RAINBOW IN THE DARK
By Margaret Price
Dorian sat in his darkened hospital room, silently staring out at the clear night sky. He thought he had experienced every terror imaginable in his incredibly full life, until this newest terror appeared out of nowhere and threaten him in a way he never expected.
There was a soft knock at the door. “Lord Gloria, you have a visitor,” the nurse said quietly.
“I don’t want to see anyone,” Dorian replied coldly. God, I did not just say that, he thought, closing his eyes against the light spilling in through the open door.
“So, after all these years, you turn me away?”
Dorian jumped at the sound of the familiar voice and opened his eyes to see Klaus taking a seat in the chair near the end of the bed a moment before the door closed and the room was plunged into darkness again. The Earl’s mouth dropped open and he found himself at a loss for words.
“Shall I leave?” Klaus asked calmly.
“How the hell did you know I was here?” Dorian heard himself demanding.
“I may be retired from NATO, but I still have very good sources of information.”
Dorian put a hand to his head, not quite able to take it in. It had been nearly twenty years since he last saw the Major. Has he been keeping tabs on me all that time? “You must do,” he said as he sat up further in bed. “I certainly couldn’t find out anything about you. Everything was classified. All I know is that you got some award for bravery and vanished. I thought you’d either gone into deep cover or fallen off the face of the Earth.”
Dorian suddenly realized he was babbling and stopped, asking, “What the hell are you doing in England?”
Klaus waved a hand in the air. “I’m not here to talk about me,” he said evasively.
“Oh? Does that mean you’re here to talk about me?”
“I understand you had emergency eye surgery,” Klaus said calmly. “I should think that you, of all people, would find that…frightening.”
“Frightening! Major, I found it bloody terrifying!” Dorian snapped.
Klaus nodded. “But it was successful, correct?”
Dorian wished the angry expression on his face wasn’t hidden by the darkened room. He was still afraid to turn on the lights, even on the lowest setting. Afraid that it might damage his eyes somehow, despite his doctor’s reassurances. “I’m not blind, if that’s what you’re asking,” he said coldly.
There was a momentary flash of light as Klaus lit a cigarette.
“You’re not supposed to smoke in here.”
“Call security and have me thrown out, then,” Klaus replied tersely as he closed his lighter with a snap.
Dorian gave an annoyed growl, seeing the end of the cigarette glow red as the German took a drag from it. “Are you disappointed that the surgery failed?” he snapped. “Were you hoping to find me blind and helpless? That something had finally happened to stop me from doing all the things you disapprove of?”
Klaus sat silently waiting for the ranting Earl to finish. “If this is how you are after a success, I’d hate to see what you’d be like if the surgery had failed.”
“Bastard. And you used to call me malicious.”
“What would you’ve done? Huh? Do you know?” Klaus went on. “You say you love beautiful things, but have you ever really looked at them? You fixate on a so-called thing of beauty only to lose interest when something new strikes your fancy.”
Dorian opened his mouth only to close it again. This was true and he knew it.
“I…” Dorian began hesitantly.
“You’ve been trying to steal that damned pumpkin since the day I met you,” Klaus said coldly. “Because you say it’s beautiful. A work of art. A great masterpiece.”
Dorian blinked. “Pardon?”
“The painting. Describe it,” Klaus challenged. “You should be able to. You’ve certainly looked at it enough.”
“Major, I haven’t seen ‘The Man In Purple’ in nearly twenty years.”
Klaus gave a derisive snort, taking a puff on his cigarette. “I thought so. All this crap about beautiful things is just talk. Bloody shallow—” He got no further and a small smile came to his face as Dorian started to describe the painting in exacting detail, from the type of wood used in the frame, to the size of the portrait, to the intricate details of the background.
When he finished, Dorian crossed his arms and gave a curt nod. So there.
“So, you do remember,” Klaus said approvingly. “And you didn’t even have to see it, did you?”
“I know what you’re trying to do, Major,” Dorian said coldly.
“Really? And what’s that?”
Dorian heaved a heavy sigh. “Don’t play games with me. Not after all this time.”
Klaus sat back in his chair. “You know I don’t play games, Lord Gloria.”
Dorian gave a mocking laugh. “That’s all you ever did do! Mind games! Spy games! Head games!”
A pause. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’m trying to make you see that—”
“Trying to make me see!” Dorian interrupted. “Oh, very droll, Major!”
Klaus sighed but did not reply. He could tell there was another tantrum coming on and was not disappointed.
“Do you know the full details of why I’m here?” Dorian asked accusingly, waving a hand in the air. “I expect you do. You know everything, don’t you? Well, I’ll tell you anyway. I was rushed here because I had something called ‘acute angle-closure glaucoma.’ That’s a fancy name for something that can make you go blind within hours.” He drew a deep breath before going on. “You must think it’s very funny.”
“Funny?” came the bewildered reply.
“Yes. Do you know what they call glaucoma? ‘The silent thief of sight.’ Ironic, don’t you think? The best thief in the world having his own sight stolen.” Dorian turned away, a hand going to his mouth. Just the thought of what might have happen brought all his terrors back again.
“I can see this was a waste of time,” Klaus said as he got to his feet. “Have a nice wallow in self pity, Lord Gloria. I never realized you were this good at it.”
Dorian heard the Major moving slowly towards the door and sighed heavily. “Here, let me at least turn on the light so you don’t walk into the door.”
“Don’t bother!” Klaus snapped angrily, his tone startling the Earl. “I’m not afraid of the dark.” He pulled open the door and left without so much as a backward glance.
Dorian sat staring after him. Nice going. He comes to you after all these years and all you can do is argue with him. He gave the mattress a kick and wished he had something to throw across the room. Now he’ll go back to Germany and you’ll never see him again. Bloody marvelous.
* * *
The day Dorian was released from the hospital was warm, bright and sunny. Not a cloud in the sky. He wore dark glasses to protect his eyes against the glare. Doctor’s orders, not that he need them. He had never thought about how precious his sight was until he almost lost it. Now he wanted to guard it more dearly than any of his precious works of art.
To never see even the most simple things again, he thought as a small bird perched outside his window and began preening itself. It was just an ordinary sparrow, but he found himself transfixed by it. He’d never really noticed the different shades on its body, the dark markings, the texture of the feathers, the curve of its wing.
Dorian jumped when someone came in with his paperwork, finalizing his release from the hospital. A moment later, a nurse came and asked if he were ready to go.
“Is someone coming to get you, sir?” the nurse asked.
“Yes. They’ll be along shortly,” Dorian replied. “I didn’t think I’d be released this quickly.” He took a look around the room, which was now crammed with flowers. “I shan’t be taking these with me. Would it be possible to have them distributed to the other patients?” he said in a rare moment of unselfishness.
The nurse smiled brightly. “Of course, sir. I know quite a few patients who will be delighted to have them.”
“Would you like to wait in your friend’s room?”
Dorian frowned. Friend? What friend? Had one of his men been hurt and no one told him? Blast you, Bonham! You need to tell me these things, hospital or no. James is already having a fit because I was seen by a specialist.
Dorian hoped his confusion did not show. “Yes, that would be lovely,” he said, trying not to let his irritation show. If they tried to pull that job without me, there’ll be hell to pay.
He silently followed the nurse down the hall and into another corridor. “There,” the nurse said, stopping in front of an open doorway. “Not too far away at all. I’ll come for you when your ride arrives.”
“Thank you,” Dorian said politely and waited for the woman to leave. Then he turned back, his heart missing a beat when he saw the name beside the door. “Bugger,” he whispered. It took him a moment to remember to breathe. He dropped his suitcase and other belongings just inside the door before entering. “Very good sources, he tells me,” he said darkly.
A curtain was drawn around the bed furthest from the door. “You never asked what the sources were,” came the Major’s voice from behind it.
“It would serve you right if you’re not decent behind this thing,” Dorian snapped angrily as he snatched the curtain open. Then he froze, his eyes growing wide as saucers. Klaus was sitting up in bed with a book in his lap, not that this was any great surprise. It was the fact that the book was in Braille.
“Oh, my God…” Dorian gasped, a hand going to his mouth.
“It seems we have the same surgeon,” Klaus informed calmly.
“Dr. Sandercole?” Dorian said dully.
Dorian found his knees would no longer hold him and he sank into a chair, still unable to take it in. “When…? How…? Oh, bugger!” he stammered out, a hand going to his head.
“I got too near an explosion on what turned out to be my last mission. It went off in my face.” The Major gave a wry smile. “They told me I was lucky to survive.”
No wonder I couldn’t find you. “Oh, Major…”
Klaus waved a hand in the air. “Don’t you dare feel sorry for me, you selfish son-of-a-bitch!” he snapped angrily.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Klaus turned his sightless eyes in the Earl’s direction, sending a shiver down his spine. Christ, even blind he can still glare like Iron Klaus.
“Because you’d’ve done exactly what you’re doing now,” Klaus said knowingly. “You’d feel sorry for me.”
“I’m not…” Dorian cut himself off and closed his eyes, nodding his head. Yes, you are. He drew a deep breath. “Were you ever going to tell me?”
“And you say I’m selfish.”
“I know you, Lord Gloria. After all this time, you’d still try to track me down.” Klaus gave a small smile. “I didn’t have to tell you. Did I?”
Damn you for being right. Dorian was quiet a long time before finally asking, “How long?”
“Nearly fifteen years.”
Klaus sat back, an impatient look on his face. “I’ve already gone through all the stages of anger and denial. I don’t need you to go through them again for me.”
“Well, excuse me for being upset,” Dorian snapped angrily. “This isn’t exactly the way I envisioned seeing you again.”
“Ha! You were planning on hunting me down again, weren’t you?” Klaus said, not even trying to keep the condescending tone from his voice.
Klaus gave a wry smile but did not reply.
“Why…?” Dorian paused, drawing a deep breath. “Why are you here, anyway?”
“Same as you.”
Dorian blinked. “You’re having eye surgery?”
“After they finish running every test in creation on me,” Klaus said, waving a hand in the air.
“I’m…almost afraid to ask why?”
“My doctor seems to think, and Dr. Sandercole agrees, that I’m a perfect candidate for an experimental procedure.”
Klaus heard the glimmer of hope in Dorian’s voice and sighed heavily. “It isn’t some miracle cure, if that’s what you’re thinking. The most I can hope for is to see light and shadow.”
Dorian couldn’t imagine being satisfied with a shadow world existence. Then again, he couldn’t imagine living in darkness for fifteen years, either. “I’m guessing that there are no guarantees.”
“No. And no second chances. It will work or it won’t.”
Dorian’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not a gambler. Why are you going through with it?”
“I wasn’t going through with it,” came the startling reply.
“What? You just said…”
“I was in the process of telling Dr. Sandercole just that when he was called away for emergency surgery.”
“Mine?” Dorian practically whispered.
Klaus nodded. “I’ve always had very good hearing. And the person on the phone was practically screaming.”
“But…how…?” Dorian put a hand to his head as he struggled to understand. “Christ, I can’t think.” He drew a deep breath. “How did my needing emergency surgery change your mind? And come to that, why did you even bother coming to see me afterwards? I thought you didn’t give a damn what happens to me?”
Didn’t. Dorian started when he realized the Major had used the past tense. Does this mean you do now?
“I’ve lived my whole life in the dark. Much of what I’ve done should never see the light of day. But not you. You…” Klaus paused and seemed to be struggling to find the right words. “You’re a rainbow. Rainbows disappear when there’s no light.”
“I think that’s the most poetic thing I’ve ever heard you say,” Dorian said in amazement.
Klaus sighed heavily. “I’m talking foppish nonsense,” he said sulkily. To his amazement, the Earl apologized for interrupting and asked him to go on.
“When I learned your surgery had been successful, I suspected that you’d focus on the dark. I still remember what happened to you after that statue—”
“Please, don’t remind me!”
“I didn’t. I asked you about that damned pumpkin. And you remembered it. Vividly.” Klaus closed his eyes and to Dorian’s amazement, there was a slight tremor in his voice when he said, “I’d almost forgotten.”
Dorian tried to put on a brave face, which was stupid when he thought about it. The Major couldn’t see him. He tried to keep his voice even. “So, you’re going to have questionable surgery because I remembered a painting that you hate?”
After a long pause, Klaus replied, “I’m having questionable surgery because you reminded me that…I’ve been living in the dark for too long. Literally and figuratively.”
This was not the reply Dorian expected. “What…happens if it doesn’t work?” he heard himself asking.
“I go on as I have been.”
“As you have been?”
“And what’s that, exactly?” Dorian wanted to know. “Major—”
“Stop calling me that!” Klaus snapped more harshly than he intended. “He disappeared in an explosion fifteen years ago. NATO gave me that Goddamn medal and the rank of Lieutenant Colonel so I wouldn’t retire on a Major’s pension.”
Dorian was taken aback by the venom in this reply. “I’ve called you Major for over thirty years,” he said quietly. “I’m not sure I can change to Lt. Colonel.”
Klaus waved a hand in the air. “Don’t. I only use that professionally. You might as well call me by name.”
“I don’t know if I can do that, either.”
Klaus sighed heavily and sat back in bed. “Are you gonna make me regret this?”
“Never!” The word practically leapt from Dorian’s mouth. “So long as you stop calling me Lord Gloria. My name is Dorian.” His reply was a dark look. “Fair’s fair…Klaus.”
An awkward silence followed.
“How professionally?” Dorian asked suddenly.
“You said you use Lt. Colonel professionally.”
A wry smile came to the officer’s face. “After my rehabilitation, NATO attempted to assist me in finding a new career.” Klaus gave a derisive snort. “Fortunately, my men had better ideas.”
“Yes. You would have no trouble finding me now if you did an internet search,” Klaus informed. “Agent G was also hurt in the explosion, although not as badly as I was. He retired and started a web hosting business.” He gave a wry smile. “I was his first client.”
Dorian’s eyebrows went up. “You have a web site?”
Klaus nodded. “I’m the leading civilian expert on Self-Defense and Hand-to-Hand combat for the military.” He went on to explain that he spent much of his time traveling to different military training facilities teaching, with the now retired Agent A acting as his manager.
Dorian listened in silence, watching as Klaus’s face came alive as he told of how he delighted in humiliating the numerous cadets who thought they could easily take the blind old man who had come to teach them.
Dr. Sandercole arrived during this and was more than a little surprised to see the Earl present. “Didn’t I release you already, Lord Gloria?” he asked with a grin.
“I’m just waiting for my ride, Doctor.” Dorian replied.
“Has Lord Gloria given me a resounding endorsement, Mr. von dem Eberbach?” the doctor asked.
Dorian winced. Mr. von dem Eberbach. Oh, that sounds so bland when applied to Iron Klaus.
“I don’t recall,” Klaus replied coolly.
Dr Sandercole turned pointedly to Dorian, “If you’ll excuse us, Lord Gloria?”
“Of course,” Dorian said, hoping his disappointment did not come through in his voice. He was just getting to his feet when there was a soft knock at the door. “Lord Gloria, a gentleman named Bonham says he’s here to collect you.”
“Thank you. Tell him I’ll be there directly,” Dorian replied. Then to the doctor, he said, “It seems I must leave anyway.” He went to the door, picking up his belongings. “Well…goodbye, Klaus.”
Dorian closed his eyes. Finally, you call me by name, and it’s to say goodbye.
* * *
Doctor Sandercole opened the notebook in his hand, informing Klaus that he passed all the tests with flying colors and that he was scheduled for the procedure the following morning. “After the procedure, you’ll be in intensive care for a day to minimize the chance of infection.”
Klaus nodded. They had gone over everything a dozen times already. Afterwards, he was to remain in the city for follow-ups test with the team carrying out the procedure. From start to finish, he would be in London for nearly two months, and would have to return at various times after that.
The doctor turned to leave, stopping as he got to the door. “Shall I put Lord Gloria on your visitors list?”
This question took Klaus completely by surprise. “What?”
“Your visitors list. Unless someone is on the list, they won’t be allowed in the Intensive Care unit,” Sandercole informed. “Shall I put Lord Gloria on it?”
“I…” Klaus frowned. “I don’t know.”
Sandercole took this to mean he did not know if the Earl would return and nodded. When he turned to the list, he frowned. It was blank. He had to remind himself that his patient had come all the way from Germany to have the procedure done. He put Dorian’s name on the list as he left the room.
* * *
Dorian had been afraid to return to the hospital. Afraid he would be turned away. Afraid that the news of Klaus’s surgery would be bad. In fact, just afraid in general. He had done the internet search and was amazed to see the website that Agent G had set up. Dorian went on to contact both G and A, who were equally surprised to hear from the Earl after nearly twenty years.
After this, Dorian argued with himself for two days before finally getting up the courage to contact Doctor Sandercole and inquire about Klaus. After he hung up the phone, he went straight to the hospital in London.
* * *
Klaus was sitting alone on the patio. The day was not as bright as when Dorian was released from the hospital. Nor was it as warm. In fact, it appeared as though a storm was brewing, not that Klaus seemed to care. He was sitting back in his wheelchair, his head back, his eyes closed. He had an unlit cigarette in one hand, and looked like he was basking in the sunshine rather than waiting for the rain to come.
Klaus heard the approaching footsteps. They were heading in his direction, and at first, he thought it might be a member of the staff come to bring him inside. Then he realized the person—the man that was heading towards him was wearing solid heels. Wrong shoes for the staff. And the cologne…
“You used to be quieter, Eroica.”
Dorian stopped. “How did you know it was me?”
“You haven’t changed your cologne.”
You remembered! Now I am impressed. “Are you supposed to be out here in this damp?” Dorian asked mildly as he pulled up a chair.
Klaus gave a wry smile. “I’m listening to the trees,” he replied quietly.
This response took Dorian by surprise. Iron Klaus listening to trees!
“There’s a storm coming,” Klaus went on to say without lifting his head.
Dorian turned to look at the gathering clouds. “Yes, there is.” He took a seat and silently watched the German a moment.
“I didn’t think you’d be back,” Klaus observed.
“No.” Klaus sat up, turning unseeing eyes in Dorian’s directions. “You worship beauty and perfection.”
“And…you’re no longer perfect, is that what you’re saying?”
“The procedure was a failure.”
Dorian caught his breath, a hand going to his mouth. “Oh, no…”
“I have to stay for the follow up tests,” Klaus went on coldly. “But it’s all a waste of time.”
“Oh, Klaus, I’m so sorry...”
“Don’t!” Klaus snapped. “Don’t…” He turned away, putting his head in his hands. “Dammit! I wasn’t gonna let this—” He broke off, sighing heavily. I wasn’t going to get my hopes up! I wasn’t going to be disappointed. I wasn’t. But I am.
“This is all my fault,” Dorian said suddenly.
“What?” Klaus sat up again, turning slightly in his direction. “How the hell do you figure that?”
“If you hadn’t come to see me…”
“Oh, shit, Dorian,” Klaus growled. “Everything isn’t always about you.”
“Isn’t it? You turn up after nearly twenty years because you knew I’d focus on the wrong thing. That I’d had a glimpse into your world of darkness and that it scared the hell out of me.”
“It scared the hell out of me at first, too,”
Dorian’s mouth dropped open and he was momentarily at a loss for words. “I never thought I’d hear Iron Klaus admit to being afraid.”
Klaus gave a small grunt, finally lighting the cigarette in his hand. “There’s a difference between not being afraid, and not showing that you’re afraid.”
Dorian gave a small laugh. “Still just as stoic as ever.” He got a disapproving scowl in response. There was a rumble of thunder and he turned in the direction of the storm. “We should get inside.”
“I’m fine here.”
Dorian got to his feet. “Self pity doesn’t suit you, Klaus.”
“Klaus, please, don’t lock yourself in the dark again.”
Klaus chose not to respond, turning himself so his back was to Dorian. Then he heard the Earl catch his breath. “Now what?”
“There’s a rainbow,” Dorian gasped, pulling off his dark glasses to see it properly. He looked up at the break in the dark storm clouds and the single shaft of sunlight streaming in. “It’s beautiful,” he breathed. He looked down, feeling a pang of guilt when he saw Klaus close his eyes. You idiot. He can’t see it. He’ll never see it. Unless…
Dorian drew a deep breath and looked up again. He proceeded to describe to the seemingly disinterested Klaus the rainbow, the color of the sky, the shape of the break in the clouds where the sun was still streaming through. Unless Klaus screamed at him to stop, he was determined to go on, which he did until the first drops of rain began to fall. Then he silently took Klaus inside to the solarium.
The pair sat in silence as the rain pelted against the glass until the announcement came over the public address system that visiting hours were ending.
“Klaus, when they release you from the hospital, you’re welcome to stay at Castle Gloria,” Dorian said suddenly.
“Of course with—” Dorian broke off. “It’s not like that. I haven’t made a single indecent proposal since you set foot in my room.”
“So I noticed.”
Dorian blinked. “You did?”
“It’s just…the thought of you being alone…
Klaus gave a snort. “I’ll think about it.”
This was a less then promising reply and Dorian sighed heavily as he got to his feet. “I’ll come back and visit, if that’s alright.”
“So long as you continue to restrain yourself.”
This was more promising. “Goodbye Klaus.”
“Goodbye, Dorian.” Klaus turned his unseeing eyes toward the window. “Thank you for the rainbow.”
* * *