Sometimes it seemed Chief Twitterswell designed Major von dem Eberbach's missions with the purpose of annoying said Major specifically in mind.
That couldn't really have been the case, of course. The decision to deal with a certain delicate matter using a collaboration of NATO and the CIA had been made behind closed doors in Washington and Berlin. That the suspected information leak existed in the person of a young single woman could not possibly have been engineered by anyone but the young woman herself, and perhaps her recruiter. That the delicate matter in question also required that numerous first-rate security systems be circumvented was similarly no fault of the Chief's.
The combination of several of the Major's least favorite elements – CIA agents, women, and foppish thieves – nonetheless felt like the entire world, or at least his immediate superior, conspiring against him. It didn't help that one of the Yanks was the distasteful but indispensable brand of specialist known as a "Romeo".
The Major was openly skeptical when he saw the "Romeo". Will Keegan would never have been hired to model designer underwear. He was of middling height, reasonably fit but hardly athletic, and certainly not handsome – indeed, if anything he looked impish, with a thin neck, ears that stuck out just a little, a ski-jump nose of the sort that adorns a female face well but a male face humorously, and features that were too mobile and expressive. Eroica arched an eyebrow as the two Americans entered the Bonn office. He had been intending to flirt with the "Romeo" to annoy the Major, but now that he saw the man, he found himself uninspired.
"You're the Romeo?" the Major demanded, with more honesty than tact. "Surely even American women can't be that strange."
The Romeo's clearly jaded partner, John Betterly, rolled his eyes. "Trust me, if it's female and on two feet, he can charm it."
Keegan laughed, all cheerful confidence. "Just point me in her direction."
At a dubious nod from the Major, A proffered a thick file to Keegan. "That's her file," the Major explained. "Everything we've been able to learn about her, from–"
Keegan held up a hand. "No, don't tell me anything about her. It's better if I don't know anything except what she looks like." He opened the file A still held out, took out the photo on top, and examined it.
"Surely if you're going to get close enough to this woman to find out if she's really been passing information, the more you know about her, the better," Z protested. "If you know her tastes, you can accommodate them. You can order what she likes to drink, take her to the right kind of restaurant, avoid subjects that offend her, discuss things that interest her, wear the kind of clothes she likes men to…." Z trailed off, because Keegan was shaking his head pityingly.
"You're a good-looking guy," Keegan said frankly. "How many women have you slept with?"
Z flushed, but answered defensively, "Three."
"So your strategy of learning a woman's tastes and pandering to them isn't all that effective, is it?"
"Three's a perfectly good number of–"
"I slept with seven different women last month," Keegan said. His tone wasn't boastful; he sounded as if he were merely making a point. "So don't tell me anything except what she looks like, and where to find her."
The Major had been listening to the exchange with impatience. "Whatever. She and her co-workers usually go together to a brewery near their office on Friday evenings. This had better work."
"Then that's where I'll make contact. Who's going to wing me?"
Betterly spoke up, sounding as bored as the Major, though for different reasons. "He means he wants a few of you to go with him. He thinks it's easier to pick up women if you have a few buddies with you.”
“Yes, it proves you're not a social reject, and makes the girl believe you might leave her to go back to your friends any minute. Aren’t you coming?" Keegan asked.
Betterly's expression was withering. "I don't need to spend another evening watching you work women over."
"I'll go," Z volunteered at once.
Eberbach's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "I shall accompany you."
"Where the Major goes, I go," Eroica sighed dramatically. The Major snarled at him, but did not argue.
Friday came. Keegan insisted they not enter the brewery until their quarry had been there for a little while, so they waited in a bar half a block away. The conversation would likely have gone along the usual lines of Eroica flirting, the Major grousing, and Z trying hard to give the impression that he wasn't there, had Keegan not had ideas of his own. "Mr. Z, tell me the funniest joke you know," he invited with a friendly smile.
Z was taken aback, but thought for a moment. "I'm not sure it would be funny in English."
Keegan shrugged. "[That is all right. I am fluent in German,]" he answered in that language. His accent was unmistakable, but his grammar was impeccable, though formal.
"I have instructed my subordinates to always talk to people in their native tongues if they speak them," the Major announced, in English. "That way, we do not have to rely on their speaking German well to understand their meaning clearly."
"Is that why you usually speak English to me, darling?" Eroica asked, tilting his head coquettishly.
"I understand your meaning entirely too clearly no matter what language we're speaking," Klaus grumbled.
"[So how about that joke?]" Keegan asked, in German.
Z's joke was funny, and Keegan and Eroica both laughed. It reminded Eroica of a joke in German he knew, and that one reminded Keegan of one in English, and their table was ringing with laughter in a few minutes. Even the Major allowed himself a couple of quickly suppressed snickers, and when the Earl told a joke with the punchline "And then the one-legged jockey said, ‘Don't worry about me, lady, I ride sidesaddle!’" the Major made the traditional German response to nonsensical jokes: "Witz, komm raus, Du bist umzingelt!" ("We have you surrounded, joke, come out with your hands up!") Keegan hadn't heard the expression before and found it more amusing than the joke it responded to; it was several minutes before he could stop laughing. The result was that they were all smiling (except for the Major) and in high spirits (except for the Major) by the time they strolled to the brewery and ordered some of the house beer, which turned out to be good enough to improve the Major's mood a bit.
"When are you going to get to work on that girl?" he demanded, less abrasively than usual.
"About now," Keegan answered, standing up. He was still smiling and cheerful from all the jokes; Eroica concluded this must have been part of his strategy. The American ambled in the direction of the jukebox. As he passed the young woman and her colleagues, he tossed an apparently casual remark over his shoulder to one of the chaps. When the man looked at him and answered, Keegan paused, his body still angled away as if he were going to proceed at any moment, and began talking to the man.
Even considering that Europeans were more reserved than Americans, it seemed a bold move, but worse, he seemed to be totally ignoring the woman who was the suspected information leak. “What’s he doing?” Eroica asked, bemused.
The Major shot a narrow look in their direction and shrugged, grumpy again. "I don't tell you how to pick locks. I'm not going to tell him how to seduce women. That's the whole point of expert contractors."
They all kept glancing over. And as they watched, the young woman started trying to attract the American’s attention. He brushed her off like she was lint. She continued. He ignored her in favor of the compelling conversation he was carrying on with her co-worker.
An hour later, Keegan and the young woman walked out arm in arm.
“How did you do that?”
It was late Saturday morning. The Major was busy arguing with the Chief on the phone, leaving the alphabets free to grill Keegan as they waited for their superior in a coffee house. Eroica sat a little apart, listening silently as A, B, C, K and Z huddled around the American.
Keegan leaned back in his chair, clearly enjoying himself. Betterly folded his arms, ostentatiously resigned.
“The main thing is not to be afraid of women. Don’t qualify yourself to them, don’t give them anything. Anything.”
“Now he’s going to deliver his saber-toothed tiger speech,” Betterly announced in hollow tones.
Keegan only laughed. “Yes, I am. Evolution has programmed women to look for dominant, confident men. This is why nice guys finish last and jerks steal their girlfriends. Because when a man is nice, on a gut irrational level, women think he must be afraid of them, and if he’s afraid of her, how’s he going to protect her and her children from saber-toothed tigers?”
“’We usually aren’t consciously aware of it’,” Betterly recited. Keegan glared at him briefly but the alphabets were still hanging on to his words. He continued.
“We usually aren’t consciously aware of it, but human interaction follows definite patterns and principles. We test other people without even realizing it, all the time. Once you’re conscious of the tests, you can control people’s reactions to you.”
“Now he’s going to tell you about displaying indifference to the girl you’re trying to pick up,” Betterly informed them.
Keegan smiled, not with his eyes. “Is it working? Do I get laid?”
“You do,” Betterly admitted.
"I can hardly claim to be an expert on women," Dorian said, drawing chuckles from the others, "but surely different women have different tastes. And these things are spontaneous. You can't make a science out of attracting women – or men, for that matter."
"Not true!" Keegan declared emphatically. "The pick-up artists whose techniques I've studied have done just that. They have broken down all the steps in attracting a woman and applied a precise methodology to it. There is a set procedure for attracting someone: initiating contact, displaying social value, establishing rapport, and so forth. I have a supply of routines for every step in the process."
"Sounds awfully complicated," B said.
“Anyone can do it,” Keegan announced. “You, Agent B. You’re going to approach that redhead over there.”
B looked as if he’d rather deal with the KGB. “But I’m married!” he squeaked.
“You’re just talking to her, not committing adultery,” Keegan soothed. “But you’re going to see how easy it can be to get a woman’s phone number. Now, here’s what you’re going to say.”
B was so nervous that even Keegan’s script failed him with the redhead, but the alphabets egged him on, and the third woman he approached gave him her phone number without his even asking. “You see?” Keegan announced. “Anyone can do it!”
Z cleared his throat. “This would probably be very useful in the field.”
"Uh huh," A remarked.
“I said in the field!” Z protested, turning red.
“Let me explain the basic principles to you,” Keegan offered smoothly.
An hour later, the Major returned to find every one of his intrepid agents chatting up hapless women, while Keegan sheepdogged around whispering brief snippets of advice in their ears and Betterly and Eroica sat at their table, sipping coffee and watching the show.
The Major stared at the atrocities occurring in the coffee shop. “What in God’s name?” he asked, his voice lethally quiet.
“Keegan just delivered an impromptu lesson on his seduction strategies,” Eroica explained blandly. “Doubtless this skill will be very useful when your agents have to deal with pretty girls who have vital intel.”
The Major let his glare warm up on Eroica before he turned its full heat on his agents. “GET OVER HERE!” he thundered, and they all abandoned their new lessons in alpha male body language to run to heel like frightened puppies.
At supper – which the Major chose to take elsewhere, having had enough of idiot subordinates, deranged Yanks, and perverted thieves for one day – while Betterly shook his head, Keegan opened a backpack and pulled fourteen bottles of vitamins out of it. Consulting a four-page chart, he opened several of the bottles, most of which had inscrutable labels like "5-HTP" or "Grape Seed Extract", and took one or two or three pills from each, making a small pile on his bread dish. When he was finished going through the chart, he shoved all the bottles back into the bag and started swallowing the pills. It took two tall glasses of water to wash them all down.
Most of the Europeans merely watched in bemusement – not much surprised them when it came to Americans, as the entire breed was generally accepted to be barking mad – but Dorian spoke up. "Isn't that a rather excessive vitamin dosage?"
Keegan, not surprisingly, started holding forth on some book he'd read called The Mood Cure and began telling them what each vitamin was for.
Betterly cut in, his tone withering as always. "The problem with asking him these things is, he answers."
Keegan laughed good-naturedly. "I think I could come into the office wearing a Batman costume with a live wombat on my shoulder and Betterly would just ask me if I wanted some coffee."
"I wouldn't ask you if you wanted coffee," Betterly corrected. "You'd explain to me how coffee is a Communist plot to poison the Western world and that it causes frayed cuticles and a taste for rap music. Weird nutrition is one of his hang-ups," he explained to the others.
"Don't be silly. Coffee causes country music, and it's an Illuminati plot." He looked around the table and added, "That was a joke." The alphabets, who hadn't been sure, chuckled nervously. "Caffeine is a terrible thing, though. Now, look at this." He rummaged in the bag for a moment before coming up with a Polaroid of himself. "This is me three months ago. I took it right before I went on this vitamin regimen."
The photo was clearly of Keegan, but he had circles under his eyes and a bit of acne. Certainly he looked much healthier now.
"Good show," Dorian allowed, "but are you going to take fifty vitamin pills with every meal for the rest of your life?"
"Oh, no. You only take this many for a few months. I've already started to taper them off, and in a couple more months I'll only be taking a multivitamin and maybe some omega-3 fish oil capsules, except in times of unusual stress. I have so much energy now!" he enthused. "Betterly, you knew me before. Do you remember–"
"He does indeed have a lot more energy now," Betterly confirmed, not sounding as if he considered this a particularly fortunate outcome.
"See? He always has to admit that I'm right, that my stuff works."
"Keegan," Betterly said in exasperation, "in the time I've known you, I've seen you on three totally different diets, I've seen you fall in love with half a dozen women, you've explored two different religions not counting the ones you tried on for size before we met."
"And what does that mean? It means that I'm willing to go to the trouble and take the initiative to explore new ideas. Without that attitude, the airplane would never have been invented," Keegan declared.
"Was your life really so unsatisfactory that you had to try so many different things to change it?" Betterly challenged.
Everyone was silent, looking at Keegan.
Keegan wasn't smiling now. He leaned toward Betterly and poked him in the chest with his forefinger, not gently. "And is yours so satisfactory that you don't feel the need for a change?"
"What kind of a change?" Betterly was being sarcastic, but that didn't stop Keegan.
"You know what Japanese businessmen do?" he asked rhetorically. "They go to a special school that requires them to go out and do bizarre things in public. This cures them of their fear of social rejection so that they can be as ruthless as they want to in their work. I met one pick-up artist who applied this principle. He's a fairly muscular guy in his fifties, and he didn't bathe or shave for a month, and then he went out in a ballet tutu and a tiara every day for two weeks. He said that after that he was much better at picking up girls, because he was no longer afraid of humiliation."
"Why didn't you keep his ancestors in England?" Betterly asked Dorian wryly.
Dorian sipped his drink. "You have to ask?"
Later on, while Keegan was absorbed in conversation with Z and K, Dorian turned back to Betterly and asked in a low voice, "Where does he get all these theories of his?"
Betterly sighed gustily and explained, irate and embarrassed. “Three years ago he got dumped for the third time running and decided to change his luck with women. He started reading all these books with embarrassing titles like How to Seduce Women and Get Laid Today and it became an obsession, practicing his pick-up techniques on every woman who crossed his path.”
“Does it work?” Dorian asked, skeptical.
"You saw him pick up the target last night. I've seen him do that many, many times. When he proved he could deliver consistent results, the Company decided to put his hobby to use. He's picking up girls for his country. Nice work if you can get it."
Dorian glanced over to make sure Keegan was still otherwise occupied before leaning closer to Betterly and asking, "Pardon me for prying, but you and Keegan seem to be friends as well as partners." Betterly nodded, and Dorian went on, "It's just a bit surprising, as the two of you are so different."
"He is weird, but he's also generous and loyal," Betterly said promptly. "And he's as devoted to our country as I am. We share that."
"I see." Dorian loved England, but he had never felt the kind of bone-deep patriotism these espionage types lived by. "Commendable, no doubt, but it seems a bit impersonal as a basis for a friendship."
Betterly hesitated. "Um, a few years ago, my life kind of fell apart," he said reluctantly. "My wife left me and my father died in the same month, and some other bad stuff that wasn't as major happened, and it was just too much for me to handle. I started drinking a lot and went a little crazy, and most of my friends and family started avoiding me. Keegan and I had just started working together, and he didn't avoid me. See, unlike everyone else, he isn't scared off by crazy behavior." Betterly gave a rueful snort. "He was there for me, and listened while I was talking crazy, and after a while he was able to talk me out of hitting the bottle. Then I was able to get my act together again." The American met Dorian's eyes frankly. "That's the good thing about having one or two friends who are, well, kind of nuts. They're not judgmental, and there are times when you need that."
Keegan's voice filtered through the ambient noise across to them as he told Z, "You know, there's really no good reason we shouldn't have costumed vigilantes like Spiderman. Maybe not with superpowers, though maybe with genetic engineering someday we could…."
"Of course," Betterly amended, "it's best to have plenty of normal friends too."
The Major's dim view of the entire situation didn’t stop the agents from sidling up to Keegan after dinner that evening for more lessons. They didn’t let him go to bed until midnight, and when he entered his room he wasn’t surprised to find NATO’s security contractor waiting in his hotel room.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” Eroica said, his eyes darting around the room as if the answer might be in sight.
Keegan regarded him, nodding sympathetically. “That’s exactly what I said when I started studying these techniques.” He poured himself a glass of water and sat down.
“It’s just… I’ve tried everything I can think of. I don’t know what else to do.” Eroica sounded as if he were still convincing himself. Keegan listened attentively, as if nothing in the world was of more interest to him than the Earl of Gloria's romantic troubles. Dorian wondered if this were a technique. He decided he didn't care. “Using your strategies can’t possibly make it worse.”
Keegan nodded again. “I said all that, too. And being willing to feel stupid enough to start reading those books changed everything for me.” He tapped Dorian’s arm gently. “Now, if you wanted to start picking up random guys you’d never met before, I could just tell you what I told the guys tonight. But your case is a little different. You’ve already queered your own pitch – er, sorry. Sales jargon.”
“Is it too late? Have I ruined my chances?”
“No situation is beyond salvage," Keegan pronounced in the tone of a mantra. "But you’ll have to tell me the whole story about what’s happened between the two of you the whole time you’ve known each other, and it’s late. Plus, I’ll want something in return.”
“That sounds fair enough. What did you have in mind?”
Keegan leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers. "How much do you want him?"
Oh, dear. The price was going to be steep. Dorian wondered how he was going to explain this to Mr. James. Perhaps if he took that job that obnoxious billionaire had offered, to steal some paintings Dorian would have paid to have taken away…. "I'm certain the entire intelligence community knows the answer to that, so there's no sense dissimulating. Name your price."
Keegan smiled. "You're offering money? That isn't what I want."
"What, then? Want me to introduce you to some duchesses and queens so you can say you've seduced royalty?"
"Darn. I wish I'd thought of that," Keegan said, and Dorian thought he was only half joking. "But no. According to the NATO guys, you're one of the greatest thieves in the world."
"Not 'one of'," Dorian said, a little sharply. "I am the greatest." Keegan grinned, and Dorian realized he'd been played. "You want me to work for the CIA, as I do for NATO? That could be arranged." It would be bloody dull work, but one had to make sacrifices.
"No. This is for me personally."
"My, my. And you a Company man. What do you want, then?"
“I want the Hope Diamond.”
“The Hope Diamond? The one that’s in the Smithsonian?”
“Is there another Hope Diamond?”
“What, you want to give it to one of your girlfriends? Kind of hefty for a ring.”
“You do know it has a curse on it?”
Keegan gave him a Come-on-now look. “Ohhh, I’m scared.”
“All right, then, but – the Smithsonian. Do you know what kind of security they have?”
“No, but I expect you do.”
“Normally a job like that would cost you a six-figure sum. Maybe more.”
Keegan smiled, composed. “So the question is, is seducing Major Eberbach worth six figures to you?”
Well, the Yank had him there.
“Why in hell do you want the Hope Diamond?” Eroica demanded.
“Why in hell do you want Iron Klaus?” Keegan paused, then added smoothly, “Of course, if breaking into the Smithsonian would be too difficult for you….”
Eroica drew himself up. “If I could get into the Vatican and bypass the KGB’s security, I can….” His voice trailed off. “You’re playing me, aren’t you?”
“Yes. And it worked. You see, I know what I’m doing.” He paused. "And I'll want it in advance."
Dorian leaned back in his chair. "I think not."
"Hey, I'm asking to get the diamond before I share my expertise for the same reason I don't buy gifts for a woman who hasn't slept with me yet. I used to give things to women in faith that they would reciprocate, but even though you don't date women you can probably guess what kind of results that got. What guarantee do I have that once you've gotten your Major, you'll still be willing to go to all the trouble of crossing the ocean and bypassing a state-of-the-art security system?"
"I might ask you the same question in reverse," Dorian pointed out sharply. "You say you want the Hope Diamond. The question is, how much? How much are you willing to do to get it?"
Keegan scowled. He didn't seem to take well to his own approach being used on him.
"You told the alphabets that whoever has more at stake loses the contest," Dorian nudged softly.
They faced off for another long moment before Keegan spoke. "How do I know that you'll keep your end of the bargain?"
Dorian considered. "Tell you what. I'll go ahead and steal it as soon as my bit of this mission's over, doing all the hard work now. The day after I bed the Iron Major, I'll put the Hope into your hot little hands."
They shook on it.
As Dorian had anticipated, the theft of the famous Hope Diamond was front-page news. He had taken the precaution of making sure several of his men were in Monte Carlo at the time, with Jones disguised as him for good measure. He held the legendary stone for a long time once he was safely home, the beautiful gem which had adorned sultans, queens and the wives of tycoons, and reputedly brought tragedy to them all. He wasn't superstitious enough to believe in the curse, but the romantic story enhanced the gem's value in his eyes.
As for what the Yank wanted it for, Dorian finally dismissed that from his mind. Keegan was unquestionably smart with plenty of valuable information on a variety of subjects, but it was equally clear that he was more than a little off his head. He was a type Dorian had met now and then, and read about, the genius with a wide streak of huckster in him. There was no understanding a mind like that.
Keegan and Betterly were still in Germany when Dorian returned from the heist, and their mission looked to last several more weeks. Accordingly, the Earl of Gloria invited them both to stay at Castle Gloria for a weekend. Keegan eagerly accepted. Betterly, perhaps judging that he already had sufficient eccentricity in his life, politely declined.
Just for fun, Keegan obligingly demonstrated that his approach worked on men almost as well as it did on women, with the result that Dorian’s team was mobbing him for advice. Dorian was forced to apply a bit of strategy of his own to get Keegan to himself. He cuddled James out of a few thousand pounds, distributed the pounds among his team, and suggested they tour London’s nightclubs with Keegan’s techniques and some new clothes.
Thus it was that on Saturday morning, Keegan and the Earl breakfasted together, just the two of them, ready to begin crafting their strategy.
“Tell me everything,” Keegan instructed as he measured out his morning dose of vitamins. “Including, yes, the most embarrassing moments, every pass you’ve ever made, and anything he's ever done to make you think you might have a chance with him.”
Dorian complied. He started with the first time he and Klaus met. "Good! You took control of the conversation."
"And he took it right back," Dorian pointed out.
Keegan nodded. "I've made a lot of friends in the seduction community, and that kind of problem comes up a lot. We're all trying to be alpha males because that's what women respond to, but with each other, well, there can be only one alpha male in a group. Our friendships tend to be pretty rocky. I've been observing how both you and the Major interact with your subordinates, and it's clear you're both alpha males. It's hardly surprising that you're always fighting. And the two of you are now in a contest to see who'll crack first."
"So how do we get out of it?"
"Change the rules of the game. We'll figure out how after you give me the whole story."
"All right. After he turned away, I spun him around and grabbed his hand and shook it."
"Establishing kino. Good."
He remained complimentary until Dorian confessed about his first declaration of love. "You gave him almost all the control of the whole situation, can you see that?"
"I suppose I can now. How do I get it back?"
"Well, you actually haven't been doing too badly, considering the situation. The way you keep showing up during his missions and throwing a wild card into his plans – that's why you still have a chance. What's important in the courtship is to keep eliciting emotions. Once you have an emotional reaction, it can be transformed into a different kind of emotional reaction. Much better than if he were indifferent to you."
But after that, Keegan kept wincing and shaking his head until Dorian's spirits were at their lowest.
Three hours later Keegan sat silently for a couple of minutes.
At last he said, “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
A week later, the Chief let Dorian know that NATO needed to know what was in a certain elected official’s personal safe. Dorian seized on the excuse for proximity to Klaus. He broke in easily, photographed the safe’s contents (which didn’t look suspicious to him, but these spy chaps had their own way of looking at things), and delivered the film to the Bonn office in person.
He maneuvered up to Klaus, his heart in his mouth, and began. He still couldn’t believe he was doing this; he was embarrassed even remembering that he had asked for Keegan’s help. How low had the Prince of Thieves sunk?
He felt more nervous than he had around Klaus in years. With his own tactics, he knew what he was doing and what the probable reaction would be. With Keegan’s, he didn’t know the terrain and had no idea how Klaus would react. It might even work, and to have that as a genuine possibility instead of a remote eventuality was surprisingly daunting. He drew a deep breath and started in.
"Lucky you had me to crack that safe for you," he remarked blandly, establishing his value without "qualifying himself", as Keegan had put it. "You have to admit I'm useful, don't you, Major?"
Klaus shot him an irritated look, snatching the microfilm from him. "I suppose so. When you're not running off with vital intel and making me waste days tracking you down."
Dorian winced a bit. That had been years ago, and it was completely unfair of the Major to bring it up now. He simply hadn't been able to resist the chance to make Klaus chase him for a change. It hadn't turned out very well, and he had changed tactics since then. And now was changing them again. He was trying to do what Keegan had called "yes-stacking". He wondered if a grudging "I suppose so" counted. He decided that it did, since it was the best he was likely to get. He asked a few more questions that elicited equally grudging affirmatives before abruptly looking at Klaus with sudden (but not lustful) intentness.
"What?" Klaus demanded gruffly.
"I just noticed that you have lines around your eyes. You didn't have those when we first met," Dorian said cheerfully.
Klaus looked at him as if he had lost his mind. "I probably have them because of you, you idiot," he grumbled.
Dorian shrugged. "I don't mind, it looks distinguished." And then he turned away from Klaus, as if he had forgotten the man was present, and started talking to G about something or other. Keegan had been very emphatic about the importance of giving someone other than one's target the attention sometimes. Klaus continued with whatever he had been doing with a thick folder of dull looking papers.
"Don't expect to have your breakthrough this time," Keegan had warned. "This is only the first step in a long-term strategy. The situation is too complicated to be resolved quickly. We‘ll discuss the next step afterwards."
"G, go take these reports to the Chief," Klaus ordered abruptly, interrupting them. "You, Eroica, did you give him yours?"
"Don't I always?" Dorian asked, seizing the opportunity to yes-stack some more.
"So far," Klaus grumbled.
"And don't I always get past every security system you send me to?"
The Major scowled at him. "What are you, fishing for compliments? We pay you, I don't have to pat you on the head."
That one was a bit of a challenge, but Dorian found a way. "Don't you find that people do their work better with a bit of praise?" he asked, tilting his head to one side.
Really, these techniques had been developed for people who were a lot easier to deal with than Iron Klaus. Dorian was starting to realize that it was next to impossible to get any kind of yes out of Klaus, not just a sexual one. It was like separating James from money. Now, instead of tossing out the automatic "yes" that anyone else would have, Klaus was staring at him. Dorian started to feel just a little nervous; his beloved had noticed that he was acting differently from usual.
Suddenly Klaus’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t tell me you’re trying to use that idiot Yank’s fucking ‘strategies’ on me.”
Dorian felt like he’d just been dropped from a great height. All he could do was stare, paralyzed, while the blood drained from his face. From his body altogether, it felt like.
Klaus’s lip curled. “I can’t believe you did that. I thought you had more fucking sense. What, did you think you could use the same lines on me that he uses on drunken floozies in bars?”
Dorian couldn’t believe how much this hurt. He was used to being rejected by the Major, but to be caught in such an embarrassing stunt…. And suddenly he realized, now Klaus would not only really think he was an idiot, he would also be offended at the whole attempt and any progress Dorian might have made with the man over the years had been obliterated.
Dorian sucked in a breath with tremendous difficulty. “I… just didn’t know what else to do. I’m… I’m desperate. I love you and I can’t get you to even look at me.”
“You could try taking no for an answer, pervert,” Klaus sneered. Dorian suddenly knew what it would be like to have his heart cut out of his chest. With a spoon. “Now go away and stop bothering me with your silly games. I have important work to do. Christ, we'd better keep that fucking Yank away from Agent Lawrence.”
Klaus snatched up the film and strode out of the office with it, back stiff. Dorian stood frozen for several minutes before he was able to move again. When he did, he stormed straight to Keegan’s hotel. He didn’t bother to knock, just picked the lock (a simple job, took less than twenty seconds) and charged in. Even the sight of a startled and very naked female jumping off of Keegan didn’t daunt him.
“You bastard!” Dorian shouted.
“Oh my God!” the girl shrieked, and started throwing her clothes on. Luckily, she wasn't the girl Keegan had been imported to seduce. Keegan got up and tried to soothe her, but between her shock and Dorian’s shouted accusations, his skills weren’t quite up to this situation. A couple of minutes later, the girl was gone and Dorian was alternately crying and yelling. Keegan pulled a robe on, surprisingly calm considering, and poured them each a drink. He opened a bottle labeled "GABA" and swallowed two pills from it.
When Dorian ran out of things to yell, his throat was sore. He knocked back some of the drink and noticed that his hands were shaking.
Keegan’s motions were slow and deliberate as he sipped his drink, produced a notepad and pen from somewhere, and started writing.
“What the hell is that?” Dorian demanded, still seething. Keegan pushed the pad over to him.
STEP 1 ✓
Dorian gasped for breath as if he’d been running a marathon. “You mean… you did that on purpose? That was Step One of your long-term strategy?”
Dorian punched him in the jaw. “You bastard!”
Keegan stumbled, then straightened and poured himself a new drink. “Feel better?”
Dorian fumed. Keegan topped his drink off.
Several grams of alcohol later, Dorian was sufficiently in control of himself to ask, his voice shaking, “Why didn’t you just tell me it was part of the plan? Do you have any idea what it was like to have the Major say those things to me?”
Keegan put his hand on Dorian’s shoulder. “Yes, I do. I felt that way the last time I saw Michelle – the girl who dumped me and made me start studying this stuff. Honestly, I’m sorry. But this was a necessary part of the plan, and because you didn’t know you were striking out on purpose, you were more convincing. You and I are both playing for very high stakes here.”
Dorian drew a shaky breath. “Why? Why did I have to humiliate myself like that?”
“Your Major knows about my techniques and that I coach people. Considering that you’ve tried everything else in the book, he has to have expected you to consult me and try my tricks on him. If you hadn’t, he’d have been suspicious."
Dorian swallowed some more alcohol. It did make sense, but he was still reeling from the derision on his beloved's face. He refused to make any comment.
Keegan settled back in his chair. "You know, I’ve seduced women who know that I’m a pickup artist. All I have to do is wait two or three weeks so they can demonstrate to themselves that they’re different from all the women I seduced the night I met them. Now we’ve disarmed him and can move on to our next step. As we speak, he’s congratulating himself on being too smart to fall for my seduction strategies.”
I can’t believe that idiot Limey actually thought I would fall for those stupid tricks, the Major thought. What kind of idiot does he think I am? Well, no doubt now the stupid thief would realize that Iron Klaus was not the sort of person who would fall for canned seduction routines. As if.
The next time they had to work together, doubtless the thief would be far more manageable. Maybe he would even have enough respect for the Major to stop that embarrassing, over-the-top flirting.
Maybe he would even get it through his head that what he had been asking for was out of the question.
Such musings occurred to the Major several times over the next weeks, in between more pressing matters. One morning Keegan came in and informed them that the young woman had confided in him that she was indeed passing information to some highly unpleasant people, for a price that made the alphabets snort. Clearly she hadn’t had the sense to hold out for a decent price. Klaus informed the Chief and resigned himself to waiting for his superiors to make up their minds whether they wanted to arrest the silly git, recruit her, or send false documents her way to misinform the enemy. In the meantime, the Yanks were sent home, and Keegan bid his conquest farewell without her being any the wiser.
A few weeks later, a mission required getting through a tricky security system, and the Chief ordered him to hire his usual contractor for the purpose, and the Major instructed Z to make the call.
The Major was reading a report when Z nervously approached his desk.
"So go out and buy more Nescafé," the Major snapped without looking up.
"Th-that isn't the problem, sir," Z stammered. "It's Eroica, sir."
The Major raised his head and glared balefully.
"He refused the assignment, sir!" Z blurted.
The entire room went dead. This was unprecedented.
The Major returned to the report. "He just wants to be wheedled. Or the stingy-bug wants more money. Call him back."
"He wouldn't talk to me, sir! Bonham took the call and said his Lordship wasn't going to take anymore NATO assignments, and he wouldn't give me a reason, and I tried to get him to let me talk to Eroica myself but he wouldn't come to the phone! I did everything I could!"
"Maybe I should get that Yank Keegan to teach you how to talk foppish thieves into doing useful work," Klaus said sarcastically. Ever since Keegan had given his impromptu lessons, Z had spent most of his off-duty time chasing skirts, despite the unconcealed disapproval of his superior. The Major picked up the phone and punched in Castle Gloria's number. Once again Bonham answered, and the Major found himself just as stonewalled. To reasoning, threats and incentives, Bonham only kept repeating that Eroica was no longer accepting NATO missions. When Bonham remained inflexible, the Major demanded to speak to the Earl himself, but Bonham refused that request as well. A fleeting suspicion that the Earl's men were planning to keep NATO's summons secret from their employer was dispelled when he heard the Earl's voice in the background. "Who is that you've been on the phone with all this time, Bonham?" Eroica's lilting voice inquired.
Bonham answered, a little quieter as he spoke away from the receiver. "It's Uncle NATO, me lord. Has a job for you."
"I told you, I'm not working for NATO anymore." Eroica's voice was exasperated.
"He's asking me to put you on the line, me lord. He's being most insistent."
The Earl made a sound of irritation. "So be more insistent than he is. The answer is no." There followed the sound of a door closing.
"You heard, Major?" Bonham asked, faintly apologetic.
The Major stared at the phone as if he had never seen one before. Since when did that English pervert miss a chance to get tangled up in the serious business of NATO missions if it meant he could pester the Major? And on the rare occasion that Klaus called Castle Gloria himself with a mission instead of foisting the duty onto one of his subordinates, no matter who answered the phone, it was never long before Eroica was cooing into it. "Why?" was all Klaus could say.
"He declined to say, Major. We got the distinct impression he didn't want to discuss you." Bonham's voice sounded on the smug side.
Klaus hung up irritably. "Hire Simon Templar for the job," he ordered A. He sat scowling at nothing for a minute before the likely answer presented itself to him. "B! Find out if any rare art treasures of the kind that idiot likes are going to be exhibited or auctioned or transported on the date of our mission."
A few hours later B had a few possibilities, but all of them seemed remote. None of the artworks seemed flashy enough to catch the Earl's attention. The Major had B call the people in charge of each of them and warn them to increase their security, and finally saw no choice but to assign someone to keep an eye on the Eroica gang during that time. They had to be up to something. The Major hoped it was nothing worse than stealing some damn painting. Surely only an especially flashy art prize could make Eroica give up a chance to be around him.
But on the date of the mission the Earl of Gloria was at home, along with his team.
Six months later, Eroica was still steadfastly refusing all the assignments the Chief kept insisting Klaus offer him, and for his own part, Klaus was wasting entirely too much time trying to figure out why.
"Are you sure this is going to work?" Dorian asked Keegan for the hundredth time, his knuckles white around the phone's receiver. Keegan had long since returned to America, but the two discussed their plans by phone every couple of weeks.
“Look, he’s rejected you plenty of times before, right? How long is it usually before you’re buzzing around him again?”
“As short a time as possible,” Dorian admitted.
“So you’ve been rewarding him for rejecting you. You‘ve been giving him everything he could possibly want from you without getting anything in return. The only thing he hasn‘t had from you is sex, and he‘s willing to do without that.”
“But I’m not sure he’ll get it. He didn’t really say anything he hasn’t before; why should it be affecting me more this time?”
“That’s why you have to avoid him so thoroughly now, and why you’ll have to say the things we talked about when he finally comes after you. Maybe he didn’t say anything worse than usual this time, but the point is that now he’s going to have to act differently to keep you around.”
Dorian said nothing. He still vacillated between being certain that Klaus was every bit as much in love with him as he was with Klaus, and being certain that Klaus would hardly notice he was gone.
"I can't believe you never tried playing hard-to-get with him before,” Keegan‘s voice interrupted his reverie. “That's the oldest trick in the book."
"But he'd be relieved to be rid of me! He hasn't gotten it through his iron skull that he needs me!"
"Maybe he'd have been relieved if you'd removed the temptation a few years ago. Now, however, he's gotten used to having you around. He takes you for granted, and suddenly you're not there. His little finger's going to get cold without you around it."
"You had better be right," Dorian warned.
Keegan made a small sound of exasperation. "If you play my strategy out and it doesn't work, you can always go back to your old method, you know," he pointed out. "That was working great for you, wasn't it?"
"We really should have sent more soldiers over to keep our colonies," Dorian muttered.
"Still sore over that whole 1776 thing, huh?" Keegan teased.
"Colonial," Dorian retorted, smiling in spite of himself.
"Redcoat," Keegan replied. "Remember, I want you to get him as much as you do."
"No, because I want my payment."
"You can't possibly want that as much as I want the Major."
"Have it your way," Keegan said amiably, his tone making it clear that he didn't agree.
"Why do you want that blasted thing, anyway?"
"I have my reasons. Hey, did you see in the papers this week? The crime rate over here is finally starting to really decline."
"Good show," Dorian said. "What has that to do with the price of tea in China?"
Keegan laughed. "Not much. I'm just psyched about it."
"You've just taken too much grape seed extract and eye of newt."
This made Keegan laugh again, and he reassured Dorian a couple more times before they hung up.
The Major waited until a mission forced him to go to London before dropping in on the Earl to interrogate him. The matter wasn't important enough to warrant a special trip. It wasn't. He waited until he just happened to be in the same town, and then he showed up at the Earl's London home and scared the servants into admitting him. He let it be known in no uncertain terms that he would not leave until he had spoken to Lord Gloria.
Lord Gloria kept him waiting for several minutes before finally walking slowly into the parlor, looking subdued. He did not speak, smile or offer the Major a drink; instead he just leaned against the wall, arms folded, and waited.
Klaus rose as the other man entered and began without preamble. "What the hell has gotten into you? Why are you acting like this after fucking stalking me for all these years?"
Dorian drew a deep breath, breaking eye contact as if answering the question were a tedious chore. "If I tell you, will you promise to go away and leave me alone?"
Klaus could only stare, mouth open, at this pronouncement. Several seconds passed before he recovered sufficiently from the shock to bark, "Of course I will! Now answer the question, idiot!"
Dorian sighed deeply, his eyes filling with tears. Keegan had coached him on what to say, but nonetheless, it wasn't an act. In fact, usually the act was just the reverse, pretending that Klaus’s rejections didn’t hurt him. Now for a change he was letting it show. He looked out the window, trying to blink them away. "Major… you knew perfectly well how I felt about you. You knew I was in love with you. You knew the desperation that drove me to try those stupid tricks on you. You knew how much it would hurt me if you rejected me the way you did. But you did it."
"All I did was–"
"It wouldn't have killed you to let me down just a little bit easily. You didn't have to humiliate me, it hurt enough that I failed. If you could do something that heartless to someone, especially someone you knew loved you… well, I'm better off without you in my life." Dorian swallowed.
"I am not heartless!" Klaus exclaimed. A heavy silence fell. Dorian wondered if Klaus realized that he had just "qualified" himself to Dorian.
"You promised you'd go away," Dorian said dully.
"Just one more question. Does this mean you… finally had the sense to… stop…."
Dorian made a gesture of frustration. "No, Major, I haven't stopped loving you. Not yet. You don't get over these things overnight." He looked back at him. "Is that all?"
For a moment, the Major didn't know what to say. "Ehm. Yes, that's all."
He was about to say something about how busy he was and how he had to get back to his mission, but the Earl was already out of the room. "Show the Major out," he ordered the nearest servant, but Klaus didn't wait for the escort. He left at once, and returned to his mission, and didn't think about the Earl at all until that night, when he had no more work to distract him.
He had drunk too much Nescafé. That was why he couldn't sleep. It had to be.
"I was hoping he would pounce on me on the spot," Dorian admitted to Keegan on the phone, almost as soon as the front door had closed behind the Major.
"So was I, but I didn't really think he would. If he weren't an unusual case, he would've given in long ago. His Catholic training has a lot to do with it, I'm sure; he spent his formative years surrounded by people who had renounced sex. He has decades of programming for resisting temptation. It seems normal to him."
"God bless good King Henry," Dorian muttered.
"And you inadvertently reinforced the programming. He kept abstaining and rejecting you and you kept on hanging around, working for him and bolstering his ego without getting anything in return. You have to make people work for their ego boosts. My hypnotherapist told me that he started out charging only fifty dollars an hour, figuring he would get ahead with competitive pricing. He didn't get many clients, and the ones he got didn't get the results they wanted. He tripled his price and was suddenly getting more business, plus his clients would quit smoking or whatever after only one session, because they had invested too much not to let it work. People never value what they don't have to pay for."
Dorian was mostly used to Keegan's perspective by now, but sometimes it was troubling. "To hear you talk, all human behavior – who we love and hate and are loyal to – is determined by evolutionary urges for survival and the quirks of our neurology. That seems an awfully bleak view of the human race."
"I think it's less bleak than assuming that people really do understand what's in each other's hearts, and therefore a lonely person must either be spiritually defective or else those who refuse him companionship must be fundamentally cruel."
"Perhaps so," Dorian conceded. "In any case, now I'm starting to worry about how I'll hold on to him once I've gotten him."
"Long-term relationships aren't my area of expertise," Keegan admitted. "I've only had one, and it was a disaster. But your problem is getting it started, and that I can help you do. Once you've gotten him between the sheets, you're on your own."
Dorian smiled. "I think I can handle that."
"But once you get him there, I think he'll probably stay unless you really screw up. He has a lot invested."
"Invested indeed. We're talking about true love, not Wall Street!"
"That reminds me – not directly, but it does – both Coke and Pepsi are going to stop using high fructose corn syrup and are going back to real sugar!"
"What? Is this one of those nutrition things you're always on about?"
"Yep. It's the best news I heard since last week when they announced the GDP for last quarter," he said cheerfully.
"Yes, yes, things are going well for the luckiest country in the world," Dorian said impatiently. "One would think you were personally responsible."
"True. America never would've amounted to anything without England. Even if you lot are descended from our thieves and prostitutes."
Keegan laughed. "Actually, my ancestors came here after fighting on the Royalist side in the English Civil War and losing."
"I knew you weren't so bad for a colonial," Dorian teased. "I'll tell you when he calls."
"Good luck. It won't be much longer now."
There were some jobs for which only Eroica would do.
The Major had been expecting that eventually such a job would cross his desk. For several months, it hadn't, and NATO's staff security specialists were able to handle the locks and alarm systems Klaus and his team had to get through.
But the day came, of course. There was a safe they absolutely had to get into, in a building with a state-of-the-art alarm system. The Major knew it was beyond the capabilities of all of the professional thieves with whom NATO had a working relationship… except one.
Eroica wasn't the only thief in the world who could do this, but he was the only one NATO could trust not to sell the documents to the enemy instead, if the enemy offered more money.
"Can you get Eroica to come back to work for us?" the Chief asked as they reviewed the mission together.
Klaus scowled at the folder he was flipping through. "I think I can find a way to prevail upon him. I may have to pull a few strings, however."
The Chief spoke with great casualness, his eyes intent upon the documents. "I am certain you can see that it is of vital importance that NATO's working relationship with Eroica be resumed," he said, too evenly. "I authorize you to use… whatever means you find necessary, Major."
The Major's stomach knotted. The old reprobate. How dare he assure him that it was all right if he… Klaus wasn't even going to put it into words.
"I don't think the means will have to be very extreme," he said coolly. "Unless you consider getting a criminal out of jail to be extreme."
The Chief looked at him, startled. "Jail? Since when is Eroica in jail?"
"Since two days from now." The Major allowed himself a little smile. He had been waiting for this opportunity.
After all, there were some jobs for which only Eroica would do.
Dorian wasn't quite certain how, but he was sure this was all Keegan's fault.
Sitting in the utterly unaesthetic Interpol cell, he went over the heist again, in minute detail, as he had a hundred times already. Somewhere in his plan, there must have been a flaw, or he wouldn't have been caught. Where the chink was, however, he still hadn't figured out. Maybe, he thought bitterly, there really was a curse on whoever owned the Hope.
Missing Klaus must be affecting his judgment. That had to be it. He'd lost his edge. At least before, he'd been able to see his true love, ogle him, hope that this would be the day. About now, he felt like he would give anything to see the Major snarl at him, to hear him call him a limey pervert.
A guard unlocked the door. "Visitor," he grumbled.
"Who?" Dorian asked. The guard only shrugged. Dorian got up and followed the man down the dreary halls. It was probably his lawyer. Or one of Eroica's men.
It was Agent Z, sitting at a battered and none too clean table in a room with a two-way mirror. Dorian glanced at the mirror suspiciously before striking a fetching pose.
"Z! What's a nice German boy like you doing in a place like this?" Dorian asked, fluttering his lashes. Z certainly was very cute. If Dorian had met him before falling for the machine maniac, things would have happened.
Z drew a deep breath and squared his shoulders. "Lord Gloria, I have been instructed to inform you that NATO is willing to help you out of your current difficulty, by claiming you were working for us when you were arrested. In exchange for your services, of course."
"NATO will get me out of jail, where I've been put for stealing, if I'll steal things for them?"
"Yes, my lord."
Being locked up was intolerable to Dorian. He wanted to jump at the offer and babble his thanks.
He leaned back, standing against the wall with his arms loosely folded. "Surely you can hire some other thief."
Z looked at the tabletop. "The Major wanted to. But when we found out what kind of alarm system the target has, the Chief decided hiring anyone but the best would be too risky, so he ordered the Major to hire you."
Dorian let the silence stretch before he answered. "If the Eternal Major wants me to work for him again, he can bloody well ask me himself." With that, he strolled back to the door and knocked for the guard to come and return him to his cell.
If Keegan isn't right about this, I'll hunt him down, he thought as he was locked back in. Of course, if Keegan wasn't right, Dorian probably wouldn't get out of here until he was seventy, but he would still hunt him down.
A harrowing hour later, he was summoned to the drab grey room again. This time it was the Major, looking as if he would like to strangle someone. Dorian decided not to guess who that someone might be.
"You can work for NATO or you can rot in jail," Klaus snapped. "Take your pick."
"Well, since you asked so nicely." Dorian paused. "But how many NATO missions am I going to have to accept to pay off this debt?"
Klaus scowled. "You were happy enough to work for NATO before."
"Exactly. Before. And you were always eager to be rid of me."
"What I want is irrelevant." Dorian thought about making a Borg joke, but Klaus probably wouldn't get it. "The unfortunate fact is, regardless of what I want, NATO needs your skills." Unfriendly green eyes scrutinized him. "Well?"
Dorian spread his hands. "I am hardly in a position to negotiate," he conceded, even though he had already done just that.
Klaus snorted. "So you have some sense."
Dorian sighed as if very weary. "Major, you have already made it crystal clear that you think that I am an idiot, a sick pervert, a potential rapist, and an effeminate fop. I get it. You despise me. Can we take that as read, or do you enjoy reminding me so very much?"
The Major was staring at him, startled. After a minute, he muttered, "Idiot," in an automatic way, stood up, and left the room.
Dorian didn't take that one personally. For Klaus, "idiot" was the equivalent of "aloha".
Shortly afterwards Dorian was sprung and on his way back to Castle Gloria – with instructions to report to Bonn with his team and his equipment the very next day. He recovered from his five-hour ordeal with champagne, caviar, and a long soak in the hot tub, interrupted only by James, who was put out about Eroica's having gone to prison without him. Dorian suspected this line of thought was going to lead to trouble in time and resolved to do something or other about James, just what he hadn't figured out yet. He called Keegan, but Keegan was out of town on assignment, so Dorian was left to brood alone on his satin sheets about how getting arrested was going to affect his campaign with Klaus. Surely the fact that he had slipped up enough to get caught wouldn't make a good impression on his Major. But then, years of seeing him as the unstoppable Prince of Thieves hadn't separated the Major from his crisply pressed trousers. Maybe a change would be a good thing. Dorian stayed awake far too late fretting about this before irritably ordering himself to keep his eye on the larger plan and get some sleep.
The next morning found them in the zeppelin on the way to Bonn, and no sooner had they gotten there than they were all hustled aboard a chartered plane to Athens, being debriefed by a pack of harried alphabets. The alphabets had quickly noticed the change in Eroica's behavior, and of course had noticed that the Earl hadn't been around in months, and all of them had that Damocles look. None of them were sure what was going on, but the only thing that worried them more than the usual was the unusual.
"There've been some suspicious activities on one of the islands between Greece and Turkey," A explained.
"Which island?" Dorian asked, looking at a map.
A looked at the Major, who said, "I'll tell you that when we get there. Right now all you have to know is that it is Greek soil, and what kind of security system you're going to have to get through once we're there."
If only Dorian had had more time, he would have bought a chiton and reread The Iliad, particularly the bits about Achilles and Patroclus. Ah, well. He accepted the folder A gave him and looked over the information about the security system. His spirits rose a bit as he read it over; unlike many of the jobs NATO had given him, this one looked to be a challenge.
"Can you handle it?" the Major demanded as Dorian closed the folder.
Dorian didn't bother with his usual flirtatious boasting. Instead he scowled at his one true love. "You know perfectly well that I can or you wouldn't have gone to the trouble of springing me."
"True," Klaus conceded.
Dorian started to widen his eyes and coo, Why, Major! Was that a compliment? but restrained himself. No flirting, he reminded himself sternly. He remained silent. Klaus looked at him for a moment before finding something to berate Z about.
"You and I will take the motorboat there," Klaus announced the next morning. "That way we'll arrive late, under cover of night. Our teams will take a plane and be there to back us up. Get your gear – only what you need – and make it snappy."
Making it snappy was no trouble, since the essential gear was all packed in one duffel bag. Dorian stowed it and climbed aboard, where he perched fetchingly in the bow while Klaus gave last-minute orders to the alphabets.
Unfortunately, this gave Dorian several long minutes to fret about his still-unsuccessful courtship. Klaus had not said or done anything to indicate that things had changed. Then again, Klaus was hardly going to get mushy or "foppish"; his idea of an overture would probably be to order, "Take off your clothes this instant, you idiot." He wasn't likely to flirt the way other men would, and Dorian felt certain the man wouldn't make advances of any kind except in privacy.
Maybe Klaus was planning to say something on the trip. Dorian found himself nervous as a schoolboy. It was more frustrating than he had ever expected, being around Klaus and not being able to flirt. And what if – horrible thought – what if he were wrong? What if Klaus really didn't want him after all?
Klaus climbed on board and plunked himself at the controls. "Get back here," he ordered.
Dorian stifled the flirtatious response he normally would have made and obeyed in silence. The response was a suspicious look. ”Why are you so quiet?" the Major demanded as he fired up the engine.
"I thought you'd be glad if I stopped flirting," Dorian said, trying to sound weary. He didn't want to lay it on too thick.
"It's not normal for you to be quiet. You're giving me the creeps."
"You claim I've always given you the creeps," Dorian pointed out. Then it occurred to him that this might be a good moment to change tactics a bit. He made his tone more polite, conversational. "Very well, what shall we talk about? The weather? Different sorts of boats? Baseball?"
"You follow baseball?"
"Of course not. That was a joke. I suppose you're a football hooligan."
Dorian drew one knee up and clasped it in his hands. "I never did care for sports. My own competitive urge is less violent. I bet you were the star of the team in school, though."
"Yes," Klaus affirmed without false modesty. When Dorian regarded him attentively, he unbent enough to talk about his sporting days a bit. Apparently warming to the subject, he told a story of a brawl he'd gotten in with the star of a rival school's team. "Schwartz ended up with three cracked ribs," he finished proudly.
Dorian had spent his adolescence carefully avoiding the sort of bloke who played football and got into fights like that, and now he was breaking into the Smithsonian to seduce one of them. He mused on the irony of this for a moment before remarking dryly, "I suppose the world is lucky that you decided to use this power for good."
This earned him a sharp glance. "Of course I did. What do you think I am?"
Dorian decided it might be best not to try to answer that.
Klaus glanced at his watch. "Go below and bring up the manila envelope I left down there. I need to check something," he ordered.
Dorian went down without comment, but when he turned on the light, he saw something that gave him pause.
"Major?" he called up. "What is this alarming looking device, pray tell?"
"Behind the table."
Klaus made an exasperated sound. "Get back up here."
When Dorian reached him, Klaus curtly gestured for him to take over the controls and went below himself. He was back up only a moment later. After a rapid glance at the charts, he pointed.
"You see that little island?"
Dorian looked. It appeared to be about thirty yards long, a strip of sand and rock with a few palm trees and such on it. "Yes."
"We're swimming there."
Klaus spoke rapidly. "That thing is a bomb someone planted. It's welded down so I can't chuck it overboard, and it's too complicated to be defused in the time we have. Damn good thing you saw it. Let's go!" Klaus added, yanking Dorian's arm impatiently.
Dorian hurried to the side of the boat with Klaus and they dove in unison. They headed for the island with deliberate strokes.
They were halfway there when the boat exploded.
Dorian couldn't help glancing back briefly, but did not pause; he was a strong swimmer, but keeping pace with Klaus wasn't easy. In a few minutes they were on the beach, catching their breath.
"How do we get back to civilization?" Dorian asked after a few minutes of rest. He wasn't really that worried. It was impossible to be really scared with Klaus around, except of Klaus himself. Dorian knew in his bones that the Major could handle anything, especially with Eroica to help him.
Klaus frowned. "The heat from the explosion will show up on the satellite photos. When we don't show up where we're expected, NATO will put two and two together and come to see if we've survived."
"Are you sure?"
"I trained the alphabet myself. I know what they'll do. Now let's see if we can find some provisions of some kind."
They were in luck, considering the situation; there was a pool of rainwater in a nook of the rocks. Klaus tasted it cautiously. "Seems all right. Hydrate yourself; I'm going to see if there's anything edible around here."
Dorian stepped to the pool and crouched beside it. "Do you have your gun, Major?"
"Yes. I‘ll have to take it apart and dry it and clean it, though. Why?"
"Just wanted to make sure."
Klaus stopped and looked back at him, something that might have been suspicion in his eyes. "Were you planning on making a pass if I didn't?"
Dorian was taken aback. "I'm not going to make any more passes at you, Major. You humiliated me enough that it stuck last time. I was merely inquiring in case dubious people showed up and we needed you to shoot them."
The Major kept looking at him for a moment. "You really aren't going to make any more passes?"
Dorian made himself look down at the water. "I'm really not."
"So you've gotten over me." The Major's voice was just a little rough.
Dorian did not meet his gaze. "I'm hoping that I will. Eventually."
The silence stretched and became tense. Dorian cupped his hands, leaned over the water, and drank, not daring to look at Klaus.
After a minute, Klaus turned and started searching the island.
In relative privacy, Dorian found that his hands were shaking – not with fatigue. He would have given two Hope Diamonds to be able to talk over what had just happened with Keegan. But he also felt certain that he was now closer than he had ever been to success with the love of his life. If only he could keep controlling himself. Controlling himself on a beautiful desert island with no other human beings for miles.
The Major returned. Dorian moved back so that the other man could drink.
"We're in luck," the Major said cheerfully. "If we're here for a few days we can contrive some way of fishing or catching seagulls, but there's an oyster bed on the north side of the island. I gathered several for supper." With that, he bent over and started drinking.
"Lovely," Dorian said faintly.
Dorian wondered if Klaus even knew about the side effects of oysters. Certainly the man had to have eaten them before; he built a fire at sunset out of dry palm fronds and cooked them in the shell like an old hand, dragging them out with a stick when they popped open, in between rubbing at the bits of his disassembled Magnum. Possibly his sex drive was so repressed that he was immune.
"They're cool enough to eat now," Klaus announced, as unconcerned as if an alphabet had just brought them coffee and sandwiches back in the Bonn office.
Dorian hesitated. "I'm not very hungry," he said.
"Don't be an idiot," Klaus instructed. "When you're on a mission, you eat when you can, not when you want to."
"I'd... rather not."
"Stop arguing and eat," Klaus ordered.
Dorian gave up and reached for one.
Half an hour later, he was feeling the effects. Casting a furtive glance at Klaus, he wondered if that closed expression and faintly flushed face meant that he was feeling them too.
"Too bad we don't have anything to drink," Klaus said abruptly.
"There's still plenty of water."
"I meant anything alcoholic."
"Why is the rum gone?" Dorian asked. Klaus shot him a puzzled look, and Dorian said, "Pop culture reference. Never mind."
Klaus kept looking at him. If Dorian hadn't known better, he'd have thought the look was expectant.
"What?" Dorian asked at last.
Klaus seemed to turn his answer over in his mind for a long time. "I got used to having you around," he said at last, very slowly.
It was a golden flirting opportunity. Dorian gritted his teeth. "You never seemed used to it," he said instead.
"Will you resume working for NATO now?"
"I thought NATO was holding the threat of arrest over my head to force me to."
Klaus shook his head. "This job will discharge your debt. But I would... it would be useful to be able to call on your services at times."
Dorian sighed, looking away. "Major, don't play dumb. You know why I would rather not do that."
From the corner of his eye, he could see Klaus frowning. "Ehm," Klaus said after a while. "Ehm," he added. "I did not intend to... to...."
Dorian looked at him.
Klaus swallowed and squared his shoulders. "I did not realize I was... injuring you enough to drive you away for good. I apologize."
Dorian's eyes widened. Those last two words had surprised him more than an impromptu striptease would have.
"It's just as well," Dorian said after a while. "I should have taken the hint sooner."
Klaus frowned again. "So you still intend to stay away."
Dorian looked into the dying fire. "Yes, Major. Even I give up on a lost cause eventually."
It was a long time before Klaus said, very quietly, "What if...."
Dorian held his breath, not moving.
Klaus swallowed audibly, also staring at the fire. "What if it weren't?"
Dorian looked at him. "Don't tease me, Major. It's cruel."
Klaus's hands closed into fists. "I am not cruel."
Dorian's heart pounded rapidly. "Major," he whispered, trying to keep hope out of his voice, out of his heart, "what are you saying?"
Klaus shot him a guarded look, and a second later was beside him, strong arms enfolding Dorian in a clumsy embrace. Dorian caught his breath and clutched Klaus's shoulders.
"I'm a coward," Klaus confessed hoarsely, his face hidden in Dorian's hair.
"That's ridiculous. You're not afraid of anything."
"I'm afraid of this," he insisted. "I know you don't understand that, but I am. You'll have to – that is–"
Dorian moved back a bit. He raised a shaking hand and put a finger on Klaus's lips, silencing him. "Major... my love. Are you sure about this? Because once we begin, I couldn't bear it if–"
"I'm sure," Klaus said roughly, and forestalled further discussion with an inexpert kiss.
After so many years of waiting, not to mention a meal of oysters, Dorian wanted to tear his beloved’s clothes off and get right down to brass tacks. But if Iron Klaus was willing to admit that something scared him, he had to mean it. Dorian reined himself in and savored a leisurely exploration of Klaus’s mouth, and felt the response of Klaus’s lips and tongue become less clumsy after a few kisses. He ran his fingers through Klaus’s hair, lightly stroked his shoulders and back, letting him become accustomed to being touched. When Klaus’s hands finally began to roam, they seemed tentative, as if he didn’t really believe it was all right to touch Dorian. Dorian melted happily into the caresses and Klaus became more confident.
At last Klaus moved back, and Dorian almost climaxed at the mere sight of that much need and hunger in Klaus’s eyes. “Dorian – I want–”
“What?” Dorian breathed, pressing as close as he could.
“I, I don’t know,” Klaus stammered. “I don’t know how to do any of this. But you, you can show me–”
Dorian moved to straddle Klaus’s lap and started nuzzling his neck. Klaus closed his eyes and groaned, and Dorian felt the man’s body relax at last, the instinctive yielding to an accepted lover. Dorian shivered with joy.
“Then, you’ll let me…?” he whispered, as he started unbuttoning Klaus’s shirt.
“Oh, yes,” Klaus sighed, and with sudden confidence – or perhaps it was merely impatience – began undressing Dorian in return.
Some time later, Dorian thought drowsily, It seems Mr. Keegan is getting his diamond.
They woke at dawn. Klaus, the trained soldier, had had no trouble falling asleep on the ground. At least he hadn't minded Dorian using him for a pillow. They had put their clothes back on to keep a little of the sand off them, and because the night wind was chilly, and Dorian had gone to sleep with a contented smile. The gambit had worked, and the Major was his at last.
Still, sleeping on the ground was not his cup of tea. Unable to suppress a groan as he sat up, he tried to stretch the stiffness away. The Major, blast him, stood up, stretched briskly, and went at once to the pool for some water. Dorian followed groggily, trying to do something with his hair. No conditioner, a night in the sea air, and now no hairbrush – he didn't even want to think about what it must look like. Klaus didn't seem to mind, only gave him an amused look as he fussed with it.
His thirst slaked, Klaus started to move away. "I'll get–" Dorian cut him off by the simple expedient of kissing him. Klaus tensed at first, still unaccustomed to being touched, but then put his arms around Dorian and kissed back. Oh, this was worth a dozen Hope Diamonds.
"I'll get breakfast," Klaus finished when Dorian let him.
"Oh, dear. More oysters." Dorian grinned. "I just hope we don't get rescued before we're done working out their effects."
Klaus looked embarrassed, but assured him, "We won't be retrieved until late afternoon."
"How do you know?"
"Ehm. That's how long it will take them to realize we're lost, deduce where we probably are, and get here."
"Ah." Dorian smiled at his beloved's faith in his subordinates as he leaned over the pool to drink. It was almost a shame; aside from the lack of a proper bed or any K-Y Jelly, it wasn't unpleasant to be sharing a beautiful island, limitless privacy, and a plentiful supply of aphrodisiacs with the love of his life.
"Get the fire going after you drink," Klaus ordered as he headed for the other end of the little island.
While Dorian was piling new palm fronds onto the embers, he glanced up. Klaus was on the far end of the island, mucking about under the palm trees. Dorian idly wondered what he was up to there, but it wasn't until the fire was blazing and Klaus was in the water getting oysters that it dawned on him that it was actually very strange for Klaus to have been loitering around the palm trees.
He strolled over to them and examined the ground. One patch of sand looked as if it had been disturbed. Dorian knelt and started digging.
"Eroica!" the Major yelled sharply after a minute. "Get away from there this instant!"
But it was too late. Dorian had already unearthed the radio.
A brand new radio, of German manufacture, of the sort he had seen Klaus using on many occasions to contact Headquarters.
Dorian turned over the radio incredulously. Then he looked up. Klaus had come running when he realized what Dorian was up to, and was now standing awkwardly, unspeaking.
"You had this all the time?" Dorian demanded.
Klaus blanched. He parted his lips, but couldn’t seem to come up with anything to say.
"Wait a minute. We jumped overboard with only the clothes on our backs. You couldn't have been concealing this."
"Ehm," Klaus said, unhelpfully.
Dorian sat back on his heels and stared at his new lover. "You... you planted this here!"
Klaus had that deer-in-the-headlights look Dorian had seen a few times when his seduction attempts had come too close to success.
"You – you planned this! You planted that bomb yourself! And, and – you checked your watch right before you sent me down below. You knew when it was going to explode!"
"Not really," Klaus said. "It wasn't set. When I knew we were near this island I sent you down, and when I went down to see – to pretend to see what it was, that was when I set it to explode in five minutes."
Dorian's mouth was hanging open. "So you found this island in advance and planted the radio there, and.... Oh, my God. Please don't tell me you had me arrested."
Now Klaus was flushing. He didn't say anything, but his red face said it all.
"It was you! You tipped off Interpol! I knew I hadn't made a mistake! You orchestrated this entire thing!"
Klaus nodded slowly, apprehensive.
Klaus swallowed. "To get you alone. With me."
"Calling in favors from top government agencies and locating a desert island surrounded by oyster beds was easier than just telling me you wanted to go to bed with me?"
Klaus looked at him like that was a stupid question. "Of course it was."
"You didn't find that just a bit excessive?"
"Well, the idea of the oyster beds was, I hoped they would inspire you to make a pass so that…."
"Go on," Dorian demanded. "I want you to finish that sentence."
"I wanted you to make a pass so that I could give in to it," Klaus managed.
"Is there even a mission in Greece?"
"Of course there is! There are some things even I can't fake." His eyes shifted. "I can't blame you for being angry," he got out.
Dorian dropped the radio and stood up. He put his arms around the other man, and was rewarded by the clear relief in Klaus's eyes. "My love," Dorian said gravely, "in the future, when you want something, just ask for it. Or if that's really so difficult, try hinting broadly. You can get whatever you want from me without putting me in jail. No guns, either," he added sharply.
Klaus was looking at him nervously. "Really?"
"Then I want my tank back."
Blast. Dorian hadn't ever intended to return the Leopard, but this was clearly a time for positive reinforcement. He sighed. "As soon as we get back to civilization, I'll arrange to have it delivered to you." Maybe he could add a condition later, like that Klaus have sex with him inside the tank before he could have it back.
Klaus's hands were straying, almost of their own accord, it seemed. He cleared his throat. "Ehm, how hungry are you?"
The blond smiled. "I wouldn't mind waiting a little longer for breakfast."
"Good." Klaus bore him down to the sand and kissed him. Beside the silent radio, beneath the palm trees, the lovers tangled themselves together.
"I told you it would work," Keegan said smugly a week later.
He had elected to meet Dorian on a transatlantic cruise ship. Klaus was on a mission in some dreary place and there was no need for Eroica's skills, so they had reluctantly agreed to be parted until Klaus returned to Bonn. Dorian had all sorts of plans for their reunion – they were going to be apart for an entire eight days, God help them.
So now he was standing on the deserted deck well after midnight, wishing that it were a different man admiring the full moon above them with him. Keegan, of course, had been going through the bored women on the cruise ship like a hot knife through butter. They had intended to have their meeting the previous night, but Keegan hadn't shown, and having seen the redhead Keegan had been casually snubbing earlier that evening, Dorian wasn't surprised.
"Now that you've got him," Keegan went on, "is he what you wanted?"
"Oh, yes." Dorian couldn't conceal his catlike smile as he thought about that. Between the sheets, Klaus was what he had expected in some ways – astonished at how much pleasure the human body was capable of experiencing, and in how many different ways – uncertain of what to do, but already applying his usual diligence to learning to be the best lay on the planet. He hadn't anticipated that his chaste Major would show such a wide range so quickly, that he would move so swiftly from uncertain to demanding and passionate to heartbreakingly gentle and tender to, on occasion, masterful, and then back again. To think that this passion had almost gone untapped. It would have been a crime… and not the sort he enjoyed committing.
Keegan was smiling at him. "I'm happy for you," he said, and sounded as if he really meant it.
Without making him ask, Dorian handed over a small, rather heavy box.
Keegan glanced around before taking it and opening it. He held the gem up to the light. "This is really it? The Hope Diamond?"
"I keep my word," Dorian reproved mildly. "I am a gentleman, you know."
Keegan gave a quick, breathy laugh. "I'm sorry, just... this is so very important to me."
"Why? Now are you going to tell me why you want this thing?"
With a beatific smile, Keegan took the diamond out of the box, and then, with a practiced motion demonstrating baseball games somewhere in his past, threw the large diamond overboard. It glittered in a high arc and hit the water several yards away from the deck, and promptly sank into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean.
"I say!" Dorian gasped, horrified.
"It's the legal property of the United States, via the Smithsonian," Keegan explained. "I thought about giving it to our enemies, but eventually it would have shown up and been returned."
Dorian had gone to the railing to look at the spot where the Hope had disappeared in dismay. Such a beautiful, irreplaceable stone. "You believe in the curse," he said slowly, comprehending.
"Think about it. That blasted thing was put in the Smithsonian in 1958. Before that, we never lost a war, we had a low crime rate, we ate food instead of chemicals, we–"
"You know it's not as simple as that. You also had segregation then, which meant a lot of unreported racial crimes, and there was the Depression and–"
"The pre-Hope problems were qualitatively different," Keegan insisted calmly. He opened his mouth to explain further, but Dorian cut him off, sure the explanation was going to be very boring and no less deranged. He'd known the Yank was off his head, he just hadn't known how much.
"And you really think the Hope was behind it?" Dorian should have known better than to give in to the demands of a lunatic, even a smart, generous lunatic like Keegan. He should have given him a fake; the man would never have known the difference. "That's a lot of rot. Legends like that spring up around fabulous gemstones and things because people with that much money tend to have tragic lives, what with the gold diggers who inevitably come 'round."
"The months since you stole it have been an experiment proving that the curse was real. You took it away from America, and you've read the good news in the papers since you did: the economy, the crime rate, the–"
"Oh, bother." Dorian turned; he didn't want to hear more. "Stick to what you know, like seducing women, eh?"
He could hear the radiant smile in Keegan's voice. "Oh, I will. After what I've done for my country tonight, I think I deserve a reward."
"Seems I have one more bone to pick with Cromwell," Dorian muttered to himself as he headed for his cabin.
The next morning, the newspaper that came with his coffee announced that the American literacy rate had increased by 5%.
He stared at the article for a long time before throwing the paper away. He had been spending far too much time with crazy colonials if he was even thinking this.
It was time to rejoin his crazy German.
Author's Notes: This fic was inspired by a book I read this winter: The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss. It's a fascinating and hilarious read and well worth the embarrassment of taking it to the cash register or library checkout desk.
The Mood Cure is also a real book, one I highly recommend to anyone with anxiety or depression.
Thank you to Heather Sparrows for introducing me to the wonderful phrase "Witz, komm raus, Du bist umzingelt!"
There really are people who believe that the Hope Diamond is The Cause Of It All.
And in case anyone isn't sure, when Klaus and Dorian started discussing football, of course they meant soccer.