The Major didn't really approve of meeting a contact in his home, but in this business sometimes one had to dispense with professionalism. If that weren't the case, the Major wouldn't have been caught dead in the company of the foppish thief who was tagging along.

The contact - an older man with a carefully cultivated facade of harmless dottiness - let them in, politely offered them refreshments, and then left them seated in his living room while he rooted through his study for the information they needed. The Major sat on the only straight-backed chair in the room, trying not to drum his fingers. The thief lounged on the sofa, critically eyeing the framed prints on the wall.

"Sit farther away from me. That foppish perfume is making me gag," Klaus snapped at him.

The fop's only response was a smile so adoring it bordered on vacuous. Klaus should have known better. He had been bombarding the idiot with insults, rudeness, and minor violence for years and none of it had ever shown the slightest sign of discouraging him. If Klaus could have thought of some way to be less encouraging without committing a felony, he would have carried it out.

He was about to growl at the thief to stop staring at him when the thief did, in fact, stop staring at him. A third party had joined them: a striped grey cat sauntered into the room, pointedly ignoring them both, and sat down two feet away from Eroica without giving either of them a glance.

"Well, hello there! Aren't you a pretty thing!" the thief cooed in the idiot voice animal lovers used when talking to lower life forms who couldn't comprehend anything they were saying.

Klaus rolled his eyes and looked away as Eroica leaned over to pet the creature. "If it wanted to be petted, it wouldn't be ignoring you."

Eroica paid him no heed, and it seemed the Major was wrong, because when the thief caressed its head, it turned as if astonished to discover that there was a human in the room and promptly leaned into his hand in clear enjoyment.

"I thought you didn't like animals," the Major grumbled.

"I don't like dogs," Eroica corrected. "I was chased by huge dogs on my first theft and have never cared for them since. Besides, cats are more aesthetic than dogs."

"Dogs are loyal and they don't lie," Klaus informed him. "And it's their job to chase thieves and other nuisances. If you robbed this man's house, that varmint would just rub on your legs."

"I know," Eroica said happily, lifting the cat onto his lap. The Major couldn't help staring: the fop was willingly allowing the creature to get little hairs all over his unmanly designer clothes. Eroica usually acted as if dust, sweat and all the other normal substances of a man's proper working day were corrosive acids; the Major's memory banks included what must be dozens of images of the dandy assiduously brushing things off his precious garish clothing. But now that there was a purring cat doing it, the thief only looked happily besotted.

"Ow! No, no, mustn't bite," he crooned. The cat, evidently tired of being petted, was now striving to sink its claws and teeth into Eroica's hand. Klaus watched approvingly as the cat made a couple of small red lines on Eroica's wrist. Instead of shoving the creature off his lap, however, as any sane person would have done, Eroica just extricated his hand and resumed stroking the beast, not even stopping when it attempted to have one of his fingers for lunch.

"Here it is. This should be all of it," their host announced, returning to the living room with a thick folder. He handed it to the Major and smiled at Eroica. "I see you've met Lady Jane." Even though "Lady Jane" was busily engaged in trying to bite the hands that were still trying to stroke her, the old man reached out to rub her ears, earning himself a quick scratch in return. "Now, now, Janey, play nice," he admonished his pet, smiling adoringly.

The Major studied them with narrowed eyes.

Suddenly, it all made sense.