By Margaret Price
Author's Note for Chapter One--
In honor of my 1 year anniversary of being in the Eroica Fandom, which was sometime in mid-June 2005, I present my most cracked-out canonesque story yet. I am dedicating it to Miss Sindeniirelle, because she is the one who introduced me to Dorian, Klaus, and all the other space cadets who make “From Eroica With Love” so totally off the wall. And because she loves Dorian.
ON THE RUN
Klaus ducked into an alley, hoping to blend into the darkness. He tried to remember a mission that had gone to hell as quickly this one. He came up blank. He threw a quick glance around the corner. Flashing lights seemed to be everywhere, and the sirens were giving him a headache. He leaned back against the wall and grimaced. His left side was on fire. He opened his coat and looked down, seeing a bloodstain blossoming on his shirt. He gritted his teeth, biting back the curses threatening to burst forth. He needed to be quiet and find somewhere to hide. The police were between him and his men, and his radio unit had been damaged beyond even his ability to repair, leaving him completely cut off.
Klaus took a moment to gather his wits before taking stock of his surroundings. At the far end of the alley, he could make out what could generously be called a hotel. It was probably a dive, but at least he could hide there, hopefully.
Within a few painful minutes, Klaus was through the side entrance and making his way down the hallway. He could hear voices coming from behind the doors, children crying, couples apparently arguing. Bloody Italians. Could they never be quiet?
He managed to get to the far end of the corridor before he heard the Italian Police screaming at the front desk, demanding to search the building. He went through the nearest door that had no sounds issuing forth and looked around the room, the grimace on his face turning into disgust. Calling this place a dive was being generous. Then he became aware of the fact that the room was occupied. He could hear someone in the bathroom and drew his gun, stealing himself for what he would find within.
Klaus opened the door and groaned inwardly. The occupant of the bathroom was a man, who was in the process of toweling off his hair. He was also stark naked. Why do I always end up in bathrooms with naked people when I’m in Italy? At least he could see that the man was unarmed. He slipped in, grabbing a towel from a stack on the counter. He unbuttoned his shirt and pressed the towel against his wound, a hiss of pain passing through his teeth.
This was apparently loud enough for the man across the room to hear. He did not even stop toweling his hair, saying something that sounded like, “Back so soon?”
Shit, a Goddamn limey. Klaus decided that this was probably an improvement over a wop, if only that the man was less likely to get hysterical. He could always rely on that bloody English reserve.
The Major could hear pounding on the doors of the other rooms and was across the bathroom with his gun pressed up against the back of the man’s neck. To his credit, the man froze instantly. “Not a sound,” Klaus ordered.
At that moment, the pounding sounded on the outside door. It was followed by a man demanding entry in Italian.
“May I take this towel off my head?” the Major’s captive asked quietly.
“Yes. And cover yourself with it,” Klaus snapped. He closed his eyes a moment, gritting his teeth against the growing pain in his side. When he opened his eyes again, they grew wide as he found himself staring into Eroica’s equally astonished face. “Fuck.”
The pounding moved from the outer door to the bathroom door.
To his credit, the thief did not ask any questions. He simply called out, “Do you mind? I’m trying to take a bath.”
There was a pause. Then the reply came in English. “Police. Open the door.”
Eroica gave the Major a steady look and crossed to the door, opening it more than a crack and giving the two men on the other side an appraising look. He had, as yet, to use the towel in his hand to cover himself. “Yes?” he said sweetly.
The now embarrassed police officers struggled to regain their composure. “We’re searching for a…criminal with, er, dark hair…” one of them began hesitantly.
“Well, that doesn’t fit my description, does it?” the Earl replied, shaking his still damp mop of blond curls. He started to open the door very slowly. “I’m all alone in here. Although you’re welcome to come in and join me,” he went on seductively. “The tub is rather small, but I’m sure at least one of you will fit quite nicely.”
“No, sir! Sorry to have bothered you.”
Eroica could not help grinning as the pair practically fell over themselves to get out of his room. He turned back, his expression becoming serious when he saw the Major was on his knees. He was dirty, sweating and looked completely exhausted.
“Bloody pervert,” the officer growled.
“Be grateful for once, Major. It just saved your skin,” Eroica snapped. “What the hell are you doing here?” he then demanded.
Klaus looked up, only to realize that eye level was now waist height and quickly turned away. “For Christ’s sake, put something on. I don’t want to look at that.”
“I don’t have anything. My clothes are all ruined.” He waved a hand at a pile of mud-covered clothes against the wall. “Someone’s going to my hotel to get me something else. That’s who I thought you were.” Eroica put his hands on the Major’s shoulders. “I’ll use your coat, if it’ll make you happy.”
“Whatever. Just cover yourself.”
“You’re a fine one to complain,” the Earl replied. “You walked in on me, remember?” He was prevented from scolding the officer further when he pulled back his coat, revealing the wound in his side. “Christ, Major! You’re bleeding!” he gasped.
“Idiot, you think I don’t know that?”
This explained why the Major was sweating so heavily. He was probably in agony. Dorian snatched a dry towel from the counter and wrapped it around his waist. “Here, lie down.” He received a fierce look in reply. “Don’t even start with me, Major. Now, lie down before you pass out.” To his amazement, the Major allowed him to take the gun out of his hand before he helped him to lie back.
Klaus gritted his teeth to keep from yelling in pain as he grudgingly allowed the Earl to assist him to the floor. Then he bit back every curse he could think of as the other man opened his shirt to exam his side.
“Major, is that a stab wound?”
“How long was the blade? Do you know?”
“No. Short, I think. It was dark. I only saw a flash.”
Dorian nodded, grabbing the stack of towels from the counter. “I’m glad I asked for more of these,” he remarked as he put one under the Major’s head before pressing another to his wound, pulling a hiss of pain from him.
The pair jumped when there was pounding on the outer door again. When it was followed by Bonham’s voice, they visibly relaxed.
“Sit tight, Major,” Dorian said calmly. “With luck, that’s my clothes.”
Klaus closed his eyes and found himself wondering if there were a God, and if he were punishing him for deciding not to believe in him. He could think of no other reason he would end up in the pervert’s bathroom when he was incapable of killing him.
Klaus opened his eyes at Bonham’s exclamation, but didn’t have the strength to reply beyond a low growl.
“Yes, you see what I’m talking about,” the Earl was saying. “Now, do as I ask, will you?”
Eroica went to the Major’s side. “Still with us, Major?” He received a dark look in reply. “I’m going to assume you’re the one the Italian Police are looking for.”
“I’ve sent for a doctor,” Dorian said calmly. The officer’s eyes widened, but he was prevented from replying as the Earl went on to say, “Don’t worry, Major, he’s not going to turn you in. I have a few friends in Italy, if you’ll recall.”
“Exactly.” Dorian paused, wondering if he dared ask any questions. Then again, he knew the officer wouldn’t answer anything that would breach security. “Major, um, why are the police after you, of all people?”
Klaus gave him a steady look. “The man who stabbed me was Italian Police,” he replied succinctly. “He was also a terrorist.”
“Red Brigade. He was after the information I was sent to collect.” Klaus paused before adding, “And me.”
“I assume you killed him.”
“Yes. With his own gun, bloody idiot wop.”
“And by doing that you bring the Italian Police to my doorstep,” Eroica concluded, a distinct edge to his voice.
A wry smile twisted the Major’s face. “So, finally, I interfere with one of your operations.”
Before the Earl could reply, Bonham appeared at the door with a bundle of clothes. “M’lord,” he said quietly.
“This will make you happy, Major. My clothes are here.” Dorian received an unfocused look in reply that sent a chill down his spine. Don’t you dare bleed to death. He got to his feet, crossing to Bonham. “What’s the status on that surgeon?” he asked, taking the bundle.
“The local Don is sending him along with two of his men as, er, security,” Bonham replied.
This was enough to gain the Major’s attention. “Security…?”
“Bodyguards, Major,” Eroica replied. He motioned to the man who had been standing silently behind Bonham. “Justin, come in and met the Major.”
A moment later, Klaus was being introduced to the man who was the medic among Eroica’s gang of thieves. “I’m going to leave you in Justin’s capable hands, Major,” Eroica informed as Justin covered the officer with a blanket.
“Where are you going?” Klaus was annoyed with himself when he heard the distress in his own voice. He hated being this vulnerable. And as much as he distrusted Eroica in innumerable things, he had the one consolation that the thief would not let him die.
“I’m going to lead the police away from here,” Dorian replied.
A small smile came to the Earl’s face. “Oh, Major. Have you forgotten how good I am at impersonating you?”
Klaus found himself amused and annoyed at the same time. “My men may already be in custody,” he said quietly. “They won’t know where I am.”
“All the better.” Eroica gave the officer a steady look. “You’re going to fall off the face of the Earth for a few days, Major. You’re in no condition to be running, and I have an operation underway. While the police are scouring the countryside looking for you, they won’t be concentrating on a thief like me.”
“You son-of-a-bitch. I’m gonna beat the crap out of you for this.”
Dorian’s eyes flickered. I hope you live so you can keep that promise. He looked Bonham in the eye before going into the next room to get dressed.
Ten minutes later, Klaus heard the outer door to the room slam shut. Damn Eroica for being in Italy. Damn him for being such a selfish bastard. And damn himself for being forced to put his life in the pervert’s hands.
“Do you actually have any medical training?” the Major heard himself asking the man sitting silently beside him. “Or is that just more of Eroica’s bullshit?”
“I was in Her Majesty’s Service as a medic for four years, Major,” Justin said calmly.
The Major’s eyebrows went up. A military man among Eroica’s team seemed incongruous. “Did you see active duty?”
“Yes, sir. In the Falklands,” Justin replied, knowing this would impress the officer more than anything else he might say.
“Why are you…?”
“With the Earl?”
“Several reasons. But if you’re asking what my job is, it’s to make sure everyone is…clean, sir.”
The Major could not prevent the sides of his mouth from twitching into a smile as the man continued to address him as a superior officer. Old habits died hard, it seems. “Clean?”
“Yes, sir. The Earl is very particular about keeping everyone…er, disease free, shall we say?”
“You’re talking about AIDS, aren’t you?”
Justin gave the officer a steady look and wondered how much information he was or was not supposed to divulge. He drew a deep breath. “Yes, sir. Among other things, my job is to make sure everyone is tested monthly, including the Earl.”
Klaus found himself stunned to hear this. He was constantly harassing Eroica about AIDS and getting himself tested, only to learn he was already doing just that. He shivered and closed his eyes, wondering abstractly if the doctor would arrive in time to pronounce him dead from blood loss. He remembered nothing else after that.
* * *
Klaus was vaguely aware of voices in the room. They sounded muffled and very far away, although he was certain they were not. He was very groggy and struggled to concentrate, to remember where he was and what had happened to him. He must’ve made a noise, because suddenly one of the voices was talking to him.
Klaus gave a low moan as he struggled to open his eyes. He was partially successful but was unable to focus properly on the face that seemed to have a golden glow around it. It was like one of those pictures of angels he’d seen while growing up. “Well, this isn’t hell,” he muttered darkly.
There was a laugh in response to this. “No, Major. You’re still in Italy.”
The Major gave a small grunt. “Just as bad,” he said weakly, having recognized Eroica’s voice. “Where…?”
“You’re at the house of the surgeon I told you was coming,” Dorian explained. “The local Don was contacted by Don Volvolante. He’s bending over backwards hoping to score points in Rome. You have two of his best men as your bodyguards, Major.”
Klaus nodded and closed his eyes to think this through. The next thing he knew, it was several hours later and Eroica was gone. Justin was in the room and gave him a nervous smile when he gave him an unfocused look. Goddamn drugs, Klaus thought in annoyance. They were preventing him from staying awake long enough to think straight.
This time he was awake long enough to learn the doctor had had difficulty stopping the bleeding. He had been given three blood transfusions, donated by various members of Eroica’s gang. He found himself grateful he’d had the brief conversation with Justin ahead of time, otherwise he would’ve been screaming the walls down about AIDS tainted blood. He was certain he should be upset now, but did not have the energy. He drew a deep breath and closed his eyes, wondering if this still meant he should get himself tested. Shit, how will I explain this if I test positive?
“How long before he can be moved?” Klaus heard Eroica asking. He cursed himself when he realized he had had fallen asleep again. Then he realized the doctor, whom he had yet to meet, must be in the room, and he fought to open his eyes again.
“Major?” Dorian said softly when he heard the officer give a low moan.
“How long have I been here?” Klaus asked.
“Nearly a day.”
“What?” This was enough to rouse Klaus almost to full consciousness.
Eroica gave him a small smile and then introduced him to Doctor Antonio. The Major was sure the name was probably an alias, but could not deny that the man had done an adequate job in insuring that he did not die from shock or blood loss.
Dorian asked again about moving the Major, something he knew the doctor would want to do as quickly as possible. The police were still looking for him, and the longer he stayed in one place, the more likely it would be that he would be found.
“Not for another day, at least, Lord Gloria,” Doctor Antonio replied. “As soon as he’s able, I’ll be sure to tell you. The Don gave me strict instructions to look after your friend as if he were his own family.”
The Major’s eyebrows went up upon hearing this. He knew enough about the Mafia to know that this was a guarantee safety. Family was everything. Iron Klaus under the protection of the Mafia and a faggot thief. What is the world coming to?
Once the doctor had gone, Dorian turned to the Major. He was surprised to see he was still awake. In fact, Klaus himself was surprised he was still awake.
“How are you feeling, Major?”
“I feel like hell,” Klaus replied truthfully.
“Almost your old self again, then?” Dorian joked, receiving a dark look in reply. He crossed to the chair at the bedside and sat down.
“Shut up and give me a cigarette.”
“You’ll burn the house down if you fall asleep.”
“Then don’t let me fall asleep.”
Dorian sighed heavily. “Fine.” He produced the Major’s cigarettes, handing him one and then lighting it. “You were right about your men being in custody,” he informed.
Klaus closed his eyes, taking a long drag on the cigarette. There was nothing he could do for them while he was laid up and in hiding.
“Not to worry, Major,” Eroica went on to say. “The police couldn’t find any reason to hold them. And they are with NATO intelligence.”
“Do they know where I am?”
Klaus gave the thief a questioning look and wondered if this were a good or bad thing.
“I thought it would be safer for you if your men continued to believe you were missing. I’ve sent some of my men along to ‘help’ in the search.”
“Of course. If they learned I was here and didn’t join the search, they’d get suspicious, don’t you think?”
Klaus closed his eyes and sighed, grudgingly agreeing that this was true. He gave the thief a steady look. “I assume your Mafia friends can smuggle me out of this bloody city.”
An enormous smile blossomed across the Earl’s face. “Actually, Major, I have a way of smuggling you out of the country altogether.”
The Major’s eyes narrowed. “I can tell by your smug expression that I’m not going to like it.”
The smile on Dorian’s face widened. “Oh, I can guarantee that you’ll hate it, Major.”
“Wonderful.” Klaus heaved a heavy sigh and closed his eyes. “Tell me what it is when I have the strength to yell at you.”
Dorian did not reply. Even if he had, the Major would not have heard him. He was already asleep. He gave the officer an affectionate look and removed the cigarette from his lips, taking a long drag on it before stubbing it out. This is the closest thing to a kiss you’re going to get until you’re strong enough to yell at me, my dearest Major.
* * *
After leaving Justin to look after the Major, Eroica returned to his hotel. Not the dive that the Major had found him in, but the proper hotel suite that his clothes had been retrieved from.
“My lord,” James moaned the moment the Earl arrived, “all these added expenses are going to make this trip—”
“James, dear,” Dorian said calmly, “do you want me to cancel the job?”
“No! That would be even worse!”
“I thought not. This trip will more than pay for itself, don’t you worry.”
“How? Now that you’ve involved that Machine Maniac in this…”
Dorian gave his accountant a dark look. “I didn’t involve him, James. In fact, if you hadn’t insisted that I get cleaned up at the horrible place rather than coming back here…”
“But they would’ve charged more for cleaning the room,” James objected. “I told you not go dance on the fountain.”
The Earl heaved an exasperated sigh, rolling his eyes. “Anyway, the Major’s involved now. And I don’t see how you can object to that. With the police concentrating on finding him, they’re not bothering with us. In fact…” He gave a bright smile. “I’ve added something special to the list of things I’m going to acquire and I’ll be able to have us all taken back to England at no charge.”
Suddenly James was very interested. “What? How? What have you added?”
Bonham exchanged a knowing look with the others and immediately withdrew into the next room. A minute later, they heard James exclaim, “You’re stealing what!”
* * *
Dorian sighed heavily. “I told you you’d hate it.”
Klaus was sitting up in bed, looking considerably more alert than he had the day before. He had his arms folded and was glaring at the Earl. “Hate is too mild a word for what I’m feeling now, Lord Gloria.”
“It will get you out of Italy.”
“There is no fucking way I’m gonna—”
“I have your microfilm.”
This was like a bucket of cold water. The Major’s mouth dropped open and he stared at the thief for several seconds. “You really are a man of pure malice, aren’t you?”
“Oh, Major. You know I always get what I want.”
“You’re the one who says he’ll do anything for a mission,” Dorian pointed out. He could not prevent a smug tone from creeping into his voice. It wasn’t often that he had the Major over a barrel like this.
“And I always keep my promises,” Klaus replied coldly. “Mark my words, Lord Gloria. One of these days, I will kill you.”
Dorian returned the angry look with a bright smile. “And this is the thanks I get for saving your life.”
The Major’s eyes narrowed but he remained silent, taking a long drag on his cigarette. After more than a minute, he said through clenched teeth, “What are your terms?”
* * *
Klaus was sure he would run out of expletives as he grudgingly agreed to go along with the Earl’s humiliating scheme to get him out of Italy. The first part was relatively simply. The men who had been acting as his bodyguards would sneak him out of the house and transport him across town. It was the second part of the plan that made his skin crawl.
“Lord Gloria, right on time,” came a pleasant voice from the rear door of the building they had parked behind.
“The Major always insists on being punctual, Mr. Santini,” the Earl replied as the officer was assisted from the car by his bodyguards and then led inside. Doctor Antonio followed reluctantly behind them. A moment later, the bodyguards exited.
“Please, thank the Don again for his assistance,” Dorian said urbanely. “I’ll make sure Don Volvolante knows how much I appreciated his help.”
“The Don was more than happy to help the famous Eroica, m’lord,” one of the men replied. He looked through the door, seeing Doctor Antonio looking nervously around. “We’ll take the doctor back as soon as you’re finished with him.”
Dorian grinned and then entered. Klaus was sitting in a chair, smoking a cigarette and glaring at his surroundings.
“Did you have to bring me into the fucking morgue?” Klaus growled.
The Earl ignored the officer’s remark and turned to the man who had been waiting for them. “Major, this is Mr. Santini, our new host, as it were. Mr. Santini, Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach.” He cleared his throat before adding, “The deceased.”
Santini gave a nod. “Major,” he said mildly. “And this isn’t the morgue. This is the preparation area.”
“Don’t mind the Major,” Dorian said happily. “He doesn’t take kindly to being dead.”
“That’s the only way you’ll convince anyone that’s why I’m in this foppish outfit,” Klaus snapped, indicating the pastel suit the Earl had provided for him. He had grudging agreed to wear it only because his own clothes were ruined. He had drawn the line at the frilly cravat. Not even for show. He would really have to be dead for the pervert to get that on him.
Taking this as his cue, Doctor Antonio chimed in. “Lord Gloria, I don’t know why you insisted I accompany you. I’ve already told you, I can’t issue a death certificate for the Major.” He waved a hand in the officer’s direction. “Do you have any idea how much trouble I can get into for issuing false documents?”
Klaus rolled his eyes. “I thought you had a backbone,” he said coldly. He received a fierce look in reply.
The Major gave the Earl a steady look and then sighed heavily. “Issue the papers. I’ll see to it that NATO keeps you from getting into any legal hot water. I’ll tell them you were acting as my agent.”
“You can’t guarantee that will work,” the doctor objected.
“Yes, he can.” This was Eroica, who gave the physician a knowing look. “If Iron Klaus tells you he’ll have NATO keep you out of trouble, he will, even if he has to do it himself.”
This resounding endorsement surprised even the Major, who hoped it did not show on his face. He continued to gaze unwaveringly at Doctor Antonio until the man finally relented.
“Alright!” Antonio exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air. He crossed to Santini, who had the document in hand. He took it and filled it out. Before he handed it over, he said firmly, “If you leave me twisting in the wind, Major, I’m taking you down with me.”
“Doctor Antonio, I never leave anyone twisting in the wind,” Klaus stated categorically.
This statement actually sent a chill down the physician’s spine. The only men who gave him the same feelings of ill ease were professional hitmen, and he purposely avoided looking into their faces. But they all had the same chilling tone of voice.
Antonio bid a hasty goodnight and practically fled the room.
“The man’s a fucking rabbit,” Klaus said in disgust.
“You’re awfully condescending for a dead man, Major,” Eroica remarked.
The officer gave him a dark look. “Now what? As soon as Mr. Santini contacts the proper authorities that he’s found my body, this place will be crawling with Italian police, who will be very interested in knowing how he got a death certificate so quickly.”
“Already in hand, Major,” the Earl replied happily.
“I’ll bet. Do I even want to know the details?”
Dorian turned to Santini. “Is there somewhere the Major can lie down? He is still recovering from his fatal attack.”
“Oh, you’re just full of laughs tonight,” Klaus said sourly as he slowly got to his feet. “And I’d prefer something that doesn’t have a lid on it.”
Santini smiled thinly and wondered just what he had gotten himself into as he led the Major to a small room containing a bed and a few chairs. “Some mourners have been known to faint,” he explained.
Klaus nodded approvingly and stretched out on the bed, wishing he knew where his men were. Then he would be able to ditch the bloody pervert and have NATO get him out of the country. He closed his eyes, and drew a deep breath, wondering just what scheme the Earl had come up with that would satisfy the Italian police.
He was asleep before he could even begin Mary Had A Little Lamb.
* * *
“Major…” Dorian said gently, giving the officer a gentle shake on the shoulder. “Major, wake up.”
The Major’s eyes snapped open. “Was?” He tried to sit up quickly and immediately regretted it, a hand going to his side and a groan escaping him.
“Not so fast,” Eroica chided gently. “You don’t want to pull all your stitches out.”
“Mr. Santini is going to be calling the police in a few minutes. We need to get you into position.”
The Major nodded and allowed the Earl to help him to his feet. “Where’s the john in this mausoleum?” he asked suddenly.
Dorian gave a small smile, and indicated the room. “Before you ask, there’s a lock on the door, Major,” he said before the officer could raise any objections.
A few minutes later, they were moving down the hallway again. Dorian stopped outside a door and nodded. “In there.”
Klaus looked in the door and scowled. “That’s the preparation room.”
“I know.” Dorian cleared his throat nervously. “You, um, need to strip, Major, so the police can—”
The horrified Klaus took a step back. “No fucking way!”
“Major, you agreed to my terms.”
“I agreed to let you smuggle me out in a coffin. Not to strip for you, you bloody pervert!”
The Earl sighed heavily. “As much as I would love to see your lovely body, Major, I’m not going to be here,” he said calmly. “Just Mr. Santini and the police.”
Santini smiled thinly when the officer gave him a piercing glare. “You just have to lie under a sheet, Major,” he said nervously. “By the time they decide they want to take you somewhere else, I expect your men will have asserted their claim through NATO.” He gave a knowing smile. “I’ve taken the liberty of preparing all the proper papers, since you were carrying your NATO I.D.”
The Major turned his suspicious gaze in the Earl’s direction. “And what will you be doing during all this?”
Dorian gave a bright smile. “After I pick up what I came to Italy for, I’m going to be giving a first class performance as a distraught faggot, Major,” he said happily. “And then I’m going to insist on your being taken out of the country in something better than a wooden box.”
The Major’s eyes narrowed. “That’s what this was all about. You’re using me to smuggle your loot out of the country.”
The smile on the Earl’s face grew wider. “I must make some sort of profit, Major. Otherwise, James will have a stroke.”
“Good. One less waste of space on the planet.”
“Oh, you are cold.”
Klaus gave a snort. “I’m supposed to be cold. I’m dead.” He waved a hand. “Now get lost so I can get this over with.”
* * *
When Eroica returned, he found the Major back in the small room, smoking a cigarette and in a black mood. “Well, how did it go?”
“I hate you.”
Klaus just glared at the man at the door. What had he done to deserve this?
“Come on, Major,” Eroica said calmly. “The men I had searching with yours just contacted me. The police just called to let them know where you were. We need to get you into position before they get here.”
“They still know nothing of this?”
“No. The fewer who know, the stronger the illusion.”
Klaus nodded. This was true enough.
Dorian stopped outside an open door with Von Dem Eberbach posted on the wall. He held out a hand and Klaus took a look inside, his mouth dropping open. “You’re joking.”
“That’s a work of art worthy of Iron Klaus,” Dorian announced grandly.
“It’s a hideous, grotesque monstrosity!” the horrified Klaus exclaimed. “First you dress me in these foppish clothes. Then I have to lie naked on a freezing table while a half-wit Italian cop swaps stories with that idiot undertaker. After that, the idiot puts makeup on me to make me look like a corpse. And now you expect me to climb into that…that…thing!” He gave the Earl a dark look. “You’re trying to kill me.”
Eroica laughed. “I’m trying to save you life, Major.”
“Bullshit. You’re trying to get back at me. You’re going out of your way to humiliate me,” the Major snarled.
“Major, if you’re going to die of shame, where would you rather do it? In Italy or Germany?”
The Major glared at the Earl, who met his gaze steadily. Damn the man! He was holding all the cards. If the Italian Police got hold of him now, there was no telling what would happen. They were not very likely to be receptive to someone who had killed one of their number, NATO intelligence or not. He doubted they would even listen to him.
“I’ll get you for this,” Klaus growled as he entered the room.
“I’m sure you will, Major,” Dorian replied happily. “That just means I’ll have the pleasure of seeing you again.”
“Shut up and help me into this thing,” came the impatient reply.
The Major had barely gotten settled in the casket when James came dashing in the room, Bonham at his heels. “My lord!” he cried.
“Can’t you keep him on a shorter leash?” Klaus groaned, a hand going to his head. “He’s gonna fuck this up.”
“Major…” Dorian began coolly.
“This is never going to work!” James protested.
“I have an idea. Why don’t you put him in this thing?” Klaus suggested. “Make it a closed casket funeral and then bury him.”
The Earl glared at the officer a moment before he turned. “James, we’ve been over this a dozen times.”
“My lord…” James began.
“James!” Dorian snapped, finally at the end of his patience. “That’s enough! This is not open for discussion. Now get out of here before the Major’s men arrive. If you ruin everything, we go back to England poor!”
James stood staring, his mouth agape. Bonham took advantage of the situation and took him by the arm, dragging him toward a side door. Just as they were passing through, James called out, “M’lord! Please, don’t rape the Major!” A second later, the door slammed shut behind them.
Dorian heaved an exasperated sigh, his eyes going to the ceiling. Then he turned to see an all too familiar panic-stricken look on the Major’s face. When the officer tried to sit up, the Earl put an arm out, blocking him from doing so and essentially trapping him in place, which only served to add to his panic. “Major,” he said firmly, “do you really think I’m going to try and molest you with your men, and possibly the police, on the way?”
“I don’t know. Are you?”
The Earl put his free hand to his head and closed his eyes. “Major, if all I were interest in was your body, I could’ve had you six ways to Sunday when you were at Doctor Antonio’s. You were unconscious for nearly a day, but I didn’t so much as give you a kiss.”
The Major’s eyes narrowed. “What are you telling me?”
“I’m telling you that I don’t take pleasure… molesting defenseless men. And right now, you’re defenseless. When you’re healthy, you’re anything but.” Eroica straightened, his arms dropping to his sides. “I’m in love with you, Major. You. Not just your body.” His eyes flickered and a lustful expression flashed across his face. “Although…” He waved a hand in the air. “Well, I could’ve had that any time I wanted.”
“Oh, really, Major.” Dorian shook his head. “You can be so incredibly thick sometimes.” He decided to let the subject drop and crossed to a table, picking up a bag. “Santini told the police that when he found you, you were missing your coat, shoes and gun. And that he assumed you’d been left here by a vagrant.”
“I know. I heard the whole fucking story while I was freezing my ass off on that table,” Klaus grumbled.
Dorian gave him a bright smile. “You keep telling me that, and I’m going to start making indecent proposals.” He received a dark look in reply. To his amazement, it lacked the usual edge of panic. Perhaps he’d finally gotten through to him. “You already know what happened to your coat, and you’re obviously wearing your shoes,” he said as he tucked the bag containing the Major’s gun under the cushions at his feet before lowering the bottom half of the coffin lid.
“Trying to keep me from shooting you?” Klaus asked with a wry smile.
Before Dorian could reply, Santini came to the door. “Lord Gloria, they’re here.”
“Thank you.” Eroica turned back to the Major. “Time to play dead.”
“I know that, idiot.”
Eroica gave a small smile and put a cloth over his mouth and nose before spraying a mist in the officer’s face. “I’m sorry, Major. But I can’t trust you not to lose your temper.”
Klaus gave a startled noise as he realized what was happening. But it was already too late. Within seconds, he was unconscious.
* * *
MURDERER OF VICTIM?
Dorian stood looking down at the Major’s peacefully sleeping figure. You’re going to be really pissed when you wake up. But right now, in this setting… Santini came up beside him and gave him a searching look. “Your lordship, is there anything I can add to make this more, er, realistic?
It’s too realistic already, Dorian thought as tears started to burn at his eyes. “He’s Catholic,” he said in a small voice.
“A rosary, then?”
Dorian watched in silence as Santini expertly laced the Major’s fingers together and then wrapped a rosary around them. The illusion of death was so perfect that the Earl burst into tears. Suddenly Santini was at his side holding out a box of tissues.
“Thank you,” Dorian said with a small sob.
“Not at all, my lord.” Santini gave him a knowing look. “It’s my job to look after the bereaved.”
Dorian gave a small laugh and then started for the door. He was almost to the lobby when he heard the front door open followed by the sound of loud, angry voices. He recognized one as belonging to Agent A and relaxed. Thank heavens, NATO got here before the Italian Police.
“Lord Gloria, I didn’t expect to find you here,” a surprised Agent A said as the Earl entered the lobby. The other members of the Major’s team were with him, but not, fortunately, the members of his own gang. They had orders to pack everything up and wait for the evacuation order.
The Earl gave him a watery smile and struggled to get hold of himself. “I have very good connections with the Italian underground, Mr. A,” he said quietly.
“You must do. The Italian Police only contacted us with the news...” A looked at his watch. “Less than an hour ago.”
“Really? It took them that long?”
Agent A threw a dark look at the Detective he had been arguing with when he arrived. “How long have you known about this?” he demanded.
“Well, I found out a couple of hours ago,” Dorian volunteered. “If I’d known it was going to take the proper authorities this long, I’d’ve contacted you myself.” He gave the Detective an innocent look. “No offense, Mr. Detective.”
“That’s Detective Tona,” the man replied coldly. “And you are?”
“Dorian Red Gloria, Earl of Gloria,” Dorian replied, although he refrained from holding out a hand. “I’m a friend of the Major’s.”
The assembled Alphabets had to fight not to burst out laughing. Friend!
Tona turned to Agent A. “Is this true?”
“Lord Gloria has been of assistance on several of the Major’s missions,” A replied evasively. “Other than that, I’m not at liberty to say.”
The Detective’s eyes narrowed suspiciously.
“The Major is this way,” Dorian said, holding out a hand before leading the way to the room he had just left.
The Alphabets had the same reaction as the Major upon seeing the casket the officer was now laid out in.
“Mein Gott!” Agent Z exclaimed. “Lord Gloria, what have you done?”
“You don’t like it?” Dorian said innocently.
The Major’s men looked at the gold filigree and intricate scrollwork on the gleaming casket. It was a masterpiece of gild work that they all knew would have horrified their superior officer.
“Am I the only one thinking…?” Agent A began quietly as he drew nearer, seeing the pastel suit the officer was wearing.
“No,” B replied.
“What’s wrong?” This was Detective Tona, who was at a loss at the men’s reaction.
The Alphabets turned as one, giving the man a searching look.
“I think the phrase, ‘He wouldn’t be caught dead like that,’ covers it,” A said knowingly.
“After all the work I went to!” Dorian exclaimed.
“Lord Gloria,” Agent G said sweetly, “you know the Major would hate this.”
“His clothes were ruined,” the Earl cried out, waving a hand in the air. “And I wasn’t going to let them send him back to Germany in a suit that ties up the back and in a plain wooden box! Not Iron Klaus. He deserves the best.”
Dorian made a show of getting hold of himself in the stunned silence that followed. After a few awkward minutes, he suddenly rounded on the Italian. “Why are you here, Detective?” he practically demanded. “Professional courtesy?”
The Detective gave a derisive snort. “Courtesy! The man murdered one of my colleagues.”
“Rubbish, you can’t still believe that!”
“The evidence is overwhelming, Lord Gloria.”
Dorian gave the Alphabets a horrified look. “How can you stand there and let him say that? He’s going to send Iron Klaus to his grave with a blot on his exemplary record.” This remark earned him a stunned look from the Alphabets. Exemplary record? The Major?
Dorian gave Tona a steady look. “How?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“How is the evidence overwhelming? I have connections, Detective Tona. I know, for example, that your colleague was killed with his own weapon.”
“How did you…?”
“Can you explain,” Dorian pressed on, “why a man who could fire a Magnum with one hand would choose to ignore his own weapon in favor of someone else’s?”
The Detective’s eyebrows went up. “Major Eberbach was armed?”
This time the Alphabets did laugh. “Always,” Agent A replied. “The Major never goes on—went on a mission unarmed.”
Dorian gave the Detective a piercing look. Yes, you think about that a minute before I drop the next bombshell. Among other things, he had also learned that Detective Tona did have an exemplary record and was the type who would do the right thing, even if it meant turning in a colleague. It’s too bad you and the Major are cross purposes, Dorian reflected. You’re both cut from the same cloth.
“The official report says that the Major somehow got hold of—What was the man’s name?”
Dorian raised his eyebrows. “That sounds Spanish.”
“Anyway,” the Earl went on, “supposedly, the Major got hold of Sanfilipo’s gun and killed him, getting himself stabbed in the process.”
The Detective’s eyes narrowed. “And you don’t believe that.”
Dorian’s eyes flickered. There was a look in the man’s eyes that told him that he was starting to have doubts of his own. “What if it was the other way round?” he challenged.
“Do you have a theory, Lord Gloria?” This was Agent B, who had been remarkably quiet this whole time.
“I do.” Dorian turned to the Italian. “Are you willing to listen?” He already knew the full story from Klaus and could see he had planted the seeds of doubt in the man’s mind. Now all he needed was to get him on the right track in order to expose Sanfilipo for the traitor that he was.
Klaus crushed out his seventh cigarette as he waited for his contact to arrive. He had gotten to the rendezvous well in advance of the agreed time, scouting around the area to familiarize himself with the layout of the piazza while it was still daylight.
His men should be in place by now, he thought as he looked at his watch. There was a low hiss and then a voice. “Major Eberbach?”
Klaus casually lit a cigarette, turning in the direction of the voice as he flicked the matchstick away. “Use your code phrase, you idiot,” he said without looking at the man.
There was a long pause. “Wow, you’re good. He said you really took this seriously.”
Klaus scowled. He did not like the sound of this at all. “Who said that?”
“Tony. He asked if I wanted to be in this spy game of yours.”
Klaus turned sharply to the man, his hand extended. “Give me the film,” he demanded, feeling the small metal tube immediately deposited in his palm. “Now get the hell out of here.”
“If you don’t want to get yourself killed, run!” Klaus grabbed the man and shoved him into the piazza. Once he was in the light, he could see he was no more than a boy, who stood staring at him. He opened one side of his coat, exposing his gun. “Run, God dammit! This is no game!”
The boy took one look at the gun, his eyes growing wide as saucers. Then he turned and fled.
Klaus turned, walking swiftly in the opposite direction, hoping his men would be able to see him moving in the low light. He couldn’t chance using the radio in the open. He wondered what had happened to spook his contact to the point of getting a civilian involved, and made a mental note to find out as soon as he reached safety. He was almost to the end of the street when he was stopped by a flashlight in his eyes. “Put up your hands!” a voice ordered in Italian.
Klaus did as instructed, wondering what this individual planned to do out in the open. Then he realized he had walked straight into a policeman when the man demanded that he state his business.
“I’m out for a stroll,” the officer replied calmly. “That’s not against the law in this country, is it?”
The man lowered the flashlight. “No, sir. But armed robbery is.”
“Good to know,” Klaus said blandly.
“May I see your identification?”
As soon as Klaus lowered his eyes, the man lunged at him. He caught the movement and a flash that told him the man had a knife. He tried to turn away, but was not quick enough to avoid being forced back against the wall, the knife in the side. He felt the radio unit in his pocket dig into his hip, and heard a loud crunch. He was able to knock the flashlight out of the man’s hand before he could use it as a club, which allowed the man to grab his right arm, pinning it against the wall and making it impossible for him to reach his gun. It did, however, make it possible for Klaus to reach his attacker’s gun.
“So, Iron Klaus does bleed,” Sanfilipo taunted.
“Red Brigade?” Klaus said painfully.
“Good.” Klaus reached over with his left hand, drawing the man’s weapon. “You’ll bleed the right color,” he said as he fired pointblank.
Sanfilipo was dead before he hit the pavement.
Klaus tossed the gun onto the body and then leaned back against the wall. He closed his eyes, a hand going to his side. He pulled out the radio unit, seeing it was now completely useless. Fuck. Then a voice started screaming in Italian and he looked up. God fucking dammit, the idiot wasn’t alone.
Iron Klaus was not a coward. But he wasn’t stupid, either. Being found standing over the body of a dead police officer would not put him in the good graces of the local precinct. The radio unit fell from his hand as he turned on his heels and ran.
Dorian stood silently as Detective Tona mulled over his “theory.” The Earl had asked Agents Z and G to act the parts of the Major and Sanfilipo respectively, as they were both approximately the same height as the individuals in question.
“All this proves,” Tona said finally, “is that the coroner’s theory that Sanfilipo was killed by a left handed man is correct.”
Dorian cleared his throat. “Detective Tona,” he said calmly, “Major von dem Eberbach is—was right handed.”
Tona blinked. “What?”
The Alphabets all nodded as one. “That’s true.”
The Detective’s eyes narrowed. “If what you’re suggesting is true,” he said slowly, “then…” He turned to look at the peaceful figure stretched out in the casket. He drew himself to his full height, turning back to Agent A. “I will investigate this fully,” he said firmly. “You have my word on that.”
“Thank you, Detective,” A replied. “Does that mean we’ll have no problems returning the Major to Germany?”
* * *
Agent A had pulled the other Alphabets aside for a brainstorming session. It was obvious the Earl was not going to give up the idea of returning the Major to Germany in the elaborate casket. It was equally obvious that there was no way they could allow it.
After several minutes and no success, A was delighted to see Bonham appear in the side doorway. “Mr. Bonham!” he said happily, crossing to the man as if he were a long lost friend.
Bonham raised his eyebrows, a small smile coming to his face. Now for his part in the Earl’s plan. “’E’s not changed ‘is mind, ‘as ‘e?” he asked calmly, nodding in Eroica’s direction.
“No.” A threw a quick glance in the Earl’s direction and winced. “Mr. Bonham, we can’t take the Major back in that…that…”
Bonham held up his hands. “Not to worry, Mr. A,” he said in a conspiratorial whisper. “When ‘is lordship ordered that…er, well, I ‘ad the undertaker add a wooden coffin to the bill. It’ll be delivered along with that ‘n. Then you lot can deliver the Major in a more fittin’ way in Germany.”
Relief washed visibly over the faces of the assembled Alphabets.
“One thing, though, Mr. A,” Bonham went on to say. “’Is lordship is insistin’ on comin’ with you lot.”
“You’d best ‘umor ‘im. Otherwise, ‘e’s like t’ get ‘ysterical.”
At this point, A was beginning to wonder if he were too young to consider an early retirement. He looked at his fellow Alphabets, seeing they all had the same expression. None of them wanted to deal with a hysterical Earl of Gloria. The only one capable of doing that was lying in a casket.
“How…will we be able to transfer the Major to the other casket without making him hysterical?” Agent A wanted to know.
Bonham gave a small smile. “Best if someone goes ‘n comes back. Give ‘im a regulation of som’it,” he suggested. “If you let ‘im keep the fancy one, ‘e’ll most like put it in the Chapel at Castle Gloria. Turn it into a shrine t’ the Major.”
All the Alphabets nodded in agreement. This sounded exactly like what the Earl would do. And at this point, the last thing any of them wanted was for Eroica to go into hysterics.
“I think I can manage that,” Agent A said, giving B a steady look. “Transportation is already being taken care of. We should be able to load the…erm, Major onto the plane as soon as we arrive.”
Everyone jumped when the Earl gave his delighted cry. “I’ll let Mr. Santini know. He has a truck that can get us there in two shakes!” So saying, Dorian strode from the room, leaving a perplexed group of Alphabets behind.
* * *
Agent A was very seriously considering an early retirement when he arrived at the airfield. The group had followed the truck containing the casket, only to find all of Eroica’s men waiting at the entry gate. He did not even want to begin to ask how they had gotten there, nor did he want to get into an argument with the Earl and risk hysterics. In the end, he simply relented, allowing the group to board the plane. Once they reached Germany, they could find their own way to England.
* * *
Dorian smiled as the gild casket containing the Major was lowered from the truck and then rolled up the ramp into the back of the transport plane. He pretended not to notice the plain wooden one being loaded after he had gotten onboard. He simply remained beside the ornate one as the base was strapped into place to prevent its rolling around in flight. His men boarded silently behind him, all taking seats along one side of the plane. To everyone’s amazement, even James was remarkably subdued. Only the Earl knew this was because he had threatened to nail him into the wooden coffin if he so much as sneezed.
Within an hour, the plane was taking off. The occupants sat silently looking at one another, no one daring to speak. As soon as they reached cruising altitude, Dorian got to his feet. “Bonham,” he said calmly.
Bonham nodded and moved to the cockpit.
Agent A exchanged a baffled look with the others. “Lord Gloria? What are you doing?” he asked as the Earl started to release the locks on the lid of the casket.
“What does it look like?” Dorian said calmly. He then heaved the lid open. “Somebody help me so this doesn’t slam shut.” One of his men jumped to his feet and moved around to hold the lid open.
To the astonishment of the assembled Alphabets, the Major’s voice sounded from within. “What the hell took you so long!” he snarled. “It’s bloody suffocating in here.”
“Major!” G squeaked as the officer sat up. “You’re alive.”
Klaus gave him a dark look. “Somebody help me out of these thing,” he growled. He received a stricken look from his subordinates. Iron Klaus asking for help?
Dorian pushed open the bottom half of the casket, another of his men coming over to hold it. The Earl then dug out the bag containing the Major’s gun and handed it to him. “He’s still recovering from a stab wound,” he snapped impatiently.
Suddenly several Alphabets were ready and willing to assist their wounded superior out of the casket and over to a seat.
“Have we changed course yet?” Klaus asked.
Agent A scowled. “Changed course?” he repeated. “We’re on course for Bonn, sir.”
“No, we’re not,” Dorian replied. “We’re on course for London.”
A blinked. “London?”
Klaus leaned back in his seat. “Lord Gloria has the microfilm,” he informed coldly. “He has agreed to return it in exchange for passage to London.” He gave the Earl a piercing look. “Haven’t you?”
Dorian gave him a dazzlingly smile as he held out a damp towel. “I have,” he agreed. “Here. This should help take all that undertaker’s makeup off, Major.”
Klaus saw Agent G’s eyes widen and gave him a quelling look. “Not. One. Word,” he said threateningly.
“No, sir,” G replied, quickly looking away.
“I’ve arranged to have someone bring you more appropriate clothing for your trip to Bonn, Major,” the Earl said as he took a seat beside him, holding out the officer’s cigarettes.
The Major’s eyes narrowed as he took the cigarettes. “Define more appropriate.”
Again, a dazzling smile lit up the Earl’s face. “What you wear on a daily basis.”
Klaus nodded approvingly and finished wiping the offending muck from his face as best he could before lighting a cigarette. He would probably have to wash for a month before all the wretched stuff was removed.
The remainder of the flight consisted of the Major debriefing his men. When they arrived in London, Eroica’s men silently deplaned, taking both caskets with them. Someone appeared with a very expensive suit for the Major, made exactly to his measurements. Klaus wondered how long the Earl had had it in his possession before finding an appropriate time to give it to him.
All of the Alphabets made a discreet exit while the caskets were being offloaded, leaving the Major and the Earl alone in the plane, still sitting side by side.
“Your microfilm, Major, as promised,” Dorian said, holding up the tube and then placing it into the officer’s outstretched hand.
Klaus nodded approvingly, pocketing the tube. “Satisfy my curiosity,” he said calmly. “What did you smuggle in that casket other than me?”
Dorian gave a delighted laugh. “Oh, Major, I didn’t smuggle something in the casket,” he informed. “I smuggled the casket.”
The Major’s eyes grew wide. “What!”
“With a few other baubles, I’ll admit,” Dorian went on. “But everyone assumed they were just part of the decorations.”
Klaus put a hand to his head and closed his eyes. “As soon as I’m fit…”
“I know. You’re gonna beat me up.”
“Selfish, self-centered, son-of-a-bitch!” Klaus thundered. “You did all this just to steal a casket? What the hell is it with that fucking country and caskets?”
Dorian gave a small laugh at this. “I thought you’d blotted Detective Casket from your memory.”
“Don’t even mention that idiot! What is it about Italy that makes you lose your mind?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s having you in my bath when I’m naked,” Dorian replied seductively.
“Shit, don’t start that crap again.”
“Oh, really, Major. I’m the best thief in the business. I could steal even you, if I wanted to.”
Klaus gave a derisive snort. “Fat chance.”
The Earl held up the can of knockout gas. “All I have to do is use this, and you’re mine for the taking.”
The Major’s eyes narrowed. “You wouldn’t dare.”
Dorian gave him a knowing look. “Are you sure about that?” he said as he rose to his feet. He saw the edge of panic flash across the man’s eyes and shook his head, returning the can to his pocket. “You’re right. I wouldn’t. There’d be no challenge in it.”
“Is that what I am to you? A challenge?”
“No, Major. I was rather hoping I might be a friend.”
“Friend! How the hell do you figure that after what you’ve just put me through!”
“You mean after I just saved your life and smuggled you out of Italy?”
“Along with your own stolen property!” Klaus rejoined.
“I had to salvage something!” Dorian replied. “After you turned up and—” He broke off and turned, starting toward the ramp.
“After I turned up and what?” the Major demanded, getting to his feet. When the Earl turned back to look at him and he felt a smile coming to his face. “After I turned up and fucked up your operation. Isn’t that what you were gonna say?”
Dorian ground his teeth. “Something like that.”
Klaus actually laughed. “Well, that makes it all worth it! Finally, you know what it’s like.” He gave the Earl a steady look. “You didn’t like it, did you?”
“Ah! Now the thief gets upset because NATO got in the way,” Klaus taunted.
“Major, so help me!”
The Major’s eyes grew wide in mock terror as the Earl took a small step towards him. “Whatcha gonna do? Hit me?” He jutted out his chin and pointed to it. “Go on! Just try to hit me. You might even feel better for it.”
“Don’t tempt me, Major.”
“Be a man, for once. I’ll even close my eyes and make it easy for you,” Klaus said mockingly as he closed his eyes.
Dorian stood motionless for a full second. Then he closed the distance between them, took the officer’s face in his hands, and kissed him full on the mouth.
The Major’s eyes snapped open, his expression going from challenging to shock. The next thing he knew, the Earl was striding from the plane, calling to him over his shoulder. “You’re right, Major. I do feel much better now.”
An enormous smile spread across the Earl’s face as a stream of obscenities issued forth from behind him. A priceless casket and a stolen kiss. Definitely a profitable undertaking.
— END —