Chapter 9

Dorian was whisked into the emergency room as soon as they arrived at the hospital. Klaus had followed the ambulance on his borrowed motorcycle. He stood as close to the emergency room doors as he could. He heard the sound of someone groaning in pain but it wasn't Eroica. After waiting for what seemed like forever, Klaus finally decided he'd have to call headquarters and make a report. It would make time pass a little quicker.

According to Chief, dozens of arrests were being made at the theatre but no treasure was found. There were no signs of the Ashirakians in Augsburg either. There was a chance the treasure was already gone but the airports, both public and private, were being watched closely, as were the train stations and seaports.

Just as Klaus hung up, Dorian's henchmen, James and Bonham, burst in looking around frantically. They spotted Klaus.

"Where is he?!" demanded Mr. James, his eyes like dark saucers. So Dorian had brought both employees with him? It wasn't uncommon; even so, Klaus was surprised and his expression said so.

"He was supposed to meet us!" said Bonham. "But when we didn't hear from him, we called a friend here in Munich who told us about the incident at the theatre."

Klaus was irritably impressed. NATO would envy a network like this.

"So, how is he?" James asked, wringing his hands.

The last Klaus had seen of him. Dorian was being wheeled on a gurney into the emergency room, a dreamy smile still on his lips.

"He'll live," Klaus muttered. Long enough for me to kill him myself. "Look, I've got to find a truckload of Egyptian artifacts. I don't suppose any of your 'friends' know anything about that?"

"A fleet of black lorries? Lots of crates?" said Bonham.

Klaus' eyes bulged.

"Try the old military strip off Autobahn 8, towards Nannhofen station. We had to stop off there due to lack of fuel. There was another plane being loaded up. There were a lot of dark-skinned fellows who didn't seem at all pleased that we were there. We quickly refueled and left promptly."

Bonham suddenly found himself talking to the empty air. Klaus bounded away and grabbed the phone to call his agents.

Bonham suddenly found himself talking to the empty air. Klaus bounded away and grabbed the phone to call his agents.

The handset shattered in his hands. He whirled around. Four gun-toting Egyptians stood at the doors. One shot the security guard. Klaus reached for his gun.

"No!" Shouted one of the men and grabbed an elderly woman from the waiting room couch and put a gun to her head.

"You betrayed us," this man said. "Now you will help us."

One of the Ashirakians took Klaus' gun from him. The man with the hostage barked orders in Egyptian to the other three. Two burst through the E.R. doors while another shoved Klaus towards the entrance. Klaus could hear gunshots and screams. Dorian was a goner for sure this time. Certain of Eroica's murder, he experienced the numbing loneliness with more clarity this time. There would be no time to grieve. Surely these men would kill him as well. No time to experience life without Eroica. Still, he wished he'd had time to say good-bye. To clear things up.

Mr. James was in hysterics. Bonham held him tight, eyeing the gunmen with unshielded fear. The first Egyptian let the old woman go and turned his gun on Klaus. Just then the E.R. doors flew open again and the two men emerged, dragging Dorian by the arms. He was naked except for the bandages that trailed from him like a miswrapped mummy. Bad analogy. He looked up at Klaus, then Mr. James and Bonham. His eyes were full of torment. Klaus flinched. He wanted to cover him up. They hauled him out the doors. The other two ushered Klaus along behind.

Outside, they loaded them into the back of a black lorry. Klaus paused and got the business end of a gun shoved into his spine. The four men climbed in the back with them and the truck started to go. Apparently there were others up front. Klaus was shoved into a nook beside some large crates. They let poor Dorian fall onto a stack of rather nasty, splintery smaller ones. The Earl cried out in pain and instinctively, Klaus reached out to help him. One man shoved him back and pointed Klaus's own gun at his face. Another balled up his fist and slugged Dorian.

"That is for hitting me with the chair," he growled. He hit him again. "That is for stabbing Efra."

Klaus leapt to his feet as best he could in the cramped lorry. The Egyptian which was holding him at bay with the gun gave Klaus a sharp blow with the butt of it. The other man slugged Dorian two more times. "Those are for Rawan and Semi."

Dorian tried to shrink away, whimpering. He was beaten savagely. Klaus shoved the closest man back and reached for Eroica's abuser. The other two men grabbed him and one jerked Klaus' head back by the hair and shoved a pistol against the Major's clenched teeth.

"For Azhan," the abuser ranted, hitting Dorian with no regard for the commotion around him. "For the emerald... for Prince Semankhanzir."

"Please," Dorian sobbed, unable to escape the blows. He did not look at Klaus.

The beating stopped. "We know who you are. You call yourself éThe Prince of Thieves.' Well you will serve our prince and our people."

"What do you want with us?" Klaus demanded. The men let him go and shoved him back into the corner.

"Our Prince is gone. Ashirak will fall to disaster unless another takes his place."

Klaus knew it was useless to argue superstition. Dorian's tormenter grabbed the thief by the hair and jerked his head up. "You will be the sacrifice."

Dorian's breath was hard and ragged. Through clenched teeth he panted, "What do you want with him?" gesturing with a glance towards Klaus.

"Revenge."

***

Mr. James and Bonham ran into the multi-story car park. They'd come by taxi but Bonham knew how to steal a car. They just had to find a likely-looking speedmobile. Just then, a graceful, sleek alien machine roared up, screeching to a halt in front of them.

The window lowered and a powerfully built woman leaned out. "Are you Eroica's men?" she asked in English.

Bonham and James exchanged looks of confusion.

"Yes," Bonham replied. The woman flashed a card. "Agent Gellhammer. Do you know where they went?"

"We think so," cried Bonham and they climbed in.

"How do you know us?" asked James, leaning up between the seats.

"Eroica is one of my fascinations," she replied with a chuckle. "I've known Major Von Eberbach for years and I've never known anybody to get under his skin before."

Once on the Autobahn, she flipped out a panel under the steering column and punched one of its buttons. There was a shudder, then a deafening roar and the car shot off down the road like a rocket. James was thrown against the back seat.

"What the bally hell kind of auto is this?!" Bonham shouted over the roar.

"Experimental," Gellhammer shouted back.

Mr. James peeled himself from the back seat and turned to look behind them. The trunk's hood was gone and a large jet had risen from within. A corona of blue flame haloed the black jet. Like a rocket indeed! James sucked air and turned back around.

***

The Lastwagen lurched to one side. Klaus could hear the sound of gravel crunching underneath the tires. Dorian still lay across the painful-looking crates. His head hung back over the edge of one, close to where Klaus sat on the floor. His blood-stained hair was near enough to touch.

"Eroica?" Klaus said softly. The Egyptians glanced at him, but since he was no threat, didn't do anything.

The Prince of Thieves opened his eyes. The pain was gone from them but the new look of numbness and hopelessness was less welcome than the agony.

Klaus could think of nothing to say to comfort him. Words were useless. He wished he could pick Dorian up off the crates and hold him in his arms. He was meant to live in comfort, wrapped in furs and silk.

Dorian kept looking at him but whether in waiting for Klaus to speak or because the sight of his beloved comforted him, Klaus could only guess. Klaus reached out and touched Dorian's cheek. The Ashirakians watched him but made no move to stop him.

He didn't care what they did at this point. Not to himself, anyway. He propped Dorian up against his chest, arranging the bandages over the exposed wounds.

"My love," Dorian whispered, turning his face to the side, hiding in his hair. Klaus tried to lift him off the crates. He felt broken bones slide under the bruised skin. Dorian cried out. The Egyptians rose and made threatening advances.

Just then, the lorry stopped. The men stumbled clumsily. Dorian gasped and tensed. His body was cold to the touch. Klaus realized suddenly that all this time he'd been looking at, even touching the thief's naked body without the slightest bit of apprehension or discomfort. Not so much as a second thought to anything but Dorian's needs.

The back door slid open. Two of the men grabbed Dorian and dropped him on the gravel below. The other two pulled Klaus along towards a large supply plane. Several black lorries were parked around. Ashirakians were still loading crates of treasure into the bay.

"Get in," said one man, jabbing Klaus again with Klaus' own .45. With a glance over to Eroica, who still lay like a child's forgotten doll on the ground, Klaus climbed into the plane.

He heard a distant roar and wondered if another plane was coming in to the abandoned air strip.

***

Gellhammer turned off the turbo jet and touched another button. A parachute popped out from the back to assist in slowing and stopping the car. Gravel sprayed like water, raining down on the windshield and unscratchable metal body. When the dust cleared, they saw a line of gun-wielding Egyptians.

"Look! There's Eroica!" cried James, pointing to the white-swathed figure on the ground near the back hatch of the lorry. One of the men picked Dorian up and used him as a human shield. He fired at the strange car.

James and Bonham ducked but Gellhammer held her position. She hit another button. The front hood split in two and the halves slid out of sight as a machine gun rose, much like the turbo jet had. The dashboard readings vanished, replaced by a digital crosshairs target scope.

Agent Gellhammer popped the center of the steering wheel off revealing the controls to the gun.

"Be careful," James pleaded. "They'll hurt Eroica."

"I know," she replied. "And Major Von Eberbach is somewhere here too."

The Ashirakians kept firing. Gellhammer showered them with a spray of bullets. Forty feet from the plane was a hangar. Bonham, James, and Gellhammer could see hundreds of crates inside. The man dragged Dorian towards the hangar. A few others followed.

***

Klaus peered over the pilot's seat. A machine out of a James Bond novel blocked the driveway, firing into the crowd. He looked to see if Dorian was safe and saw the Ashirakian hoist him under an arm and make for the hangar. His own guard grabbed him by the back of the shirt and drug him away from the window. He heard the hangar door shut.

***

"Calvary's here," Gellhammer said, glancing at the road behind them. A procession of police cars, ambulances and military vehicles were coming, lights and sirens filling the night air.

Klaus' captors climbed into the pilot and co-pilot seats. A few other Egyptians climbed inside and shut the door. The engine started.

"They're trying to leave!" exclaimed Mr. James.

"They're not going anywhere," said Agent Gellhammer. She started up the car again and pulled into the path of the slowly taxiing plane, blocking the runway.

Police surrounded the hangar. The unfortunate Egyptians left locked out of both the plane and the hangar surrendered immediately.

"Give up now," called the police captain through his bullhorn. "We have you surrounded. You can't go anywhere."

From inside the hangar: "We have two of your agents. Let us go or they both die."

"You don't want to further hurt your cause. Why add murder to the list?"

The men in the hangar were silent.

"Our prince must have his sacrifice," said Akim to his compatriots in the hangar. "Our lives mean nothing when the fate of Ashirak is at stake. We must sacrifice the Prince of Thieves."

"We'll never make it back to Ashirak. They won't let us leave if this one dies," argued Efra.

"We'll offer the other man's life in exchange."

***

After an agonizing silence, the shouting resumed. Klaus had to strain to hear over the plane's engines.

"We'll release the other man," the man in the hangar shouted, "but the Prince of Thieves is ours."

"No bargains," the captain barked back.

The co-pilot, the one with Klaus .45, grabbed the Major and shoved him to the front of the window, holding the gun to Klaus' head. The pilot turned the plane and began to head for the hangar. None of the police dared shoot, for fear of hitting Klaus or causing them to shoot him.

Klaus had had enough. He shoved back with all his might, throwing the man back. He grabbed his gun from him and turned to face the others.

Shots rang out from inside the plane. The police, seeing Klaus disappear from the window, fired at the pilot and co-pilot. The men ducked and the plane inched slowly towards the hangar, unmanned.

Klaus shoved his gun into the pilot's face. "Stop the plane," he ordered. The pilot gave a startled cry and nodded obediently.

The plane came to a halt. The men in the hangar, thinking the pilot had come for them, opened the hangar doors. The police descended like bees and arrested the remaining Ashirakians.

Klaus jumped from the bay and hurried to the hangar. There was no sign of Dorian. He looked around. No one else was leading the Earl away. No gurney was taking him to the hospital.

"Eroica?" he called.

Mr. James and Bonham came running up. "M'Lord!" called James.

Klaus spotted an oblong crate on the floor, the lid recently unsealed, for the wood was splintered and the nails lay on the floor around it. Hesitantly, he opened it.

Inside was the ornate casket of Prince Semankhanzir. James and Bonham stood on either side of him, their faces as worried as his. Together, they lifted the heavy golden lid.

There lay a battered, bloody body, tied up in crimson bandages. A golden death mask covered the face and golden curls spilled all around it. Klaus reached down and removed the mask.

Huge, glittering eyes looked up at him from between suffocating bandages. They all gave a sigh of relief. Even Dorian.

"Master!" Mr. James cried, scooping the Earl into a painful embrace. Dorian groaned from under the gag.

"Sorry, sir," James apologized. Bonham helped him unwind the bandages from around Dorian's face. Klaus stepped back and left the attending of Dorian to his aides. At last, it was over. He'd helped stop the criminals and rescued Eroica. It wasn't the first time. But this time, the aftermath would be greatly different. Whereas before, they'd have just gone their separate ways, now Dorian would expect-more. The comfortable roles they'd assumed would have to change. Wouldn't they?

Klaus went out to summon the paramedics. He thought he heard Eroica call to him but he ignored it. He had to, for now.

 

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Eroica