Perfume of the Gods

by Kat Benedict

 

 

Chapter 1

Mr. James was worried, which in and of itself was nothing much, for it was in his nature to worry - mostly about the financial state of the estate of the Earl Red Gloria. But this morning's worries had nothing to do with Dorian's outlandish expenditures - it was the Earl himself. He hadn't come out of his room all morning. That too should have been no cause for alarm; Dorian Red Gloria loved to lounge in bed all morning, drinking tea and reading the post, or else simply dozing until his eyes couldn't stay closed any longer. But this morning was different He hadn't called up his breakfast or rung to have the curtains drawn open or sent for the post.

Mr. James had noted the night before that his beloved Earl had seemed withdrawn. Bonham had thought him unwell and sent him to bed but James knew there was nothing wrong with Dorian's health. Most likely, something had upset him. He could guess what.

He met Bonham at the top of the stairs. Bonham carried a breakfast tray still loaded with food.

"He didn't touch a thing," Bonham said with a sigh. "I think he's a touch of the melancholia."

The accountant bit his lip and gazed past towards the Earl's bedroom door which was slightly ajar. No light spilled out from within.

"No," he replied, also with a sigh, "I'd guess he's got a case of -the blues.'"

"Personally, I'd say he's got a case of 'the greys'," remarked the older man and toted the tray downstairs.

Mr. James crept quietly up the hallway to Dorian's room. He carefully poked his head in. There was a form beneath the quilted satin comforter on the antique four-poster bed. The door made no sound as it opened nor did James as he tippy-toed over to the bed. He bent over to peer at his employer. Dorian had the covers pulled up past his head so that only a pool of blond ringlets gave evidence of who lay beneath.

James clicked his tongue. "Up and at 'em old boy. You'll feel better if you get up and do something."

He went over to the drapes and pulled them open. Sunlight poured in through the organza sheers. He unlatched the glass doors and slid them open. The climbing roses that entwined the balcony rails were in full bright bloom and their heavy scent drifted in on the warm breeze like a tide of invisible pink. It was almost overwhelming. He stepped outside and glanced around. A silveriness to the air told of a likely mist sometime in the afternoon. The air was fresh and pleasant, the dampness of morning gone with the rising of the sun. Mr. James glanced down at his pocket watch. "It's eleven o'clock, sir!" he called in. "And you haven't even bathed." He tried to sound cheery and nonchalant, but his voice still sounded worried.

Dorian stirred beneath the lavender comforter. Mr. James went in to him and pulled back the covers which hid the Earl's pretty face.

A pair of electric blue eyes peered up at him from beneath a mound of golden curls and above the edge of the eyelet sheets.

"Dorian, sir?" said Mr. James.

The eyes glittered in response.

"Are you all right, sir?"

The Earl's long, slender fingers emerged from beneath the covers and pulled them down to reveal a poor attempt at a smile.

"I'm fine, James." His eyes looked tired and sad.

"No you're not," the accountant pouted, looking down at his shoes. "You're down." Dorian yawned and stretched. Mr. James' heart fluttered as he glimpsed bare skin and white silk pajama. The Earl's chest rose like a swelling wave, then fell, accompanied by a deep sigh. "Piddle, little James," he said, trying once more at a reassuring smile and failing. "It's nothing, really. Just..."

"The blues," Mr. James finished.

Dorian smiled sadly and nodded. "Yeah. You've got it."

"No cure for that but time," Mr. James replied wistfully. Dorian nodded and looked away toward the open terrace. He looked so miserable. James wished he could just hold him in his arms and make it all better, but he knew it wasn't his arms the Earl longed for, it was a certain tall, dark and irascible NATO agent's.

It had bewildered James at first why someone so strong and proud as the Earl Red Gloria would keep throwing himself at someone who was so cruel and despising. After all, no mentally healthy person sought rejection. But then, James himself was forever pining over Dorian, and forever would. So, in a fashion, he could understand. But Major Von Eberbach was so hateful. How could Dorian love that?

Mr. James sat down on the edge of the bed. He looked down at the buttons of his waistcoat. All were different, for this was an old waistcoat and they had all been lost, one by one, to be replaced by new, if mismatching ones. He saw no reason to buy new clothes until the ones he owned fell apart completely. Dorian was forever purchasing him new clothes and riding him about wearing patched up old ones. But James' nanny had taught him the value of a pence and pound. The proudest day of his childhood was the day he opened his own savings account. It was the same account he had to this day. Let the Earl be frivolous; it was James' frugality that kept the estate out of Queer Street.

He toyed with a button. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Dearest James...."

Mr. James looked up, hopeful but Dorian just shook his head.

"What's to say?" Dorian murmured. "There's nothing to be done. I'll be all right." He lowered his ultramarine eyes and turned away, pillowed on his fantastic mane. "I'll get over it."

James' heart twisted. The master looked so tragic.

"But sir," he whimpered, a lump in his throat. There was a small sob, then James burst into tears, collapsing across Dorian's slender form. The Earl gave a startled "Oh!" and then Mr. James felt two willowy arms around him.

"Diddums, diddums, little James," Dorian soothed. It wasn't demeaning for the Earl to call his accountant "little James," for it was meant as a term of affection and familiarity. Little James loved it. But at this moment, he felt like an ass. He sat up and dried his face with a patchwork handkerchief.

"Oh, bother!" he scolded himself. "After all, I'd come to cheer you up, and here I am bawling uselessly, even insofar as to elicit babytalk from my employer. Disgraceful."

Dorian sat up and ruffled Mr. James' curly black hair. "Head up, love," he said. "Don't fret over it. Or me."

Mr. James raised his large round eyes. "I can't help it." Dorian at last gave a genuine smile. He clasped James' face between his elegant hands. "I'll snap out of this. You know that. I always come 'round, don't I?"

Mr. James' heart swelled to the breaking point. "I love you. Dorian Red Gloria," he sighed, leaning into the Earl's warm hands. Dorian leaned forward and planted a delicate kiss on the accountant's cheek. That kiss was a flame on what was already burning flesh.

Dorian's hands dropped like white feathers onto his silk lap. "I just need some time to brood today. Please understand."

Mr. James lowered his face. He wished Dorian would rely on him more. Let him hold and comfort him. "As you like," James replied and went to the door.

"I love you, too," Dorian called out after him. Mr. James glanced back over his shoulder, his hand resting on the doorknob. Dorian's eyes were glistening with restrained tears. "You do know that, don't you?" Heaven help him, if so much as one tear fell from those beautiful eyes, James knew he would fall apart. Nodding briskly, he left.

***

Dorian rose and strolled slowly to the open terrace. It was a beautiful day; he couldn't blame the weather for his blues. And he wasn't ill, though he couldn't claim to feel exactly well.

He was lonely.

Yesterday, he'd woken up and just stared at the empty pillow beside him. That pillow had been empty for years, and it had finally gotten to him. He never slept on that side of the bed, for it was as though it already belonged to someone and was just waiting for them. That pillow should have someone's imprint on it. It should be redolent with the smell of expensive cigarettes and another's masculine scent. But it was blank and empty- waiting, as did Dorian. Waiting to be claimed.

He breathed in deeply. Everything had a soft delicacy to it: the pink roses, their scent, the sunlight filtering through low clouds, the soft, lush lawn below....

'"Ere y' barmy sod! Y' want y' should brake d' laff m plaster's cinders?"

The "lath and plaster" leaned over the terrace rail and looked down at the two young groundskeepers below, who were digging a flowerbed near his library window. The older one, Charlie, tried to take a shovel away from the younger one, Emil. '"Ere!" shrilled Emil, not letting him take it. "Oi was foine what till you come up 'n start bettyin' about wif me."

"You're makin' a mess of tings! 'ere! Let's 'ave it!"

"You'll 'ave it all roight. Roight on top o' your lump o' lead!" And with that, Emil made threatening gestures with the shovel.

Dorian sat down on the rail, carefully avoiding any thorns.

"Don't beard me, Emil. We got to get dis done 'fore Miss Barden gets back. Now, will you hand me the Lord Lovel?"

"Gah," growled Emil, and thrust the tool at his partner.

Calmly, Charlie said, "Go get the gard'nin' soil."

Emil stomped off. Charlie called after him, "Don't forget the cart!"

"What, you fink Oi'm gonna 'ump it 'ere on me bloody back?"

"Ooh, you're out o' order! Yeh don't towk loike that. Not on the Lord's parcel."

It was painfully similar to the way he and his beloved Major worked together: constantly at odds. Dorian always raising Klaus' hackles, both wanting things done his own way. Like Charlie, Klaus barked orders, took control and treated everyone else like morons. Charlie even had the audacity to have straight black hair, just like Major Von Eberbach. The Earl plucked a rose and twirled it between his fingers. He was surrounded by delicate, golden-pink Albertine blossoms, the color of Dorian's own pale complexion, Albertine rose buds, as deeply pink as his lips.

 

 

"D' budge it is a delicate trade 'n a delicate trade o' fame," Emil was returning with the barrow full of packaged soil.

      "for when that we haf bit the bloe
      We carry away the game!'

It was a Cant song, a song of the criminal underworld.

      "But ifa cuffy nab us
      an lurries from us take,
      then they rub us to the whitt
      And it s 'ardly worf d 'make!"

That was true enough. It was hardly worth it if one got caught stealing, especially if the treasure was then taken away. But that didn't happen to The Prince of Thieves. If he wanted something bad enough, he wouldn't rest until it was his, damn the consequences. Dorian should know, for both he and Eroica, the Prince of Thieves, were one and the same person. He had an insatiable appetite for beauty. A work of art didn't just touch his soul, it possessed it, and he would pursue an object of his fancy with a single-minded intensity that Klaus called Geisteskrank. Dorian preferred to think of it as steadfastness.

"Oy, but you're a real scorcher," Charlie exclaimed upon Emil's speedy return. "You musta chivvied toot sweet."

"Oi gets me job done, oi does. See?"

"Oi see, now let's scurry 'fore ol' ba trace Barden 'as our arses."

"Every bloomin body's 'ad your arse, Charlie," Emil sneered with malicious glee.

"Rot!" Charlie exclaimed with an astonished and slightly horrified laugh.

"Aw, Oi seen you take a shine to the new lackey. Tish! Skyin' a copper wif d' Charrin' Crosses."

Dorian sat up straight and blushed bright pink. Emil was accusing Charlie of fooling around with the stable boy.

"Leave it out," griped Charlie, digging furiously in the flower bed. "It ain't true and don't you go waggin' your tongue neither. You'll get yourself disloiked."

"That's all right, mate. At least you're loiked, huh? Gorra noice lad waitin' for you in your Uncle Ned...."

"Oi ain't no Nancy, and I gorra noice bunch o' fives to tell it to you loikewise."

Dorian stood up to go in. Apparently, the boys noticed him, for he heard Charlie hiss, "Ooh, noice goin', cast-iron! Offended the laff m plaster, you did."

"You did!" Emil hissed back.

Dorian turned and smiled tight-lipped. "No harm done lads. I make no secrets, and you are free to your opinions."

"Oh, no, m'lord," blushed Emil. "We ain't got nuffin against fairies-"

Charlie gave him a sharp jab. "Sir, we was just bangin' our gums."

Dorian tossed him the rose. "I should hope not. It would be nice to have someone waiting for you in your Uncle Ned, no?" Charlie looked down at the rose he'd caught.

Dorian went inside and closed the doors.

"Ah, Klaus," he sighed, leaning back against the glass, "am I so ridiculous? Do you make jokes of me?" He lowered his face. "Do I disgust you?"

Of course he did. Klaus was always in a flat spin whenever Dorian behaved less than masculine, or slipped in a flirt or a touch. Klaus didn't even like Dorian to look at him too long. Dorian could see him pale whenever the Earl's sexuality reared its coifed and perfumed head. He hated Dorian's frills, his jewelry, his perfumes. It made Klaus so angry. He always had to yell at Dorian.

Tears slipped from the Earl's lapis eyes. He gazed up at his rumpled bed. He imagined Klaus lying there, propped up on an elbow, dressed in a leather bomber jacket, tight trousers, knee boots and a long Errol Flynn-esque scarf of white cashmere, a glass of claret in one hand.

"Kommen, mein junge-hure!" The phantasm demanded in his sensuous voice. "Kommen und kussen mir."

"Kiss you?" Dorian whispered coyly, sitting on the edge of the bed.

"Ja. Tomorrow I go on my most dangerous mission. We may never meet again, sweet one."

"Ach, no!" Dorian cried in a whisper. "Don't go. I need you. I can't live without you. Oh Klaus, I love you."

"I know. Mein Gott, I know."

He leaned forward to kiss his daydream. "Oh, Klaus...."

"Dorian!"

The Earl leapt up and whirled around, blushing furiously. Even in fantasy, his beloved eluded him.

Mr. James stood in the doorway, waving a magazine in one hand.

"Wait till you see what I have!" He scampered over and gave Dorian a wide-eyed once-over. "Sir, I can see nigh everything you have! Here," He handed Dorian the magazine and went to fetch the Earl's dressing gown. Dorian looked at the front cover. It was the latest issue of a somewhat underground publication called 'Pirate's Plunder," a quarterly magazine that dealt with recovered treasures, stolen treasures and ones still missing.

"Here," James said, exchanging the robe for the magazine. While Dorian slipped the floral-print dressing gown on, James flipped through the pages until he found what he was looking for.

"Read this."

Dorian sat down and read. The article was about a group of archaeology students who'd unearthed an ancient Egyptian tomb beneath a small village called Ashirak. The students had begun to transport the treasure back to Germany before the Egyptian government found out about the discovery. Much of the treasure was still unaccounted for, for along with the greedy students, Ashirakians, furious over the desecration of the tomb, began to also export treasure, not to sell, but to protect.

Dorian turned the page.

There, in full color, on glossy magazine paper, was pictured an enormous emerald, as dark as a sunless sea. The top of the emerald was carved into the likeness of a face- the face of a beautiful, androgynous youth. The solemn mouth and the edges of the catlike eyes were painted gold. The caption beside the picture read:

The Perfume of the Gods

Found inside a stone urn, this four and a half kilogram emerald is the largest of its kind. Chiseled into the side of the um were the glyphs: "He who wears The Perfume Of The Gods will be beloved above all mortals." It is believed that the emerald is hollow and contains a beeswax-based perfume that was believed to be so enchanting that its wearer would be beloved by all, that no one would do harm to them, nothing would be refused them, and the gods themselves would bless and love them.

 

"The Perfume Of The Gods," Mr. James breathed, beaming up at his dear Earl. '"S supposed to have the power to make its wearer irresistible and turn enemies into admirers."

Dorian chuckled. He could certainly use that. And even if it was just a legend, to own the largest emerald in the world....

"It wasn't stolen, then?" he asked.

"Oh, yes it was, sir. That piece now resides in the home of an Herr Stefan Dieslinger of Munich."

Dorian blinked. "In Munich? Hasn't Cairo stepped in to reclaim the treasure?"

Mr. James shrugged. "I assume it is out of their jurisdiction. Besides, a great lot of the treasure was smuggled out of Egypt before it was ever catalogued or documented. No one can prove it came from the site in Ashirak."

Dorian gazed lovingly at the emerald. "I must have it."

Mr. James grinned. Just as he'd hoped. Although the expenses would be steep, it would give the Earl something to do besides mope about the manor.

***

Major Klaus Von Eberbach left the meeting with a sense of dread. In his attache case were a copy of "Pirate's Plunder" and a plane ticket to Munich. In his gut was the certainty that if Eroica saw the article, the Prince of Thieves would no doubt get involved. It wasn't bad enough that there were Egyptian smugglers to catch, a stolen cache to find, illegally sold pieces to confiscate, and Ashirakian loyalists who swore to reclaim their beloved Prince Semankhanzir's treasures by any means necessary, but there was also Eroica.

It was like trying to supervise a spoiled child. A wickedly cunning spoiled child. It was always a battle of wits and skills, Eroica's mastery of stealth and disguise, and Klaus' training and vigilance. They both knew each other so well that it was getting harder for both of them to outwit the other. Maybe they were just getting old.

Klaus punched the 'down' button of the elevator and waited. It would be just like his superiors to enlist Eroica's help in this case. The Prince of Thieves was clever and efficient. He was a good ally to have when you needed a cat burglar, an undercover spy, or a convenient distraction. And it was impossible to hate him, as much as Klaus wished he could.

"Toothache, sir?" came a voice from behind him. He knew the voice and turned to see Agent Gellhammer standing there. Pauline Gellhammer was an amazon of a woman, as muscular and athletic as any female bodybuilder. She intimidated Klaus a little, so he always treated her curtly.

 

 

"No." He looked away. "Where is that goddamned elevator?" he muttered, mashing on the button.

"The way you were grinding your teeth, I thought something was wrong. You look like you're in pain." There was a hint of mischief in her voice. Of course. She knew about Eroica. Everyone did, it seemed. The elevator at last arrived. Agent Gellhammer pushed the button for the parking garage before Klaus could. It was foolish, but Klaus felt demeaned by it and hit the same button himself.

"Home," Gellhammer sighed. "But not for long. I'm off to Munich tomorrow."

Klaus looked up, surprised. She hadn't been in on the meeting. "Vacation?" he ventured.

"I wish," she laughed. "No. Assignment. Top secret. Very hush-hush." She smiled and winked at him. Klaus looked away. Even her teeth were bigger than his. She reached into her purse and withdrew a gaudy keyring that was a silver angel holding a ring over its head. Her keys jangled from around the ring. The angel reminded him of Eroica. He began to grind his teeth again. The doors opened onto the parking garage. He stepped back for Agent Gellhammer.

"Better have that taken care of," she grinned, and walked off, taking big, confident strides.

Taken care of? He thought. How? I can't get rid of him. I've tried. He reached his car and pulled out his own, rather dull, keyring. I can't even get him out of my mind. Everything reminds me of him. He shook his head, trying to derail this train of thought. He unlocked the door of his rather dull sedan and got in. It still had the faint scent of Damask Rose from where Eroica had spilled his purse containing a broken bottle of cologne. They had been on a case together in Leipzig, and had ended up somehow in a fight at a bar. Oh, yes. Klaus remembered. Dorian had been dressed as a woman and....

He started up the car, revving the engine loudly. Who wanted to dwell on thoughts of Eroica? Certainly not Major Klaus Von Eberbach. He rolled down the window. It was mid-May and wonderfully cool outside. Klaus took a deep breath and started on his long trip home. He turned on the radio so he wouldn't have to hear himself think.

Worst of all, Klaus had begun to understand the little bastard. That was unnerving. Never in his whole career at military school, in government training, nor in NATO had he encountered anyone so scandalous, so unpredictable, so shamelessly insane. The sky in Eroica's world was hot pink with little fluffy clouds. He knew. He'd ventured there a few times. Klaus' world was rigid and structured. At least, it had been. Dorian loved to knock it askew. He seemed to relish the idea of pushing Klaus over the edge until he snapped. And Klaus always fell for it. Even when he knew Dorian just wanted to get a reaction. He couldn't help it. He had a lousy temper and he knew it. Even now, his superiors would call him on the carpet for blowing up at one of his agents or using excessive force in apprehending a criminal. He didn't always mean to lose his temper, it was just an old, familiar way of dealing with stressful situations. It was a survival technique. It was a masculine thing to do. And there was Eroica, fluttering like a gossamer moth around Klaus' blazing temper. One day, he'd either get burnt up or fly away.

 

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Eroica