The Major was having a bad day.
Most of the time, a bad day for the Major meant one when his father visited and scrutinized Schloss Eberbach as if expecting to find that his wayward son had started replacing the ancient stones of the walls with fiberglass imitations. Or when he had to see that namby-pamby doctor for his routine physical and listen to yet another graphic account of what his cigarettes were eventually going to do to him – oddly, the doctor never advised him to avoid idiots because of the negative effects they had on his health. Or when some vital piece of intel fell into greedy Soviet hands. Or when certain verdammt thieves who would remain nameless crossed his path and started stealing things.
If only he had one of those problems today.
“I’m sure I don’t have to point out to you the vital nature of your experience, Major,” the Chief said. “So you understand that it is absolutely essential that you answer all of our questions fully.”
Klaus sighed. “Yes, sir.” He would have preferred to turn in a written report, but instead – due to the “vital nature” – he was being compelled to make his report in person to the Chief and three other superior officers. Klaus preferred to be the ranking officer present. Being called on the carpet by his own superiors was… unpleasant.
Especially when it happened a mere four hours after the worst ordeal of his career to date.
“The doctors assure us that the effects have worn off by now,” Colonel Mueller said.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have waited,” the Chief joked. The others smiled briefly. Klaus didn’t.
“Major, why don’t you begin with the moment Mischa and his henchmen captured you and Eroica.”
Klaus sighed again. “Yes, sir,” he agreed.
As usual, hiring Eroica hadn’t been his idea. But since when did anyone ever listen to him? Anyone not under his command, that was. Idiots.
But it had been a routine job, he was standing guard while Eroica cracked the safe, until Mischa and five of his goons had crashed in. Someone had sold them out. The Major had his suspicions about who, and their posteriors would be nailed to the wall by the end of the day if he had anything to say about it.
Of course, his own was probably going to join them.
“So they overpowered you and took both of you into custody,” the Chief prompted, as Klaus paused to light a cigarette. “Were you injured?”
“Not permanently.” They’d worked him over pretty thoroughly with their fists and he knew he’d have the bruises and the soreness for some time to come, but they’d restrained themselves enough to avoid breaking his bones or causing internal damage.
Have to save something for later.
“Were you conscious when they stopped punching you?” Colonel Mueller asked, and Klaus forced himself not to grimace. One couldn’t rationally be ashamed of having lost a five-to-one fight, but it wasn’t really a rational matter. Fortunately, the other men present were soldiers too. They understood this.
“Yes, sir. Though I wasn’t able to stand on my own.” No way to hide that embarrassing fact either; the goons had taken advantage of his lethargy by strapping him to a chair before he recovered.
“And where was Eroica during this time?”
“One of Mischa’s men hit him a few times to settle him down and then just held onto him. Had his arm around Eroica’s throat. He was much too strong for Eroica to effectively resist.”
Klaus had known better than to tell Mischa, “Let him go! It’s me you want!” like some idiot in a movie. Instead he had avoided looking at the thief. In his peripheral vision he could see the goon tightening the pressure on the Earl’s throat whenever he tried to struggle. With unusual good sense, the Earl had, with evident frustration, stopped fighting after a few attempts. Pity he wasn’t always that sensible about hopeless battles.
His vision had been blurred when they had judged him punch-drunk enough that they could stop the beating. It hadn’t cleared until after they’d had him securely strapped to the chair. He had tried to resist, but the haze of pain had made him clumsy. When it eased, both he and Eroica were helpless.
Their captors had virtually ignored Eroica once he was bound, which only made sense. What did a civilian thief know that would interest them?
Iron Klaus, on the other hand….
Mischa had smiled at Klaus in an almost friendly fashion before nodding to one of his goons. The goon had produced a case and opened it. Mischa had pulled out a syringe, and Klaus had smelled a whiff of something like garlic.
“So you recognized the odor of sodium pentothal,” the Chief nodded.
“It was either that or else they thought I was a vampire,” Klaus muttered.
The Chief was clearly about to make a joke about that, but Lieutenant Colonel Bachmeier cut him off. “When you realized that you were about to be injected with truth serum, Major, what did you do?”
Cursed. Prayed. Kissed my ass goodbye. “I started insulting Mischa,” Klaus replied aloud. “I revealed numerous embarrassing personal details of his life that we’re aware of, in the most insulting way I could devise.”
“And why did you do that?”
“To make him angry. So that when the serum took effect, he would give in to the temptation to ask me embarrassing personal questions instead of vital tactical ones.”
Approving nods all round. Only Director Schlesser looked grave, and Klaus filed that fact away. That he was the only one who seemed to realize just how much of a sacrifice Klaus had made with that move meant he probably had something of his own to hide. Klaus would have to see if he could find out what.
Just because someone was an ally didn’t mean you didn’t need the dirt on him.
“You think we don’t know?” Klaus had yelled at the huge Russian. “We know all about you and Helga. Tits like those should be in the service of the State, commie. To each according to his need! We know about the bribe you accepted in Czechoslovakia from that general. You could have gotten at least half again more, you know. Fucking idiot. We know about your wife and the Commissar – is that how you got your promotion, comrade?”
Mischa hadn’t been able to restrain himself anymore at this. He had controlled himself admirably while Klaus had listed what color underwear his wife wore each day of the week, and the distant cousin who was in jail for petty graft, and the indiscretion that had gotten Mischa suspended from his university. The goons had been agog at the information, and Mischa’s face had grown steadily more mottled with each sentence. But only when Klaus mentioned the Commissar did Mischa stride over and punch him.
While Klaus’s head was still ringing – Mischa had been an Olympic boxer, and Klaus could see why, from personal experience – Mischa snarled, “You will talk when we tell you to talk, kraut.”
Without bothering to make sure his teeth were all still in place, Klaus had continued. “We also know that you cheated on your history exam at university, and that….”
With a sour look, Mischa had jabbed the syringe into Klaus’s shoulder, not gently. It was so sudden that Klaus hadn’t been able to refrain from crying out, but he went on, the pain still in his voice: “We know that when you were spying in Paris you got a set of purple silk pajamas that you wear on the night of your wedding anniversary every year….”
One of the goons snickered aloud. He sobered quickly when Mischa whirled to scowl at him. Klaus found his muscles abruptly relaxing and tried to stoke his own rage. For once in his life, he couldn’t.
“As I felt the effects of the sodium pentathol, I tried to stay alert and I kept insulting Mischa.”
“When did the Russians determine that the serum had taken effect?”
“I believe it was when I started speaking German,” Klaus answered. “I had been speaking Russian before, the better to embarrass Mischa.” Also in hopes that he would continue speaking it when they started questioning him, so that Dorian wouldn’t be able to understand. He knew that if his effort to make this personal worked, it would be for the best if Eroica couldn’t understand it. But it was natural, when one was relaxed, to revert to one’s native language. Klaus made the switch without noticing it.
Eroica could understand every word.
It was an odd sensation, being in the grip of truth serum. It was actually fairly pleasant. The chemical had deeply relaxed his entire body, as well as his mind. His usual anger and tension were simply… gone. It was like drinking three gins in quick succession.
Mischa started asking questions. Naturally, when someone asks a question, it’s inevitable that the answer will leap directly to one’s mind. But somehow the serum did something to shorten the connection between mind and mouth. Klaus was hardly aware that he was saying aloud the things that he was thinking.
“What did he ask about?” Colonel Mueller asked tensely.
“He started with our Warsaw operation,” Klaus said, somber. The others nodded grimly. The Warsaw operation was of such importance that as soon as he and Eroica had been rescued, Klaus had insistently announced, repeatedly, that the KGB now knew all about it. He had kept reiterating this point until someone had been able to assure him, in his muddled state, that the Chief had been notified and was dealing with it.
“We’re already pulling our agents out,” the Chief assured him. Klaus closed his eyes and cursed. The Warsaw operation had taken over a year to put into place. All that work, and it was now useless. Not to mention that the odds were that at least a few of their agents would be caught now.
“One battle, Major. Not the war,” Colonel Mueller reminded him.
“I know, sir.” And he did. Klaus had long since stopped being upset for more than ten minutes when missions failed, when the Soviets got ahold of vital intel, whenever NATO had some horrific setback. After the first dozen disasters of one’s career, disasters lost some of their impact.
However, his ten minutes weren’t up.
“The only bright spot is, Mischa was the only one there who spoke German. Besides Eroica, that is. The others wouldn’t have understood me, and it’ll take him time to debrief them, and he’s on the run right now.”
“What did he ask about next?” the Chief prompted.
Klaus swallowed. “That was when he started getting personal.”
“Is it really necessary to go into detail, sir? It’s of no strategic value.”
“Answer the question, Major,” the Colonel snapped. “In full.”
Klaus stubbed out his cigarette and lit a new one. “They started by asking me what my father did in the war.”
That got his superiors quiet. They were all old enough that the question might be embarrassing to them as well. Klaus kept his eyes on the narrow skein of smoke unfurling from his cigarette.
Of course the fucking Russians couldn’t resist the Nazi thing. Never mind that Stalin had been every bit as bad as Hitler; Stalin just didn’t have the same notoreity. Fascism had been a shiny evil, full of snappy uniforms and catchy music and mystical mumbo-jumbo. Communism was a grey, boring evil. Probably the dullest evil in human history. Being idiots, people got more excited about flashy evil.
And Klaus hadn’t been able to stop himself from spilling the whole stupid story of his youthful hubris. Well, at least there hadn’t been anything worse than that to relate. And now the Russians knew it for sure.
“What did you tell them?” Bachmeier spoke with more gentleness now.
“He was a tank commander in the National Defense Army. He really was; I’ve verified it myself. He was a party member, but... just a member.”
“What do you mean, you verified it yourself?”
Klaus shifted his weight and rested his left ankle on his right knee. “That’s part of what I told the Russians, sir.” His voice was tired, resigned. “When I was twenty, I… I did some secret investigation. To learn if my father was hiding anything.” He smiled thinly. “He wasn’t. Everything he had told me checked out.”
He looked around at them all.
“I would appreciate it if none of you would tell my father I felt the need to substantiate his word. I was very young then.”
They all nodded in somber agreement. They had inquisitive sons of their own.
“What did they ask about next?”
Klaus’s stomach knotted. “About… about the women in my life.”
The other men all chuckled, glad to be on less serious ground. “We’re looking forward to hearing about this, Major,” Schlesser grinned.
Klaus did not share their amusement. “Then I am afraid you will be just as disappointed as the Russians were, sir.”
“I’ve never been with a woman,” the Major had said truthfully in response to Mischa’s crudely phrased question.
“Not even once?” The Russian was genuinely astonished. So was Eroica, sitting across the room.
“Are you impotent?”
“Surely many women must have found a strong, handsome man like yourself attractive.”
“Then why haven’t you?” Mischa asked, and Dorian leaned forward, as much as he could against the ropes, as if he would hear the answer more clearly if he were half an inch closer.
“Why on earth not?” the Chief was asking. The other men looked almost as surprised. This was one thing Klaus could never understand about other men: the time and energy they put into pursuing females. It was a miracle anything ever got done.
Klaus paused. His superiors were right, they did need to know what he had told the enemy, but he didn’t have to relate every single detail exactly as he had told the Russians. “I’m Catholic,” he asserted. “And I’m not married.”
“Since when has that ever stopped anyone?” Schlesser asked cynically. Perhaps, the Major thought, that was what he was hiding.
“We are not inquiring into the Major’s religious convictions,” Mueller said. “Continue with Mischa’s questions, Major.”
This was it, then. The Major went cold all over. He could say farewell to his career now. To his entire life as it currently was.
“Next, he asked me… about my – relationship with Eroica.”
“I have never truly understood how it is between the two of you,” Mischa had said, his smile full of malice. “You alternately aid and injure each other. And now, Spud Klaus, you tell me that you have never been with a woman because you have no interest in women.”
“Can it be that you have fallen victim to the same decadent capitalist perversions as your English thief?” Mischa asked sweetly, while Dorian visibly held his breath.
“What?” Mischa was clearly disappointed.
“I can’t fall victim to decadent capitalist perversions. I’d be dishonorably discharged,” Klaus pointed out reasonably.
Mischa leaned closer, triumphant. “The real question, however, is, do you want to?”
And Klaus had answered, promptly and honestly.
Dorian had gasped. Mischa had gloated. And in his lassitude, Klaus hadn’t cared at all.
“And how do you feel about the thief Eroica?” Mischa asked.
“I’m in love with him,” was the prompt reply.
Mischa had sat down and, his face wreathed in smiles, proceeded to ask one question after another about Klaus’s “corrupt Western inclinations”. Unable to shut his own mouth, Klaus had readily confessed all: his perverted desires, his utter inexperience due to the fear of being caught, and his attachment, never acted upon, to that damned, useless, annoying, foppish, beautiful, loyal, courageous, utterly wonderful fucking thief.
Not content with that, Mischa had begun asking for more details. Under the influence of the serum, Klaus couldn’t be lying about his lifelong celibacy, so Mischa settled for asking one prurient question after another about what Klaus wanted to do with Eroica. Dorian listened with increasingly wide eyes and pink cheeks while Klaus rattled off his fantasies about him in a dry, uninflected tone.
Mischa was just beginning to ask questions with actual espionage value again when a trio of CIA agents, there on their own business, had burst into the room. They’d managed to capture three of Mischa’s goons, but the other, and Mischa himself, had escaped. And a couple of hours later, the effects of the serum had worn off enough for him to realize just what he had revealed about himself, and in front of whom. And there hadn’t been a stiff drink anywhere in sight.
Plus, the Major had been rescued by bloody Yanks. It was the final insult of this stupid day.
Well, the penultimate one, anyway.
Or maybe, God help him, the antedepenultimate one.
The Chief was chuckling. He always had found the English thief’s pursuit of Klaus amusing. “All of the intelligence community is eager to know that, Major,” he teased.
“Chief,” Mueller said, his tone one of rebuke. To Klaus he said, “There’s no need for you to repeat all this, Major. Eroica has already told us all about it.”
“I just bet he did,” the Major grumbled, reddening.
“Major,” Mueller reproached, “I know you were drugged, but you could have tried to be a little more tactful.”
“In fact, I think you should watch the tape. You’ve cost NATO a very valuable if difficult contractor. Not to mention that you were needlessly cruel.”
If Klaus hadn’t been trained as an intelligence agent, he would have blurted out, “What are you talking about?” But he had been, and his training kept him silent as Mueller turned on a television and stuck a videotape in.
It began with a mediocre-resolution image of a rather haggard Eroica sitting in this very room, being questioned by the same men. “Is he all right?” Eroica was asking.
“He’s with the doctors now,” the Chief on the screen assured him. “I’m sure he’ll be fine. My lord, if we could ask you a few questions….”
“Of course,” the Earl said, resigned. Mueller hit the fast-forward. A couple of minutes later, he found the spot he was looking for.
The Eroica on the screen was looking at his hands, knotted in his lap. “Then Mischa asked him about….” He broke off.
“Please go on, my lord.”
Eroica drew a deep breath. “About his feelings for me.” He paused. “Do I really have to go into all this?”
“I’m sorry, my lord. It’s vital.”
Eroica lowered his head even further, but his glum expression was still visible. “Well. Mischa asked him how he felt about me, and he flatly said, ‘I hate him.’”
Klaus, watching the videotape, inhaled sharply.
On the screen, Eroica drew a shaky breath. He went on in a halting voice. “Mischa asked for more details, and when he prodded enough, the Major gave them. He said I was useless and went on at length about the immorality of my profession, and the decadence of my amusements, and about how much he hated working with me, and he called me….” But at this point Dorian broke down completely and covered his face with his hands as he tried to master himself.
It was such an impressive performance that Klaus found himself feeling guilty for having said such terrible things, before he remembered that he hadn’t.
“I believe that will do, my lord,” the Chief on the screen was saying.
Mueller stopped the tape. “It will do indeed,” he said.
As soon as his superiors were finished with him, Klaus left the building. He only walked a few yards before stopping and doing what he had known he was going to: taking out his cell phone and dialing a number.
“Hello.” Was Klaus imagining it, or was the patrician voice expectant?
“I watched the tape of your debriefing,” Klaus said without introducing himself. Eroica would know who it was.
Klaus paused. What he had to say wasn’t easy for him. But given everything else the Earl had heard him saying today…. “Thank you,” he said quietly. He didn’t think he sounded very grudging. Not very.
There was a soft laugh, but it sounded a little sad. “Did you think I would go and tell everyone the things you said?”
The things you said. The phrase brought it all back, all of his most secret thoughts laid bare before his worst enemy and the man he loved, and he found himself relieved that the Earl was not present so that he would not have to feel that gaze on him. Not at this moment.
And mixed with the utter embarrassment was a hint of remorse, for having thought Eroica would sacrifice Klaus’s reputation to his own egotism.
Since he was back to normal, it took Klaus a long moment to make himself speak. “It seems I underestimated you.”
“And at last you’re beginning to realize that,” Dorian’s light voice teased.
“I want to see you.” Klaus threw the words out before he could think better of them.
“Really?” Guarded hope crept into Dorian’s voice. “So… if I were to drop ‘round your flat tonight, you wouldn’t throw me out?”
Dorian was silent for a moment, and then he mused, “You know, they said the serum had worn off. So the only way I can know if you’re telling the truth now is to show up and test it.”
Klaus tried not to smile. Someone might be watching. “You do that.” He pushed the button and put the phone back in his pocket.
It looked like this day was going to improve.