping, indisposed in the next room, he had been aware of it. It actually felt more real to him than the food.

The walk had made him hungry and Dorian ate a second helping of sausage and potatoes. He finished up with a healthy scoop of stewed apples. Afterwards, he licked his fork.

"Given any thought to dessert?" the Earl inquired.

"Throughout most of the meal," Klaus confessed. "Ja, I have."

"Will you be serving here at table or by the fireplace?"

"I thought we might begin by the fire and then conclude with brandy in a more casual setting."

"Like the bedroom?"

"That is a casual setting."

"It can be."

They smiled at each other, each enjoying very similar thoughts. The cat watched them from a nearby vantage point like an observer at a tennis match. She concentrated on willing them to leave the remainder of the sausages untouched; she wasn't much into sauerkraut either.

"I spoke with the Chief yesterday morning," Klaus began, less comfortably. "He wanted to know when I would return to Bonn."

"What did you tell him?"

""I told him that I had accumulated a lot of vacation time."

"Did you?" Dorian smiled. He folded his napkin and placed it on the table, smoothed it flat.

"Yes."

"So, soldier boy, planning to stay in town long?"

"Actually, I am thinking that, if you are better, it can only be one more night." Klaus frowned. "Already, I have been away so long. There is so much work I must catch up on ... and it is not good that we call attention to ourselves now."

"We're like sitting ducks out here in the woods," Dorian agreed reluctantly. "And it's not as if we can go blasting off to Rio or any place else to escape, is it?"

"No. Not together."

"But ... carefully planned ... we could meet up with one another in some lovely setting - same time, same place - couldn't we?" Dorian's voice dropped into a dreamy, conspiratory tone. "Some place with an absolutely decadent, American-style hotel or a villa with all the amenities?"

"It is not inconceivable that such an arrangement could take place at some later date," Klaus conceded.

"But not now?"

"No. It is as I said, I have been away too long."

"And there's still Charlie and Sable to catch."

"Ja."

"You're not going to find them back in Bonn."

Klaus hesitated only briefly. "No," he said. "Probably not."

Dorian took a small sip of beer, studying the Major over the rim of the glass. "You don't think I could help you with that?"

"No, it is too dangerous." Klaus shook his head firmly. "You are very good at breaking and entering and making off with whatever takes your fancy ... or whatever you are contracted to fetch. However, this is already a combat situation."

"And not in my line of work?"

"No."

"Klaus, darling, have you ever given any real thought as to just what my line of work entails?"

The Major scowled. "Do you mean to argue with me about this?"

"Don't we always argue?" A long, slow smile blossomed on strawberry lips. "And wouldn't you be disappointed if we stopped? Can you think how dull that would be?"

Klaus refused to answer.

Dorian persisted, "Do you have any idea of what it's like to run an organization like mine?"

"To grow up as a criminal in training? To be a member - no, not just a member - a respected leader among an international cartel of thieves and drug dealers, pimps, kill-for-hires and gun runners like Charlie Kello?" Klaus folded his arms over his chest. "No, I do not know what it is like to run a criminal empire - or why you do it."

"Strange, but I'd think you'd come the closest to figuring it out." Blue eyes glittered under half-lowered lashes. "You, who take such pleasure in breaking every conceivable rule - and with apology to none. You value your own independence above everything."

"Not above the law."

"Really? Then what judge gave you permission to execute Victor Marsh?"

The silence thickened between them going as solid as the grease congealing around the remaining sausage. Sensing the atmosphere, the cat decided that this was not the best time to make a move on the food.

"You did the world a service putting that man down," Dorian said after a long pause. "What I'm saying is, you didn't ask permission to do it. You didn't even feel the need."

"So?"

"You're comfortable with the way you are, with what you do. And you should be." Dorian's head went to one side, inquiring. "Why do you expect anything less from me? Would you be happier if I pretended to be something I'm not?"

"Do you want me to tell you it is all right for you to steal?" Klaus returned. "I cannot."

"Well, right or wrong, it's what I'm best at. I've used those skills to help you often enough, haven't I? Considering our past circumstances, you'd never have asked for my help if it hadn't been absolutely necessary. You know what I'm capable of, what a help I can be. Klaus, you never demonstrated much concern for my well being on past missions, the job always came first. I've always accepted that. You want to change the rules now that we're lovers?" Dorian gave a laugh. "I don't think so."

"This is war," Klaus stated flatly. "And you are no soldier. You are not fit for this kind of work."

"I beg to differ. What other kind of work is there for an outlaw? Don't flinch away from that word, it's what I am. It's what you are, too," Dorian insisted. "No, I'm no strong-arm, that's never been my goal. But you need me in this. You need my contacts but you don't get them without me along to interpret. Look, none of your soldiers got as close to Charlie and Sable as we did the other day. And look how long they had to work at it, too. They're good people but they're nothing but men obeying orders. They're doing their job but they're no more help in this than a gang of bloody civilians. You know what people like Sable Volovoi do to soldiers?"

"Are you telling me that you do?"

"Better than most," Dorian assured him, very serious. "And I know enough to stay out of the way. I'm all too happy to leave the fireworks to you."

Klaus dropped into silence again, considering. Trying to find a way out. He picked up his cigarettes and lit one. He blew twin streams of smoke from his nose, his mouth set in a hard line.

"Talk to me," he said at last.

"You know the group the government calls the Cartel," Dorian began. "All the organized criminal families all over the world, they've been existing for thousands of years. They haven't actually changed much since pre-Christian times. Why?"

It was not the approach Klaus expected him to take. Still, the Major was intrigued. He shook his head, an I-don't-know gesture.

"Contacts ... it's all contacts. That's the secret. Press sources, police sources, political, religious, legal, military. Machiavelli wrote a book about it and he didn't leave much out. We play the game with rules that were set up so long ago no one remembers who started it. It's not the kind of thing that's carved in stone either but here," Dorian touched his head, "and here," he placed his fingers over his heart.

"And betrayal equals death."

"Hardly anything less," the thief continued. "As in Sun Tzu's case, the old rules are the best rules. You check out the territories, you pay your due respects to the sovereign in charge whether he's in an alley or boardroom or palace - then you go about your business. It's all carried out through personal contact generated by yourself or your representatives. Think about it. You have to know your technology to get past the alarm systems. But you can't use it to store your records or telex your instructions about or fax over a contract. You can't even talk on the telephone. Fiber optics are going to make it more difficult to achieve specific taps but it won't be long before the law finds its way around that. No - it's all handshakes and eye-contact, body language. Very personal stuff. When you make a deal, you are responsible for seeing it through and, if you owe a favor, you better be able to make it good. Other organizations have to be able to trust you. Your people have to trust you, they have to believe in you. And you have to protect your people."

Klaus raised an eyebrow. "You make it sound like a medieval feudal system."

"That's an excellent comparison." Dorian nodded. "There's all sorts of people running about managing all sorts of concerns, their operations working in tandem with others, territories overlapping -"

"Tribute paid to each individual Caesar -"

"Respect delivered to the emperor in charge," the thief corrected. "The trusted emissaries work as go-betweens." Dorian lifted his hands, palms up. "It's another world within a world. A very old one, full of custom, ritual and rites of passage." He dropped his hands back in his lap. "It's very violent, too. Make no mistake."

"Then why live in it?" Klaus demanded. "You have other talents, you are a fine artist. Why not pursue art as a legitimate career? Your family has some wealth, surely you could survive on your own resources."

"Because, in the words of a NATO Major I know, I am not fit for anything else." Dorian gave a little shrug. "You can't un-know things. You can't un-do them. There's no returning to innocence once you've had that first taste of intrigue. It only leaves you wanting more. The core might well be rotten - but you'll never know until you get there. And the outside is so ripe and sweet, getting there is all the fun." He leaned back and laced his fingers behind his head, lifting the curls from his neck, and stretched.

Klaus stared at him, entranced. Dorian was wearing a full sleeved, snow-white peasant shirt tucked into a pair of faded blue jeans. Over the shirt, he wore a vest of antique brocade in red and gold. There were small, gypsy-style hoops in his ears and bracelets on his wrists made of leather and tiny bits of Celtic-engraved metal that chimed softly at every gesture. His feet were bare but he wore a ring of metal and beads on one, slim ankle. He still looked tired - and more beautiful than any human being, male or female, had the right to. Blue eyes were still smudged with the fatigue and shock of recent trauma - but that face was full of such life and purpose and mirth and affection. And it was all focused in on Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach.

"You waste your time, looking at me like that," Klaus growled. "I will not be persuaded by that look."

"Then how about a story?" Dorian purred. "Not a bed-time tale but something to keep you up and ... interested?"

"Why do you have to make everything sound," Klaus searched for the right word, "x-rated?"

"Only x-rated? How disappointing."

Klaus braced his elbows on the table. He dropped his head into his hands, defeated. "Tell your story. Get it over with."

"Naturally, a good thief's most important rule is, Don't get caught." Dorian switched to a completely business-like tone of voice. "You remember that happened to me once. In Rome."

Klaus looked up again. "Ja. I remember."

"It's the only time it ever happened."

The Major nodded, eyes narrowing.

"I never meant to cause that kind of trouble," Dorian continued. "Kidnapping the Pope ... how infantile. Well, I thought it might impress you."

"Ach, ja - I was impressed. So were sixty million other Catholics."

"It wasn't one of my more crowd-pleasing escapades," Dorian agreed dryly. "At any rate, you know that Don Gian-Maria Borobollonte not only arranged for my release, he saw to it that my staff was safely transported back to Britain."

"Borobollonte makes no secret of how he adores you." There was a undisguised edge in the Major's voice. "If it were possible for him to keep you, he would."

"I don't suppose you think I have any say in the matter?"

"Not much. The Mafioso do not accept leadership from men who sleep with men. So the Don surrounds himself with tall, yellow haired, blue-eyed women."

"Well, it's not my fault," Dorian protested, amused. "What are you glaring at me for?"

"I am not glaring."

"I won't apologize because men find me attractive."

Klaus seethed silently.

"You seem to take it for granted that I would jump the second the man snapped his fingers." Dorian shook his head. Then he smiled. Slyly. "You can't know how right you are ... but not for the reason you think."

"I do not think anything. Not about that." Klaus lit up another cigarette. "What you do is your own concern."

"You are my only concern in that area. I should have thought you would've caught on to that by now.... You know, Major, from our conversation the other night, I didn't think you believed any man of importance would be interested in me. That's what you said. And now it seems you've been checking me out all this time. I had no idea you cared so much."

"I was not checking anything. Especially not you." Klaus waved a hand, impatient - and embarrassed. "Go on with your story-telling. Quickly."

"I don't know if I can now."

"Why not?"

"Because I know you're jealous ... you've been jealous for a long while ... and that makes me so hot. It's hard to think of anything else." Dorian smile transformed into a grin. "God - now you're blushing!" His laugh came off as a little orgiastic gasp.

"I do not believe this conversation," Klaus groaned.

"Need help focusing?" Dorian raised one bare foot and placed it into the Major's lap, kneading gently. "Oh, how thoughtful - you've been working on dessert."

"Stop!" Klaus grasped hold of an active foot. Agile toes curled against his thumb, obliging, but the heel had lodged itself most provocatively against his groin. He tried closing his thighs to squeeze the stray out - with unexpected results.

"You've never done this before, have you?" Dorian asked, not too-innocently.

Klaus swallowed.

"Well, anyway," the thief continued, "the reason I had to jump for Borobollonte was because I owed him a favor. People in my business collect favors like ... well, like Mr. James collects cash. A debt of courtesy means more to us than money. It's a question of honor. You never know when you'll have to pay up but you'd better be ready when the time comes. Understand?" He emphasized the question with a gentle nudge.

"Ja.... Yes. I understand."

"About two years after that business in Rome, the Don found himself in need of an ambassador ... a spokesman, if you will. He needed someone outside of his own organization to convey a message to the head of another organization. Have you ever heard of Arturo Castine?"

Klaus looked startled, not just from the activity going on down below either. "Castine is the current king of the Columbian drug trade."

"He's called the Blizzard - El Nevado. A snow covered mountain, he'll fall on you and bury you. Un muy malo hombre - there's only storming frost where his heart should be, si?"

"So I have heard."

"Well, they're not too far off about that."

"Don Borobollonte sent you to speak to Castine on his behalf?" Klaus was still incredulous. He tried to picture the scene and failed miserably. "Those men have been at war with each other for years."

"They call it business, not war. Competition. The Colombians and the Italians have defined their territories very clearly but there are so many deaths in the drug trade, it's hard to tell who's killing who."

Dorian shivered delicately. Klaus felt the tremor and gently stroked the top of his foot. "Why did Borobollonte require your services?" he asked.

"He wanted to stop a war, actually." Dorian frowned, concentrating. "It's as I told you, there are all kinds of rules - especially among men like Borobollonte and Castine. You're not supposed to run around killing each other. You're not supposed to murder judges or police officers or members of the press. Families are especially sacrosanct."

"Is that so?" Klaus frowned again. "Try explaining that to the victims of family massacres in New York City, L.A. or any other large, drug infested city."

"Those situations are entirely different. Renegades, street dealers, gang members - independents with guns who operate on an individual agenda who take offense at every imagined slight and demand the ultimate in compensation. Even if they can't find the proper guilty party. They're not part of the Cartel."

"Are you defending these animals?"

"Not in the least," Dorian soothed. "I'm just trying to offer an explanation of how things are supposed to work."

"Supposed to work. That is the operative word, is it not?"

"Yes. You know as well as I do, rules are meant to be broken." The frown deepened along Dorian's brow, bringing out the fine lines around his eyes and lips that hadn't been there seven years ago at their first meeting. He ceased his auxiliary activities, sitting upright in his chair and placing both feet on the floor. "You know how wretched the drug business is," he went on. "Just suppose they had a real war - across continents - the Colombians and all the Italian factors - Sicilians, Neapolitans, Romans. Imagine how gruesome that would be."

Klaus nodded, grim. "The only profit-maker would be the undertaker."

"Yes, well, it very nearly happened. Castine's brother, Emilio, was murdered while he was on a visit to the States. Word was circulated that it wasn't just Borobollonte's organization that was responsible but that the Don himself pulled the trigger."

"But he did not."

"No."

"Then who did?"

"As I understand, it was something of an accident. But after-wards, someone thought it might be a good way to set the Don up and start a war between the Colombians and the Mafioso. The plan was to let the drug kings kill themselves off."

"Without anyone else getting hurt? Your standard innocent bystander would not have gone immune in such a massacre - or did no one consider that?" Klaus shook his head. "It is too fantastic. Who would even think to try such a thing?"

"Oh, you can guess. Just ask yourself which country has a reputation for involving itself in everyone's business whether it's wanted or not," Dorian returned. "Which one has most boasted about its war on drugs?"

"The United States? The Yanks?"

"You know, darling, that's one of the things I love about you most. You're so quick to catch on. Yes, it was the Americans."

"What happened?"

"Well, Emilio was not actually part of his brother's organiza-tion. He was as much a civilian as you can be in a family like that. And he was young, too, only in his twenties. His sole purpose during his visit to the States was to have a good time. Which is what caused the trouble - too much partying. A pair of police officers pulled him over for speeding. There'd been something of a chase, the boy was quite drunk. Apparently, when it all came to a crashing halt, Emilio bragged about who he was, his connections, that sort of thing. He made some threats." Dorian shook his head. "I don't know. Perhaps he was scared. Perhaps he was just too drunk-"

"Perhaps he was an asshole," Klaus snapped.

"That, too." The thief sighed and went on. "It wasn't the kind of information you'd want to publicize - for all kinds of reasons. Still, he was young and drunk and full of himself. And there was a young woman in the car, someone to impress. We found out later that she was related to one of the police officers, she was the man's sister. That's why they'd been tracking Emilio." Dorian paused. He picked up his glass and finished off the rest of his beer before he went on. "It went a little crazy - no, a lot crazy. One of the officers pulled his revolver and killed the boy, he emptied the chamber into his head."

"Mob execution style."

"Yes." Dorian shuddered. "I'm no great fan of the Castine family and I'm sure little Emilio's behavior left a lot to be desired but that was a horrible way to go. And that poor girl, they terrorized her into accepting their story."

"That Don Borobollonte was responsible?"

Dorian nodded, very serious. "Yes. Although it wasn't as if she had much choice in the matter. I mean, it was her brother."

"And her lover was now dead."

"Do you understand the dynamics of that decision for the Don?"

"There is no way Castine and his people could ignore that kind of insult to his family. The Colombians would feel obliged to strike back in any and every way they could. With concerns in South and North America and Borobollonte's headquarters in Italy, there would be at least three battle fronts, probably many more, all utilizing terrorist, inner-city tactics." Klaus continued his list, ticking it off methodically. "If Borobollonte's associates, the heads of the other families, felt that the Don had acted too independently, then they might feel obligated to retaliate to try to satisfy the Colombians and prevent or curtail the war. All the old deals would have to be renegotiated with the Italians losing ground and face. They would not like that. Finally, competing Mafia heads would see the situation as an opportunity to take Borobollonte down while he was in a weakened state, to take over the Don's operations while he was doing battle with Castine."

Dorian nodded. "It would be like an ocean of hungry sharks with one great rogue white, cut off from the bulk of his resources, leaving a blood trail in the water. No matter how big and grand he is, Don Borobollonte could only last but so long."

Klaus shrugged. He would waste no tears over one less gangster. Borobollonte may not have been responsible for the death of Emilio Castine but the Major knew the Don had left a blood trail of his own making in order to achieve his position as a head of family.

"So Don Borobollonte asked you to speak to Arturo Castine for him?" Klaus asked. He still could not believe it.

"He needed an independent spokesman, someone outside of his own concerns, who could present his case in less biased terms," Dorian told him briefly.

"And Castine believed you?"

"No. He did not." Blue eyes glittered darkly. The thief's posture went very stiff. It was the same kind of bearing Klaus had seen in men just before they received a blow. "The best I could get out of him was an acknowledgement that such action on Don Borobollonte's part would have been insane beyond belief. The Don didn't get to where he was by being stupid. And Castine found me amusing - which I tried very hard to be. That jolly agreement got me three days - seventy two hours - to prove my case."

"What did you do?"

"I went to Miami and got the proof I needed, didn't I?"

"That sounds almost ... impossible." Klaus shook his head slowly. "Other parties would have been seeking their own answers there, would they not? Or hiding their trail."

"Well, it wasn't as if Mr. Castine expected me to be successful."

"But you were."

"Yes. I was very motivated."

"How motivated?"

"Arturo Castine entertained Mr. James in his home during my absence. Meanwhile, certain Italian parties played host to other members of my staff, `protecting' them while I was away."

"Weiß Gott." Klaus drew in a deep breath. "What did you do?"

"There's no need to go into detail, is there? You know it wasn't much of a lark. Not my kind of thing at all." Dorian hunched his shoulders in a small shrug. "I ran into some very kind police officers who went out of their way to help me - Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs. Do you know them?"

"No."

"Well, they were very helpful. And everything worked out all right. Obviously." Dorian refused to dwell on any further past horrors. The grin returned. "You know Sonny keeps a pet alligator in his boat named Elvis."

"He calls his boat `Elvis'?"

"No - the alligator." Dorian laughed. "I like Americans, they're different. They know how to have a good time and they're very generous."

"I have been to Miami. I know Americans." Klaus considered what he'd heard, matched some details. "That Cuban music we danced to pervades the area. You learned that dancing there. That police officer, that Sonny taught it to you, yes?"

"Good lord." Dorian eyes widened, astonished. "You've got a one track mind, haven't you?"

"That is not an answer."

"What do you want me to tell you? I learned calypso dancing in Miami - mostly. In between dodging bullets and fire bombs. Satisfied?"

"No."

"Well, I'm sorry but it's the best I can give you."

That was answer enough. Klaus nodded, he didn't need to hear anything more. He went quiet, digesting that final comment along with the rest of the information he'd heard. Various pictures were still locking into place. He had always understood that the thief's escapades involved strong elements of danger, there was plenty of opportunity for harm. That Dorian had managed to carry on all these years without succumbing to the perils of his profession was a testament to skill rather than luck. Luck alone would have never kept him alive this long.

Still, the image persisted with Klaus only half-able to grasp it. Dorian cat-footing along a triangle-tightrope held between El Nevado, Don Borobollonte and a pair of Miami's more corrupt enforcement officers. One false step and worlds would, literally, crumble. They might be a bit gilded, but this blond-animal had balls of brass.

You cannot be honorable when it is easy, Klaus had said that himself and recently, too, echoing Rudy Löwen - the man who could put into words the things Klaus had only known by instinct. The pursuit of true honor is the most difficult path you'll ever walk.

But Dorian had honored his obligation to Don Borobollonte - no questions asked and, in doing so, had prevented untold mayhem. He'd faced down ugly odds and succeeded where no one else had been able. Just how ugly had it been? Klaus probed that area gently, he wasn't sure he wanted more details. Men of Spanish descent were notoriously homophobic and, recently, he had found that he did not like to think of Dorian hurt - in any way.

So, when the going got tough, the truly tough ones apparently locked into gear and relocated mountains - even while decked out in linen, lace and lavender scent. Klaus looked up, focusing in on the man seated across from him. Miami weather was remarkably hot and humid. It must have played absolute havoc with those gypsy curls.

And how was it that he kept finding Löwen there in that mass of sunlit gold?

Dorian leaned forward in his chair, reaching across the table to take Klaus' hand in both of his. He gripped the Major's fingers in a loose hold, massaging the tendons along the back of his hand. The expression on Klaus' face was stern and foreboding, the kind of look most men knew enough to back off from. The wavering light from the fireplace and candles licked over the Major's skin creating patterns of dark and gold, deepening the shadows at his eyes and following the path of his cheekbone to jaw. It made his hair glisten like wet, raw silk. He was wearing a heather-weave sweater of blended jade, lapis, onyx and agate over a pale gray shirt. The material outlined and accentuated the lean muscles of his chest and arms, relaxed now, a wolf in repose. Intimidating to some, Dorian realized, and the Major made every effort to enhance that effect. But somehow, the man had never been able to put the thief off ... much to the surprise of both of them.

Klaus' fingers flexed, curling around Dorian's, returning the caress. Storm green eyes never softened. They glittered at him from across the table, passionate - yes - even loving. But wary, too. Guarded.

I'd crawl on all fours across the Sahara for you, Dorian thought. Just to grab the sun and torch that black misery out of your soul.... Give me a chance and I'll slay your dragons, Sir Knight ... if I only knew what - or who they are. What happened to you, love? Who did this?

Dorian lifted Klaus' hand to his lips and kissed the palm. The Major's skin smelled of Turkish tobacco and mustard and heat. Klaus lingered, stroking the side of Dorian's face, lacing his fingertips into yellow curls. He ran his thumb along a fleshy, lower lip, seeking entrance. Dorian, obligingly, welcomed him in.

After a while, the Earl said, "You're right as usual. Talking too much really sucks."

"Not as well as you do."

"Passed the test then, have I?" Dorian gave a low chuckle. "Perhaps my lord would care to adjourn to his private chambers? To a more casual setting?"

"You keep playing games." Klaus could not keep the wonder from his voice.

"Yes, I do," Dorian purred, pleased. "But trust me - these fantasies are just for you."

"That is all very fine." Klaus traced a path down the length of

Dorian's nose and tweaked the end. "But you must keep in mind that we cannot stay in bed all day tomorrow."

"Then you've decided to let me work with you?"

"How could I stop you - short of securing you hand and foot and locking you in the basement?" Klaus raised an eyebrow. "That would only give me a small head start, wouldn't it?"

Dorian beamed. "How well you know me, darling."

"Ja, sie haben recht. I know you."

The Earl got up from the table. He stepped around to Klaus' side and urged the Major to his feet, embraced him lightly.

"You know all those times we worked together in the past?" Dorian began. "And the time we've spent together just now? It's been pretty good, hasn't it? We've done well, all in all."

Klaus nodded, bemused. "All in all," he agreed.

"Well, that's nothing compared to what it's going to be," Dorian promised. He slid his arms more tightly around his lover, holding Klaus snug against his body. "We're going to be great, you'll see. Positively choice. From this night on, all our times together are going to be the best we've ever had."

Klaus closed his eyes, gathering Dorian close. But you already are my best time, he thought and held the thief harder, fighting a rush of panic.

After all these years of enforced solitude, he wasn't alone anymore. The thought still chilled him through to the bone.

 




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