Island of the Dead
"I am going to kick your ass for this," Klaus grumbled as he stepped out of the boat. He strode over the sand to the trees without looking to see if the thief was following.
Of course the thief was following. "We were in Venice. You said to hide it where no one would find it for months," Eroica said as he caught up. "Where could be better? No one comes here after dark, you know. It's like one of those absurd Hammer films. Only the vineyard workers ever come here, and they never stay past sunset."
So that was why the damned pervert had insisted they wait until after midnight before coming here. "Fucking superstitious dagos."
"One needn't be Italian, superstitious, or fucking not to want to live on Poveglia Island."
Klaus stopped so that he could put all of his energy into yelling at the thief. "You put it in a former plague pit next to an abandoned asylum where a sadistic doctor used to torture lunatics! Typical. What is wrong with a safety deposit box?"
The damned thief only laughed as he walked on. "My dear Major, there is one thing all professional thieves have in common. Not a one of us would dream of putting anything of value in a safety deposit box. They're much too easy to break into. Which reminds me: I was a bit worried about some of the documents in yours, so I put them in a safer place."
"You're making that up!"
"Am I? That transcript written in Portuguese was fascinating, but the one in French-"
"Retun them immediately, or you will wish you could trade places with the lunatics who lived here."
"Really, Major, is that any way to show gratitude?" Klaus drew in a lungful of salty air in preparation for expressing his opinion of that question, but Dorian cut him off. "Major, if I could break into your box, so could any number of other thieves, and spies too. You wouldn't believe me if I just told you, so I gave you a practical demonstration." When Klaus's only answer was to grind his teeth, Dorian finished, "You're welcome."
The hard fact was, Eroica was right. That was why the Major worked with him. And why he hadn't found some way of running the thief off, though he'd thought of ways that would actually work. But feeling like an idiot did nothing to improve the Major's mood. Also, he felt like he was being watched, but between lecherous art thieves and the KGB, he always felt like he was being watched. It was an occupational hazard.
"You had better not have hidden them in some other stupid place that idiots believe is haunted."
"Why not? It's very effective. You know even fishermen try not to fish too close to this island?"
"That's because they don't want any fucking human bones in their nets. The water around here's still full of the remains of those-" He stopped in his tracks, his arm shooting out to seize the thief's elbow. Eroica obediently froze as well. The Major drew his Magnum and the two of them held their breath, listening, watching.
When the silence had stretched for a full minute, Klaus resumed walking, but did not holster his weapon. "Thought I heard something," he explained, keeping his voice down. "Probably an animal."
"Or a ghost."
"Right." Klaus spoke casually, as if Dorian had said something sensible. If his folly wasn't indulged, he might get bored with it.
Then again, he might also sprout wings and fly.
"This sort of thing doesn't bother you at all, does it?" Dorian sounded genuinely curious.
Klaus didn't bother to answer. He also refrained from enlightening Dorian as to the effect a Catholic unbringing had on the imagination. Protestant boys got to read about adventurous preteens solving mysteries involving smugglers; Catholic boys read about saints being stoned by heretics or eaten by lions. Sometimes Klaus thought that he owed his courage in the field to all those bloodcurdling tales of martyrdom. Enough nightmares about being boiled alive and not much could scare you anymore.
They reached the tower, and Dorian went right to the hiding place near its foot. "If you see any clouds of mist, run."
"You booby-trapped it?"
"No, a mist arose from the ground and strangled the sadistic doctor who ran this asylum."
"Yes. After the ghosts of plague victims threw him off the tower."
"If you murder the fucker who's been torturing you, it's only sensible to blame it on local superstitions. God knows what would have been done to those poor bastards if they'd admitted they killed the asshole themselves."
"Do you eat with that mouth?" Dorian straightened, the little bag of priceless intel in his hand, and tucked it into a hidden pocket before the Major could relieve him of it. "Let's go."
After only two steps, the Major froze again. At least the thief had the sense to follow suit and not ask idiot questions like, What is it? Which, as a matter of fact, was another of the reasons he hadn't contrived to make himself too unappealing for Eroica to bother with anymore.
Klaus strained his eyes where he thought he'd seen movement. In the dark, your eyes could play tricks on you, especially if there was a bit of wind. Dammit, he should have insisted on going in daylight. Certainly none of the locals were going to spot them on the "Island of the Dead" after dark, but in the daylight he would have been able to fucking see.
That was when the howl sounded.
Dorian stepped closer to him, but this was probably automatic. Both men stood stock still, scanning their surroundings for any sign of movement.
The howl ended, and after a second Dorian pointed up at the tower. "It's the belfry. The wind makes the sound when it goes through where the bell used to be. Probably inspired some of the stories."
"See? I told you this was a good hiding place."
Out of the corner of his eye, another bit of movement made Klaus snap his head around.
One minute later, there was no more possibility of excuses involving wind or belfries or squatters. And despite the unpleasant long-term consequences, at that moment Klaus really wished that it was KGB agents stepping out of the gloom. At least he could shoot KGB agents. Also, they didn't howl like that.
They made the trip back to the boat much more swiftly than the trip to it. Klaus glanced behind him as they were pushing the boat off the shore. They didn't seem to be pursuing them, as such. It more seemed as if they simply wanted their torment to be known. He shuddered as he jumped on board.
A few minutes later, he asked, "You still have the film?"
Dorian's hand went to the hidden pocket. "Right here." He drew a shaky breath. "Those poor devils."
"They're not devils, just dead people."
"I wonder if they can be exorcized or something."
"I doubt it. But I'll bring a priest the next time I'm here."
"The next time?" Dorian stared at him. Klaus hadn't sounded as if he were being sarcastic. "You're actually considering going back there?"
"Course I am. It's a great hiding place. Would scare the bearskins off the Russians if they ever find it. Doesn't even need security guards." Suddenly he smirked. "Maybe I'll put The Man In Purple there. I'd like to see you steal it out of there."
Even in the dark, it was clear Dorian was staring at him. "You've just seen a whole pack of ghosts, and you're thinking about how you can use them for espionage?"
Klaus was glad of the darkness. He didn't want Dorian to see his face as he quietly said, "I use everything."