HOUSE OF CARDS
An expression for a structure or argument built on a shaky foundation,
or one that will collapse totally if any one element is removed.
Not In The Cards
Something not likely or certain to happen.
There are certain Laws of Nature that remain immutable.
The sun rises in the East and sets in the West. Gravity is a one-way proposition. Death and Taxes are inevitable.
Dorian Red Gloria, the Earl of Gloria, will continue to be the most frivolous, ridiculous, foppish homosexual the world has ever known until the day he dies.
And Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach of NATO intelligence will continue to be a bad-tempered, duty-driven, repressed homophobe until the day that he dies.
These are the Laws of Nature.
Who knew that even these laws could be broken?
Late June 2002
Dorian did not even turn over in bed when a hand touched him on the shoulder. It can't be morning already? "What is it, Bonham?" he muttered sleepily into his pillow.
Dorian nearly jumped out of his skin at the unexpected and familiar voice of Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach. He rolled over, switched on the light, and blinked up at the officer in astonishment. What the hell? "Major? What on Earth...? Do you need me so suddenly that you have to break into my house?" He struggled to sit up, his mind in confusion, which was not helped by the next thing the Major said.
"That's one way of putting it." Klaus had to force the next few words from his mouth. "You win."
Dorian's mind went from confusion to totally blank. Win? Win what? Oh shit, he can't mean what I think he means! "Major...what...are you telling me...exactly?"
"Exactly what you think I'm telling you. I've finished running. I'm here to..." Klaus drew a deep breath. "To...do it. Here. Now." Before I change my mind again.
"Major, if this is a joke, it's not very funny."
"Do I look like I'm joking?"
Dorian had to admit that he did not. "May I ask why the sudden change of heart after all this time?"
"My father died last month..."
"I know, I sent--" Dorian broke off, catching his breath as realization dawned. "You've been fighting me all these years because your father wouldn't approve?"
Clearly uncomfortable, the Major shifted on his feet. "That's--" He waved a hand in the air. "What difference does it make why I'm here? I'm here. You've won." He reached up, loosening his tie.
Dorian practically sprang to his knees, reaching out a hand to stop him. "No, Major, not yet..."
Klaus was clearly taken aback, not believing what he was hearing. After he finally came to this decision, it had taken nearly a week for him to get up the courage to do this. Now he was being put off? "What?"
Dorian threw a furtive glance towards his bedroom door. "We don't want anyone walking in on us, do we?" he said seductively.
"Lock the fucking door," Klaus growled.
Dorian gave a small laugh. "In a house full of thieves? Really, Major, that will slow them down a total of three seconds."
Klaus drew a deep breath. He'd been so distracted that he hadn't thought of that, dammit.
Dorian reached up, adjusting the Major's tie. "Tomorrow night. I'll be able to have everything arranged perfectly then. No one to disturb us." He gave a small smile. "Dinner beforehand, perhaps?"
The Major nodded. Leave it to the Earl to plan a romantic evening at the drop of a hat. "Fine. I'm in town the next few days."
Klaus looked the other man in the eye, drew a deep breath, and kissed him as gently and as tenderly as he knew how. The response was not what he expected. But then, clearly he had taken Lord Gloria--no, Dorian, he had taken Dorian completely off guard. Finally, I turn the tables on you. He straightened and gave a small smile. "I'll call." With that, he turned and left.
* * *
When Klaus arrived at NATO's London office first thing in the morning, he quickly discovered that all hell had broken loose and, apparently, Eroica was at the heart of it. There had been a ridiculously reckless break-in in the office of NATO's Supreme Allied Commander: Europe. A break-in in which some very sensitive materials were removed--with a calling card left in its place.
When the Major learned that the Earl was already in a holding room, he stormed in, beside himself with rage. "What the fuck were you thinking?" he snarled, slamming the door behind him. "You don't have blanket immunity, you idiot thief!"
"I know that, Major," came the calm reply.
"When did you pull this off? Huh? Before I arrived last night or after I left?"
"Before you arrived. I'd only just got back, in fact." Dorian threw his hair over his shoulder, the picture of nonchalance. "It was the second time I'd been there, you see..."
"What?" The Major found himself at a loss for words. Before he could get his thoughts in order, the door opened and several men he had never seen before entered. A moment later, and to his further dismay, he found himself being locked in another interview room.
* * *
With nothing else to do, the Major sat in the room, glowered at the two-way mirror, and chain smoked. He could just imagine the tale Eroica was spinning for the men in the next room. He prayed the idiot had the decency not to mention his visit in the middle of the night. That would just be the icing on the cake.
When the door finally opened, Eroica entered flanked by two men the Major would soon learn were CIA. "Waiting impatiently as ever, Major?" Eroica said as he took a seat. He held out a hand, introducing Agents Clancy and Ludlum.
"Whatever this bloody thief has been telling you is probably a lie. He was not acting under any orders from NATO, either here or in Bonn."
"We know that, Major," Agent Clancy replied. "Agent Marshall was acting for the CIA."
The frown on the Major's face deepened. "Who the fuck is Agent Marshall?"
"I am," Eroica replied. "Now that the operation is finally over, I can tell you who I really am."
Klaus blinked, leaning back in his chair. The Earl's tone was completely different, and his accent was...off. It wasn't quite American, nor was it English any longer. His expression was completely businesslike. For the first time in his memory, the intense gaze from those clear blue eyes made the Major uneasy, and not because of any underlying sexual innuendo. Something was very, very wrong here.
"First of all, I'm not English," Eroica began. "Nor am I a thief. Well, I am now, but I wasn't before. I've been working undercover for the CIA since before we met."
Klaus felt all the blood drain from his face. "All these years?" he asked in a remarkably quiet voice. He felt as though the world had ended and no one had bothered to tell him.
"My job was to infiltrate the underworld to track down an information leak. After establishing myself as Eroica, I was to move into the intelligence community. You can imagine how ecstatic my superiors were when you turned up so soon after I made contact in Germany. Iron Klaus, the best intelligence officer in NATO. When things turned out to be bigger than expected, my mission was altered and everything was...shall we say, orchestrated after that."
By this time, Klaus had to concentrate just to remember to breathe. "You were ordered to try and seduce me? Is that what you're saying?"
"Not quite," Eroica replied. "I was ordered to get close to you. Then your Chief hired me for that job in Rome and I was in like Flynn." He gave the Major a sideways glance. "My talents were sought by all sorts of unsavory individuals in the intelligence community, thanks to your idiot Chief. A lot of people got rich selling the information you were--"
Klaus slammed a fist on the table. "You bugger, if you're gonna accuse me of--"
"No, Major." Eroica held up a hand. "You're no traitor. That's one thing about you I'm sure won't change overnight."
The Major felt his face grow very hot at this remark. He did not reply, his eyes narrowing.
"My job was to infiltrate the intelligence network using the Eroica persona. Who would suspect a foppish fag of being CIA?" Eroica said mildly. "Last night's theft was the final piece to a puzzle I've been putting together for some time. As it turns out, an advisor to your Chairman of the Military Committee is the top man in this...house of cards."
This revelation was almost as shocking as Eroica being CIA. No wonder Interpol never arrested him. "What? You can prove this?"
"I can now. The information is on its way to the proper authorities. And the, er...gentleman in question should have been placed under arrest when he arrived at his office this morning. And everyone on the list of contacts is in the process of being rounded up."
Klaus put a hand to his head. It was almost too much for him to take in. His eyes flashed up to the Agents flanking the Earl...no, CIA agent...no...oh, hell.
Eroica glanced over his shoulder. "If we could have a moment alone, gentlemen?"
"Yes, sir." The agents withdrew.
The Major waited until the door was closed before he spoke again. "Who are you, exactly?"
"Exactly, Major, I'm an American from New York named John Robert Marshall. The Earl of Gloria and Eroica are--were my cover."
Klaus found the familiar voice with the mixture of accents disconcerting. "Do you honestly expect me to believe that you've been taunting me all these years as a cover?"
"Deep undercover, Major. The whole persona of the over-the-top, gay art thief was part of the act." Eroica tossed his hair back and shook his head, going on to play with one of his curls in a way the Major had seen a thousand times before. He smiled and fluttered his eyelashes.
"Stop that, damn you," the Major snarled, feeling his heart turn over at the same time. "Was there ever a real Earl of Gloria?" He saw an odd look pass behind the other man's eyes, but could no longer interpret what it meant. "Tell me, did you laugh your ass off after I left last night?"
"No, Major. I was too shocked."
"You were too shocked! How the fuck do you think I feel? All these years, and now I learn it was all a lie? Something orchestrated to...to..."
"You weren't supposed to turn out to be gay!" Eroica blurted out.
The Major could not have looked more hurt if he had been physically struck. "You and your fucking CIA superiors. You've ruined my life!"
"What life, Major? Aside from NATO, you have no life," Eroica said harshly.
"Bastard," the Major snapped. "Who are you to judge me? You show up out of nowhere and turn my life into a living hell for decades, and now--"
"I'm not the one who suddenly turned queer."
Klaus jumped to his feet, his hands balled into fists. "I should've known you were a Yank with those too straight teeth."
"I feel I should be offended, if just on principle alone."
"How about I knock a few out for you?"
Eroica crossed his arms. "Fine. Just so long as you don't try kissing me again."
This was like a bucket of cold water. Klaus took a step back, his mind reeling. "Do you have any idea how hard it was to resist you all this time? Do you even care? All those years of innuendo and outright declarations of love--a lie!" He ran his fingers through his hair, a pained look coming to his face.
"With a black eye or two in return," Eroica spat.
"I didn't hit you more than three times," the Major shot back. "And only when you got me so--" He broke off and closed his eyes, taking a moment to get hold of himself. "I thought I'd figured out what you were talking about with all those flowery declarations of love." His voice hardened as he went on, "Now you tell me it was all part of a script orchestrated by some fucking American in some Goddamn CIA plan."
Eroica got to his feet. "I didn't choose you as a target, Major."
"Is that supposed to make me feel better?"
Eroica tried to ignore the biting retort. "You were chosen because you were the last person in the world who could possibly turn out to be--your words, Major--a fucking faggot."
Klaus felt his anger rising again. "Get out of my sight before I beat the shit out of you."
Eroica drew a deep breath. "This will probably mean nothing to you now," he began slowly, waiting for the other man to look up, "but...I've had nothing but respect and admiration for you as an intelligence officer all this time. You really are the best NATO has. They're just too bleedin' stupid to realize it."
"You're right," Klaus said coldly. "It means nothing now." He turned away, closing his eyes when the other man said, "It was never my intention to hurt you, Major. I'm...truly sorry."
Klaus did not turn, hearing the door close behind him. He slid into the chair again, putting his head in his hands.
For Iron Klaus, the finest officer in NATO intelligence, the world had just ended.
* * *