Look Both Ways
by BT and Megan Kent
# # #
Klaus flashed his plastic visitor's badge under the nose of yet another Turkish police officer -- each successively more officious than the last -- until he reached the maximum security area. Now that he was here, he was no longer sure if he had come to rescue Eroica or to kill him.
He unfolded his wallet, silently displaying a stack of Turkish money and growled, "Eroica." The guard's eyes brightened and, moving with an efficiency as yet unknown in Turks of Klaus's acquaintance, ushered him down the dingy, shadowed corridor and unlocked a door. Hand on the iron knob, Klaus paused to take a deep, calming breath. He would not yell. He would not scream. He would not berate Eroica for this incredible breach of operational efficiency. Not yet.
Consciously in control of himself and his seething rage, he opened the door and stalked into the tiny interrogation room. He shouldn't be here, pulling strings to rescue Eroica, shouldn't be putting his reputation at risk.
The disarrayed curls hid Eroica's face, but a gold stud in one ear reflected the harsh overhead light. Klaus slammed the door sharply and the head jerked up, blue eyes wide and frightened in the pale face.
The pale, unknown face. "What do you want?"
"Who are you?" Klaus's question overlapped the stranger's.
The silence that followed stretched as Klaus considered the puzzle before him. He could see the superficial resemblance now as he mentally compared the handcuffed prisoner to the grainy wire photo tacked to the board outside, and then to the useless thief he had expected to find here.
The most obvious likeness was the mane of blond curls, though in all their missions, Klaus had never seen Eroica's one-tenth so messy and Eroica would never be caught dead or alive in a slogan T-shirt and tattered jeans and no other jewelry than the earring. The blue eyes were paler than the thief's, and this face showed a heavier jaw line and bone structure, but Klaus could see how an unknowing observer might easily make the mistake.
He briefly pondered the likelihood of encountering a near-doppelganger of Eroica among Istanbul's millions of inhabitants, but discarded that in favor of the issue at hand. If Eroica was not here, where was he? Even more importantly, where was the package?
According to plan, Eroica should have been safely out of Turkey yesterday morning after completing a very delicate operation -- Klaus would not use the term "theft" -- under Klaus's supervision. There had been no check-in however, no news at all until the word of "Eroica's" arrest had come across the embassy wire, triggering Klaus's rescue operation. Perhaps Eroica had already escaped. Perhaps he was still waiting for an opening. Perhaps he needed one.
The thought that he might salvage something from this fiasco cheered him. Maybe it would be best if "Eroica" stayed in custody -- his custody -- a while longer. If he could keep the CIA from comparing this imposter with Interpol's more detailed records... It could work.
"Are you from the British Consulate? Did Mick send you?" The false Eroica's voice was tired, but hopeful, and Klaus shifted his attention back to the man in front of him who had the incredibly bad fortune to physically resemble Dorian Red Gloria.
"No, and no."
"Fuckitall, then. I'm not Eroica. I don't know anything about any fuckin' antiques. I just want to get out of here. My name is Alexander Logan. I'm a British citizen and I want to speak with my friends or someone from the Consulate." The words sounded rehearsed, tired, irritated, as if he'd trotted them out repeatedly over the last eighteen or so hours. And if the Turks had been pressing Logan for information he could not have, it was no surprise he looked haggard and pale.
"I am not from your government, but I may be able to help." The steps it would take to extract this man before more intelligent questioners could discover the truth were laying themselves out in Klaus's mind. "One moment..." He turned on his heel and left the confused not-Eroica slumped over the desktop again, retrieving his wallet from his coat pocket. The guard opened the door at his knock, closed it firmly and locked it again, but his attention was more on Klaus's billfold than on his reputedly slippery prisoner.
"The American gentlemen," said Klaus in Turkish. "Where are they?" He had no wish to come face-to-face with the CIA while aiding the man they thought had burgled them.
"With the boss," said the guard, looking significantly at the ceiling above. "They move too fast and expect too much. They do not understand the Arab way of business." The man's eyes were still fixed on Klaus's wallet. "The boss thinks the 'Eroica' is important enough to bring him glory -- long deserved and often overlooked. The Americans offer only thanks, not even as small a gift as you have offered me."
Klaus knew too well the frustration of doing business with Arabs. They were all corrupt, and cash or connections would get you anything. It was disgusting, but it would serve him today.
"Ahhh," said Klaus. "I am a friend of the Americans, and perhaps I can simplify the negotiations, for I agree that your boss deserves credit for capturing the dangerous thief Eroica. Perhaps a glorious price in your hand would let me take him to them more quickly?" He ran a thumb along the edges of the bills.
The guard raised his eyes from the money momentarily to look nervously back toward the checkpoint. "You are not American..." he started dubiously.
"I will deliver him safely," Klaus lied, pulling out two bills adorned with portraits of Ataturk and many consecutive zeros. He was less concerned with how much he'd have to pay to extract the imposter than with the time it would take, but forms must be observed or the guard would become suspicious.
"Perhaps I should ask my boss..." said the guard, making no move toward the money.
"Ah, but I must remember his glory as well." Klaus added two more bills to the offer. "And that of your fellows who aided nobly, I am sure, in his capture." One more bill. He closed his wallet and made a gesture familiar in all Turkish marketplaces: it was the guard's move, to accept or find reasons to raise the bribe. And delay might wipe out the bargain so that they both lost.
"I see that you are a respecter of the Prophet's verities and a worthy keeper for the prisoner. Please convey him safely." The money disappeared into a voluminous pocket and the guard's hand reappeared offering a handcuff key. In another moment the interrogation room door was unlocked again.
"Mr. Logan! On your feet!" Klaus beckoned the bleary-eyed excuse for Eroica to him. Hope and confusion warred in the not-quite-familiar features as Logan pushed up from his chair. This latest example of the English race obviously had no self-respect, no backbone. His jeans were obscenely tight as well as torn in spots, and his T-shirt proclaimed "Make Love, Not War." Klaus sneered at it.
"Who-- are you taking me-- ?"
"Major Eberbach," said Klaus, in case the guard was listening. His own presence would additionally confirm "Eroica's" identity in some minds. The imposter lacked Eroica's polish, certainly, but Klaus was caught again by the physical resemblance in long legs and lewd gait as Logan strode toward him. Stifling the urge to curse at the man for wasting good air, he grabbed an arm and hustled him out the door.
Using the handcuffs to steer him, Klaus guided the Englishman past closed doors, around a corner and past another door where American voices mingled with Turkish-accented English. He took the stairwell rather than risk the lift and whoever might be on it, nodding curtly to the guard at the exit. Once outside the building he ducked left, the drag of prisoner an irritating delay he refused to permit. He tugged harder. Someone might still spot those blond curls, and he'd be damned if he'd get caught after he'd stooped to bribery and lies.
He dragged the imposter along the street and around a corner, pausing to look for a taxi. There was no rattle of feet behind them yet, no shrieking alarms, and still no resistance from the young Englishman. He wondered if the degenerate would try to escape, but dismissed the idea immediately: preposterous for him to try, impossible for him to succeed.
He had managed to kidnap "Eroica." The Turks might never know the difference, and he hoped the CIA would not. Glancing at the soiled mess beside him -- and standing downwind for the first time -- he certainly could tell.
# # #
Alex stumbled after his tight-assed, closed-mouthed savior, relieved to be out of jail but not completely sure he was any better off. The handcuffs still biting his wrists were definitely a bad sigh. "Oi. Get these things off me, will you?"
Alex cast a backward glance at the corner they'd just rounded. Maybe that jail wasn't such a bad thing after all: aggressive assholes, yeh, but at least they weren't obviously insane. This bloke -- he wasn't so sure. He gritted his teeth. No. Jail didn't suit him. He'd seen the inside of drunk tanks from Oklahoma to Paris, but that hadn't prepared him for this place: grimy white acoustic tile, bright lights and the continuous stream of meaningless questions. Silver heirlooms. International incidents. NATO involvement. Eroica who? He had no interest in antiques, and certainly not in any Turkish relics, but they hadn't listened to his protests.
The hard-faced German hadn't listened either, but they were outside that damned box now and that had to count for something. Now he just had to figure out what this bloke wanted with him and whether or not it was going to be worse than what the Turkish police wanted. One thing was certain: this guy hadn't been sent by Mick. So who had he expected to find? Eroica? Alex decided to remember that name. He wanted to kick the bastard's arse on general principles. For the moment, he concentrated on being out of that jail and getting one more breath of dusty Istanbul air into his lungs. He'd get his answers later.
The German set off at a jog for a nearby intersection, dragging him along by the handcuffs. "Ease up!" he snapped, which earned him what he'd have sworn was a growl and a hard torque on his shoulders. He shut up. For the moment.
The first pause for breath was when the German waved at a taxi and negotiated with the driver in what sounded like very abrupt Turkish. "Get in," he said to Alex. Alex narrowed his eyes but got in anyway, grateful for an opportunity to sit down and all too aware of just who had the key to his handcuffs. In Soho, perhaps, he could've wandered around for hours in them without even a raised eyebrow. Not in Turkey. Besides, fetid as it was the open cab smelled more like freedom than that damned cell.
Presently he decided to try again. "Where are we going?"
"Out of town," the hard, precise voice answered flatly.
"Good," said Alex. "You think you might let me out of the jewelry now?"
"Hold out your hands," said the German, frowning at him. "You -- he shouldn't have had any trouble with them."
"Nothing." He did something rapid and violent to the cuffs which left Alex blessedly free of them.
"Eroica?" That got attention quick enough. Hard green eyes opened wide with surprise, just for a second. Then the expression was gone as quickly as it had come.
"Your capture was a case of mistaken identity. That is all. You would prefer not to let it continue, of that I assure you."
Well, that was bloody obvious. He settled back in the seat to regather his breath and his wits; this was totally nuts. Tris would never believe it.
They had crossed the long bridge over the Golden Horn, but it didn't occur to Alex that they weren't headed for the airport until the cab stopped outside a large, dull building within the city. Alex stared around and identified the train station only when they were within yards of the arched entrance.
He pulled up short. "What are we doing here?"
The German grabbed him by the hair and shoved him backwards, and Alex had finally had enough. "Look, you--"
The sound of an engine backfiring nearby distracted him, and before he could start to yell again he was being jerked along in a crazy sideways run, across the street and into a shaded, musty-smelling lane. There was a second backfire and then a third before his entire body seized up with pure, uncut fear as he realized that someone was shooting at them.
It sounded very little like the shooting on American television shows. It was unmistakably gunfire, nevertheless. Alex heard another shot, and shouting and screeching. He was shoved at the wall like so much furniture, while the German produced a frighteningly huge gun from somewhere and, as if Alex wasn't there, as if it was as normal as picking up a microphone, peered back around the corner and positioned himself as if to shoot back.
"Oh my god," Alex whispered. It wasn't bad enough to be broken out of jail by a nutter, but a nutter with a gun and a vicious fan-club.
Another shot, followed by a nearby crashing rumble, was the signal for the German's gun to make a much louder, rounder crack, then a second. Alex concentrated on hugging the splintery wall, hoping that his knees would hold and his ears would stop ringing before he got out of this. If he got out of this. The German pulled back into the shadows next to Alex, muttering incomprehensibly to himself, ending with something Alex thought sounded like, "...idiotsche Amerikaner!"
Americans? Alex hadn't seen any. "Where?" he ventured, into the relative silence. "Who's shooting at us?"
"Shut-up-Eroica." It was said as if one word, and followed seamlessly from the previous, German, sentence.
He was getting very tired of that name. "I'm not Eroica, dammit!"
"Logan! Shut up!" The German peered around the corner again, then ducked back and glanced down the narrow alley they were hidden in. "Can you use a gun?"
Alex wanted to laugh, or scream, but he kept his voice down. "Hell, no!"
"I should have known. He can't. Don't run yet. If you run, they'll follow you."
"Who? And why are they shooting at us?"
The German glared. "They have no brains. I do not think they are following their orders." He sounded as though this, rather than the bullets, was their real mistake.
Alex looked out toward the street, presumably filled with gun-toting Americans after them for no good reason, and down the filthy alley. "Can we get out of there?"
"Soon." The hand that did not hold the enormous gun closed around Alex's arm again. "When I say, we both run. Take any path circling left. You lead -- now!" The man pushed him and Alex was only too happy to run, finally, cutting left when another narrow opening appeared, ducking left again between tightly packed motors and carts and finally, at a hissed order from behind, turning right into a street stall full of oily steam and smells of fish. His rescuer -- a title Alex was beginning to doubt -- pushed him behind the counter, ignoring the angry cook and the ancient stove burdened with bubbling pots. In spite of everything, Alex's stomach rumbled. "Ero-- Logan, keep your head down."
Alex went back to making himself as small as possible while the German's gun made another of the mind-numbing sounds. It wasn't as loud as the band's amps at full volume, but it was chillingly final in a way no drum kit could achieve. Instead of hungry, Alex was feeling sick again.
There was a distant but enormously loud crash and another shot from outside. The German frowned, tense for the first time since the shooting had begun, and Alex waited for the next instruction. If there was a back door here he hadn't seen it, but he sure as hell didn't want to go back into that street if the only person who knew what was going on didn't know any longer.
The German leaned out for long enough to make one more shot and Alex heard renewed crashing and mixed screams from the street. The man pulled back, smiling now, and finally looked over at Alex. "Can you run again? He cannot follow us now."
Alex nodded stupidly. Running seemed as good an idea as any.
They nipped out of the stall's protection an instant ahead of the stall keeper's startled shout and left him mouthing angry Turkish behind them. Someone was still screaming, and Alex turned to look.
"Oh god!" Alex gasped. There was a man lying in the street, covered in blood. The people had all disappeared, leaving the man alone in the empty street. Alex stood, staring, and a phrase repeated in his ears, "cannot follow us, cannot follow us..."
Pain jerked his attention away; he was being dragged by his hair down the street. The German cut decisively through the crowd of onlookers gathered at the end of the road, up one hill and down another.
Alex concentrated on keeping his footing until the German stopped stock still. He peered cautiously up at the train station where the insane chase had begun.
A million thought clamored to get out of Alex's mouth, none of them fit to accuse someone who'd just shot a man in broad daylight. Oh man, I want to go home. "Listen, if it's okay, I'll just fade out on my own." Alex edged away, praying that he could get far enough away to catch a cab, that he could get to the plane and get out of this fucking mad country, and never come back.
A huge hand closed on his shoulder, stopping his retreat. "Your description -- Eroica's -- is at all exit points of this city. Of Turkey. I have an escape route set up inside the station for us."
"To get us past them?" This nutter's plans had gotten them into this mess in the first place.
"Yes." The German pulled him around the corner, into another stall which sold western-style souvenirs. Alex appreciated the concealment as much as the shade and the moment's rest.
He backed behind a rack of postcards, wishing for some easy way out of this. If he could only get back to Tris and the others... "If we can get to the airport, there's a plane waiting for me."
"Waiting still? For you?" The German's cold green eyes looked over Alex's grimy shirt and jeans.
"The band won't leave me behind." Alex tried to sound as certain as he could. "They can't perform without me." Well, that much was true.
"Band?" For the first time, Alex thought they might be experiencing a language difficulty.
Alex blinked and almost laughed. Usually he was busy trying to deny his identity in public, not prove it. "Never mind. Mick -- our manager -- will be waiting for me, and if I know him he'll have something ready to take off the minute I show up." They had a show in Syracuse... Wednesday. Tomorrow? Just how long had this nightmare been going on? Tris would be furious. They all would. Oh, please let this work.
The German frowned. "At the airport, immigration officials would stop me." Wouldn't they have stopped him in the train station? Alex didn't bother asking, since by now he knew the answer would be "shut up." If only he knew why the guy was interested in him, now that everyone must know he wasn't the "Eroica" person.
"They won't stop you if you're with me," he said, hoping he sounded confident. He would have said anything to get back to the plane and safety.
"Oh?" The German looked like he might be considering it. Please let him believe.
"I don't even have my passport on me. Mick holds all the papers--"
"So you don't have any identification?"
"No. I told you, Mick will have cleared the plane an' luggage an' all. The police grabbed me at the airport. No one knows where I am--"
"Good. And when we get there?"
"We either go in through a back gate and nobody asks either of us any questions, or if they stop us, I call Mick and make him take you aboard too."
"Will your 'Mick' do this?"
Mick would do almost anything to get his schedules back on track. "If you get me to the airport, he will."
The German frowned again, but not in anger. "It will be difficult to get to the airport without being seen. The men who think you are Eroica are very persistent."
Yeah, it had taken shooting one of them to get away. Alex flashed on the bloody body in the street, and thought he would be sick. It was all so wrong. "Who are 'they'? What do the police want with me... him? Why were you shooting at them?"
"They shot first. However," the man smiled without warmth, "they are apt to be more annoyed with me than you at the moment."
"But why?" Why all of it?"
"I would prefer not to explain."
Well, Alex would have preferred not to have been part of the whole mess, but he hoped that at least the crazy German would help him get to the airport and away. Away. "Ah... we could disguise ourselves." It had always been a lark in the past, sneaking out past the fan hordes. He only hoped it would work against the Turkish police and gun-wielding Americans. At least it was something he could do instead of being dragged around by the hair.
"Yes?" The voice was impatient, even snappish, but the hard eyes stayed on Alex.
Alex took a moment to look over the man's severe suit and tie, his own ratty road-clothes, and the contents of the souvenir shop. "You can wear my shirt, instead of that jacket and tie, and one of those hats." He gestured toward a rack of red baseball caps in one corner.
"What will you wear?"
Alex shrugged. "Who needs a shirt in this weather? You must be sweltering."
"I hadn't noticed," said the German, although spreading sweat stained his shirt and flecked his jacket.
Alex pulled his T-shirt over his head, glad to get rid of the sweaty thing. "Of course, I'll need a hat too." He grabbed two from the rack and gratefully wound his filthy hair up under the cap, then offered the other to the German.
Clear distaste showed on the German's face, but only for an instant. "Yes. And there are clean shirts here." He plucked one at random from a crowded shelf.
"I hope you have some cash, 'cause the police took all I had." The man nodded absently, so Alex helped himself to a tote-bag with a bad painting of the Blue Mosque on it, and stuffed his discarded shirt and the German's shirt and jacket into it. The final item in, with obvious regret on the German's part, was the large gun. Alex was glad to have it out of sight again.
Clutching the flimsy carryall, Alex's new acquaintance cut a thoroughly disreputable figure in a T-shirt that featured a gaudily embellished map of Turkey.
With his hair tucked into the baseball cap the German was surprisingly transformed, not least by the revelation of hard leanness under the suit rather than businessman's flab. Alex felt more comfortable in a way without his shirt, although his recent memories made him wish it were a bulletproof vest and that he was still wearing it. At least they were running his way now.
The German, even in tourist drag, still had the ability to summon a taxi with a single wave. He pushed Alex into the back seat and climbed in after him. The driver took one look at Alex's bare chest and bellowed angrily in Turkish. Alex grinned back at him aggressively. Obscenity, if any, was in the eye of the beholder, wasn't it? Offering some folded cash and a few quiet Turkish words, the German managed to overcome the driver's objections, and the taxi took a bounding leap through the next intersection. Alex went back to concentrating on his stomach.
The bouncy, too-fast ride through narrow alleys made Alex even queasier, but it was better than being shot at. Who did this Major Whoever who'd just dragged Alex through a close approximation of hell think he was, anyway? If he'd just left Alex in jail, Mick would have found him eventually. Wouldn't he? Why had it taken so long, anyway?
Alex had to look up when he was grabbed and physically turned toward the German. "... listen to me now, Mr. Logan. I need your word on this."
"On what?" Alex felt as though his brain was lagging at least a verse and probably a whole song behind the events of the day.
"I said, you must keep silent about who I am, and what has happened."
Well, that wouldn't be too hard, since he had no fucking clue what was up. But, not to tell Tris, and Duff and the others? Not set Fred-the-lawyer on the Istanbul police? "Why the hell should I?" He almost added, How can you make me? but the thought of the gun in the carryall kept him silent.
"Because more is at stake than you know. I can't explain, but will you accept that my interests are consistent with those of your country? I mean you no harm."
"Right." I always get chased by madmen with guns when you're not around.
"Logan," said the German, his eyes hardening, "anyone you tell may become a target of those who are following us. If you value the safety of your friends, you will keep quiet about my identity, about the events since we left the police station, and about Eroica. Will you?"
Alex had only to remember the far-too-real crack of bullets to know he never wanted to hear them again. What would Tris have heard? It wouldn't sound right, couldn't make good music. "Okay," he promised. "Yes."
"Good." And then the German turned to give the driver another command. They lurched around another curve and shot onto a wider road, accelerating bumpily.
"Mr. Logan, what will you tell 'Mick' about me?"
Alex had already handled that one. "That you got me out of jail. I can tell anyone else that you're a roadie with the band." At the German's look of incomprehension, Alex amplified, "One of the road crew -- the men who handle the sound equipment."
"I see. Yes, that will do. We shall try the most direct route in first, and perhaps we can avoid any official questions." He leaned forward and spoke to the driver as they barreled along the airport road, and passed him another wad of currency with more zeros than Alex had thought could be fitted on a single piece of paper. After an exchange of half-shouted conversation, the German leaned back and grimaced. "Our driver considers that your lack of attire is shameful, and so is willing to avoid notice while you are aboard."
"But the bribe didn't hurt," Alex suggested.
The German frowned. "It is quick and effective in this part of the world."
The taxi turned sharply onto a smaller, looping road, stopped briefly for another huge wad of Turkish liras to be handed out the window, and then made an abrupt run through a gate. Beyond, Alex spotted the welcome sight of the Phoenix, Paradox's own 727, and pointed to it.
The German exhorted the driver to speed, and they roared up to the plane only minutes later, tumbling out of the taxi and up the plane's rack-like metal stairs under an open door full of curious faces. Alex had never been so glad to see Simon Nash's ugly mug before.
"Alex!" He heard Tris before he saw him push his way between two of the crew. Mick appeared, waving Kerry, the Phoenix's pilot, into the cockpit before he turned to Alex.
"Where have you--"
"Are you okay?"
"-- been, or were you really--"
"What happened? You're--"
"-- in nick? How'd you--"
"-- sunburnt, but--"
"get out?" finished Mick.
"They had the wrong person," the German answered from behind Alex.
Mick and Tris both looked at him and back to Alex for more information. He opened his mouth to try and explain, but knew that he couldn't. Not if it meant more shooting. Suddenly he realized his stomach wasn't going to obey him this time, and he bolted for the plane's loo.
# # #
Settling back into a seat, Dorian checked that the curtains blocking the view of his compartment from the train's central corridor were shut. He hadn't dared to unburden himself of his booty from the night before until he was well out of Turkey and heading into the deliciously ancient mountains of Macedonia.
Privacy and a degree of safety at last ensured, Dorian removed one of the objects from the hidden compartment in his coat. He'd seen exquisite silverwork before, but this... The silver itself, worth comparatively little, was merely a fitting medium for the delicate, strong craftsmanship that made an ostensibly utilitarian object into a thing of enduring beauty. The curving, twining filigree framed a page of parchment graced with calligraphy no less exalted, no less beautiful in its own right as a form of high art.
It was lovely, and precious, and it had been completely out of place in the tasteless lobby of the American embassy. So he'd taken it, of course. Klaus would be angry if he ever found out, but there was no real reason Klaus should ever know.
The thought of an angry Klaus gave Dorian a shiver of fear -- a shiver that easily became a thrill of excitement. All the time in Turkey, Dorian had had to work alone and he'd missed his men's company, but he'd known with some odd sixth sense that the Major had observed him from a distance. He'd been able to imagine, if only for a moment, that Klaus was concerned for him rather than the damned job. That Klaus cared.
The fantasy warmed him. He'd let it occupy his mind during the tedious flight out of Ankara, when he'd been crouched in a chador and unable to speak for hours. Veils from head to toe were an effective disguise but he preferred women's clothing that was colorful and flamboyant. Did Muslim women dream of someone like Klaus, under their black robes? Of beautiful, ancient silverwork? Of the kind of microfilmed secrets that Klaus worked with? Did they dream at all?
Dorian re-wrapped the graceful frame and its sheet of Arabic poetry -- surely such artistry denoted poetry of equal merit -- and packed it tenderly into his small carrying case before pulling the coat and its remaining secrets more closely around his body. It had been a long day and night, and the job for Klaus wasn't over yet, not until he reached Bonn. There were things more precious than silver or beauty to NATO.
It would be hours before he was to meet Jones. He ought to rest. Maybe he would dream of Klaus.
# # #
The semi-clad figure of Klaus's recent companion gravitated to a thin, dark-haired figure who slid out of the crowd of welcomers and flicked an intense glance from Logan to Klaus and back again in unspoken question. Logan shook his head and they both disappeared into the forward compartment. It left Klaus's view filled with a circle of curious and hostile faces throwing questions at him as quickly as they had at Logan moments before. "Where'd you--"
"Is Alex okay?"
The babble of voices was stilled, or rather superseded, by a speaker-voice from above "Prepare for takeoff." Klaus relaxed slightly as the plane door was locked shut. "Sit down, everyone, and for once use the seat belts. Tim, that means you. Duff, that means you and whatever girls you're with."
Eberbach shrugged and inspected the cabin. It looked like looters had taken over someone's luxury jet. It was wide open in the center where passenger jets had ranks of seats, and bottles and glasses lined the flat surfaces. Logan was nowhere to be seen. The largest person in the crowd shrugged back at him and said, "Mick Royce. I'm in charge of everything but the music. Siddown and shuddup. We'll sort you out later."
Klaus dropped heavily into one of the wider-than-regulation seats as the craft tilted upward on its way out of Istanbul, leaving behind some confused Turkish policemen and at least two CIA agents who were undoubtedly after his blood now that their trigger-happy friend was down and wounded. The damned fool, thought Klaus, starting a firefight in a crowd of civilians.
It wouldn't have been so awkward if Klaus had been on his own, but now instead of merely needing to hide the faux Eroica for a few hours until he was sure the real Eroica had escaped, Klaus should stay out of official sight for days or weeks, depending on how angry the U.S. decided to be officially. Had the agents known the real prize Eroica had stolen, or were they looking for some bauble the thief had had the bad taste to acquire in the course of his business for NATO? Did they assume "Eroica" was still carrying it when they had chased Logan and himself? That might explain their misbehavior.
One thing he'd succeeded in: everyone should now assume that Eroica was in Istanbul and focus their attention on re-capturing him, while -- unless Eroica was even more of an idiot than Klaus usually gave him credit for -- the microfilm and the real thief were elsewhere entirely. It was all in a day's work, Klaus told himself, a matter of history. Eberbachs didn't die in bed. Someday it would be him down in a pool of blood, and the only goal was to make that day come later rather than sooner.
Putting those thoughts behind, Klaus returned his attention to the traveling circus-or-whatever of which Alexander Logan was a member. Someone named Mick Royce claimed to be in charge, which matched the information Logan had given him earlier. Now Klaus had only to convince Mr. Royce that cooperating with his plans would be good for everyone.
The surge of acceleration eased and the plane leveled, so Klaus loosened his seatbelt and surveyed his surroundings. A motley assortment of men and a few girls occupied the other seats, some asleep, some lighting up cigarettes -- the Major smelled a hint of odor too sweet for tobacco and frowned -- one or two reading, several staring back at him. All were dressed in a casual minimum of clothing, from Mick Royce's tieless half-open shirt to the cutoff dungarees that were the only attire on the smaller girl of two in one man's lap.
Royce let out a sigh whose dimensions matched his bulk and fanned himself with a magazine before focusing his glare back on Klaus. "All right. Who are you?" he demanded.
Klaus fought the urge to pat his pockets looking for a cigarette. They were safely stashed in the carry-bag with his gun, which he thought might be best not mentioned in the coming discussion. "Mr. Royce?" he returned. "You are 'in charge,' I believe you said?"
"Yeah, I'm the manager of Paradox."
"I see," said Klaus, although the paradox escaped him. "I'm Johannes Pfeiffer." It was the name on his cover passport which, all things considered, it seemed wisest to use here. Logan might remember otherwise, but he'd been told not to talk about it. From the last look Klaus had had of him, Logan might not remember his own name after experiencing what was patently his first live firefight. "Where are we going?"
"You're not going anywhere 'less you answer some questions." Klaus raised his eyebrows but, noting the man's build and solid authority, did not discard the possibility that Mick Royce would throw him off an aircraft in mid-flight. The situation was clearly irregular. Royce hammered on: "Where'd you come from? What in the hell happened to Alex? What'd you do to him?" The man seemed genuinely concerned for Logan's well-being, a situation of which Klaus determined to take full advantage.
"I got him out of a very unpleasant jail cell. The Turkish police were about to hand Mr. Logan over to some very angry Americans who thought he had something that belongs to them. It seemed simplest to remove him, rather than explain who he really is. And it suits me to accompany you to your next destination. I trust that is not too much to ask in return?"
Royce gave him another glare. "The Istanbul police told me they hadn't got him. And who're you to get Alex out of lockup anyway?"
The Major kept his face impassive. Everything he had seen of Royce and Paradox suggested dubious legality to him. Logan had certainly been no stranger to jail. If they managed to get under-aged sex partners and illegal drugs across international borders on a regular basis, surely they could smuggle one German with well-faked papers. It was just a matter of presenting himself right.
"How come Alex was looking so green, then? What's wrong with him?"
The attention from the others in the cabin suddenly rose. The fat, dark-haired man who'd been fondling his two female seatmates looked up. "Yeah. Alex's got a cast iron stomach. What happened to 'im?" The man looked as if he wanted to be belligerent, but was too drunk to be remotely threatening.
One of the females showed a flicker of interest. "Tris really looked worried."
"Just why is he upset?" pressed Royce.
Klaus considered carefully. The man he'd rescued and dragged through a gun battle seemed important to these people; Klaus sensed the same group loyalty he had seen in Eroica's band of thieves, or even among his own subordinates. Up to a point it was desirable in an organization that had to work in coordination. Logan had been right about the waiting aircraft as well. Klaus assessed the resources which might be advantages in the somewhat precarious position in which he found himself. "He was mistaken for someone else. A criminal."
Paradox was beginning to come into focus for Klaus. A bright logo of the word adorned T-shirts and caps throughout the group. It was an organization of sorts, then. And Alexander Logan was a musician? "I'm sure 'Paradox' prefers the mistake not to occur again."
"Oh?" said Royce, skeptical but interested. "You got him out of jail -- by yourself, did you?"
"Yes." Klaus hoped he would not have to amplify. Royce sounded like he might be getting too clear a picture of the situation already.
"And you can clue us in about how to keep it from happening again."
Klaus watched the man calculate for a moment, then confirmed, "Yes."
"Well?" Royce was obviously no more willing to give ground than Klaus was.
Klaus was confident that he could bargain for what he needed. "I've taken a great risk in extracting your Mr. Logan from where he was being held. Several government organizations may be searching for me -- or him, if you're not careful. All I'm asking is safe passage into the next major city you visit outside Turkey."
Royce nodded, hard-faced. "I know what you want. What I don't know is why I should give it to you. Why shouldn't I just hand you over to whoever wants you?"
The man wasn't an easy sell. "It would reflect poorly on Paradox to be caught sheltering me or transporting me across national boundaries, I think. And I can't guarantee that Mr. Logan won't be subject to more cases of mistaken identity. And also," the Major glanced significantly toward the illicitly drugged smoke and unclad women that littered the plane, "I cannot believe that Paradox is strongly committed to all legalities."
Royce shrugged. "We're pragmatic if that's what you mean, Pfeiffer." The manager thought for another moment, and Klaus reflected that even if that massive girth resulted from drink and debauchery of the sort Paradox evidently indulged in, his wits seemed relatively clear at the moment. "I'd like to hear what Alex has to say for you -- and Tris won't like it--" There was a low rumble of agreement from the T-shirted men within earshot, and several glances toward the forward bulkhead. "But tell me again why I should give a shit."
Careful not to let out his irritation at the invisible authority of this "Tris," whoever he was, Klaus repeated, "I am the only one who knows why Mr. Logan was arrested. He certainly doesn't. I can prevent it from happening again." Klaus wondered how long it would be before the mistake did happen again. He could almost pity Logan if he spent the rest of his life being mistaken for Eroica. Then he wondered if it had already happened elsewhere, or to the real Eroica. The thief's only value was his skill at burglary and avoiding capture. Any other time Klaus would be glad to see the idiot behind bars where he belonged, but as long as Eroica had the film NATO wanted, he must not be found. Klaus reminded himself that Eroica had come through dangerous situations before, but he hated having to trust him.
"Wot? You?" asked Royce, looking him over from baseball cap to dust-smeared boots.
"Yes," said Klaus firmly, hoping it was true. "I'd rather not say how." He'd rather not have to do it at all, but he'd have a hell of a time getting anywhere without the papers he'd had to abandon at the police HQ. These degenerate idiots would be useful to him for just long enough to get him back to Germany. Or at least out of Turkey.
"Not something that will land us all in trouble, the way it has you?" Royce still sounded skeptical.
"No," said Klaus. "The authorities will not care to trouble you further," he glanced again around the cabin, "over this particular matter, while I can deal with them for you. My word on it." He didn't have many more cards in his hand, but he hoped Logan would back him up.
Royce smiled, with cheerful resemblance to a shark. "Right, then," he said, suddenly affable. "If I'm satisfied Alex is safe and well, we'll do it your way." He slapped Klaus heartily on the back and Klaus tried not to flinch from the man's large, sweaty hand. "Wouldja like a drink?" He gestured toward the next seat.
"Do you have any dark beer?" Klaus asked, hopeful but not expecting an affirmative. "Bock beer?"
"Son, we got it all." Royce's eyes moved to the knot of listeners. "Richie, send someone up with a coupla bottles of bock. And sandwiches. The rest of you lot, give us some room, eh?" He glared indiscriminately, and the men suddenly found fascinating conversations to have at the opposite end of the cabin. Royce meanwhile pulled himself to a standing position and lumbered toward the cabin partition through which Logan had so rapidly bolted earlier.
# # #
Tris Lindsay had thought, after four years of playing guitar-god to Alex Logan's banshee wail, he'd come to know every facet of the mercurial singer, but this dazed, clumsy man seemed nearly a stranger. Everything about him was wrong: a fine tremor shook his body, the fear he radiated didn't fit someone Tris had seen face down everything from a squad of angry coppers to a horde of sex-starved fans, and in the subtle, inner hearing that Tris could never explain, he sounded wrong.
Tris watched as Alex tried three times to connect a match-head and a cigarette. Alex didn't even seem to notice his presence and flinched back, surprised -- scared? -- when Tris took the match and fag, lit up, and handed it back. Alex sucked at it hungrily, then coughed. Watching him pace three steps each way in the small space of the forward cabin, relief fought curiosity in Tris's mind. At least Alex was upright and evidently in one piece, but his skin was pale and sweaty under the sunburn, his face was pinched and his eyes strangely glazed. Tris wondered what sort of bad trip was taking its toll. Alex had come out of the loo looking only marginally better than when he'd gone in. Whatever he'd been up to all night, it didn't look like he was enjoying the afterglow. Tris reached out toward him and Alex jumped again.
"Alex," he asked softly, "you all right, mate?"
Alex laughed shortly. "Yeah! Fine. Now." He turned blindly to pace again and Tris laid a hand on his arm. The skin was cool and he could feel the trembling that shook Alex, unstilled and undisguised by the pacing.
"Why'n't you sit down, mate? And cover up -- you'll catch a chill." Alex started to argue, but Tris quelled him with a glance. It wasn't easy, trying to keep a careless young man prone to chest ailments from putting all their livelihood at risk. He was always trying to get Alex to cover up after shows except -- he felt a guilty flush for even thinking it while Alex was so obviously distressed now -- when he was trying to strip the sweaty clothes off him. Now he pulled off his hand knit jumper with a stray thought that Marilee-in-Detroit who'd made it would be thrilled to know Alex was wearing it.
He glared at the blond until it was on, glared again until Alex dropped into the nearest chair. At least he didn't seem in a mood to cause trouble. Tris looked about, spotting a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels. He grabbed it up, took a drink, and offered it to Alex. The singer was clearly on a bad high -- jittering and touchy -- and even if Tris couldn't identify the source, he needed something to bring him down.
Alex must have thought so as well, for he upended the bottle and drank deeply. Tris saw the liquor hit his stomach, saw the bloodshot blue eyes close, the body sag slightly, but not into relaxation. Alex took a deep breath and began to talk. "I didn't know what-- Took me to-- Soddin' silver antiques-- Eroica-- Callin' me Eroica-- Wouldn't stop-- Sick as a dog-- Hours an' hours--"
There were times in their shared song-making when thoughts flowed between the two of them with fewer words than these, or no meaningful words at all. But that connection seemed broken now, and Alex's words were only words.
"Waitin' for Mick-- Fuckin' big gun-- bloody 'ell-- Bloody, yeah, all over the street--"
Tris struggled to assemble them in some order, to understand what Alex had been up to in the hours he'd been away from them. He'd been gone all night, screwing their scheduled departure and causing grumbling among the crew who'd cut their own partying short to catch the plane. Alex had been known to forget such things when he was high, or fucking, which was why Alex generally didn't get high or shack up with someone outside the band's entourage. Not when he knew he was expected at the airport. And whatever he'd done, he wasn't enjoying it now, and going by the string of words, hadn't much liked it at the time.
As the hours had passed with no word or sign of him, annoyance had given way to concern, then real fear. Tris had pushed Mick, who in turn had bribed or threatened every Turk in sight for word of their missing band mate. The city hospitals hadn't seen him --- well, there wasn't a scratch on him -- and the city police had no clue, or so Mick had said. Mick was generally right when it came to dealing with the police, but... "Jail, mate? Was that where you were?" If so, the Turkish cops had lied to Mick: Tris would have to get Fred-the-lawyer working on it. He'd be damned if some full-of-himself police captain could fuck with Paradox and not suffer the consequences.
"Yeah." Alex breathed again, exhaling fumes, ground out the cigarette and upended the bottle once more. When his mouth was free, he started in again. "Wouldn't let me talk-- Wouldn't let me call anyone-- Wanted somethin' but I couldn't make out what--"
"What about the man you came back with? Where'd he--"
Alex turned whiter than ever and slumped back into the seat. "He's a nutter. Fuckin' loony. Don't wanna talk about 'im, Tris. Please."
"Okay, mate. Later." It was more than a drug reaction, Tris realized with a shock. Alex was frightened of the man. Alex, who didn't scare easily, was scared now in a way Tris couldn't suss. He watched Alex finish the last of the bottle of whiskey and then watched it slide from clumsy fingers. Alex's head dropped into his hands, and Tris listened to the loud breathing that came to him even over the background rumble of the jet engines.
Finally Alex looked up. His eyes were damp and even redder, and they seemed to see Tris for the first time. "Oh God, Tris, I was scared when they took me, and nobody would tell me anything or do anything or let me out. Then he came around." His eyes closed for a moment, then snapped open. "An' he took me out of there, but then--" Alex shivered.
"What, mate? Was he with the cops?" The stranger was a puzzle -- and wouldn't be solved until Alex managed to give them a clue. He seemed to be part and parcel with Alex's troubles, though...
"Ahhh," Alex slurred, and this time when his eyes closed, he leaned heavily sideways. Something was finally slowing him down. If he could sleep this off, maybe Alex would be back to his steady, happy self in the morning. If not, well, Tris didn't like the idea of calling in an Italian doctor, but no more did he want to cancel the scheduled shows.
"Alexmate, you fancy a lie down?" Don't fight me on this, Alex.
The eyelids flickered. "Yeh."
"Okay, let's shift you then." Tris heaved at the near-comatose twelve stone of his singer. "It's not far."
"'Kay," agreed Alex, not moving. But when Tris tugged again at his shoulder, he leaned out of the chair and wobbled with Tris's support to the bed, reserved for just such emergencies, that occupied the other half of the forward cabin.
He lay still as Tris pulled covers around him, sleeping or passed out, but jerked awake with a cry when Tris moved toward the door.
"Just goin' to have a word with Mick, mate. I'll be right next door." Sorting out your stranger before we get into any more trouble.
"Oh," Alex mumbled. "Okay." But Tris could see that it wasn't, and he left the door to the main cabin closed, returning to sit cross-legged on the bed beside Alex. He reached out to stroke the tangled curls, feeling warmed when Alex relaxed under his touch.
"Shh," he whispered, listening as Alex's breathing steadied and deepened.
Even with Alex asleep, the discordant mood permeated the cabin. The silent, vivid music that was Tris's internal representation of Alex was distorted, as if warped by feedback. He tried to call up in his memory the subtle rhythms of the old market in Istanbul, but they kept speeding up, driven by Alex's heartbeat.
He was still sitting there half an hour later, listening to Alex snore lightly, when Mick tapped discreetly at the door. Had to be Mick. No one else would have the nerve. Well, Duff would, Tris corrected himself, but the drummer couldn't be discreet if his life depended on it. Tris eased gently off the bed, listening a moment to be sure Alex would stay asleep before he tiptoed over to the door.
Mick smiled apologetically when Tris opened the door, and leaned close to whisper an account of some negotiation with a "Hans Pfeiffer."
Tris listened to the demands with growing suspicion. "He wants what?"
"A job. Well, for a few days. Just until he can catch a plane home."
"I don't like it, Mick. He's involved in whatever happened to Alex--" Damn, he wished he knew more.
"Has Alex said anything?" Mick didn't sound any happier about the situation than Tris was.
"Not much." And nothing of that makes a bit of sense. "But whatever went down, it was enough to give him the heavy shakes. I don't like it, Mick. I don't like him." It was a gut reaction, but he didn't want the man around. Paradox on tour didn't need any more complications than they could make for themselves as it was.
"He claims he'll give us more of the story if we keep him on." It was clear that Mick thought the info might be worth it, even if the source was questionable, but Tris's gut said it was a bad idea...
"Let 'im stay." Alex's scratchy voice emerged from the darkened half of the cabin.
Mick twitched his eyebrows at Tris, questioning.
"Alex, are you sure... ?" Tris hoped Alex would take it as a way out.
"I owe him, Tris. He got me out of a rough place, and even if it was a nightmare, he didn't have to do it. He wants to stick with us for a few days, I say yes. 'Sides, I know I don't want 'im mad at me."
"Okay, Alex, whatever." But I'm going to have a word with Mr. Hans Pfeiffer myself, as soon as I get a chance. He saw that Mick had read his thought, and the manager nodded briefly. Both knew that getting the band -- meaning Alex, just now -- back on track had to be Tris's first priority "Just take care of him, Mick, so we're clean and clear. Can you?"
"Don't I always?" was Mick's only response. He turned away and Tris shut the door softly.
Turning back to the darkened cabin, his eye caught the intricate inlay on the frets of his mandolin. Taking it back to the bed where Alex lay dozing again, he strummed it gently to check the tuning. It was an old instrument and fell out of tune quickly. He adjusted it, then softly plucked the tune that had been running through his head since Cappadocia, filling the cabin with the sad but serene mood of the rocky wilderness.
The timbre of the jets deepened, signaling their descent into Sicily. Alex started awake at the "fasten seatbelts" announcements, and Tris aided his clumsy fingers again, getting him into a chair, tightening the belt across his lap before he took his own seat. Alex caught his hands and held them, looking deeply into Tris's eyes. He looked worse for the sleep instead of better, dark circles bruising his eyes, his cheeks hollow and pale under the blond stubble.
Tris waited, and finally Alex just said, "Thanks."
He looked so lost, so empty of the unreserved joy that usually radiated from him, that Tris leaned in, offering a kiss, wanting to spark the light back into Alex's eyes. He was surprised when Alex's hands came up to tangle in his hair, gripping his head, holding him still as Alex kissed him, thrusting his tongue hard into Tris's mouth, tracing its limits. He sucked and bit, inviting Tris to do likewise. It was fast and loud and a little desperate, like a trumpet concerto. Tris's hands were on Alex, struggling to reach what he could but confined by the seatbelt and the fact that Alex refused to let him go.
He felt the plane's landing gear grind down and ignored it, got a hand inside Alex's jeans and freed the hard cock, pumping it quickly in time with their racing heartbeats. Alex dropped his head back against the headrest, gasping deeply. Tris panted, watching Alex's chest rise and fall, feeling the quivering response in the powerful body under his hands and feeling the ponderous floating adjustments of the plane's weight in the air between them and the Earth. Then Alex pulled his head down and Tris bent gladly, finally releasing the seatbelt to better reach his goal.
He licked the top of Alex's shaft, and Alex's whole body arched upward in response. Tris didn't bother with niceties, just took in as much as he could, sucking hard, sliding his hand down into Alex's jeans to massage his balls.
Alex whimpered sharply and then came, shuddering hard, spurting into Tris's throat. Tris let him finish and pulled off, gasping, and felt the earth rush up at both of them. He clutched at Alex's legs, felt Alex's hands holding him as the plane touched down and went into the jerky shudder of a newly grounded aircraft.
# # #
"The crew doesn't need to know any of what you've told me," said Royce, with finality. "You'll be one more roadie, as far as they know."
"Agreed," said Klaus. It had taken only a little suggestion to bring Mr. Royce to the point of insisting that he stay with "the band," evidently titled Paradox, unless and until Logan was declared safe. Klaus suspected that the surrender of his Magnum into Royce's safekeeping had reassured the man far more than any of the half-truths Klaus had given to explain his own and Logan's appearance on the Ataturk International airfield. What Royce thought of it was his own affair; but Klaus estimated that he would cooperate with any measures "Hans Pfeiffer" might suggest in the next few days.
Finally Mick Royce stuck out one very large hand. "You're hired, Pfeiffer, on Alex's say-so. There'd better not be any trouble out of this." The threat in his voice was not well disguised, but Klaus ignored it.
"No, sir, there won't," said the Major, as if to a superior officer. "To whom should I report for road-crew duty?"
Royce looked at him strangely, and Klaus realized that punctilious military courtesy might not be the common mode here. The big man rolled to his feet and leaned against a convenient row of seats. "You're working for Dennis Heyes -- he's the roadie boss -- under Simon Nash, the road manager. Just follow Heyes's group when we deplane."
"Yes, sir." Royce gave Klaus another searching look, then shrugged and obviously dropped Hans Pfeiffer from his list of current problems.
Feeling as though he'd weathered an inept but enthusiastic interrogation, Klaus sank into his seat on -- he now knew -- the Paradox jet. He was not perhaps entirely helpless without the cover Paradox could offer, but it was by far the best for his purposes until Eroica was found.
It had been foolish of the Chief to assign him a cover in Ankara as a diplomat -- the role did not suit him and everyone knew it. Probably that was why the head-up-his-ass Chief had done it: "to keep you on your toes," the Chief would say.
That was over, at least. Eroica had arrived in Ankara on schedule, the Major had cleared the way for him at the American Embassy and the planned acquisition, as ever with Eroica, had gone off smoothly. Eroica had actually been out of the Embassy compound: Klaus had watched for his exit through a not-particularly-convenient window in a line-of-sight building one corner down the street, just within binocular distance. He'd seen the slim black figure slip out and shake its pale curls in the air before melting into the shadows. Klaus growled to himself as the memory replayed, for the gesture had certainly been unnecessary, meant for his watching eyes, and the thought of Eroica flaunting himself was not only repellent, but far too memorable.
Two minutes later, all hell had broken loose.
Hell was the silent, incandescence of breached high security and the writhing agony of national government that had lost an irreplaceable and inadmissible object. Klaus learned of the silent blowup only when he returned to his ostensible and temporary job at the Federal Republic's embassy.
He'd stayed at his post all while reports came in pinpointing a theft at their American ally's embassy -- of some kind of silver-bound art item, it seemed, which meant only that Eroica had played one of his usual tricks. But it had alerted the U.S. embassy's security staff, and whether it was reported or not, they'd have checked their safe and discovered the loss of a certain spool of unclassifiably secret film that they shouldn't have had at all. They couldn't admit they knew it existed, let alone that they'd had it and lost it, but they'd go all out to get it back. They had Eroica's description and access to Interpol's famous unclosed file on him.
The thief had indeed evaded or jinxed the embassy security cameras; the Major rated Eroica's ability on such matters as near-supernatural. However, one description by an alert guard served to finger "Eroica" all too well.
The next report, too many sleepless hours later, had placed Eroica in Istanbul, which was reasonable enough, and in custody of the Istanbul police, which under most circumstances Klaus would consider only simple justice. The report mentioned nothing about a silver art object of any kind, however, nor any information that Eroica had divulged. The Major assumed that the twisty English bastard was finessing the situation. He preferred that Eroica finesse it no further than necessary.
Klaus commandeered a seat on the next flight to Istanbul, expecting to find some complicated trick of Eroica's, but when Klaus had arrived at the police headquarters he discovered a confused and terrified stranger.
Eroica was still at large. The satellite-camera film he'd been sent to acquire was, therefore, still at large also, as was any certainty the Americans might have about who'd stolen it or precisely when or, of course, anything about the silver bauble Eroica had picked up on his own. Why, Klaus thought irritably, hadn't the idiot left one of his "From Eroica with Love" calling cards? Since (by report) the stolen object was a priceless historical or religious artifact lent for display by a prominent Turkish scholar and nationalist, the Americans might consider its recovery as more than incidental. He'd have to speak to Eroica about that little faux pas. Better yet, Klaus thought with sour amusement, the Chief at Bonn would have to speak to Eroica. It would serve them both right.
Klaus had known with his gut, as well as by cold calculation, that it was necessary to free the false Eroica. He'd even relished the chance to confuse the smug, earnest CIA. If only one of the silly Yanks hadn't jumped the gun, all too literally, everything would be fine. That misjudgment had cost the agent dearly, and it had cost Klaus too much. What kind of agent started an unnecessary gunfight in a city street full of civilians? From the focus the American agents had placed on the escape, he'd have thought they were afraid of Eroica, as if he could pose a threat to them!
Had they perhaps been under the impression that they were rescuing Major Eberbach from him? Klaus's mental processes stopped dead at the idea for a moment.
Nonsense. What a ridiculous thought.
Klaus was relieved to be distracted by the muffled thump of landing gear and the grumbling of Paradox crew-and-entourage members complying with the pilot's instructions to fasten their seatbelts or take the consequences and no fucking in the john until the aircraft had come to a complete halt. Klaus growled to himself, buckled his seatbelt, and tried to pick out which of the complement of ill-clad human dregs in the back of the plane were to be his fellow road-crew members until Eroica resurfaced or until some disgruntled government located him.
It was not an inviting prospect.
# # #
Dorian opened his eyes to afternoon instead of morning when the train pulled into Thessalonica. Jones would be waiting as ordered and would be relieved to know everything had gone smoothly. Dorian rarely needed to call on his team for emergency rescue efforts, but there had been a time or two in the past when having someone to watch out for him had made the difference between an entertaining adventure and an unpleasant jail term.
Jones was waiting behind the wheel of a hired limousine and greeted him with a warm smile. Accepting Dorian's small carryall, Jones held the offside door for him.
"Careful with that," Dorian warned when Jones might have thrown it into the luggage compartment.
"Yes, my lord." Jones eyed the bag speculatively, but didn't ask. Instead, he packed it gently into the car and then drove quickly and carefully through the afternoon traffic to an unostentatious hotel which proved, inside, to be a haven of cool quiet.
The room was ready, a vase of roses on the side table and a bath drawn and waiting. Jones took away his sweaty clothes and offered him a silk caftan, but his attention strayed frequently to the carryall that Dorian would not allow out of his sight.
Finally Dorian could open it and show off his prize.
"So, what is it?" asked Jones, as Dorian freed the string that held it closed. Teasing himself (and Jones) a little, he removed the wrapping slowly, piece by piece, stopping to fold each layer before removing the next. It was like undressing a particularly long-awaited lover... if only it were Klaus... As he lifted off the last covering, Dorian stilled, caught anew by the beauty of his find: sensuous curves of silver and light and shadow; smooth ink on old parchment. He took a moment to run appreciative eyes and fingers over the inscribed figures. "Isn't it exquisite?"
"What is it?" Jones's sense of history was less keenly tutored than Dorian's. "I can't make out the picture."
The "picture" might have been a sweeping, abstract pen-and-ink rendition of a mountain landscape or, at another angle, stylized leggy deer in an equally stylized forest. The curves and flourishes had a definite but obscure life of their own. Dorian had loved it at first sight. The enclosing frame was made of frankly abstract arabesques. "It's meant to fool the eye, a bit," he said to Jones, "but in the strictest sense it's not a picture at all." He regarded it with possessive pride.
"The police wire had you stealing it from the American Embassy in Turkey."
"Mmm-hmm," said Dorian, aware of a tiny lump of undelivered responsibility in his belt pocket.
"Are you going in for an Eastern bit of collection now?"
"Not really. It just seemed like a good idea at the time." Dorian caressed the silver frame, admiring the balanced fluting at the edges. "Isn't it lovely?"
"Yeh-- ess," said Jones doubtfully.
"Well, keep it safe," said Dorian briskly. "I'll be back to see it again soon. Just now I've to see a man about a mountain."
Jones coughed. "Ah, yes, m'lord."
Dorian smiled, feeling a quiver of excitement flutter through him. "Well, I do, you know." This double game was most delicious when even his own team weren't aware of it. "Don't expect me back for a day or two," he said. He liked to take a little time to tease the reluctant Major after such escapades; NATO's pillar of virtue wasn't likely to topple into his arms, but the quest was a continuing diversion nevertheless.
# # #
As Klaus left the protection of the Paradox jet, he noted, automatically, the security setup at the Sicilian customs desks. He wore his red baseball cap, hair tucked up inside, and the Turkish T-shirt which still made him wince. His "Hans Pfeiffer" ID, fortunately, showed short hair and an artfully shadowed face that made him look thinner and older than Iron Klaus normally did.
The road crew members -- roadies? -- chattered and grumbled around him, bored by the customs process and uncaring of the honor of having their own assigned official and an abbreviated ritual -- the latter ensured, the Major was virtually certain, by some exchange of currency and favors from Mick Royce. It was a disgusting corruption, naturally, but it suited his purpose.
"'Ave you bin at the stadium here?" asked a quick-moving little man in a noticeably obscene T-shirt, two ahead in the line of roadies on the wrong side of the customs desk.
"Nah, missed that tour," replied a taller, stringy man just before Klaus.
"'Sa weird one. The sound system's tailored to the echoes..."
"Who's he?" asked a different voice. It was said with eyes flicked toward Klaus and quickly away, by someone with a paunch that rivaled the Chief's.
"New guy. Picked 'im up last stop, I guess."
"He came on with Alex..." began a third voice from the lineup behind Klaus, and then dropped in volume until Klaus could not follow the speech, which had every property of scurrilous gossip. He wondered, with something between amusement and exasperation, how far it already deviated from the evidence any road crew member might have observed. He hoped they did not hit on the truth.
The man who had been presented to Klaus as Dennis Heyes appeared at Klaus's shoulder. "Pfeiffer. Gotcher passport?"
"Yes, sir. It's West German," said Eberbach, a.k.a Johannes Pfeiffer of the Paradox road crew. "Will that present any difficulties?"
Heyes shook his head. "Not in Italy. Mr. Royce handles the entry paperwork for everyone." In cash, no doubt, thought Klaus. "Just answer the guard's questions. Don't say anything you don't hafta, okay?"
"Yes, sir." Klaus forbore to mention that he'd had extensive training and experience in the art of telling immigration guards and other junior officials only what they needed to know. His magnum and spare ammo clips were, he hoped, safer with Mick Royce than with him. No border guard could be expected to ignore them.
"That's fine, just like that," approved Heyes. His eyes were already searching up and down the line of roadies for other problems. The Major recognized a competent sergeant's behavior and nodded a crisp dismissal just before Heyes said, vaguely, "Good man," and moved on.
Whatever occupied the road crew boss, it did not prevent the road crew members behind Klaus from continuing their attempts at familiarity. "You came aboard with Alex," said someone in an elaborately studded leather jacket which did not conceal bulging muscles or, unfortunately, an equally prominent body odor. "He all right? What happened?" This accent was, more or less, American.
"I-cannot-discuss--" began Klaus stiffly, and stopped. He was to blend in with these men. This was not the moment to antagonize his new workmates.
"'Course you can," said the man, ignoring Klaus's tone. "Name's Hickory. What's yours?"
"'Hickory'?" asked Klaus in disbelief.
"Blaine Hickory," confirmed the man, and waited in muscular and affable expectation.
Klaus blinked. The man intended to be intimidating. "Hans Pfeiffer," he said. "I met Mr. Logan in Istanbul."
"An' what happened?" asked Hickory, unfazed by the silence at the end of Klaus's sentence. Other faces turned toward them, listening eagerly.
"Next!" called an implacable Italian voice, and Klaus trudged forward with a feeling of being punted between Scylla and Charybdis. He adjusted his posture to match the slumped shoulders of the man who'd stood ahead of him and mentally rehearsed Pfeiffer's vital statistics.
He must have remembered them correctly, for the guard apparently found nothing amiss with his answers. Between laconic replies Klaus scanned the booth and all visible surfaces, in a manner he knew would be taken for tourist curiosity. Hans Pfeiffer's passport showed only one previous trip outside Germany.
He spotted the wire-transmitted photo of Eroica which had caused all the trouble in the first place, and restrained his reaction when he saw his own, half-expected photograph next to it in similarly poor reproduction. Hans Pfeiffer was nobody the guard should give a second glace to, he made himself believe. It was just as well that the photo had caught his hair at a windy moment, the outline nothing like Pfeiffer's pictured crew cut. Even more fortunately, the guard had probably not had time to study the wire photo and description thoroughly; it could hardly have arrived here more than an hour ago.
Klaus headed into the concourse to join the Paradox roadies there with a sense of returning to a greater danger. He was officially wanted for questioning by NATO, and he had no doubt that any American agents who happened to be available at his arrest would take charge of him. That outcome to the mission would be awkward, to say the least, but he thought he understood its dangers better than the vagaries of rock musicians and their "road crew."
It reminded him uncomfortably of the effect Eroica had on him. Klaus quashed that thought and wondered how he was going to handle working for Paradox.
# # #
The band's progress through Italian immigration was smooth, but not smooth enough to ease Tris's nerves. Or Mick's, by the look of him. At least this time nearly everyone was sober, except Alex, who was as tanked as Tris could get him and therefore quiet, slow-moving, and remarkably docile. He remembered his name and didn't babble anything about jail or blood.
In a hired car of the way to Syracuse, Alex curled into sleep on the back seat while Camy drove and Tris frowned, unseeing, at the Sicilian hillsides. God knew what Duff was doing in the other car -- God and the two groupies who were with him. Tris hoped he'd taken a driver as well and wasn't going to play racing derby all along the highway.
"You get anything out of him?" asked Camy, with a quick glance toward the back seat.
"Nothing much. He's pretty shaken up, is all I'm sure of."
"Who's the German guy?"
"The one Alex came back with?"
"Right. Pfeiffer. He's not shaken at all, or..." Camy frowned.
"Or?" Anything that might explain Alex's overnight incarceration, Tris wanted to know. Immediately.
"He's a strange one. He's like a suit... but harder. He'd eat suits for breakfast. If he were upset, you'd never know unless you were in his way."
"What'd he do to Mick to get a job with us?"
"Well, now, Mick eats suits for lunch and dinner," grinned Camy. "If the guy stays, Mick has a good reason."
"Alex doesn't like Pfeiffer, but he said okay to keep him on."
"What as?" Camy's eyes stayed on the highway.
"Roadie. Temporary, Mick says he says."
"What'd he want with Alex?"
And that, Tris thought, was the question. "I dunno. Alex won't say." The singer stirred in the back seat, but a moment later his breathing told Tris that the he was soundly asleep again. "Let him sleep it off, I guess."
Camy shrugged, but Tris knew he wouldn't forget the new roadie.
# # #
Klaus was perfectly capable of lifting and carrying heavy objects, including massive rolls of heavy-duty electrical cabling. It was the supervision -- not by the crew manager, but by fellow workers -- that annoyed him. Dennis Heyes wanted the cables coiled one way. Croft wanted them rolled up in another fashion. Blaine Hickory merely wanted all the microphone cables to the impressive assembly of noise-makers referred to as a "drum kit" laid out and taped down in a precisely and arcanely significant order, and commandeered "Hans" to redo it when some aspect of the original arrangement displeased him.
Klaus perforce endured Hickory's company and orders for some time, doing his best to deflect the personal questions aimed at him as well.
"You really a Kraut?"
"Yes." It was hardly practical to disguise it.
"Whatcha doin' in Turkey?"
Hans Pfeiffer must have had some reason for being there, Klaus supposed. "Just being a tourist," he said.
"Meetin' people?" asked Hickory.
Klaus adopted the common style of parlance. "Yeah."
Klaus shrugged. "Should I tape the C cable or the D cable first?"
Hickory glanced at the floor where Klaus squatted. "Not yet! Turn 'em over, dammit!" His outrage seemed genuine.
"Why does it matter?" asked Klaus, keeping the disdain out of his tone. He needed to know why it mattered to Hickory.
"They're twisted, and they'll warp and break down faster this way. Lay 'em flat, Hans."
"Yes, sir." Klaus began to re-lay the cables while Hickory watched critically.
"Yeah, like that -- no, make sure that one's even. Okay... Say, you're pretty quick. Ever do this before?"
"Some electrical work," said Klaus truthfully.
"But not for a band," guessed Hickory.
Hickory was not deterred by the curt answer. "So what else d'you do?"
Klaus shrugged. "I was in the army."
Hickory grinned slowly. "No shit, sir."
Klaus shut up and laid another cable: flat, as ordered.
"Didja like it?"
Klaus said, "It's a living," in as neutral a tone as possible. He thought he could hear his grandfather and great-grandfather and great-uncles contorting under the baronial monuments in the von dem Eberbach portion of the church graveyard.
"Is it now? You're not a real live wire, are you?"
Klaus did not answer. There didn't seem to be any good answer.
"Betcher a live one sometimes," said Hickory softly. "That why Alex likes ya?"
Klaus looked up, surprised and annoyed. "Mr. Logan? He doesn't like me."
"Oh?" Hickory was visibly skeptical.
Klaus stood up. "What part of my statement do you disbelieve? Sir?"
Hickory gave him a careful once-over. "Wee- ell... I'm not gonna call you a liar. I just wonder why you came aboard with Alex."
"Yes," said Klaus, and after a calculated pause that would have communicated aggressive insolence to a real superior officer, "sir."
Hickory looked him up and down for a long moment and then said, "If you say so, Hans," with patent falseness. "I gotta check the mikes now, so you're done here. Run along."
Thus dismissed, Klaus made his way carefully across the stage, over the new tape markings and branching hoses of cable. The stage was an open stone platform surrounded by a huge half-bowl of stone tiers -- seating, he realized, cut out of the hill itself. In the growing afternoon shadows, a desk covered with ranks of switches and controls illuminated a closed area created by two of the giant amps at one side of the level area. Two men in headsets frowned over it.
"I don't like that echo pattern," said one, eyes closed.
"'S the best we could get in this stone pit," said the other. "Tris'll want to play around with it tomorrow, pretty sure."
The first one opened his eyes and peered over the stage. "Hoi! Pfeiffer!" It was Heyes.
"Sir?" asked Klaus. He'd hoped to get away soon. It was becoming urgent that he contact Bonn.
"The roadie buffet opened twenty minutes ago. What're you doing up here?"
Buffet. Food? The idea had sudden appeal. "Where is it, sir?"
"I thought so. None of those buggers told you, did they? Back past the equipment trucks. Didja see the catering van earlier? There." He hunted in a pocket. "Here's your badge, by the way."
Klaus accepted the large, laminated square adorned with (inevitably) the Paradox logo as well as with his assumed name, unrestrained colors swirling in the background. It was entirely unlike the identification he carried for NATO, or the smugly authoritarian, discreet metal shields of the CIA. Of course not: its purpose was to be visible, not invisible, to the casual eye.
"Don't lose it, don't give it to anyone, and don't try to go in or out of the theater or hotel floor without it," recited Heyes. "Understand?"
"Yes, sir. Hotel? Where...?"
"There'll be a bus for everyone when Tim is satisfied with the sound check tonight. Now get some dinner."
"Yes, sir." Klaus didn't dare ask about a telephone. "Hans" had no excuse to need one. But it seemed that he had been granted powers of egress and re-entrance to the theater area. He decided to postpone dinner until he'd investigated the possibilities nearby.
Half an hour later, after an aggravating tussle with the Italian telephone service and an even more aggravating wait for someone at Bonn HQ to locate an agent with his wits about him, Klaus returned to Paradox's crew grim-faced and utterly devoid of appetite.
Eroica had not reported in, nor had he been arrested or spotted anywhere except for the false alarm in Istanbul, since he'd scampered out of Klaus's sight nearly forty hours ago. Neither police nor border guards nor any of NATO's observers on this case had caught sight of him, nor the microfilm, nor even the silver artifact the Americans were being so loud about.
He must be in hiding. By Bonn's orders, so was Klaus until some sign of Eroica or his booty turned up.
He ate some of the remains of the crew's dinner buffet mechanically, waiting for a summons to more of the setup work, trying to think of possibilities his subordinates hadn't covered.
Klaus lifted, carried, taped cables, and listened to increasingly cacophonous tests of the sound equipment so precisely arranged on the stage, until well after full dark. The roadies -- other roadies -- took it in stride, cheerful even after hours of work, and inquisitive about "Hans" through it all. Klaus realized after the first comments that more connection was assumed between the himself and Alex Logan than merely helping each other to the Paradox aircraft. The comments suggested lewd speculation; Klaus did not know what to say to counter it.
When at last they were allowed to board the bus which had brought them all from the airport, Klaus was in no mood to manufacture yet more conversation on the topic of his total lack of interest in Mr. Logan's personal habits. By dint of ferocious glaring he acquired a seat alone for the ride to the hotel, but it didn't stop a sly-mouthed comment across the aisle from a short, wiry individual whose specialty was lighting equipment, that Alex must now be wearing a T-shirt that said, "My War or Yours?"
Klaus decided that a venomous but puzzled scowl might be the best response, and delivered it with feeling. The man merely stuck out his hand with a grin. "Nigel Starlington." Reflexively, Klaus shook the hand. "You're Hans Fife, right?"
"Yes," said Klaus.
"Boss says we're roommates." The vague nod that accompanied this information indicated Dennis Heyes, hunched over a stack of clipboards in the seat behind the driver.
"I see. Does that mean he wants you to supervise my movements?"
"Nah, it's just a warnin'. 'M gonna party late, so don't lock me out."
"Or I'll wake you up," said Starlington with undiminished cheer. "An' you might not like it. That's all."
Other chatter around them, overheard and noted even during Klaus's silent glaring, had mentioned a party, evidently a routine occasion for "The band's" evenings. "Would I be welcome at your party?"
It must have been the right thing to say, for Starlington grinned at him and nodded. "Yer on the crew, man. 'Course you'll come to the party." The bus pulled up to a building that had to be their hotel and stopped.
A few hours later, Klaus thought he had been sufficiently appalled for the evening. Food, music and drink of all kinds was available, but so was an illicit cornucopia of substances of the sort labeled "recreational." Even after so short a time in Paradox's company, this did not surprise Klaus, and under the circumstances he considered it in his best interests to ignore it, no matter how openly the items were being smoked, drunk or inhaled.
The women were another matter. They seemed to be all colors and sizes but were generally young and shapely, and while most appeared willing to indulge in any or all acts of the sort also labeled "recreational," they had not been hired. They were volunteers, and most shared an enthusiasm that bordered, to Klaus's mind, on the unnatural. Worse, a few of them attached themselves to him and had to be dissuaded from initiating recreation of either or both sorts.
"This's Ateena," Starlington had introduced the first one. "She's from Syracuse, here tonight."
"And tomorrow," said Ateena, who was teenaged, olive-skinned and voluptuous.
"I'm Violet," said another, edging Ateena none-too-subtly to one side. She was quite similar, aside from being over the age of consent, Nordic-pale, and slender. "You're new, aren't you? Don't you want a drink?"
Violet provided whiskey, and had nearly provided several other items. From a nearby divan on which Starlington and Ateena were making an embarrassingly close acquaintance, the other roadie spared a hand to tug Klaus briefly into a conference. "Vi'let's our welcome committee, Hans. Loosen up, she loves the new boys."
Klaus freed himself and tried to think of a way of detaching Violet without insulting her or the band with which she had affiliated herself, and without joining into any carnal relations, public or private. He had another drink to delay the question, and then another to dull the rising noise level.
A mixed chorus line of topless dancers performed something resembling a can-can to some species of mid-Eastern music. Two singers (neither was Logan) competed to produce the loudest, highest, most discordant noise possible, simultaneously and in opposite corners of the room. Klaus disengaged Violet's arm from around his waist and her head from his shoulder and towed her over to the drinks table to get another large whiskey. "You are a beautiful girl of honorable breeding," he said, experimentally.
"Does that mean you're ready to rock?" Violet's drinks had been laced with something Klaus preferred not to take official notice of.
"I am afraid not. You remind me of Maria Theresa."
"Queen of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Mother of the Emperor Josef and, ah, of Marie Antoinette." It was amazing how everyone in the world knew of that French-by-marriage trollop and no one recognized a hard-working empress for what she was. "She was a great lady, far above my station. As are you."
Violet swayed dreamily, half her drink gone during Klaus's speech. "Say, mmm, what?"
"I fear I cannot accept the invitation you offer me. It would be wrong."
"Oh, no, you're not leavin'?"
"I fear I must," said Klaus with simulated regret. "Please excuse me. A woman of your radiant qualities will not be long without a companion." He gulped at the neat whiskey and edged back toward the corridor door. "Good-by--"
"Not yet!" This time it was a bouncy (hopped-up, Klaus's mind supplied), petite creature with short auburn curls. She knocked the drink out of his hand, stepped on his foot and leapt into his arms -- or rather, threw her arms around his waist and refused to let go. Klaus shook his head. "No, no, down, off!"
"Aww, honey," said the girl. "Don'cha want ta know if I'm a natural redhead?"
Klaus blinked. "No!"
"I am, ya know," she caroled, at a volume rather higher than necessary for personal conversation.
"Get down!" Klaus dragged her off, or tried to, but one of her hands shoved something into his face and he breathed without thinking.
Adrenalin slammed down his spine and made his brain go cold while everything else heated to flashpoint. The dark-red curls hazed in his vision and he struggled -- with the girl, with his body, with the insane place the world had become -- for control. And lost.
# # #
Planes were drab and not Dorian's favorite means of transport, especially when he was traveling as a mundane (and, it was to be hoped, unrecognizable) businessman very unlike Eroica. However, first class made it almost bearable, and NATO was paying the bill so he wouldn't haven't to answer to James for it, and when Dorian recalled that Klaus should be waiting for him at Bonn, the flight became a delicious exercise in anticipation.
He'd had a spot of fun flirting with the steward, who accidentally (of course) leaned a little too close every time he refilled Dorian's champagne glass. Dorian wondered if all flight stewards were gay or just those in first class. If the airlines were recruiting them deliberately, Dorian thought it was a charming custom.
The boy was diverting but when the plane descended toward Germany Dorian's thoughts again turned to Klaus; all thought of the winsome champagne-server's brown eyes left him when he remembered the steel-edged green ones he hoped to see in a few hours. Dorian sighed happily.
The cold green eyes had shown no sign of warming to him yet. This was Eroica's second -- no, third -- job for NATO this year. He ought to bill them for the lost opportunities; these missions of Klaus's were becoming a serious drain on his time. Dorian wouldn't have minded at all if only he'd been able to gain some foothold with Iron Klaus. Just occasionally, in split-second glimpses, Dorian thought he must have made some impression, for the green eyes would flicker at him once too often, the manner be a shade suddenly too brusque for simple dislike. There were signals -- Dorian would swear to it -- that the Major noticed him, reacted to him, and... refused to acknowledge any of it.
The Major was the proverbial immovable object, or wanted to be. Dorian, who knew himself to have been irresistible in the past, was beginning to wonder if his credentials had been revoked, flirtatious airline stewards notwithstanding.
His reverie was interrupted by the landing announcement. It was eleven in the evening, weather clear and cool -- far too late to bother Klaus's office with a trivial bit of news such as his arrival, or was it? It might be amusing to drag Klaus out of whatever evening plans he had; Dorian had wondered now and then if the tiny flashes of reaction were simply to the breaking of the Major's iron routine.
Variety, he thought, was the spice of life. Klaus needed more of it.
# # #
Alex had thrown himself into partying with an intensity that had him truly wasted in record time. He'd consumed an enormous amount of alcohol, pot and hash, and was currently eyeing the redhead in the corner who had been passing out the amyl nitrate poppers. Should he or shouldn't he?
Two girls in shorts and see-through blouses were enacting what they called Bacchic revels and what Alex called a damn fine strip show. He ignored the scuffle in another corner: the road crew seemed to have it under control and tonight, somehow, brawling wasn't a very appealing diversion. He reached for his drink, noticed there was a semi-familiar groupie attached to it now, and kissed her hand as he repossessed the glass to drain it dry. The girl -- Susan? Sharon? -- moved around to rub his shoulders, and the sensation started a painful sort of relaxation that he knew would become better very soon.
Someone tapped his arm lightly and he looked up to see Tris's roadie Steve, looking anxious. "What?" Alex snapped.
"Er, Alex, that German guy you brought in is causin' problems, and won't settle down for nothin'. C'n you have a word with 'im? We got 'im in your sitting room." Steve jerked his head toward the indicated door.
Alex glared at him, but Steve waited without backing down. And Alex definitely owed "Hans" a favor for the jailbreak, whatever his methods... "Okay, I'll see to it." He dropped a second kiss on the groupie's kind hand, then pushed to his feet. The room wobbled for a moment, then steadied, and Alex let it settle firmly into place before he left to deal with his "little problem."
Stumbling across the threshold into his suite, Alex almost didn't recognize Hans-Major-with-a-big-gun-Pfeiffer. The German was held between two strong roadies, struggling in their grasp, obviously too dazed to put up an effective fight. The unfocused eyes tried to follow Alex, and seemed to flare with some unnamed emotion. Alex nodded that he could handle the situation and the roadies left hurriedly to return to the party.
"Hans" fell back against the wall and barely managed to hang there. Alex, who'd seen more drunken, drugged amateurs than he'd seen sober businessmen, recognized the genuine object. "Hans" was gone. Abso-fuckin'-lutely wasted, on drugs or booze, or probably both. A basket case.
"Dammit, Hans!" yelled Alex, frustrated at having to concentrate on someone else's needs, let alone this man's, "couldn't you--"
He was interrupted by a spate of rapid-fire German, meaningless to him. Then: "How did you get here? What are you doing here? Did you drug me?"
This was followed by more German, some of it curse words that Alex recognized. He watched, dazed but curious, as the man ran fingers into his dark hair and tried to pull handfuls of it out by the roots, his eyes and teeth clenched shut in a fury of pain.
When "Hans" seemed to come back to the present he looked at Alex again, now with confusion and something else: sorrow, longing, deeper pain? His eyes had focused, but they were lost, as if he could see Alex but didn't understand why he was there. It was a feeling Alex knew well himself, and had seen in Duff: What's happened to make the world such a strange place? I don't understand it any more! Help!
It made him feel more charitable, in this moment, for his odd savior. "Why don't you get some sleep, Hans? It'll be better in the light of day," he offered, although he wasn't at all sure how many days it would be until he himself felt better. He didn't like to think about taking the violent death of another human in stride. Maybe this wild spell was "Hans" falling out of step over it, a delayed reaction. Alex slid a hand around the broad shoulders, steering his wasted charged toward the bedroom.
In a move too fast for Alex's muddled brain to follow the German exploded, and Alex was flung against the wall, his head rapping sharply back on it, while the heat of a hard, muscular body pressed against him from chest to knees.
Hans was shouting angrily in German again, and the only syllables that made sense were "Eroica," and "vertrunkene Idioten." He shifted to accented English: "perverted hands," "keep away," and "damn pervert" were repeated in apparently random order.
Shocked sober, or relatively so, Alex tried to free himself, but Hans only leaned harder against him. The man's erection was obvious, rubbing against Alex's groin in contradiction to the shouted tirade.
Alex tried to twist free again, thinking wildly that he didn't fancy being raped against the wall of his own hotel room. There was only one of Hans, but he was actually bigger and stronger than Alex, and the events of the afternoon made it a good guess that he'd had combat training more systematic than a dozen or so Welsh bar brawls.
Alex thought of calling for help. The knowledge that he could, however embarrassing it would be to have some of Simon's minions find him in this compromising position, gave him the confidence to relax his muscles, lean back against the wall and look up into the crazy German's eyes. They seemed unable to fix on Alex: they'd flit to his face, then away, rapidly scanning the room, the floor, then back again for a quick peek as if Alex might have disappeared or changed in the time he'd looked elsewhere.
"Hans," Alex tried again, softly this time. "Hans, let go."
Maybe he got through, because at least Hans seemed to see him now, looking closely at his face, his hair, then deeply into his eyes. "You -- you are not -- Dorian -- Eroica. You... Logan--"
He released Alex abruptly, turning away and drawing himself up in a puffed-out military posture. He swayed a little, but otherwise pulled it off. When he turned back around, there was only a tiny trace of a blush on his cheeks. It faded quickly and was replaced by stiff formality.
"I will thank you to keep your hands to yourself. I shall be going now, and I thank you for the service you've done me. I apologize for your inconvenience."
"But..." Alex knew the futility of trying to argue with a drunk; he had experience from both sides of the fence. He tried anyway. "You'd better stay here."
"I am not a--" Hans clamped his mouth shut, but Alex still heard an echo of "pervert" with that peculiar spitting sound that the German had added during his tirade. "I am not interested--"
Did the bloke really think this was Alex's idea of a seduction routine? For chrissakes, where'd he been all his life?
"Listen, mate, I'm sorry to burst your little bubble, but I've got plenty of willing bedmates. I don't need to force meself on the likes of you. You're in disguise, hiding from someone, right? Whatever you told Mick?"
Hard green eyes drilled straight into his for a shocking instant. It almost made Alex lose the fragile thread of his argument. "Uh... Hans. These rooms are inside Paradox security, maybe the best-protected place in the city tonight. No one will bother you here. You can even lock the door. All right?"
Hans made as if to argue, but Alex wasn't interested any more. He wanted another drink. Or three. He went out and closed the door firmly behind him. Let the guy stay, or leave. It was none of Alex's business which he chose.
# # #
The decision of whether to notify NATO Intelligence of his arrival now or later was taken out of Dorian's hands, for the lovely Agent G was waiting for him in the Immigration area, scanning the crowd with an air of resigned endurance. The noticeably cheap imitation of a Chanel from the fall collection caught Dorian's eye, and he made a mental note to remind Klaus to raise his subordinates' salaries. One just couldn't afford to live on what NATO paid its personnel. It was a frequent complaint of James's as well.
G's expression changed to an excited, peremptory wave and Dorian almost thought the agent was glad to see him. When G sent a withering glance over Dorian's shoulder at the brown-eyed steward's farewell -- a little more effusive than airline standard -- Dorian was sure of it. Dorian blew a kiss back at the steward before offering his arm to G. He allowed himself to be steered through several layers of bureaucracy and hustled into an ugly, plain car headed for the government center.
G carefully did not mention the mission, so Dorian followed his lead and chattered on about Yves St. Laurent, a subject for gossip which invariably cheered up G; but once they were inside HQ, he felt entitled to ask after the Major.
"He's not in yet," said G, with a furtive look from under his lashes. "The Chief's in a snit about it. Everyone's keeping out of the line of fire."
"Hssst!" G warned him. They were at the chief's door. G tapped on it.
The bellow from within sounded like a tormented farm animal, and G pushed open the door hesitantly. "Eroica's here, sir. As ordered." The agent scurried away before Dorian could think of anything more to say. The Chief was in the office, and evidently working, at nearly midnight. The hour alone meant something was wrong.
"Well, don't just stand there, Eroica, come in and close that door!"
The Chief looked even worse than his usual obese self. There were circles under his eyes and a gray tinge to his skin that spoke of too many hours awake with only coffee for company. Or -- Dorian re-evaluated the scatter of small boxes littering the room -- coffee and a really good German bakery.
"Now that you're here," the Chief asked in a reasonable, if forced, tone of voice, "where is the film?"
"I had thought to hand it directly to Major Eberbach."
"He's not here, and not likely to be here for some time -- a topic I will discuss with you presently -- and I must have that film now!"
The Chief was very neatly frothing at the mouth by the end of the speech. Dorian considered it in the best interests of his personal safety and dignity to hand over the capsule of microfilm. "What's so bloody important about it, anyway?" he asked, as the Chief examined the tiny canister minutely for some verification invisible to Dorian.
"None of your business, Thief. Wait here." And the Chief departed, moving at amazing speed for a man of his bulk. Dorian was left alone in the small office for the first time of any of his visits to NATO HQ. It was temptation too great to resist.
His perusal of a fascinating note -- a list of dates and cities -- was interrupted by G almost immediately, long before Dorian could find any compromising diary entries or other interesting evidence about the Chief's private life.
# # #
Hitting the floor didn't wake Alex so much as the sound of his head impacting the wood parquet. The pain and dizziness kept him there until Tris's uncombed head leaned over him, questioning him in what seemed to be a foreign language.
Very slowly, very carefully, Alex levered himself to a sitting position, making an effort to breathe deeply and praying for the room to stop spinning. It finally stilled, remaining blurry. The pounding in his head fought the waves in his stomach, and Alex, groaning, carefully rested his sore head against the mattress and prayed to die. Soon.
Tris appeared in front of him again, the long-fingered, guitar-calloused hands offering water and tablets. His garbled sounds slowly resolved into words that only made Alex feel worse: "breakfast" and "sound check."
Alex swallowed the pills gingerly before he looked up to meet Tris's eyes. "'M gonna die before noon. No doubt about it. No hope." Alex wished it were true. Death would be better than this.
Suddenly he remembered, as if hearing it again, the booming explosion of the gun. He saw the limpness of a dead human body hitting the ground, the gore splattered across white and gray paving stones on a hot summer day.
Lunging for the loo, he promptly threw up what little there was in his stomach.
He dropped back to lie on the tile, panting heavily. He wasn't sure he wanted to move again. Ever. The tile was comfortably cool against his skin, and he didn't trust his stomach to keep its place if he tried anything more ambitious than absolute stillness.
Darkness loomed before his eyes and he waited to pass out, until he realized it was Tris stepping across him, flushing the loo and turning on the taps. The noise was a physical assault, but Tris eased it by kneeling next to him and wiping his face gently with a cool, damp cloth.
"You okay, mate?" Tris whispered. "Doesn't usually take you like this."
Alex moaned softly in reply.
"Whyn't you wash up and come back to bed, eh?"
Alex didn't think he could make it. "Uuhhhn. Can't."
"I'll help. C'mon." Tris worked an arm under Alex's shoulders and lifted, handling Alex's weight almost easily. The room spun, but they ended up side by side near the tub and relatively vertical. Tris pulled him into the tub step by step, and Alex leaned heavily against him, clutching the silk robe for support and clenching his eyes closed against the nausea.
Without Tris's hand to steady him, Alex would have fallen when the shower hit his skin. He managed to stay on his feet under it, letting the water sluice over him, breathing deeply and trying to master his body's reactions. Some time later, Tris helped him out and toweled him off.
Alex was gratefully submissive as Tris steered him back to the bedroom and onto the wide bed -- Alex had jumbled memories of two (or more) groupies, and two or more bottles, that had shared the bed with him and Tris last night. And Tris was awake and sober, keeping up a quiet patter of words that soothed Alex without quite penetrating his daze.
When his head was lifted into Tris's lap, Alex relaxed utterly, knowing that the relief he'd prayed for so desperately would soon be delivered. Tris's callused fingertips brushed against his face, following a pattern that Alex couldn't identify. It was familiar, nonetheless: circling, tracing his bones, pressing softly against his temples. As it moved, the ache drained out of his body away into the surrounding air to leave Alex first relaxed, then tingling and alive.
He smiled his relief up at Tris, seeing him clearly for the first time since he'd so rudely awakened himself. Tris's curls were still unkempt from the night, and the circles darkening his eyes indicating that he'd not slept well either, but still he smiled sweetly down at Alex.
Alex smiled back. "Did you say somethin' about breakfast?" His body, cleansed of the chemical reactions, was making its usual demands. Clearly. "Where's Sam?" Just occasionally Tris could persuade his personal assistant to fetch for both of them. Well, it had happened.
"'E's still in Lebanon, tryin' to get that tambur so we can use it on the next album. Remember the long-necked double-strung thing we saw? He probably won't be back 'til next week." Tris gave him an indulgent smile. "You'll have t' get your own breakfast this morning."
"You want anything?" Alex asked, feeling on the bed stand for the phone.
"No, I'll just have some of yours." Tris rolled out of bed and into the bathroom as Alex began to dial.
Alex bounced into his own room an hour later, stomach full of breakfast and head full of Eastern minor melodies in Tris's thin voice. Tris had elected to stay in, talking (and singing and scribbling) variant harmony with Camy, but Alex wanted to sneak out into town and see if he could find any Syracusan music. For that, he needed clean clothes. With a little luck he might find a folk festival complete with native band, where he could try to talk with the musicians.
Alex nearly tripped when he saw "Hans" passed out in his bed. The alcohol and this morning's hangover cure had effectively wiped out last night's fiasco until just now.
No matter. It was morning, a new day, time for Paradox to get back to normal. Or as normal as it ever got.
He shook the exposed shoulder gently, and the room exploded. Alex was flung painfully backwards, landing even more painfully on his arse halfway to the door. His hands went automatically to his throbbing face; they came away bloody.
"Fuckitall! What'd you do that for?" Teasing his split lip with his tongue, Alex finally looked up at his attacker. The man's hair was mussed and his eyes were wild with... fear? Had Alex heard that "Eroica" name again?
"Touch me again and I'll kill you."
Alex did not doubt for a minute that the man was serious. On the other hand...
"It's my room, mate. I'll thank you to remember it."
Something, perhaps embarrassment, passed quickly across the hard face. "You may have gotten the wrong idea about what I wanted..."
"Don't know what you wanted, mate. All I wanted was some clean clothes. Nothing more. Not last night, not now."
"Are you trying to tell me that Dorian... that you... that we didn't... didn't..." Alex couldn't tell if the man was more relieved or skeptical. "You kept your hands away--?"
"It should be obvious mate. I slept elsewhere, somewhere I was wanted. I" unlike some people in this room "don't go where I'm not wanted. You needed a place to pass out quietly, that was all." One eye prickled, and Alex's testing fingers confirmed that whatever semiconscious punch Hans had hit him with had scored a black eye as well as a split lip. Alex could admire the technique, in the abstract. "For all I care, you can pass out again until sound check."
Maybe he'd better find some ice. Alex remembered belatedly that rambling a strange city could be dangerous, but from the look of things, staying in this room just now would be more so.
# # #
Klaus bolted and chained the door behind Logan, wondering if it was sufficient to guard him against the insanity that surrounded him. Grabbing his trousers from the floor -- the floor? -- he extracted a mangled cigarette and lit it. What had possessed him to allow these decadent perverts to affect him this way? He tried, once again, to resolve the details of the previous night, but all he could recall was the burn of the alcohol, the raucous pounding they called "music," and anonymous hands groping him intrusively. He tried to shake the memories off.
Verdammt perverts! He should have taken more precautions, not let them inside his guard just because they looked... not harmless, but almost too stupid to fear. But he'd been the stupid one, allowing himself to be drugged. He would flay any one of his men for being so careless, and the thought of reporting his indiscretion to the Chief nauseated him. He hoped it had been no more than reaction to the drugs.
What he had to do now as find Eroica. Contact Bonn and hope Eroica had turned up, so that he could leave this madhouse to its inmates. He had to finished the mission, had to go where the mission took him. Even with Eroica. Even here.
If anyone found out the details of the indignities he'd suffered at the hands of these Paradox weirdos, he'd be mortified. He was mortified already.
It was irrelevant now. He could change back to his own passport and be in Bonn in time for supper, if only the mess of NATO's operation and being wanted by the CIA were cleared up. And that would depend on the whereabouts of the real Eroica and the microfilm, on whether the mission were completed and he could be called in openly.
First things first. Klaus completed his morning routine of push-ups and sit-ups, then showered in the inefficiently well-equipped, so-called "luxurious" bathroom. He had his eyes tightly shut as he rinsed soap from his hair when he had a sudden flashback. It was only an impression -- blond curls, heat pounding through his groin -- and then sanity returned and he cranked open the cold tap, banishing the memory, and an embarrassing stir of response, with the suds.
He shaved with borrowed gear and dressed in his own clothes after a hurried trip to "his" -- Nigel Starlington's -- room, where he was grateful to find the roadie still asleep. He left the hotel, nodding to the guard at the elevator and slipping his Paradox badge into his inside pocket as soon as he crossed the security perimeter. No need to advertise his connection with that bunch of perverted lunatics. He located a public telephone and placed a collect call to Bonn HQ, hoping for good news.
What he got was Agent A, nominally in charge of the squad in his absence and occasionally competent. "Oh, good, sir. We've been trying to reach you." How? Klaus thought. "Eroica was quite worried--"
"Eroica was worried? He's there? What's going on? Where is he? Where's the film? Report!"
"He said he had a little trouble getting out of Ankara, had to disguise himself as a woman."
"And while he was enjoying himself--" began Klaus, hotly, but A was continuing:
"... film canister to the Chief. The Chief wants--"
"That pervert!" spat Klaus, mentally including both the thief and his superior in the insult.
"-- to speak with you immediately. Please hold."
Klaus roared into the handset, but he was already in telephone limbo. He counted the next four and three quarters minutes in fifteen-second intervals, checking his watch on the half-minute for accuracy. It didn't calm him, but did occupy a tiny portion of his brain. He would hand up at five minutes.
As if he had been counting the minutes on his end, the Chief picked up at four minutes and 55 seconds. "Ah, Eberbach, what mess have you landed us in this time?"
"Sir, I have not--"
"Nonsense. Eroica is here, the film is here, and you are there! No! Don't tell me where; I know! And meanwhile, the Americans are scrubbing their agent's blood off the streets of Istanbul, and your name has been mentioned prominently. I'm looking forward to your explanation of this."
"No. Not now. I can't talk. Do not cross any borders under your own name. Do not in any event contact this office again. We'll contact you within the week. Keep out of sight while we try to clean up this embarrassing international incident."
The Chief hung up the phone, and Klaus threw his at the cabina telefonica wall. The little old lady in line behind him tut-tutted at him in Sicilian Italian from beneath her black kerchief. Klaus gave her an evil glare before stomping out and back toward the hotel.
Back at the Paradox hotel, in his shared room, Klaus sat down in the one chair and put his head into his hands. He was going to have to stay with Paradox, perhaps for days. At least it was comprehensive cover. The antics of a rock band outstripped anything he could cook up on his own so completely that he wondered how NATO Intelligence, or perhaps the Brits with their infamous MI6, had missed the possibilities until now.
"Gotta head?" inquired a bleary British voice.
His worries had almost superceded Klaus's headache, until now. "I think so," he said, realizing that one discomfort might be alleviated. "Is there somewhere I might find aspirin?"
"Dennis'll have some, if you want to ask him. At least you had some fun last night."
"Turnin' Vi'let down an' all. She said you had style about it, though."
"What'd Alex think?"
"Were you fightin', or what?" Bright eyes peered at him from under a pillow.
"None of your--" The entire incident had occurred within hearing, and probably within view, of a large number of Paradox crew and hangers-on. Not all of them could be expected to lose all memory of it. "... Mr. Starlington, I don't believe I should talk about it."
"Nothin', nothin'," said Starlington. "Lissen, y'got any other clothes? Y'can't work in a suit an' tie. It ain't done."
"I'm sure I can fulfill my duties in any clothing, Mr. Starlington."
The stiff tone did not quell Klaus's roommate. "Y'd better wear somethin' decent, like a T-shirt. Take that black one."
The indicated garment on top of a heap of Starlington's things had the Paradox logo on the front, and long sleeves. It would be good camouflage and comfortable enough. "You're being too generous. Why?"
Starlington grinned from under the pillow. "Alex likes you. Just wear it."
"Mr. Logan doesn't..."
"Yeah, we know. Just wear it, okay?"
"Thank you," said Klaus stiffly. When he picked it up, the back of the shirt displayed a devil with two chained nude figures, male and female, in medieval woodblock style. "Was ist's... Mr. Starlington, if this is a joke, it is not funny."
"'Scuse me? What's wrong? It's the double-sided Paradox tee for this tour."
"This picture..." Klaus turned the shirt to show it, "is disgusting."
"Yeah ain't it somethin'? It's the only extra shirt I have. Wear it."
Klaus sighed. Now that his memory was jogged, he had seen this picture, among the decadence, last night on at least one person. "Thank you," he said again, and mentally cursed his Chief, Eroica, Paradox, and his own stupidity in rescuing a jailed unknown who looked like the thief. He must have had his reasons. He wished he knew what they were.
# # #
The raised voices were clear to Tris through the closed hotel-room door long before he could pick out words. Alex and Duff were having a set-to, and purely by volume measure, they'd been at it a while.
"... none of your business, you big lug! Who asked you to protect me, anyway?" That was Alex, sounding insulted that Duff wanted to paste someone. You'd think he'd be used to it by now.
"Nobody busts up a friend a' mine and gets away with it." Who was busted up? "And what's wrong with you, you din' plaster 'im back?"
Tris paused outside, listening carefully, wondering whether he'd be safe in entering. More than once, bystanders had suffered more damage than either Duff or Alex during a dust-up.
As if on cue, there was a loud impact and the door shuddered under the weight of one of the antagonists. Alex, by the yelp.
"Fuck off, Duffy. I can handle my own problems."
"Yeh, well, fuck you too, mate!"
The door swung open suddenly, spilling light into the shadowed corridor, and Alex strode out, nearly knocking Tris into the opposite wall. "Sorry," he muttered through his disheveled curls, already running down the passage toward the elevator.
Tris moved into the doorway, taking in the scene. Duff was panting slightly, pacing around the knocked-askew furniture. Duncan Cameron and two roadies leaned against a table, Camy holding, and apparently trying to read, an English newspaper. He'd found yesterday's Times somehow, Tris noted. The roadies were more interested in the mess, but probably only because they had money on it.
"Whassup, then?" he asked the room at large.
Duff and Steve and Joey all started in, but with skill that Tris had always admired Camy took over the story. Alex had shown up for the trip to sound check with a black eye, and a preposterous excuse for how he'd gotten it.
"... Duff leapt to a few conclusions and decided to kick the new roadie's arse. Out loud. Alex said no."
"An' Alex never ducks a fight," said Duffy, suspiciously.
"He certainly didn't duck one with you," shrugged Camy. "Business as usual, mates. Are we on for sound check or not?"
"Any time," said Tris. "Car's downstairs waiting." So Alex had protested an attack on Hans, resulting in the fight Tris had just witnessed. Or, almost witnessed.
Curiouser and curiouser. Alex hadn't had a black eye when he'd left Tris's room this morning. And it wasn't like Alex to let anyone get away with planting a facer on him. Tris as well as Duff would have expected to see the culprit laid out and bleeding heavily.
"Camy, I know you wanted to work with the echoes in this theater. We really ought to get there." Camy had gone on about Greek drama theaters when Mick suggested this tour date, something about natural amplification of voices. It did sound interesting to Tris, worth a long sound check session.
"Fine by me." Camy folded his newspaper. "Duff? You'll like the reverb here. It should be loud enough to give even your drum kit a boost."
"What? Never!" said Duffy, his attention successfully caught.
"It's a bit like a cave," said Cameron, leading the drummer out of the room. "A topless cave. The Greeks knew a lot of things..."
Tris followed them thoughtfully and resolved to do a little exploring of his own.
Once at the theater, with Duffy pounding away onstage and Tim and several roadies (including Hans Pfeiffer) in attendance, it didn't take much for Tris to learn more. A shared cigarette, an interested look while hanging around two or three of the more talkative members of the crew, and he got the whole story. Except it couldn't be the whole story because it didn't fit the facts Tris already knew.
The story around the road crew was that Hans had come on to Alex last night: "Like a man just out of prison," was the description he heard. Remembering Alex and jails, he winced. Alex had protested, fought the man off, and walked out, the story went. But he hadn't gone back to the party and this morning he'd been sporting a bruised eye that had the new German's name on it. Alex had laughed it off, but the German feller, Hans, had been stiffer and more formal than ever when he'd joined the crew prior to sound check. Ergo, the two of them had been screwing. And playing some rough games, too. The gossip was too juicy for the crew not to be enthralled.
It still didn't sound like Alex, for whom sex was straightforward play regardless of partner or position. For that matter, so was fighting. Boom, and it was over. The idea of Alex as anything but sunny-tempered in the aftermath of either strained credibility. So why was he so edgy about Pfeiffer?
# # #
"Paradox," said Dorian thoughtful to Mr. Z. "I think I've heard of them. You say the Major pulled someone out of jail, and you think it's a rock musician and that the Major is moving around with the band he belongs to."
"Yes, my lord," said the blond agent.
"Well, where are they? Why hasn't the Major come back here?"
"If he's sticking with Paradox, they're due in... uh, Vienna, tomorrow. A few days after that, Munich."
"Can't you get him out of Austria?"
"The Chief says not yet. It might be best to let him get into Germany before we attempt direct contact."
"And why does the Chief say this?"
Z smiled slightly. "The Major has managed to get his ass in a sling -- the Chief's words. The Americans are angry at him. With reason."
"What were they doing?" asked Dorian. The Major generally exercised his temper by shooting at inanimate objects instead of people -- unless he had to.
"We want to ask the Major that. By report, they were trying to take custody of 'Eroica' from the Istanbul police when the Major came into the situation."
"But I-- Is there a double? And why shouldn't the Major let them have whomever it was? He must have known it wasn't me -- mustn't he?"
"We want to ask him that, too." Z's eyes lifted to Dorian's for a meaningful instant. "We hope he'll make his way back here before anyone else catches him. By then, the situation may be negotiable. This is all extremely confidential, not to be mentioned outside this sub-department. The Major's safety depends on it, Lord Gloria. I hope we can trust you."
"Is he safe?" asked Dorian. "With, ah, Paradox?"
"Maybe." Z sighed. "They'll have some kind of security, I think."
"A rock band?"
"They have tons of expensive equipment and they do some big transactions in cash -- they must guard it."
"What about the people?"
"There are four band members..." Z's eyes flicked briefly over Dorian's hair and face. "The singer is very striking, and he's very popular with the fans... ah..." He shook his head. "Excuse me, please. I have to report to the Chief. We'll be in touch with you about this operation."
"I want to help, if I can."
"Yes, I don't discount that."
"If there's any question of his needing a pick-up at short notice or something, will you call me?" Dorian pinned Mr. Z with his eyes. "You, not the Chief. You know my methods could make a difference."
Z nodded slowly. "Yes, they might. If you can do anything, my lord, I'll call you."
"And I'll call you tomorrow." Dorian smiled at him. "For news."
"Ah, yes, my lord." And he ushered Dorian out of the Department offices before Dorian had quite learned everything he wanted to know.
# # #
Alex felt the heat even in the shade, as he looked over the crewmembers on the Syracuse stage from his vantage point in the stonework. Half were working, half eating a late lunch from the backstage buffet table. Hans Pfeiffer's red cap caught Alex's notice among the lunch-eaters. The German was sitting on a far corner of the stone platform, away from the others, with a plate of food on one knee and a beer by his side.
Alex's curiosity overcame the memories of Hans's temper and even the black eye, in this sun-drenched open space where everyone knew him and nearly everyone was his friend. Alex took his lunch along to the corner square of stone that Hans occupied, sat down, and put down his full plate to twist the lid off his lager.
Hans drew away a little, not really moving but gathering his arms and legs closer in. He didn't say anything, however, and Alex decided to wait him out.
Tipping back the bottle, he drank a third of the beer, then tucked into his first sandwich. He didn't even pretend to hide the fact that he was staring at "Hans." Hans stonily ignored him.
"What're you after here, really?" he finally asked. It wasn't quite what he wanted to know, but it was a start. "Not my safety, even if that's what you'll do to stay here, yes?"
The German rolled his eyes at the heavens, but it occurred to Alex later that the gesture had taken in the whole stage area, where all the other crew members were keeping their distance.
"I talked to Mick. He said you'd keep me out of any more jails."
"Yes," said the German curtly. "While I am here."
"No shit, sir."
Alex looked for a grin and didn't find it. "So why?"
"It's not your business. This," he gestured widely to encompass the stage, the crew, and a grape-juggling contest on some of the stone-tier seating, "is your business. You ought to mind it, not mine."
"But someone made it my business, didn't they?" Alex would not soon forget the feeling of being closed in and of no one believing who he was, or the smell of blood in a crowded street. He could still touch the fear, but it was a goad, almost a thrill, now, instead of a numbing pressure. "Who's Eroica?"
"No one you should know."
"Maybe not. But you know him."
"For my sins," said the man, apparently sincere.
"I thought," said Alex, "that maybe you liked the feller."
Hans glared at him alarmingly and did not move otherwise. Alex's hair tried to stand on end. "I do not. Like. Eroica. In any way."
"Is that why you came looking for me, him I mean, in jail?"
Alex spread his hands. "Okay. You don't." He tipped up his bottle for the last swallow of lager, suddenly thirsty. When he lowered it he said, "'M writing a song about Istanbul, y'know. Do you want to hear it?"
"No!" Hans's eyes glittered even more brightly, his body more tense. "You cannot talk -- or sing -- about that. It's... it has to stay quiet, you fool!"
"Hadn't you better keep your voice down, then?" asked Alex, although he was certain the eyes on both of them -- some of the roadies' and Tris's and Camy's -- were out of earshot. He remembered the inexplicable appearance of "Major Eberbach" at the Turkish jail, the quiet ease with which he'd freed Alex once he decided to. "Are you some kind of spy, maybe?"
Hans's reaction was another of those hair-raising glares. "Don't talk nonsense."
"How long will you stay with us?"
"Until there is no more danger of your being taken for Eroica."
"So Eroica looks like me?"
Hans closed his eyes, and when he opened them, a hint of apology accompanied his glance at Alex's blackened eye. "For my sins. For yours. I regret that you were drawn into his affairs."
Alex nodded acknowledgement and leaned forward to drop his empty beer bottle into a rubbish bin. The button of his cutoffs dug into his full stomach, so he popped it open and lay back to enjoy the noon sun. He opened his mouth to ask another question, but Hans, eyes again averted, was gathering up the remains of his lunch, preparing to flee the field.
Alex grinned up at him. "Careful, everyone in the crew can see you."
"Ah, well, but everyone always sees me, mate. I've never been mistaken for anyone else before. It was," he slowed for an instant when the thrill reverted to sick horror, "a memorable experience." Two, or perhaps three, willing groupies and far too much alcohol had not been enough to bury the memory.
Unsubtle footsteps announced a new arrival. "'E's not botherin' you, Alexmate, is 'e?" rumbled Duff's voice overhead.
"I was just leaving," said Hans, with patent relief, and removed himself.
"Nah, I think I'm botherin' him," said Alex, and closed his eyes, careful of the bruised one. The sun would probably be good for it, and this enclosed bowl was warm. They might not see any more sun this whole tour.
"Joey's got your mikes set up," said Duff. "Wanta try 'em?"
"Not yet. Is Tris out there?"
"He's fussin' with Tim and the soundboard."
"I'll be up soon, Duffy And thanks for checking. He's okay, just confused."
"I'll say," muttered Duff, and left Alex alone in the sunlight.
# # #
The Greek amphitheater might have been an interesting experiment, but Tris didn't think he'd go out of his way to play in one again. The band's amps could not be omitted from the show, and had had to be adjusted and re- (and re-re-) adjusted to keep the sharp stone echoes from blasting them all in the face with their own sound -- or with jagged distortions of it thrown back by the tiered wall of the theater bowl. He couldn't imagine what the Sicilian audience would make of it.
Camy, initially more curious than Tris, had withdrawn into a bemused round of conferences with Tim and Dennis, broken by pursed-mouth headshaking. Only Duffy was having fun, sending his backbeat into paroxysms of resonance, playing timed duets with himself and generally using the echoes, as Camy had said, like a giant reverb machine.
Alex still wasn't talking about whatever had happened, or about Hans, except... Tris squinted into the sun... to Hans. It didn't look like a very comfortable conversation. Maybe Hans Pfeiffer was only a helpful, if surly, acquaintance, but Tris doubted it.
Hans had sloped off to do whatever unoccupied roadies did before Alex got up from his nap and tested the front stage mikes. Even when he started gingerly, the resulting doubled and redoubled echoes were overwhelming.
"Look, it's a small place," said Alex finally. "Turn 'em off. Except this one you use in 'Clouds.' Let's try it."
They tried it. The band's balance held for the first time here, with Alex's voice booming over the guitar line. Tris played the break, and whatever Tim had done kept the echoes under control. They were making music again.
The concert that night, in the warm Syracusan dusk, was adequate but less than their best with the band's fire muted by the ceaseless downpour of echoes. That might not have mattered except that Tris didn't know what Alex was thinking, and twice had to use cue signals instead of their usual intuitive accord to create the stage magic that should have been effortless between them.
# # #
The road crew, of course, spent two hours when the concert was finished taking down the stage equipment and packing it for the next leg of Paradox's tour across Europe, on which they were scheduled to depart in the morning. Most roadies -- even Heyes -- worked with careful haste, eager to join the post-concert party. It was, Klaus understood from innumerable comments, likely to be even louder and more disreputable than the previous night's festivities, and it couldn't start properly until the roadies arrived.
"We owe it to 'em to be there," said Starlington, to someone on the other side of the drumkit.
"Absolutely, we owe 'Teena another evening's fun," said another voice. "She's a doll, and built."
"She likes short guys." Starlington was shortest man in the crew.
This was answered by a guffaw. "She likes anyone who'll share a joint."
"I've got a joint," said Starlington, with lewd emphasis, "and I'll share."
In Klaus's opinion, everyone involved would be much the better for a cold shower and a ten-kilometer run. Certainly, he would be. He was only anxious to finish the "load out" as it was called, so he could have a cigarette.
He spent some time, while meticulously coiling heavy cables as Blaine had shown him and stowing them for transport, telling himself that an Eberbach should not turn away from a difficult or unpleasant challenge, even when it endangered his moral fiber to such a degree. He slid amps and speakers onto dollies and trucked them over the none-too-level stone floor -- stones Plato and Aristotle might have walked on, which did neither them nor Paradox any credit, being a mere coincidence -- while his better conscience argued to him that it was his duty to avoid temptation.
Temptation? Was he, Major Klaus von dem Eberbach, tempted by cheap women, illicit drugs and an atmosphere of indulgence?
No, he was repulsed by their presence. He neither needed to avoid them for his own sake, nor did he care to seek them out merely to prove that he had no interest in them.
Alex Logan would undoubtedly be among the revelers, as he had been yesterday.
Alex Logan was also no temptation. Nor was Eroica. Klaus had no need to attend the crew's party, with its distressing plentitude of substances and persons of no interest to him.
As they returned to the hotel he braced himself for an argument with Starlington, but it turned out not to be necessary. When he flopped down on the less-used bed in their room and simulated sleep, he was quickly abandoned.
The roar of inebriated voices remained nearly constant but several rooms distant for some time. Klaus got up and opened a window on the warm Mediterranean night and smoked three cigarettes in quick succession, to calm his nerves. Alex Logan had wanted to write a song about the events in Istanbul, and Klaus only hoped he had been dissuaded.
These frivolous musicians, whose "music" was created by noisemakers, could not be relied upon. A song that could identify recent events might be damning. On the other hand, Klaus thought without conviction, if the musicians were not to be trusted for any kind of truth, perhaps no one would believe their song was anything but one more fairytale.
A tenor shriek, softened only slightly by distance and the intervening walls, echoed from the party area, followed by feminine squeals and general cheering that raised the noise level for several minutes.
Paradox was well known. They had been in Istanbul two days ago, and they were certainly known to have been there. Alex Logan's face was known to thousands of the concert-goers, hundreds of whom, it seemed, were pursuing more direct acquaintance at this very moment, only thirty meters down the hall.
He hoped none of them were looking for Eroica as well.
Tomorrow they were to travel to Vienna, and set up the equipment for another concert, and go on with this senseless propagation of "music" that was noise. Tomorrow he would impress upon Logan that a song about Istanbul and Klaus's actions and Eroica, must not be made public.
This mission had been nothing but a nuisance from the beginning, from Eroica's impudence to the false Eroica's capture, the deadly attempt to recapture him that caused the unfortunate "incident" as Klaus was sure the Bonn office would term it, and now he was acting as a common laborer and was doomed to continue until this so-called band made its way to Germany.
On the other hand, he could have been trapped somewhere with the real Eroica, instead of with an indiscreet libertine whose intentions were... who claimed he had no intentions.
Eroica never claimed that.
Klaus closed the window and went about his solitary bedtime rituals. Presently he hummed a brief tune of his own and fell asleep.
# # #
Alex lounged in one of the furthest-aft seats of the Phoenix, trying to be invisible, as the jet carried them all from Sicily to Vienna. He stared into the clouds outside the window, letting his mind go blank so that the lyrics he knew were there could surface. Hot stone street, wailed the voice in his mind that made songs: it was art and invention, but always with some truth behind it. Hard heart beat, it continued, in the same slow pace, almost a moan. Splash of red. It might sound sexual, exotic, instead of the gut-wrenching horror it had been in life. The voice in his head added a mournful wobble of notes, a stray bit of Turkish prayer. Sign for the dead. Yes.
The music needed a heavy, heart-like beat, and maybe some complicated lines from the guitar, maybe even from Camy's bass. Should it be story ballad? Alex didn't want to tell it as a story -- nothing so complicated. Songs weren't usually good for that anyway, and if he'd wanted to tell a story, he could have explained it to Tris, or somebody, surely. The song half-born in his mind already had its own form, waiting for him to see it. Behind it was fright, and bursts of harsh, vivid energy contrasting with the sudden death in an open street.
The beat in his mind lightened, pounding instead of thudding. The drumbeat in his mind was only a little faster, but the song rhythm suddenly was running wildly, drawing one moment of emotion into sound and time, capturing it in the music. And I'm gone, I'm gone, I'm gone, I'm nowhere ...
Running from bloody death was the song, he knew now. The first four lines just set the scene. I'm gone, I'm gone, it's not me, I'm not there. The vocal line was followed by a scrabble of intense guitar -- Tris could play like that, but Alex didn't know if anyone else could. He couldn't. He'd have to make Tris somehow hear the hard, driving rush of notes that let him escape the death and the blood.
As if conjured by the thought, Tris's voice said "Wotcher," as Tris slid into the seat beside him, which no one else would fill while Alex stared at the clouds.
"Dunno." Alex damned himself for his lack of eloquence. "I'm thinkin' a song." He could think it but he couldn't talk about it yet.
"You looked like it. What's it like?"
"Wish I could say. 'S slow at first, some of those slow wails we heard in Turkey, or almost, and then about a hot street and something red..." Alex shrugged because he couldn't make himself say: There was a man in a suit, in the heat he was wearing a fucking suit, but he wasn't feeling the heat, he was sweating cold and bleeding a river of red on the dusty pavement. That was because Major Hans in his fucking lying suit had a gun that had made a noise too big to hear and that tore a hole in the other man's side, a big red hole, and it smelled like blood. Someone was shooting at me, so I ran with Major Hans and his gun before they all shot me into a red-bleeding cold body on the hot dirty pavement, and we left them behind but I don't know how or why.
He took a deep breath instead and said, "After that it speeds up, like someone running -- that'll have to be you, mate, an' maybe Duff, 'cause I'm running away." He shrugged. "Then there's more. I dunno how it ends." He added, because it made sense in his head, "I don't like jails, y'know."
"Is this about Istanbul, then?" asked Tris.
"Guess so. Can you hear it with me?" Alex looked at him, trying to communicate the emotion and the music that went with it.
Tris frowned, only half-caught. "Tell me more about it."
"Can't, yet. Lemme sing you the vocals later, okay mate?"
Tris's dark brows lifted in a question Alex couldn't answer. Then he nodded. "'Kay. Later. I'd like to hear it."
Alex nodded, eyes again on the clouds that shrouded the Alps.
# # #
Dorian dragged himself into the NATO offices earlier in the morning than he wanted to think about. He'd spent far too much of the previous night mixing up Rusty Nails for an old friend, Matt, and a new acquaintance, Kurt-from-Berlin, coaxing them to tell him everything they knew about Paradox, which was, as it had turned out, a lot. The comprehensive view of the band did not make Dorian's mind any easier than the combination of alcohol and nearly no sleep made his stomach.
The officer assigned to Reception was an ex-Alphabet member who had somehow escaped being sent to Alaska. Leutnant Faerber remembered Eroica from a spectacularly unsuccessful case (from Dorian's point of view) where the Major had copped both the microfilm and an exceedingly fine piece of Greek pottery before Dorian could secure either. The Major had kept the pottery, claiming it was obscene. Dorian thought it depended on one's definition, and in any case the artistic detailing had been superlative. And quite explicit. Dorian sighed at the flash of memory. Such shaping in the flow of ancient pigments! Such a delicious line of buttock and thigh on the pictured figures...
A cough from Faerber recalled him to the present and he fluttered his lashes at the officer. "Could you call up Mr. Z or someone for me, Darling? They've promised to update me on the current case."
The erstwhile Agent D let his eyebrows rise, but he punched through a number on his intercom and spoke briskly. "Agent Z is here. He'll see you."
"A lovely man, don't you agree?"
"He's straight," said Faerber primly.
"How nice to know these things," murmured Dorian. "However did you find out?" he smiled blandly at Faerber until Mr. Z emerged from the guarded doorway to escort him through a room full of desks and junior agents, into a tiny private office.
His anxious face reminded Dorian of the Major's predicament. "What is Major Eberbach doing with Paradox?" the Earl demanded, as soon as he'd been seated on the single, Spartan visitor's chair the room offered.
"Hiding out," said Z unhappily. "Mind, you're not supposed to know this."
"Does he have to?"
"Yes," said Z, even less happily.
"Is he safe there?"
"More or less, as long as he's not recognized. That's why you shouldn't know it -- for his safety."
"The Major's safety is paramount to me, Darling. But why the long face?"
Z raked distracted fingers through his mop of fair-blond hair, but it declined to flop into his face. Like the Major's, it was too well-trained for any such tricks. "Have you heard Paradox, my lord? Do you know anything about them?"
"I've spent the past twelve hours learning what I could," said Dorian, with the best flourish he could produce without props while sitting on a hard chair. "And I just want to know what he's doing with that singer."
"The one who looks a bit like you? The Major seems to have aided and abetted his escape from a Turkish police cell. for which the Istanbul police want him in the worst, meaning the very worst, way. After that, no one's saying."
"The police had reported capturing Eroica."
"But-- Did they think Alex Logan was-- Haven't they heard of Paradox?"
"Evidently not enough," said Z, morosely.
"So he delivered Alex Logan from evil. I suppose it was the only thing to do, once he'd found him languishing in durance vile under my name. Why for heaven's sake has he stayed with the band?"
"They had a little trouble escaping. The CIA was after you, and one of their agents got a bit shot up in the scuffle. A lot shot up, actually. The CIA wants the Major's head too, and the way things are going they might get it."
"Surely it's all in the nature of the game, what with all those guns? And the Yanks will wave them about. They're almost as bad as the Major. No wonder if one of them went bang."
"Lord Gloria," said Z with awful calm, "the Major and at least one CIA agent carried on a running firefight in the public streets of Istanbul: among, in full view of, and endangering crowds of civilians, in broad daylight. The Major was accompanied by someone who fits your description. Rather closely. The Major shot and critically wounded one CIA agent and then did a running escape, dragging 'Eroica.' In case you haven't read a newspaper lately, the Americans are members in good standing of NATO, and just now they're madder than loaded missiles and about as careful of what they hit. They want the Major, for preference, of course. The Turks are also members, by the way, and they're not happy about a burglary or shootouts involving any of their allies. In the absence of the burglar, they are requesting the surrender of Major Eberbach."
He paused to let the magnitude of the disaster sink in.
"Oh, bloody," said Dorian, and then, with a flicker of hope, "'Requesting'?"
"Stringently. It's going through diplomatic channels."
"What does the Chief say?"
"He says it serves the bugger right -- his words -- but he's fighting them tooth and nail. It'll cool down if we stall long enough. I hope."
"So the Major has to stay out of the way. Do you mean nobody yet has connected the false Eroica with Alex Logan?"
"We hope not." Z shrugged, looking guileless and innocent. "Whatever he did, he's managed to cover his trail. You have to admit that a rock band on tour is a powerful distraction."
"Yes, I can see that," said Dorian. "But who's distracting whom?"
"He went to a lot of trouble get Alex Logan out of jail, and now he is, we all hope, accompanying him to the ends of the earth. And it's not because he likes hard rock music -- is it?"
"Not that I know of. I can't say I've ever discussed it with him."
Dorian found himself with a grimace of amusement, despite his fears. "The way you tell it, he didn't have much choice when he found himself with Paradox. He needed a hideout, and they were there. And now he's stuck there."
A smile flickered over Z's face. "Whether he likes it or not."
"I just hope he doesn't like it too much."
Z blinked once, face going quite neutral, more guileless than ever. "Lord Gloria, you're not jealous of Logan, are you?"
"He has armies of loyal fans, talent, fortune and inestimable beauty," said Dorian, reaching up to finger a perfect lock of hair. "At the moment he has the Major right where I'd want him, which is the only part of it I mind about."
Z blushed a delicate seashell pink. "The Major wouldn't... You know he doesn't want..."
"Yes, Darling, I know what the Major doesn't want. In detail and from personal experience. I just wonder what he does want."
"You're being very unkind," said Z, still blushing. "You're also jumping to conclusions."
"Am I? How much do you know about Paradox?"
"They have the greatest guitarist in the world."
"Is that all?"
"Ah..." Z still seemed a little flustered. "Ah... Lord Gloria, I've been monitoring this case closely..." He'd gone coral. "Paradox is the biggest band in the music world. They've been setting records for years but their publicity is terrible. The guitarist is a wizard, absolutely amazing. You'd think he had six fingers on each hand."
"Mmm?" The sudden rush of enthusiasm was startling, especially from Z.
"He could play anything. I think he played everything, in fact, before he set up this band," confided Z. "I heard him in an earlier group called Blind Dog, and then in Esperanza, and he was the best thing in either of them. I know they're all crazy on tour, but the music is enough to make you forgive anything. The Berliner crowd loves it."
"With the Berliner crowd, it's because they're crazy on tour," said Dorian as Z ran down. "I hear they screw themselves silly in every town they go to."
Z nodded, defiant. "So what?"
"What if the Major likes it?"
Z's face had faded a bit but he was still pink. "The Major has never been one for trouble over women. Why should he start now?"
Dorian sighed. "Never mind. Maybe you're right." It did not erase his recollection of the long evening with Kurt, a charter member of the 'Berliner crowd' and one who had seen more of Paradox than was dreamt on in Mr. Z's philosophy. Kurt had shared a riotous night with a certain blond singer not too many years ago -- just before the group got famous, he'd said. Kurt did exaggerate, but only for the sake of style. Maybe there'd been as many women involved as he said, or maybe not. Dorian didn't doubt the gist of the story at all.
Dorian exited Z's tiny office thinking hard. The Major was in trouble with everyone in the world, except perhaps Paradox, and it was more than even odds he'd tick off Paradox sooner or later. Klaus von dem Eberbach preferred his music, like everything, far on the conservative side.
Dorian hoped he still did. If Klaus had somehow reconciled himself to the existence of a rock band considered by many to be the height (or depth) of decadent and degenerate civilization, it could spell disaster for Dorian's hopeful plans. Dorian was certain that Klaus felt some attraction to him, and as long as there were no rivals for that particular brand of subliminal interest, it had been amusing to watch the Major resist his own emotions. However, if the undeniable sensuality of the music and a physique similar to Eroica's could tempt Klaus into compromising his principles, if suggestive and raucous music was more acceptable to him than the elegant, artistic and frankly illegal thefts Dorian thought of as his own field of creation, then all the patient months and years of waiting would be wasted.
Even if Klaus rejected Logan afterwards, the suppressed attraction would be altered, perhaps lost altogether. And if he didn't reject the Paradox singer... nonsense, the whole idea was ridiculous. Still, the thought of Klaus neglecting him, after the many tantalizing months when Klaus had had to push him away as a means of following him, left Dorian chilled.
He glanced around the main Alphabet room and spotted a useful face almost immediately. Mr. G, back in a man's suit today (an Yves Saint Laurent knockoff, with nevertheless a certain piquant charm as G wore it -- the boy had an eye and it was an eternal pity that he'd rather stay with NATO than join Dorian's team... or, given James's probable reaction, perhaps not a pity but still a waste) sat reading a file folder marked in three languages. If anyone could get the Chief's attention at short notice, it would be G.
"I can't talk to you," hissed G, as Dorian sauntered up to his desk.
"Nonsense, Darling, I'm a contractor on this job, still attached. You can be my liaison. Since Major Eberbach isn't here."
G grimaced like someone in pain. "It's the Chief's orders, because the Major isn't here. Nobody is to talk to you but him."
"And Zed," said Dorian. "He did, you know."
"Agent Z is the Major's protègè, God alone knows why." G's sniff alone rendered a huffy opinion of the Major's choice. "The Chief knows he's a special case, but he'd rather not talk about it. I'm sure Z told you it was all confidential -- extremely confidential."
"Well, yes," admitted Dorian. "And I wouldn't dream of mentioning it to anyone outside the Alphabet -- anyone but you, in fact. You know that." He gave G his best seductive smile.
"Ye-ess," faltered G, eyes caught by Dorian's at last.
"So when could I talk to the Chief? Or to his closest assistant?" inquired Dorian. "That is, Darling, you."
"Not today." G returned to the anxious look nearly everyone in the room wore. "Chief's in a meeting. Bundesratshalle. He'll be back later."
"And you're all waiting for him," guessed Dorian.
"They're talking about retiring the Major!" whispered G, eyes on his file folder. It was labeled Abwehrmassnahmen der Neuseeland -- La defense de la Nouvelle-Zelande -- New Zealand's Defenses, and Dorian would have bet that it had nothing to do with the case and that G would not be able to name the topic if challenged.
"It's a bluff," Dorian told him. "The talk is to pacify, mmm, the ones who need to be calmed down, and they'll settle on giving the Major a black mark later. After everyone's calmed down. It only takes time. You know how these things work."
"I suppose so," whispered G. "But the Chief's really worried. He said, uh, early this morning, that he was going to have to fight for that stupid bugger..." He stopped and blushed.
"I know how the Chief talks, Darling. It means he's worried, that's all."
"Well, he's worried," said G. "If you loved the Major, you'd be worried too." He gave Dorian a look that was meant to be stern, and turned out spiteful.
Dorian smiled at him, full wattage. "You worry so much better than I could, Darling. The Major couldn't have a better agent assigned to the duty."
"You are a frivolous, mercenary, heartless tease." G stopped short again, flushing redder.
"I imagine that was the Chief, too," suggested Dorian, standing up from his perch on the corner of G's desk.
G's eyes were full of fear. "It doesn't matter. Nothing will matter until we know if the Major can come back."
Dorian heard the words in his solar plexus. Truth was like that. "Yes, Darling," he said finally. "My regards to the Chief." He walked carefully out of the room where G and all the Alphabet agents sat and worried.
# # #
Klaus attached two cables side-by-side to the floor next to the "Marshall Stacks," the absurdly enormous sound speakers the band used. The Stadthalle was not particularly familiar to Klaus, but he felt more comfortable in it than he had in Syracuse, or Istanbul, or Ankara. The signs were in German, and the air and architecture were less alien, if not quite homelike. The stage here was indoors and modern, at least, but he was still trapped among the most ill-dressed, as well as the loudest, more offensive group of so-called musicians -- and their road crew -- in the Western world.
If the Soviets had anything like it, Klaus didn't want to know.
Perhaps a lengthy Paradox tour behind the Iron Curtain -- and without Iron Klaus -- would be salutary for all concerned. Perhaps MI6 could be convinced to commandeer the band as a new secret weapon against the peace of mind of the collective communist governments of the world. MI6 showed a distinct lack of imagination in many areas.
Klaus had been forced to employ his specialized skills, meant for the accurate and undetectable discovery of covert conversations, on machinery that blasted out indiscriminate sound for all to hear. It was a waste of time. He could have recorded every whispered conversation backstage in the massive Stadthalle theater with equipment that cost less than these noisemakers.
It was maddening that the setup could have been quite straightforward, except for the conflicting superstitions insisted upon by various musicians and musicians' roadies. Each one had his preferred speaker position, cable arrangement (which was invariably less efficient than it had to be), and senseless strictures about never touching the green-tagged power cords while wearing a hat. The gear was all solid and meticulously maintained; it was nothing but childish prattle about art being more difficult than science.
Eroica said much the same thing.
Klaus stood up and looked for Heyes, having finished the electrical setup as well as he was allowed to. He could report his tasks in the preliminary setup here as completed. When the whole crew was finished, they'd be taken to the band's hotel in Vienna so they could drug themselves and drink to excess and generally ignore civilized behavior as much as before but in a new city, during which activities they would probably leave Klaus alone.
A conversation from roadies setting up a stand of mikes at one side of the stage, to be deployed as needed during the sound check, caught his attention. Klaus froze, hoping the ridiculous baseball cap he wore would be out of sight behind the Marshalls.
"... Alex said he's writing a song."
"Yeah, wait'll you hear him. He's playing it on a guitar." That roadie, Steve, was in charge of Lindsay's instruments.
"So? That's what a guitar's for, man."
"Yeah, but why isn't Tris playing it?" Steve was incurably partisan.
"Alex can get a tune outta one. You know that."
"Alex's a singer. Singers sing."
"Ah ha, he's singing too. You just wish Tris could sing..."
"Tris don't need to," rejoined Steve's voice as both roadies leapt off the stage apron onto the floor, becoming inaudible and leaving Klaus transfixed with outrage behind them. The stupid bugger... Logan, the stupid musical bugger... was still intent on telling the world exactly what had happened in Istanbul, uncaring that the world, Logan himself, and especially Major Eberbach would all be safer if he didn't.
Klaus clenched his fists, just to feel them for a moment, and went in search of Dennis Heyes and his checklist. The sooner they returned to the hotel, the sooner he could confront Logan about the security breach.
# # #
Tris plucked the strings of the ouk he'd found in Izmir, feeling for its natural resonance. The round-bodied sound box threw back odd pitches -- not pentatonic. Not minor, or what Camy called modal. He paused, shook his head, and tried to clear it by opening a window to let in the sounds of street and city.
Vienna's own, unclassifiable sound swelled in his consciousness. It was mixed, not as rich and humorous as Vienna's old-world, guidebook reputation, but full of old and new feelings, old and new sounds. Tris had never quite appreciated the Austrian reputation anyway, which seemed to depend on a great deal of whipped cream.
Tris sighed, set down the ouk, and left his room door open as he went in search of Alex. Vienna was here, the arena here was good, and Paradox's entourage and machinery had all arrived here without mishap. But Alex wasn't really with him, and therefore Paradox wasn't fully present.
Two doors down was Alex's room, the door ajar. Tris pushed it open and entered. Alex wasn't walling himself up deliberately; he was just... not quite all here.
Reed pipes skirled in an unfamiliar but well-marked pattern, very shrill. Tris observed Alex's closed eyes, relaxed posture, and rapt face. That could mean inspiration of several kinds. "Was she pretty?"
"Eh?" Alex did not open his eyes.
"He, actually," said Alex, "and, not very. But the drummer was."
"He?" queried, Tris, eyebrows aloft.
"She," said Alex, "but only from afar. They all laughed at me for a white-eye, if you must know. I had a time persuading 'em just to play the music, never mind any other pastimes. They only let me 'round the campfire as long as I knew my place as a freak outsider."
He didn't sound affronted, but Tris wondered. Alex managing to ignore birds of any color or extraction was not his usual picture of the singer. "Was it worth it?"
Alex grinned. "'Ve got the tapes. Wanna hear the rest of 'em?"
"Later," said Tris. "D'you think it'll go into this new song of yours?"
"Nah." Alex shrugged and drew into himself, drifting off into his world of weird sliding pitches again, away from Tris.
Tris sighed and backed out of the room, pursued by the rude wails Alex preferred to human company. He wanted to blame the new roadie, Pfeiffer, for all the changes in Alex since they'd dragged each other aboard the Phoenix in Istanbul. Hans Pfeiffer must have something to do with it, but he was, Tim said, doing a decent job with Paradox's equipment, and no one could accuse him now of anything more than being standoffish.
Maybe there was something between Hans and Alex, but the way the two of them circled each other, politely wary, told him nothing more than he knew already. Was it important? How important? If Hans had hurt Alex, at all, Tris was going to hurt Hans, no matter what it took. Somehow. Badly.
It was Alex who was mooning around in a funk, between intervals of heroically frenetic partying. Speaking of which, Tris could hear a rising clamor of girls and chatter and all the many ways a band on tour could amuse themselves, just down the hall. Alex would come out sooner or later to join the fun.
# # #
Alex squinted into the bathroom mirror through an alcoholic fog that wasn't nearly thick enough. The welcome party in... Vienna, they were in Vienna now... had plenty of booze, plenty of new girls, and sausage pastries made to order. But the mood was off, and Alex didn't have to look any further than the mirror to know why.
He was off, on-stage. He wasn't connecting with Tris and the others, not the way he should. The Syracuse show had been less than their best, and no one had even called him on it. They were all leaving him alone -- which was what he'd wanted, and all but asked for aloud -- but it wasn't helping. Even Tris had been politely noncommittal about it. Alex missed him, but Tris didn't have the answers to his questions, the ones that were separating him from the band.
Someone pounded on the door, almost breaking the flimsy lock, and Alex smiled at the normality of it: Paradox, breaking records and everything else in sight. They didn't want to destroy anything, but Paradox outgrew everyone's expectations and boundaries. Or had. Alex wanted to be part of that, had been part of it effortlessly, until the mystery of Hans Pfeiffer and Istanbul occupied too much of his head. The nerve-wracking memories of Istanbul were turning into a song, and that wouldn't let him alone either, but a song could be something for Paradox out of this mess.
The pounding was repeated. "Hey, what's going on in there?" someone -- Blaine Hickory -- shouted. The door rattled in its frame as it was kicked, no doubt with one of Blaine's so-called shitkicker boots.
"Hang about!" Alex shouted back, flushing the loo. He grabbed his bottle of whiskey and checked his fly, and wrenched the door open before Hickory could knock it off its hinges.
The roadie made a point of checking out the tiny room before entering. "You all alone in there, Alex?"
"Just me and imaginary friend, Blaine. Whyn't you just go ahead? I thought you were in a hurry."
Hickory mimed a punch at Alex's middle, then went in and slammed the door. Alex heard the lock click. If Hickory was here, the last of the roadies would have arrived. Alex couldn't help but notice Pfeiffer standing alone near the door. Alex knew why he always noticed Pfeiffer, but it looked as though everyone else wanted to stay away from the German. The man didn't act like a roadie, no matter how hard he tried. He was even still wearing the red baseball cap, apparently missing the fact that his long hair would be far less noticeable than the stupid souvenir. Alex's identical one had gone missing somewhere between Sicily and Vienna, and good riddance.
Off mood or not, the party was determinedly raucous. Hans met his gaze across the noisy room and Alex again remembered all the reasons he couldn't forget Pfeiffer. Who are you really? Who is Eroica? Am I so like him? What is he to you? What really happened in Istanbul, anyway? Why are you still here? He couldn't even ask the questions any more, let alone expect answers of the man.
Hans looked away quickly, but started across the room toward Alex, ignoring food, drink and even Duffy and a trio of dark-haired girls playing a hide-your-eyes game in the middle of the room. Alex drank deeply from his bottle in preparation, hoping it would delay Hans's arrival in his private reality.
It didn't. "Mr. Logan." Alex still couldn't get used to the title. "If I may have a word with you."
"Sure, Hans, what's on your mind?" The German avoided everyone, and had all but run away from Alex two days ago. What did the man want?
Who are you really? What really happened... ?
"I have heard that you are writing a song about the events in Istanbul." Alex knew what a rumor mill the road crew was, worse than your granny's sewing circle, but he'd expected other rumors than that one would bother Hans the most.
"Yeh. What of it?" For the life of him, Alex couldn't figure why Hans would take an interest in the band's music now. It was painfully obvious that rock and roll wasn't his scene. This wasn't about music. It was about a song that wouldn't leave Alex in peace. No one had even heard it yet, not even Tris.
"Mr. Logan, you can't write about it." Hans was talking now like the steely person in Istanbul who'd dragged Alex through a debacle. That man was clearly used to having things his own way. "It is a matter of security. You gave your word..."
The irony of it was just too much. This bloke telling him he "couldn't" write a song that Alex's head could neither finish nor stop writing. "Lissen, Hans," he hissed, pulling him into a corner unoccupied by partiers, "I'll write what I like, and it's none of your business what I do anyway."
Hans was totally unintimidated by being crowded against a wall. "Do you remember--"
"What do you remember?" said Blaine Hickory from the loo doorway. He took up a stance beside Alex, facing Hans.
Hans was still totally unintimidated, and having Blaine here, spoiling for a fight, was no way to get him to see reason. "Butt out, Hickory," said Alex.
"If you say so, Alex," drawled Blaine, and gave them both a hard look before he turned away.
Hans grabbed his wrist, not gently. "Do you remember your concern for your friends, if not yourself?"
"Do I remember? Trust me, mate, I remember everything. If you think I'd do anything to put myself or anyone in that situation again..." Alex took another swig of whiskey to calm the shiver that rushed over his skin.
"Then you will not write the song." Hans sounded satisfied. Bad sign.
"No. I mean yes. I will write the song." The German's face grew hard again. "But it's no risk. Trust me on that."
"How can I trust you when you don't even understand the risks? When you are so irresponsible that you drink and drug yourself to oblivion regularly?"
Alex sighed angrily and pulled his wrist out of Hans's grasp. "Do you want to hear what I'm doing? Then you'd know it's no risk. Would that satisfy you?"
Hans glared at him, blinked, and said, "All right."
Alex leaned back against the other wall of the corner and closed his eyes. Then, through the buzz of whiskey in his head and the clouded fright of the actual memories from Istanbul, he found the thread of the song. Softly, he hummed the opening line and then sang it.
There were still bits that he had to hum through where he couldn't find words to fit the mood, and the bridge that he'd have to trust Tris to fill. But what there was took him over as it had held him for the last two days, and he shared it with the only other person who knew where it had started.
When he opened his eyes, Hans was still listening, his expression dazed. Alex realized that the room had quieted and most of the party was looking their way: Camy startled, Duff nodding and tapping drum patterns on a girl's thigh. Even Tris was in the doorway, his expression unreadable, but he turned and left before Alex could catch his eye.
Watching the door swing shut behind Tris, Alex listened to the party stutter back to speed. He scanned the nearest faces for reactions to the song, but the stares were more curious than either positive or damning. Only Duffy wore an approving grin, but that might be for his new groupie's legs. Finally Alex looked back to Hans, who was still quiet and seemed -- for once -- easier to talk to than anyone else.
"C'mon, Hans, let's get out of here." There was neither entertainment nor distraction in the party for Alex tonight, but Alex was pretty sure one or the other would be furnished by whatever way Mr. Closed-mouth-German failed to answer his questions.
Alex dragged him into the corridor, absently humming a phrase from the song that wouldn't make sense and wouldn't leave the sequence. It had to fit somewhere. Alex looked around for a change of scene, and when he spotted an open lift-cage beside a roadie, he waved at the it with his nearly-empty bottle and dragged Hans in with him.
It closed and descended with a tipsy dignity that Alex matched in upending the whiskey bottle for a last drink. "So ya see," he began when he was quite sure the bottle was empty, "it's a song about... moods'n stuff. Not whatever you're afraid of." He smiled wistfully at the German. "Wish I knew."
"No you don't," muttered Hans. And, frowning, "How did you come to make that song in that way?"
"Dunno." Alex hefted his bottle. Yes, it was empty. "Wish I knew. Wish I knew everything." He fixed Hans with a gaze, but Hans looked away. "You know things. Tell me."
Hans stared at him for a brief moment. "No. Where are we going?"
"Dunno." Alex waved a hand, discovered he was still holding the whiskey bottle. "The bar?"
"I do not wish to..."
"C'mon, Hans, I'll need protection from the fans. You c'n do that."
Hans frowned at him again but made no further objections to being led into the hotel's bar and into a booth.
After their drinks arrived -- more whiskey for Alex, beer for Hans, who actually smiled, once, after he'd tasted it -- Alex leaned across the table. "What'd you think? Was it good?"
"Are you asking my opinion? Of your song?"
Alex nodded. "Y'wanted t'hear it."
"I am not a musician."
"But didja like it?"
Hans drank more of his beer, glanced at Alex, and quickly dropped his eyes. "It was extraordinary."
Alex, satisfied, took a long drink of the hotel's whiskey, smiled at Hans, and put his head down on the table. "G'night."
# # #
Klaus stared at the dirty blond hair which was, however sweat-soaked and disarrayed, too much like Eroica's. Eroica would never drink himself into a stupor, regardless of the excuse, and Mr. Logan had no excuse at all tonight. Eroica, for all his sinful flamboyance, reveled in his gifts and did not seek to escape them in drink or other oblivion.
Alex Logan, however crude a copy he was of Eroica, had gifts of his own. Klaus suspected that traceless burglary was not among them, just as Eroica had never shown a talent for creating music.
To say that Klaus had been shocked to find himself arm in arm with Logan in the hotel corridor was a vast understatement. He never wanted to touch the bugger or be near him again, but he still hadn't recovered from that damned song.
Klaus had no experience of music causing a physical reaction in that way. It had never happened before. He'd been schooled to appreciate the classical masters, and a few Weimar-era ballads had slipped into his record collection over the years, but never, absolutely never, had a song quickened his pulse and breathing, evoking for him the pictures and sounds of a memory. In some way the song was the whole Istanbul fiasco -- complete with the taste of fear in his mouth and the thrill of the chase. Even now Klaus felt as if he were coming down from an adrenalin rush of flight-or-flight.
He'd been trained to use that rush, and he knew how to ignore it when it was not useful. What he didn't know was how the rush could have been summoned when there was no danger, no fight to be undertaken, no flight needed. That ability was a danger or a weapon in itself.
Klaus let the singer sleep, the blond head tucked into one bent arm as the man sprawled over the table, inelegant in repose as Eroica never was. It occurred to him that for a performer, that gift of summoning visceral attention was a gift and a tool. If Logan's singing held a theater audience as surely as it had held Klaus, his status as a "rock god" (the phrase was used on the posters and flyers in the Vienna theater) was explained.
Klaus's attention was arrested by newcomers in the bar area. The quiet patrons and barman had ignored Logan and himself; these whorishly-dressed and garishly made-up young women were clearly seeking not refreshment, but company. Klaus had begun to recognize the style of dress and manner: they were not whores in the usual sense, but wanted only contact with Paradox in exchange for their favors.
The sleeping Mr. Logan had no defense against them. Klaus stood and addressed the leader of the little group, who had spotted Logan's distinctive hair and was homing in on him in a way that, Klaus thought with inward amusement, would surely terrify Eroica.
"I believe you can be of help to me, if you will, Miss."
The girl, her attention on Logan until that moment, looked up at Klaus with darkly-outlined eyes.
"You and your companions are seeking Paradox, are you not?"
"Yes--" she said. "Isn't that--"
"I have a message for Mr. Neal, in the Paradox hotel suite, if you will be so good as to deliver it."
"That's Duffy," whispered the one directly behind her, through a carmine mouth that matched her short skirt.
"It is. Go to the sixth floor. If someone challenges you, tell him that Hans Pfeiffer sent you to Mr. Neal." The big drummer had been well on his way to his nightly alcoholic daze, in which two or four new girls would be no more than extra cream on the cake. He would also, Klaus judged, be too far gone by now to hold them if they cared to find other company.
"Sixth floor," whispered a dark-haired and excessively buxom girl in a low-cut garment that nearly failed to conceal any centimeter of her physique. She ceased eyeing Logan's unmoving form and edged a half-step back toward the door and the staircases.
"Um, ah... Thanks, mister!" The leader stood up on tiptoe and planted a kiss on Klaus's surprised mouth before he could think to avoid it. "See you there?"
"I hardly think so," said Klaus, but by then the little coterie of hopeful groupies had departed and he was alone at the table with the sleeping Logan. He was torn between disgust at being taken for part of Paradox's group, for sending four girls into the licentious dangers upstairs, with being kissed by a rock-band doxy, even if only in brief gratitude, and with the uneasy thought that those dark-fringed eyes might not have been merely grateful when she'd looked him over and then stood up so abruptly to match his own height.
He pushed away the emotion. It was not relevant to his duty here. He shook Logan's shoulder, to no effect. Eroica slept like a cat. Logan, under the influence of whiskey and whatever else he might have taken, slept like a block of wood. Klaus sighed and levered the man upright for long enough to fold him -- tall as Eroica, and nearly as heavy -- over one shoulder.
The barman came out from behind his counter. "I did not realize the gentleman was indisposed. I can call an attendant to help you with him."
"No need," said Klaus. "He is only asleep." He strode heavily toward the doorway and to a small elevator that would take him and his burden to the far end of the sixth floor where the band members had separate rooms away from the central suite used for partying.
When he emerged from the elevator, into the watchful gaze of Tim Croft, he said only, "Mr. Logan has exhausted himself. Which room is his?"
"I thought you'd know," said Croft, and Klaus frowned.
"I do not. He should be allowed to lie down as quickly as possible." The singer's weight was not inconsiderable.
Croft blinked a couple of times, apparently puzzled. "If that's what you call... All right, try the second door over there. That's Tris's room. He was askin' for Alex a minute ago. He'll want to know where he is."
"That will do," said Klaus stolidly, and Croft blinked again. Klaus took the necessary heavy steps and knocked at the indicated door. If Croft believed what he seemed to believe, obeying his instructions would only confuse him further. Good.
The door opened and dark eyes in a thin face widened when Mr. Lindsay saw Klaus carrying Logan. "What the fu... come in, please."
"Thank you," said Klaus. "Your colleague should be allowed to sleep off his drunken stupor."
Lindsay's eyes were on Logan immediately. "Stupor? You haven't been fightin' again?"
"No," said Klaus, turning to survey the room.
"On the bed," said the impatient voice. "Careful with 'im." Lindsay sat down on the edge of the bed and let his hands hover just above the sleeping man's head, not touching it but outlining the shape in something that would have been a caress if the touch ever connected. Klaus, half disbelieving his eyes and half disgusted, started to back out the door, but Lindsay said, "Wait here a minute, Hans," without looking away from his task.
Lindsay's hands moved to run over each part of the recumbent body, never touching, and finally stopped. "He's not hurt, I guess." He looked sharply at Klaus, "D'you mean he passed out? What'd you give him?"
"I fed him nothing. He drank some whiskey. I could hardly prevent it."
There was a brief, dry laugh. "You might be right. But Alex doesn't keel over on just a bottle. What'd you do?"
"I listened to him sing. I..." Klaus could not describe what merely hearing the obviously unfinished song had done to him. "I listened. His song made me listen." Saying it brought back the strange suspension of reality brought on by crude poetry and a husky half-strength voice.
Oddly, Lindsay seemed to understand. "Yeh, he does that. It's not even that high-voltage voice he's got. It's soul, or somethin' like it."
Klaus wasn't prepared to deal with blasphemy. "I'll leave him with you."
"That's fine, but," Lindsay suddenly turned aggressive again, "I meant, what'd you do to him in Istanbul that made him write that song?"
"I got him out of jail. It was not pleasant for him there."
"Yeh, we know, but what else?"
Klaus turned a bland gaze on this inquisition. "What else should there be?"
"Alex saw something that scared him. Blood and running. Those're in the song. What was it?"
"It's only a song."
"But it's not," said Lindsay. "Sometimes it's only a song, and sometimes it's Alex talking about something. You changed his music! Nobody should do that!"
Lindsay was angry. Over music? "It's a song," repeated Klaus. "If he wrote it, how is it not 'his music'?"
"Ahh, never mind. Just," the angry voice went up a notch, tighter and shriller, "if you've hurt 'im, you'll answer."
"Yes, sir," said Klaus, unable to think of any more cogent rejoinder.
"Yes, you will." Lindsay smiled, darkly satisfied.
Klaus stared for a moment and then left Logan to his bandmate and to whatever fancy pleased his undoubtedly-drugged imagination. Klaus saw now that if Logan was a virtuoso in the trashy art of calling attention to himself, and Eroica an expert in the related art of hiding himself in plain sight, this other member of Paradox enjoyed creating unjustified drama just as much.
They were entertainers, the lot of them. The song was only a song.
Klaus told himself that for the rest of the night.
# # #
Tris came out of sleep to the sound of tentative music. He'd been afraid Alex would wake to another marathon hangover, and was thankful to find him with a tray of breakfast in remains, plucking abstractedly at the guitar Tris allowed him to borrow.
"That's a delicate instrument, y'know," he informed Alex.
Alex grinned at him absently. "So'm I. Here," he played an inexpert riff. "How's that sound?"
"Tell me again, mate, what're you gettin' at?"
"Dunno. Just..." Alex wasn't grinning now. "Running, and fear."
Tris took back the acoustic guitar and played a harder, faster, nastier idea of Alex's riff. "Was that how you felt?"
"Oh, yeh. A bit. 'S a song now..." His voice had the "keep off" tone to it again, and Tris tried to think of the music instead. The sound, not the meaning.
"Could do it like this..." He played the riff, expanded it, took it faster, and made it into a frenetic sequence that ended on a screaming chord. That reminded him of something, and he wondered if a joke would reach Alex. "Or maybe..." He played the riff again and took the sequence into a variation that merged into the harsh climax of "Hall of the Mountain King" It ended on a dissonant thunder-clap; resumed in wilder fury; hit the dissonance again and almost resolved it; and left it hanging there in silence. He looked up.
Alex wore a half-sided grin, but it faded quickly. "Didn't think you knew that, mate."
"Learned it in a session once."
"You don't have to jolly me along." Alex reached for a cigarette and lit it. The first drag calmed him visibly. "That first bit was good. Don't make fun of it."
Tris raised an eyebrow but couldn't think of a safe retort. "How d'you want to sing that part of it?"
"That?" Alex's cigarette flared and dulled and he exhaled a long stream of smoke. "That bit's all you. Then back to the verse, and somethin' like... 'Don't look back, At the flood, In the dust. Rise away, On the wind, Fumes of blood. Nothing's gone, Never was, Never trust.'" He sang in a breathy half-voice, just sketching the pitches and phrases for Tris.
"Okay..." said Tris, not certain.
"Sorry about the rhyme." Alex shrugged. "Maybe do better later."
"D'you sing that part for Hans?"
"Nah, that's new this morning. Why should I?"
"I don't know." Alex, no matter what he said, was still bothered by Hans's presence, and nobody knew anything about the man. Except possibly Alex. Tris was not in the habit of asking direct questions if only because they so often called up direct, false answers, but Alex's well-being (and Tris's curiosity) might push him to it. Soon.
Alex eyed the cigarette and took another drag. "He asked to hear it, last night. That's why I sang it for him."
"He was tryin' to make you stop, from what I heard about it."
"Not really. He's just... daft about some things."
Tris smiled and reached to take the cigarette from Alex's fingers. "He's definitely a weird one."
"When you played the riff, were you playing music like he sounds to you?"
Tris inhaled as carefully as if he were toking hash, exhaled. He'd talked about hearing the world to Alex, but Alex'd never brought it up on his own before. What Tris heard in Pfeiffer made him uneasy. "Not much, really. He sounds... shifty. Confused, maybe. Your song is you, not him, no?"
Alex sighed. "Yeh, I guess it is. An' it's just a song, now."
Tris didn't believe that entirely, but Alex was working and singing again.
# # #
Safety was days and one more chancy border crossing away, unless and until all the idiots in Bonn could make up their minds. Paradox so far had been three days of humiliation, nonsensical labor, and unending noise, and Klaus had no intention of staying with it, Chief's order or no, past the Munich airport. Until then, even Austrian, half-Hungarian Vienna, southern indulgences and all, was nearly bearable. Klaus did not relax his vigilance -- no trained agent should make that mistake -- but his inner tension eased. A little. He was still a "roadie," still condemned to associate with the denizens of this rock-music circle of Hell.
The buffet table backstage at the Stadthalle during the final setup for the first concert's sound check was crowded at the noon lunch break. Klaus made himself a beef sandwich using a great deal of mustard. Perhaps it would wash the taste of Paradox away, temporarily. Anything (except facing the CIA in an unnecessarily hostile position) would be better than...
"Hiya Hans," said an obnoxiously cheerful voice. It was Blaine Hickory again, acting as if he knew "Hans" because he'd co-opted him twice to place the drum kit.
"Good afternoon," said Klaus in as neutral a tone as he could coax from his sullen mood. Hickory was, for all practical purposes, his immediate supervisor. Temporarily.
"Prince Charming been around yet today?"
"Mr. Logan has not yet arrived." The band proper only needed to appear when the sound check was ready to start. "Nor the others."
"Not even for you?" asked Hickory. The accompanying leer was subdued, but definite.
"I-have-no-claim-on-Mr.-Logan's-time," said Klaus doggedly. He'd been repeating the same sentence all day, whenever he couldn't avoid answering someone, to no avail. Everyone assumed he was Alex Logan's property. Or vice versa.
"Aw, you wouldn't want to disappoint him, now..."
"I don't believe I do," said Klaus, and realized an instant too late what the words would mean to this perverse idiot. He cursed the heat that rose in his face.
"Shy, ain't he," rejoined Hickory, to someone behind Klaus.
Klaus ground his teeth.
"Nah, nah, 'e's just a quiet one," said a nasal voice, which Klaus identified as belonging to a tall roadie addicted to cocaine and Grateful Dead T-shirts. Klaus despised both.
"You know what they say," continued the tall roadie, Garson.
Klaus whipped around, an automatic counterattack suitable for quelling insubordinate junior officers forming on his lips. "What do they say?" he demanded, glaring full-force at Garson from under his baseball cap.
Garson took a step back from the glare.
"What, Mr. Garson?" demanded Klaus again. He straightened to his full height.
Garson backed up, or backed down. Klaus smiled nastily.
"'Ere, don't sass Gary," said Hickory. "'E's only foolin'."
Klaus glared at him, and remembered where he was. "Yes, sir," he said crisply, eyes front, glare switched off. "I'm afraid Mr. Logan did not advise me of his whereabouts today."
"You sure now?" asked Hickory.
"Yes, sir," said Klaus, painfully.
"Do 'Mr. Logan' like that red baseball hat?" inquired Garson.
"Alex 'ad one like it," contributed a bystander, "day before yesterday." Klaus ground his teeth again.
"So 'e did," observed Garson. "Well, Hans? Didja meet Prince Charming in a red hat, or wot?"
The hat, which hid his hair, together with the shirt upon which the two obscenely naked figures flaunted their chains, were essential to Klaus's disguise as a Paradox roadie. Klaus knew better than to answer the hazing directly. He stared at Garson, then at Hickory. "May I eat my lunch?"
"Aw, let 'im keep 'is strength up," commented the bystander.
This was followed by a rash of remarks on what, besides strength, might remain "up," but Garson and Blaine Hickory drifted off after that, leaving Klaus to his utterly unappetizing sandwich.
He ate it anyway, and went back to shifting speakers and cables. The drum kit was always first to go up, and Hickory, thank whatever saints might still be at work, had taken himself and his lewd imagination elsewhere. Other pieces required more complex balancing and placement and individual testing.
Klaus turned around from shifting a twenty-kilo amp for the third time, to shouted instructions, and found Tristram Lindsay gazing at his T-shirt, dark eyes lazy and sardonic. "Number six," he said, but added no instructions. Klaus wondered after a moment if it were supposed to mean anything at all.
Klaus didn't care to see the joke and merely nodded rather sullenly at the musician. If he was still drug-high he might do anything. Klaus tried to find a direction in which to jump.
"The lovers," said Lindsay, as if that meant something. "Union of opposites." Klaus carefully refused to believe that that did. The guitarist's eyes cleared slightly. "Do the birds like that shirt?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Haven't you noticed?"
"Noticed what?" Klaus growled, and then added, "sir." The Paradox logo, obscene or not, presumably by definition fell within the bounds of "decent clothes" for road crew members. And the loathsome Starlington, his temporary roommate, had pointblank refused him the loan of any other garment.
"It's not mine," Klaus grated, as politely as he could.
"Ah, but do the groupies like it anyway?"
"I haven't asked them, sir."
The silence that followed irritated Klaus. "I have been working, sir. Not attending to girls."
"I see." Lindsay regarded him closely for a moment. "But perhaps you should." And he turned and wandered off with as little rhyme or reason as he'd appeared. Whatever it had meant, Klaus refused to think about it.
# # #
"If he's sticking with Paradox, and the Chief says he'd better," said Agent B, "they're in Vienna by now. I understand the band has a tour concert in Munich in a few days."
"How safe is he with Paradox, anyway? Don't they get arrested on their own hook sometimes? What if everything goes bloopers like that?" From the unhappy frown B gave him, Dorian judged that the possibility had not been overlooked at NATO.
"He'll have to get himself out. He's good at it," muttered B.
"The way he got himself out of Istanbul?"
"What do you know about that?"
"Enough, Darling. I was in the neighborhood, you know."
"You would be," muttered B. No one in the large room of junior agents looked happy. "Don't tell me about it. Sources confirm, however, that Paradox has its own security arrangements."
"Zed tells me they have tons of expensive equipment to safeguard, and sometimes cash receipts. Somebody's sure to be watching over it all," reasoned Dorian. "I'm worried about the people."
B shrugged. "Do you mean that flashy singer or the guitarist or the drum player who likes to break hotel furniture?"
"I mean Major Eberbach, and you know it."
"I shouldn't be talking about him," said B. "You're to have 'an overview of the situation without specific details.'"
"Goodness, did the Chief say that?"
"I can't talk about the Chief, either."
"Where is he, anyway?"
"In a meeting."
"Has he been in a meeting since yesterday?" demanded Dorian. "Tell me, beautiful B, or I'll let all these people know your real name." He gestured at the roomful of fidgeting, waiting, anxious Alphabet members.
B glanced up at that, pale-blue eyes wide with shock. "You don't know it!"
"What will you bet?" caroled Dorian. "Who says I don't?"
"Shut up!" hissed B, reddening under the frizz of pale curls.
"Only if you talk to me."
"Sit down," said B, resigned. "I can't tell you anything interesting about the Major anyway. He was told not to contact us, and we haven't contacted him."
"But you think he's still with Paradox."
"We hope so."
"Why don't you have an observer on him by now, at least?" Dorian thought about it, half-surprised at how much sense it made. "I'll bet your own internal security people are dying to talk to the Major, even if you clean up this mess with the Yanks. What if he disappears himself?"
"He won't!" said B, white now. "You know he wouldn't do that!"
"And you all just trust that he's good enough not to get caught."
"We have to," said B, low and anguished. "If we send someone out to look after him, anyone, that observer could lead the CIA to him. One hint just now that we know more than they do about him, and we lose all the ground the Chief's negotiated since Monday."
"So? Is anyone but the Yanks in on it? I mean, they'd just scold him severely and send him home, and everybody loses face. He wouldn't spend the rest of his life being tortured in the wilds of darkest Kentucky, would he?"
"What do you know about Kentucky?"
"Only what I've drunk, Darling. I'd bring you some bourbon if I thought it would do the least good."
"Don't bother," said B. "Anyway, we both know the Major would rather spit at whatever committee they haul him up in front of here, than fail to deliver the goods."
"In this case, himself," nodded Dorian. "Yes, I do see, if that's any consolation. I do wish you hadn't slapped this tiresome hold on my passport so I can't go see him."
"The CIA know who you are too, my lord. That's part of the problem. Don't get any ideas about using a disguise or one of your other passports. We've blocked all the ones we know about. And you don't want to risk finding out the hard way how many we do know about, do you? Or that others know of? Interpol's ready to throw the book at you, Herr Eroica, and the CIA would love to watch."
"I might..." said Dorian, wondering if this was a veiled suggestion. It would not be the first time NATO's junior agents were more helpful -- and effective -- than its higher-level officers.
"Well, don't," said B. "You could muck it up even faster than one of us could, and the difference is the Major's career."
"Did the Chief say that?"
B nodded. "If he's caught now, we'll pay too much to get him back. If he keeps his head down, he'll just collect another letter of disrecommendation, eventually, and I frankly think he enjoys them."
"He probably reads them at night for a laugh," agreed Dorian, hollowly.
"Do you really want to help him?"
"Anything," said Dorian with real passion beneath the camp exaggeration of passion.
"Bring back that silver thing you stole."
"Who says I did?"
"The Americans think so. I think they're right, Eroica. You couldn't have resisted it."
"Say I have it, just for the sake of the argument. Or, say I know where it is, without bringing vulgar considerations of crime and punishment into it. What good does that do?"
B smiled. It wasn't a terribly nice smile, Dorian decided, but then B had such an ordinary face that any expression was an improvement. "You've said enough, my lord. The Chief will be very interested. And you may have your chance to save the Major after all, if you cooperate."
"I haven't admitted anything!"
"No need to... yet." B picked up his file folder, labeled Ruckzahlung-quittungen -- Recus a rembourser -- Reimbursable receipts. Just hold yourself in readiness." It was a dismissal almost as expert as the Chief's, but B ruined the effect by glancing back up with fear in his eyes. "That's all the rest of us have been able to do."
# # #
Alex looked up past banks and banks of light racks into the dark above. The Stadthalle wasn't the biggest venue they'd ever played, but it was a real theater with two stories of catwalks, backdrop hangers and cycloramas, suspended equipment, and ladders up to various cubbyholes, all above the stage "ceiling" of lights. Alex had seen at least one theater that had a pipe organ in the flies, ready and able to be flown down as one more stage trick. No wonder actors were dodgy characters, with all this hanging over them. And people complained about rock bands when the equipment stayed on the ground!
The stage setup for Paradox's show was nothing but the instruments and stands to hold them, microphones and the stage speakers, and a few taped marks on the floor. The crew engineered a blackout rather than a curtain. The band played. That was the show. Soundcheck was their rehearsal.
Camy was running through a keyboard passage in "Cloudy Streets," while Duff hit first one drumhead and then another with his fingertips, crouched over them to listen.
Alex tapped a mike; it wasn't live yet. He sat on the edge of the stage and pulled out his harmonica while Tim and Dennis and Tris argued over whatever they were arsed about today.
The tune that came out, when he put the harmonica to his mouth, was the slow intro to the Istanbul song, melodic and not as harsh as he'd first heard it in his mind. No matter. He started trying out lines: "Splash of dread--" and a fast jangle of notes that slowed and ended on a rattle, "song for the dead."
Camy echoed the tune, distorted by the keyboard. It didn't suit this part of the song, and Alex waved it away. He played another slow progression, pushing the harmonica's pitches to the sound he wanted.
There should be a beat now to join the tune, a slow heartbeat that would burst into speed in a moment. He tapped it for himself on the floor, then got up and sauntered to Duff and his drumkit. "'Re we startin' anytime soon?"
Duff shrugged. Camy said, "Tris is still talking to Dennis, and they're changing the settings."
"Well, that's all right then. Duffy, 'n you too, Camy, listen here. Duff, it wants a slow beat on my first mark and something twice as fast on my second."
He played the slow intro, and sang, played the intervening phrase and sang, and pointed at Duff, who obliged with a slow tap on a cymbal, in exactly the right rhythm. Alex played the sad, slow jangle again, holding out the last note, and gave Duff another signal.
Fast pounding sounded on a tight drumhead, hard and heavy, with the cymbal still tinging in the slow background. Alex took it in and added it to his song: "I'm gone, I'm gone..." he wailed, at halfvoice. Two roadies who'd been watching the group at the soundboard looked at Alex instead. "I'm gone, I'm gone, I'm not there, I'm nowhere."
He chopped off the wail and Duff, watching him, stopped the drumbeat dead, clanged the cymbal once and muted it.
Alex nodded. "Yeh. Was thinkin' of a deeper drumbeat for the slow one, but this might be better."
Camy frowned. "Alex. Your roadie," he rolled his eyes toward the far wings, "over there is havin' an artistic experience. Or something. He's staring."
Alex shrugged. "Long's he doesn't try to stop us."
"Why'd he ever do that?" asked Duffy.
"Dunno. Maybe he's just surprised that irresponsible performers like us can make up the songs."
"Did he say that to you?" asked Camy.
Duff sent a fulminating glance at the far wings, but didn't get up from the drumkit throne. "Did 'e like the song?"
Now Camy was surprised. "Did he say that?"
"Yeh. But it's a song. Nothin' to do with him. Camy, the second part should have the bass, no?"
"It should have a bass, yes," said Camy, matching Whitehall against Alex's touch of Welsh lilt.
Alex grinned. "Good, 'cause it goes even faster." He took a breath, still not using full voice but singing: "Rise away, On the wind, Fumes of blood, Fumes of rust, Fu-u-u-umes of ru-ah-uhst. Nothing's gone, No-oh-oh-othing ne-eh-ehver was, Never trust, Always hushed, hu-uh-uhshed." Duff took up the beat again and Camy laid down a bassline that grounded him, let him wail out note combinations over and around the tune.
He kept on nodding the pulse to let Camy know to keep on going, sang another wordless line or two, higher and tighter, let the pulse quicken, and then glanced a warning at Camy and Duff. "I'm gone!" The cymbal crashed on a final drumbeat and reverberated into silence.
"Well," said Tris from behind Alex's shoulder. "Startin' without me, are you?"
"Just fillin' time," said Duff.
"While you ponder the whichness of the soundboard," said Alex.
Tris's mouth quirked. "The switches of the soundboard are going to need recalibration."
Camy whistled through his teeth. "Today?"
"When we finish the tour."
"Oh, no problem."
Above them, the light racks blinked on and off, blue and red and yellow-green. "Do we have anything extra on tonight?" asked Camy.
"Just the regular playlist." Something pulled Tris's attention away for an instant, and Alex caught a flash of the red baseball cap still in the wings. "Alex, do you need that weird guy Hans for anything? In the show, I mean? 'Cause I'm puttin' him on the front crew if not. He gives me the creeps."
"Fine by me," said Alex.
"What'd'ya want with 'im, anyroad?" asked Duff. "He took you away from the party last night."
"We went to the bar for another bottle," said Alex, a rationale Duff would understand under any circumstances. "He's only stayin' 'til Mick lets him go."
"You sounded... you sound better," said Tris.
"Let's do the soundcheck." Alex grinned, feeling lighter and freer with the song finally worked out. "I'll show you better."
Tris merely said, "Keep your shirt on, okay?" and picked up his Les Paul for the opening number. Duff gave the beat, Camy joined in, and without having to think about it, Alex opened his mouth and wailed, "She's a mov-in' woman..." and all was right with the Paradox world.
# # #
Klaus had been assigned to the front-hall security team for tonight's concert, away from the stage area and band members. It was well within his capabilities to discourage gate-crashers and those indulging in the more obvious and lethal forms of illegal intoxication.
It was a corrupt and perverted rock band; that was all, Klaus reasoned with himself. He needed its cover for another two days. He soothed himself with fantasies of sending the road crew en masse to Alaska.
Meanwhile, the audience had arrived and settled into its seats for the show, and more sympathetic roadies than "Hans" were detailed to deal with the ticketless pleading of the dregs. Patrolling the far reaches of the Stadthalle, Klaus observed the stage in its beginning-of-show configuration, colored spotlights picking out the drum kit and instrument stands, the rest faintly illuminated in irregular patches of light and dark.
There was no announcement, no warning at all before the stage blacked out completely. There was a collective gasp that lowered the sound level and then a thunderous, cheering scream from, it seemed, every throat in the hall.
The stage lights came up again to a crash of cymbals and drum and an equally loud crash of amplified guitar, and every throat in the hall might as well have fallen silent under the new onslaught of sound. They hadn't, for Klaus could hear individual yelps in the undertone of the growling beast the audience had become. It was only that the band's output -- was that really termed "music" by anyone? -- drowned them in a storm of sound.
The band members were arranged in a rough diamond on stage with the drummer at the back and Lindsay and Logan both forward. The space between them must been several meters and it was Lindsay who was playing in the brightest spotlight, Logan who was waiting for some cue. The blond singer, however, captured Klaus's attention almost at once.
Alex-who-was-not-Dorian stood with casual dominance, for the first time resembling the thief to Klaus in more than a few physical features. Logan was listening to the music: not as Klaus might listen, however carefully, to music he enjoyed, but as if he were attending to a mission briefing. More, he looked like Eroica during a hide-and-seek chase, figuring his next move -- and it was nothing like the way Logan had been during the Istanbul street chase.
Logan watched the guitarist for a moment and then looked out into the audience. He was still listening to Lindsay, but he no longer needed to look at him. Unable to look away from the pair of them, Klaus sensed the moment when Lindsay flicked an invisible signal to the singer, sensed it not in anything the guitarist had done but in the shift of awareness in Logan himself. He did not know what to expect, but he knew it was coming.
Logan opened his mouth and wailed like an amplified banshee.
Klaus could not take his eyes from the spotlight-haloed figure. Alex Logan was singing to the multiple thousands of spectators, to the band as a whole, singing to and with the guitarist, and it felt to Klaus as if all the force of it were directed at him alone.
Eroica... no, Alex Logan... couldn't know where Klaus was, yet the song attacked Klaus's gut as though aimed with the precision of a bullet. He felt invaded by the sound, by the projected feelings that needed no words, or perhaps by some elemental force of the band's presence. He didn't like it, and he couldn't so much as look away.
"Hsst! You're not here to watch the show!" came a harsh whisper just outside Klaus's' personal defense perimeter.
It brought him back to himself. "Ah -- yes, sir," he responded automatically, and looked around for clues as to what he should do instead.
Other "house roadies" as the front-of-theater team was dubbed, were looking over the audience and checking exits. Klaus understood, as he had not before, that if the crowd wasn't volatile to start with, it would become so upon hearing such music.
Perhaps that was their reason for being here. And yet concerts, of this band and others like it, were permitted openly as "entertainment."
The road crew's wild parties became comprehensible now: they were the close-up reflection of the larger-than-life energy being pumped out of four musicians and thousands of watts of amplification and, in particular, out of one golden-haired singer's throat.
Klaus was caught again by the stage spectacle as the music downshifted from the first driving beat to something slower but no less intense. Lindsay and Logan were posed back to back, Logan sobbing something about "take me down," Lindsay plucking the strings and staring into space. They stepped apart as if pushed by the same impulse, but reluctantly, and when they slowed and retreated backwards to each other, the motion was again simultaneous.
The music stopped and the audience screamed. Klaus managed to pull his attention back to the spectators -- the other spectators -- instead of the mesmerizing pair on stage. He had to keep himself in control, here. He could not dance to Alex Logan's music any more than to Eroica's. He must not.
# # #
"Lord Gloria," said the Chief of Bonn NATO Intelligence -- a man who commanded the Major's loyalty, Dorian reminded himself -- "we'd appreciate it if you could, ah, recover the silver-framed page you, ah, borrowed at the American Embassy."
"What makes you think I know where it is?" In the absence of Major Eberbach, Dorian wasn't feeling particularly conciliatory toward NATO. This meeting had been delayed until well into the evening hours, and Dorian had started to think of the rotund, graying, utterly unromantic Chief as a creature of the night. The rest of the time he was "in meetings."
"You had it last," pointed out the Chief. "If possession is nine points of the law, Mr. Eroica, it's nine-tenths legal to say you still have it."
Dorian spread his empty hands. "At present it's nine-tenths possible that I don't."
"B says differently."
Dorian shrugged. "B is an estimable young man, of course. However if he cannot produce the Q'ran page, neither can I."
"You'll have to," said the Chief.
The note of finality arrested Dorian's attention. "Why?"
"The Americans want it back."
"Anyone would. Why should I oblige them? What do either of us owe them?" asked Dorian. "Didn't they do more than their share to bollocks up the Library Summit and the Alaskan mission and..."
"No more than you did," said the Chief dryly.
"Lord Gloria, our allies deserve some consideration of courtesy such as not being robbed in their own embassy or shown up as barbarically inefficient custodians of other nations' treasures..."
"A principle I know you hold dear at all times," interrupted Dorian.
The Chief, a senior official of NATO Intelligence, merely smiled.
"You hired me for a job. I did the job. You have the, ah, spoils."
"You have your fee. And I believe that one of your objectives is to ensure Major Eberbach's safety, is it not?"
"Not in so many words," said Dorian, feeling a rug slide out from under his feet. "He can take care of himself."
"He usually takes care of himself extremely well, or else very badly. The Major would never consider himself quixotic, but I propose the word."
"Nothing in moderation," agreed Dorian cautiously.
"Then you'll agree that he needs occasional... tempering."
"Yes, Chief?" Dorian was fairly certain this was going to be expensive.
"You may not have heard, if Z is as discreet as he should be, just how violent the Major's escape from Istanbul became."
"Oh?" A diplomatic ignorance seemed best for the moment.
"The CIA has disavowed its downed agent with one hand; with the other they are demanding reparations from us, in the person of Major Eberbach. They have been most persistent -- one could imagine they are actually angry."
"But he's due back..."
"He's eluded them so far. And we, officially, know nothing of his whereabouts. If he's to be any use to us in future, we need to clear this little disagreement off the face of international relations."
"What has that to do with me?"
"They've made it known, through the usual devious channels, that their wounded sensibilities would be soothed by the return of that Q'ran page, preferably in good condition. Otherwise Major Eberbach becomes a rogue agent in their estimation. I need not point out how this would cripple his career."
But you made sure I knew all about it, Dorian noted. "What about their man? Whatever did the Major do to catch their attention?" What would the Chief's story be?
"He shot back when he -- and your double -- were threatened. The Major," said Klaus's Chief blandly, "finds it difficult to miss his target."
Dorian swallowed. "Do you mean to say he killed the fellow?"
"He came close enough that the Americans assume he meant to."
At Dorian's silence, the Chief continued, "They're not too pleased, and even after we leaned all we could on the shady circumstances of that, ah, friendly fire, it's come down to a bit of covert bargaining. Your prize or your friend, Eroica."
"He's not my--"
The Chief snuffled lewdly into Dorian's protestation. "Of course he's not. Whatever he is to you, cough up that silver frame and the paper in it, schnell-vite-pronto, Herr Dieb."
Dorian decided, yet again, that he didn't care any too much for Klaus's Chief, but he reined in his annoyance. "After you get him back."
"Eh?" Frosty white eyebrows rose on the Chief's round face.
"A bit of insurance for both of us, Herr I-spy," insisted Dorian. "The Major comes back into my... into NATO's hands safely, or what have the Americans to trade? Once he does, then his future would be worth something to me, I suppose. Worth a gift to your allies," he gave the word an angry twist, "to acknowledge their gracious assistance."
"Good," purred the Chief.
"I have a condition."
The Chief smirked. "I hoped you would."
Dorian didn't smile. "I'll fetch the Major back here personally. Until I do, no need to soothe your allies exists."
"You'll take backup. The Major's usual team."
"I have my own team."
"You'll take NATO personnel on this pickup, Herr Eroica. You'll be acting for NATO, and so will they." The Chief cast a long-suffering look at Dorian's rose-red chiffon scarf and the remainder of his gaudy maroon-and-gold ensemble. "It's purely a temporary formality, to satisfy protocols. You'll fly out to Austria in the morning, if we can get everything squared away by then. With Mr. Z and the others. They'll take orders from him, not from you."
"Oh," said Dorian, wide-eyed and dulcet, "is Z conversant with the case?"
"If you don't know that by now, Lord Gloria, you're not the bugger... er, bloke, I take you for. He's in charge of you, too. If he gives you any orders, obey them."
"Now, why should I do that?"
The Chief frowned, a hint of real fear in the comic-opera beetling brows. "For Major Eberbach's sake. Z will have instructions to let you run the pickup unless certain contingencies occur that put you all in danger."
"Don't I want to know what those are?"
"No. Just remember that Z knows more about it than you do."
Dorian recognized the hard stare that followed; he'd always wondered where Klaus had learned that particular look. He shrugged. "Ah, well, he may even be useful. But I meet the Major. I escort him to Bonn."
The Chief snorted, returning completely to his usual coarse persona. "I've agreed. Short of emergency, you can 'bring him in from the cold,' you bugger." He snorted again. "Both of you. Damned romantics!"
"Never mind." Dorian flashed him a blinding, false smile. "It's been so, ah, rewarding to work with you, Chief."
"Always, I'm sure," said the Chief sourly. "You cost more than you're worth half the time, Eroica."
The Chief looked up. "I shall not answer that yet. As you point out, the Major is still, ah, 'up for grabs.'" He snuffled, with emphasis. "Best grab him while you can, Herr Eroica."
# # #
Tris felt the final note fading as if the strings were vibrating through his body. The audience's roar finally drowned it out and the lights came up. He handed the double-neck to Stevie and turned for the backstage passage, knowing without needing to check that Alex was at his right shoulder, Camy and Duff behind.
In the big room backstage, someone handed him a glass of scotch and a lit cigarette. He sipped at the glass and then passed it along to Alex, who drained it. Someone else shoved a towel at him and he took it, rubbing the sweat from his face and hands, gathering the sticky hair off the back of his neck and letting the ceiling fan blow cooler air down his back.
The rumble of the crowd was a constant background, and Tris looked to each band member in turn, gauging their reserves against the demands of the audience. They were all tired, but tonight was the first time he'd really known Alex was with him, lately. Alex seemed high too, but Tris knew that the adrenalin rush was wearing thin. He signed "two encores" at the backstage roadie, and saw him speak into his headset to notify Tim at the soundboard.
"Ready?" Camy asked from behind him.
"Ready," Alex confirmed, shaking dark-yellow, wet hair back over his shoulders. Tris looked pointedly at his naked chest. Alex ought to be wearing a shirt... But Tris's eyes lingered on the sweaty flushed skin, finally rising to meet Alex's gaze, seeing a return gaze for the first time since Istanbul. The eyes held glittering promise.
"Duff?" Tris asked, looking around.
"Oi, give it a minute!" Duff slowly climbed out of the sagging sofa, depositing Mariandl on the stained cushions with a whisper about "...after the show."
The crowd roar rose to full crescendo when they set foot on the stage, but Alex's wail cut through it cleanly, and then Duff's drums were backing him. Camy's keyboard chimed in, and finally, when he heard the music within the music, Tris brought his fingertips onto the strings and they were into "Betsy," building and driving slowly towards the climax.
They took their time about finishing, Duff laying variations under Alex's repeated howls. Tris gave it the guitar line it deserved, and Alex returned it, higher, and they were off on a Paradox improvisation session.
Ten minutes later they were still trading it back and forth, Tris prolonging it for the joy of riding the music with Alex again. Perhaps the others felt it also; none of them showed signs of flagging, least of all Alex, who had taken "Betsy " into new realms of innovation. He hit a solid-blues phrase that could only be a transition into "Movin' Woman," and Tris and the band followed seamlessly. The Les Paul wailed under his fingers, Alex wailed beside him, and something that was all women -- or all beings -- moved and wailed with them both.
They hit a riff together and sailed through it. Alex hung on and extended it upward. Tris followed, adding his own challenge, higher still. Alex sang it back to him with finality and they knew in their unison triumph that Duffy and Camy had to join them to end the song. Tris cued them with a shift of stance, and the bass guitar and drum thundered into the final phrase of "Betsy" without hesitation.
The drawn-out endnote stretched and stretched, Duffy's cymbals rattling on until lungs and ears neared exhaustion...
And exploded into darkness.
A shower of electrical fireworks crackled around the stage and silence crashed over the band, broken by a fizz of sparks from one set of amps which gave the only light on the blacked-out stage. The audience, which had been screaming applause, continued to scream across the stage apron, the sound thin now in Tris's ears. Trouble would really start the instant they realized this wasn't part of the show. Some nexus of wiring continued to hiss and spark, and Tris roused from his concert-inspired trance enough to remember that fire was a danger.
Nearby in the dark Steve's voice said, "Tris? Dennis is checking the circuit-breaker now. He says to give him two minutes."
Tris said, "Alex?"
"Here, mate." Alex sounded dazed, but in another breath he said, "Do we get power back? Shame to miss the last encore."
"Maybe." Tris shook sweat out of his eyes and saw that the stadium wasn't dark; cigarette lighters' tiny flames, like yellow stars, made a vast, dim bowl of pinpoint lights that rippled with the audience's motion. They were still shouting and cheering, but if there was no light or music when they quieted, they'd panic. The stage was the darkest, quietest part of the stadium.
Steve said, "No fire, thank God. Dennis says..." He paused briefly. "...he could plug you back in, but he can't guarantee it won't blow again."
"Can he power up one mike and one set of speakers? I'll say goodnight and send 'em home," said Alex.
Tris nodded. He didn't know if Alex could see it. He knew Alex knew he agreed. "Yeah, do it," he said to Steve.
"Okay," relayed Steve, and a moment later, "Front mikes're hot."
Alex strode to the nearest mike stand, a barely-seen silver shaft of reflected stars in the night. "People. Ah..." His voice boomed suddenly. "Leute von Wien. Gute nacht! We love you all!"
Some alert technician brought the houselights up, and Tris and the others bolted off the stage for their scheduled getaway just ahead of the crush of fans. Tris could feel the audience's renewed roaring through the concrete floor as they all but ran through backstage passages toward the cars. Dennis paced him for long enough to promise to tear the setup down and put it back together again until they knew what had gone wrong.
Roadies herded them through a series of doors, but at one intersection Alex suddenly pulled Tris aside.
The entourage swept by without pausing. It wasn't terribly flattering to Tris's ego that they barely noticed he wasn't leading them any more.
"Shhh," Alex hissed, pulling him along the still-deserted hallway, trying doors in succession until one opened -- into a storeroom full of flats and props from some play or other.
Alex slammed the door shut, fumbled for the light switch, and dazzled Tris with bright fluorescents. Light sparkled in the sweat on Alex's skin, in the hair of his chest, gleamed in the hollow of his throat that still moved rapidly with the excitement of the show and the blowup that should, at any other time, have been frightening.
Alex held out a hand and Tris went willingly, feeling the heat that poured off his lover's body. He pressed himself tight against Alex's skin, raking his hands down the strong back. Alex still wasn't wearing a shirt. He'd catch... the thought was gone as Alex pulled at Tris's short jacket, tangling Tris's arms in it, while at the same time kissing him deeply. Tris finally freed his hands, got them back around Alex's waist, then dropped them lower, squeezing.
Alex gasped sharply and the sound sped straight to Tris's groin. He thrust hard against Alex, loving the feel of his cock against Alex's equally hard, trapped swelling. He pulled his mouth away from Alex's, dropping it to lick the salty sweat from his throat, loving the taste -- the life -- of the man under his hands. Alex vibrated in time with his body, as if they were two plucked strings. Harmony.
Alex was stroking him too, running hands up into Tris's hair, massaging gently. And, now that his mouth was free, whimpering a little. Tris looked up again, met the glazed eyes, read the unspoken plea there, and smiled. Yes.
He seized the waistband of Alex's sweaty jeans, popping the snap, pulling down the zip. It was a struggle to wrestle the tight, damp jeans down Alex's sweaty thighs, but the reward was Alex's cock standing proudly from the nest of hair and the smell of him. Sweat and musk filled Tris's nose, overpowering in the small space.
Alex leaned back against an absurd stage flat of painted flowering vines as Tris knelt on the floor, took the straining shaft into his hand and guided it into his mouth. Alex hissed, drawing air in through clenched teeth -- a sound Tris knew and cherished -- and his whole body stiffened under the new onslaught of sensation, hand clenching hard in Tris's hair.
Tris sucked Alex in deeply, freeing his hands to wander up the muscled torso, outlining ribs, tweaking nipples, and finally grabbing and clutching, giving in to the sensation.
The click of the door latch warned him a split second before the draft of cold air from the corridor spilled in. Tris stopped, but couldn't still his panting breath, much less Alex's whole-bodied rhythm. Finally he turned to look at whoever'd had the bad taste to stumble into their cubbyhole.
The merciless fluorescents lit a shocked face.
Tris supposed he ought to be glad it was one of the road crew rather than the building manager or the Viennese police, but it was the insufferable Hans, wearing an expression of stupefied horror. Finally the man stuttered an apology and fled.
Fortunately, he closed the door behind himself.
Taking the time for one deep breath, Tris looked up at Alex's face. His response to the German was never predictable.
Alex was nearly purple now, lips pressed tightly together. Finally his mouth opened in a mewling gasp that exhaled as laughter. Crowing and hiccupping, he let himself loose; the long legs gave out and Alex slid down in a heap next to Tris, still laughing. He dropped an arm around Tris's shoulders, dragging him close. Tris didn't think it was funny, but Alex's laughter was infectious and they chortled together for another minute.
Alex, making an effort, pulled his jeans up again and patted his obviously empty pockets, then looked to Tris. "Gotta fag?"
"What, in this getup?" The black velvet embroidered with dragons and runes had not been designed with pockets or practicality in mind.
Alex shrugged. "Later."
# # #
In the post-blowout chaos, only slightly worse than normal post-concert breakdown chaos, Klaus was drafted by Dennis Heyes during his frenzy of testing every possible component and combination. "Use this cable here, and leave it loose. It'll go over there next."
"Yes, sir." Klaus laid the cables out flat but unsecured, plugged and unplugged them as directed, re-coiled and moved them with the tags clearly visible, and did not grumble. He did not comment when sent to find a new box of cable-connectors, from a supply chest that would be somewhere backstage, Heyes said.
The backstage area at the Stadthalle was the usual litter of equipment, cables, spars, roadies, stadium employees, and closed doors. The concert was over, the audience nearly all departed. Klaus assumed the performers had departed also, as was their custom, at the end of the concert and well before even the usual breakdown was started. When he jerked open a storeroom door in his quest, he expected anything but...
Sweat-soaked gold curls writhing in time to soft but unmistakable groans, while equally sweat-soaked dark ringlets swung to the same rhythm lower down.
Both heads started toward him at the sound of the door; it would not do simply to close it. "Excuse me," said Klaus, in shocked dismay. Logan and the guitarist had been doing... were still doing... "I did not mean to-- to interrupt your privacy." He shut the door hastily and looked about for some other place, in search of privacy of his own. The impact of seeing Logan's imitation-Eroica figure in what could only be sexual motion had Klaus in an unpleasant and disgusting state of excitement.
Hot-faced, Klaus fell into the next darkened doorway he found. The sight of Eroica -- no, Logan! -- grimacing, face and body tense in too-obviously-sexual rapport with his dark-haired enigmatic partner... Eroica under my hands, gasping-- No, it couldn't be real. He couldn't want it. Dorian's body arched, head thrown back--
He clenched his fists at his sides and stood, panting in horror until he was dizzy.
It was some minutes before he left the broom closet into which he'd bolted, and even longer before he managed to find the cable connectors he'd been sent for. Heyes accepted them with an impatient grunt. "Took you long enough. Didja fly back to London for 'em or what?"
"No, sir. They were in the smaller property chest..."
Heyes waved him to silence. "Take 'em to Tim and do what he says. We'll miss all the partying, goddammit. At this rate." He glared at Klaus.
"Sorry, sir." Klaus made his escape to the on-stage crew with Tim Croft and a back-breaking succession of shifted amps. He hoped Logan and Lindsay were long gone by now, returned to their hotel and their legitimate -- in this verdammte place where the drugs and "groupies" were entirely normal -- partying. He did not care to speculate on why the two of them had retired to a prop-storeroom instead.
For privacy, said the entirely-too-rational part of his mind that continued to solve problems at all times, on all subjects. Wouldn't you want to get out of this "entourage" if you and Eroica wanted to...
He slammed an unbreakable lid on the thought.
Six reconnected cables later in the wake of four shifted Marshall Stacks, Klaus became aware of an unwelcome voice.
"Howsa setup testin' out, Tim?"
"Alex! I thought you were back at the hotel?"
"Wanted to look at the setup if you're shifting it tonight," said Lindsay's voice. Klaus's gut tightened. "Maybe do a power test tomorrow and re-set it again. If we have to."
Tim groaned, but no other of the road crew presumed to do so. Certainly not Klaus.
"Finish testing the parts," said Lindsay, quiet and imperative. In no way did the voice resemble Eroica's fluting drawl or G's nervous whine. But he'd been...
No matter what the odd guitarist had been getting up to a half-hour past, he was all business now, giving low-voiced instructions to Tim Croft, who passed on shouted demands to the road crew. Klaus and the others shifted equipment under the dark, baleful eye of Tristram Lindsay.
Logan, still half-naked and sweaty, perched on one of the amp cases, watching. He caught Klaus's arm on one trip and asked for a cigarette. At the same time, his eyes asked another question of Klaus. Can I trust you? Klaus looked away rather than admit he knew what was being asked. He gave the cigarette to Logan, lit it for him, and got shouted at by Heyes for slacking off.
Logan smiled apologetically and turned back to Lindsay. As if drawn, the guitarist looked up and his expression went stormy when he saw them together.
Heyes shouted again and Klaus went back to work. On his next pass, though, Logan was wearing a jacket, and Lindsay stood close by.
An odd chill passed through Klaus when he saw Logan pass the half-smoked cigarette, his cigarette, to Lindsay. He turned away and spotted a series of amps plugged into what had to be the wrong power board. The misuse of good electronics sent Klaus further into a fury, but he could not scream or rant. He said only, "Is this the right board for those cables? Sir?" to Tim Croft, and had the faint satisfaction of seeing Lindsay's eyes skip to the equipment and widen in alarm.
# # #
Austria was beneath them, but aside from occupying its airspace, Dorian, Z and the contingent from NATO would not "enter" the nation until they touched down at the Schwechat airfield. Dorian wore a new but otherwise unobtrusive suit and a distressingly plain white shirt, rather like Z's. It was, he estimated, the dullest thing he'd put on in years. Except that one inner pocket contained a passport in the name "Durham Redding," with the blue-and-white NATO sigil prominently displayed near his own picture in a particularly staid and unexciting style. Another, better-hidden pocket contained a similar passport and set of identity papers for "Johannes Marcus Pfeiffer," in which the photos were unmistakably Klaus, if equally staid and quite unlike the broodingly aware presence that fired Dorian's pulses.
"Your job is to get past the border check without raising eyebrows, and then to persuade the Major to leave Paradox, if he is still with them," Z repeated.
"And your job is to get through border check and trace the Major if he's not there," responded Dorian in a bored voice. He had to practice sounding bored. "Durham Redding" was a bored, boring sort of person who'd never, ever interest a border guard -- unlike Dorian Red Gloria or any of the flamboyant personas he liked to flirt with when he had to cross official international barriers. Dorian believed in distraction, rather than concealment. Durham, he supposed, believed in by-the-book propriety. It should be easy enough with Zernicke, Jansenn, Echschel, and Walter (or so their current passports said) to show him how drab conformity could be raised to an art.
Their plane was private so that Z could use the time to brief them all and so that it would be available at the airport during any of their scheduled departure windows after the Major had been found. Hindsight suggested that what must have worked for Paradox might work for another rescue team.
"Chief says that Austria... well, the Austrian Transport Minister, but unofficially there are others... will do us a favor. That was after we'd gone a few rounds and the CIA were down to growling, at least in public, and the KGB were getting just the tiniest bit interested in whatever it was the CIA were making so much noise about. Austria had seen two sharp-toothed opponents on either side of it. That was when we offered to remove the bone of contention. Germany's always in the middle. We're used to it."
"Of course," said Dorian, in a tone that was bored (and boring) instead of ironic. Even simple wit would be too much for Durham, who undoubtedly had two children, one dog and a boring wife in Sussex.
"So don't screw it up," said Z. "No little embroideries, no jokes, no stealing pretty trinkets. You haven't given back the last one yet."
"The last what?" inquired Dorian in Durham's dull, Bonn-inspired German. "I have no idea what you might mean, Herr Zernicke."
"See that you don't," said Z.
In the event, a polite border guard glanced at their NATO passports once each and waved them through to an equally polite customs check, exuding professional gemuetlich. "Guten Tag, meinen Herren."
The customs officer saw no anomaly in the spectacle of five travelers with a total of six bags and only a full allotment of cigarettes to declare. "Guten Taggerl. Wilkommen im Wien!"
"Danke," muttered Dorian, boringly, claiming the sixth bag and the carton of Klaus's preferred brand of tobacco. He hoped it would be needed.
One hotel stop and two hours later, he felt much more the thing for crashing a rock band on tour. If Logan was a rock god, Dorian intended to be the same order of being in a better-cut suit. His curls were down, clean, fetchingly arrayed; he was dressed in blue-white linen perfect for summer daywear, perfectly fitted to his tall figure; lace added texture and gold jewelry sparkled.
"I hope you're not going to follow me, and if you have to, stay back," he said into Z, Y, X and W's admiring gazes. "You're not supposed to attract attention."
"Yes, my lord," sighed Z. "Welcome back, my lord. May I remind the Earl that his mission is to retrieve the Major and not to drive him further into hiding or frighten the horses?"
"Why Zed, Darling, you're developing a temper," said Dorian sweetly. "Congratulations. I'm sure the Major will be ever so pleased."
Z paled. W, X and Y snickered, but discreetly.
"As for getting him back... I do what works. Au revoir, mes enfants. Don't wait up!"
He located the Stadthalle by the simple expedient of telling his taxi driver to go there, and strolled confidently up to the back-side door with the most trucks and cars clustered around it.
He expected a delay at the door, but it was deserted. Raised voices sounded from within. Dorian walked into a scene of controlled chaos remarkable for the number of tight-jeans-clad backsides visible among the crew, who were industriously toting and lifting everything in sight. He took a moment to appreciate the spectacle, and another to be sure that none of the men was Klaus.
A few of them looked up at his entrance. Some shrugged and returned to what they were doing, but the nearest two did gratifying double takes and hurried over to him. "Alex, I thought you were already..." began one.
The other did a neat reversal in mid-stream. "Alex-- I mean, sir, this is a restricted area."
"Ingress allowed to Paradox, of course," said Dorian, making no move to retreat. "Why do you think I'm here?"
The man took in his face, his hair, his white suit, and his accent. "You're not Alex, but..."
"Yes, I'd like to see Alex Logan."
"You and a million fans. Alex's busy, ah, Mister..."
"But I'm not a million fans. Mr. Logan will want to see me. Please direct me to him."
"Ahhh..." The speaker turned to the second man. "This should go to Simon, but he's useless and he's back at the hotel and anyway... I saw Camy in one of the side rooms. Tell him there's someone here he should see."
Dorian smiled and waited. He was confident he could talk his way in with anyone whose authority permitted it.
Camy proved to be a snub-nosed, long-faced man with mouse-colored hair and a humorous mouth. "If you're shitting me, Mack, I'll... oh. I see. How do you do, sir? I'm Duncan Cameron."
The name was familiar from briefings, and the face matched the pictures of the band's least-controversial member. "It's an honor to meet you, Mr. Cameron. I have some business with Alexander Logan."
Cameron's eyebrows went up. "You've seen him, that's plain, but who are you?"
Dorian smiled. "I'm afraid I haven't met him in person, but you see..." he gestured at his face. "It's caused some trouble recently. I'd like to make amends."
Cameron said, after a moment. "Oh. The fuss at Istanbul. Was that because of you? Just what do you think you can do about it now?"
"I'd like to discuss that with Mr. Logan."
There was a moment's silence, and finally Cameron nodded. "I'll take you inside. I'll need to know your name first," he added firmly.
"Durham Redding. I'd rather not be announced."
The hazel eyes narrowed, but Cameron made no comment. "This way, if you please."
They went up a ramp into the main part of the building, leaving whispers and half-silence behind until they reached another area crowded with equipment and men moving it, this one cut off on one side into dark space filled with theater seats. Dorian stepped into the swarm of workers and let himself be seen, which produced a familiar hush -- Dorian was accustomed to being seen -- with overtones that were not quite usual even for the Earl of Gloria.
He looked over the jeans-clad workers as he had the first lot, hoping one might be Klaus. None was familiar on the first glance, but that one, in the dark slacks instead of jeans, and a red baseball cap... That one could be...
"Wot's goin' on?"
The speaker was seated behind an assembly of drums and cymbals, idly tapping one and then another of them with an oversized stick. "Camymate, who's--" He focused on Dorian and goggled.
"I think I know," said a middle-class British voice with a hint of Wales. The speaker stood up from one edge of the drum kit. He was holding a metal rod half as tall as he was -- a mike stand, Dorian remembered -- playing with it idly. And obscenely. He looked familiar: strange and too familiar all at once.
"Pardon me," said Dorian, with a dazzling smile. "I'm supposed to meet a friend here."
Alex Logan put down the mike stand, holding Dorian's eyes. "You must be..." His lips shaped the word "Eroica," in an unvoiced whisper.
"Yes and no," said Dorian quickly. He'd best talk to Logan. Now. Everyone was staring at them, including a thin, dark-haired man holding a guitar who had to be Lindsay, Z's guitar idol. Dorian hoped Z wouldn't interrupt this first conference, but if Paradox couldn't produce the Major soon, all bets were off. Where was the red baseball cap?
Not in sight. Motion around Dorian and Alex Logan had ceased, silence spreading outward like waves in a pool.
Logan took a step forward. "I'm pleased to make your acquaintance." The voice was deep and resonant, entirely different from the high wails that punctuated the album Kurt had insisted on playing. He smiled, and a hint of personality reached Dorian. The singer was used to being center stage, and liked sharing it with... him. They were both center stage here.
Dorian nodded, grinning back in delight. "Likewise, Mr. Logan. Where can we talk?"
He let the singer shepherd him through a morass of sound equipment and men in jeans (none of them Klaus) to the opposite side of the backstage area where a buffet of fruit and sandwiches had been laid out, along with a truly stunning variety of alcoholic substances. This room was lined with mirrors, causing a disorienting reflection-upon-reflection of the few people here, including a young auburn-haired woman in abbreviated cut-offs and a leather halter, who waved enthusiastically at Logan. Her eyes went wide when she saw Dorian as well.
"Sheri, love," said Logan when she started to get up from her seat on a broken-down chair, "Duffy's gettin' bored while they shift the stacks. Why don't you give him something to think about?"
"On stage?" giggled Sheri, but she exited, leaving Dorian with the mirrors and one real-life near-double who was offering him a bottle of Guinness.
Dorian accepted it, and a hand on his elbow directed him to a smaller, private dressing room. The door closed behind them, and the other man spoke again. "Hallo. I'm Alex Logan, and you're Eroica, yes?"
"What makes you think that?" Dorian countered, unsure of his ground yet.
"He did." Logan jerked his head back toward the stage area.
Dorian nodded, dizzy with relief. Logan could have learned that name only from Klaus, and from his gesture, Klaus was here, now. He mimicked the singer's present expression. "He?"
"Hans. Your faithful German shepherd."
"Hans!" It felt odd to use the cover name, and odd to hear Iron Klaus characterized as anything even slightly domesticated. And it was odder that the Major had let any information slip at all. "Yes. It must have been quite a shock for him to encounter you in..." Dorian let the sentence trail off, hoping for details he hadn't been able to pry out of NATO over the last week.
"In a Turkish jail cell. I was being interrogated. I guess I have you to thank for that, yes?" He flicked Dorian a glance from unexpectedly sharp blue eyes. "Hans, ah, Hans made a pretty confused avenging angel."
"You mean he... ?"
"It was obvious it wasn't me he'd come for," Logan said sourly. "But he hauled me out of there, across most of Istanbul, through a gun battle and..." The account trailed away and Logan looked at him expectantly as he uncapped his bottle of beer and, at a gesture, Dorian's.
"The-- Hans takes his duty quite seriously," Dorian extemporized, trying to cover his confusion. "He--"
"I think you're missing the point, Ero... surely that isn't your name?"
"Please call me Dorian."
"Dorian," Logan agreed.
"Why do you think he pulled me out?"
Dorian hoped he wanted to know. What had Klaus seen in Logan? It didn't make any sense in the mission. "Klaus doesn't-- Klaus isn't--" much of a philanthropist.
But Logan was suddenly paler, staring at nothing. "Oh. Dorian."
"Surely it isn't that odd a name?" Not as boring as Durham, anyway.
"Ahhh..." Logan let the silence stretch, then said, "He called me 'Dorian.'" He took a pull at the Guinness.
Dorian tried to remember when, or if, Klaus had ever called him Dorian. Surely he'd remember. The idea that Klaus might ever have considered him "Dorian" rather than "Eroica" or "damned pervert" even in the silence of that ordered German mind was a shock. "When?" he finally asked.
Logan grinned a little, now looking embarrassed. "Oh, when he shoved me up against a wall and damned near raped me -- and again when he woke up the next morning."
"He didn't! You didn't! He did?" It was, despite Dorian's fears, utterly beyond belief. Almost. "Just what happened during the night?"
"Nothing." At Dorian's openly questioning glance, Logan continued, "Nothing to do with me and Hans, anyroad."
# # #
The grueling work of setting up the stage several times over had been going on since mid-morning, and it was now well past the lunch break. Paradox had a concert tonight as well and tempers were fraying among those forced to wait as well as those laboring over the equipment. Klaus looked up at a change in the pattern of movement and sounds around him, suddenly alert for no reason he could see.
He couldn't see, but he knew it was danger, or release, or...
It was Eroica, the real Eroica, strolling onto the stage from one side as if he owned it. Klaus faded into the shadows of tall speaker boxes and paused. It wasn't "Eroica" there, except that Dorian Red Gloria was always Eroica to some extent; but here he was being his civilian self, very slightly under control. He said "meet a friend," a common enough phrase, but also a general code among the Alphabet for a rescue or retrieval.
If Eroica was working with the NATO team, if someone had told him to use those words, this nightmare might be nearly over.
Alex Logan stood up from the morass of paraphernalia surrounding the drums, and Klaus saw them face each other, strong jaw and the tangle of heavy gold curls opposite sculpted jaw and a fluffy yellow-gold mane of ringlets. Their eyes met: electric blue looking into sapphire. Klaus stared for an instant at his private nightmare of the past few years meeting his new private horror and embarrassment, and backed away from the awful double vision. He slipped completely behind the speaker stack and waited.
He couldn't let Eroica leave without him. He couldn't stay here if this was a genuine retrieval.
He couldn't face the two of them together, not yet.
He didn't have to. They were leaving the stage. Eroica would certainly be back, if he meant to find Klaus. Eroica never gave up when he wanted something.
# # #
"Nothing to do with Hans, anyroad," Alex shrugged.
Call-me-Dorian continued to regard Alex with skeptical eyes. "Really?"
Alex shrugged again. "He'd drunk a lot and got angry at the wrong time, and I was the only person he'd listen to -- and that not much." He recalled the suffocating vise of Hans's body pressing him against a wall. "He, er, called me 'Dorian' while I was getting him calmed down and into a bed before he could find any more trouble." Dorian was looking faintly stunned, but fascinated. "Then I went off and... I was elsewhere for the rest of the night."
A tiny smile appeared on Dorian's face. "Ah."
Alex realized that someone with the Oxbridge arrogance and upper-class polish this man's voice proclaimed, and the looks Alex already knew very well, would understand all about sleeping wherever he wanted. If he wanted. And he hardly presented an appearance of staid conservatism. In fact... "You want him yourself," Alex said, before he thought about what he was saying.
Dorian, in turn, shrugged. "Didn't you?" he asked, as if nothing else were possible.
Alex stared. "You do! No offense, uh, Dorian, but he's mad."
Dorian gave the smallest lift of his eyebrows. "Perhaps he is. Perhaps I am also. I notice you don't object on moral grounds."
Alex grinned. "What, and me a 'hell-raising, Godless, debauched rock star'?" He said it in his best American-journalist accent. "I don't exactly have a moral ground, do I? Parties... groupies... drugs..."
"Was 'Hans' in the middle of all that?"
"Yeah. He wasn't quite ready for the scene, y'know?"
"And so he attacked you?" Dorian's eyes on his face reminded Alex that the bruising was still visible.
"Only for a minute or two, really. The popper wore off then. And he did apologize in the morning -- for whatever hadn't happened, I guess. I wonder what he thought had happened?"
"Popper?" asked Dorian's choked voice.
"Uh, yeah. I think it was a girl... It was Sheri who was handing out poppers and she'd got a look at Hans..."
"Poppers. Why didn't I think of that?"
A thud echoed off the dressing room door in the wake of Dorian's wondering voice. Alex reached over and jerked it open to reveal one of Duff's drumsticks bouncing off the floor. He peered out: Duff was juggling one drumstick and an empty beer bottle with fair success. "Oi!" Alex lobbed the second oversized drumstick back at the drummer's new act and closed the door. "Where were we?"
"One of your guests had drugged 'Hans,' who attacked you in consequence and called you 'Dorian.' I'm curious about whatever happened the next morning, however."
"Oh, yeah. That. I woke 'im up -- he was sleeping in my room -- and he hit me. He was shouting for 'Dorian' then." He looked in growing bewilderment at the real Dorian, who was nodding with a look of satisfied discovery. "Mate, you're either crazier'n he is or you've got it so bad you're crazy already. Do you want 'im to hit you?"
"Not particularly. But he's... Mr. Logan, how soon can he leave?"
"Not too soon for me," said Alex frankly. "I'm grateful an' all for bein' hauled out of jail, but except for you I wouldn't have been in jail, would I?"
Dorian had the grace to look embarrassed. "I owe you an apology for that, Mr. Logan. And a double apology for burdening you with Ma-- Hans Pfeiffer. I am in your debt on both counts."
"Take him away and we'll call it even." Alex looked at the anticipatory smile. "Christ, what do you want? I almost feel like asking if your intentions are honorable. What are you going to do to that poor bastard next?"
The man opposite him shrugged, elegantly. "Whatever he'll let me." A faint smile. "More than he's ever dreamed." He raised his eyes to Alex's and Alex felt an electric thrill of sexuality, leashed but waiting. "Whatever I want, Mr. Logan. Shall we rejoin the others?"
Alex stood up and suddenly leaned back against the door, trapping them both inside the small room. He met the electric gaze deliberately, the way he'd do if he was trying to pull someone he fancied. "How can you be sure? Where do you learn how to do that? University?"
Dorian smiled, almost without an edge, and fell into an aristocratic drawl. "It's bred into us. Not being rock musicians, we need some way of finding crumpet."
"'Crumpet,' mate?" asked Alex. "Black forest cake for you, no? Hans is a sitting duck if you can do that to him."
"Really." That was the drawl again, and arrogant blue eyes looked Alex up and down. He wondered, blushing furiously, if he ever looked like that to anyone. When Dorian spoke again his voice was absurdly normal. "Thank you for the vote of confidence. But it's not really your business now, is it?"
"I guess not." Alex whirled and opened the door, muttering, "Thank God."
The main break room looked like backstage at a circus instead of a rock band. Two roadies were trying, and failing, to juggle -- their enthusiasm undoubtedly inspired by someone's girlfriend-or-groupie who was keeping four oranges and a beer bottle in a neat circle in the air. Duff had taken on the task of emptying beer bottles for use by the jugglers, and Camy, surprisingly, had a trio of them in a respectable formation, to the applause of several female onlookers.
"Wot's all this then?" bellowed Alex, sensing mayhem and ready for it after the interview with Dorian, or whatever he was.
Camy looked up and two bottles crashed to the floor. And, fortunately, bounced. "It's a simple fountain," he said. "That is, it was. Duffy, let's have a fresh supply?" He snatched two empties and tossed one carefully up and down, holding the other two.
"So it was," said Dorian, and strolled over to the end of the buffet. "May I?"
Camy paused, eyes darting to Alex and then back to the cascade of cleaner blond curls. "Certainly. That is, if Alex doesn't object."
"Thank you," said Dorian gravely, and picked up three apples. "It's not so difficult when you have the trick of it." He set the fruit to spinning in the air with negligent ease, added two pears and presently an empty bottle, when Camy tossed it at him.
Someone said, "Nan, can you do that many?"
The female juggler shrugged and continued her play. "It's easier than grapes. Throw me another orange or something."
Camy tossed her his second bottle. "Shall we set up a scoreboard?"
Alex grinned and leaned back to watch the dueling jugglers, as onlookers bombarded them with fruit and odd items, including someone's over-aromatic shoe.
Presently, however, a silence in the doorway caught his attention and he looked up to see Tris. The dark eyes followed two circles of whirling objects with a quizzical amusement. "Auditioning for drum major?" he inquired, not raising his voice.
Both jugglers jumped. Nan's fountain collapsed into a litter of fruit and cracked bottles. Dorian's was pitched, item by whizzing item, into various corners of the room, Sheri's trainer landing neatly in her lap, the two bottles on a chair cushion. Dorian blinked attentively at Tris; Nan fell into Duff's lap and grabbed a full beer-bottle.
"Tim has the setup done -- this time," said Tris. "Shall we see if it'll do for tonight?" He glanced at Camy, Duff and finally at Alex, but not at Dorian. "The crew will be busy until we finish the sound check."
Alex said, "Dorian hopes to take Hans away from us."
Tris did not appear surprised. "You'll have to talk to Mick Royce, our manager," he said. "I'm sure he can be spared after tonight's show."
Alex caught the gleam in Tris's eye, at last. There was, of course, the matter of the equipment setup, but Tris was dying to see Mick Royce meet Dorian.
Thinking about it, Alex wanted to see it too.
# # #
There was a brief and incomplete rehearsal or "soundcheck" which had not entirely won Dorian over to Z's appreciation of Paradox, but which demonstrated an artistry of sorts and the remarkable decibel levels the band preferred. Dorian thought he saw Klaus among the stage crew several times, but the familiar-looking figure was remarkably adept at staying out of the light -- which was exactly what Klaus would do. Dorian almost relaxed, and waited.
After that, Alex Logan and his three bandmates had taken possession of Dorian and had had themselves and him driven to their hotel, evidently relishing the opportunity to witness his meeting with the band's manager.
Mick Royce, it turned out, was larger than Mischa the Bear and all of Mischa's Olympic wrestling medals, and perhaps nearly as tough. Dorian almost felt a flash of sympathy for Paradox. Royce held court in a hotel room littered with papers from two large portable file boxes, and a half-empty room service cart that smelled of cooling coffee and beef sandwiches.
He looked up from a folder and closed it when Alex opened his door, frowning when he saw the four band members together, and then going blank-faced when Dorian followed them into the room. "What's the joke?" he demanded.
"No joke," said Lindsay.
"I like him," said the drummer whose bulk rivaled Mick Royce's, but whose focus, outside his drum set and his band mates, was fleeting.
"Alex likes him," said Cameron.
"Alex would," snorted Royce. Alex shrugged and the others ignored it. "Who are you?"
"I'm looking for a misplaced colleague," said Dorian. "Hans Pfeiffer is the name, I believe."
"Colleague?" said Royce, eyebrows rising high and wide on his broad forehead.
"He's not English."
"No." He smiled. "You're right about that. However, Mr. Pfeiffer and I are working partners."
"Look here, Mr. ... Ah?" Royce was not intimidated.
"Redding." This entire caper had been organized to avoid connecting Eroica or Major Eberbach with Paradox. He might have to trust Alex Logan, but he couldn't employ too much of Eroica's flair for drama or flourish the Earl of Gloria's rank.
"Mr. Pfeiffer came to us on certain conditions. Perhaps you can resolve them -- he glanced from Dorian to Alex and back again -- "but until they're resolved, he can't leave."
Dorian nodded. "I quite see. I'm willing to discuss it. Perhaps you could ask for Mr. Pfeiffer to discuss it with us?"
"Bring 'im in, if you've got 'im," said Royce.
Dorian thought Cameron smiled. "I'll find him, Mick. It might take a minute."
As the door closed behind Cameron, Mick Royce fixed Dorian with a frankly curious gaze. "Okay. I'll say it. What the hell?"
Beside Dorian, Alex shrugged.
Dorian shrugged. "I have to think it's a complete coincidence. Of course, someone with my looks could hardly go wrong on stage..."
There was a chorus of snorts and disclaimers. Lindsay won, perhaps because Royce wasn't even bothering to answer. "Alex's face isn't his fortune, even if it's a nice bit of jam. It's his voice. Can you sing?"
They had him there. Dorian could carry a tune and appreciated a good tenor -- or bass, or baritone -- but that was as far as it went. "Not to speak of. I have other talents."
"I'll bet," said Duff. This time only Lindsay snickered aloud.
"You obviously do," said Royce. "Okay, it's all a big mix-up. What happened in Istanbul?"
"I wasn't there," said Dorian.
"And I was," said Alex. "Some Turkish policemen grabbed me and put me in jail. It wasn't fun."
"I wouldn't think so."
"What'd they want you for?" asked Royce, of Dorian.
"It's a mystery to me, but I've since learned that they did want me, and not Mr. Logan." He nodded at Alex. "You must have impressed Pfeiffer. He doesn't like rescuing me."
"He complained a lot," said Alex. "I think he was complainin' about you at least part of the time."
Dorian couldn't keep himself from grinning. "I'm sure he was. But-- ah!"
The door opened and the Major entered the room, followed by Cameron. He was bare-headed, wearing a white shirt somewhat the worse for wear and trousers that had evidently spent the last four days working hard. His first glance took in the five men, but did it linger a moment longer on Dorian than on the others? Perhaps.
"Sir," said the familiar German intonation to Mick Royce, sounding crisp, dutiful, and, if you knew Klaus very well, slightly bewildered. Whatever had been happening to Klaus?
"Mr. Pfeiffer. You joined Paradox as a means to ensure Alex's safety while a misunderstanding over him and Mr. Redding here" -- Klaus gave Dorian a look as if acknowledging his existence -- "might get him in trouble. What's the situation now?"
Klaus glared at Dorian. "Mr. Redding?" he asked, but he was not questioning the name. It was exactly the same tone he'd have used for, "Mr. A," to request a piece of information. It made Dorian's heart flutter.
"If you come back home, the international alert for anyone of my description will be dropped. Mr. Logan will be in no further danger."
"So you say," said Royce.
"Consider, please," said Dorian, "that I've been walking around Vienna just as I am, and no one's tried to arrest me."
Royce glanced at Dorian's lace jabot, raised both eyebrows and visibly refrained from sniggering.
Dorian read his mind and took the opportunity to preen. "One does what one can," he said sweetly, and tossed his head enough to set curls and earrings jouncing.
"Oh- kay," said Royce, shrugging at a display that had sent decent businessmen into apoplexy. "Lemme me make some calls. Everyone out!"
They shuffled out into the anonymous hotel corridor, everyone but Klaus and Dorian himself looking both confused and curious. Klaus refused to speak to anyone. Dorian smiled mysteriously and talked about the beauties of the Kunstgewandhaus and the Staatsoper, which caused everyone except Cameron to ignore him almost as completely as Klaus was doing.
Some minutes later the door opened again, and Royce bellowed, "Tris!"
"D'you need Pfeiffer for the evening show?"
"Not if he has other plans," said Lindsay, dry as El Greco. He glanced at Alex, nodded in apparent satisfaction, and turned to Royce. "We can do without him."
"Okay. Pfeiffer, you're free to go. Don't make me regret it."
"No, sir." Klaus straightened up, suddenly every inch the Major instead of a road crew member on sufferance. "My belongings?"
"Ah." Royce beckoned him into the room, and he returned a moment later carrying a cheap-looking satchel that clanked. Dorian restrained his curiosity, until it occurred to him that Klaus wasn't wearing a jacket or any other means of concealing his pet Magnum. His curiosity died without further need of restraint.
Klaus nodded at the band-members... no, at Alex Logan, and jerked his head at Dorian as he turned away. Dorian hoped that meant he was to follow. He was going to follow in any case.
"It's been a pleasure, but I'd best be off now," he said, and had to exert himself to catch up with Klaus's long strides toward the staircase exit.
He was rewarded when Klaus said, without looking at him, "We're leaving. Immediately. Do you have transportation?"
"I came in a cab. Z and a team came with me--"
"Good," said Klaus, moving at breathtaking speed. "Mr. Royce has contacts among the civil police, I believe. If he has asked them about someone of your description, they'll start up the search for 'Eroica' immediately, here. Do you want that?"
"The alert for me won't be pursued in Austria. Not today, at least. Your Chief knows people in the Polizei Wien too, and a few above them."
"As long as you've never burgled a museum in Austria, that might do. If you ever did..."
"Not lately," said Dorian. "It was all a misunderstanding. I'm sure it's been forgotten by now. Besides, I gave them back everything, even the piano."
"Only a little one," Dorian assured him, "from Salzburg. One of Mozart's." They were running down stairs toward a plain door that would probably lead to a delivery or parking area. You could always get a taxi near a hotel.
"You're insane, Eroica."
"Thank you, Darling. I'm glad we found you again. How did you like Paradox?"
Klaus put his back to the closed door that would let them out into something like freedom. "Do not talk about it. Ever."
Dorian smiled. So the band -- or perhaps just Alex Logan -- had bothered him, had it? Good. "I'm so glad to hear you've been having fun, Darling. Shall we go now?"
# # #
Klaus was happy to be walking away, leaving the "setup" and "load out" and all the hideous related exercises to the rest of -- to the real roadies. He stepped through the hotel door and took a deep breath of evening air, free of smoke-transmitted drugs, perfumes, or music of any kind. Eroica had said Z and others were here. The thief was as disgustingly overdecorated as ever, but at least he was working with NATO's people.
A staid dark-blue Citroen -- none of Eroica's doing, surely -- flashed its lights at them and drew up to the curb beside them. Klaus relaxed, a very little, when he saw Agent Z driving it and Agent Y beside him. Eroica, naturally, climbed into the back seat without hesitation; Klaus followed him only when Z shook his head firmly at Y and the Major. "Sorry, sir. Orders. Sit in the back, please."
Eroica gave him a leer as he slid into the car. "Hello, sailor. Need a lift?"
Klaus wondered what Blaine Hickory would have said to an invitation like that. Or even Alex Logan. "Back off, fucker," he snarled, and was surprised to hear it come out of his mouth in what Hickory had called a Dixie accent.
"My, aren't we butch tonight." Dorian hadn't stopped grinning. "I didn't really expect gratitude, but..."
"Down, Eroica. Agent Z, get us out of here!"
Klaus leaned back in his seat, lulled by clean, unmusical burr of the engine and dreams of being miles from any party or music or musicians. If he were lucky, he'd never see anyone from Paradox again.
It was only a few minutes later when the car stopped and Eroica jumped out. Klaus opened his eyes to take in the front of yet another imposing hotel and Eroica flirting with the parking attendant. Klaus scrambled out his own side of the car and followed Z and Y, hoping Eroica might get lost now that he'd served his purpose.
The lobby was quiet and sparsely populated -- there were no hordes of underclad girls, no fascinated fans, no excitement-seekers. How long had it been since he'd seen a hotel lobby without Paradox's entourage of groupies and hangers-on? Only five days? It felt like a lifetime. Unfortunately, Eroica had managed -- somehow -- to get inside ahead of them and was posed gracefully at the lifts, waiting. He beckoned Klaus with a wave. Klaus had wondered, recently, whether Eroica by himself would be as irritating a companion as all of Paradox. The answer was yes.
Y had lingered at the doorway, to ensure their perimeter no doubt. Good man. "Agent Z," whispered Klaus with biting venom, "Why aren't we on our way to the airport? We could be in Bonn before midnight!"
Unfortunately, Eroica heard. "But, Darling, we have rooms here tonight, and the Chief isn't expecting you before tomorrow. Can't you just enjoy a little luxury for once?" Dorian fluttered his wrists and his lace cuffs.
Klaus had had his share of the decadence that some people called luxury. "No. I want to go home. Now, if you please."
"But I don't please. Besides, it's too late for our flight out today. I'm going to have a little rest, and then dinner."
"Don't let me keep you," said Klaus. "I'll speak to Z alone, then."
"Please step into the lift, sir," said Z. He and Klaus and Dorian crowded into the wood-paneled booth and were hoisted to the first and then second floor by a mechanism whose very creaking spoke of elegant age. Z ignored Eroica's remarkable clothing with a nonchalance that Klaus hoped didn't mean familiarity. Z was a good man, but he had areas of susceptibility.
"The Chief's orders," said Z softly while they rose, "are to travel during day-shift hours only. Eroica holds the passport you are to use; do not attempt to clear immigration at the Schwechat Airport with your civilian passport, or at any other exit station."
Klaus gave him a fulminating stare. "Why should I do anything that bag of suet orders? Eroica, the passport. Now!"
"Major, Darling, they've been having meetings about you in every one of those incredibly dull buildings all over Bonn, absolutely continuously, ever since Tuesday. I think we shouldn't waste that much hot air just because you're a trifle impatient to scream at them. Why don't you take this evening just to scream at me instead?"
"He's right about the disruption in the Bonn offices," said Z. "You are still, officially, persona non grata in NATO-affiliated nations, most particularly the U.S. and Turkey. We've received a bit of unofficial cooperation from certain Austrian agencies I'm not going to name, and we'd do well not to abuse it."
"Why should I care! Eroica, I want that passport!"
Z blocked the elevator door. "You should know, sir, that Eroica has understated the case. NATO Intelligence has been defending the propriety of your actions since Monday, against several powerful voices urging the most stringent punitive action possible. Your actions will come under internal review as it is. The Chief has worked himself silly to see that only the Intelligence Department reviews this case."
"That bugger is silly already," muttered Klaus. "Did he brief you on the original objective?"
Z gave the tiniest possible pause. "Respectfully, sir, no sir." That meant he couldn't discuss it in front of Eroica, which meant the Chief probably had given Z the full briefing. Which might mean he should take Z's advice.
"My quarters, now, Agent Z."
"Sir, I have clear instructions. You are not to leave this hotel until morning. You are not to discuss the case -- the original case, up to your departure from Istanbul -- with me or anyone else, at all. I am not to discuss it with you. You are not to travel under any but the papers Eroica holds for you. There are several agents maintaining a security perimeter to enforce these orders, which I convey to you on the Chief's authority. Can he rely on you to obey them?"
The Major blinked and, having few options, shut up. Z turned to Eroica. "Lord Gloria, the same restrictions apply to you at this point if you wish to remain associated with NATO or continue on this case. Do you understand?"
Eroica, Klaus saw, was nearly as astonished as he'd been himself at Z's cover-all-bases tone of command. Perhaps the boy was growing up after all: he had succeeded in silencing Eroica, at least momentarily.
"Noted," said Eroica, sounding far less subdued than he ought, but he said nothing more.
"Yes," said the Major, glaring at Z.
"The hotel will, of course, deliver any food you care to order to your room. I'll see you in the morning, sir, Lord Gloria. There will be a full debriefing in Bonn for both of you."
"And you?" asked Klaus, continuing to glare.
"For today's operation, yes, sir." Z opened the elevator door on a carpeted and paneled hallway. "Guten Abend."
Klaus exited, still glaring, with Eroica at his side.
"Gute Nachtlein!" trilled Eroica, as the door closed. Klaus held out a hand, silently demanding a room key, and was secretly relieved to note that Eroica had a different-numbered key of his own.
The rooms were adjacent, and Eroica waved a kiss at him before he slipped inside. Klaus took a deep breath, entered the blessedly quiet hotel room, and bolted the door behind himself with a sense of nothing but relief. The upset at NATO was no more than show, the Chief's ridiculous orders only of a piece with his revolting personality. Even luxury could be endured in the line of duty for a night. Klaus wanted to be alone.
He was safe, for the moment, as safe as he would ever be outside the inner fortress of NATO Intelligence, and that place had its own dangers and pitfalls. He stripped off his much-worn clothing and fell onto the bed for sleep that need not reverberate of too many voices and too many paradoxes.
# # #
Tris listened to Alex sing, from deep in his chest and sounding happy. Their last concert in Vienna had gone off splendidly, Mysterious Hans had departed forever to the limbo he'd come from, and Alex had dragged Tris away from the post-concert party to listen to the tapes of Turkish music and a new song he'd heard in them. And maybe something more.
"So what's this you want me to hear from the Kusadasi tapes?" asked Tris.
"Somethin' I remembered this morning when I woke up." Alex rummaged in the stacks of cassettes that accompanied him everywhere, frowning at the labels in his cryptic handwriting. "Something from before Istanbul. I pulled it out before we had to leave for the theater, and... This one!" He snatched a box from beside his tape-player. "It sounds like our style." In the drawer just below, Tris spotted a stash and a packet of papers.
Tris reached for them, but Alex was ahead of him, and Tris grinned as he accepted the joint. "We're a long way from art-school rock." He lit it at one of the candles next to the mirror. "Tibet and now Turkey. I'm glad we don't want to do what everyone else's doing."
"Then you'll love it," Alex promised. He let the tape cassette spin, stopped it and set it playing. "See, this's great!"
Cool smoke filled Tris's lungs and he exhaled. Alex had his head back as he hummed along with the recorded singer, quarter- and third-tones trickling
through his lips. He paused and said, "I was thinkin' of Istanbul at first, but when I heard it..." He closed his eyes and resumed the oddly tranquil keening.
"It'll play great in Manchester," said Tris dryly, but he listened attentively to Alex's melody.
"It might just really play in 'Frisco," said Alex, "but now it could be..." He sang again, wailing the chant, altering it with a bluesy twist. "Sad'n'mad, ain't it?"
"Yes." But Tris was taking his own meaning, as usual, from the sounds: "It's like... like that sod, Hans. Sad'n'mad."
"You think so?"
Tris remembered sitting on the edge of the stage, worrying at the dials on his old Gibson, when there'd been a strange eddy in the pattern of banter around the stage, an odd lapse of sound followed by quick, quiet whispers. Tris had looked up, and into a pair of sparkling blue eyes framed by bright gold curls.
When he looked over his shoulder to where Alex should be, Alex was there, solidly in place on Duff's drum kit platform, joking around with a mike stand.
When Tris glanced back at the visitor, the resemblance wasn't complete. This stranger's bone structure was a point finer, his hair lighter and more carefully styled than Alex's wild mane, which only saw a comb in alternate weeks. But there was enough there to fool the eye for a minute, or an unknowing eye for longer. Alex's mysterious detention by (as Mick had eventually said) Turkish police, made a lot more sense suddenly. If, that is, this perfectly turned out, perfectly-British stranger could somehow draw the interest of foreign police.
Tris kept his attention on the stranger, jarred now by contradictions. The features were so near a match for Alex's that this man could be his brother, but their music was different: Tris would never confuse them.
Alex talked to the man, leading him out of the way of the stage crew. Tris found himself consciously ticking off the differences between them. Alex was a slightly broader, taller silhouette. His skin-tight jeans and T-shirt left nothing to imagination. The newcomer's white suit and whiter lace-trimmed shirt put Tris in mind of stage clothes but... they suited the stranger in essence, not just as decoration.
Tris looked around for Hans, who surely was a piece of this puzzle, but didn't find him. Instead he saw cautious eyeing between Camy and Duff, amusement meeting confusion. "Take a break," he offered. "It'll be a bit before this is sorted out." He waved at the disarrayed speaker stacks that were already being taken down -- again -- by the roadies.
"You coming?" Camy asked.
"Nah, someone's got to keep an eye on this lot." Besides which, he didn't want to go into the backstage area while the stranger was there if he'd have to pretend to social behavior. Tris dug out a cigarette and lit it, watching Camy jog off toward Duff and a redheaded groupie.
What had Alex and the look-alike talked about?
The bigger question for Tris was what might have been. If Alex hadn't been a rocker, would he have been a well-dressed, soft-spoken Englishman like that? Tris reminded himself with a shake that Alex had thrown away a comfortable and secure future years before Tris and Mick had stumbled on him in that bar in the Midlands. He'd known what he wanted, and he still knew. He'd sent the stranger on his way -- both strangers.
In Alex's hotel room, Tris sucked in a lungful of hashish smoke. "'M glad he's gone."
"He scared the piss outta me," Alex agreed, and reached for the joint. "Wonder what Dorian can do with 'im?"
"Dorian?" It hadn't previously occurred to Tris that Alex's double must have a name of his own.
"The man in the white suit," said Alex, before exhaling smoke and another round of slow, non-diatonic chanting. "Ahhh... Needs a bass, but d'you think something parallel, maybe?" The tape-player droned on, singer and a single drum.
"Parallel..." echoed Tris, his mind leaping immediately to larger parallels. "He's not you -- but he looks like you."
Alex considered this with hash-laden philosophical intensity. "How d'you know he's not me?"
"'E sounds different. It's weird, havin' someone look like you and not sound like you."
"Yeh," said Alex, eyes going vague. He resumed his wailing hum.
"You're right, it needs a bass," said Tris suddenly, thinking of the subtle music the Mancusians would never hear for their own deafness.
"Yeh?" asked Alex, smiling up at Tris, as Tris carefully re-tuned the acoustic guitar to native Turkish tones. "Gimme a line..."
# # #
Lying in wait for Klaus was the best Dorian had been able to think of. He wasn't sure how much credence to give Alex Logan's account of a drunken Klaus on a tear, but the opportunity was just too good to pass up. So here he was in his green satin robe, waiting for Klaus to finish in the bathroom now that he'd woken from his nap.
The bathroom door clicked open and there he was. Finally. Dorian feasted his eyes on the sight of Klaus wearing only a towel, and watched Klaus glare at him as if they'd never been apart. As if Klaus hadn't spent days in very close company with a younger, less refined, even-more-scandalously-clad-or-unclad version of Dorian. Things were looking up already.
"Get out," Klaus ordered sharply.
Dorian had no intention of letting Klaus have his way. Not just yet. "What was he like, Klaus?" Dorian drawled softly. He took a look in the mirror, as he'd been doing off and on all evening while he waited for Klaus to wake, considering the similarities and differences between himself and Logan. "How soon did you know he wasn't me?"
"Get out!" Klaus said again. Dorian looked up at him this time. Klaus stood stiffly in the small doorway, probably too angry to blush right now, but feeling awkward, Dorian hoped, with nothing but a towel tucked around his waist.
"How soon?" Dorian was really curious. He didn't think that Logan was an exact double, but it was certainly enough to make him wonder about some of his father's habits...
"As soon as I saw his face. Now will you please get out?" Apparently giving up on the situation, Klaus crossed to the wardrobe and began dressing in the clean clothing Dorian had packed for him. Was he planning on going down to the hotel's public rooms, or trying to go out? He wouldn't get far.
Rising quietly, Dorian crept across the room. Maybe Klaus felt him coming, because Dorian knew that he hadn't made a sound, and suddenly Klaus spun around to face him, trousers hanging unfastened on thin hips. "Eroica," Klaus warned.
"Don't fight it, Darling. I don't want anything you didn't give Alex."
He watched the barb land. Klaus jerked back, banging against the wardrobe doors. It left a space that Dorian quickly filled, moving in until he could feel the heat radiating from Klaus's skin and smell the clean-soap smell.
"But I didn't-- we didn't. He swore--"
"Don't worry, Klaus. He told me all about it." Reaching up, he traced a hand along Klaus's freshly shaven cheek.
He was less than surprised to find himself spun around and pushed back against the wall. He was only a little shocked to find Klaus pressed firmly against him from chest to knee. And there was no surprise at all at the thrill of anticipation and fear that coursed through his own body at having Klaus pin his hands above his head on the wall. Heat pounded into his groin and he felt a corresponding hardness pressing against him through thin fabric. Klaus was panting hard and his body shook with restraint.
Dorian knew he had to break that restraint, one way or another. "Was it like this, Klaus?" he taunted, rubbing his groin against Klaus's.
"No." The short denial was pointed, but Klaus still held him tightly.
"No? Are you sure? Did he struggle?" As a trial, Dorian pulled against the hands holding his wrists, not really trying to get free, just testing.
"No." But the grip tightened. He'd have bruises when this was done.
"Did you like it?" He pulled a little harder this time, provoking Klaus into leaning harder against him, which in turn drove his own body higher.
"Was he better than me, Klaus? Easier? Did you fuck him, Klaus?"
"No! He didn't want--"
Dorian had his own opinions on what Alex Logan wanted, but he purred, "Oh, didn't he?" while his aching crotch pushed against Klaus's. "Did you think about him? Or were you thinking of me?"
Klaus twitched. Dorian answered him with another push, and they were next-best-thing to fucking. Dorian rode with the hard, rocking thrusts, letting his head fall forward to whisper into Klaus's hair: "Are you thinking of me now?"
Klaus groaned and stopped moving. "Dor-- Eroica. Shut up. Stop."
"I don't want to, and I don't think you want to." Dorian arched his body into Klaus's to maintain contact, and was not very surprised to feel an answering push that resumed their close rhythm together.
Klaus groaned again. "I don't know-- I didn't know who you were."
"But it felt like this," whispered Dorian, half-drunk on the heady awareness of Klaus's near surrender. "Didn't it?"
Klaus's hands clamped like steel on Dorian's wrists.
"Like this," repeated Dorian, maneuvering his pelvis in a gesture that echoed one of Logan's stage moves. Aroused as he was, it was like scraping raw skin on concrete.
Then the concrete shaped itself to him, and he was being friction-fucked against the solid wall. "Yes," groaned Klaus, moving with him, blind and heavy as warm stone come miraculously to life.
"Klaus," he whimpered. "Klaus, yes, don't stop! But let my hands go!"
He was abruptly released. Klaus stood back a few inches, panting, glaze-eyed and looking lost. "Eroica?"
"Here, Klaus," said Dorian, pushing down the forgotten trousers, the confining pants. "Here and now." He let his robe fall askew as well and held Klaus's eyes with his own until they were locked naked in a desperate embrace, matching strengths, Klaus nearly overbearing him. The Major was hard, harsh, beautiful, and his at last.
Klaus bucked up against him, reminding Dorian of everything he'd wanted for too long. It was now or never. Dorian got a hand between their bodies and squeezed his love's hard shaft. "Yes, yes... now, Klaus!" When Klaus jerked and shuddered in his fist, he felt himself leap in sympathy and knew he wouldn't outlast Klaus by thirty seconds.
He climaxed in a hard spurt of relief just as he felt the solid support of the other body waver. Both trembling, they descended together to the carpet, Klaus looked as confused as Dorian felt triumphant.
Dorian kissed the unresisting lips once as they knelt there. "Yes, Klaus. Like that." He found the strength to smile.
"What?" Klaus's eyes rolled like a startled horse's. "No! We..." He looked around wildly, did not look at Dorian, did not push him away.
"We did. Here, up and over to the bed. It's not far."
"It'll be more comfortable." And we're going to do it again before I let you go.
"I didn't mean..." muttered Klaus as he was pulled into the double bed.
Dorian held him firmly. "Then what did you mean?"
"I don't know... I didn't want "
"Shhh." Klaus could still talk himself out of ever having done it. Dorian settled the dark head on his shoulder, stroked the acquiescent body now available to be convinced as never before, and prepared to argue his case.
# # #
As Tris finished the third run-through of the roughed out melody for the "Kusadasi Song" (as Alex thought of it), Alex put down the end of the joint and leaned over to kiss the hand fingering the guitar neck, prompted by the music and music-making that didn't reek of pain and fear.
He pulled the curled half-fist from the instrument and gently sucked each finger -- tasting the calluses, licking off the sweat, loving the feel of the flesh in his mouth.
Tris pulled in a deep breath and let it out. "Yeah," he said, voice slowed by the hash but his body, like his fingers, tuned to Alex's music. When Alex began nibbling on the web between forefinger and thumb, he unhooked the guitar strap and set the Gibson carefully on the dresser-top.
"Mmm," said Alex, and took the opportunity to kiss him. Tris put his agile fingers to work skinning the T-shirt off Alex's chest, tossing it not at all carefully to the floor. Other garments followed.
Alex pushed him onto the bed. "That sod you mentioned interrupted something I really liked," he growled, mock-fierce. "We never did quite finish it last night, but now..." He licked his lips.
"Help, help," said Tris, smiling sweetly up at him.
"No mercy," Alex warned him. "No quarter." He knelt over Tris's supine body.
"The sooner the better."
"Mmmm... Now!" Alex pounced, scouring the slim body with bites and kisses.
"Mercy, mercy, save me from the barbarians," whispered Tris, shivering.
"I am the barbarians."
"All of them?"
Alex ruined the effect by giggling. "Yeh. All of them. Now shut up and be ravished." Moving lower, Alex dropped his face into the warm, damp hair at his friend's groin. He carded the dark curls with his teeth, loving the response he provoked. Taking the swelling cock in his hand, he guided it slowly toward his mouth. Tris groaned.
Alex took his time: sucking it in, feeling it press against the roof of his mouth, stroking with his tongue. He liked having all of Tris to himself, hearing every tiny action evoke a response that echoed from Tris back through Alex's body like their challenge-and-response duels onstage. He felt Tris's hands in his hair, but any physical sense was remote compared to the inner resonance between them.
The feelings built, spiraling faster than he wanted, and then Tris was spasming, growling, coming, and Alex was there, the source, loving it and taking it all in, tasting the joy of it. He kneaded his cock against the bed, his own orgasm rushing over him punctuated by Tris's gasping breaths.
Alex collapsed, resting his head on Tris's thigh. Slowly he ran a hand across Tris's belly, gathering the beads of sweat and bringing them to his lips, tasting the salty musk again.
"Alex," Tris finally said.
Alex listened to Tris's heartbeat slow, almost understanding how Tris could hear different music in everyone.
Tris sighed, sleepily. "Did it really happen?"
"Wha'?" Alex was still in post-coital bliss.
"The stuff in the Istanbul song. Blood 'n' whatever."
"Dunno," said Alex, still listening to his partner. "It must've happened, no?" There was the song to remind him, but it was more real now than the memory. Maybe there had never been anything but the song and a nightmare.
# # #
Klaus was dazed, perhaps at the physical relief of sex, but still unable to believe the circumstances. Eroica... Dorian had done... Dorian had somehow got him into the hotel room bed and had both arms around him. That was where he was now.
"Shh," said Dorian's soft murmur. "What did you want? Me? Someone else? I'd rather it was me."
Klaus couldn't answer. He didn't know the answer. There was no answer he could give. "No..." he said, testing. That wasn't the answer. "Dorian..." He let himself sink into Dorian's embrace, his face buried in Dorian's neck, which smelled gloriously of exertion and flowers.
"I don't know. Dorian." Dorian's hands were kneading up and down his back. "Dorian."
"Oh, yes. Soon," said Dorian's voice, a promise Klaus would not let himself understand. Yet. Klaus raised his head and found himself looking into Dorian's shadowed face. The room's lights had been switched off somehow, with only a distant glow from the bathroom providing a little illumination. His arms were trapped inside Dorian's; his legs were being played with by Dorian's knees and ankles. He was aware of wanting it to continue.
In his secret, quickly forgotten thoughts, this moment of intimacy before or after sex had always been awkward. It was not. Dorian curled around him so that their genitals brushed together, his hands on Klaus's waist. "Touch me," Dorian whispered.
Klaus obeyed, reaching to cup the long jaw. He let his fingers wander lightly over Dorian's mouth, which licked at them, trapped one and sucked on it. Klaus gasped, and the finger was pushed out of Dorian's mouth by a strong, warm tongue. "Down. Go on touching me," commanded Dorian's whisper, and again Klaus obeyed, tracing down the corded, hard-planed chest, the rippling abdomen.
"You," he said suddenly.
"Yes?" said Dorian on a gasp.
"It was you... Dorian." Klaus's fingers spread into tightly curled short hair, questing blindly for what Klaus had closed his eyes to avoid seeing.
"I hoped it was." Dorian's hands cupped his buttocks, waking sensations Klaus didn't want to recognize, but did. He wanted to push closer to Dorian, and instead closed his hands around the shaft he found, feeling its warmth and half-yielding hardness, feeling it twitch and stiffen.
"Kiss me, Klaus. Don't stop anything, just kiss me as well." The voice was so close that Klaus could feel its breath. It would be no effort to find that mouth with his own.
Instead he took a deep breath, inhaling air from Dorian's lungs. "Dorian. I don't know what I did with him. I don't remember anything, and he swore..."
"Shh." Dorian kissed him, barely having to move. The shock of a warm mouth on his made Klaus moan, and everything jostled more intimately together, his erection hard against his hands on Dorian's, Dorian's hands hard on his arse, bodies and legs brushing and twining together. It was something a great deal more complex and more to be desired than fucking, even though he ached to thrust and grind and be done. It wasn't going to be that simple.
"You were thinking of me, weren't you?" Dorian's voice sounded rougher and lower than usual. Maybe this wasn't simple for him either.
"Yes," said Klaus. "Yes."
"I've been thinking of you," whispered Dorian. "Forever. Ease off a little. Just a little... right."
"I've dreamed about you," Klaus went on, words rasping with passion, as he moved to realign their bodies. Dorian's hands clutched at him again, pulling him upward in the bed until he was thrust plunging into Dorian's mouth. Klaus moaned and thrust, once uncontrollably and then, after the strangled squall of protest, with painful, slow deliberation. He could not stop moaning.
Even done slowly it was fucking, and it satisfied his penis. Dorian's mouth folded around him as warm and wet and sucking as anything his dreams had ever produced, and he thought he heard -- or felt, vibrating up and down his spine -- groans from Dorian as well as himself. Climax seemed to be infinitely delayed, agonizingly slow in coming, while Dorian held him captive; and that was good, because he didn't want to leave Dorian.
He screamed as he toppled from infinite height to infinite speed, regaining all his momentum in the fall, but when it was over he was still captive in Dorian's arms.
After a very long time of not thinking -- longer than he should allow himself even in a safe room with his team on guard outside -- Klaus came back to himself enough to push away from Dorian.
Dorian made a tiny sound of sleepy protest. "Dar-- Klaus, what?"
"You are a romantic pervert."
"Always," said Dorian.
"I have to see that my team is on watch."
"You know they are. They're too scared of you to do anything else."
Klaus smiled, since Dorian was facing the other direction and couldn't see it. "Good. I shall reinforce their convictions."
"Will you come back here?" The English voice was suddenly much more wide-awake than Klaus had suspected.
"Since you are here... yes." There was no escape from this hotel. Perhaps there was no escape from Eroica, and never had been.
Dorian sighed, a tiny catch of breath that was not frivolous. "Good. If you don't, I'll come after you."
"I know," said Klaus. "You did."
"Always," said Dorian.