"And How Was Your Weekend ... ?"

by Heather Sparrows (kargoo-at-arcor.de)

Normally, the Chief looked forward to Mondays. Since his wife had told him a few months ago that she would be going away to live with a woman, leaving him on the sofa open-mouthed, he blessed each workday. At least there was a chance to catch a glimpse at cute G on a workday ...

But this Monday held an annoying task in store: He would have to inform his subordinate Major Klaus von dem Eberbach about his new assignment, and he knew the Major would not be enthusiastic about it. Eberbach was well-known for his fierce temper, and he never had any qualms of openly voicing his dislike about someone or something. Unfortunately, he was also one of NATO's best agents. His sense of duty was extraordinary, his bravery outstanding, his IQ exceeding that of his superior by far. All these assets made him dangerous. Besides, he was as stubborn as a mule -

The Chief would never have admitted to being afraid of his subordinate, but he certainly could think of tasks he would have preferred to telling the irascible Major what his assignment was for next Sunday ...

*****

The man in question was in a foul mood as well. He had spent the weekend with his father, Generaloberst a. D. Clemens Heinrich von dem Eberbach, and the two days had been of the "When-I-was-your-age-I-was-already-married-and-I-had-a-higher-rank" variety. Weekends with his father always jarred the Major's temper, and only a deeply ingrained respect for his elders prevented him from shouting at the old man.

His father breathing down his neck to find a woman suitable for marriage was the last thing he needed at the moment. A few months ago, he had first suspected that he felt attracted to men.

It had been a dreary morning in January, and he had been scheduled together with other NATO officers to take a training on the latest developments in small-scale bombs, when Dorian Red, the Earl of Gloria (alias Eroica), had sauntered in, a quarter of an hour late. The Major had given his opinion in no uncertain terms, only to learn that Eroica had every right to be there. As a NATO contractor working in this field, they wanted him to be up to date regarding the latest technologies. The Major's protests had been overruled.

And Eroica had shown during the training that he had not only nimble fingers but also a well-working brain. He had behaved as professional and alert as the Major and his colleagues. The training had lasted three days. At the end of the third day, the Major had to admit grudgingly that if he should have to deal with these new bombs, it would be good to have Eroica around. Besides (and this he attributed to being seriously overworked), he had grown accustomed to the gentle British voice, the discreet fragrance surrounding Eroica (although he had taken a seat as far away from the thief as possible), and watching his adversary's profile, which could have graced a coin in earlier times ... Looking at the idiot butterfly had made him sad, as if he was missing something, and he did not know what it was ...

It would be tempting to blame the blond English queer, but it would not be fair to hold him responsible for how he, Klaus von dem Eberbach, felt towards men, had been feeling towards them probably long before the damn fop had pushed his nose directly into the mess with his goddamned insane advances. Be it as it may, he was pretty damn at a loss what to do about this shit. Not that he ever intended to act on it ...

The phone on his desk rang. He looked at his watch. 9.30 a. m. The Chief would have started his workday. The Major himself had been doing hated paperwork for three hours already, although he had to admit that his thoughts had not always been with his subordinates' reports. He stubbed out his cigarette in the overflowing ashtray and grabbed the receiver.

"Eberbach!" He sounded as if confronting a bunch of Neo-Nazis or international terrorists with his Magnum at the ready.

The Chief on the other end of the line swallowed. He had hoped against all hope for Eberbach being slightly less bad-tempered than usual.

"Ah, Eberbach - good morning!"

"Yes, Sir?!"

Even to the Chief it was clear by now that the Major's bad temper exceeded the usual by far. So much for a weekend off duty improving the spirit of his men ...

"Already at work, busy as usual!"

The Major glared at the duty roster of his subordinate agents which was tacked to the wall behind his desk. It showed the dates from last week. He would have a word with Agent A about this ...

"Yes?!" he repeated impatiently. The Chief trying to sound appeasing on early Monday morning was exactly what he needed now to bring his temper to the boil.

"I wonder whether you could spare a minute and come up to my office?"

"Jawohl." the Major replaced the receiver, pushed his chair back and emerged from his office, sharply surveying the rows of his Alphabet subordinates, who were also busy with paperwork.

"A! Where's this week's duty roster?!"

Agent A had expected the wrath of his superior. He had reckoned on being in five minutes earlier than the Major, to replace the duty roster, but it had not worked out.

"Right here, Sir! But you were in so early this morning, I haven't found the time -"

The Major's eyes had spotted an empty seat.

"Where's P?!" he snapped.

"Called in sick, Sir." N, the youngest addition to the Alphabet, spoke up.

"And why haven't I been informed sooner?" The Major now sounded really dangerous. But N was still very young. And it was his second day as one of the Major's Alphabets.

"I didn't think it was that important, Sir." he said. What he meant was: A triviality not important enough to bother the Major with. For an excuse, this was a bit awkwardly phrased, as he should learn soon.

Really, some days were worse than others, the Major thought. The Chief speaking in an "I-wonder-if-you-could-spare-me-a-minute" manner usually meant trouble, trouble probably sitting with his tight little ass on the Chief's desk, dangling his long legs, twisting one of his blond curls around his fingers, smiling at him when he entered. And he would be damned if he ever admitted that he liked that smile which lit up the bluest eyes he had ever seen -

And here he had another idiot addition to his Alphabets.

He gave N The Stare. So far, there had only been one man who could stare back with the same intensity, one man who had never shown fear of his savage temper - that damned queer, Eroica.

N held the Major's gaze for five whole seconds, then he lowered his eyes, withering visibly.

"From tomorrow on the report about agents on sick leave will be on my desk by nine hundred hours sharp, Agent N. And the weekly duty roster will be on my wall by seven hundred hours sharp every Monday at the latest, Agent A." The Major spoke with the calm of a predator preparing for the kill.

He turned abruptly and left the office without a further word.

A hurried to replace the duty roster in his superior's room with the latest one.

N recovered slowly.

"Impressive Darth Vader impersonation." he remarked casually. "And without the mask." His voice was trembling, so the casualness was a little marred.

Agent B, next to A one of the Major's long-term Alphabets, turned around, facing the newbie.

"That was nothing. Wait until he's really angry."

Agent N's eyes widened. "What do you mean by 'really angry'?" he asked.

"One word: Eroica." was B's cryptic answer.

*****

While his colleagues informed N about Eroica, the Major knocked at the Chief's door and entered without waiting for an answer.

The Chief was alone. No damn thief. Well, either he would come into it somewhere anyway, or the new assignment would be even worse than having Eroica involved - which was hardly imaginable.

The chief had been pacing the room nervously. The jovial smile he had pasted to his face to greet his subordinate did not fool the Major for a second.

"Have a seat." the Chief said. The Major almost expected him to add: //And promise you won't get upset about what I'm going to tell you now.// In a way, the Chief's nervousness was rather amusing. Probably he was even fooling himself into believing that he had a calming influence on his subordinate.

"I prefer to stand, Sir." The Major's voice rang like a pistol shot in the large office. The Chief's nervousness increased. He cleared his throat.

"Very well, Eberbach - Ah - Do you know what day we have next Sunday?"

The Major frowned. What was that fat idiot hinting at? Probably the visit of a foreign representative or an important meeting had been rescheduled to next Sunday, so what?

The Chief now beamed maniacally at him, looking like a modern Santa Claus suffering from a cocaine and energy drink overdose.

"It's Christopher Street Day! The big parade in Cologne! - You know about Christopher Street Day?"

"Yes, Sir." Was that fat lunatic just being careful, or did he actually think him a complete idiot? - Following the motto "Know thine enemy", the Major had read everything about gay history he could get his hands on. Thus he knew about the incident at Stonewall, the gay bar on Christopher Street in the sixties, where gay people for the first time had fought back against police harassment. He had read about police raids against gay and lesbian bars, about lesbians and gay men beaten up and raped by the police in the years preceding this incident. Well, seventy years ago, gays had been put into death camps by his own countrymen. And there were still enough countries today where being openly homosexual equalled death. He could understand why gay people as well as transsexuals and transvestites would want a special day to openly celebrate their freedom, although he did not like their way of celebrating. Running around in the streets made up like a Christmas tree was not his idea of a good time ...

"... the Ministry of the Exterior has asked for our support." The Chief's voice interrupted his thoughts. He had not heard the beginning of the sentence, but he could guess what it had been about: Trouble from Neo-Nazi groups or other fanatics was at hand.

"NATO Intelligence will supervise security for the festivities together with the army and police force in the respective countries. Riots and assaults are to be expected. The parade in Cologne next Sunday is the first one. You and your men will be Unit One. You'll operate directly within the parade."

The Major's face did not give away anything except careful attention to his superior's words. He would be damned if he showed the Chief, but inwardly he felt as if he was sitting in a car without brakes, racing towards an abyss. At the moment, this assignment was exactly what he needed, he thought sarcastically. He got a lot of what he needed these days ...

"Each of you will be accompanying a parade wagon. This is the list with the wagons and their mottoes."

The Chief's hand trembled slightly when he pushed over a paper.

The Major took the paper and studied it with a stony face.

"Shit." he finally said.

"You will be protecting civilians." His superior reminded him, deliberately overhearing the swearword.

"And what's next? NATO agents protecting the Karneval parades?"

The Major's question was nowhere near the outbreak the Chief had expected.

"The Karneval parade is a regional affair." he sounded like a schoolmaster explaining something to a really stubborn pupil. "Christopher Street Day parades are held in a lot of European cities -"

"Are we to cover all of them?" The difficult Major seemed to take a matter-of-fact approach. That was good.

"At the moment, we are to provide security for Cologne, Berlin, Frankfurt, London, and Stockholm." The Chief beamed again, and this time there was a small evil gleam in his eyes. The briefing had gone well so far. Now he could not resist a bit of needling, showing that he knew what was an open secret ...

"It will be a nice change from your usual assignments, Eberbach." he said.

//Yeah. Instead of one fairy and his entourage hordes of them. You really made my day, you fat bastard. And you know it!//

The Major favoured his superior with a dangerous narrow-lipped half-smile. Two could play that game. There were more open secrets ...

"Will you be there, Sir? No doubt a fertile hunting ground."

He left the Chief sputtering behind his desk, hurried down to his own office and slammed the door, ignoring some questioning glances from his Alphabets.

"Protecting civilians", alright. Playing watchdog for thousands of uncontrollable queers, more likely. As much understanding the Major could muster for gay issues in theory, he did not want to have anything to do with gay people in his daily life. He had decided he would never act on his being homosexual, and that was that. Bad enough that he had a closeted queer for his immediate superior (if he only would be closeted properly!), a gay transvestite in his team of Alphabets, and that damn faggot thief of a contractor on his back.

Smoking furiously, he paced his office for about five minutes, then made two short phone calls to some colleagues who would be in it, too, before he tore open the door to the Alphabets' office.

"N!" he bellowed, throwing the parade plan at the young agent. "Copies!"

When N brought the xeroxed list, the Major distributed the copies and explained in brief words their new assignment, before he left the Alphabets to attend a meeting with some representatives of the Gay Committee, the police, and his colleagues who would be manning Security Units Two and Three.

He had barely closed the door, when pandemonium broke loose. All Alphabets began to talk at once.

"My mother won't believe I'm on duty. If she learns where I'm going on Sunday, she'll think I'm gay."

"For God's sake, man, this is the twenty-first century! Many normal people go and watch the CSD, just for fun, or they support their gay friends and relatives."

"Heterosexual!"

"What?"

"'Heterosexual', not 'normal' people!"

"Okay, you got me there alright."

"I'll have to see to it that I'm on the transvestite wagon. I've promised the girls -"

"I wonder what the Major thinks about the assignment -?"

"They only take us because G is a transsexual -"

"Bullshit! Didn't you hear there are more agents involved, forming two more units?"

"Transvestite! - And if you don't know the difference, look it up on the internet, you moron!"

"Shhhh, quiet, G, alright!"

"'Dykes on Bikes'. The Sado-Maso-Group. I wonder who will be assigned to protect them?"

"Why don't you volunteer, A?"

"What do you think? Will Eroica be there?"

"Let's take bets!"

*****

Early the next morning, Eroica, alias Dorian Red, the Earl of Gloria, was browsing the internet. Normally, he was not an early riser, but he had granted himself a vacation at the moment, which meant that he was not working at night. So he got up early in the morning to scan the most important newspapers online to find interesting art exhibitions or auctions. After all, he did not only have a degree in history of art and was a renowned expert on the Dutch Masters, he also was an art thief with a taste for extraordinary adventures.

Both his occupation and this character trait did nothing to endear him to a certain NATO Major. Their paths had crossed in the past, involuntarily at first, then more and more on purpose on Eroica's part. The Major was an enigma to him. How could someone so strikingly attractive never act on it, always being such a boring example of discipline and dedication to his duties? Since Lord Gloria had found out that the Major was not the prototype of NATO's latest developments in artificial intelligence, it had become one of his favourite sports to lure out the human being behind the cold, precise machine, evoking outbursts of the fiery temper with a look, throwing the Major off track with an unexpected remark. It was fun, but it was also very dangerous. Provoked too much, the Major was capable of doing serious harm. But Eroica loved playing dangerous games...

An article on Christopher Street Day in the cultural section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung caught his eye. Ah, yes. Festivities everywhere. He looked at the Empire clock on the mantelpiece. 6.30 a. m. Jamesie would be awake by now.

Shrugging into his blue velvet dressing gown, the Earl went over to his accountant's room and knocked. After a moment, the door was opened, and a slender young man put out a tousled dark head. One blue eye looked warily at Lord Gloria, the other was hidden behind a mass of wavy dark-brown hair.

"Jamesie, what do you think of a European Tour, comprising as much Christopher Street Day celebrations as possible -?"

He stopped, noticing his accountant's outfit. The young man was wearing a red sweatshirt, which almost went down to his knees, and apparently nothing else. On the sweatshirt was printed in blue letters LE GRAND MÉCHANT LOOK, and the double o had been transformed into eyes which grimly stared at the spectator under angrily frowning eyebrows.

Lord Gloria was amazed. Usually Bonham, his second-in-command, wore odd sweatshirts or tee-shirts. The Earl was sure to have seen this particular fashion statement on Bonham the evening before. Could this mean -?

"Ah -" Mr James managed. "Morning, M'lord. I'll dress and then I'll think about it, alright?"

A loud yawn came from the room behind him. Lord Gloria suppressed a smile and withdrew discreetly. Only Bonham yodelled that loudly while yawning.

The Earl hurried back to his room and did a little joyful dance. At last! James had seen reason and had yielded to Bonham. The good-natured, friendly Cockney's pursuit of the pretty young accountant hat lasted even longer than his own pursuit of a certain elusive NATO officer ... Well, Bonham had been much more subtle about it, but then Jamesie was an easier target. He accepted being attracted to men and acted upon it ...

Seeing Bonham and James together at last gave Lord Gloria new hope for his own quest. And a quest it had become over three years' time. He hoped for a chance to find something they had in common, a chance to earn the Major's friendship. Sometimes he had been close to giving up, but just then there had been an appreciative look or a helpful gesture, a "well done" pressed out between clenched teeth, in short, a tiny crack in the iron armour, enticing Eroica to go on. Of course, it was not only the Major's friendship he wanted. That Major was not even aware of what a dangerous animal-like sensuality he radiated beneath his stiff, formal surface ...

The Earl was still sitting in his bedroom, dreamily twisting a strand of golden curls round his fingers, when James, now dressed in his usual shabby brown tweed suit, knocked and entered.

"Right, M'lord, a European Tour of the Christopher Street Day celebrations! Where do you want to go? - It won't be easy to get cheap flights at such a short notice, provided you want to go Business Class as usual -"

The Earl looked up, startled from his reveries about a certain desirable Major.

"Right, Jamesie." He went over to his computer and started a search.

"Ah, here we got a timetable. The next one's in Cologne, so let's start there. You know how close it is to Bonn. Maybe we can pay a visit to Major von dem Eberbach -"

"Cologne." James grimly noted down the destination. In his opinion it would be better if the Major was far, far away, preferably in Alaska or Australia.

*****

At five o'clock a. m. on Sunday morning, the Major thought exactly the same for a fleeting moment, before discarding the thought as absolutely irrelevant. Duty was duty, and it was of no consequence whether he liked it or not.

At half past five, he left for Cologne, at six he met up with his colleagues from Units Two and Three and police representatives for a final briefing, for half past seven he had ordered his agents in for a last meeting before the assignment.

The Major looked at his men. Other NATO units sometimes called them the Intrepid Alphabets. For outsiders and civilians, this might have been an appropriate name. Insiders knew that the Major trained his men harder than most other superiors did, but behind their average appearances no civilian would suspect highly trained agents. They had been chosen for their special talents and their ability to blend in, to look like the average man from the street. Nevertheless, the complete Alphabet Team together sometimes could be as difficult and unprofessional as a bunch of schoolboys.

Most of the Alphabets and the Major himself would walk next to the wagons and trucks to prevent spectators from getting under the wheels or trying to climb the wagons. They had been issued red tee-shirts. A few of them would wear costumes. G for example, now still dressed in a light-blue jogging suit, would make up as the most gorgeous drag queen in the world, as soon as the meeting would be over.

The Major frowned. The mood was good, a lot of the Alphabets were looking forward to the parade as something different from their usual assignments. Some of them were almost hilarious. They nudged each other, and some pointed to B, who looked as inoffensive and slightly stupid as usual.

Eberbach rapped the table. The agents quieted down, found seats and concentrated on what their superior would have to say.

"Although the civilians will be celebrating, always remember you are on duty." he reminded them sharply. "Keep your eyes open for anything unusual. Be prepared. For those who accompany a wagon: The wagons and trucks have been thoroughly inspected only a quarter of an hour ago. Nevertheless - anything out of the ordinary - or just appearing out of the ordinary - is to be reported to me immediately."

"Yes, Sir!" The Alphabets would all be in contact with each other and the other units. via small earplugs and microphones.

The "everything" the Major had mentioned in his short briefing had been clearly defined in earlier meetings: Violent groups, single anti-gay fanatics, armed or unarmed, aggressive people, practical jokers throwing bad fruit or colour bags, kamikaze madmen blowing up themselves amid the crowd, time bombs, sloppily maintained vehicles, or people who just did not watch out where they were going.

At eight hundred hours, the Major left his men and went over to the big garage where ten of the parade vehicles were stored. To minimise the risk, only one person had a key to the garage. He had been there to open the garage for the five security men who had checked the wagons early this morning. His name was Jupp*, and he seemed to be friendly and matter-of-fact. He was the founder member of the "Schwullesbischer Treff Köln-Süd, a centre where lesbians and gay men could meet for a drink or a dance. They also supported readings and art exhibitions and worked together with legal and psychological counsellors.

Soon the skeleton crew to man the vehicles would arrive. The Major never liked working with civilians. He could not treat them like his subordinates, giving an order and expect it to be obeyed. A lot of civilians regarded official authorities as spoilsports at best, at worst as dangerous, trigger-happy madmen obsessed with their own power. But what actually bothered the Major with this assignment was that the civilians he would have to deal with were openly gay men and lesbians, a group of people he wished to avoid.

He concentrated on the task at hand. Their sexual orientation was irrelevant. They were potentially endangered civilians, and he was part of a group of teams with the order to protect them -

A sound from inside the garage. Something had dropped onto the concrete floor, probably a tool of some kind.

The Major looked around. The garage yard was empty, none of the people to man the wagons had arrived yet. The only vehicle around was a small white delivery van, parked at the rear end of the building, where there was a small door. It stood slightly ajar.

"Units One, Two, Three" the Major spoke over the intercom. I am at the Southern Garage. White delivery van, number plate K-PZ-227 parked at the rear end. Rear door ajar. Who gave the driver permission to come in?"

"A here. It was me, Sir. Herr Meissner - Jupp - said it was alright. It was the - er - condom delivery."

The Major had been informed that the gay groups would distribute free condoms during the parade. Probably everything was alright. Probably he would merely frighten a harmless civilian if he went into the garage now. However -

"Is Meissner with you? I want him here at once, but only him! I'll be going in! Over!"

"He is here, Sir, and he'll be with you in five minutes. Over!"

Carefully, the Major opened the rear door a bit more and slipped in without a noise, keeping to the wall. He did not draw his gun, but he could reach it in one movement, should this be necessary.

The overhead neon lights were switched on. The ten trucks stood in a row, exactly as they had stood two hours ago, each one adorned with rainbow sheets, flags or flower garlands. There was a delivery cart stacked with cardboard boxes next to the door.

From somewhere behind the trucks came a low voice. Someone was muttering angrily to himself. The Major could catch from the voice and the words that the person was male and obviously looking for something. It sounded like a normal situation, but the Major had seen too many apparently normal situations not to be careful.

Noiselessly, he slipped round the rear end of the next truck. At one of the big wheels squatted a male figure, looking under the truck, trying to scramble under the vehicle as if looking for something.

"What are you doing here?!" the Major's voice resounded sharply in the big garage.

The man actually gave a yelp, flinched and froze for a moment, like an animal trying to evade a beast of prey.

"Turn around. Slowly. - Now get up!"

The man did as he was told. He was small and thin, fine reddish-blond hair receding from a high forehead. A gaunt face with a few freckles, small, wire-rimmed spectacles. He wore black corduroy jeans, a black tee-shirt, a green sweatshirt with a hood and white sneakers. His face had the frightened look of a rabbit in the headlights at first. The Major did not move. The intruder's expression changed to a mixture of annoyance and puzzlement someone might show who is rudely disturbed while just doing his work, and back to fear again, when he noticed the Major's tall figure and no-nonsense attitude. He tried what could be taken for an appeasing smile.

"Hey, you gave me quite a start." he said, his smile widening. "You police?"

The Major did not answer. Neither did he move.

"What are you doing here?" he repeated.

The small man lifted his hands to show that he was defenceless. The Major had seen this gesture too often with enemy agents to believe in it. His instincts told him something was wrong, though it seemed obvious that the guy was just a harmless delivery man.

"I'm the Condomi Man, you know? I was just putting the condom boxes into the trucks." He pointed to the carrier cart with the boxes. "It's alright for me to be here. Jupp gave me the keys. He's the guy who's in charge of this part of the parade. He gave me the keys, they fell out of my pocket, and I accidentally kicked them under the truck while walking round."

His startled chatter and his explanation seemed genuine enough.

"Alright." the Major said. "Get the keys back then."

The man squatted down again and scrambled under the truck.

"Damn - ah, here they are!"

He crawled backwards and got to his feet again, triumphantly holding up a bunch of keys.

The rear door was pushed open, and a male voice called: "Hello? Paulchen, where are you?"

"Over here, Jupp!" the man named Paulchen called back, obviously relieved to be no longer alone with the suspicious security man.

Jupp came around the trucks. He was almost a head taller than the Major and had the stature of a well-trained wrestler, without an ounce of fat. His massive body was clad in black leather, decorated with studs and chains, his skull was bald.

"Morning, Paulchen." he said, patting the small man on the shoulder with a hand the size of a spade. He nodded to the Major. Despite his grim outward appearance his face was open and friendly, and his movements were calm and secure. The Major found his favourable first impression of the man confirmed. His bodily appearance might be intimidating enough to discourage undisciplined behaviour around him, while at the same time he appeared calm enough to keep his nerves should a problem come up.

"Trouble?" he asked the Major, but Paulchen hastily spoke up: "I was just unloading the boxes and putting them onto the trucks, when I dropped the keys and kicked them under the truck here before I could grab them. I was just half under the truck to get them back, when he called out to me. He gave me a start! Boy, did he give me a start!" Paulchen pointed an accusing finger at the Major. "I thought everything was alright! I told the security men up the street! And he almost jumped on me!"

The Major made a mental note to tear A's head off for not informing him immediately about the arrival of the man in the delivery van.

Jupp looked at the Major. It was an assessing, estimating look without animosity. Calm, matter-of-fact.

"Didn't catch your name this morning." he finally said.

"Klaus von dem Eberbach." The Major saw no reason to be impolite.

"Sorry, Klaus." Jupp said. "Should've told you earlier that the condoms were to be delivered this morning, and that I would give Paulchen the garage key. - Paulchen, Klaus is from security. T'was my fault. He's only doing his job."

The Major sighed inwardly. What did these civilians think security was? And how were security men to protect them properly if they were not informed about who had business to be here and who hadn't?

Paulchen looked at his watch.

"Well, I've got to hurry. Have to deliver condoms to the Eastern Garage as well. Promised Rosa I'd be there by half past nine."

"Then you better hurry. Let me give you a hand."

With the Major helping as well, they had distributed the remaining boxes into the trucks in no time. Then Paulchen left in his small white van. Eberbach quickly informed Z at the Eastern Garage about the impending delivery. He still had slight misgivings about the delivery man.

There was not much time left, but he insisted on checking the contents of one of the boxes. There were condoms in it alright, each one separately packed in plastic foil. Then he again examined the undersides of all trucks. His quick check did not reveal anything suspicious. Jupp made a face as if he thought the Major's caution exaggerated and unnecessary, but he said nothing.

Having finished his short security check, the Major came up to Jupp again.

"You know him well?" he asked the tall man..

"Paulchen? He's been a regular at the Centre for years." Jupp answered patiently. "I know him as well as you get to know someone who's at the Centre almost any day you're there yourself. - Ah, here's Icky."

A woman had come up to them, at least the Major supposed it was a woman. She was short and plump. Her cut-off jeans and red tee-shirt showed that her legs and upper arms as well as her neck were covered with tattoos. Her ears, her eyebrows and her nose were pierced. Her hair was cropped closely to her head, only a few strands over her forehead were left longer, hanging into her face. They were dyed a dark green. Her lower arms were covered with scars, cuts and burns probably, in orderly rows on the right arm, in savage criss-crosses on the left. She might be in her late thirties, but looked older. Her face was not puffy, though, and her eyes showed she must have come clean long ago. They were clear and grey, eyes that had seen a lot.

She looked at the Major warily at first, but then she extended a hand.

"I'm Icky." Her voice was rough and deep, but pleasant.

"Klaus." The Major had been put off by her outward appearance at first. He had been taught to see women as gentle and generally weaker than men, a species to be protected. Icky fell into none of these categories. She seemed to be a fighter, a veteran, a survivor of countless battles. He could see that at a second glance. And he appreciated it.

"Welcome aboard." Icky sensed that Alpha Male Macho Man somehow must have more brains under his bangs than the average specimen of the species. Besides, he was damn good-looking for a man and made no testosterone-oozing show of it. She would be able to put up with that kind of security man for the duration of the parade.

The garage filled with more and more people, who talked, hugged, kissed and greeted each other enthusiastically. A lot of them seemed to know each other.

The next to join their group was Fatma, the driver. She was almost as tall as the Major, but very slender, and looked more like a young man with her short dark hair and finely chiselled oriental features.

"Major - Z here. The man you described has just left the Eastern Garage. The main co-ordinator, Rosa, knew him."

"Did you observe him while he was distributing the boxes?"

"I did a last check on the wagons during the time I saw Rosa and another man help him with the boxes."

The Major told himself to relax. It would be a serious mistake to concentrate on the delivery guy who most probably was just a klutz doing his job, and to overlook a real source of danger meanwhile.

"Thank you, Z. Over."

The drivers and supervisors organising the parade arrived one by one. A lot of them had painted their faces and bodies in rainbow colours or wore gaudy costumes of some sort, others looked eccentric or spectacular like Icky with their tattoos and piercings alone, or because of their hair colours and clothing. But there also was a great number of people who looked quite ordinary, as the Major noted with relief.

"Major - G here! The man you described had been here earlier this morning - Daphne, that ribbon is trailing down, could you just take it up with a hairpin, there's a dear? And, love, Jewel, let me look after that rose in your hair. - Erica, where did you find these adorable shoes in your size?"

In the next few seconds, the Major had a lot of silly remarks from the other Alphabets coming through.

"Ah, cut it out, G! You're beautiful enough!"

"You'll never be able to compete with B, G!"

"'I'm just a sweet transvestite from transsexual - Transsylvania - ahaha!"

"Hah, wait till you see me, C! You think you have seen anything yet?" G retorted.

The Major gritted his teeth.

"G, may I have your attention for a moment?!" he snapped.

"Sir?" G sounded appropriately frightened. No mentioning of silly ribbons and hairpins any more.

"Did you notice anything out of the ordinary - apart from loose ribbons and hairpins?" The Major's voice had the quality of a long, icy and dreadful Alaskan - or even Siberian - winter.

"I had an eye on the proceedings together with Eleven." G's countertenor had reached soprano heights. "Nothing out of the ordinary, Sir."

"Very good, G." The Major forced himself to be calm and not to put too much doubt into his voice. He longed for a cigarette, but smoking in the garage was out of the question of course.

"This applies to all units. The next one to chatter any nonsense over the communication system will be on a plane to Moscow tomorrow morning. Is that understood?!"

A lot of frightened "Yes, Sirs!" from all units.

"Over and out!" //Highly trained agents, my foot. A circus troupe more like it this morning. Goodness gracious.//

It had become ten. In an hour, the parade would be on its way. It was time to leave for the meeting point. One by one, the trucks left the garage. The other people to man the wagons would join them at their meeting point. Jupp jumped on a motorbike, while Icky and the Major joined Fatma in the driver's cabin of the truck.

They arrived at the meeting point, and the parade began to form. First of all came the Dykes on Bikes, looking proud and untouchable on their heavy bikes, oblivious to the cheering crowd. A had been lucky, and he certainly had not followed X's suggestion and volunteered. The group was accompanied by two female cops.

More than thirty thousand spectators were expected, and looking at the crowd along the street, the Major thought that the number might not be exaggerated.

At a distance from the exhaust of the motorbikes, the "Parents Against Prejudice" followed, accompanied by Agents A and Twelve from Unit Two. Many people from the crowd clapped and cheered.

The Major was fully concentrated now on observing the crowd and the groups and wagons getting in line for the parade. The subjects and mottoes of the groups were as varied as life itself. After the "Parents Against Prejudice" followed the "SM Club Köln". The SM Club would be accompanied by Agents B and Seven. The men had gambled it out among themselves, and B and Seven had been the losers. The Major had attributed the smirks, winks and leers in B's direction this morning to that fact. But seeing B now, the Major suspected that at least some of his men had known what their colleague would be wearing. He swallowed a curse. After all there were ladies present, though he doubted that Icky and Fatma would care much. But it was a matter of principles.

The blond, curly-haired Agent B, who normally resembled a grown-up putto, wore black leather trousers and boots, a wide studded leather belt, studded cuffs around his wrists and a black mask. There was something in his belt that looked like a cat o' nine tails. Agent Seven wore a similar outfit, only he was muscular and trim, not podgy like B. They flanked a group of men and women dressed in leather, leading a pair of "slaves" in chains between them. Both "slaves", a man and a woman, were stark naked except for the chains. The Major suppressed a groan.

Icky sighed. "Scheiße, ja, Fatma, don't say anything. I know it has been discussed from here to eternity at the meetings whether we should include them or not, and you know my opinion!"

"They don't force anyone and they don't harm anyone." Fatma commented, unperturbed.

"Alright, I know I'm prejudiced!" Icky barked. Fatma only shrugged.

A minute later Icky touched the younger woman's cheek. "Sorry, dear. I didn't want to yell at you." She turned to the Major. "Time to get set up. There comes the Environment Party, the Turkish guys are next, followed by the Greeks, then it's our turn. There are the others."

Before she jumped from the cabin, she patted Fatma's arm.

"Sorry I was grumpy. But hell, it might give some sickos ideas!"

"S'alright." Fatma said.

The Major was amazed at how easily Icky could apologise for her rude behaviour. He found himself thinking that there had been one or two occasions where he had wished being able to say sorry, because Eroica had looked so sad. Almost serious ...

He growled. Eroica was the last person he wanted to think about now. Damn!

Jupp had gathered his crew meanwhile. On the wagon, distributing condoms and leaflets would be a willowy young African called Ulysses, Marco, who looked like a banker, Ulla, tall, thin, blonde and feminine, and Nora, who looked like a short, stout rugby player. The Major and Jupp would flank the truck on one side, Icky and a tall young man called Wilfried would walk on the other side. Wilfried kissed Jupp, before he took his place on the other side of the truck, and the Major looked away, embarrassed. He swallowed. The two men were most probably together, so what about it?

Fatma started the motor again. Slowly, the truck inched forward along the street, followed by the vehicle of the Deaf Lesbians' and Gays' association, who made the sign for "I love you", and blew kisses into the cheering crowd. The Parade had begun.

The mood seemed peaceful. People waved and cheered every wagon and foot group. The tempo was very slow, the men and women on the trucks busy distributing leaflets, condoms, sweets and small toys. It was a bit like Karneval, the Major thought. Some people danced in the street, into the path of the wagons, and were sent back to the sidewalks in a friendly way. They went willingly. It was still early, and people were still fairly disciplined, but the Major doubted it would last. He watched the crowd sharply, checking with his agents and the other unit leaders from time to time. Everything was going well. So far.

*****

Up to the last minute, James had hoped against all hopes that his employer would see what he, James, thought of as sense, and would watch the parade from one of the windows of his hotel suite. But knowing Lord Gloria, it was clear that the capricious, adventurous thief wanted to be among the crowd. Not for stealing, though. Eroica only stole from people who had something special he was after. What he wanted here were the appreciating looks, the admiring remarks from the crowds of attractive men who would fill the streets.

James hated masses of people. In his opinion, big crowds weren't good for anything except picking pockets. Gay festivals did not rank among his favourite pastimes. He did not like being hugged and kissed by enthusiastic strangers he had not invited to do so. Such things could turn nasty too quickly. At least this risk would be reduced to a minimum with Bonham at his side.

Besides - there was another problem to consider: the Major. They had managed to run into him in the Arabian desert, in Vienna, in Rome, and in a lot of other places all over the world. It would be a miracle if his adventurous employer would not manage somehow to run into the frightening man so dangerously close to Bonn, even with thousands of other people about ...

It was six o'clock in the morning on the day of the parade, and James was facing the first crisis.

"I have nothing to wear!" The Earl stood in his bedroom, dressed in a long white silken night-shirt which fell open over his chest, hands on his hips, shaking his glorious mane of blond curls, surveying the contents of three giant suitcases, spread out over the double bed, several chairs, and a settee.

James stood amid the heaps of trousers, jeans, shirts, suits, and sweaters, unsure of how to deal with his employer's statement. He thought they had been prepared for every eventuality. Now His Lordship would want to go shopping, and with all the shops closed on Sundays in Germany, this would prove a bit difficult ...

Bonham leaned in the doorframe. The tee-shirt he wore today said "Sparkasse Bonn - Wir haben Ideen"*. He had bought it at a jumble sale the day before. James, reading the word "Bonn", almost had gotten a fit, but Bonham had managed quite successfully to calm him down. Working for Lord Gloria had trained him to deal with eccentrics and volcanic tempers.

"They've got a pool here, M'lord." he said now. "How about some exercise? And then some nice breakfast. Afterwards I'm sure you'll find something nice to wear."

Lord Gloria did not seem to have heard him.

"Thousands of interesting men will be out there, and maybe the Major -" he said dreamily. "And I've got nothing to wear!"

James's one visible eye shot daggers at his lover. //Now you've done it with your damned Bonn tee-shirt!// that look said. //He's got that horrible Major on his mind again!//

But the Earl's mood had changed already. He had heard Bonham after all.

"Exercise is a great idea!" he said, taking a light blue sports suit from the wardrobe. "I'll be at the fitness room and at the pool. A very good idea, Bonham. Jamesie, would you order breakfast for a quarter past seven, my dear?"

He took a pair of apricot swimming trunks from the bed and vanished into the bathroom, emerging five minutes later dressed in the sports suit, singing a few lines from an old Jean Harlow song:

"I wanna live long, learn a lot,
I'll light my candle and I'll burn a lot ...
I'm on my own if I bruise,
and I can take it on the chin if I loose,
because I'm reckless!"

"Oh dear !" was all James said.

At a quarter past seven, Lord Gloria was in his suite again. A large breakfast was waiting, James was positively glowing, and Bonham looked as satisfied as an alley cat that had managed to steal someone's Sunday roast.

It certainly paid off to leave things to Bonham, the Earl thought when he sat down at the table.

Lord Gloria did not need the "Bonn" on Bonham's tee-shirt as a reminder to think of Major von dem Eberbach. The elusive, dangerous German was on his mind all the time. The chance was one in about thirty thousand to see the Major today, but suddenly the Earl had an idea what to wear to the parade. He would choose an outfit of which the austere German officer would approve: nothing with ruffles or frills, nothing effeminate, no jewellery, no makeup. Just red corduroy jeans and a black tee-shirt. The jeans would accentuate his long legs and small, firm buttocks, the shirt would show off his well-shaped arms and torso. The Major liked muscle, though he would rather bite his tongue off than admit it. The simple clothing would enhance the Earl's handsome aristocratic features, the natural beauty of his deep blue eyes and the abundance of blond natural curls falling down to his shoulders. Lord Gloria had been blessed by Nature, and he knew it.

"Dressed to kill." he said to his image in the mirror and left the hotel suite, followed by Bonham and James.

*****

The parade was slowly making its way to the city centre. The weather looked promising: Sunny, but not too hot.

The Major was really amazed at how many people who were obviously not gay had come to watch the parade. Jupp danced a few steps with a little old lady. She beamed at him, completely happy about the attention of the nice young man she had been a bit frightened of at first. A group of four middle-aged women stood huddled together, fearfully clutching their handbags, eyeing the passing people with a mixture of curiosity and disgust on their faces.

"Yeah, look at the perverts, ladies!" he heard Icky shout, before she advanced on the merry foursome - and blew them a kiss. Hurriedly, they retreated a few steps. Satisfied, Icky returned to the wagon.

The Major was busily ignoring the admiring looks of a young Greek athlete on the wagon in front of theirs.

Behind them, a band started to play, and they had to shout to make themselves heard.

"Is it just me, or are there more hets around than last year?" Icky shouted.

Nora handed down a bottle of mineral water. Jupp drank and passed the bottle to the Major, who took a swallow and handed it back up to Nora. She passed it down to Icky and Wilfried on the other side.

"Karneval in summer!" she shouted down.

A skinny young man in a black dress, made up as a vampire, danced through the parade in front of their wagon, waving his arms wildly. The Major immediately became alert, but the vampire was gone already. Klaus relaxed again.

The parade moved on a few hundred metres, then came to a stop.

"Now, look at him girls!" an affected voice squeaked at least two octaves over its normal timbre. "Isn't he absolutely gorgeous?!"

The Major felt admiring looks almost burning his skin. Unfortunately, there was no doubt that the remark was aimed at him. He looked stonily ahead.

"He reminds me of that movie actress you like so much. What was her name again?" another voice answered in the same affected manner.

"Katharine Hepburn - no - no, Greta Garbo!"

"Look at that profile!"

"And that body!"

A group of half-drunken young men, all dressed in sailor suits, were shouting these remarks at each other. Goodness.

He gave the group of drunken sailors The Glare. They fell silent for a moment, only to swoon over him again.

"Have you seen that look? Isn't he adorable?!"

The Major was grateful when the parade moved on, leaving the jolly sailors behind.

"Farewell, soldier of my dreams!" one of them shouted.

//Goodness gracious.//

Idiots. The Major felt Jupp's grin on his back. This assignment was definitely beginning to jar his temper -

"Hey!" Marco shouted from the platform, "I wanna walk a bit! Who wants to come up next time we stop? Icky?"

"Nah, let me walk." Icky declined the offer, "Doesn't hurt me to have some exercise."

"You - what's your name - Klaus?" Marco asked.

It would give him a better view of the crowd, and he might spot a prospective troublemaker earlier, so he climbed up when the wagons stopped again, and Marco jumped down.

"Hi." Nora said. Ulysses winked at the tall, green-eyed, well-built man.

//Good Heavens! Not again.//

He concentrated on the condoms. Though he could see that they were useful for both gay and heterosexual sex, he found it embarrassing to give them out by the handful.

Ulysses had no such qualms. He threw the condoms happily into the crowd, finding time to chat up the Major.

"You are from around here?"

"Bonn".

"Ah, Bonn. They've got their own centre, don't they?"

"I don't know."

"You're not into the gay scene?"

"No." The Major wasn't very forthcoming, but Ulysses was not the person to give up so easily.

"You're in security?"

"Yes." It wasn't any of the young man's business what he actually was. He only hoped Ulysses would not ask him whether he was armed. Remarks about big guns and corresponding body parts were the last thing he wanted to hear now.

"Cool. But a hard job, security, eh? Long and weird hours, lots of training."

"Mhm."

"But you need your muscle, you don't just go to the gym to show off. I like well-trained guys."

//You don't say, my friend.//

"Fancy a drink later, and maybe a little jigjig?"

The Major gasped. In this minute, his thoughts about female colleagues complaining about harassment changed forever. His patience was wearing thin. Very, very thin, to be exact. He had always thought Eroica the master of shameless behaviour. Now he realised he had been mistaken.

"Jigjig?!" He repeated in a voice implying that the ice the young man was walking on was very close to breaking.

Ulysses took a step back under the emerald stare to hide his sudden embarrassment and gave some condoms to a pair of lesbians who ran next to the wagon. They took them, grinning.

The young African raised his hands.

"Hey, no offence meant, man. I was just askin'!"

The Major took a handful of condoms and threw them into the crowd with a fling of his powerful arm. For a moment, Ulysses was not sure whether he would go the way of the condoms.

"I'm a bit old-fashioned with regard to that - matter." The Major's glare was still hard. He saw the young man squirm. Suited him right.

"As I said, no offence meant." Ulysses repeated. "Hey, if you don't feel like it or if you're goin' steady with somebody, just forget what I said, okay, man?"

"Hey you guys, how about giving me a hand with that box? It's heavy!" Ulla interrupted their exchange.

"Jeez, more condoms?" Ulysses asked, relieved about someone coming between him and the dangerous security man.

"Too heavy for a woman." the Major remarked, carrying the box over to where Ulla wanted it. She gave him a grumpy look, and he wondered what was wrong. After all, she had asked for help. Goodness.

"Thanks." she finally said, opening the box with a small carpet knife, taking out an armful of leaflets and shoving them into Klaus's hands. He distributed them quickly without any protest. Giving out information about a gay meeting and counselling place was far less embarrassing than distributing condoms.

It was when he turned to take another armful of leaflets from the box that the floorboards caught his attention. The truck was antique, maybe more than thirty years old, and the truckbed had old, worn planks covering a metal floor. A small square had been cut out of one of the floorboards and then been replaced again. It looked odd. The floorboards were solid all over and did not show any signs of being in need of repair. Why would someone cut out a part of an intact plank? To reach part of the truck's machinery? Nonsense. Something must have been hidden between the floorboards and the metal bed by someone who had been at the garage. Had his suspicions been justified in the end? Had the delivery man been tampering with the truck?

The Major took out his pocket knife, squatted down and carefully started to pry loose the cut out piece of floorboard.

He looked around. No one was paying attention to him. Ulysses was sulking, his back to the Major, and Ulla and Nora were busily distributing condoms and leaflets.

They had reached the heart of the city. The famous cathedral with its twin towers loomed straight ahead. The streets were even more densely packed with people here.

Another look at his comrades on the wagon. They were occupied with their leaflets and condoms. Good.

The Major quickly took out the piece of floorboard. And swallowed a curse when he saw the device that had been installed in the hole. This wasn't a gadget someone had put together in his garage. This was the handiwork of a professional. A very small bomb with a twin detonator. Only two men going through exactly the same movements at the same time would be able to dismantle it.

His instinct told him there would not be much time left. This was the city centre where the crowd was as dense at it could possibly become. No time and no room to get the truck away from the people. And giving a warning would create a stampede -

The truck stopped again, abruptly this time. The Major got up, took a breath to inform all units and to call A over for assistance - when he found himself eye to eye with Eroica in the crowd.

*****

Lord Gloria had spent a pleasant morning. Being early, he and his entourage had found a good spot to watch the parade. And hordes of good-looking and interesting young men. The tall, strikingly beautiful young Englishman got his fair share of admiring looks and flirtatious remarks. He had lost Bonham and James in the crowd, though, when the parade approached, and space had become very scarce, but he wasn't worried. These two were inseparable, and they could very well take care of themselves.

The parade arrived, and the Earl spotted familiar faces he had not expected to see under these circumstances. The blond young man flanking the "Parents Against Prejudice" foot group was definitely Agent A, and the stodgy executioner accompanying the Sado-Masochists seemed vaguely familiar as well. Something must be afoot. When at least part of the Major's Alphabets were around, the Major himself could not be far. So the Earl was not that surprised when he found the tall, dark man of his dreams standing on the bed of an ancient truck, which came to a halt right in front of him.

The Major thought quickly. He clearly remembered his resentment about Eroica as a contractor being sent to a training together with him. At NATO's expenses. It had been agony, because he had found out during this training that he could no longer hate Eroica. Besides, the bastard was very good. If he cut the effeminate gay crap and acted professionally, he was an asset to every good team. Part of the training had been about dismantling just the goddamned kind of bomb that was on the wagon now -

The Major acted very fast. Either his plan would work, or there would be plenty of time for remorse about having the lives of a lot of people on his conscience. In the afterlife.

"Over here!" he shouted. The commanding baritone voice made all people who stood near enough to hear look up at the tall, dark-haired man. For a few moments, some men in the crowd hoped the command had been meant for them.

Klaus had the fleeting impression that, regarding Eroica's capricious nature, he'd better have shouted "Stay away from me!". The beautiful thief batted his eyelids flirtatiously and made an elegant "Are you talking to me?" gesture.

"Cut it out! Up here! At once!"

The Major's commanding voice and gesture finally did the trick. Eroica disengaged himself from the crowd and sauntered up to the wagon. With a knowing grin, Marco helped him up, and Klaus pulled him aboard.

"Got the hint, man. I'm not your type!" Ulysses was still sulking.

"Why, Darling, what -?"

The Major ignored them both. He was embarrassed to hell and back, because he knew perfectly well that he was giving a lot of people a good show, but this didn't have priority at the moment. The whole situation was one heap of shit, he had dragged Eroica into it, and now he had to go through with it pretty damn soon, or a lot of people would be identifiable only by their dental records, if at all -

He pulled Eroica towards him into a hard embrace. For a moment, he thought of kissing the damned bastard. His senses registered the firm, muscular body in his arms, the pleasant smell and what the closeness to this man did to his own body, but his mind overrode these details as irrelevant.

"I need your help." He hissed into Lord Gloria's ear. "We've got a twenty-five-seven here. If we can make it - I'll give you everything you want. - But if you want to get away - run and take as many people with you as you can!"

For a moment, Eroica's clear blue eyes clouded over with sadness. He knew the code, and he was not afraid. Just sad about the Major's offer. It was an offer he couldn't resist. Or could he?

"I'll help." he said without hesitating. "Come on." He took a small set of tools from the hip pocket of his jeans.

The Major bent over the cardboard box with the leaflets, shutting out a bit of the noise around him without attracting attention.

"All units - twenty-five-seven aboard wagon 'Schwul-Lesbisches Zentrum Köln-Süd'. Located under floorboard. All units, check. - Headquarters - suspect is a male person, about thirty years of age, red hair, short, slim, wire-rimmed spectacles, black corduroy jeans, black tee-shirt, green sweatshirt with a hood and white sneakers, last seen about nine hundred and thirty hours at the Eastern Garage, with small white delivery van, registration plate K-PZ-227, probably registered with a firm called Condomi."

Ulysses had tried to attract Eroica's attention, but for once, the flirtatious Earl had other things on his mind. So the young African got off the wagon, and Jupp came up onto the platform.

Klaus thought for a moment. It would be good to inform someone of the crew.

"Got a problem here."

"What? -"

"No time. Later. I need your help."

"Okay. What -?"

"Don't tell the others. Just keep them occupied, will you?"

One look at the Major's face, and Jupp understood that the situation was serious. Very serious. He did as he had been asked to do without further questions, ordering Nora to open another box of condoms, handing out leaflets, dancing with Ulla in-between.

The parade moved again. The Major hoped the bomb would be the only one, but his hope was futile.

"Z here. Twenty-five-seven hidden behind decoration. Start with K now."

"Major - G here. Twenty-five-seven located under floorboard. Will dismantle with Nine."

The Major thought quickly. Paulchen had been at the Western Garage before he had come over to the Southern Garage where they had met. So G, occupied with other things, would not have paid much attention to him. Z had been warned, however. Paulchen's last stop had been the Eastern Garage. And he had distributed his merchandise observed by Z. And yet Z had found another bomb behind the decoration of one of the trucks. So Paulchen must have had at least one accomplice - no time now -

"Z, G, affirmative. - Ready to begin?"

"Affirmative, Major!"

The Major and Eroica started to work, slowly, methodically, leading Z, K, G and Nine through the process. Klaus was well aware of the truck creeping forward, the music, the cheering crowd, the other people on the truck busily distributing their gifts, Eroica irritatingly close to him. Then he shut out everything, concentrating on the bomb. And on working together with Eroica. The thief was completely serious, fully concentrated on the task at hand, and they handled the task as if they had been close partners for years.

In a bit more than ten minutes, they had dismantled the bomb, and G and Z reported success as well.

The Major stood, looking at Eroica. Why did the damned idiot look so hurt, almost sad? He had performed excellently, and he should know well that he, Major von dem Eberbach, would not go back from his word - regardless of what devil had possessed him to make that idiot offer in the first place - Well, duty demanded an acknowledgement of his help -

"Thank you." The Major said stiffly.

Instead of an answer, the Earl kissed him fiercely on the mouth, before Klaus could fend him off. The kiss was brutal, and everything but chaste. Then Eroica jumped gracefully from the wagon and vanished into the crowd.

"Wow!" Nora said. "What have you two been up to down there anyway -?"

"Small technical problem." Jupp intervened. "Here, Nora, the last box with leaflets!"

For a moment, the Major was thunderstruck from the reaction of his own body, the jolt of sensations that left him dizzy for a moment. Damn! For a few seconds, the whole world had been out of focus ...

He became aware that the people around him gave him appreciative looks. Sure. They all were accustomed to seeing a man kiss another man. Even the women. And some of them probably thought that the beautiful blond actually was his boyfriend. No harm done here. At the other front - he knew quite well about the bets some of his Alphabets made. Who had seen him? Some of his agents at least. To hell with it! Tongues were wagging anyway. For a moment, he smiled grimly about the grotesque situation. 007? Mata Hari, more like it.

He cleared his throat, took Jupp aside, showed him the remnants of the bomb and explained in brief words what had happened. Better he knew it firsthand. He would have asked anyway what the darn problem had been.

Jupp turned pale.

"Shit!" he said.

*****

A quarter of an hour later, the parade was over. Police officers gathered the personal data of all active participants. Most of them were allowed to leave afterwards, but were admonished to keep themselves available should further questioning become necessary. It soon became clear that more than two third of the people had not even been near the trucks until the actual parade began, which eliminated them as suspects. The last third had been involved in rigging up and decorating the wagons, but as all the vehicles had been thoroughly checked by security men a few hours before the parade, they could not be suspected either. The bombs must have been installed after the security check. Remained the people who held the keys to the three garages: Jupp, a woman called Rosa and a man called Richard. All three said they had known the man called Paulchen for years as a regular member of their part of the gay scene. The condoms actually should have been delivered the day before, but according to the shop there had been a shortage, and it had been agreed to send Paulchen with the deliveries to the three garages early on Sunday morning, shortly before the parade would start.

The suspect was caught while stopping at a motorway service station near Würzburg with his private car. He had wanted to be as far away as possible when the bombs exploded ... He admitted to having set up the bombs, and insisted he had made them himself. When asked why he had done it, he refused to answer. Police were still questioning him and his co-workers.

Everything had gone well, but for many people the fun was over. They skipped the rest of the festivities, which would take place anyway. Others, like Ulysses, refused to have their evening spoilt and blocked the incident from their minds.

*****

Until late at night, the Major dealt with debriefing his agents, then attending an emergency conference with members of police and military. Paulchen had finally talked and given another name, a security man, who had had time enough to install the bomb on the truck at the Eastern garage, allegedly checking the wagons. He was caught in London two days later.

It was almost one a. m. when the Major returned to the narrow street behind the garage, where his car was parked.

He berated himself for not having checked the truckbed after finding Paulchen in the garage. An oversight that had endangered the lives of many civilians ... No one had told him so, not the people who perhaps only had a vague idea what pandemonium they had escaped by a hair's breadth, nobody from the police and military sector either. But the Major knew ...

A motorbike stopped next to him. It carried Jupp and Icky. The Major gave them a questioning look.

"Fancy a beer?" Jupp asked.

The Major briefly thought about what he had promised Eroica. It had cost him some time to explain to the police that the Briton worked as a contractor to NATO and had been an essential help in dismantling one of the bombs. Of course he was nowhere to be found now, no one had seen him after he had jumped from the truck, but the Major wondered when he would show up again, ready to claim his prize ...

"'Course it's late, and it has been a long day." Jupp interrupted his thoughts. "I have to show up for work tomorrow at seven, but I can't sleep right now. Come with us, Klaus?"

The Major had come to respect the big man, who had helped a great deal to keep procedures under control, so he did not decline the offer.

They went to a nearby pub. Despite the late hour it was still packed. Some people were just leaving, and the three took their seats. Jupp ordered three Kölsch*. The Major lit a cigarette. For a moment, no one spoke.

"I don't get it." Icky finally broke the silence. "That fucking bastard!"

Jupp took a swig of his beer and shook his head. "Me neither. Damn, I've known this guy for years, and it turns out he doesn't care if we're all blown to pieces! I mean, he was at the Centre at least four days a week! He knew us all!"

"Sounds cheap now, but you know, I never liked him. He was too friendly for my taste, and he showed up too often."

"I've noticed that too, but I thought he was lonely." Jupp said.

"I thought the same." Icky answered. "And that was what made me put up with him. But now I think the bastard was sent to spy on us. Is he just a crazy freak who hates gays, or is he connected to the Neo Nazis or some other idiots?" This question was addressed directly to the Major.

He crushed his first cigarette and lit another.

"Don't you know or aren't you allowed to tell?" Icky continued. "Do you think they will try something and the Centre?"

The Major shook his head. He would have preferred to keep silent about the matter, but the two people were frightened. They were aware that it had been a close shave, and they were not accustomed to such situations.

"It looks as if the group behind the bombs intended to make their point at a big event to kill and hurt as many people as possible. Police believes a member knew Paulchen and contacted him rather shortly before the parade, either blackmailing or persuading him to plant the bombs. Besides, Paulchen must have had an accomplice."

"Don't tell me another one we regarded as one of us!"

"Probably not." was all the Major said, and it was clear that he would not say more. So Icky decided not to ask more questions.

Jupp shook his head again.

"I had the impression he regarded us as a kind of surrogate family."

Icky shrugged. "Perhaps we actually were. At least for a time. But then I wonder what turned him against us."

Jupp ordered another Kölsch and asked the Major for a cigarette.

"He wasn't sure about himself. He told me he didn't know whether he was actually gay or not. Perhaps he expected some answers from us."

"Hell, that's a reason for blowing us all up!" Icky commented.

The Major shoved his pack of cigarettes and his lighter over to Jupp, squinting through the smoke of his own cigarette at the big man. He knew from his own experience that the state of mind, this uncertainty Jupp had described could throw a person out of balance, if he did not have an iron discipline and resolve.

"And what did you tell him?" he asked Jupp.

Jupp took a cigarette and lit it.

"I told him that this isn't something you control and decide just in your mind. There's to consider what your body wants, whether you feel more attracted to men or to women."

"And perhaps how you feel about somebody in particular." Icky added. "There might be something like love."

The Major took a deep drag on his cigarette and downed his beer. These two tough-looking people spoke about bodily needs and emotions as if these things actually mattered. Perhaps they weren't completely wrong ...

"How could you two be so cool about dismantling that bomb?" Icky interrupted his thoughts.

"It's part of my job!" the Major retorted more sharply than necessary. Now that woman would start admiring him. Damn! He wasn't a hero in one of these stupid Hollywood movies! He was grateful for something obvious to be angry about.

"I endangered you and a lot of other people!" he snapped.

"What?" Icky looked at him as if he had suddenly spoken Swahili.

"I saw that man Paulchen in the garage, I checked the underside of all trucks, but not the truckbeds or decoration. So my negligence put a lot of people in great danger."

"Hell, Klaus, I gave him the garage keys!" Jupp argued. "I told you it was okay for him to be there. I even thought you were a bit paranoid - checking the trucks after they had already been checked. - So what about me?!"

"You weren't in charge of security." the Major said.

Jupp's big fist hit the table.

"Of course I was! Even more than you, in a way! I helped organise the parade, and I was damn well responsible for the people manning our truck and for the other trucks in the Southern Garage!"

Icky looked at the two men staring wildly at each other. Two Alpha Males ready to fight over whose fault the mess had been? Men!

"Hey, you guys, do you really want to get at each other's throats over who was more responsible for getting us almost killed? Do me a favour! You both didn't tell that sickos to plant their bombs!"

Both men looked at her. The Major gave her his usual icy stare, but it didn't have the intimidating effect it had on the Alphabets.

Jupp seemed a bit embarrassed about having allowed himself to be carried away.

"T' was a long day." he relented gruffly. "But you've got to give me one thing, Klaus: Where would we've been without you to take this thing apart? Do you think they'd have been able to send over some specialists in time? I doubt it very much."

The Major lit another cigarette.

"I was just doing my job." he repeated. "And I couldn't have done it alone."

"Yep, that's true." Icky observed. "Where's your friend anyway? I'd like to give him a hug for being there at the right time!"

"He is not my friend!" The Major snapped.

"Aha?" Icky drew up one pierced eyebrow, and the Major found himself groping for words. Damn, what had possessed him on the wagon? And why did he think at all he owed the woman an explanation for something he could not explain? Perhaps because he felt that she liked him. He never expected to be liked. It made him angry. Angry and helpless. He gave her another dangerous look, but again it had no effect. Icky worked with the homeless, and she was used to dangerous looks and far more. The Major felt at a loss.

"We sometimes work together." he finally said. "But he's - a freelance worker. He - I had to get him on the wagon to help me. He -"

"So he wants you, but you don't want him at all. And I'll be the next Miss Germany." Icky commented and downed the rest of her beer. "Klaus, you're as stubborn as a mule!"

"Tell me about it." a gentle British voice said behind them, before the Major could explode.

In the bustle of the busy pub, completely engrossed in their discussion, they had not noticed Dorian coming up to them.

Icky got up. "Well, well - speaking of the devil! There's the other hero of the day. Let me hug you!"

She gave Dorian a hearty hug, and he gracefully hugged her back. Jupp would not stand aside and shook Dorian's hand.

The Major lit another cigarette.

"Time to be off now." Jupp rapped the table. "'T was nice to meet you both, and it was good to have you around, Klaus. See you."

Icky went over to the Major.

"Never mind about what I just said, Klaus. About 'stubborn as a mule'. None of my business. But I like you. It was really nice to meet you." She turned to the Earl. "And you too - what's your name?"

"Dorian."

"As in Gray?"

"Far, far worse." The Major said from behind a cloud of cigarette smoke.

Icky grinned, doffed an imaginary hat and followed Jupp, who had paid at the counter and was making his way to the exit.

The Major ground out his cigarette and downed the rest of his beer, leaving money on the table. He took his jacket.

"Come on!" he threw at Dorian. The next moment, he had pushed through the crowd and was half out the door. The Earl had no choice but to follow.

"Where are you going?" He caught up with the Major outside.

"Bonn." the Major threw over his shoulder. "Are you coming or not?!"

"Klaus -" "Come or leave it!" The Major sat down in the driver's seat.

Dorian came up to the car and leaned against the hood, hoping the Major wouldn't drive off anyway. His plan had been to tell Klaus that he did not want his body as a payment for assisting him while on duty. He was hurt that the Major thought him capable of accepting such a deal.

"Klaus -" he began again.

The Major glared angrily at him.

"Get in!"

Dorian shook his head and crossed his arms.

The Major started the engine.

Dorian remained leaning against the Benz on the driver's side.

The Major rolled down the window.

"I will not come with you to your hotel room, slinking away in the night like some thief!"

He stepped on the accelerator, and the powerful engine roared angrily.

Dorian did not move.

"Klaus!" His voice carried over the sound of the motor. "Will you please listen to me for a moment?!"

"I've heard enough!" The Major put the car in first gear, and it started to roll. Slowly.

Dorian hopped on the hood. The Major hit the brake and killed the engine.

"What?!" he snapped.

"Thank you." Dorian spoke, sitting on the hood. "Klaus - you made me an offer. A most valuable offer. But I cannot accept it."

The Major shrugged. "Second thoughts all of a sudden? - Fine with me. Get your ass of my hood. I want to go home."

Dorian was sorely tempted to do what Klaus suggested, but he knew that reacting annoyed now would lead them nowhere. So he went over to the passenger seat, opened the door and slipped in.

"Please, Klaus, will you let me finish what I want to say?"

Instead of hitting him, the Major lit another cigarette.

"Well, what else?!"

"I do not want it like this, Klaus. I mean, I want you, but - not out of duty. Not as a - payment for my help!"

The Major smoked in silence, his eyes never leaving Dorian. And he did not blow smoke in the Earl's direction.

"It would have sufficed to call me over, tell me that there was a problem and that you needed my help." Dorian went on.

The Major dragged on his cigarette, his green eyes inscrutable.

"Really?"

Dorian sighed. "I know, I have played games in the past, but I would never take advantage of you like this!"

"Gut."

There was a silence. The Major looked at Dorian, his face still unreadable.

Lord Gloria took a deep breath.

"Fine. - I'll be off, then."

He opened the car door to get out.

//Damn, that fucking thief is serious! I know him well enough to see it in his face ... Seems as if I actually hurt him by promising him what he wants. Damn, what else does he want? Shall I kneel before him with a bunch of flowers?! Oh shit -//

"Stay."

Dorian turned and looked at the Major.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Stay!" the Major repeated sharply, but there was that rare, unguarded look in his eyes, and Dorian realised that Klaus knew very well that he had hurt him. He also realised that the Major had made a decision.

"Alright." He closed the door again and fastened the seat belt. The Major started the car.

They drove in silence through the nightly city. When they had passed through the roundabout leading onto the motorway heading South, the Major accelerated. The heavy Benz shot forward.

"Thank you for helping me." the Major said when they passed the big chemical plant left and right of the motorway at Wesseling.

"Don't mention it." Dorian answered. "Sometimes, I can be useful, you know."

They changed motorways from A 555 to A 565, leading to Koblenz and left at the exit Poppelsdorf. The Major sped along Reuterstraße and then turned left into a side street. Dorian looked around. They were in the quarter of Bonn called Südstadt. Stately houses from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century stood behind wrought iron fences, hortensia bushes and trees. There was a small park and a church.

The Major parked the car a bit further along the street and headed for a villa opposite the park. He pushed open a small iron gate and let Dorian enter. They crossed a front yard lined with taxus bushes, went up a few steps to a heavy dark front door. He let Dorian in an closed the door behind him. The entrance hall was high and whitewashed, the floor terrazzo, stucco rosettes at the ceiling, a wooden staircase in the background.

The Major opened a door to their right. Which led directly to a small living room. The walls were lined with bookshelves, the floor parquet, the high ceiling also lined with stucco ornaments. There was a small sofa, a table, a leather chair and an antique desk. A beautiful piece of furniture, Dorian thought appreciatively. He was surprised that the Major had so many books, and would have liked to look at them, but the Major opened the door to the next room. It was a small bedroom with a wardrobe, a chair and a narrow bed. No pictures on the walls, but more books.

"Have a look around, if you want." The Major invited him gruffly. "You want something to drink?"

"Yes please." Dorian suddenly felt a bit awkward. So this was the Major's private residue. The apartment was comfortable, it showed that he liked it here. Regarding how much Klaus valued his privacy, Dorian felt honoured and privileged to be here.

He inspected the books. Mostly history and politics, old armoury, firearms, tanks of course. No art and nothing fictional.

The Major's voice from another room. "Got a bottle of Kröver Nacktarsch*, you want that?"

Dorian smiled. If Klaus ever felt at home anywhere, it was in this small apartment. It was spartan and orderly, but at the same time comfortable.

He went through the small bedroom and down a few steps into the kitchen, where the Major was inspecting a small wine rack. The kitchen was modern and functional. It probably had come with the apartment.

He came over to the Major and looked at the label on the bottle.

"Yes, please. Do you know why it is called 'Bare Arse'?"

"No. Probably there's a story behind the name, but I don't know it." The Major took two wine glasses from the cupboard and rummaged in a drawer for the corkscrew. He opened the bottle and poured two glasses, handing one over to Dorian.

The Earl saluted him with the glass. The Major snorted.

"I like your apartment." Dorian said. He felt the Major's nervousness, the tension in the air -

Klaus emptied his wine glass. The look he gave Dorian was probing, questioning, almost hostile. He went up to Dorian and kissed him, hard and awkward, but in no way chaste. Dorian answered the kiss, savouring the taste of the Major's mouth, the iron arms holding him, the hard body pressed to his own.

Suddenly the Major broke the kiss, still holding Dorian's head, hands buried in the Earl's abundant hair. His green eyes blazed.

"I want you! Not as a payment for your help, but because I want you! But should I ever find out that it is a lie on your part, I'll find you, wherever you may try to hide. And when I'll be finished with you, you'll wish I killed you! - Bear that in mind!"

Dorian did not fight the Major's hard grip, did not evade the blazing eyes.

"What do you see?" he answered gently. "A lie? And what do you feel? A lie? - Decide for yourself!"

The Major loosened his grip abruptly, poured himself another glass of wine and downed it in one gulp.

"Come!" He indicated the bedroom with a toss of his head. Dorian went up obediently.

Without looking at him, the Major undressed brusquely and sat down on the bed. Dorian followed suit, standing there naked.

The Major felt Dorian's eyes on his body, and he looked back defensively. Oh yes, the damned thief was beautiful. And it showed that he wanted Klaus. Alright -

The Major pulled him onto the bed. For once, it was good not to think, just to kiss, to caress, to feel Dorian's body against his own, his hands, his lips, the closeness of another body. It was wonderful to feel the other's hardness, to bring him to a climax and feel the hot fluid running over his hand. It even tasted fine and delicious. It was good to look at Dorian when he came, to enjoy the surprised look in the beautiful eyes when he tasted the sperm. Good - yes. - Now he could bear Dorian doing the same with him, he could give himself over to the expert hands - it felt good and right -

He came with a sharp gasp, falling back. When Dorian cuddled close to him, took him into an embrace, he did not push him away, but put his own arms around the Earl's warm, slender body. His hands followed the curve of the spine down to the buttocks. Firm muscles moving under soft skin. Beautiful -

"Have you got candles, dear?" Dorian interrupted his pleasant exhaustion, immediately alerting Klaus again.

"What for?!" Normally, the Major questioned enemy agents in this tone of voice.

//Still nervous, my proud, passionate lover.// Dorian thought. //Always tense and alert.//

"They give a nice, soft light, love." he answered patiently. "Don't you think so?"

Klaus snorted, but he got up and rummaged in the kitchen cupboard, where he found a pack of household candles.

Dorian stood in the doorframe, and the Major found himself becoming aroused again.

Goodness -

"The bathroom -?"

"Door to your left."

Dorian vanished into the bathroom, while Klaus tried to fix the candles on a candlestick. When the Earl came back, he brought with him a small bottle of massage oil. The damn fool could never refrain from snooping around -

"Lovely, dear." Dorian took the candlestick and went up into the bedroom again.

Goodness gracious.

But the blasted idiot had been right about the candles. He had placed the candlestick on a chair near the bed, and the soft light actually was very pleasant.

The Major let himself be drawn back onto the bed. It was glorious to explore his lover's beautiful body, even very intimate parts. It was wonderful to feel that he could be gentle in preparing Dorian. Things felt good he had avoided to think about before. He had not known that he would respond so passionately, Dorian bringing him to heights of lust he had never known. The delicious heat of his body - long legs clasped around him, Dorian meeting his hard thrusts with equal strength, eyes becoming brighter, deeper and darker, then Dorian's climax, the love and admiration in his eyes, and his own climax -

He lowered his head for a moment, panting, his emerald glare meeting his lover's eyes. For a moment, Dorian was afraid. Had he only thought he knew the price for being with this brilliant, noble, and passionate man? Would Ares still punish the daring mortal for having seen him without his defences? - Well, it would be worth it -

Klaus became aware that he held Dorian's wrists in an iron grip. He bent down gracefully to claim his lover's mouth in another long kiss. Then he released the Earl's wrists, withdrew and lay down beside Dorian. After a few moments, his breathing became deeper, more regular, and Dorian realised that his Major was asleep. He looked at the noble features, stern even in sleep, the tousled dark hair, long lashes, the hard mouth, wide shoulders, narrow hips, the long muscular legs of a runner - every inch of the Major was just adorable.

And he was one of the bravest men Dorian had ever met. He did not dare to imagine how much it must have cost Klaus to admit that he wanted him and to act upon it -

Dorian blew out the candles. Maybe - just maybe - there would be another time -

He fell asleep as well.

*****

Not very much later, he awoke from the Major next to him getting up. Moments later, there was the sound of running water. Dorian moaned and turned around. The room was bright, so it must be morning. But regardless what time it was now, it was definitely too early to get up. On the other hand - there was the most beautiful man he knew not far away -

At the bathroom door Dorian hesitated. What if the Major was in an irascible mood this morning ? - but who never dares, never wins. Boldly, Dorian entered the bathroom and pushed the shower curtain aside, joining the Major under the shower - and gasped. He should have known. The water was ice cold. Well there was a gorgeous man to warm him up -

The Major did not seem completely surprised about the Earl joining him in the shower. Dorian hugged him, and the Major did not push him away. It was delicious to kiss under the shower, to taste water from his lover's lips. Dorian let his hands roam over the wide shoulders and muscular back, down to the firm buttocks, playfully touching the place between them.

A startled gasp from Klaus, who pulled him closer for a moment. But then his whole body became rigid, he took Dorian's hands away from his body and stepped back.

"Not now!" he said sharply, pushing past Dorian out of the shower stall, closing the curtain behind the Earl, who, alone in the shower now, frantically turned on the hot water tap.

The water became hot. "Hot water! A glorious invention! A bliss for mankind!" Dorian called tentatively. He hoped he had not messed everything up with that too intimate touch - But Klaus had said "Not now!", which was certainly different from "No, stop this!" -

The Major was trying to shave, frowning at the bathroom mirror rapidly fogging over.

"As I told you already some time ago, heat and cold are a matter of discipline!" His strong baritone was well audible over the sound of the running water.

He did not sound very angry. Good.

When Dorian emerged from the steaming bathroom half an hour later, one towel around his hips, one around his head like a turban, Klaus was already dressed in one of his usual suits.

His manner suddenly seemed more formal.

//Uh, oh.// Dorian thought. //Second thoughts? I shouldn't have -//

The Major shoved a steaming cup over to him. The instant coffee was as black as tar. And only slightly more liquid.

He crushed out his first cigarette of the day.

"The service station on Reuterstraße has a twenty-four-hour-shop. If you want something to eat -" he barked.

//He surely is the only man I know who sounds threatening when offering hospitality.// Dorian thought.

"Thank you, love, not that early." he answered. He would have preferred devouring a certain delicious Major, having a bit more sleep afterwards, but the object of his desires obviously had other plans.

Obediently, he took a sip of the coffee. It tasted a bit like tar as well. But it seemed to work.

The Major cleared his throat.

"We should be on our way, then. I'll drive you back to Cologne."

Dorian finished his coffee. Coming to think of it, however, he attributed his feeling alert and awake more to the Major's stimulating presence than to the liquid tar.

So far, the prospects looked still promising. There had been no sentences like //This has never happened.// or //We will never speak of this.//, and Dorian hoped the Major would never say them.

Seeing Dorian was dressed, Klaus headed for the apartment door with long strides. They left the house and went to the car. The Major drove around the block and back onto Reuterstraße, heading again for the motorway.

Dorian thought it better to be silent and settled for a study of his lover's noble profile. Klaus's features could have been set in granite, and his eyes had the usual piercing look. He seemed fully concentrated on the early morning traffic.

"How did you find me?" he suddenly shot at Dorian, his eyes never leaving the road.

Dorian caught himself quickly. "Intuition." he answered, smiling. "Well, actually I followed your wagon and thus found out where the garage was. I found your car parked nearby. As I assumed you would be occupied elsewhere for a few hours, I went back into the city for the festivities."

"Aha."

"What's that supposed to mean?" The man surely was a mystery sometimes.

"Go on!"

"When I came back at night, your car was still there," Dorian continued patiently. "I saw the nearby pub and thought that at least someone there would be able to tell me where to find you."

"Hmpf."

"You see, I wanted to talk to you," Dorian went on, "to tell you that I did not want a deal like the one you had proposed, that I did not want to take advantage of you."

"Hmpf." again.

Alright. Two could play that game ...

"I didn't intend to stay, but then you asked me to. - Why?"

The Major took his eyes away from the road to look at Dorian.

The Earl's cell phone emitted a chirping sound.

*****

Mr James had finally retrieved his mobile phone. He would have called the Earl long ago, but Bonham had taken the phone away and had refused to give it back.

"He'll call if he needs us." he had said firmly. "As long as he doesn't, we'll leave him alone."

"But what if something has happened to him?" James had objected. It was perfectly clear that he thought of the worst terror of all terrors: The Horrible Major.

Bonham sighed.

"'S not as if His Lordship was five years old and needed his Mummy, Jamesie." He answered, taking his lover round the shoulders. "Let's watch the parade and have a drink and something to eat afterwards." He pulled James away with him.

They had spotted a few of the Alphabets in the parade, which did nothing to ease James's worries. They neither saw the Major nor the Earl though, who had been hidden from view on the truck platform, working at the bomb, just as their wagon had passed the spot where Bonham and James stood.

"You saw the Alphabets." James had said darkly when the parade was over. "The Alphabets mean that the Major is lurking somewhere."

"Probably 'e isn't 'lurkin', 'e's doin' his job. And I could do with a beer now and some of the strange pub food they've got 'ere." Bonham answered, dragging James into one of the packed pubs.

They had met a nice middle aged couple, Karl-Heinz and Hans-Günther, and they all drank a lot of strange German beer and ate even stranger regional food. Who would have thought that a "Halven Hahn" was a bread roll with cheese?*

James was too occupied by calculating how much the Euro prices were in Pounds to eat much anyway. Besides, he still thought about a way to get his cell phone back. Too bad he couldn't pick his lover's pockets. Bonham knew all the tricks himself.

Late at night, when they had returned to the hotel after saying good-bye to their new friends, James had hoped to find the Earl in his room, but no such luck.

But then he had forgotten about the Earl at least for a while, however, because Bonham knew how to distract his pretty lover and make him happy, a task which killed two birds with one stone: A very pleasant way to keep Jamesie off their employer's back.

James had woken up early in the morning, though, and had taken his chance to retrieve the mobile phone. He failed to understand how Bonham could be so negligent regarding Lord Gloria's safety. What if His Lordship had actually run into the terrible Major, alone and unprotected? That lunatic German was not to be trusted ...

*****

Dorian took out his cell phone, and the Major concentrated again on the motorway traffic.

"Yes, Bonham? - Jamesie?! - Not now. - Pardon? - I'm perfectly alright, Jamesie, and I'll be back in less than an hour! - Bye."

Dorian terminated the call, switched off his mobile phone and put it away. He sighed.

"Sorry, dear. I should have called them last night, but as I said, I didn't expect to be out for the night, which brings me to my question again. Why did you ask me to stay?"

The Major once more looked at Dorian, and he had to admit that he rarely had seen the lovely art thief that serious.

They left the motorway and reached the outskirts of Cologne. For a moment, they drove in silence along the Rheinuferstraße.

"I have known for a while, that - but I did not know if I wanted to act on it." the Major finally said. "But yesterday - actually, it started much earlier, when we did the training together in January. And yesterday I thought - well - I wanted to try - and on the wagon - I wanted you to stay - to - help me -"

He stopped. Damn, this was so difficult! And it certainly wasn't made easier by having this damned, beautiful, desirable idiot so close! Last night -

He had to stop the car at a red traffic light. The two men looked at each other. None of them said a word.

A shrill horn suddenly sounded behind them, a motor roared angrily, and a Porsche cabriolet overtook the Major's car, almost rushing into the oncoming traffic. The traffic light had changed to green, and the Major had not driven on immediately when the yellow light joined the red one.

"Hast du keine Zeit, du Puffmusiker?! Pass bloß auf!" Klaus bellowed.

Dorian laughed out loud, and the Major loved the sound of it. The tension which had been there since he had fled from the shower this morning evaporated.

"Did I understand that correctly? Did you actually call him a 'bordello musician'?"

"Ja." For a second, Dorian detected a rare mischievous gleam in the Major's green eyes.

"Which hotel?" the Major then asked, matter-of-fact again.

Dorian slapped his forehead.

"Silly me! I have you driving me around without telling you where to go. Not that I minded your driving me around -"

"Which hotel?!"

"The Hilton." Dorian said meekly.

A minute later, they stopped at the hotel entrance. There was an awkward pause.

"Well then, thanks for driving me back." Dorian finally said. "Will we meet in Berlin next Sunday?"

"Probably." The Major's expression was inscrutable again.

"Alright. Bye then." Dorian took off the seat belt and opened the door. Not that the Major had been the first closet case he had slept with. Normally, he didn't have a problem with such situations, but here - it was different somehow -

"Dorian."

The Earl, who had been turning around to close the car door bent down and looked at the Major. His heart took a leap.

"Get in and close the door!" The Major snapped.

Dorian did as he was told, without any questions or objections. He owed that much to the Major.

"What we did - last night -"

//Here we go.// Dorian thought. //Wouldn't I know it. I was a fool hoping it would be different -//

The Major cleared his throat.

"It was good." he continued. "I - I want you to do with me what I did last night. This evening."

For a moment, Dorian closed his eyes. The rush of joy and excitement was almost too much. But he had to make sure whether he had heard correctly. Had the Major, the uptight, reserved Major Eberbach, actually said this, or was he having a hallucination?

"So you - really want to - be with me again?" he finally managed.

The Major frowned. It was an adorable, irresistible frown.

"You never listen, do you? - Now prick up your ears: I will be here this evening at twenty-one hundred hours sharp. And I will be waiting for five minutes exactly. Repeat."

Dorian tried to get himself under control again. It had been deliciously cruel of the Major to say such a thing just before leaving him at his hotel, he thought, a bit unnerved. But most probably the Major was as unnerved as he was ...

"Twenty-one hundred hours sharp." He repeated, saluting.

The Major ignored the mock salute.

"Get out now!" he barked.

"Ooops!" Dorian jumped out of the car and closed the door.

He watched the black Benz turn and drive off, then entered the hotel lobby. Time to face the music. James was not stupid and would put two and two together. And he had to admit that his accountant was not completely wrong with his misgivings. His Major was more dangerous than any Mafioso or any of the people he normally dealt with. But this made the whole thing so interesting.

*****

Klaus drove back to Bonn, deeply engrossed in his thoughts. Jupp, Wilfried, Marco, Ulysses, Icky, Fatma, Ulla - did he really have something in common with them? They were all so different. It dawned on him that if he actually was gay, he had something in common with Agent G - and probably the Chief - as well. Hmpf.

What really made him uneasy was his obvious attraction for such men as Ulysses or the merry sailors. He had always thought Dorian found him attractive because he was just insane. Hmpf.

So either some more people must be insane - or he was actually attractive for some men.

Hmpf. If it was insanity, then it also applied to him, because he had actually enjoyed being with Dorian. It had felt so good. To think of it now -

Hmmmm - Thinking of what he had planned for the next night unnerved him slightly. But he found that he also was looking forward to meeting Dorian again.

It also would be very interesting to learn whether someone he knew had seen him with Eroica on the wagon. He smiled grimly at the thought. Things were a bit different now, and some people would be in for a surprise -

He actually was insane. But maybe this kind of insanity was alright sometimes -

*****

When Klaus arrived at his office, all business as usual, the duty roster for the beginning week was at the wall behind his seat, and he found a list with the Alphabets who had called in sick on his desk. So it could be done. Why did he always have to shout at the Alphabets in the first place?

The Chief had called in a strategy meeting for security at the next Christopher Street Day festivities. During the meeting, the Chief could not help to note that his dreaded, difficult subordinate seemed less aggressive and more relaxed today.

Maybe the events of Sunday had proved to be educational for Eberbach. And perhaps it had to do with the fact that Eberbach had dismantled the twin-detonator bomb together with Eroica, but - for once- the Chief wisely kept his opinion to himself.

The End

 

 

Eroica