By Any Other Name
by Kay Reynolds
Nightmares and brandy for early breakfast combined to bring headaches before noon. Klaus considered finding an aspirin to relieve the pounding in his head. Drank more black coffee instead. He punched in a code at his keyboard and scanned the computer screen.
"Z!" the Major bellowed across the room. "Haven't you finished merging that latest INTERPOL update?"
"Just coming up on screen, sir," agent Joseph Myer, a.k.a. Agent Z replied from his desk.
Klaus watched the document list shift into completion; he punched in more codes and began to scan the files.
"Lots of new activity, sir," the tall, blond agent reported. "As you can see, there's quite a bit to wade through. Inspector Zenigata's delivered sixty new pages of update activity on Lupin III and his associates alone."
"You seem to find these exploits amusing, Z."
Z paled under the Major's dark regard. "No sir. Well, not... not actually. But when you read about what Lupin's been up to lately-"
"Criminal activity. That's what Monsieur Arsené Lupin and his friends have been up to," Klaus shot back. "There is nothing comical in reading about Inspector Zenigata's efforts to apprehend the man."
"No sir. I mean, yes ... sir. I agree. I wasn't laughing."
"These files are here for our enlightenment and to assist us in accomplishing our duty."
"They are not meant to be our personal entertainment!"
More agents entered the office, apparently on their way back from the coffee lounge.
"Did you read Zenigata's latest `Lupin Alert'?" A chortled.
"Did I?" his round companion, B returned. "I almost had an accident. Good thing I keep a change of shorts in my locker."
"You have to ask yourself, which one is crazier - Lupin or
Zenigata," G giggled. "I can sure tell who's smarter."
The three agents stopped as a single unit noticing, at last, Z's rather frozen - and warning - posture at his desk. His body language screamed Red Alert like a RAF siren.
The caution came too late.
"I SUPPOSE NO ONE HAS ANYTHING BETTER TO DO THAN TO DRINK COFFEE AND GOSSIP!?!" Klaus roared, bringing some focus into the agent's warning.
The three agents scurried quickly to their desks. Suddenly, everyone was very quiet and very busy.
"There is chaos everywhere," Klaus continued, briskly. "This is a very bad time. Everyone has something to sell from stick dynamite to nuclear arms. Unfortunately, there are too many buyers. We don't have time to waste making light of criminal exploits and another man's efforts to clean it up. Zenigata is one of our own. He does the best he can."
"Sir..." Z began, cautiously. "No one meant any disrespect towards
Agents A, B and G appeared appropriately chastised. Actually, they mostly looked like, Please don't yell at us again, Major.
And why am I yelling at them? Klaus wondered, shaking his head. Zenigata is a fool of the first degree!
"I will agree," the Major relented gruffly, "that Zenigata's efforts are somewhat...." He searched for the word.
"Hysterical?" G offered, completely straight-faced.
"Obsessive, perhaps," Klaus corrected, sternly.
The Major settled back in his chair, reading through the new information. He browsed through the Zenigata dispatch and managed, by the sheer exertion of the Eberbach will, to stifle the groan that threatened to turn into a grin. He had been right as usual; the inspector was an ass masquerading as human. Overdue for a vacation, that one, Klaus thought.
Scanning on, the Major discovered that the International Diamond Syndicate was up to its old tricks. The cockroaches were running in Marinera and MI-6 was on the move. Klaus spared a sympathetic shudder for his cohort, Jack Bancoran. The Major would have rather stood guard duty with a rabid wolverine in heat than deal with Marinera's little king, Patalliro du Marinel VIII. He knew Jack felt the same. Unfortunately, the man had as little choice in his assignments as Klaus had in his. The Major kept scanning.
Z was right, there was a lot of new activity. The illegal arms trade had expanded in direct correlation to the international confusion. Well, it had always been big business for the reckless entrepreneur. The smart ones got in, made their killing - literally - and got out. There were not too many smart ones, however. Many old names had been designated as deceased.
That just meant there were new lawbreakers to fill in the vacancies. Klaus saw several unfamiliar names mixed in with the tried and true criminals, a whole brand new batch of Slavic origin. Now that the Soviet block countries had opened themselves up to free trade, all those unemployed Borises and Natashases were seeking out new professions that would utilize their old skills. And they were all looking to profit from the misery of others. Sable Volovoi, that was a new name. Apparently even the women were making a bid for power. Klaus wondered what his old chauvinistic adversary, Bear Cub Misha, would have had to say about that?
Dotted about these new capitalists were a mixture of the internationally tried and true - Ringan O'Connor, IRA terrorist and demolition expert. Vivien Vass who dabbled in everything from one-on-one assassination to small scale genocide. Ellis Thornton Foxgrove a.k.a. The Fox a.k.a. The Hand, late of Nicolae Ceausescu's deadly inner circle, freelance now and, apparently, having the time of his life liberating others from their own life's blood. Gian-Maria Borobollonte, Eroica's Mafioso connection, was visiting family in Sicily; bodies had begun to spring up on the island like weeds. Charlie Kello, a master gunrunner, was still around. Of American origin, Kello claimed allegiance to any country who required his services and who could meet his extensive fees. They called him the Shoemaker, not so much for his skill - which was quite extraordinary - but because of the complex network of `experts' he kept at his beck and call. In-and-out, faster than the shoemaker elves from the old fairy tale, and boom! - the job was done, no matter how small, no matter how large. It was rumored that Kello was even able to locate, afford and employ the notorious and deadly twins, Cam and Jared, originally trained by Spectra's worst. More recent rumor had it that Kello had acquired a few hot-off-the-rack Soviet nuclear devices and was offering them for sale to the highest bidder. The Major's eyes narrowed, taking in that loathsome piece of news.
So why am I sitting here? Klaus puzzled, not for the first time that day. Not for the last either.
"Reorganization takes time," Chief Twitterswell had advised at the close of the morning briefing. "You are absolutely right, there are things that need to be done out there. But we must be certain of our priorities. Before we play the game, we have to have a game plan."
Such rhetoric left Klaus feeling very unsatisfied and, nowadays, particularly useless.
"Now Major, NATO is not the law enforcement organization of the world," the Chief advised.
"We help keep the peace," Klaus insisted. The mission seemed simple enough him. Was there something he could have overlooked? Perhaps it was just his sleepless nights that had left him weary. "We keep the peace, that is what we are supposed to be doing," he insisted. "Others might call it law enforcement. What is wrong with that?"
"Nothing, Major. Except of late I have the feeling you are determined to police the whole world."
There is a problem with that? Klaus wanted to ask.
"I, too, am appalled with the current state of international affairs," Twitterswell continued. "Simply appalled. But - we must be able to determine that we will do good instead of harm before we step into any situation. We must be sure that we serve the best interests of the whole country, not just the individual."
"What you are saying is that we must be sure of our new allies." Emerald fire sparked; it cut through the permanent shadow that always covered the Major's eyes. "This is more political pandering, isn't it?"
"Not exactly. These things are never simple," the Chief corrected. "And, yes, politics are crucial. There are too many newcomers jockeying about for positions of power. Leaders change from day to day. It is a time of great change. And we must be certain of our new allies, yes? You, yourself understand the dangers of the lack of political instability. Perhaps better than most men."
Klaus remained quiet. He did not like his Chief very much; he respected the man even less. The feeling was mutual.
"Reliability - that is the cornerstone of a healthy existence in our line of work. During these troubled times, which you will discover pop up regularly throughout the years, it is best to keep our priorities in mind," Twitterswell concluded. "Please tell me, what it is you do for NATO, Major?"
"Good." The Chief almost patted Klaus' shoulder.
Almost. He was not suicidal.
Klaus watched the rotund little man walk down the hall and disappear into his office. Too discouraged to argue more, Klaus was just as glad to finish the discussion. Besides, he had begun to feel like a recording stuck on its track.
The Chief was not the worst man he could be working for. In his own way, the man was trying to deal with an unstable present -irregardless of the future. The lack of action affected him, as well.
Discouraged, Klaus read on. It was part of his job, updating himself on the current actions of the known felons. His monitor screen flickered as he punched up file after file until he found the one he was searching for. Eroica....
... of British origin, age approx. 25-27. Height: approx. 185 centimeters (6'1"), Weight: approx. 76 kg (154 pounds). Caucasian, blond hair (worn long, natural curl), blue eyes. Homosexual. International cat burglar, specializing in the theft of both minor and master works of famous artists, sculptors, jewelers, etc. Historian; excels in evaluation of historical and contemporary art. Extraordinary safecracking skills; able to penetrate any security system (including Vatican. See outstanding warrants, Rome). Native tongue: English. Fluent (speaks, translates, writes) in German, French, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese and various Arabic dialects....
Klaus took out a cigarette and fired it up. He dropped the match into an overflowing ashtray, completely disregarding the smoke he had started only a minute ago.
Makes himself understood in Russian, Japanese and half a dozen Chinese tongues as well, he thought. A wry smile twisted the corners of Klaus' lips. He shook his head. There is so much information they do not have here.
The file went on to describe Eroica's skill with antique weapons and knives. It listed his known associates highlighting the names which merited their own INTERPOL file, it cataloged a brief synopsis of his past escapades.
... Outstanding warrants in Rome, Madrid, Bahrain, Dijon, Athens....
The list went on. And on. Klaus scowled, pleased. No new activity.
And he saw nothing about Eroica's connections to NATO, nothing about Cairo.
Bury yourself deep in your bolthole, meiner kleine Dieb, he cautioned, silently. It is now far too dangerous out here for the likes of you.
The phone buzzed twice on the Major's desk. Klaus lifted the receiver and answered crisply, "Eberbach."
"Call for you, Major," the front desk advised. "He won't give a name."
Annoyed, Klaus punched the call through. "Eberbach," he growled.
"And a bright good morning to you, too, Major," a familiar British voice piped back over the line.
"Bonham?" Klaus barked, surprised, suspicious and slightly alarmed. "What do you want? What is he up to now? Whatever it is -"
"I was calling to ask if you'd made plans for lunch," the thief interrupted. "I just arrived in town and I was thinking to myself, Why don't I call my old friend, Major Eberbach and ask him out for a bite? What do you say, Major? My treat."
"Drop dead, that should cover it." Klaus glared at his briefcase in which he had concealed the ancient flute. "I have made other plans for lunch."
"Change them," Bonham insisted, curt. "We need to talk."
"For old times' sake ... and for the sake of all our tomorrows, I think."
Klaus inhaled a great deal of smoke. Let it out. "So what is happening now? What is Eroica up to?"
"You tell me, Major."
"Pardon?" Klaus sat up, surprised.
"Eroica doesn't know I'm in Bonn," Bonham continued. "That's why we need to talk. This is just between you and me."
"Why should there be anything between us?" Klaus demanded, intrigued despite himself. "I want no part of either of you."
"Right. I've heard that song before, so why don't you just shove it up and listen." The line crackled with Bonham's anger. "Look here, you thick-headed Kraut, I'll tell you frank, you don't deserve him. M'lord is one of a kind, he is. And he's got plenty of friends, high and low, no matter what you might think. God knows why, but you're the one who matters. But listen, there's something wrong, Major. There's something up and it feels pretty bad. I don't know what it is. He won't talk and he won't let anybody help him out so I figure you're it. You're the one. You've got to come."
"What you are saying is preposterous. Impossible!"
"Is it?" Bonham's voice dropped an octave, became a tad more smooth. "I could tell you about a few preposterous events that I just happen to know about. Could tell some other folks, too, if I was so inclined. Don't you forget, I know where the bodies are buried, Major. I think I'd find time to talk with me if I was you."
"You are speaking of blackmail."
"You know, I've always admired how quickly you get right to the heart of it." Bonham laughed softly but there was more desperation in the sound than humor. "You got your faults, Major, that's for sure. But you've never been one to dodge an obligation. Eroica's pulled your fat from the fire often enough just for the sheer pleasure of it and the glint in your green eyes. I think he needs you now, except he won't call - or he can't. I dunno. You've got to come, Major. You've just got to!"
The man's voice trailed off into silence. Dead air danced between them for several minutes.
"What compensation would you offer should I decide to agree to provide this service?" Klaus asked, finally. Eberbach bit back his surprise; he could not believe these words were coming out of his mouth. Any moment now, he knew he would laugh and hang up the phone. Any moment....
"Compensation?" Bonham sounded hopeful, almost relieved. "Well, I guess I'll owe you one, Major. For what it's worth."
Klaus smiled. That deal was worth quite a bit, actually. The Major had tried to recruit Bonham's help on several occasions in the past - all to no avail. It would be an asset to have the canny thief in his debt.
"Where shall I meet you for lunch?" Klaus asked.
"How about the Childe Harold? Do you know the place?"
Expensive, Klaus mused. Better and better, the Stingy Bug wasn't with him.
"Yes," Klaus said, gruffly. "I know where it is. Thirty minutes. Don't be late."
He hung up the phone.
Two days later at mid-afternoon, Major Klaus von dem Eberbach found himself motoring along several miles of private drive moving steadily up towards the tall, spired turrets of Castle Red Gloria. The cobblestone road had been well maintained and the rented Mercedes glided forward with barely a lurch or bump. A tribute to the excellence of German engineering and manufacturing, Klaus thought. Still and all, he would have preferred an armored tank for this occasion.
Bonham had had precious little information to share but he'd been blunt with what he knew. Good. It was easier to deal directly with a matter than to catfoot around it - LIKE SOME PEOPLE HAD DONE. So the thief was in trouble. Pining away, was he? No food ... no sleep....
You're overdue for a vacation, Major. Enjoy yourself, take your time getting back, that's what Chief Twitterswell had said when Klaus had asked for a free 48 hours. The man had been pathetically eager to grant the Major's request. Keep in touch, we'll advise if any new developments require your attention, the Chief promised, all but shoving him out of the office. Klaus had already called back five times to check. So far, there was nothing for him, no new international crisis, not one looming disaster, not even a minor emergency that demanded his personal touch. The Major was irrevocably trapped. Now he found himself on an extended leave of absence without a chance for second thought, moving closer and closer towards the thief's lair. Happy holidays.
Finally, Klaus had no choice but to park the car. He left the
Mercedes with a great sense of reluctance and mounted the steps of the grand entrance. He pulled the bell and waited for someone to answer, rocking back on his heels, hands thrust deep in his coat pockets. He heard a great deal of scurrying about from within and a volley of voices: "Get the door, can't you, Sue?"
"Can't you see I've got my arms full here? Make yourself useful, Kat. You get it."
"Excuses, excuses! Whatever happened to `please and thank you'?"
"Please get the bloody door. Thank you."
"My privilege." The massive door swung open and Klaus found himself staring down at one of Eroica's androgynous household members. "My gawd," s/he said, gazing up. "It's the Major."
Klaus marched into the marble foyer. "No, it is the thick-headed Kraut," he corrected, dismally. Bonham's words were suddenly very accurate. "Is the Earl at home today?"
The attendant stumbled, closing the door. For a moment, s/he looked as if s/he would simply dash away.
"Well?" Klaus demanded.
"I'll see if Lord Dorian is receiving." The youth sped away with more enthusiasm than grace. Klaus watched the departure with complete resignation. He was thoroughly committed now.
Meanwhile, the activity Klaus had sensed beyond the door had come to a standstill. He gazed about at a variety of the castle's inhabitants who had fallen into frozen postures about the hall and stairs. It was impossible to tell thieves from servants or tradesmen or visitors. Well, they were all most likely criminals of some sort. The Eberbach frown became more pronounced.
"See here," one young man decked out in black leathers and punk clothing blurted out. "We know who you are, Major. You haven't come to arrest him or anything have you, 'cause if you have -"
"You'll do what?" Klaus' facial expressions were a symphony of contradictions. He scowled when he was pleased; he smiled when he was feeling annoyed - or dangerous.
Klaus' smile hit the punk right between the eyes. The boy closed his mouth and, although he retained an attitude of defiance, it was definitely shaky around the edges.
Klaus sighed. This intimidation was pointless, even as a routine exercise. "You need not concern yourself on the Earl's behalf. I am on holiday," he admitted, grimly. "This is a social call."
The room-tension plummeted a few degrees and people began to move about again. The punk-boy nodded and trailed away to a distant part of the hall, busying himself at some make-work task but keeping an eye on the Major all the while. Klaus returned the gaze for a moment, then scanned the rest of the room. Good heavens, what a lot of loyal felons they were. He would be very glad to be done with this.
Bonham appeared at the head of the stairs and hurried towards Klaus.
"Well, you made it." The thief seemed uncommonly nervous approaching. "It's good to see you, Major."
For the first time Klaus considered, What if this is some kind of trap? Some ambush to be played out by these villains? But he shrugged that thought away. It was too much to hope for that he should have the opportunity to blaze his way out of Castle Red Gloria.
"What a surprise," Bonham said, trying for cheer. He came to a halt, not too close, beside the Major. "It's a pleasure to see you again."
Klaus handed over his coat and scarf. "Don't overdo it," he warned.
"There's no reason not to enjoy yourself, is there?"
"It was not part of our arrangement."
"This way then," Bonham sighed and trotted back into motion leading Klaus out of the main hall. "He's in the studio today. I trust you'll be staying for lunch?"
Klaus shrugged. "I suppose I'll have to."
Bonham shook his head, defeated. He was already regretting his interference in the whole affair. It had struck him, rather hard actually, just how he had spoken to both the Earl and the Major during the past few days. He knew he was safe with Dorian; the Earl would forgive and forget. The Major, however, was the type to carry an insubordinate tongue to his grave. Bonham barely suppressed a shiver. The man probably had a collection, tacked up on a hidden wall somewhere like some kind of loathsome dead-butterfly assembly. It would seem an appropriate hobby. And, of course, Bonham realized how he had obligated himself to the man as well. No matter where, no matter when, no matter what - the thief would at some future time be compelled to do the Major's bidding. No questions asked, either.
The thief heaved a silent groan. Surely his mother's children had been raised with better sense than that? Where were his brains? Well, Bonham reasoned, that's what one got for meddling about in the catastrophes of others.
"There is a problem?" Klaus asked as they approached the studio.
"No problem," Bonham said. "I was just... thinking is all. Here we are."
Klaus entered the studio door - and paused, hovering just beyond the threshold. He had visited the castle before but had never been in Dorian's studio. Despite himself, he was impressed. It was a room filled with ornamentation, a room meant for pleasure. That was to be expected. However, he could tell it was a functioning workroom as well.
The Major had visited smaller airplane hangers. Here the walls were at least fifteen feet high and boasted an entire wall of windows, floor to ceiling, shrouded with drapes in layers of antique gauze. Klaus spotted the standard easels and a gigantic drafting table/light board affair; there were various works in progress and finished canvases stacked against vertical surfaces. A flat-file took up one corner near a battered leather sofa which was cloaked in an old lace bedspread; the ensemble looked well-used. The floor was covered in a fading and paint-splattered Persian carpet, its pile still thick around the fringe-edged boarders. Bookcases were lined with reproductions of Klimt, Mucha, Rosetti and Bryne-Jones and filled to overflowing with heavily perused reference tomes, both ancient and contemporary. There were several statues dotted about; Klaus noted an emphasis towards Art Deco and Baroque with one absolutely breathtaking Kuan Lin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, popping out from the lush and abundant plants. He spotted a stereo of indeterminate origin, speakers and albums. Iron-bound chests bled their contents and costumes onto the floor beside a tall stepladder, an old guitar and a long sedan chair buried beneath a fake leopard throw. Someone had decorated a Madonna with Italian racing shades and spikes, placing her between two priceless Ming porcelains. A vase of crimson flowers (poppies?) sat beside a large goblet filled with Belgium chocolate on a Louis-something table; displays of antique stilettos and decorative-yet-very functional shuriken, peacock and ostrich feathers and oriental fans hung on the wall or from the ceiling; pewter candelabra boasted creamy, beeswax tapers. A full-size skeleton wearing a top hat and opera cloak held a silver headed cane in one bony fist and clenched a red velvet rose in his ever-grinning teeth as he mimed a jaunty welcome beside the harvest-sized fireplace. Klaus detected a faint odor of solvents, oil and mineral spirits drifting throughout the room floating beneath the scent of lavender and spice.
And standing in the midst of this glorious assembly looking very much like a strayed angel was Dorian Red. He easily captured the room's focus despite all of the competing exotica although, even Klaus had to admit, his demeanor and clothing were quite casual. The Earl wore an old, over-large sweater, ice-blue in color. The sleeves were pushed up over his slim arms; the neck was too big, falling precariously close to his shoulder, revealing the long, gentle swell of his throat and the firm line of his jaw. Celtic designed-silver circled his wrists, obviously authentic. Dorian's jeans had begun black and were now faded to slate gray. His black boots looked comfortable as well as polished and stylish. He had pinned his hair away from his face with ebony combs, a useless effort. Curls kept escaping to cascade over his brow and down into clear, lapis eyes. No, Klaus was certain that Dorian had made no special effort on his behalf; Bonham had kept this visit secret. It was simply that, no matter where he was, Dorian Red Gloria was the heartbeat of his environment.
His guide forgotten, Klaus took another two steps inside the studio, peering about as new objects captured his attention.
"So, it really is you," Dorian said. "I wondered if everyone was suffering from a collective hallucination or some other form of dementia."
"No," Klaus admitted. "I am here."
"Well, then ... welcome." Dorian stood beside his easel as if rooted. Uncertain, confused - but obviously pleased. "So, what do you think?"
Klaus' dark brow jutted up over one brilliant green eye. "I am thinking that all you are missing here, perhaps, is the partridge in the pear tree."
Dorian laughed. "Not by a minute, darling. Look there by your hand."
And there it was, a small music box representative of the Christmas song perched, among other items, on a delicate end table.
"Well," the Major conceded, "I suppose it is close to the holidays. You are now decorating, yes?"
"Every year. They're beginning to set things about downstairs."
Dorian shifted, settling his weight onto one leg, folding his arms over his chest. He held a brush in one hand like a wand. "But I can't suppose you've come all this way to inquire about my Yule decor."
"No," Klaus answered curtly, suddenly closing the distance between them, business-efficient. "I have come to bring this to you."
The Major reached inside his coat and withdrew the Flute of Bagoas.
Dorian's eyes widened. "You brought the flute!" The wonder in blue eyes transformed into absolute delight as he accepted the instrument. "My God, I thought it was lost forever."
"There was a split in the seam of the diplomatic pouch," Klaus explained, reluctantly. "It must have slipped out and become stuck in the seat of my vehicle. I discovered it when I was cleaning."
"But not before you accused me of stealing it - and circulating that information with NATO and INTERPOL and-"
"I accused you before I found it. I was very angry," Klaus interrupted, quickly. "But I did not speak to INTERPOL. And your involvement with NATO is off record. As usual."
Dorian gazed at the Major speculatively, his head cocked to one side.
"Yes - yes," Klaus continued, hurriedly. "I thought you had stolen the flute. I had taken such precautions... and then it was gone. You were the only possibility."
"And then, after you'd found it, you didn't say anything because you'd made such a stink about me stealing it, right?"
"Well, we were very busy at the office - at that time. When I found it, that is. I forgot to notify you."
"Right. I told you I didn't have it. You should have believed me. I don't lie to you, Major, at least - not that much. I don't think I would have lied about this."
"What a very interesting room this is," Klaus said, changing tracks abruptly. "Functional decadence. You paint here?"
"No, I fuck sheep here." Dorian bit his tongue as Klaus blanched, horrified. Then he shrugged. "Well, that's what you think, isn't it?"
"I do not think that ... exactly," Klaus stammered, caught. "I...."
"I'm sorry. That was a rude and vulgar remark. But, honestly, Major - you are so easy to tease. You are a living temptation. Irresistible."
"So you have told me before and the less said about that, I think, the better," Klaus said, firmly. "You received no payment for your work in Cairo. The flute is yours now. That should be adequate compensation for your efforts."
"Thank you, Major."
"You are welcome." Klaus cleared his throat. He placed himself before Dorian's easel, falling unconsciously into parade rest. "So, you paint pictures as well as steal them. This is your work?"
"Yes. I paint. I am an artist."
"I have no understanding of these things. I am a soldier." Klaus took in a deep breath and studied the painting. A young woman gazed out from a tall, stone tower. Her long braid drifted down and out of the window, the golden strands coming loose and tangling in the thorns of the wildly blooming rose bush that climbed the eastern face of the stone. She appeared to be waiting for something - or someone - but her expression wasn't very hopeful. A caged songbird trilled an unheard melody on the canvas; the tune did not cheer her.
"This is from the story, Rapunzel," Klaus said at last.
"Well, I see you know your Brothers Grimm." Dorian began to clean his brushes.
"It looks to me to be a very good painting. I like the way the light comes down on her face there."
"I don't like it much. It's too dark and dismal." Dorian sighed. "I meant it to be a Christmas present for my niece, she's at that fairy tale age and she loves them. But I think I'll try to find something else."
"But this story is not very happy," Klaus protested. "None of the old stories are truly happy. Still, there are good lessons, I think. That is why they last."
"And what, pray tell, are the lessons of Rapunzel?"
"Do not steal things from other people's gardens, of course. Or make deals with witches. This girl is nothing but an innocent victim of her parents wrongdoing. She has every right to be unhappy. It would be wrong, insulting, to show her in a cheerful way. Surely your niece knows this. She will like it, I think. It is an honest picture."
Dorian smiled. "I had no idea you were so passionate about fairy tales, Major, or that you could champion Rapunzel so well. A characteristic of your German Weltschmerz, perhaps?"
"Call it what you like." Klaus shrugged. "But I do not see why all things must be, like they say - coated with sugar. Washed down by Disney, ja? Sometimes sad is best. How do you know you are happy unless you have felt what is sad?"
"Point taken, darling." Dorian removed the combs from his hair and shook out his curls. "The German in you really comes out when you're excited about something. Did you know that?"
"Ja, I know." Klaus frowned, disappointed in himself. He indicated the other canvases. "These others are your work, as well?"
"Some. Quite a few, actually. But most belong to the artists who live here. We're quite a creative lot. We've even got a pottery room with wheels and a new kiln. I'm afraid that's not my specialty. But would you like to see?"
"They are artists, the people who live here?"
"We're a little bit of everything. But the artists outnumber everyone else two-to-one. If you don't count the musicians. They seem to be gaining on us."
"I thought they all were thieves, like you."
"There's some who walk several sides of the path," Bonham spoke up at last. "But you won't find anyone else here that's quite like the Earl."
"Thank you, Bonham." Dorian's laugh returned again. "I hope that's a compliment."
"I thought you might want to break for a bite to eat," the man continued. "I've taken the liberty - if you would care to reconvene in the music room?"
"You're so thoughtful," Dorian purred. He gestured at Klaus, inviting. He knew enough not to offer his arm. "Shall we dine, darling?"
"If you wish," Klaus replied, well and truly trapped. "You may lead the way."
"Jawohl, mein Major," Dorian answered. "This way."
The Earl swept out of the room bringing the others into step beside him. Bonham quickly took off, leaving the two to follow at their own pace. Eventually, Dorian braved his own inner challenge and took the Major's arm as they made their way through the halls. Surprise, surprise. Klaus did not shove him away. Delighted, the Earl indulged himself in presenting a bit of a grand tour which, to his continuing delight, Klaus seemed willing to indulge. The walk to the music room became a long and rambling journey.
Not that he fooled himself but so very much. Dorian's instincts told him that he was being set up. He wondered if the intentions behind the Major's visit were entirely benign. However, he decided not to care, he decided to let this gift horse take him wherever it wanted for the present. How intoxicating to have Klaus so near, now that the initial shock of his presence had worn off. He had quite forgotten his other dire concerns.
At least, Dorian had made the attempt. He worked diligently at forgetting, might have had a better chance at it, too, if only he didn't feel so tired. God, the previous night's dreaming had been absolutely wretched, the worst yet. Don't let me think about that now... please, he begged.
"You are cold?" Klaus asked, feeling Dorian shiver.
"Yes. A little."
Klaus slipped his arm around the Earl's shoulders. "These old places," the Major began. "They are beautiful but drafty, too, yes?"
"Yes," Dorian said. His eyes flickered shut against a sheen of sudden tears, then opened again - very bright. He slipped closer into the shelter of Klaus' arm, daring rejection. One could never tell how the Major would react; the only constant about Klaus von dem Eberbach was his contradictions. Still, if the Major was feeling kind, Dorian would permit himself to enjoy it. Walking beside Klaus, he had never felt so fragile, he had never felt so safe.
"Yes," the Earl whispered. "It's very breezy inside these old halls." And laughed again, hoarsely. "The price we must pay, I suppose."
Seated within the music room, Dorian understood quite clearly that the `game was afoot.' That he was not to become part of the main course was the only fact he could be sure of. Reality had taken a hard, sharp dive into the surreal. Still, it was too bizarre to believe that any of his staff could be working some scam against him - and with the Major, too.
All the pertinent clues pointed to Bonham. His gourmet lieutenant had outdone himself at luncheon. All had been perfection from the roaring fire on the hearth to the last bottle of Château Lafite-Rothschild. The meal had begun with a splendidly chilled Pouilly-Fuissé followed by a procession of progressively enticing dishes - Shrimp, Mango and Chayote Napoleon with Citrus Dressing followed by Constanza Salad followed by Confit de Canard and new potatoes with sour cream and caviar as well as assorted side dishes followed by fresh strawberry tart (his particular favorite).
"Whatever have you done with James?" Dorian hissed at the first opportunity.
"Sent him scavenging for groceries," Bonham whispered. "What else?"
That's when Dorian became absolutely certain that his lieutenant was a primary player. Still, he felt more puzzled than alarmed; Bonham would never do anything to harm him or place him in jeopardy. Yet this new mystery continued to eat at him as surely as the Earl consumed Bonham's delicious duck.
But then Dorian would look up from his meal and see Klaus seated across the table. He had allowed himself this fantasy in the past, a meal with the Major. Still, it seemed so strange to have it finally played out. They didn't share much conversation; neither were eager to break the peace between them. Klaus waded through an array of silverware, glass and china that would have broken a lesser man. Actually, the formalities of the meal seemed to put him at ease. He handled the knife and fork with the same efficiency that he would have demonstrated with an automatic. Each movement was a deliberate economy of motion, very strong, very powerful - majestic, the way a king should be. Occasionally, Klaus would look up and their eyes would meet ... warm, intelligent green eyes, piercing his own from beneath thick, black, blunt-cut hair. Klaus' hair drifted over his collarbone whenever he leaned forward; it fell to the top of his shoulders when he sat up. Those shining locks were never quite completely still, like deep, dark, gently moving water. A dreamy smile fell over Dorian's lips. What lovely, even white teeth Klaus had, what flawless skin and impeccable manners. The firelight made a warm, golden haze behind him, defining muscles, making shadows dance over his face, caressing his flesh in a way Dorian never would.
Dorian's hand trembled when he raised his glass. Can't you just relax and enjoy this? he asked himself. What more do you want?
Unfortunately, he knew the answer to that too well.
The quiet remained until the essentials were concluded. Afterwards came carefully arranged privacy, the perfect Cabernet and a selection of cheeses - Langreo, Stilton, Emmentaler and sliced fruit. Klaus busied himself wandering about the room, gazing at this and that. Dorian sat himself at the piano, a white concert grand. With casual, one hand elegance, the Earl picked out the opening notes of Bach's Little Fugue in G Minor.
"Don't misunderstand me, Major," Dorian began. "But why are you here?"
"To return the flute, of course."
Dorian issued his sweetest smile. "I don't believe you."
"Well, you can believe this." Klaus crossed over to stand behind Dorian. He reached down around the Earl's shoulders and let his hand settle onto the keys, concluding Bach's opening phrase. "I am on holiday. I am here. The flute belongs to you and now it is in your possession. That is all I have to say on the matter."
Dorian shivered. The direct approach wasn't working - but the nearness of the Major was almost overwhelming.
"I didn't know you played piano." Dorian began a new assault.
Klaus sat down beside him on the bench. He hesitated a moment, then let his hands fly over the keyboard, launching into a full blown execution of the Overture to Rienzi. Dorian gasped, astonished. The Major cut himself off abruptly.
"Wagner," Klaus explained, briefly.
"Yes. I know."
"We learned that at school."
"Well, I should imagine. You play very well."
"But ... you don't really like Wagner, do you?"
An Eberbach frown darkened the Major's face. Then he shook his head and laughed. "No," he confessed. "I do not like Richard Wagner very much."
"Don't worry, Major. I won't tell." Dorian sipped his Cabernet.
"Gut. I should not like to end my career in a trial for treason from the German government."
"Oh my God, Klaus. You made a joke."
Klaus finished his glass of wine. Nodded. Smiled. "Yes," he said, grinning down at the keyboard. "I did."
"So...." Dorian elbowed his side. "Don't keep me in suspense. What kind of music do you like?"
Klaus shrugged and hit the keys again. Dorian easily recognized the melody.
"Rhapsody in Blue ... Gershwin!" he crooned. "Whoever would have thought it?"
"Not many people," Klaus said. He stopped playing again, somewhat reluctant.
"Oh, do go on," Dorian urged. "I'd like to hear the rest."
"It's so nice having you visit - and not arguing. I'm almost afraid to say or do anything else. I don't want to spoil it, you know." The words rushed out of Dorian's mouth. "Won't you go on? Unless... unless you have to leave now."
Klaus gave a little shrug, caressing the keys again, willing himself distractions. "I can stay for a while longer," he said and then began to play again.
Klaus started with Gershwin's Preludes, fumbling at first but enthusiastic, gaining confidence from the admiration in Dorian's blue eyes. It had been so long since Klaus had made any kind of music; it was quite remarkable how it all came back. Dorian stood up and left the bench to him, wandering about as Gershwin's jazz-inspired sound filled the room, returning only to refill Klaus' wine glass. Klaus concentrated on the keys and put an effort into it. This was a much easier task than the one he had been charged to perform. He bit back a bitter laugh, listening to Wagner would have been easier - and more preferable than talking with Dorian.
Bonham was right. He is too pale, too thin, Klaus despaired. He looks so ill. What is wrong with him? How can I ask?
He was very much aware of what he feared, that Dorian was victim to the terrible wasting disease that had preyed on so many of his kind. His kind, Klaus raged against himself. And that is how you have always treated him - separate and apart from every other human being. And what of that? What of that!
Klaus finished the piece he was playing and let his hands fall onto his lap. Frustration, self-contempt and misery combined to make a great black well; he knew it would swallow him whole if he did not fight back but his warrior-spirit lacked the incentive.
The Major had always prided himself on his `direct approach' to every situation. Klaus von dem Eberbach was a graduate of the capture-interrogate-dismiss school of espionage where dismiss almost always translated to terminate. This procedure usually resolved all loose and messy ends. It precluded any awkward personal involvements. What could he tell Bonham? That he had failed in his mission? That he simply had not been able to question Dorian directly? The Earl had left him many opportunities. Why could he not say, We are all concerned for you. What is wrong? Can I help?
Klaus brooded into his empty wineglass until, alerted by silence, he turned and looked behind him.
Dorian was asleep. Apparently, he had settled back onto the long, white divan in order to best enjoy the concert and digest the heavy meal. Still, despite his best efforts, the Earl had succumbed to weariness. His glass had dropped from his fingers leaving a stain on the rug that looked far too much like blood to suit Klaus.
This was an evil picture, a terrible intuition; the Major crossed the room and sat down beside Dorian. Sleep was much needed but this was not a peaceful rest. Dorian's breathing came in short, rapid gasps, his brow was creased with trouble, his lips mouthed words Klaus could not make out. Cautiously, he reached out to wake him but Dorian suddenly tossed his head, throwing his arms up before his face. Klaus drew back, hesitant, observing.
What was this movement, the Major wondered. A gesture of defense? An attack? Dorian's long, slim fingers were balled into fists, his knuckles were blue-white from the force of it. His fists flailed back and forth, beating... yes! As if he were beating at something - or someone! Klaus instinctively ducked back but that was a needless gesture. Dorian's blows only went so far. It did not seem as if he could extend much beyond an area of six inches. It was such a trapped and horrid little motion, repeated again and again. And no words now, not even the attempt, just tiny, breathless sobs like the sound a child would make. A lost child, Klaus thought. An abandoned child....
He could not bear for this to continue even though it looked as though Dorian had stirred himself up into waking. Klaus's hands locked onto Dorian's shoulders; he shook him hard and kept shaking him until, with a sharp, awful cry, Dorian's eyes opened. Klaus eased him back onto the divan, smoothing the hair out of his face; the skin was too warm, fever-baked and damp. Those wide blue eyes stared back, terrifying in their confusion.
"What is it?" Klaus whispered, hoarsely. "What is wrong?"
But Dorian tore himself away; he got up and ran, stumbling out of the music room and into the hall. Klaus lost little time in pursuit, found he was not alone in running. Bonham was with him. The thief had not been too far from the door.
"What happened?" Bonham demanded.
"I don't know," Klaus said. "He fell asleep - he was dreaming, a nightmare."
"Good God," the man moaned. "What the hell -"
They created quite a commotion, acquired quite a troop charging down the halls. Klaus lost site of Dorian, then picked up on and followed the sound of lightly running feet. Up and up he ran, into one of the tall, spired towers.
"Keep them back!" Klaus growled at Bonham, suddenly very afraid. "Do not crowd him in up here!"
Bonham's complexion dropped to a lighter shade of pale behind his flushed cheeks but he obeyed Klaus' command. The Major darted ahead, leaving the others behind.
He is too fast, panic-words rose in Klaus' heart. I will not catch him.
And that seemed more and more important the higher they climbed. Dorian had always been faster than Klaus, he had outrun the Major on many occasions but nothing as important as this. The stairs had become progressively steep and the old stones were treacherously slick. If he falls, we will all crash down this great height! Klaus acknowledged, grimly.
That thought spurred him on although there wasn't but so much farther to run. Klaus finally caught onto Dorian's arm, hurling them both down onto the steps. It wasn't a comfortable or a graceful landing and it knocked the air out of both of them. Dorian didn't want to be caught either, he struggled in Klaus' grasp, twisting about, nearly kicking free.
"Be still!" the Major ordered. He sat up and shoved Dorian back-first into the wall, shaking him hard. He shuddered hearing the Earl's blond head crack against the stone.
But Dorian didn't even flinch. He glared at the Major, hauled back his fist and let him have it. Then scrambled to his feet and ran again while Klaus fought to stay conscious. At the last, Dorian reached the great, arched door at the top of the stairs. Desperately, he tugged at the handle but the door was either locked or stuck fast, it refused to open. He raised his fist and slammed it into the wood. Nothing gave. Dorian hammered at the door again and again.
Klaus stumbled after, catching hold of him again, he tried to keep him still. Useless.
"Are you out of your mind?" Klaus yelled - quickly realizing that was a pointless approach. "What is it? Dorian, what is wrong?"
His words were coming out in a mixture of German and English. But something seemed to click, however, and the Earl turned anguished, stricken eyes up at the Major.
"It's locked!" he cried. "Locked!"
"Stand back with me," Klaus commanded. He thrust the Earl behind him and kicked at the medieval lock. Once. Twice.
The door burst open on the third try, ancient oak shattering under the Major's blows.
Dorian rushed past him and into the round, turret room. Klaus followed behind. The Major gazed about the spacious area, anxious, alert - anticipating anything and everything. There had to be something very terrible here. Something absolutely hideous but -
"But this is a child's room," Klaus gasped, bewildered. "Dorian... I do not understand...."
The Earl turned slowly, faced him directly.
"It's not supposed to be locked," Dorian announced in a clear, strong voice. His was a sound of absolute conviction, genuine purpose.
Klaus nodded, encouraging, willing himself to understand, waiting for more.
"This room is not supposed to be locked," the Earl insisted - just that one last time.
Then he pitched forward, collapsing. Klaus lunged at him, catching Dorian up into his arms and sinking down beneath the sudden, dead weight. All Klaus could do was hold onto him, crouching there on the carpeted floor. A thousand questions screamed in his head; they tried to tear themselves out of his throat. Impossible. The only answers were locked well within this angel's head and, for the time being, there was only silence.
The Major's jaw was very sore. He fingered the flesh gently. Winced. There was no bruise but Dorian had hit him hard enough that he felt there should be loosened teeth. Such a wallop the little thief had - who would have ever suspected?
"Would you like some ice for that, Major?" Bonham asked.
"Nein. Danke shön."
Bonham set coffee out on a small table and sat down. "Please join me," he urged. "You're making me dizzy with all that marching about. It's not going to help, you know."
Klaus took a break from his pacing and forced himself to sit down. Such an ordinary procedure in a day that had lost all claim to that. Events had transpired far beyond even the usual absurdity that surrounded Dorian and his crew. Still, Klaus could not bring himself to rail against it. He was far too troubled to find refuge in his usual catharsis.
They had carried Dorian back to his room. The staff had subsequently been dismissed but Bonham and Klaus had remained behind, stationing themselves in the Earl's dressing room. They kept the adjoining bedroom door open while they conferred - just in case.
They had left the door to the tower room open, too, but there was no chance of that being locked up again any time in the near future. At least, not before considerable repairs had been made.
"That tower is the Earl's old quarters," Bonham explained. "Not the nursery, no, but where he slept and played as a child. Quite the spot for a boy with an imagination as grand as his, you can bet on that."
"Yes. I believe I saw a painting of it this afternoon," Klaus returned, dryly.
"Before you ask - no, I haven't a clue as to how that room ties in with what's been going on."
"You know nothing?"
"I wish I did." Bonham poured a splash of cream into his cup and followed it with strong, steaming coffee. "The Earl has never given any special orders about it, not as far as I know. It's so out of the way. God, don't you just know how much the staff must have loved keeping it up back when he was a lad. Trust Lord Dorian to pick a place like that for his private chambers. The old Earl, he couldn't ever - he didn't ever refuse his boy much. M'lord was the crown jewels in his father's eye."
Klaus drank his coffee slowly. "They got along well, Dorian and his father?"
"Just peachy, Major, and that's a pure fact. I've never known a sweeter relationship between a dad and his boy than what they had. M'lord was truly grieved when his father passed on. Now, the Countess, his mum... that's another kettle of cod."
"I beg your pardon?"
"The Earl's mother cut out when he was still just a boy. Took the girls, his sisters, that is, with her and lit out for the country estate. And Paris and Venice and Monte Carlo and... you must know how that went." Bonham frowned with more than disapproval. "The Countess made quite a show at the old Earl's funeral. Cor, what a cold fish she is. Hard to imagine anyone as warm-hearted as M'lord sliding out from that frozen - uh... witch." The thief raised his cup in an apologetic salute. "No offense to the good women of the craft."
Klaus pushed himself up to his feet. He began pacing again, stalking around the room, literally, in circles. Frustrated, he kneaded at the knots in the back of his neck.
"This is pointless!" he growled. "Lord Gloria suffers from a sickness, that is certain. Anyone can see this. His father, his mother - they are not our concern." Klaus hesitated briefly, then continued. "I have had some experience of late with evil dreams. Believe me, I know how they can leave you feeling very badly. But this...." The Major shook his head, concerned and anxious. "I cannot help but feel there is something more."
"Amen to that," Bonham sighed. "Got any ideas?"
Klaus could think of no other way to ask except to blurt the question out. It had been screaming in the back of his brain almost since his arrival.
"Well ... what about - could it be AIDS?"
Bonham's eyes almost bulged out of his head. "Not a bloody chance!"
"How do you know?"
"Because he hasn't got it, that's how," the stocky man blustered. "He's been tested - long ago. The Earl's all right, he is. And so are you."
Bonham frowned, very indignant. "It could be that's the only good thing that's come out of this mismatched alliance," he said. "He's kept to himself since he lost his heart - and his head - to you. Not that M'lord wasn't always plenty choosy about who he shared his bed with. Where do you think he learned to punch like that? If he's been alone, it's by choice - not because there haven't been those who chased." Fire sparked in Bonham's blue eyes. "No matter what you think, he's not the type to sleep around. Sure, the Earl likes to play, he puts on a good show - but that's all it is. Show. He's like his dad, he's got a loving soul, a good heart. Very free with the back-pats, the hugs and the kindly words. But since he took the plunge for you, there hasn't been anyone else. And more's the pity someone that fine should be all on his own and as long as this, too."
But the Major wasn't following. His mind was still reeling from Bonham's initial remark.
"What do you mean, I'm safe, too?" Klaus asked, suspiciously.
"Uh...." Bonham began, frantically wondering how he could backtrack to some other topic. Any other topic. "Nothing. Just a slip of the tongue, Major."
"Well, you see, actually - I can't. Been sworn to silence on that one." He gave a nervous laugh that tittered high at the last. Bonham pantomimed locking his lips and tossing away the key. He hoped the Major would find the charade amusing.
"Loose lips tell no tales, eh, Bonham?"
"That's right, sir. You've got it."
"I have ways ... of making you talk." Klaus smiled. "You know that, don't you? I am sure you have heard the tales. But, of course, you know me. Don't you?"
"Oh, Major, I think you've seen far too many of those bad World War II movies - the kind with the evil Nazi SS chaps. You play the part very well." Bonham's voice cracked on another futile attempt at laughter. "But everybody knows that under your grim exterior...." His voice faltered and died. Everybody knows that under your grim exterior beats a heart of pure cold iron, Bonham thought. And shuddered.
"Actually, I don't watch many movies," Klaus continued, casually. "I have never had the time to indulge in such frivolities. In my youth, I was too busy learning various techniques in spy school." The smile deepened. "You should know, I graduated at the top of my class. And, of course now, professionally speaking, I am without equal. In what I do."
"In what you... do...?"
Bonham took in a very deep breath.
"Well - you remember that time back in Istanbul when Bear Cub Misha dropped a grenade on your head and then you got your shot at blasting him and after it was all blown to hell and back, you charged M'lord with getting you to hospital back home in Germany and he did? That's when it happened."
"When what happened?"
"Who do you think donated the blood to keep you going till you got to hospital?"
"My subordinates of course."
"Yes. Well, they mostly donated at the hospital for the operation. But it was M'lord that kept you going till you got there. You know he's got that blood type that makes him a universal donor." Bonham cleared his throat. "And once we landed in Germany, he was the one who made sure - damn sure - everyone checked out okay before even a drop of plasma went in. We've lost too many friends to that hellish disease. He wasn't about to have it happen to you. You should have seen M'lord in action, Major. What a sight that was. He doesn't do the aristo bit too much but, blimey, when he does! What can I say except, folks take notice."
Klaus still wasn't ready to believe what he had heard. "Are you telling me that that - that he and I - that his blood was placed inside of me?
"But this is outrageous!" Klaus roared. He stormed back and forth about the room, arms waving. "Monstrous! Scandalous! Completely absurd! It cannot be true."
Bonham stirred at his coffee with a listless hand. "We all had a feeling you'd react something like this."
"And everybody knows? Everybody?!"
"Bloody hell, get a grip, man." Bonham lost patience - and his tongue. Again. "It's not very likely that we sent out engraved announcements, is it? Nobody issued bulletins to the press - Media Alert - Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach Has Got Queer Blood In Him. Lookout Bonn! Parents Mind Your Sons! New Pervert On The Loose!" He scowled and finished his coffee. "There was folks on your team and ours that knew. And the medical staff as well. That's it."
Klaus continued to sputter and fume, trying to think of some pertinent rejoinder. Words failed him.
"You know, if I were you, I'd be mighty pleased to know somebody thought that much of me," Bonham said. "That they'd go to that kind of trouble just to be sure I was safe and well."
"But you are not me," Klaus snapped. "And I am not you!"
"And I am not him! I am not like Lord Gloria. I will never be like him - never!"
"That's for damn sure." Bonham shoved himself up to his feet. He walked towards the hall. Leaving the room was probably best now. "Excuse me, Major. I'll be back shortly. Got to take a leak."
Klaus watched Bonham walk out of the room. He lit another cigarette from the one he had just finished.
Foolish little man, Klaus still blazed. Thinks he knows everything. What do you know of me? How dare you judge me? You who are so easy to trick. Spy school - Ha!
He crushed out the smoldering butt. Then turned and walked towards Dorian's bedroom. Once the sound of Bonham's footsteps disappeared, Klaus found himself listening to silence - and the rage that continued to hammer within his heart. The castle was still in the way that only very old stone could be. These ancient dwellings were so different from houses made of brick or wood. They were a maze of secrets piled one upon the other, always waiting, always watching - and divulging nothing. What mysteries did these rooms enfold that only Dorian knew?
Might as well command the sphinx to sing as ask him, Klaus grumbled. Unpredictable. Uncontrollable. Unnatural.
Klaus added his own brand of fluctuating silence to the castle, crossing like a shadow into Dorian's chambers, strolling about like a contemporary haunt.
He had been in this room before and knew what to expect. Luxury and extravagance in shades of mauve, pearl gray and white. Elegant yet comfortable furniture, sumptuous tapestries, paintings, carpet, fresh flowers; there were many beautiful things placed about. The bed was huge, large enough to sleep an entire soccer team. Klaus shook his head. Such waste. Sheets would have had to be made to order for this monstrosity. And just how could Bonham expect him to believe anyone slept alone in this vast expanse?
But Dorian was sleeping alone now, sprawled peacefully on his side. This was a true, deep slumber, evolving from exhaustion and the release of immediate trauma. The drapes were open and Klaus could see him easily. M'lord likes the light, Bonham had hissed as the Earl was put to bed. Leave those curtains to me.
Bonham had only pulled the filmy under-drapes across the huge windowpanes. It did not do much to block the streaming moonlight. Klaus considered - how the morning sun must fill the room at the break of day. Would someone come in to close the great drapes before dawn, Klaus wondered. Dorian kept enough staff for that. God knows, they would be willing to perform such a task. It struck him that there were few in the Earl's household who would refuse him much of anything. At his beck and call they were, each and every one of them. The Major had not missed how they had regarded him throughout the tower crisis. They all felt Klaus was to blame! This injustice had stung much more than he thought it should.
"This was not my fault," Klaus whispered, staring down at Dorian's sleeping body. "I am not to blame for your troubles. Unnatural creature, I will not be obligated to you. Who has asked you to help me? Who asked you to love? It is impossible, you do not know me. You cannot love me. You do not know people the way I do, nothing but ... disappointments waiting to happen."
Klaus reached down and drew Dorian's rumpled coverlet up more firmly around his shoulders.
"You do not know the kind of man you are dealing with. I will not be obligated to you, Herr Dieb," he insisted. Then left the room.
"Well, I don't know what all the fuss is about." Mr. James sliced an extremely brown banana onto a mixture of various breakfast cereals, then proceeded to mash it all together into a grey, lumpy paste. "Of course I locked the tower room. All of the Earl's old stuff is up there. What with the foot traffic we've got running about through this house" The young man took a moment to glare, pointedly, at the Major. "I'm surprised someone hasn't up and run off with the whole estate."
"Or blown it up around your ears." Klaus glowered back, indulging in fantasy yet again. "Idiot, if you must eat that slop, turn away from me!"
"This is perfectly good food." Mr. James indulged himself in a wide-mouthed chomping demonstration. "Mm... delicious!"
Klaus picked up a frying pan, hefted it experimentally. A good solid, balanced weight. He eyed the little accountant in the patched and threadbare pajamas with genuine intent.
"Bonham, help! He's going to kill me!" Mr. James wailed. "And I didn't do anything this time."
"Hold your water, Jimmy," Bonham said. "The Major isn't in a very good mood this morning. He's liable to really whack you with that pan."
"The Major's never in a good mood. And don't call me Jimmy. My name is `Mr. James.'"
"Your name will be Mr. Squashed if you do not remove that disgusting concoction from my presence," Klaus promised. "How can you stand that smell?"
"Like sauerkraut and sausage is anything to brag about." The young man wrinkled his nose. "Ee-yuck. I've sniffed more appetizing drainage."
Bonham intervened before Klaus could kill him. "Look here, Mr. James," he began. "I have got a splitting head myself so all I can tell you is that, if you value your own skull, you will cut the crap and shut up. Nobody's in the bloody mood."
"Well, somebody better be in a mood to talk about that door upstairs. It's been destroyed! Somebody's got to pay for that!"
Klaus almost smiled. "How about I let you live?" he asked, quite serious, "and we will call it even?"
"Oh, no." Mr. James shook his head firmly, still pouting. "You won't get out of paying for your bad manners that easily."
Other members of Dorian's household were up and moving about. Some wandered through the kitchen area observing the on-going fracas with little more than casual interest. They were used to the eternal bickering that followed the Earl's ninja accountant wherever he went. If the truth were known, several of them were quietly rooting for the Major's frying pan.
The punk in the black leather jeans sauntered into the kitchen. He had added a faded and artfully ripped The Hunt Tour '93 t-shirt to his ensemble. He had acquired an attitude that was, if anything, at least thirty-percent more smug than he had demonstrated the day before.
"Here you go, Major," he announced. "This is for you."
The youth tossed a cream colored envelope at von Eberbach. Klaus caught the flat, spinning missile with one hand and set the frying pan down.
"What's that, Jet?" Mr. James sniffed. "Letters for the Major... here? There wasn't any postage due, was there?"
"Naw. It's from his lordship upstairs," the punk said, folding his arms over his chest. "He told me he didn't expect any reply."
Curious, Klaus scanned the envelope. It was expensive linen stock and nearly as thick as a playing card. He recognized Dorian's handwriting, broke the seal and read the enclosed note.
Klaus read the message once. Then read it again.
He was on his third read-through when Bonham said, almost alarmed, "Well, what in the world is the matter now - if I may be so bold to ask?"
"He is sending me away," Klaus replied, too stunned for evasions. "He is thanking me for my company, for my help last night... he apologizes for his indisposition. And he says to me, good-bye. `Unfortunately, I have made other commitments which I can no longer avoid. I hope the remainder of your vacation will be less stressful. Thank you again....' and so on and so forth."
Bonham gave a low whistle. "Now there's a switch," he said. "Him showing you the door."
"This is absurd," Klaus snapped. "I will talk with him"
"I don't think so," the punk broke in. "M'lord said he didn't expect any reply, told me to be sure and tell you that. He don't want to see you anymore and that's a fact. The Earl ain't receiving today. Get it?"
Storm clouds gathered on the Major's face, lightning flickered in green eyes. The ivory stationery crumpled in his fist. For a few, brief exciting moments, Klaus considered battling his way through the kitchen and main hall, up the grand staircase and onwards until he reached Dorian's chambers. Then they would talk about commitments! Then they would talk about obligations and unasked-for help and-
The terrible absurdity of this room-crashing concept caught Klaus broadside. Less than twenty-four hours ago, he had very reluctantly forced himself to walk in through the front door. Now he was planning to storm the rascal's bedroom? What a messy and awkward proposition. And he was feeling very angry again, too. All thanks to that vain, temperamental, unpredictable, impetuous, uncontrollable, self-centered, manipulative, egocentric, ruthlessly scheming child who walked like a man ... most of the time - when he wasn't dressing up like a woman! How had he gotten himself into this ridiculous predicament?
"You may tell the Earl that I thank him for his hospitality and that I hope he will be feeling better soon," Klaus returned, just one side of thermonuclear. "Please tell him that I am hoping we will meet again - so that I may have the pleasure of wringing his miserable neck!"
Klaus accepted his overcoat and scarf and marched out of the castle.
"Took that rather well, wouldn't you say?" the punk asked after everyone's heartbeat had started up again.
"Krikey." Bonham exhaled the long, deep breath he had been holding. "What the devil is going on now? I don't understand any of this."
"Don't give up the ship yet, mate," the leather-boy urged. "His lordship said to tell you he wanted to see you as soon as Chief Thunderstorm departed. Maybe you can get an explanation out of him then."
An explanation.... Bonham sighed, absolutely wretched. Yes, he imagined there would have to be an explanation. Except he knew very well just who would be expected to do the talking.