Chapter 5

Klaus was roused from sleep at dawn by the phone. He awoke the same way he went to sleep: flat on his back, his hands folded over his chest. Dorian had seen him sleeping once and remarked that he looked like a corpse. All he lacked was the lily.

"Ja?"

"Herr Scherer. This is Mandel."

It was Herr Pfan's young go-between. The boy's voice sounded tense. "Ja?"

"Go to the Prinz Carl today at one. Someone will meet you there."

"Who? What is this about?"

"Th-the treasure. Go." The phone went dead.

Was this about his bids or was Mandel acting on his own, either selling on the sly or acting turncoat? Klaus called NATO on his personal line in case the hotel phone had been bugged. Then he took a quick shower, slicked back his long hair and dressed in his usual: a suit, tie and gun. He grabbed the newspaper outside his door as he headed down to the hotel restaurant.

As he sipped his black coffee, he scanned the pages for news of Herr Dieslinger, his jewel or a theft thereof. Nichts. Well, that was good. Perhaps there would still be time to thwart Eroica in whatever escapade he was involved in. He personally would catch the thief if he could. No one else would be able to. Klaus was the only one who knew him so well. At times he thought he knew everything about Eroica, at times he thought he didn't know anything at all. But what he was sure of was that Eroica got what Eroica wanted. Except when it came to Klaus.

"More coffee?" The pretty waitress stood beside him, a coffee pot in hand. She eyed Klaus appreciatively.

"Yes, thank you," he replied and tried to read his paper but his mind kept wandering.

He'd stopped to help the girl without consciously knowing why. And it turned out to be Eroica. Had he known subconsciously? That was something to chew on. But not too much. He might not like the taste. In fact, if he ever analyzed anything about his relationship to the Prince of Thieves, the answer inevitably displeased him. The sight or thought of Eroica had never aroused him. He had no desire for the man. But at times (and he would die before he admitted this) there was such joy, knowing Dorian loved him and was faithful in that love. There was comfort he'd never known in any other relationship, familial or social. It was the first love he ever felt secure in. His own father's affections seemed conditional and unreliable. But no matter how bad-tempered, hateful or cruel Klaus behaved, Eroica loved him. Or so he professed. At first, Klaus had dismissed it as merely lust. He recalled one time when Dorian said "I love you," and Klaus, who'd rarely heard the phrase, became so incensed, he tried to shoot the poor fool. He was ashamed of it now but at the time it had seemed like a cruel, selfish thing to do-to taunt Klaus with love; love he craved. How desperately he wanted to be truly loved.

Klaus discreetly dug his nails into his palm. This was too close to self-pity and he was angry with himself for wallowing in it. Dorian loved him—he was sure of it. Love forgives a lot that passion cannot. And Klaus.-.held a certain strange, uncomfortable affection for the fool. Maybe it was love, but not the kind of love Dorian wanted.

Dorian had been rudely awakened by the sound of something crashing in the next room. He listened and heard the unmistakable sound of someone being struck.

"You will call them," said one of the foreigners in mangled German, "and if Herr Pfarr finds out, you will suffer for it."

"But if he finds out I did this for you...." The voice was that of a young German boy, probably just into his teens. He sounded scared. There were tears in his voice.

"That is your problem. Now call."

"No please just let me go—please...."

"After you do as we say."

Dorian listened. The boy, Mandel, told each person to go to a different place at a different time, but told each that "someone" would be there to meet them. They had a speakerphone, to hear each person's response. Some refused, saying they feared a frame-up. Others agreed, inquiring about certain items of the tomb's treasure. Eroica's mouth watered. Perhaps he should expand his horizons. No, the Perfume of the Gods would take all the time he had to spare. At least he had a way in now. Otto had promised to invite "Sydelle" over next time Herr Dieslinger and Adolf were gone. It would be a piece of cake. It was just the waiting.

Suddenly, he heard Klaus' voice. Mandel called him "Herr Scherer," but it was unmistakably Klaus Von Eberbach. The Prinz Carl Tavern? One o'clock? Eroica would be there. Not with bells on but with some sort of disguise. It would have to be a good one. Klaus would be on the lookout for him.

Eventually, all the calls were made but the Egyptians did not let their prisoner go.

'Not yet," they said. "When our business is through."

"Please don't kill me," Mandel begged. "I just run messages for Herr Pfarr. I don't know anything! Please!"

The Egyptians spoke back and forth in their own language while the boy wept softly. Then the door opened and closed. Dorian heard two sets of footsteps on the stairs outside. One of the men stayed with the boy and there were strange scraping sounds, like heavy objects being moved around.

Eroica dressed quickly. There was time to find the Prinz Carl Tavern. Right now, he had to save a little boy. No time for anything elaborate - just a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, sloppy sweater and his hair pulled up under a stocking cap.

Knock, knock. "Who's there?"

"Management." The door opened. A short, slight-built man stood there, eyeing the nerd-Eroica with suspicious dark eyes. "What is it?"

"Ah, there's a question about payment for your room."

"I paid in advance."

"Ah, um, yes, I know, but there's the problem of too many people in your room. You'll have to go downstairs and talk to the innkeeper."

The man didn't look like he was buying it. "I don't see the problem."

"Yes, well, if you don't clear this up with the innkeeper, he's going to call the police."

That got him moving. The man scowled, then glanced back over his shoulder. He stepped out into the hall and closed the door behind him, making sure it locked. Dorian picked up someone's emptied breakfast tray from the hall floor and pretended to be working. The Egyptian watched him for a moment, then went off downstairs.

Immediately, Dorian picked the lock and went inside. It seemed empty. "Mandel?"

Silence. A cold dread gripped his heart. "Mandel? Mandel are you all right?"

He heard a scuffling sound coming from the wardrobe. He searched it thoroughly, but no boy. But the scuffling kept on, accompanied by muffled cries. They were coming from behind the wardrobe. He pushed it away from the wall and felt along the wainscoting. He found the edge of a loose panel and pulled it aside, revealing a secret cabinet and a bound and gagged boy.

"Quickly," Dorian whispered, untying the youth. "Who were those people?"

"They're from Ashirak. I don't know what they've got planned but I think they're setting up all the buyers. I don't know. I was just hired by Herr Pfarr as a messenger. Then Azhan and his friends sent word to me this morning and told me to meet them here."

There was the sound of hurried, heavy footsteps. Mandel started to run but Dorian held him back. "Wait." Dorian left Mandel standing there and hid behind the door.

The Egyptian burst in and froze hen he saw Mandel. Dorian took advantage of the moment to give him a chop between the shoulder blades. Unlike Adolf, this man collapsed.

"Quick! Let's tie him up!"

Soon, the Egyptian was bound and gagged in the cabinet and Dorian and Mandel hurried next door to Dorian's room.

"You stay here?" Mandel gasped.

"Shh." Dorian shut the door quietly. "They don't know me. They've never seen me," he whispered.

"Well now they have," replied the boy.

"Not at all...." and with that. Dorian took off the glasses and loosed his magnificent mane. Mandel's eyes grew large. "Ach..." he whispered. "Are you my guardian angel?"

Dorian smiled hugely and blushed. "Yes. Now I need to know, where is the Prinz Carl?"

"I can take you. Just don't leave me here."

"I wouldn't dream of it. I might need your help."

Klaus cringed as he entered the Prinz Carl. Fortunately, there was practically no one there. He took a table in the back, as usual. The waitress took his order: one dark lager, and went to the bar. He watched her speaking to a waiter, a child no older than fourteen. Klaus figured he must have been the owner's son or something and dismissed it.

He wasn't sure what to expect but when a tall, dark Egyptian woman entered, he knew she wasn't a prostitute, she was his contact. He was grateful he'd worn his hair straight back, for she had the same blunt haircut as he: thick fringes foremost and shoulder length on all sides. It would have been too unbearable to have sported identical hair styles with this Cleopatra. She was dressed in a smart skirt suit, also very similar to his, a silk blouse and understated gold jewelry. Very professional looking.

"Herr Scherer?" she said, nodding curtly.

"Yes." He stood politely while she took her seat.

"I come on behalf of Herr Pfarr and Azhan. I come to invite you to a private show and auction of the artifacts of Prince Semankhanzir." She struggled with the German language and her own strong Egyptian accent.

"Oh?" he lilted.

"Here." She showed him a slip of paper with an address written on it. "It is a theatre."

"I know of it," he said.

The boy waiter approached. "Can I get the lady a drink?"

"No, thank you," she replied. He left. "Tonight, at midnight."

"Why didn't they tell me of this yesterday?"

"A recent development," she shrugged off-handedly. "One of our key buyers insisted. I hope it's no inconvenience."

"Of course not, just unexpected."

"Well, I must go. You will be there?"

"Oh, yes."

He watched her walk out. The men at the bar didn't even make any lewd comments, such was her aura of power.

No sooner had she left when the waiter came back. "Major...."

Klaus' eyes sparked like flint at him. He didn't recognize him as one of his agents.

"That woman and the others are planning something diabolical."

"Who are you?"

"It's me, Mandel." The boy looked different from how Klaus had pictured him. He was much younger. Mandel sat down across from him. "They made me call you and a bunch of other buyers—"

"How do you know my name?" Klaus interrupted.

"Eroica. Listen—"

"Eroica?" Klaus tried not to shout.

"Listen. Mattias isn't in on this! They lied. It's all the Ashirakians' plan. Don't trust them."

"Why should I trust you?"

"Because Eroica does."

Klaus frowned and sighed. "Where are they based?"

"Azhan and two others have a room at Der Lustic Walgeist Inn. I don't know about the others or the treasure."

"St. Paul's theatre," Klaus muttered.

Mandel blinked. "St Paul's theatre?"

"Where is Eroica?" Klaus asked, trying to sound pleasant.

"He told me not to tell you."

Klaus felt his temper flare, bit it back and forced a laugh. "Oh, that silly Eroica. Come now, you must tell me. Is he here?"

Mandel's eyes darted towards the bar. "No."

Klaus followed that quick glance. At the bar sat a corpulent older man, the black prostitute, and the bartender. The waitress was wiping down a table. She was too short to be Eroica. A group of somewhat grubby men drank at a booth. None of them could possibly be Eroica. His disguises were always beautiful. The black woman was pretty but Eroica couldn't possibly disguise himself that well.

He eyed Mandel closer. No. The face was too delicate. Dorian had stronger features. Strong, but beautiful. Like a Michelangelo or Greek sculpture. Like a Renaissance hero or a Pre-Raphaelite angel.

"Where is he?"

"He didn't come. He said there could be trouble if he did. But he sent me here to tell you about the plan. He told me you could help."

"There's not much to go on. How do you know the Ashirakians are planning s something diabolical'?"

"They were willing to kill me to protect their plans."

Klaus looked around the tavern again. Spies could be anywhere. "We'd better end this little meeting now," said Klaus. "But tell me: Is Eroica involved?"

Mandel shrugged. "I don't know. He doesn't know any more than I do about the treasure or the auction."

"Then how did he know I would be here?"

Mandel bit his lip. "I guess he heard me talking to you this morning from his room-" He gasped and stopped.

Klaus smiled smugly. From his room at Der Lustic Waldgeist, no doubt. He stood up, still grinning. He backed slowly towards the bar. "Well, if you or Eroica find out anything more, he knows how to get in touch with me."

Casually, he strolled over to the bar and looked over behind it. The bartender arched an eyebrow and stopped twisting the towel in the glass he was drying. Klaus ignored him and checked the floor for thieves.

"Can I help you?" asked the burly bartender.

Klaus looked up and smiled. "Hm? No thanks. Well, actually-" He leaned in confidentially. "Have you seen a blonde-lots of blonde curls, blue eyes...." He screwed up his courage, "could be male or female. He wears disguises."

The bartender gave him a look that said he thought Klaus had clearly lost his mind and slowly shook his head. "You might check out Tapillion's just down the street," suggested the prostitute, "if you're into that kind of thing."

"I am not into any sort of thing!" Klaus barked.

"Nothing? What a pity," she purred. "One so handsome and sexy shouldn't be celibate. It's a crime against nature."

"Or women, at any rate," chirped the waitress.

"Or men," grunted the bartender with a sarcastic smirk.

Klaus blustered inarticulately, frustrated that he had no reply that wouldn't get him in deeper. Finally, he just slammed some marks on the bar and left.

Mandel hurried over to the bar and rapped on the front of it. The bartender stood back and the leggy blond man crawled out of the cabinet.

"Thanks awfully," Dorian said. "You've spared my life. Now here-" He handed the bartender some money. "For your trouble."

"Thanks, friend. Anytime." He pocketed the money and went back to drying glasses.

"Now what?" asked Mandel.

Dorian smiled dreamily and gave a weak shrug. Klaus had looked incredible! Dorian had never seen him wear his hair back away from his face before. It became him quite nicely. Exposed those holly green eyes and straight black eyebrows-that peaches and cream brow. He had a slight widow's peak hairline and a stray lock of bangs that stubbornly refused to stay back. God, it was sexy!!!

"Well, my place isn't but a few blocks from here," said Mandel.

"Is it safe?" Dorian worried.

Mandel looked surprised. "I think so. I don't think the Egyptians know where I live." He paused. "But Mattias does."

"Let's not worry about him. Does your place have a phone?"

"Right over there, behind the waterglobes," said the shopkeeper.

Klaus had ducked into a souvenir shop to call headquarters and tell them what he'd learned. He debated telling anyone that Eroica was somehow involved. He really didn't feel like spending his time and energy hunting him down should NATO wish to enlist his help.

The pay phone was located on the north wall of the shop, behind a multi-tiered shelf full of souvenir waterglobes. Little plastic children in dimdies and leiderhosen stood holding hands in their watery bubbles. White plastic chips lay settled about their feet.

Klaus put his coins in and called headquarters. While waiting to be put through, he picked up one of the waterglobes and shook it, stirring up a miniature blizzard inside.

"Major," came Chiefs voice over the line. "How did the meeting go?"

"Interestingly. Our Egyptian friends are planning some sort of secret auction tonight that Pfarr and his associates are not privy to." The waterglobe settled, so he shook it up again, then began shaking up the others on the top shelf.

"An auction. Major? Details."

Klaus told him about the afternoon's events, all the while shaking up the waterglobes, intent on getting them all swirling at the same time. By the time he got to the third shelf, the first few globes on the top were almost completely settled. He cradled the phone in the crook of his shoulder while he made his report and shook waterglobes with both hands.

A little girl came around the display and watched him with wide-eyed fascination. With single-minded determination, he shook and reshook until all the waterglobes were snowing as one.

"Major? Is something wrong?" asked Chief.

"Sir? No sir," replied Klaus, slightly panting.

"Very well. We will send agents to Der Lustic Waldgeist. You go to the theatre and see if that is where the treasure is stockpiled. Already, some of the sold pieces have been stolen from the purchasers. We are sure the Ashirakians are responsible."

"Has the emerald been stolen back?"

"The emerald? The Perfume of the Gods? Not that we've heard."

"Oh, good. Good." He hung up and left the shop. Now to the theatre. He glanced up at the window. The little girl was delightedly shaking up the waterglobes on the bottom shelves.

Mandel's digs were small and sparsely furnished. There was a mattress on the floor with a tangle of blankets bunched up in the middle, a three-legged chest of drawers, a television and a table set about with mismatched chairs. Dirty laundry and dishes lay scattered on these objects and the floor. The dingy walls had drawings and paintings taped to them - the only color in this drab place. Dorian set his luggage in a neat row underneath the only window.

"Like I said," Mandel shrugged, "I don't have a phone but there's one downstairs. I guess you'll want to make reservations at another inn, since you can't go back to the other one."

"Oh, I probably could-it's not the Egyptians I'm worried about. That Major Von Eberbach will probably be lurking about, though."

"You could stay-" Mandel's words petered out and he looked embarrassed. "Are you hungry? I have some sausage and cabbage."

"No thanks, darling. Do you live alone?"

Mandel jammed his hands into his pockets and hung his head. "Yeah, but don't tell the landlord. My roommate moved out about a month ago. If Herr Wemer finds out I'm living here alone, he'll throw me out."

"How old are you? Where are your parents?"

"I'm fourteen and I don't talk about my parents, all right?" He gave Dorian a defensive and somewhat scared look.

"All right. I understand." He strolled over to the pictures on the wall. "Did you do these?"

"No. Erich, my roommate did them."

Mandel came up alongside Dorian and gazed wistfully at the pictures. Dorian guessed there had been more man just friendship between the two, at least as far as Mandel was concerned. "Why did he leave?"

"He's in the military. He's been stationed in France."

"Must be pretty lonely." Mandel shot him a look but Dorian didn't return it. Mandel relaxed. "Yeah. It's weird sleeping alone. His pillow is so empty."

Dorian felt a lump in his throat. Tears immediately sprung to his eyes and he turned away sharply and went to the window, lest Mandel see him shed tears of self-pity. There was a long silence while Dorian stood tensed and tried to regain his composure.

Mandel let out a breath. "Well, you brought it up!" he snapped defensively.

Dorian turned a surprised and confused look to him. It took a moment to figure out Mandel's sudden defensiveness. Of course! Dorian had turned away as if disgusted at Mandel's shy half-confession.

"No, no, Mandy. It's all right. It's just that, I too have an empty pillow. You just reminded me of the fact. That's all." He felt the lump in his throat rising again but he didn't dare turn away this time.

Mandel's blue eyes sparkled. "You?" He was either amazed that Eroica could possibly have an empty pillow or surprised because he hadn't guessed Eroica's predilection.

Dorian just smiled and shrugged, tears falling.

"You could stay here," Mandel whispered, reaching up to wipe the Earl's tears away. Dorian felt something dangerously close to longing as he gazed down at Mandel's sweet and compassionate face.

"I better go make my call," he said, kissing Mandel's hand. "I'll be back."

Downstairs, he looked through the phone directory and dialed Herr Dieslinger's number. As he expected. Otto answered.

"Otto. It's me, Sydelle," His voice was soft and sexy.

"Sydelle! I've been trying to get ahold of you." Otto stammered.

"I'm sorry Otto. I had an appointment this morning. But what is it you were calling about?"

"Tonight Herr Dieslinger and Adolf will be gone. You can come tonight. At eight perhaps?"

Dorian did a little dance. "I'll be there. You're sure we'll be alone?"

"Yes. Adolf is accompanying Herr Dieslinger to a dub opening."

"Wonderful, Otto. I'll see you then."

"Till then, my love,"

Dorian laughed as he ran upstairs. Things were going swimmingly. Nothing could go wrong.

Rakia had heard everything. So, this imposter was going to Herr Dieslinger's estate? No doubt to steal the emerald. His people would be there as well. This amateur had simplified things immeasurably. So the master and his bodyguard would be gone....

She'd known something was up when the boy had come up to the table at the tavern. He was too young to be allowed into such a place. She'd snuck around to the back door after the meeting and seen the boy talking to Herr Scherer. She couldn't hear what was being said but it had to be bad. Bad for Ashirak and bad for Prince Semankhanzir.

She picked up the phone and made a very important phone call. They would pay. They would all pay for defiling Prince Semankhanzir's sacred tomb. She and her people would avenge him and he would spare their village.

 

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Eroica