Chapter 7

Klaus hung up the phone feeling a little better. There were guards on the road to Augsburg looking out for a black truck. But there were 100 kilometers between here and there for the truck to detour. Klaus ordered his agents to scour the region. NATO had other agents taking care of the business at the theatre. Klaus was to stay out of sight and tail Azhan, who it seemed was the mastermind behind much of the smuggling and stealing.

"What did they say?" Eroica breathed excitedly. "Anything about the perfume?"

Klaus gave him a superior smirk. "As a matter of fact, it's already been confiscated by Cairo."

"All my eye and Betty Martin," Eroica grinned. "Bilge! You're a rotten liar, Von Eberbach, and I mean that in every sense of the phrase." He motioned for Mandel to come over, then turned back to Klaus with a sly grin. "You see, I know you just as well as you think you know me."

"I know. Mein Gott, I know," Klaus groaned.

Dorian just laughed his merry laugh. "Careful, Major. You're getting dangerously close to flirting with me."

Mandel came up and slipped his hand into Eroica's. He gazed up at the Earl, then turned his eyes to Klaus. The question was understood: What about him?

"We can't go back to your flat until this is all over," said Eroica, irritated. "Damn! All my things are there."

"Mine too!" Mandel exclaimed defensively.

"I know, love," replied Dorian and gave the boy's hand a squeeze. "It's going to be all right."

Klaus took a step back and arched an eyebrow. "Your new boy toy?" he sneered in English. Of course, he knew better-Dorian had forsaken all others for him, at least, that was the impression he wanted to give Klaus. Unless he'd given up on him. Dorian would never flaunt a lover in front of Klaus.

Dorian beamed. "Jealous?"

"I'd be relieved," he replied haughtily. "Although, this one's a bit young."

"Oh, Major," Dorian chuckled, "you're the only man for me."

"Lucky me," Klaus grumbled. Funny thing was, he sort of meant it. He might actually be jealous if Dorian gave his sunshine and smiles to someone else. Life had been pretty dull and grey before this scatter-brained butterfly flew in through the back window. He'd resented the disruption at first, for his life before had had a predictable regularity that was comfortable and safe. Strange, perhaps, for a spy. But then came Eroica in a swirl of ribbons and bells and a scent of roses. Eroica always smelled of roses. Even now.

"Tell you what, Klaus," he said. "I'll stay out of your hair and out of trouble if you promise to have dinner with me."

Klaus gave him a sardonic smile. "Forget it."

Eroica shrugged. "As you say. I'd just as soon stay in your hair."

"Eroica...."

"Well? It's up to you. Dinner, or me in your hair. Or both!" he said brightly.

"There's another option," Klaus growled. "I could kill you now."

Dorian took a step back. "Well, there is that." He pulled Mandel along with him as he headed for the door. "See you soon, then, darling?"

"No! Stay out of trouble!" Klaus was suddenly dead serious.

"Well, let's see..." said Eroica, stopping to consider. "I could either spend tonight stealing the perfume or I could spend it planning a romantic dinner for two."

"Blackmailer!"

"Tease!"

That did it. Outraged, Klaus started to go for his gun. The lobby attendant screamed. The security guard drew her weapon.

"Stop!" she shouted.

Great, thought Klaus, raising his hands. To his astonishment, Eroica didn't laugh or leave him. That odd emotion came over him again.

"No, no, it's all right," said Dorian. "He's with the government."

Klaus showed her his identification. She examined it and handed it back. "Just because you work for NATO doesn't give you the right to pull a gun on civilians." Klaus started to argue but remembered how futile it was to argue with authority. Especially female authority.

Dorian and Mandel were waiting for him at the door.

"I will have my agents guarding Herr Dieslinger's estate," Klaus hissed.

"Oh good. I love a challenge."

You must, or you wouldn't be chasing me, Klaus thought.

"Where do we go?" asked Mandel. "I'm afraid they'll be out there if we leave."

Klaus said, "Eroica, I want you both to leave Munich. Take him someplace safe until it's safe for him to go home. I'll notify his parents."

"Don't bother. I don't have anything to do with my parents," Mandel muttered.

Klaus was taken aback for a moment. "Fine. Whatever. Just get out of Munich. Hopefully, this will all be over tonight."

"Indeed," grinned Eroica. "Mandel? Shall we?"

Klaus watched the two blonds hike back along the freeway. He sighed. Sometimes he wished he didn't know Dorian so well. He wished he could trust him. Maybe then he could sleep at night.

"Well, Eroica?" Traffic was moving along nicely now. Klaus' car still blocked one lane but the courteous Munchiners went around it uncomplaining.

"Well, Mandel?"

The boy dug around in his pockets. "I'm hungry. Got any money?"

Dorian shook his head. "No. All my stuff is at your flat. Even my credit cards. But don't worry. I'll feed you."

Mandel raised his eyebrows and smiled, as if to say, "Really? What do we get to do now?"

They dined at the finest steakhouse in Munich and drank wine as red as garnets. The two had gone "diving" in the beer gardens, where the celebrants were too inebriated to notice. Mandel, it turned out, was a fine spiv: a con artist as well as a petty thief.

 

 

That night, as they dined, they were dressed in fresh new clothes; Mandel in a black leather jacket and skin-tight American blue jeans, and Eroica in a black sleeveless turtleneck catsuit which molded to his body like shrinkwrap, suede hipboots, black rhinestone earrings and an Edwardian jacket that helped hide the fact that Dorian's figure was unpadded and male.

They both had even gotten their hair done. Mandel got a tough, rather punkish cut, shaved close on the sides and back, long and shaggy on top. Dorian had his ends trimmed and the whole curly mass conditioned and styled. Then he got a make-over from a rather open-minded and eager young aspiring cosmetologist. He felt gorgeous. Mandel couldn't take his eyes off of him.

"Eroica?"

"Hmm?" The Earl gazed dreamily across the candlelit table.

"After our, um, party tonight," he was referring to the heist, "are you going back to England?"

"Yes, as soon as possible. I've called my aides already. They'll be flying me a private plane tonight."

"Oh." Mandel poked at his potatoes. His new silver earring caught the golden candlelight and shone like a star in his tender earlobe. Another star sparkled on the edge of his eye, then slid down his cheek.

Dorian's heart twisted. "Let's go," he whispered, and dropped plenty of money down on the table—enough to cover the bill plus a hefty tip.

Outside, it was as if the whole world was candlelit. Golden-rose light gave a softness to everything. It was time to go to Herr Dieslinger's manor but Mandel's tears demanded immediate consideration.

"Sweetheart," Eroica soothed, taking Mandel's hand and leading him over to a nearby park. "Please don't cry."

Mandel lowered his face in embarrassment and shame. "I can't help it," he said in a voice thick with pain. "I think I love you."

They found a bench far away from other people. Dorian took Mandel's hands between his own. "Mandy, you're a dear, sweet boy, and I—"

"Don't! Eroica... don't, please..." He was fighting to keep from sobbing aloud. His bottom lip was red from where he'd been biting it.

"Mandel, I'm sorry. Under different circumstances, maybe-"

"It's him, isn't it? It's that Major." Dorian looked away, nodded.

"Why? He doesn't love you. He's cruel to you!"

"I suppose it would seem that way. But sometimes, I don't know. Like today-he was almost playful. Affectionate."

"Till he drew his gun!"

"Oh, that's just Klaus," Dorian laughed softly. "He's better about that than he used to be." Mandel turned away sharply and hid his face in his hands.

"You're so young," Dorian sighed. "So young and brave and beautiful. You won't be alone for long." That got him an offended glare.

"I love you, Eroica. You. No one else can ever live up to you. You're the one who's brave and beautiful. I've never met anyone like you and I never will."

Dorian found the gaze hard to meet. "We did have quite a day, didn't we?"

"How could I help but fall in love?" was Mandel's reply.

To that, there was no response.

Mandel folded one leg beneath himself, making him eye-level to the tall Earl. "You don't have to go tonight. After we're done at Herr Dieslinger's, let's go to a hotel. Just once. Just for one night. And in the morning, when you open your eyes, the other pillow won't be empty. There won't be any empty pillows." As he talked, he wound his arms around Dorian, pulling them closer together. Now their faces were a rosebud's length apart.

Dorian lowered his face modestly and found Mandel's lips suddenly, wonderfully, pressed against his own. An alarm went off in Dorian's mind.

"Fourteen years old!" Dorian cried, jumping to his feet. "No, no, no."

"But Eroica! It doesn't matter! I've had an older lover before."

"That's pederasty," Dorian sing-songed, pacing back and forth to cool his jets. "That's statutory rape. That's five to fifteen years in prison!"

Mandel sulked. "If I was older?"

Eroica smiled. "I'd be in a hell of a mess."

Mandel brightened. "Well then, come back in, say, four years. I'll be old enough then and, hopefully, you'll be over that Von Eberbach character."

Dorian winked. "It's a date."

Otto checked his reflection in the mirror, tightened his tie and ran his hand over his shiny pate. He frowned. There was no getting around the fact that he was funny-looking. The shot to the head had damaged his eyesight, forcing him to wear thick "Coke bottle" glasses that made his eyes look ridiculously huge. His hair had all fallen out by the time he was forty.

No, it obviously wasn't his looks that had attracted Sydelle to him. Not his mind either. He talked like a retarded man: slow, slurred and simple. His mind was still sharp but now he had trouble vocalizing his thoughts. His language center had taken the brunt of the damage. One thing he could still do was play the violin. That, at least, had been spared. Tonight he would play for her, something sweet and romantic that would move her.

He walked to the dining room window for the umpteenth time and gazed out at the front gate in the distance. He wondered what she's be driving. A sportscar? Something classic? Maybe she had to take a taxi. Should he have offered to pick her up?

Maybe she wouldn't show up at all. Maybe she'd had time to reconsider. After all, what could she possibly see in him? Just because he'd said a few kind words to her?

At eight-fifteen the buzzer sounded. Otto hurried to the window and glanced out towards the front gate. He saw a lone figure standing on the driveway outside the gate, next to the drive-up buzzer. The figure was haloed in the light of the streetlamp, golden hair like an aura of sunlight. Sydelle.

He pushed the intercom button. "Just a moment, please. Miss," he said. "I must pen the dogs."

"All right. I'll be waiting."

Otto hurried through the house and went out to the back veranda and blew a dog whistle. At once, the dobermans raced around the comer of the mansion and up to Otto who patted them and ushered them into their indoor kennel. Then he rushed back inside and pushed the button that would swing the massive front gate open. As Sydelle sashayed up the long driveway. Otto straightened his suit and sniffed under his arms. The butterflies in his stomach made him feel a bit nauseated. He let out a long, slow breath and tried to calm his nerves.

The knock at the door came too soon.

"All right, Otto," he said to himself, "Nothing to worry about. She liked you well enough last night. Be natural. Be a gentleman." He opened the door.

She looked more incredibly beautiful than he'd remembered. She wore black again and her white skin seemed like moonlight glowing from a garment made of night. He just stood and gawked at her like a schoolboy seeing his first girlie magazine.

"Champagne," she said with a bright grin and held up a bottle with a metallic bow around its neck.

"Wonderful," he responded, finally remembering his manners. "Please, won't you come in?" He pushed the gate's button and it swung shut with a clang.

She handed him the champagne and breezed past. The delicate aroma of fresh roses wafted from her. Otto felt a moment of intoxication and reached out to the wall to steady himself.

"Sydelle," he whispered, making love to the word.

"Oh, Otto!" she exclaimed from the smaller of the two dining rooms. "I love what you've done!"

Grinning in self-congratulation, he joined her. She stood at the small round table, her graceful hands touching the multi-branched silver candelabrum. A dozen white candles burned in the twisting, floriated centerpiece. It set the crystal goblets afire with golden-amber light.

"You don't think it's a bit much?" he asked with a flirting smile.

"I think it's gorgeous," she replied, looking like a little devil with her glinting eyes and mischievous smile.

"Can't compare with your radiance," he said casually, strolling up to her. He was surprised and impressed with his smoothness. Even his slurring wasn't too bad.

Sydelle smiled and bunched up her shoulders in a pleased gesture. "Thank you."

He put the champagne on the table. There was already a bottle of white grenache chilling in the silver ice bucket.

"Uh," Otto began, not knowing what to say now. "Do you like music?"

"Oh, yes, I love music."

Otto smiled. "Well then, have I got a surprise for you." He went into the next room to get his violin.

Eroica sighed and wandered around the room. A piece by Goya hung on the wall above a liquor cabinet. In a cupola next to that were several small porcelain figures of nude sylphs, mermaids and half-clad shepherdesses.

"Bints," Dorian muttered unappreciatively.

The soft strains of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata drifted in from the next room. He turned to the door as Otto came in. The man had a violin tucked under his chin and was playing beautifully. His face held a transported look, as if taken away to a world of nothing but his music. Dorian sat down at the table and listened raptly. He'd never imagined the ridiculous man capable of such exquisite expression.

As the final notes died away. Dorian stood up and took a rose from the vase on the table. He sniffed it and then tossed it to the violinist. Otto tried to catch it but his bow was in the way and instead he just sort of swatted under the table.

"Play something else," Eroica said, sitting back down. Otto began to play Pachelbel's Canon. The musician closed his eyes and drifted away again, lost in the music.

Dorian reached into his jacket pocket. His manicured fingers fished around, over a lipstick case, a Swiss army knife, until they found the little pillbox. He silently flipped open the case and emptied the crystalline powder within into Otto's champagne.

"Wonderful," Dorian exclaimed as the song ended. "I propose a toast." He handed Otto the tainted glass. 'To making beautiful music together." Otto beamed and clinked his glass to Dorian's. He sipped. Dorian felt a twinge of conscience. Inconvenient emotion, he thought uncomfortably and tried to smother it in self-satisfaction. So near....

"Let's sit down on the sofa in the parlour," suggested Dorian. The drug would take effect faster if the victim was sedentary.

"All right," Otto agreed, and the two brought their glasses into the parlour. Dorian curled up on one side of the sofa. "Drink up," he cooed, raising his glass.

Otto took another tiny sip. Dorian gritted his teeth behind his smile, ... and yet so far.

Otto stared down into the glass, swirling the pale liquid. Dorian began to sweat. Could he tell? The crystals were supposed to dissolve completely.

Otto looked up with large longing eyes. "I haven't been appealing to a lady in over ten years," he said with a soft, self-deprecating laugh. "Could I bother you for a kiss?"

Dorian squirmed. Oh hell, he owed him that at least, didn't he? He leaned over and pressed his lips to Otto's.

Otto's lips were firm and unyielding. Obviously he was nervous. Then Otto gasped and sat back. "Ach," he exclaimed. Dorian sat back as well, blinking. With horror and panic he realized Otto had spilled his drink!

"Let me change," Otto mumbled, his face bright pink. He left in a hurry.

Dorian sat back hard against the sofa. He didn't have any more powder. Now how to get rid of Otto? His mind raced. He could knock him out with a candlestick. No, he didn't want to hurt the man. He'd had enough injury to his head. A blow could do him in. The absurd idea of screwing him into exhaustion made Dorian laugh. But he had no time to spare. Maybe he could get the perfume and get out before Otto returned. He ran to the gallery. He hoped Mandel would understand.

Meanwhile, three shadows crept up to Dieslinger Manor. One dark, Egyptian face peered into a window and saw the bulky bodyguard going down the hall. Another young Egyptian peered into the gallery window and saw a young female going in.

"She's alone in the treasure room," he whispered to his companions.

Their luck was almost too good to be trusted. First, the master and one guard were gone. Second, the dogs had been penned and now only a girl and a near-sighted butler were inside. They slipped in through the front door. The alarm had been left off as well. This was too easy.

Mandel peered out from the branches of the tree he'd climbed when he was the three Egyptians approach in a silent black car. They'd circled the block slowly and Mandel had leaned casually against a newspaper dispenser the first time. But when he saw them reappear around the comer, he jumped up into the lush camouflage of the dark tree.

He knew Eroica was in peril. These weren't the same Egyptians that had tried to kill them earlier that day but were no doubt linked to them. When they disappeared into the manor, Mandel jumped down. He was unsure what to do. Call the police? Try to save Eroica himself?

Of course! If he rescued Eroica, then perhaps the beautiful angel would fall in love with him. It made sense to the fourteen-year-old. After all, it had worked on him, hadn't it? Besides, he loved Eroica. He had to save him.

Dorian examined the alarm. It was an unfamiliar electric one. He didn't know if it would go off if he just cut the glass or if the latch had to be disturbed to trigger it. No time to ponder. Otto probably had his pants down around his ankles by now. He looked around for something to shatter the glass. There was a heavy bronze sculpture nearby. Dorian grabbed it. It was lovely. He couldn't risk damaging it. He put it down. A medieval mace hung on the wall behind a suit of armour. That would do. He'd just have to be careful not to damage the emerald.

He took the mace down from the wall and gave it a couple of practice swings for aim, then brought it back for a good, hard blow.

"Halt!" someone shouted. A shot rang out. Something whizzed through his flocculent hair. Dorian gave a cry and hit the floor. The mace crashed into the wooden floor, splintering it.

Two other Egyptians came in. They spoke in Egyptian, but Dorian was sure they were telling the first man that Otto had been disposed of, in one way or another.

The first man leveled his gun at Dorian. "Who are you?" he demanded in clumsy German.

"No one," Dorian replied, afraid to move.

"What do you want with our Prince's emerald?"

Dorian's mouth was dry. What could he say? "I-it's just so beautiful. That's all."

The man shook his head ominously. His hand tightened. Dorian kicked the suit of armour and let it fall on top of himself. Bullets pinged off of the heavy metal. They bit into the front of the armour but thankfully only dented the back. Dorian pulled the shield from the gauntlet and held it in front of himself. The gunman took big steps over to him. Dorian was trapped.

Just then, he heard a boy cry "Stop!" Mandel!

The gunman paused. The two others turned and grabbed for the boy but Mandel took off running. Dorian took advantage of the distraction to leap to his feet, shoving the shield into the gunman. The man fell, his gun flying from his hand. Dorian made a lunge for it. It could only have two bullets left in it. Dorian grabbed it just as the man grabbed his ankle. He fell, firing one shot harmlessly out the window. The gun was knocked from his hand upon impact with the floor before the final bullet could be gotten rid of.

Dorian felt a sharp blow to the back of his neck but he did not lose consciousness. The man kicked him aside and grabbed the gun.

Dorian gazed up at him, seeing the Grim Reaper lurking behind the gunman. The gun was aimed right for him when a noise behind them caught the gunman's attention. He whirled and fired, but Dorian heard two gunshots. One was the Egyptian's, the other-

The gunman fell to the ground, dead. Dorian rolled over and looked to see where the other shot had come from.

Otto slumped against the door frame, blood pouring from his chest. "No!" Dorian cried, rushing to him. "Oh, Otto, no!" He helped the gentle giant down to the floor.

"Take the gun," Otto gasped. "The others are still here."

True. Dorian could hear the sounds of the other two approaching quickly.

"Otto- I'm so sorry." Tears of guilt and sorrow filled his eyes. Sweet, gentle, lonely Otto.

"Shh..." Otto said, smiling up at him. He touched Dorian's cheek. "Sydelle," he whispered, "I would die for you." Then his hand dropped and he closed his eyes for the last time.

Dorian was numb. This was his fault. Otto was dead because of Dorian's greed. If he hadn't made him pen the dogs or leave the alarms off....

The others were dangerously close. Trembling and crying. Dorian rose and hid behind a case of jewels. The men came in and took in the scene. One went to their dead companion, the other to the case containing the emerald. He shattered the case and grabbed the jewel, ignoring the alarm that went off. He shouted to the other one, who then picked up the dead Egyptian and carried him away. Dorian, too, knew he had to flee. But where was Mandel? If he'd gotten the boy killed too, he'd never forgive himself. Already, Otto would forever plague his conscience.

He raced through the manor, calling to Mandel. In the spa room, he saw that the large window had been broken out. Blood splattered the veranda in a line that led out into the night. Mandel had gotten away, but injured. The dogs were barking insanely. Dorian leapt through the broken glass and ran into the blackness after him.

Mandel collapsed into an alley, the pain from the cuts he'd received bursting through the window still sharp and stinging. Eroica was dead. He was sure of it. There was no way he could have escaped. He laid his head on his knees and wept. The night breeze against his bloody skin chilled him. So did the loneliness.

He heard soft footsteps approaching. Terror and hope took turns twisting his heart. Was it an Egyptian or, by some miracle, Eroica?

It was neither, but a slim boy, no older than himself, with long, sleek, white hair like a bride's veil hanging down to his waspish waist. The boy eyed him uncertainly, hugging the shadows.

Mandel wiped his wet face, smearing blood and tears, blinding himself. The more he wiped, the more he couldn't see. He heard and then felt the boy kneel beside him. The boy wiped something across Mandel's face. His vision slowly cleared.

The long white scarf that the boy had been wrapped in was now stained with Mandel's blood. It was a nice, soft cashmere scarf. Pity he'd ruined it.

"Are you all right?" the boy asked in a voice no more substantial than a breeze.

Mandel shook his head. "No." He began to cry again.

The white-haired boy's eyes were so black they unsettled Mandel, set as they were in a face bone white.

"Come with me," the boy said. "I know a place you can sleep for a night."

"No..." sniffed Mandel. "I have a home. I just want to go home."

The boy's face looked hopeful, then wistful. "A home," he echoed. "Your own bed, your own pillow..."

Something clicked in Mandel's mind and heart. Fate was a nasty creature with an odd, sometimes cruel sense of humor, but she worked her wiles and one shouldn't resist.

"I have a pillow for you too," said Mandel.

The boy looked down at his hands. "No. It would be too sweet. I would die when I had to leave." Mandel was touched by the helplessness of the boy. It made him feel strong again.

"You won't have to leave."

 

 

Eroica watched from the rooftop of the building overlooking the alley. He thought about telling Mandel he was all right, but didn't want to interrupt the sweet interlude between the two young-but-old boys. It was right, somehow, for Mandel to go off with the strange, tragic boy. To heal them both. I'll send word to him later, Dorian thought. Then, soundlessly, be bounded off towards town, to find the emerald and Klaus. Too much had been lost for him to give up now.

 

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Eroica