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

By Any Other Name

by Kay Reynolds

 

Chapter Fifteen

 

"You look completely knackered," Dorian said. "And half frozen, too. Why don't we get out of here - maybe go for an early lunch?"

"I do not need lunch," Klaus said. "I need a drink."

"Well, we could do that."

"No, we cannot. We are working." The Major lurched to his feet and began striding out of the memorial enclosure. He didn't stop to see if Dorian followed, didn't think to order him to. He just took it for granted that the thief would.

Which he did. Dorian trailed the Major's wake on frozen but silent cat's feet, Puss in Boots in human drag. It was where he was supposed to be.

They both understood that.

The crowd had thickened. Those which had perched themselves up on the reviewing stands to watch the air show huddled together in one solid brick of humanity. Envious, Dorian caught sight of more than one open, steaming thermos. A group of youngsters held soda cans out towards another in their party with a brown-bagged bottle. The youth carefully poured a dark liquid into the cans like a priest discharging communion at some holy rite, they were that solemn. Klaus gave them the benefit of a full-faced Eberbach snarl as he passed by. The boys looked up, caught in the act, and cowered under the impact. But the Major had other matters on his mind and kept moving. Dorian gave them a grin, a shrug and a stow-it-if-you-know-what's-good-for-you look.

Klaus completed a quick but thorough patrol of the immediate air field as if he'd expected something to have happened during his absence. He threaded his way back more slowly, pausing from time to time to study a specific group or track a sound.

"It's coming up on 10:30," Dorian said. "The big party is getting underway in London now."

Klaus nodded, peering out over the accumulation. Dorian watched an American officer stroll by accompanied by his wife on his arm. Various young ones scampered close, grandchildren more than likely. The man's chest was a riot of color, decorated with ribbons and medals from old wars and conflicts. A splash of purple stood out like the wound it represented. It flashed at him briefly, then fell back into hiding again, covered by the camera straps around the old soldier's neck.

The Earl shivered with more than the cold, turning his gaze to Klaus again. The Major could have been alone, he was that focused, that vigilant. When did you stop having holidays? Dorian wondered. There's no parades for you, only operations. And a party's only an excuse for some terrorist to blow bloody hell out of everyone.

Unconsciously, he shifted closer to Klaus, guarding his back.

"Good morning, rosebud." The voice washed over them, startlingly close. "What are you up to out in this muck? No good, I hope."

Dorian turned to regard familiar blue eyes. "Hello, Bodie." He smiled, inquiring, "Why would you want to be catching me in some criminal activity?"

"'Cause then we could take you in and get out of this misery."

"Always a strategist," Ray Doyle said. Sarcasm masked the warmth in his voice - barely.

"Somebody's got to have a plan," Bodie argued reasonably.

"Sorry to disappoint you," Dorian said. "I'm as legit as it's possible for me to be just now." He shifted to bring Klaus into a circle of introductions. "Allow me to present my associate, Major Klaus von dem Eberbach of NATO Intelligence. Major, this is Bodie and his partner, Ray Doyle. They're with CI5."

Klaus nodded, fixing faces with names, accepting handshakes. The two men were a study in contrasts. Bodie had straight black hair that fell in a fringe over electric blue eyes. Solid as a small boulder, it was obvious he worked out with weights on a regular basis. Despite the muscle, he moved with a boxer's balanced gait and grace. The man fancied himself something of a dandy, too, a rough diamond elegantly turned out with velvet on his coat collar and fur-lined gloves. His boots were comfortably broken-in but well-polished and cared for and his clothes were impeccably tailored. Even another professional would be hard pressed to detect the gun under his coat.

Ray Doyle, on the other hand, was no slave to fashion ... or anyone else, Klaus concluded intuitively. His approach to dress was distinctly more casual. Some would find the green eyes compelling, he'd had that compliment often enough himself. Nor could one disregard the shaggy auburn curls, obviously a trademark. He was an attractive man whose appearance had appealed throughout the ages. Klaus had seen those features chiseled into sculpture, Bernini ... Donatello ... one of those renegade Italians that Dorian was always going on about. However, this face was accentuated by a smashed cheekbone, a chipped tooth and other signs that spoke more of roughhouse wear and tear than an accident of antiquity. The man had a temper.

"CI5 - I am familiar with your organization," Klaus said brusquely. "Britain's Criminal Intelligence division."

"Obviously a contradiction in terms," Bodie retorted. "Present company excluded."

"Nice save," Dorian purred.

"I try."

"Still, you could do better."

Bodie grinned. "Not in public I couldn't."

The Earl grinned back. "Cheeky bastard."

"Don't mind us," Doyle drawled out. "We'll just stand by till you're finished."

"Sorry." Dorian caught a quick look at a towering Klaus. Looked again. Cleared his throat. "Well ... you know how easy it is to get carried away, running into old friends."

"No," Klaus responded drily. "I do not."

Dorian fixed a smile on his face. Held it. And shut up.

"You sound as if you have known each other for some time," the Major observed grimly.

The three regarded each other. Eventually, Doyle said, "Off and on throughout the years." He was smiling, too, now - something like a schoolboy caught in the act.

"You are very familiar with each other."

Bodie laughed. "Familiar doesn't begin to cover it, guv."

"Really?" Klaus' voice and expression had gone arctic.

Dorian winced inwardly. The would-be terrorists had missed their chance. Their efforts could only pale in comparison if these fireworks got underway. True, Ray was the one with the well-reputed temper - but it couldn't hold a candle to his easy-going partner once provoked. Klaus, of course, specialized in provocation and follow-through.

"How long have you been with CI5?" Klaus demanded.

"Long enough," Bodie answered, still playful. "We're doddering away towards retirement ... any moment now if we're lucky."

"Speak for yourself, old man." Doyle's smile flashed to a grin again. Bodie punched his arm, not too gently.

"I suppose you held other occupations before your employment there?" Klaus continued, unfazed and undeterred by the horseplay.

"You suppose correctly," Bodie said. He was still smiling although the warmth had suddenly and completely dissipated.

"I was a cop," Doyle filled in, watching the space shorten between his partner and the Major. "Erm, Bodie pursued other career activities."

Klaus lifted an eyebrow, the picture of insolence. "Activities involving muscle and weapons, I would imagine."

"You have quite an imagination," Bodie said. "Not that it's any of your business."

"I love men of mystery. They have such brute, neanderthal charm." Dorian stepped to Bodie's side and wrapped his arms around the agent's, bringing him in close and tight. "The word you're searching for, Major, is mercenary," he said, lightly. "But we all prefer the term `Soldier of Fortune,' yes? It's so much more romantic."

Klaus considered. "Africa?"

"Yeah," Bodie replied. "How do you know?"

"The creature on your arm there would be considering that most romantic. Biafra was a celebrated cause."

"Know something about that yourself, would you?"

Klaus shrugged. Nodded once. "Something," he said. "Ja."

The two men regarded each other with more interest than hostility. The testosterone level plummeted somewhat. Dorian let go of the breath he'd been holding and exchanged a glance with Ray Doyle. He released his hold on Bodie and casually stepped aside.

"So," Bodie returned his attention to the Earl. "You never said what you were doing here. Just keeping the Major company?"

"Major Eberbach is here on official business - sort of," Dorian explained. And grimaced. Well, it was almost true.

"`Sort of?'" Bodie looked at his partner.

Klaus turned a scowl on Dorian.

The Earl spread his hands, imploring, trying to salvage what he could. "It's more or less a busman's holiday," he explained. "I'm only touring him about."

"Yeah, you're good at that."

"Not that kind of tour."

"Really?" Bodie was all innocence. "I didn't know you knew any other kind. He'll have to demonstrate for us sometime, won't he, Ray?"

"We can hardly wait," Doyle agreed.

"I can." Dorian smiled through clenched teeth.

"What kind of tour?" Klaus demanded suspiciously.

"Nothing. I'll tell you later."

"Oh," Bodie turned again to his partner. "He'll tell him later. Never mind us, guv. You can tell him now."

Dorian's smile went very sweet. "If you don't Shut Up, I will," he promised.

"Oo ... temper, temper, rosebud. You know, this is quite a treat actually," Bodie concluded, his grin going wider. "Almost makes my day. We've never seen you quite this rattled before. I think we owe you one, Major."

Klaus shrugged, nonchalant. "No problem."

"Better watch out for those `tours' of his," Doyle added, amused.

"Will you stop?" Dorian snapped. He shoved his hands into his pockets and glared at Klaus. "Don't you have anything to say?"

"Do not look to me for sympathy, Herr Dieb. You have entrenched yourself well enough without my assistance," Klaus said.

"You law enforcement types ... always hanging together." Dorian cocked his head to one side. "Made my bed, have I? Got to lie in it, yes?"

"So it would appear."

"What can I say? I'm crushed." The smile went bold. "But misery loves company. I could be seduced to the other side of the force. You never know until you try."

"Perhaps. But I do know you could be beaten to a bloody pulp if you do not learn to mind your mouth," Klaus advised. "Such suggestions are inappropriate."

"Touché, rosebud." Bodie laughed. "Want to try for best two out of three?"

"Where's the competition?" Dorian demanded mildly. "Could anyone equal Major Eberbach? Sorry, but I can only allow myself to be disemboweled by the very best. A man's got to have his standards."

Bodie groaned and placed a hand over his heart as if covering a mortal wound. Ray Doyle let out a staccato burst of laughter. Klaus' composure wavered slightly; he smiled.

One of the stunt planes dove in for a landing, soaring down the near runway, its engine roar enhanced by cheering spectators. It was a RAF DeHavilland Tiger Moth II and obviously still as popular as it had been throughout the whole of WWII from the sound of the crowd. Developed from the Gypsy Moth, the biplanes performed a variety of duties from casualty evacuation to anti-submarine patrol. Built for speed, endurance and agility, their official use continued past the war and into the 50's. The wind shifted in the wake of the plane's landing bringing with it the sting of moisture.

Bodie made a face, shuddering down into his coat. "Ice," he groaned. "Wonderful."

"Maybe that'll speed things along," Dorian said, ever hopeful.

"Won't do us much good," Doyle said. "Cowley's got us on rat patrol and no breaks allowed. There's big rumblings throughout the community. Every able-bodied they've got is out today. London's wall-to-wall with them."

"Spit on the spot," Bodie finished. "Ready for anything, prepared for nothing."

"Have you heard any news? Any updates?" Klaus asked.

"Not a word." Doyle frowned, concerned. "That's what's got everyone so spooked. Generally, these occasions bring the rats right out of the woodwork. They usually start with the threats and promises early on. But there hasn't been a squeak except behind-the-scene rumor. Not even a bloody pamphlet flapping about. That's suspicious enough by itself."

"How do you mean?" Klaus asked.

The two CI5 agents exchanged glances.

"The small fry's tucked up their tails and run for the high ground,"

Ray explained. "Whatever's out there is big enough to send the little ones into hiding."

"Any line on weapons?" Dorian asked.

"Nothing special, rosebud," Bodie said. "But you can get your hooks on almost anything nowadays from assault weapons to tanks. Look at the arsenal you've got around here. It's a retired bloody RAF airfield-gone-museum, for god's sake. You've got all these lovely working weapons just lying about like a shopping display. `And now, in our main showroom, we've got a marvelous ----Mark 1 Vickers capable of firing off 450 to 500 rounds per minute with normal and rapid rates of 125 to 200 rounds per in a 25 round burst. Just the tool to escalate those third world bush wars into a full scale slaughter.'" He imitated firing off a string of shots and finished by blowing off the muzzle of his imaginary weapon. "Now there's some smart photos you can liven up the family album with."

"Here, it's not as bad as all that," Doyle protested. "The security's tight enough."

"Is that so?" Bodie smirked, jerking his head at Dorian. "Ask him about those `tight' systems. Bet he could tell you a tale or three."

"Not likely," Dorian said. "Sorry, darling."

"That's why I love you, rosebud. You're such a tease. It's a pure treat making you talk."

Dorian raised an eyebrow. "Like you've ever been able."

"Bingo." Bodie fired off another imaginary shot.

The Earl shook his head, suddenly serious. "It really doesn't matter how tight or good or state of the art your security is," he advised. "If someone is determined enough, he'll get in. Make a play for what he's after. If he's crazy enough - and that's the sort you lot specialize in - then he won't care if you take him down while he's at it. That may well be his end goal anyway."

"Thou art but a simple thief..." Bodie mouthed out in sonorous, Shakespearean tones and Dorian broke up again.

Doyle cast Klaus a bemused expression. "They're really both quite daft, you know."

"Ja, I see that."

Further commentary was interrupted by a brittle two-toned beep coming from Doyle's coat. The agent removed a slim radio transmitter and stepped a short distance away, excusing himself.

"It must be mother," Bodie glibbed as Ray took the call. "You know how she worries."

"No doubt calling to remind you to take your medication," Dorian said and they were both off again.

"You refer to Major Cowley as `mother?'" Klaus asked, confused.

"Never to his face," Bodie confessed quickly. "I'm not that suicidal."

Conversation concluded, Ray re-joined the group. "It's started up," he announced in a low voice. "There's been a bombing downtown. Some lot has taken out the front of the arcade mart. Mortar rounds shot out from the back of a car."

"The antique arcade?" Dorian paled. "Is anyone hurt?"

"Plenty - but they can't say how many yet. The fire's not out, they haven't begun to get through the rubble." Doyle shook his head. "Cowley says we're to stay put for the time being but most of the crew's been reassigned to that area."

"We must check this out for ourselves," Klaus said.

"You've got contacts at the arcade?" Bodie queried sharply.

"We do." Klaus met and held Dorian's gaze, willing him to silence. "We must leave you now."

"Anything we can do?" Bodie asked.

"No," Dorian said. "But thank you."

Klaus put his hand on the Earl's shoulder, pressing him on. They walked quickly towards the museum proper.

"Hold on," Dorian said as they stepped inside the doorway. He stopped beside a public wall phone. "Let me make a call home. I need to talk with Bonham."

"Do you think your household could be in any danger?" Klaus asked.

Dorian shrugged, dialing. "I don't know," he said. "I wouldn't think so - but I'd rather not leave them set up for any ugly surprises. They need to know about this. Balls. I hope Mr. Dainty's all right."

Klaus stood apart, granting him privacy as Dorian began to talk into receiver. He gazed out of the glass doors, back into the crowd. The swarm had already swallowed Bodie and Doyle.

"Ow - damnit!" Dorian gave a cry and dropped the receiver. He fumbled it back again, listening in but holding the phone a distance from his ear.

"What?" Klaus demanded.

"There was a loud noise. Now it's just static." Dorian handed him the receiver. "The line's dead."

Klaus checked the other phone. "This one is out as well." He replaced the receiver, moving back outside, Dorian beside him. They scanned the crowd for the two agents, for any security representative.

"Look over there," Dorian said. "What's that? Some kind of flare?"

Twin streams of murky green smoke began to drift up along the edge of the review stands growing taller and more dense by the second. As they watched, another column began to spiral up a short distance away. The wind began to blow the fog into the crowd.

"CS Gas," Klaus snapped.

Dorian nodded. Pepper gas was commonly used in riot control procedures. The theory was to inflict severe discomfort as opposed to using firepower that would maim or kill. CS Gas worked on the nervous, respiratory and digestive systems and, while extremely unpleasant, it was hardly ever fatal.

Unless the crowd began to panic and run.

Which was beginning to happen. Already they heard the sounds of fear and confusion as the choking cloud reached face level and spread out. People were stumbling about, surging towards escape. Eerie fingers of fog stretched towards the top of the bleachers. A woman began screaming, a high, shrill cry of alarm.

The predators had awakened and were on the move.

Klaus shoved Dorian back inside the museum. "You will stay here," he ordered.

"No." Dorian shook his head. "I'm going with you."

"I said you will stay!" Klaus thundered, raising his fist.

Dorian gasped, eyes going wide - but he held his ground.

"Let me go with you," the thief said. "I can help."

"You will help more here. Wedge these doors open." Klaus secured his scarf over the lower half of his face, pulled his gun. "Keep them open and keep out of the way. They will be running through here at any moment. It is the only safety they have."

The Major scowled a final warning, then ran outside.

Dorian glared after him, hands fisted, mouth set. Anger brought color to his face. He looked positively ravishing.

He felt utterly devastated. Idiot, he chided himself. You know you'd only be in the way - and he'd get himself killed looking after you. Let the man do his job. And you do yours.... You can always track him down later.

Still, he considered charging after Klaus. Then thought again. The first of the mob had begun hurtling towards the museum. Resigned, Dorian quickly braced the first set of doors open as a pair of young recruits plowed past. They nearly knocked him off his feet.

"You there, Army!" the Earl bellowed in his best raging-Major imitation. "Where the hell do you think you're going?"

The two men wheeled about, stumbling to a halt. They gaped about, half panicked, trying to find the source of that voice. Oddly enough, it seemed to be coming from the tall bit of blond fluff.

"Secure these doors open," Dorian shouted. "Help these people get inside. Do it now!"

My god, they're doing it, the Earl thought as the two men hastened to comply. He felt as surprised as the expressions which had locked onto their faces. Better - the two quickly enlisted the help of their mates, recruiting other uniforms young and old to steady the mob and keep them moving through with minimal catastrophe.

Dorian positioned himself outside the door, flagging others towards safety. Ice pellets stung his face but he couldn't mind it too much. The storm was beating the gas down. The cloud had stopped spreading so rapidly. For a moment, he felt quite optimistic.

Then a doubled-over mass of humanity threw herself, wailing, at the doors and consequently into the Earl. Dorian had a brief glimpse of badly stitched, yellow naugahyde and a flowered headscarf before they both went tumbling over.

Half-winded, Dorian dragged himself up. He reached down to take the old rag woman's arm. "Are you all right?" the Earl began - and stopped. When last seen, the ancient cheerleader had been bare-legged, her feet had been wrapped in rags. Now she was wearing finely tailored slacks and very expensive leather boots.

Sable Volovoi raised a heart-shaped, serpent's face and smiled. Lightning snapped and popped in her eyes as if someone had just thrown the switch and left it open. She grasped onto Dorian before he could retreat, entwining herself.

"Surprise," Sable said, hugging close. "Remember me?"

Dorian nodded. He felt an unmended tear on the yellow coat and something wet. Not melting ice.

"You are distinctly unforgettable, Madame Volovoi." The thief found his voice, noting that he didn't sound much like Klaus any more. Well, there was something hard and sharp pressing into the small of his back and bluster was no longer appropriate.

"You English gentlemen, you have such a way with words. You will turn my head. Charlie will be jealous." Sable's smile deepened, her moist, red lips widening into a near-laugh. Dorian thought about how a small animal must feel as it was about to be swallowed whole. "Do as I say," the woman continued pleasantly, "or I will blow a hole out of your spine."

"I am yours to command, madam."

This time, she did laugh. It was a loud sound, too, and full of mirth.

"I love hostages," Sable hissed, prodding him along. "They make such splendid toys."

Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!

Klaus caught up with Bodie and Doyle on the museum side of the reviewing stand. The ice storm was coming down harder and while the wind gusted the pepper gas farther and faster, the moisture seemed to be beating it down below danger level. Flashing lights from two security vehicles stabbed beacons of red into the stormy morning. Security personnel clustered about herding civilians towards safety, looking after those who had fallen in the first rush of motion while others tried to determine the origin of the gas.

A piercing wail emanated from Bodie's radio transmitter until it settled into a pattern of high-pitched static. The agent snapped it off and pocketed it.

"They're all jammed," Bodie snapped. "The phones are down. Communications are dead."

"They got the gas under wraps over there," Ray Doyle said. "Never thought I'd be glad to see the bloody ice."

"Hold onto your hurrahs," his partner cautioned. "I don't think we've seen the worst of it yet."

"Who let it off? Did anyone see anything?"

"In this crowd?" Klaus asked. "Everyone was watching the planes. Anyone could have released those grenades from a slit pocket or dropped them from a purse and simply kept walking. Who would have noticed?"

Ray's scowl deepened into a frown. "And how're we going to catch them now?"

"Well, that's the beauty of it, sunshine. There's not much point in even trying," Bodie said. "'Specially not with everyone scattering off. They've flown to the four winds by now."

"Perhaps not. Look there!" Klaus pointed up towards the museum. Dark shapes moved along the roof. "I see four ... now six. Five men, one woman."

"Shit," Bodie said with feeling.

Doyle peered up, shielding his eyes from the sleet. "Snipers?" he asked.

"I do not know." Klaus squinted against the ice, reaching into his coat for the Fujinon binoculars. "They are unrolling a banner."

"`England Get Out of Ireland,'" Bodie read aloud and groaned. "Oh, god, it's the bloody IRA."

"I thought the PM just signed a treaty with them." Doyle's voice was laced with sarcasm. "We're all supposed to be friends now, aren't we?"

"Well, somebody must've missed the welcome wagon."

Another banner unfurled reading, `Victims of British Internment and Torture.' Then the group took up position around the roof's edge, sheltering themselves behind the low wall. The Fujinon brought in the detail on the weaponry. Klaus passed the binoculars to Bodie so he could see for himself.

"Kalashnikov PK's ... Makarovas...." The agent gave a low whistle, handing the binoculars to his partner. "It looks like they've been outfitted by the Russian army."

"We have been pursuing an arms dealer with a Russian source," Klaus advised grimly.

"You and rosebud?" Blue eyes flickered with surprise.

Frost returned to the Major's voice. "Why do you persist in calling him by that name?"

"Never mind Bodie, Major. He's always running off at the mouth." Ray returned the binoculars to Klaus. "Anyway, looks like you've found your buyer."

"Yeah, but where did the IRA get the funds to outfit a maneuver like this?" Bodie protested. "There's some big money strutting about up there."

Ray smiled without meaning it. "Maybe they saved up their shillings for a rainy day."

"If our sources are correct, there may be worse than that to contend with," Klaus muttered, grim.

A loud, crackling whine from a loudspeaker bounced off the buildings until the system found its balance. Shortly afterwards, a man's voice sang out from the rooftop:

"Through the little streets of Belfast
In the dark of early morn,
British soldiers came marauding
Wrecking little homes with scorn.
Heedless of the crying children,
Dragging fathers from their beds,
Beating sons while helpless mothers
Watch the blood flow from their heads...."

"God's balls," Bodie moaned, "they've gone musical comedy on us. What do they expect us to do, join in the chorus?"

"Shut up, Bodie," Ray Doyle hissed. "This is just the beginning."

"You mean next they'll dance?"

Klaus studied the scene. With any luck at all, the civilians were making their way through the main building and out the other side. There were plenty still in transit, stumbling across the airfield and spectator areas towards the main building. So far, the men on the roof hadn't tried to stop them and he wondered, sickened, if that were part of the plan. He didn't want to think of all those men, women and children trapped inside if the building was rigged to blow. That stratagem was certainly a possibility - even a probability given the IRA's affection for explosives. Suddenly, he wondered where Dorian was. Then tried to shake that image from his mind. The thief knew how to take care of himself.

"We must get up to that roof and see what is happening," Klaus said.

"Like that lot to the left," Bodie said. "There - at three o'clock."

All around them, the voice kept chanting on, low and strong, compelling despite its static crackle:

"Not for them a judge or jury,
Or indeed a crime at all.
Being Irish means they're guilty,
So we're guilty one and all.
'Round the world the truth will echo,
Cromwell's men are here again
England's name again is sullied
In the eyes of honest men."

For the next two heartbeats, there was nothing but silence and the wail of the bitter wind. The quiet was somehow more disturbing after the enveloping wall of rhyme. Then the voice rang out again.

"Good morning and happy Remembrance Day, all you soldiers and loved ones. My name is Ringan O'Connor and I'm here to show you a holiday England will never forget."

"Can you see him?" Bodie hissed.

"No," Ray said.

Klaus shook his head, peering through his binoculars. There was no movement from above except the fluttering of banners. The speaker was smart, staying out of sight and, therefore, out of range. But that was to be expected. The Major examined the filing system of his mind targeting the name Ringan O'Connor with its headline description - Terrorist and Demolitions Expert. The rest of the file immediately snapped into place but none of it was encouraging. Anxiously, he scanned the immediate ground area. A thick stream of civilians had stopped in their tracks on the way to the museum exit. They stood riveted, staring up, uncertain now as to how to proceed. Scattered pockets of security personnel studied the activity on the roof or moved stealthily towards the building. Here and there, film crews recorded the events. They couldn't broadcast because of the jamming but they could video tape the proceedings for later use.

A sudden barrage of gunfire punctuated O'Connor's speech. The officers who had been snaking their way up the side stairs fell back in a rush. Two dropped by the side, badly wounded.

"Don't crowd me - not just yet," the bardic voice called out. "I've got the advantage on you, as you can plainly see. Besides, I'm nearly done. As I said, I'm Ringan O'Connor and I'm a poet, a singer, a teller of tales, a soldier and a patriot. I'm proud to say that, since I could stand, I've served my country as a messenger in the Irish Republican Army. And I'm here to tell you today, that there can be no treaty between the British imperialists and true Irishmen and Irishwomen."

Bodie scowled. "It is going to be a pure pleasure to shut that idiot up."

"Check out that film crew, over there," Ray said. "If we can just get in with them...."

"There's thinking for you," Bodie said, pleased. "Infiltrate the crew, head up with the cameras, make like journalists - that lot loves publicity."

"Stop talking, idiot," Klaus snarled. "Just do it."

"Right," Ray said. "We're going to have to move around from the rear. I'll start out first. Cover me."

"The British government has sentenced me to death on ten different occasions in absentia," Ringan O'Connor continued from his rooftop perch. "Well, as Brendan Behan once said, they can hang me in absentia, too!"

Again, Klaus and Bodie waded through another dramatic pause, tracking Ray's progress towards the film crew.

"He is talking a long time," the Major said as the rhetoric kicked in again.

"Well, that's the Irish for you. That chatter marks him as the genuine article," Bodie said. "The Irish are like your basic human elephant - they never forget. Worse, they never forgive. They remember everything that happens to them, then they sit around the home fires and pubs and reel it out over and over. The famine happened last week, Cromwell's massacres only a year ago Monday, civil war broke out this morning. Think about it, Major," the agent continued, still intent upon his partner's advance. "There's no way they can win here. But does it matter? Hell, no. The Irish have a love of spectacle, of grand gestures and martyrs. They celebrate their heroes for their style - not for their success or lack of it."

"Bullshit. This is not typical Irish behavior. It is terrorist behavior. These are a bunch of god damn, self-infatuated bastards," Klaus blazed. "And they deserve worse than they will ever get."

"Well, don't beat around the bush, Major. Tell me how you really feel."

Klaus shook his head, resolute, still staring through the binoculars. "O'Connor is not up there."

"What?"

"Listen to his voice. Listen to the pauses that he makes. It is a recording we are hearing."

"But he just commented on the shooting. He said -"

"Pre-recorded. They would have to suppose that someone would attempt to get up there. They planned on that. It is easy enough to stop one tape and slide in another message when it is needed."

"Aw, you don't mean -"

"The speech is a front for some other activity," Klaus insisted. "Look around you. What is moving?"

Ray Doyle had reached the film crew without incident. Bodie tore his gaze away and made a clockwise, visual search of the immediate grounds. Everyone seemed rooted in place, sheep staring up, listening to the voice, straining to see its owner. Well, it was the natural thing to do. Civilians would be entranced and curious. Uniforms would be forming strategy and scouting for weak spots.

With a chill of recognition, Bodie understood that the street scuttlebutt had been right. This was the big one. This was all so well planned, so well executed. The explosions downtown would draw available help away from firefighters and ambulances to foot patrol. Jamming communications prevented anyone at the museum from alerting anyone of their circumstances or calling for help. There was enough confusion to delay check-in's giving the terrorists another time advantage. The gas and the rooftop show had brought all available law enforcement out onto the field, exposed and vulnerable, torn between protecting unarmed citizens and forming a plan of attack. This operation had been timed to the minute. A quick check told him they were fast approaching 11:00. The eleventh hour.

"That ambulance over there," Bodie said. "Look how it's coming up on the field."

Klaus' eyes narrowed. The vehicle might be heading in for the wounded officers on the outside stairway. But they could not have seen from behind that hanger, he thought. No one could have called them on radio -

"Cover me!" the Major ordered, breaking into a run - just as the first grenade lobbed out from the rooftop and exploded. The pavement heaved beneath their feet. Chunks of runway, bleacher and steaming metal went soaring. The concussion blasted both men to the ground.

When Bodie staggered up, bruised and dazed, Klaus was already on his feet, running again and heading away from the museum. Everyone was suddenly on the move, scattering to return fire or dragging casualties to shelter. He hesitated for a moment, gazing, worried, back towards Doyle's party. Then, with a curse and a snarl, Bodie began to follow Klaus' lead, weaving in and out of scrambling uniforms and civilians, dodging bullets, too. Those on the roof had begun spraying the ground with round after round.

Two more grenades blasted off, this time landing farther away. Bodie threw his arm up over his head, ducking down under a fresh barrage of debris. Still, he kept up the chase.

"Where the hell are you going?" he bellowed. "The ambulance is headed that way!"

But the Major had focused in on his goal and was not in an answering mood. He skidded to a stop beside a mounted patrol. Bodie was close enough to hear him shout, "Give me your horse."

The English officer stared down from his great black mount, riveted by shock. "Excuse me?" he began.

His reply came in the form of a fist grasping onto his arm and jerking him down from the saddle. Klaus had his hand on the reins and a foot in the stirrup as the mare broke into a run. Bodie dove out of the way as horse and rider thundered a path straight through where he'd last been running. Some short distance away, the ambulance had begun to soar down the runway, lights flashing, sirens wailing, gathering speed by the second. It wasn't heading towards the wounded.

"Who the hell do you think you are?" Bodie yelled out. "John-Fucking-Wayne?"

But the Major continued on, oblivious. This was, Klaus realized, an excellent mount. Well trained, she was in her element flying along, dismissing both explosions and gunshots, leaping obstacles or steering around them as if she'd been in battle all her life. Still, she was outmatched by the ambulance's speed. Klaus urged her on regardless.

Then, up ahead, the ambulance decelerated, moving onto the rough, grassy field, cutting across towards the far runway. The distance between horse and vehicle shortened dramatically. Klaus leaned forward in the saddle, steadying himself the best he could. He took aim at the rear tire, cursed when he heard the bullet smack into the back bumper. He took aim again.

His next shot smashed through the back door window, shivering glass with a satisfying smash, tearing through the interior. The vehicle lurched to the right like a scalded cat and nearly over-turned. Then it steadied and roared on. Klaus rode up closer, taking aim again. This time, those tires were history.

The back doors were suddenly flung open. Klaus could see several people piled in among an assortment of wooden crates, all armed. There was a ripple of movement from within as a man pushed his way towards the open door.

The ambulance shuddered and pitched over the rough terrain and, from the receding distance, Klaus recognized the face - square jawed and amiable, an easy-smiling and handsome face. He had the kind of features that would sing a song as he blasted a man into the hereafter. He'd whistle a tune while setting a bomb designed to take out a pub or a subway station. The man had broad, workman's shoulders and rough, workman's hands. He dressed in workman's clothes, too, to demonstrate that he was simply one of the people. It was Ringan O'Connor in the flesh, dark eyes sparking out from under a thatch of thick, black curls. The wide, dimpled smile on his face revealed nothing of the blackness in his heart.

Klaus raised his magnum and took aim again. From this distance, it seemed O'Connor was looking straight at him. Klaus returned the smile. He had no problem in providing another martyr for the cause.

"Go ahead, Eberbach, shoot!" the poet-terrorist bawled out.

There was some additional activity as O'Connor thrust a body out before him. Klaus froze, holding his aim true.

Dorian Red Gloria. They had Eroica. O'Connor held the thief by the handcuffs that bound his wrists behind him. They'd taken Dorian's coat,

Klaus noted, and the thief shivered under a blast of sleet, instinctively shrinking back. O'Connor thrust his fist into the mass of bright curls, twisting them into a rope around his wrist. He drove the thief forward again, towards the ambulance door. Dorian stumbled, trying to regain balance. His foot slipped off the back step and he was dragged along in the wake of the racing vehicle. For an agonizing moment, O'Connor let him dangle. Dorian writhed in his grip, desperate for purchase. At this distance, Klaus could see how the color drained from his face, how his jaw had locked tight against screaming. The thief's entire weight was supported by his hair and twisted arms. The pain must have been agonizing.

"Go on, Major, darlin'," O'Connor yelled again. "Now's your chance."

"Klaus, do it!" Dorian cried out. "Shoot!"

The Major scowled. That was not possible. If he dropped O'Connor, they would both tumble out. Klaus could never pull up in time to keep his mount from trampling the bodies. And, if the fall and the horse didn't kill him, then O'Connor's friends would most certainly circle back and complete the job themselves.

Klaus relinquished his aim, pointing the barrel up at the sky.

"No!" Dorian struggled, nearly tearing his head free. "Klaus - don't!"

O'Connor wrenched Dorian's arms, dragging him back inside, and the thief's shout ended in a half-scream. A shot rang out from inside the vehicle and Klaus instinctively ducked aside, feeling the bullet's heat as it soared past his head. Dorian cried out again, his voice holding as much rage as pain. Then the ambulance doors slammed shut. The vehicle hit the runway again, gathering speed and distance. The Major fell behind.

Several emotions surged through him. Anger and frustration were two familiar old enemies. He could deal with them.

As for the rest....

He had been Iron Klaus for the better part of his life and worked hard to maintain that image, denying his humanity, shunning feeling, forbidding himself the luxury of the most casual relationship. His life was all duty. No play. And, if he'd been a dull boy, at least he'd been an efficient, reliable and deadly one. He'd allowed himself no other requirement than a job well done. He'd never needed anything more.

One cry reminded him that all that had changed.

The storm strengthened around him. Ice stung exposed skin like a thousand tiny blades. O'Connor's theatrics weren't over, he'd arranged some dreadful finale - of that, Klaus was certain. Unfortunately, he didn't have to work hard to guess what it might be. Klaus deliberately slowed the beast beneath him, trying to formulate his own plan, scanning for cover as he went. He'd need it when he caught up with O'Connor and his gang of thugs. Still, airfields and runways were notoriously level and exposed ... not that it would make any difference.

If Ringan O'Connor wanted a war, he'd certainly found one.

Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!

Dorian Red Gloria found himself unceremoniously shoved into a corner of the ambulance, hardly aware of this new assault on his body. His shoulder joints felt on fire, his wrists burned, his hands and arms throbbed. Ringan threw him down on one of the crates and immediately caught him up by the neck of his sweater, twisting the loose cowl in his fist.

"You've got a lot of brass, boyo. It must be the thief in you." The man grinned, very merry, and backhanded Dorian across the face. "Keep a lid on it in future, won't you?"

For a long moment, Dorian saw stars against a field of black. He blinked back tears, tasting blood. Thought about spitting.

Then thought again.

"It's not brass, darling. It's love." Sable Volovoi chuckled nearby. She had ditched the yellow coat, pirating Dorian's in its place. Her thick, dark hair lay in loose, coiling locks over her shoulders. "Our aristocratic thief has the hots for his Major Eberbach. Charlie told me all about it."

"Ah - the darlin' heathen. We've got a better weapon than we thought. An officer's fancy boy."

"Sorry, you're doomed to disappointment if you play that hand,"

Dorian said. He tried for a rueful smile and found it wasn't too hard to bring off. "The Major hates my guts. I'm the only one holding a torch in this relationship. It's his chief that makes him work with me."

"What do you mean?"

"They despise each other, yes? But Twitterswell is in charge and the Major has to do what he's ordered."

"But you would do anything to save your man?"

Dorian speculated briefly, then gave a little shrug. "Probably."

O'Connor's eyebrows raised. "Only `probably'?"

"I am a thief, dear heart, first and foremost. I am rarely had but I can nearly always be bought ... if the price is right. That's why the Major and I are destined to remain star-crossed. He is, after all, a man of law and honor." Dorian laughed softly. "As you saw, his job is to protect civilians. Even a loathed `civilian' thief like myself."

"But you're a peer of the realm."

"That, too." He gave a weary sigh. "It doesn't let him hate me any less."

"It sounds like a hopeless case to me," Ringan said, amused. He exchanged a glance with Volovoi. "Why would you be pursuing him for...?"

"Seven years this fall."

The man gave a low whistle. "Why pursue him for seven years if you have no chance of winning him over?"

"I like to believe there's always a chance. Like yourself, sir, I am something of a romantic."

O'Connor burst out laughing. "You're no romantic. You're a hopeless idiot."

Dorian smiled back, swallowing blood. "So I've been told."

"So you were investigating us," Sable accused. "Charlie and I. You were not on holiday."

"I'm afraid you're right." Dorian tried to look properly chagrined, reminding himself not to lay it on too thick.

"I told you the old man was a fool, Ringan." Sable seemed pleased.

"Who wouldn't be playin' the fool, darlin', with the likes of you rattlin' his head and heart about?" Ringan reached out and cupped Sable's chin in his fist. He leaned forward and delivered a quick but heartfelt kiss. No one else seemed to mind or even notice much at all. Apparently, this relationship was old news.

Interesting ... so this is how the trail snakes around, Dorian thought, keeping the smile tight on his face. Oh, Charlie, look out.

"We're here!" the driver announced, screeching to a halt.

Immediately, everyone was moving, lifting crates and rushing them outside. Sable took Dorian's arm again, escorting him out of the ambulance. She held onto him the way she would hold a new lover but kept her gun pressed into his side as well. They stepped out onto the runway, greeted by a torrent of sleet, and backed away from the activity.

The vehicle had come to a stop beside a great plane, the engines roaring like enraged, captured beasts. Ringan directed his troops. One disappeared up inside the bomb bay doors, another positioned himself outside the ambulance. A third completed the chain, passing the crates up inside.

Dorian shook his hair away from his face, spying about the best he could. They had stopped at the runway's end. The plane was an Avro Lancaster bomber, obviously fueled and ready for take off. Built by Packard-Merlin, the Lancaster's feats during WWII were legion. They were the only allied bomber able to carry the 12,000 pound Tallboy and 22,000 pound Grand Slam bombs. Lancasters had participated in such epic operations as the breaching of the Möhne and Eder Dams in the Dambusters Raid, the famous daylight attack on Augsburg in April of '42, the sinking of the Tirpitz and the destruction of the German rocket research station at Peenemunde. Of the thirty-two Victoria Crosses awarded to airmen at the close of the war, nine went to Lancaster crew members. While in operation, the Lancaster was protected by Browning machine guns, two in each nose and dorsal turret with four in the tail turret. Unquestionably, it was the T-Rex of bombers. It wasn't hard to guess what O'Connor had planned as the crowning achievement of the day's activities.

"This plane should have been the last act in the air show," Dorian said, raising his voice over the roar of the engine. "What happened to the pilot? The crew?"

"I imagine they're dead. We have our own pilot. We will not be needing the plane for very long."

"I see."

"You're shivering," Sable said. "You must be freezing."

"They're not loading up...."

"The big one?" she teased. "Nuclear weapons? No - these are only cluster bombs."

"Cluster bombs ... to drop over London."

"And various points between, I believe."

Dorian turned slowly, facing her. "You are out of your mind."

"So I have been told." Her smile went mischievous, throwing his words back at him.

"The Major will never allow this to happen." Dorian forced himself to smile back. "Things will go easier if you all just shoot yourselves to pieces right here. It'll save a lot of trouble."

"You put a lot of faith in that man."

"That's because I know him."

"You could put your faith in another."

Dorian regarded her, curious now. "Haven't you enough men snared in your coils? You could never trust me."

"I never trust anyone. But you I could trust never to do anything stupid out of passion or jealousy for me." Sable rewarded him with another of her wide and hungry smiles. "This demonstration today is only a marketing strategy. It is my way of letting the right people know I have the goods available should they care to make a purchase. Charlie believes we are here today to pick up the balance Ringan owes us. I tend to think of this as something as a loss leader."

"The Shoemaker's always had a good business. What does he need with loss leaders and marketing?"

"The Shoemaker is an old man trapped in old ways. We are heading into a new time."

"Somehow I take it that `we' doesn't mean you and Charlie."

Sable seemed to think that was very funny. She was still laughing when she said, "You are clever, deceptive and pretty. The only thing we could ever trust in each other is our greed. But I find avarice very acceptable collateral in a partnership. You understand the politics of beauty, yes? Sex has its use in the market place, of course, but its primary function is packaging. You would understand the truth in that, I think."

"Madam, what can I say?" Dorian shuddered under another icy blast. "You overwhelm me."

Sable reached up to caress his cheek. "The English have such marvelous skin. So pale ... as if a kiss would bruise it. Did Ringan hurt you?"

"Yes."

The woman nodded, absorbing that information the way some might receive a declaration of devotion. Sable stepped even closer and Dorian felt the length of her body brush his. Still, she kept her gun pressed to his ribs, a custom model, hammerless, short-barreled shotgun. Dorian had become well acquainted with it in their brief time together. It had a mahogany stock and fired single load, 12 gauge shells. Altogether, it was a very elegant and personal weapon. It would be very deadly and messy, too, when in use.

Sable kept smiling, speculative. As she looked up into his face, for one dreadful moment, he was afraid she would kiss him. "I believe," she murmured, "you might be the only one who could understand me."

My dear ... the last thing I want, Dorian thought, is to understand you. However, I could recommend some excellent professional help.

"Sable, lass, come on!" Ringan yelled out. "We're movin' out."

Dorian ran with the woman towards the boarding ladder. He considered a delaying tactic, slipping, falling - but guessed that might only get him killed. Instead, he found himself half-climbing, half-dragged up inside the Lancaster. Dorian dropped where Ringan threw him, a shivering, sodden mass. The door was slammed shut and secured as soon as they were aboard. Immediately, the plane lurched forward gaining momentum for take off.

Charlie Kello met them inside the main cabin. He didn't look happy.

"What is going on?" he demanded. His voice was thick with fury. "We are not supposed to be here. Our business with you is finished, Ringan."

"Well, there's been a change in plans," O'Connor explained smoothly. "But let's buckle in, now, darlin's. We don't want to injure anything personal durin' take off."

"You've brought Eroica?" Charlie blustered on, undeterred.

"We found him and his Major at the museum," Sable said, very neutral. She nodded towards the thief. "Tell Charlie what you told me."

"I lied to you, Charlie," Dorian said shortly, willing the Shoemaker to look down at him. To read him. "The Major and I were investigating your operations all the time." Be careful, Charlie, he thought. Be angry with me but don't make waves with the rest of them - not now.

"NATO knows what's happening?" Charlie Kello's voice dropped to a snarl. "They're going to blow you out of the sky, Ringan. The whole operation's fucked."

"They'll never risk another Lockerbee," Ringan insisted, buckling himself into a spot on a bench seat. "No one will be shooting us down over such a populated area. Sit yourself down, man. Let's talk. You're about to become a part of history."

"I have made a life out of being part of history." Charlie seethed. He clutched at the handrail bolted into the ceiling as the take-off drag caught at him. "We supply the goods. You supply the money. Sable and I get out. That was the deal, O'Connor."

"Well, like I said, the plan and the deal have changed. This is the big one, Shoemaker, my last hurrah. If you can't be enthusiastic, at least try to show a little respect." O'Connor's dark eyes flashed. "All those years of waitin' and negotiatin'. Talkin' that's gone nowhere. Treaties that mean nothin'. The only thing that can make a point now is a direct hit on the Royals and their camp - right in the heart of the bleedin' devil city itself. After that, if they don't get the point, the hell with 'em. I'm shut of 'em for good."

"Does Gerry Adams know of your plan?" Dorian asked.

"No, boyo, this is what we call an independent operation." Ringan's grin had returned full force. "Adams would be done with me and `my ilk,' says he. Times are changin'." He gave a happy laugh. "I'll say they are!"

"But don't you see, this can never work," Dorian protested. He had propped himself against a wall, bracing himself up the best he could as the plane gained altitude. "Just who will you be killing? It's not just the Royals but families and tourists - children - total innocents. I'm the last one you'll find defending a government policy. The Irish have a case for independence. They haven't always been treated fairly - but this kind of attack, this is just the kind of thing that turns everyone against you and your cause. Not just the British but even your own people."

"Well," Ringan spread his hands, ever the story-teller, "this is war. What do you expect? You know, even as far back as '41, the Irish were helpin' the Germans, doin' all they could in their own effort to bring peace to our homeland. We were never proud of workin' with the damn Nazis but it goes to show you how sincere we are about our freedom and to what lengths we'll go to be achievin' it. A few more bombs over London should frost the cake just fine, I'm thinkin'."

"If you do this thing, they'll never forgive you," Dorian persisted. "They'll catch you, Ringan. They'll never let you get away with it."

"Ah ... well, boyo, they'll have to find us first." Ringan turned towards Sable. He tossed her a smile and a wink.

Charlie turned his attention to the woman. Throughout the discussion, Sable had been sitting apart from the others. She might have been watching the interaction between the participants in a lazy game of croquet - from a viper's cool and calculating perspective in the long, green grass. In the heat of the moment, Dorian had nearly forgotten her presence and berated himself for it. Ignoring Sable, that wasn't a smart thing to do.

"So," Charlie began slowly. "You've had a change in plans as well?"

She nodded. Once. The wide grin spoiled the graciousness of her gesture.

Kello went very still. The plane had finally leveled making it easier to stand. Charlie's posture had taken on a more relaxed appearance. But looking up, Dorian saw the cords tighten in his throat, his pulse hammering. The world had just come tumbling down around the Shoemaker.

And he knew it.

"Well," Charlie said, his voice like poison. "I supposed it's for the best ... as long as you know what you want. As long as you're happy."

Sable raised an eyebrow. "You are not going to fight for me then?"

"Would it do any good?"

"You're smarter than I thought," Sable said, raising her shotgun. "Perhaps I am making a mistake."

The gun went off. Inside the Lancaster's steel-ribbed hulk, it sounded as if a cannon had fired. The shot hit Charlie dead center. At that range, the impact spun his body half around and drove him, stumbling, backwards. He folded over, wrapping his arms around himself. Then he just seemed to keep folding until he tripped over Dorian's legs and crashed over, crumpling down on top of the Earl.

The pain was bright and sharp racing up Dorian's arms as Charlie's weight forced him back on his cuffed wrists again. Dorian cried out once - but he couldn't tell if it was from shock, hurt or despair. He froze, completely stunned. Then he pushed himself out from under Charlie, moving as fast as he could. It wasn't easy going. The Shoemaker was heavy.

Free, Dorian lurched up to his knees. Instinctively he worked his hands, wishing he could touch the man, hold him. Offer some comfort. Charlie wasn't quite gone yet. His face had gone shiny-white making the stubble on his chin and throat look very dark. He wheezed trying to breathe with what was left of his lungs. It looked as if a great scarlet blossom had just given birth to itself across his chest and stomach. Scarlet runners trailed out over the floor.

Sable broke open the shotgun barrel and deposited another load. She raised the weapon again, staring down at them, indecisive. Dorian stared back, caught between outrage and horror.

Charlie struggled to sit up. He couldn't make it.

"Why?" he choked. "Just tell me why ... we could have had it all together. We could have had everything."

"Charlie...." Sable admonished gently. "We've already had it."

In the end, she let the barrel drop, deciding against wasting further ammunition. Ringan called out an "All's clear," to his pilot and the crew loading explosives in the bomb bay level. Afterwards, he and Sable spoke together in quiet tones that Dorian couldn't quite make out. The words just didn't want to register clearly through the ringing in his ears. Still, he caught enough to know they were talking about how this ending was inevitable and how much better it was to be quick ... all the usual rationalizations people traded about when partnerships changed hands - and love affairs went belly-up. In the end it was nothing but bullshit.

Eventually, as Dorian watched, Charlie Kello died.

Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!

Klaus' horse reared as the Lancaster took off overhead. The plane's beast-shadow raced over them creating a patch of midnight in the storm-dark morning. Up ahead, he saw where the ambulance had come to a stop and made his way towards it. Various debris littered the ground, mostly broken crating. A blood trail and scattered foot prints in the iced grass led towards a nearby truck. Dismounting, Klaus crossed over to investigate and discovered the remains of the crew and pilot. All dead, bound and slaughtered execution style. They hadn't had a chance. He jogged back to the ambulance and checked inside. The buzz from an approaching engine called him out again.

Bodie and his partner, Ray Doyle, taxied toward him in the Tiger Moth. Klaus left the vehicle and walked out to meet them.

"You got to figure that whatever goes up has got to come down somewhere," Bodie yelled over the engines. He sported a pair of vintage aviator goggles. "We might as well follow. How do you like the new shades, guv?"

"The Lancaster is loaded with cluster bombs," Klaus announced. He waved an arm back towards the abandoned vehicles. "I found a broken crate inside the ambulance. The original flight crew, the ground crew are in that truck there. Dead. O'Connor has taken Lord Gloria with him as hostage. Sable Volovoi is with them, too." He made a curt motion at Ray Doyle seated in the back of the biplane. "You - Doyle - get out of the plane."

"Why?" Ray demanded. "This is as much our game as yours - maybe more."

Klaus pulled his magnum and released the safety. "I will go. I am a better shot."

The agent regarded him with glacial calm. "I've a fair aim myself. Just how good are you?"

"At 100 yards, I could circumcise you with one bullet. At 200 yards, I could end your family line forever. This close, I could inflict more permanent damage and I would be sure to make it very painful because you are pissing me off and wasting my time."

"That's good," Doyle agreed. He stood up and swung his leg out over the side of the plane. "Take my flak jacket."

Klaus climbed into the seat as Doyle exited. There were some interesting weapons loaded into the back. Approving, the Major took a quick mental inventory as he removed the extra clips from his pockets and stuffed them into his waistband for quicker access.

"Do not wait for me, Bodie," Klaus barked. "Go - go! We have no time!"

"This is lousy weather for open air flying, I hope you know that." Bodie muttered under his breath. "Lousy weather for any kind of flying. Damn ice will probably take us all down first."

Klaus roared from behind, "Get this sonovabitch up!"

"Right, guv." Bodie lowered the goggles over his eyes. He turned the plane and increased engine speed, preparing for take off. It had been over a decade since he'd soared solo through the African skies but, like other things, including bike riding and fucking, it was something one didn't un-learn. He felt certain he'd be able to make a decent go of it.

In the seat behind him, Major Eberbach was loading sabot slugs into a double-barrel, pump action shotgun. What was the man planning? A cease-and-desist action in mid-air? He laughed to himself but the wind rush carried the sound away.

"What's the plan, Major?" Bodie yelled back. "You got something in mind?"

"Catch up with the Lancaster!"

"And then what?"

Klaus didn't answer. Maybe the plan was so secret, the Major was keeping it to himself. Maybe, like Bodie, he was simply winging along with the flow, one crisis at a time.

Well, Bodie nodded, heading the Tiger Moth up into take off. Score 10+ for German determination and mule-headedness, -0 for chances of success.

Perhaps by the time they caught up with the plane and its crew of renegade rebels, they would have figured out what to do.

Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!

From his seat outside the cockpit, Dorian listened as Ringan O'Connor and his pilot, Pedar Flynn, launched into song:

"The night was dark and the battle ended,
The moon shone down O'Connell Street.
I stood alone where brave men parted,
Never more again to speak."

Ringan's voice rang out alone in a soft, keening baritone,

"The first I saw was a dyin' rebel,
Kneelin' low, I heard him cry,
`God bless my home in Tipperary,
God bless the cause for which I die.'"

The singer broke off with a laugh. "I can see by the look on your face, darlin' girl, that you think we're all a daft lot of loonies."

Sable Volovoi stood just within the cockpit door, shotgun balanced casually on her shoulder. "`Daft' and `loon' are redundant. You're morbid, Ringan," she said. "And you've got a very strange sense of humor."

"Well, you know what Chesterton said about us Irish, `For the great Gaels of Ireland are the men that God made mad, for all their wars are merry, and all their songs are sad.'"

Sable smiled at her lover. "It seems you are determined to live up to that image."

"Pedar, lad, go on back and see if you can be of any assistance to the folks below," Ringan said. "London will be upon us in just a moment or two more."

"Right," Pedar returned, equally cheery. "Now, keep the compass pointed this way and we should be fine. Run into any trouble, just switch on the automatic pilot and come callin' for me."

"Go on with you," Ringan said. "I don't think I'll be missin' the great city, not even in this muck."

Dorian watched the man walk briskly towards the bomb bay hatch. The interior of the Lancaster had not been built for style or comfort and its exposed steel structure stood out like the ribs of some enormous beast - from an interior viewpoint. The blood stains on the floor only added to the effect. Dorian leaned back against the bench seat, flexing his sore shoulders. He endeavored not to stare at Charlie's remains bundled in a heap across the aisle.

Sable spared the thief a glance and was answered by listless blue eyes. Dorian's continued silence disturbed her - but not that much. Shock and grief seemed to have taken the best out of the English thief.

"Don't worry about me, darlin'," Ringan was saying. "I've no true death wish. All will be well."

"You sound very sure of yourself."

"Oh, I am. I had a vision. There we were, you and I together, side by side, and the angels were all around us. Stars were sparkling so close you could catch them in your hand. It was quite a sight. And it can only mean one thing. We're destined to stay together and have a grand time of it."

Sable shrugged her dark locks away from her face. "That's two things."

"You don't believe me?"

"Since those are our goals, I won't try to disbelieve it." She paused, then said, "You've told so many stories, you're starting to believe them all yourself."

"Have you never heard of the Angels of Mons?" Ringan asked. When Sable shook her head, he continued. "This occurred back in the Great War. British forces were squarin' off against an overwhelmin' host of Germans up in Belgium. There was no way they could win. The Brits were about to be annihilated, one and all, when suddenly from above, a host of heavenly angels appeared in the sky, standin' guard between them and the Germans. Everyone saw them. Well, the Germans were distressed of course and they fell back in confusion. The day went to the Brits. It was in all the papers at the time."

"It was?" Amused, Sable didn't even try to hide the skepticism in her voice.

"It was," Ringan affirmed. "And everyone believed it, too. People had such grand faith back then."

"So you're telling me that everyone believed the British army was so blessed by their god, that he sent his angels in to rescue them and drive their enemy away? And these are the people your people have been fighting all this time?"

"Well, I didn't say it wasn't a challengin' responsibility."

Sable shook her head. She stepped inside the cabin and took the seat beside Ringan. The moment she disappeared from view, Dorian brought his knees up to his chest, digging his heels into the thin cushion. He took a deep breath and released it, arching backwards. He slid his bound wrists beneath him and out under his boots. His teeth ground together as steel bit into abused flesh once again.

"You're an insane man, Ringan," Sable said.

"You're only just noticin'? Still, it's not all my fault, darlin'. I was seduced by the beautiful Leanan Sidhe when I was just a wee lad. She's the Irish muse of poets and she's a true vampire, living off mortal life in return for her favor. That's why our poet warriors die so young."

"Strong drink and bad food and cold, damp winters have nothing to do with it then?"

"You've been to Ireland then, have you?"

"I am Russian. We have similar fables there."

With his hands now in front of him, Dorian removed one of his scarab-stud earrings. The post was a handcuff key. He unlocked the steel and replaced his earring. Stiff, swollen fingers turned a simple job into a triumph of will. Afterwards, he took a moment to inspect his damaged wrists. Torn, bruised and bloody, they looked almost as bad as they felt.

"You see right through my stories, don't you?" O'Connor said, serious now. "We are going to be such a pair. You're such a practical and business-like lass. It'll be quite a change for me."

"Are you sure you'll be able to give all this up?" Sable asked. "This great war against the British?"

"Who's givin' up anything?" Ringan demanded. "The battlefield's just become that much more grand. You have to consider, dear lady, that it won't be the British and their allies lookin' to buy our fine goods."

"No. Probably not."

Riding the storm, the big plane shuddered under another gust. Once again, Dorian thought of a great beast, its belly still full from its last meal but wakening and hungering for more - insatiable. If Ringan and his crew had their way, it would feast on all of London. It would feed off his family, his friends, the city he loved and called home. And the war with the Irish would just go on, now made even more bloody and more resolute as a result of this new devastation. Dorian remembered his father's stories about WWII, about how air raids claimed over 60,000 victims in London. On one night alone nearly 7,000 had been killed and 11,000 injured.

It was bad business for everyone except arms dealers and black market profiteers.

At the far end of the plane, Pedar seemed quite preoccupied chatting with his mates down in the hold. Dorian kept an eye on him as he slid open the compartment in the heel of each boot and removed a handful of plastic-encased capsules. One lot was colored a bright neon pink, the other iridescent teal. Slipping them into his pocket, he wished, momentarily, for his coat. There were quite a few clever toys stashed there that no one but he and his staff would be aware of. Still, for the moment, the SI would have to do. A small smile danced across his face, remembering its development. He'd wandered into the lab on the early side of midnight to find Bonham and Jones chortling together, playing the mad scientist game to the hilt.

"`No one expects the Spanish Inquisition,'" Jonsey had sneered out in broad Monty Python theatrics.

"I beg your pardon," Dorian had said, innocently enough. "Developed something new?"

"Yes, M'lord," they had chorused together, a duet in the key of mischief.

"Would you like a demonstration?" Jones had asked.

Of course, Dorian had given his consent. Of course, at the last minute - and the last thing the Earl remembered - Bonham began to look uncertain and made some futile restraining efforts towards his partner. That was absurd enough in itself because everyone knew Jonsey was unrestrainable when it came to showing off his new toys. Dorian recalled saying something along the lines of, "It isn't dangerous ... is it?"

"I think I've got it stabilized," Jonsey had replied, definitely not the most reassuring words the Earl had ever heard.

But better than nothing.

Mr. Jones had tossed a flash of teal and pink at the Earl's feet, ducking back and pulling Bonham with him as he did. The next thing Dorian remembered was awakening on the lounge some hours later. Mr. James, always eager to take advantage of the rare condition of complete and utter immobility, had had his way with the Earl during his unconscious state. Dorian had revived near the completion of a rather elaborate pedicure. He discovered this through the temporal fog, recognizing scents and tickling sensations at his toes. Besides, Mr. James had been saying, "Don't move. I'm almost done."

"You're right," Dorian had informed his hovering inventors. "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition."

And a new soporific was added to the arsenal. Dorian slipped the capsules into his pocket. He felt better thinking of his staff back at home base - safe and happy, preparing for the holidays. Preparing for his homecoming. Dorian nodded. It would be good when he returned to them. Good when he returned to Klaus, too. What a pleasure it was to know the Major would welcome his presence now.

Those were the thoughts to hang onto.

Sable had found his knives and removed them. That was unfortunate but expected. She hadn't found the foil, however. Dorian removed the flexible blade from the outer seam of his trouser leg. Actually, it wasn't as much a foil as it was a thick, flat car antennae. You couldn't actually thrust or pierce with it but, used like a saber, one could slash the hell out of an opponent. It wasn't a very nice weapon ... but then, these hadn't proved to be very nice people.

"You and I will chute out outside of London," Ringan was saying. "I've arranged transportation to Dover and beyond. Pedar and the rest will take the plane on and do as they like."

"Is it safe to let them go?" Sable asked. "Do they know our plans?"

Dorian got to his feet, stepping quietly down the length of the plane. He knew he would have to move quickly, London could only be moments away. Surely Ringan would be giving orders to drop the explosives over the city any second. If he couldn't stop them completely, maybe he could stall them - or muck them up enough to give help a chance to arrive.

The thief nearly faltered wondering what kind of help could possibly arrive? How effective could it be? O'Connor's group would likely crash the plane into the city before they'd surrender. Sable wouldn't like that. She'd try to stop them but the fanatics outnumbered the psycho-woman and her shotgun. He couldn't give good odds on her winning.

Actually, the Earl couldn't give himself very good odds either no matter how much he hoped for better.

You've got to stop thinking about that, Dorian told himself firmly. Just get on with it.

A man seated up in the dorsal turret, shouted out, "Pedar! Come look at this, will you?"

"What, Sean?" Pedar looked up from peering down into the bomb bay area.

"There's something out there," Sean said. "Another plane, I think, but small. The bloody ice is freezing on the glass, I can't hardly see but-"

"Wait a minute." Pedar spied Dorian's advance and turned on him, scowling. "What are you doing up here?"

Dorian kept his hands behind his back. "Ringan sent me," he said meekly. "He said he needs you."

"Why didn't he send Sable?"

The Earl gave a small shrug. "I don't know. He sent me."

"What does he want?"

"Do you really think he'd tell me that? He just said to fetch you."

"Get out of my way then," Pedar snapped, lunging forward.

Dorian said, "All right."

As Pedar stepped forward, Dorian whipped the blade out from behind him, slashing up across the man's arm. It was followed by a satisfying but, unfortunately, attention-getting howl. The Earl lashed out again, pressing his advantage, dragging the blade back down across Pedar's cheek.

Raging, Pedar grabbed at Dorian's sword hand. The Earl let him grab, bringing up the handcuffs he'd held in his other hand. He snapped one bracelet around Pedar's wrist and secured the other to the overhead handrail. He slipped under Pedar's free arm, dancing out of reach at the last instant. Dorian raced the short distance to the open bay. He grabbed the capsules from his pocket and hurled them down into the pit. A small group of angry and confused faces glared up at him before he threw himself out of the way. There were some shouts of alarm that swiftly died away as the SI erupted and took effect. One got off two shots that passed directly over Dorian's head as he dropped to the floor. Then there was nothing except the sound of bodies hitting the floor. It was very quiet for the space of approximately two seconds. Then Sean was out of the turret, tearing Dorian up and shaking him.

"You miserable, ponce bastard. What have you done?" Sean raised his fist.

Dorian raised his knee. Harsh words, he had discovered, could indeed be very painful but a kick in the balls was a little piece of hell on earth.

Sean folded over, or rather, he tried to fold over. Dorian stepped back and kicked out, catching the man at jaw level. That rocked Sean back on his heels and spun him about. Still, he didn't fall. Sean braced himself up, fists on his knees, drinking in great gulps of air, He looked rather ... testy.

Dorian frowned. That was his best maneuver. Sean should have been down and he wasn't. Worse, he now found himself trapped between Sean and Pedar. His next best action would be to run fast and far. Dorian was a superb runner, very fleet of foot. The only problem was, he couldn't locate a spot to run to. The plane was no more than a tube running between tail and cockpit.

Sean Gallagher, of course, had spent a good deal of his life in brawls and battles. Experience told him that his current pain wasn't going to kill him. It did, however, provide incentive. Sean shook his shaggy head and straightened himself to his full height. The bulk of him nearly filled the passageway from floor to ceiling.

"That was a nasty trick," Sean accused. "But it's nothin' less than I'd expect from a fancy-assed, high and mighty, perfumed, yellow-haired, dick-swilling nance like yourself."

"Colorful, inventive ... but vulgar. Why must you terrorist types always resort to obscenity?" Dorian cocked his head to one side, pained. "You'll break your parent's hearts abusing the language like that."

"What would you know about my parents?"

"Your father gave me quite an earful last night - in the midst of our engagement."

"Your engagement?" Sean sputtered, amazed. "Are you tryin' to piss me off? Let me tell you, lad, it isn't necessary."

Pedar Flynn cursed eloquently, equally dumbfounded.

"You're going to kill me, yes?" The Earl gave a small shrug. "I thought I'd just get it over with quickly."

"Drive him over this way, Sean," Pedar said, beckoning with his free hand. He appeared to be absolutely delighted with this new turn of events. "I'll teach him a lesson or two."

"Mr. Flynn, please," Dorian said. "Don't humiliate yourself further. It's not possible to intimidate anyone when you're chained to a wall."

"Sean, please get him over here. I don't have to take shit from something like that."

"That's where you're wrong," Dorian said, lightly. "You've got to take it because you're too stupid to do anything about it. And, of course, you're stuck there."

"Don't worry about a thing, Pedar." Flexing his fists, Sean moved forward. "This is going to be a positive pleasure," he promised.

Dorian gave another little shrug, loosening his shoulders. He couldn't mind that he looked absolutely terrified, generally because he was. Sean struck at him. Dorian ducked away, wincing. One blow from that fist would surely do him in. He dodged, trying to stay out of range of both men. Then Sean reached for him again, grabbing at his sweater, bringing his fist up. It was too close. The Earl went with the grab, swinging his forearm forward and up, striking Sean in the throat with the point of his elbow. The man made a noise, something like, "Awk!" and stumbled back, red faced, eyes bulging. Dorian followed with another kick, this time to the stomach - and just as hard as he could. Sean opened his mouth in a soundless scream for air, lost his balance and dropped over backwards into the bay. Dorian stepped to the edge and looked down. Like the others, Sean had ceased moving. He tried not to feel too surprised.

Still chained to the wall, Pedar lashed out at him even though a hit was impossible at that distance. The cuff brought him up short, slamming him painfully into the wall.

"Sorry. Some lessons are more painful than others," Dorian told him, not too sympathetically. "You must learn to think before you threaten."

Pedar dangled from his cuff, furious. The `lesson' didn't seem to be having any effect except to make him more angry.

The next instant found Dorian flinging himself across the aisle. This movement was followed by the sound of a shotgun blast thundering through the length of the plane. Dorian flattened himself back against the steel ribs. He hadn't actually heard Sable coming, he'd sensed it and dived accordingly. Most of the blast had hit Pedar. Now the pilot curled in on himself, groaning in a high-pitched, continuous wail. The side of his face and shoulder had been pulped to a substance resembling ground meat.

Dorian looked about for a weapon, a strategy - anything. There was nothing. He kept himself pressed to the wall. Turning his head, he watched Sable re-load. She marched down the aisle towards him, bringing her gun up and looking grimmer than he'd ever seen her. Behind her, Ringan hovered by the cockpit. He was holding an 9mm mini Uzi, Dorian recognized it from his time in Miami. It was an expensive and lethal little piece capable of firing 900 rounds per minute. He wondered if Sable had made a gift of it to him. Oh well, the thought waltzed through his head. Nothing but the best for the current lover.

The Earl tried to think of something to say, something to stall

Sable's approach, but his mouth was so dry, he couldn't even swallow. The most he could think to do was just sink down and put his arms over his head, fetal-up and wait for everything to be over. But even that action took too much effort. The Russian's ever-advancing fury drained the rest of his strength.

Outside the plane, Death glided towards them in her jet black chariot, ebony steeds pacing towards London. The air was frost with her song.

Live, she urged sweetly. I am coming....

Then the ceiling exploded.

Actually, it turned out to be the overhead turret. Glass shattered and went flying everywhere. It was as if the ice storm had suddenly begun raging inside the plane - except that this ice was deadly. Pedar had caught it full-face, a dagger-shard pierced his throat ending what was left of his life. Dorian looked away from the sight, head spinning.

The Bain-Sidhe wind roared through the ruined turret and Dorian pressed his hand against his throbbing head, holding back his own moan so as not to add to the noise beating at him. The concussion had driven him down to the floor. He had cracked his head hard, his vision grayed. Can't pass out, he warned himself. You can't...! Dorian twisted about, dragging himself out from under bits of wreckage. Sable sprawled in the aisle only a few yards away. Ringan had retreated back inside the cockpit.

It had stopped raining glass. Now there was simply ice and cold battering the fuselage although the chill was almost reviving. Dorian dragged himself up to his feet, gazing about, confused. He grabbed onto the handrail, holding himself steady.

The next thing that happened was a huge, crashing whump! falling against the outside of the Lancaster. It wasn't enough to rock the lane, it was just loud enough to be noticeable. The sound was followed by a pair of boots which was followed by a pair of black jeans sliding down from the smashed turret. All this was cloaked in a sodden trenchcoat.

Dorian's eyes widened. He started to say, "My god," but all that came out was, "Klaus...."

"Scheiß." The Major dropped down into the Lancaster, drawing his magnum. In a flash, he'd taken in Pedar's body hanging from the wall. Sable listless and stark. Down in the bay area, bodies lay about, very still. "What the hell is going on here?" he demanded.

Dorian stared. He opened his mouth. Closed it. Started again. "It's kind of a story," he confessed.

Klaus stepped towards him, taking his arm. "Where are you hit? There is blood all over you."

"I'm all right." Dorian had found his voice but it was shaky, a mixture of mourning and relief - other things. "It's Charlie. Mostly. I think. Sable shot him. She just ... shot him."

Klaus placed a steadying hand on the thief's shoulder. It was strange to know the comfort was as much for himself as Dorian. Comprehension was fleeting but there nonetheless. They were both alive - if somewhat battered. So far.

"How did you get here?" Dorian drew in a deep, harsh breath. "No, wait - I don't care." He hooked his arm around Klaus' neck, slipped his other arm around his waist hugging him fiercely heedless of drenched clothing and weapons. "I'm so glad to see you."

The Major placed his free arm around him, clutching him in a brief, fierce embrace. "That is what you always say."

"I always mean it, too."

The unmistakable sound of gears grinding and metal moving broke them apart.

"Ringan's opening the bay doors," Dorian gasped. "He's going to drop the bombs."

Klaus drew away, leaping down inside the bomb bay. Dorian followed. They clambered over inert bodies, shoving their way towards the opening doors. Loaded onto the rack, the missiles shimmered softly, dull gray vessels of death and destruction. Dorian grabbed up a piece of crating and wedged it into the frame, trying to jam the explosives in place. Klaus snared a crowbar and laid into the hydraulic gears. In the too-close distance, Ring O'Connor's voice rang out, clear and strong,

"The minstrel boy to the war has gone
In the ranks of death you'll find him.
His father's sword he has girded on,
And his wild harp slung behind him...."

The verse was followed by a blast of automatic gunfire, tearing through the plane. Startled, Dorian's breath came out in a shrill cry.

"Take cover," Klaus ordered, glaring up at the opening. "Keep out of the way."

"Take cover where?" Dorian demanded. They had dropped down into a death pit. All Ringan had to do was fire round after round into the bay.

"`Land of song!' said the warrior bard,
`Tho' all the world betrays thee,
One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee.'"

The voice was coming closer, carrying its owner to the edge of the pit. Klaus braced the crowbar into the scissor hinge, slamming all his weight and strength against it. Slowly, metal screaming against metal, the doors came to a halt, only partially opened. The ice wind wailed and howled, soaring like a stinging wraith in the draft made from the bay and the ruined turret. The plane pitched and rolled in the gale. Dorian shivered, wrapping his arms around himself, he caught his foot on one of the crew. Stumbled. Klaus rushed to him, his gun out again.

"`The minstrel fell....'" Ringan had given up singing for chanting. "`But the foeman's chain could not bring that proud soul under. The harp he loved never spoke again...." He trailed off, falling into a long and unnaturally loud silence. When he spoke again, his great voice boomed out over the gale. "Well, Major Eberbach - I see you've come to fetch your cat home. Charlie told us you were good. We should have listened to the man."

"You cannot win," Klaus shouted. "Give it up, O'Connor."

"I can't do that, Major." Ringan laughed but the sound was weary. "You were a grand sight, smashin' your way down through that turret, like god's warrior angel wingin' down for the kill. Well, it seems my vision was true - I just read it wrong."

Dorian caught Klaus' arm, shook his head. "Don't trust him," he whispered. "He's up to something."

The Major nodded and called out again, "I do not think you are prepared to die yet."

"Well, I wouldn't have thought so myself. But I'm a dedicated man, Major. Just like you. Dedicated and stubborn. God's balls, it's cold in here ... it's so cold. Did you have to smash the bloody roof in?"

Klaus hesitated, listening. Like Dorian, he couldn't help but feel Ringan was up to something. If it had been him, he might have spent his time moving closer, preparing to shoot down into the bay. But O'Connor was keeping his distance, Klaus could tell that from the sound of his voice. So what could he be doing?

Suddenly, Klaus understood. He put an arm around Dorian, scooping him close and diving away from the opening. The thief gave a startled cry that was smothered by the Major's shoulder. Peering up, Klaus caught sight of what he'd expected and ducked again, burying Dorian beneath him.

Still, it wasn't exactly what he'd expected. He'd thought to see a grenade but this was an old fashioned weapon, nearly antique compared to the weaponry displayed throughout the day. Ringan had probably whipped it together from his personal kit while they'd been talking - a fist full of large nails wired around a wad of explosive. The French had called them nail-bombs back in the Great War. The Irish rebels had adopted them for their own cause in the early 70's. They'd made few improvements - they didn't have to.

The fuse hissed like an angry snake just before the explosion, they both heard it. It was a smart choice in weapons. There wasn't enough explosive to set off the bay arsenal, there was just enough to send spikes flying to shred any human that got in its path. The blast roared over them, an enraged animal searching for prey. Dorian screamed. Bright red pain seared through his thigh as one of Ringan's spikes honed in. The thief writhed beneath Klaus' weight....

...But Klaus didn't move.

It took only one hideous second to grasp that.

And when he did, Dorian screamed again, a sound full of pain, rage and denial. He shifted about, his arms circling Klaus' limp body. Frantic, he ran his hands over back and limbs, searching. Three nails had pierced through his back. Sobbing, cursing, Dorian struggled up, holding Klaus against him. Anxious fingers sought out the pulse at his throat. It still felt strong and vibrant but his hand came away red and wet. Blood tricking from somewhere.... A scalp wound, Klaus had hit his head going down.

"So - you're still alive," Ringan called out. He stared down from the opening. "I thought I had you this time for sure. Still, the Major's not lookin' very chipper. Congratulations, boyo, you put up a bonny fight."

"You're a dead man, Ringan." Tears streaked Dorian's face. "One way or the other ... you're dead."

"I think you may be right this time. You've made a fair wreck of the doors there, haven't you? And this is too fine a load to waste." O'Connor shook his head, a woeful expression on his handsome face. "The only way I can deliver my package now is to take us straight down into the devil city itself."

Dorian shuddered, holding Klaus closer. The Major stirred in his arms; he moaned, scowling, fighting for consciousness.

"You can't do it." The Earl caught his breath. "All those people ... you just can't."

"I can," Ringan assured him. "I will."

"Better think again, lover," Sable Volovoi announced drily. "Crash landings weren't on my agenda."

Ringan whirled about, catching the shot face first. His head erupted in a splatter of bone and blood, obliterating the surprised - and pleased - expression he'd been wearing. Still, it was a much quicker and much kinder death than Charlie's.

Sable stood on the edge of the pit. Her skin was pale and a smear of drying blood left a ruddy trail from temple to jaw. She was silent for a moment, staring down at Ringan's body.

"Sorry, but I have no plans to go down in flames with you or anyone else." Sable put a hand to her face. She touched her wound gently. Grimaced. Then smoothed her hair, carding it back through her fingers. Slowly, she turned and gazed into the pit. A smile twisted onto her lips, kindling the fire in dark eyes. "Tell me - how many lives do you have left, cat?"

Dorian stared back, unblinking, shielding Klaus the best he could. "Only one that matters."

"So devoted...." She laughed softly. "I've never known anyone worth that kind of sacrifice. What does it feel like?"

"Scary. Exciting. I don't know how to explain it ... I don't know what to say."

"Never mind." She heaved out a sigh. "It doesn't matter."

Klaus moved again and Dorian tightened his grasp, willing him to be still. Sable was more frightening, more dangerous than Ringan had ever been despite his grand plans. This was a woman who had spent her life running with the wolves ... except somewhere along the way she'd gone rabid. His fingers brushed against the gun in Klaus' hand. Cautiously, he set himself to freeing it.

The Russian regarded him, smiling. "You look like you would kill me if you could," she said.

"There's no need," he said, evenly. "None of us want to die here."

"Charlie told me that you wouldn't kill, that you never used guns. I told him I'd never met anyone who wouldn't pull a trigger if they were pushed hard enough."

"Your point is well taken, Madam. Consider me pushed." Dorian lifted the magnum. Aimed. Fired.

"Ha! I thought so!"

Sable pitched herself to the side, swinging the shotgun up, cracking open the barrel. The old cartridge popped free, soaring out and up. She slid home a new shell before the old one hit the floor, every movement fast - deadly - accurate. Dorian fired again, trying to track her moves. He didn't stop to think. He cradled his hand around the butt and kept shooting, each recoil thundering through his arms with the force of a blow.

Sable rolled up to her knees and aimed down into the pit. Dorian whirled about to face her again, firing wild. A random bullet hit the shotgun barrel, splintering wood and metal. Sable screamed, collapsing backwards, falling out of view. Dorian stopped shooting and edged forward, keeping himself between the opening and the Major's body. How many shots had he fired? How many were left? The gun trembled in his hands, alien and dangerous. Determined, he made an effort to steady his grip.

Silence pealed out from above. He listened for sounds of movement but he couldn't hear anything except the roar of the wind and the engines. And Ringan was right, it was cold. He could feel himself starting to shake again. At his feet, Klaus stirred, his lips opened in a low moan. Please be all right, Dorian prayed. Please....

"Well, I was correct." Sable's words came out in a lover's low pitch. She sounded close although he couldn't tell which direction. "You do know me, Eroica. You understand me better than anyone...." She gave a throaty, moist, little laugh. "I've got Ringan's uzi."

"If you fire that down here, you'll blow the whole load," Dorian called back. "You'll kill us all."

"Absolutely. Have you got any other suggestions?"

"You want to deal?" Laughter caught in his throat like a sob. "Darling, your personal and professional reputation is lying about all over the upper deck. Besides, the Major wouldn't like it much if I let you go."

"If you don't let me go, your Major won't be around to care one way or the other. Would you enjoy killing me?"

"I've never wanted to kill anyone. God, Sable - hasn't there been enough carnage this morning?"

"So, you've seen enough ... you've had a bad day. Come on up, precious. Tell me all about it."

Sable giggled like a girl at her first dance. Dorian felt the sound of it race up and down his spine, raising the hair on the back of his neck. He took in a deep breath. He knew she was moving around up there but it wasn't possible to tell what she was doing or where she was heading. A wave of nausea, pain from the wound in his leg, hit him hard. The material of his pants leg flapped wetly against his skin. For a brief instant, his eyes flickered shut.

"Battle is as commonplace today as picnics and parties were in the old days. It's crept out of the homes and into the streets," Sable kept on talking. "It's not politics that keep us at each other's throats, it's the hate we have inside us. You must be prepared to defend what is yours, Eroica-cat, or someone will surely take it."

Suddenly, she was peering down from the edge, leering at him directly opposite. Her eyes flashed from behind a shining, scarlet mask. Dorian stared up, stunned. Felt his stomach flip again. Sable's upper body was a sodden mass of pulped gore. The shotgun had blown up in her face.

But she was still moving and she had Ringan's uzi. She also had Dorian's knives. They glittered in her hands as if she'd suddenly grown metal talons.

Dorian threw himself over Klaus' body. Two of the blades dived past. He felt one slice through the shoulder of his sweater. The other impacted the floor by Klaus' head, close to his throat. Way too close.

"Just one little dagger left," she sang down, brightly. "I might kill you now if I throw this last. I might even succeed this time.... But why not a truce? I've got such a headache and I need to wash my hair. We can finish this another time, yes, when we have better odds?"

Dorian leapt up, adrenalin-charged, clutching Klaus' magnum even though he knew the gun was truly empty now. It would still cause plenty of damage as a projectile weapon. The pain in his leg forgotten, he stood there waiting, holding his breath, for Sable to return and finish them. Then Klaus moved again, shaking his head, opening his eyes. The Major looked up, not quite believing.

"What are you doing with my gun?" he began, trying to focus. Klaus swallowed, licked his lips. "Are you insane?"

Dorian whirled about. "You're alive."

"Ja. Of course." The Major batted the barrel away from its point-blank, head-shot aim and retrieved his gun. Automatically, he ejected the old clip and slammed home a new one. "Are you hurt?"

"My leg - yes." Wide eyes darted from Klaus to the opening overhead and back to Klaus again. "But you ... the spikes ... in your back...."

"Your friend Doyle gave me his flak jacket," Klaus hissed. He winced, forcing himself to his feet and action again. "We cannot stay down here. Ringan -"

"Ringan is dead."

Stiff and aching, Klaus followed Dorian's gaze upwards, noted the arm dangling over the edge.

"Sable ... said she didn't want to go down in flames. It wasn't part of her agenda." Dorian bit down on his lip, hard enough to leave marks. "She needs to wash her hair."

"What?" But Klaus was already moving before the thief could answer. He charged up to the bay opening and peered out. He didn't seem to mind the head wound that was still oozing down the side of his face or the damage the spikes had done to his ribs. Quick, thorough, cautious, the Major surveyed the upper level.

"Stay put and stay down," Klaus commanded and made the leap up onto the main deck.

Dorian nodded, agreeable - glad to collapse. This game with guns and explosions, that was the Major's specialty and the thief was more than willing to let the expert take over. He closed his eyes but that was a mistake. All he could see was Sable's bloody face gaping down at him, grinning. He pressed his hand against his mouth instead, holding back the manic edge of hysteria. There wasn't time for that and he was sure Klaus wouldn't approve. At any rate, such scenes were so humiliating. Not Eroica's style at all. He tried a laugh but the wound in his thigh had surpassed the agony level. His whole leg throbbed and he thought about pulling the spike free. He had enough sense to realize that action would probably only provoke more bleeding which wouldn't be very helpful. Still....

Klaus jumped back down into the pit, incredibly agile for a man so recently near-death.

"Volovoi is gone," the Major growled. "She has chuted out." He took out his handkerchief and, kneeling, bound it around Dorian's thigh just above the wound fashioning a makeshift tourniquet.

"I shot her."

Klaus caught his breath, staggered. "What?"

"I was going to kill her - that's why I had your gun. She could have taken us both," Dorian said. "She would have killed us, too ... I could see it in her face. She tried to kill us but she just walked away instead. I thought she was coming back. I waited for her to come back. She -"

Klaus slipped his hand along the back of Dorian's head, cradling his skull, holding him still. "You are babbling," he said, gently. "Shut up."

"Oh ... all right." Dorian went very still, his hands in his lap. Eventually, he said in a small voice, "I'm not hallucinating you, am I? You are here?"

"Your friend Bodie piloted us to the Lancaster in the Tiger Moth. I shot out the turret. Then we circled back. I walked out on the wing and I jumped inside."

"You were wing walking? In this weather?"

"Should I have waited for it to clear?" Klaus dragged Dorian's arm around his shoulders and stood up bringing the thief with him. "Keep your weight off that leg."

"All right."

Klaus boosted him up onto the top level, then followed. Dorian allowed himself to be half carried towards the cockpit. Klaus settled him into the co-pilots seat, then sat himself down and began checking the instrument panel. Dorian watched him through a haze of pain and exhaustion. It was hard to believe they both weren't dead.

"What are you staring at?" Klaus growled.

Dorian offered him a timid smile. "You, of course, and I don't care how rude it is," he said. "I'm awfully glad we weren't killed."

Klaus switched off the auto-pilot and took control of the plane. "Why does that man call you rosebud?"

The thief blinked back surprise. "Bodie? He's got names for everyone. Or hadn't you noticed, guv?"

"He seems to have a special one for you."

"Really?" Surprise drifted into pleasure. Klaus had remembered to be jealous? At this point? After all they'd just been through, too. Good heavens! The thief fairly preened.

"Yes, really," Klaus snapped. "And you encourage him."

"I was only being polite. He is a friend. Goodness, do you think Bodie actually fancies me?"

The only answer Klaus delivered was a particularly black scowl. "You talk too much. What I want to know is, do you `fancy' him?"

"That would be rather painful, I should imagine," Dorian returned. "Ray Doyle might feel obliged to carve out my liver with a rusty grapefruit spoon. And you'd probably help him along, wouldn't you?"

Klaus raised an eyebrow, considering. He didn't think long. The smile that crossed his face was slow in coming but when he turned back to the controls, he looked satisfied and a trifle evil. "Yes," he promised gruffly. "You may count on it."

"Thank heavens." Dorian sighed. "Isn't it time for lunch yet? Do you think we could please have that drink now?"

"Only one drink?"

"Mm ... I know a wonderful little restaurant in Paris."

The Major turned and stared. He wasn't sure if he should be appalled or if he should laugh. "Is that not just a bit out of our way?" he asked.

"Not really." Dorian gave him his best Neverland smile, full of feist and affection. Under the grime and fatigue, his eyes were the bottomless blue of youth and promise. "Just take that second star to the right and fly straight on till midnight."

"I know my fairy tales. Those are not the right directions."

"Well, this is a new spot. Nice and private." Dorian closed his eyes and let his head drop back against the seat. "I've mucked with enough lost boys today. Lost girls, too. Haven't you?"

"I have." Klaus allowed a smile to appear. "Should I radio ahead for reservations?"

 




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