Dorian grinned, easing open the door to the study with barely restrained delight. He'd been waiting so long for this moment...
He'd begun the operation numerous times now over the years, or at least the surveillance stage. Sometimes it had progressed further, due to circumstances such as the Major having been away on business. Sometimes it got no further than noting a new security device on the path they'd chosen as the simplest way in after past observation, and the operation had been abandoned until they'd come up with another way. And then sometimes, given the nature of his love/hate relationship with the Major, it just hadn't felt right. To someone like Dorian, something of this magnitude just could not be done if it didn't feel right.
But one thing was certain. He'd vowed long ago that The Man in Purple would be his - and therefore it would be.
This time, the Major had just left for some kind of work-related conference in the Middle East, and immediately after having stood in the way of Eroica's designs towards a particular Italian painting. Dorian was ready for revenge, the Major was out of town... and security was, for some reason, not as tight at Schloss Eberbach as normal. From the looks of an extra car that had been seen in the drive a few days before, the Major had a houseguest - and one he trusted to watch over the place in his absence. Dorian had to admit that he was curious to know who it might be; as far as he knew, the Major did not have friends. And he was trying not to think about the possibility of it being a woman... If it was, his theft would be all the more justified.
He would come back and take a look, perhaps, once the painting was safely to his operatives waiting outside. Or he might stumble across them while he was carrying out his plan. For that reason, he was not dressed as Eroica, but simply as the Earl of Gloria, come to pay a visit to the Eberbach collection. It was likely that any houseguest Klaus would actually permit would be just as pedestrian as their host, and not notice that one piece had gone missing.
But for now, there it was - that lovely, unknown masterpiece. Dorian paused just inside to admire it. Even the Major himself didn't seem to know who the artist was, and yet it outshone all the works of the well-known masters that surrounded it. But then, Dorian mused to himself, wasn't that how love went? It didn't matter where the object of desire came from, and one didn't have to understand precisely what made it so appealing, and perhaps no one else would find it so... but when one loves something, one simply must have it. And that was all there was to say upon the matter. It was not unlike his passion for the Major himself.
And love, he was also aware, could be very distracting. In the case of The Man in Purple, apparently so distracting that he didn't notice someone else in the study until a sharp voice spoke up in German.
"And you would be...?"
Dorian blinked, and looked over to the man standing off to the side, where he appeared to have been regarding another painting. An older man with dark hair well on its way to grey, though still very handsome and refined. Something about him looked vaguely familiar, but he didn't think this was one of the Major's servants that he might have seen before. He looked far too strict, too proud. Not one of the Major's co-workers then, either - they all tended to look cowed. This man... was looking him over critically. Almost disdainfully, not that that sort of look was uncommon anytime he visited the Schloss.
"Simply a patron of the arts," Dorian replied in neutral, unaccented German. This had to be the Major's houseguest - and if the man didn't know who he was, he would play ignorant himself for a time. "The Eberbach collection is exquisite, is it not?"
"Hmph." A slight smile crossed the man's face, though it made him look no less hard. It reminded Dorian of the rare occasions that he'd seen the Major smile...
...He reminded Dorian of the Major. Was that it, then?
Dorian's suspicions were confirmed with the man's next words. "Thank you - I've done my best to ensure the preservation of these works. Not that my son understands... It's good to know that someone can appreciate their worth."
"Ah - so you must be Major Eberbach's father," Dorian said, doing his best to sound pleased. In reality, he was rather unnerved, remembering that the Major had said that his father was also in the military, a tank commander... The Major was bad enough - so what sort of father had turned out a son like that?
"Yes. And you're a... friend of Klaus?"
Thank goodness Dorian hadn't worn anything particularly flashy. The senior Eberbach looked him over from head to toe in a way that made Dorian feel naked - and not in the good way! - and seemed to particularly disapprove of the hair. Were all Eberbachs so uptight?
If so, it occurred to Dorian that he could have a tremendous revenge on the Major, depending on how he answered that question, and he stifled a giggle, considering it. Not just a friend, Mr. Eberbach, sir - Klaus has been my beloved partner now for several years! He wondered how the old man would take it.
But no - he'd come to get The Man in Purple. That was his revenge, and angering his unexpected host would not be helpful in that endeavor.
"Not a friend, precisely," Dorian replied. "Acquaintance - business associate, perhaps you might say? We've worked together a few times."
"You're military?" The older man seemed even more dubious.
"Freelance specialist," Dorian clarified. "NATO occasionally has contracted me, but I'm definitely not official."
"I didn't think so." He sounded a little relieved, if the stern expression on his face did not change. And then, to Dorian's surprise, he took a step closer and held out his hand. "Heinz Albrecht von dem Eberbach."
Dorian tried to keep his surprise to himself. "Erich Rosenthal," he stated with an effortless smile, accepting the man's hand and rattling off the name of an alias he had used once or twice before when in Germany. "It's a pleasure, sir."
The older man seemed momentarily wary again - something was not quite right. "You are German, then?"
"My mother was British," Dorian said casually. "She left my father when I was young." He had no qualms about lying when necessary, obviously - but why make things more complicated when lying when one didn't have to?
"Aha. I thought I heard the traces of an accent."
...Mr. Eberbach was good, Dorian thought to himself. Definitely talent was in Klaus' genes. He'd been able to pass as Klaus himself to any number of people, including the Major's own men - but this man could still hear the hint of an accent? A German among Germans, undoubtedly. Dorian would have to be careful, whatever he decided to do. And he certainly had a few ideas.
"So then, Erich - you enjoy renaissance artwork?"
"Indeed I do, sir. I apologize for my intrusion," Dorian said, bowing his head slightly in respect, "but I have come here many times to admire your estate's collection, and was unaware that anyone was home to be disturbed by my arrival."
"I'm not disturbed by those who can appreciate what they're looking at," the older man said, turning back to the painting he'd been viewing before. "I'd begun to think that paintings such as these were lost on the younger generation. Klaus, for instance, has never been able to see their true worth. He's far too pragmatic, and sees only the subject of the paintings rather than the truths and allegories behind them."
Dorian's eyes widened in spite of himself. He had not been expecting to find an understanding soul in the house of Eberbach! "Yes, sir! Once your son and I were privileged to view a perfectly lovely Rubens - and all he could say was that the subject was old and fat, well past her prime."
The elder Eberbach sank his head into his hand in embarrassment. "That sounds like something Klaus would say. He tried admirably to keep his obliviousness from coming to my attention, but now and then it would show through. He would ask such inane questions as 'why would anyone pay so much money for a picture of fruit?' or 'shouldn't angels be wearing more clothing than that?'"
Reminded of one of the Major's more baffling moments, Dorian chuckled. "I don't suppose he's ever told you what he thinks of Michelangelo's work in the Sistine Chapel...?"
"I suspect I would not want to know. I did all I could when he was a boy, but he is devoid of any artistic sensibility."
"That's not entirely true, sir," Dorian pointed out. "He does find certain things aesthetically pleasing, even if not the same things that most of the world would call beautiful. He finds the color of polished steel beautiful, for instance. And after an impassioned explanation, I must agree that a well-maintained Leopard tank is a glorious sight."
That seemed to be the right thing for Dorian to say - Mr. Eberbach's eyes widened slightly in surprise. "He argued the virtues of a tank to you, did he?"
"Our sensibilities differed greatly when we first met," Dorian admitted. "They largely still do - although now I believe I understand why a tank is as valuable to him as a painting. Myself, I would rather have the painting, but at least I understand where he's coming from."
"I see..." Mr. Eberbach looked thoughtful. Perhaps the Major had never shown his father a more personal side, Dorian wondered? Everyone knew of the Major's love for tanks, but perhaps Dorian was the only one who knew more of that love than merely the common opinion that Klaus was sadistic and liked to destroy things.
"As well, I believe he considers tanks to be a part of his heritage, just like these paintings," Dorian continued. "He told me once, when the two of us were trapped together, that you were a tank commander, and he sang the Panzerlied to pass the time. It was at that time that I began to realize that he didn't completely lack a soul - you do realize your son has a reputation for being heartless, don't you?"
"Yes, I'm aware he has quite a reputation as Iron Klaus," the man mused, sounding somewhat distracted. "So he remembers the songs I sang to him as a child..."
"You see, sir? Even if he doesn't understand things like paintings, he has his own ways of honoring his heritage. His respect for his father in particular becomes obvious when you begin to understand the way his mind works."
The senior Eberbach was silent for a moment. "Erich," he said at last. "I'm afraid Klaus won't be home until late tomorrow. Would you care to have a drink with me?"
Dorian's heart leapt with joy. "It would be an honor, sir. Though I suggest we leave the Moselle for your son - besides enjoying the taste, he has also expressed a fondness for the shade of green they use for their bottles. Another rare moment of aesthetics from him."
Another slight look of surprise crossed the older man's face, and he nodded. "Sit down, if you wish - I'll be back in a moment."
"Thank you very much, sir."
Dorian took him up on it, seating himself with satisfaction in one of the chairs against the wall. He'd come here only to liberate a painting, and he'd rather have had a drink with the Major himself, but now that it appeared he might have an ally within the household, he had a feeling that it could lead to something very convenient. In fact...
His eyes wandered up to the portrait hanging on the wall. Yes, a plan was beginning to formulate in his mind. One that involved no risk at all, unless the Major returned early. Even then, he thought gleefully, if he and Mr. Eberbach had been bonding over drinks the entire time, surely Klaus wouldn't be able to get rid of him until his father was ready to say farewell.
Besides, the elder Eberbach wasn't unappealing. If Klaus aged to look like him, Dorian would have no objection at all.
Mr. Eberbach returned a few minutes later, carrying a small tray with a bottle and two glasses. "You said you were just an acquaintance of my son," he said, filling the first glass, "but you seem to know more of him than most."
"Fate seems to have thrown us into some very strange situations together," Dorian explained, accepting the glass as it was handed to him. "I'm sure that if you were to ask him, he would say I know nothing of him at all - and certainly he doesn't come out and talk about himself. I'm simply very observant."
The older man nodded, filling his own glass. "He has never been one to talk about himself. Even as a boy, he asserted himself by doing things, rather than saying things. And while one can hardly expect a man to speak openly to his father, a father can't help but wonder, can he?"
Dorian was puzzled by this - he'd always been able to tell his father anything. If that was how Klaus felt too, and he'd grown up without a mother as well... Or maybe the German way really was just that different from the English way. "I understand, sir," he lied. "And Klaus of all people is a strong, stoic example of a good German man." Much to his annoyance...
"That I'm aware of, and very proud," the older man said with a nod, and with a pause for a long drink. "Though he could be a bit more attentive to his family duties. To be this old and still unmarried..."
This was a line of conversation that Dorian most definitely did not want to follow, but it did give him an excuse to change the subject back to something he wanted to know. "Speaking of families and heritage," he began, "I've always been curious. The Man in Purple, there - is he related to your family? The resemblance is uncanny."
"You are indeed very observant," Mr. Eberbach confirmed. "That man is Tyrian Persimmon, an ancestor from the 1500s."
"I'd always suspected," Dorian mused, "but Klaus never would say so. Even though I couldn't readily identify it as the work of any artist I'm familiar with, it's always fascinated me."
"You know a great deal about art, then?"
"You might say so," Dorian replied, lowering his eyes modestly. "I have a sizeable collection myself. Which reminds me - I'm not sure if Klaus has told you," he added, as if an afterthought. From what the man had said so far about the communication between himself and his son, Dorian was fairly sure that he hadn't. "I'm not the only one who was struck by the dignity of The Man in Purple. There is a particularly devious art thief who's been making attempts to have it for his own for several years now."
"An art thief?" Mr. Eberbach's eyes narrowed. Again, the resemblance to the Major was obvious. "As you said, the artist was not a well-known one. I don't know what a thief would hope to get out of such a painting."
"It may be that he doesn't hope to get anything out of it but the painting itself," Dorian suggested, sipping at his drink. "Perhaps he only thinks it striking - and I couldn't disagree."
"Nor could I," Mr. Eberbach agreed, looking thoughtful. "Hmm... an art thief. No, Klaus hadn't told me."
"Likely he didn't want to worry you. I assure you, despite his lack of interest in paintings, he does understand that the Eberbach collection is a part of his cultural heritage, and he has said that he will protect it." Dorian sighed faintly, and glanced up at the painting. "I worry, though - one reason I came here today was because another attempt was made on my own gallery two nights ago, and I wondered if he'd taken my advice to tighten security. The fact that I was able to walk right into the room and see it still hanging in its usual location indicates that he hasn't taken it as seriously as he should."
"Two nights ago, you said? He has been out of the country since then," Mr. Eberbach noted. "If you left a message, he probably did not receive it."
"That must be the case," Dorian agreed. "At any rate, in the case of my own paintings, I temporarily removed them to a more secure location. Is there such a place on your grounds, where this masterpiece could find safety? I'd be glad to assist."
"Yes, as a matter of fact..." Mr. Eberbach paused for a moment, drained his glass, and regarded Dorian with a somewhat sly smile. "But then, how do I know that you are who you claim to be, Erich? You could be an art thief yourself."
Dorian had been expecting this to come at some point, so he simply finished off his own glass and smiled back. "Ah - but you readily admit that I seem to know Klaus better than you do yourself. And I've never met his father. Perhaps it is you who is the art thief."
The two of them looked at each other, wary. Then they both began to laugh.
"More wine?" Mr. Eberbach offered, still chuckling.
"Please," Dorian agreed, holding out his glass.
* * * * *
The following night, Klaus returned home in the evening, suffering from jet lag made worse by the poor weather that had delayed his flight. Even so, rather than going straight to bed after greeting his father (thank goodness that the pointless trip had taken up the majority of his father's week-long visit, and he'd be leaving again soon. And why was he being so bloody pleasant all of a sudden?), he made his usual rounds, as always when he'd been away from home for a few days. Good - no servants had been slacking on the cleaning, linens were fresh, trash had been disposed of... personal belongings were as he had left them, and...
One glance into the study made him do a double-take. "What the hell?!" he bellowed.
"What is it?" came an answering call from down the hall, where his father had evidently heard his outburst.
"What the... What happened here?" Klaus tried to make it a question, rather than a demand, as his father approached. A sinking feeling in his chest told him he knew exactly who was responsible. And his father would not be pleased...
"Oh, that. No need to shout, Klaus," his father told him sternly. "An associate of yours - Erich was his name - stopped by last night, and warned me that an art thief who had been trying to acquire a certain painting in the collection had made an attempt on his own artwork a few nights previous. We took the liberty of moving them to the vault in the tower for the time being. Why hadn't you told me you were being harassed by thieves?"
Klaus swallowed, hard. ...Oh, right. His father wasn't talking about that kind of harassment. "I can take care of that one myself," he grumbled.
"Not while you're away from home, obviously."
"...I see. Thank you." Klaus tried not to look too sulky. And something seemed strange. What 'associate' of his had a collection comparable to the Eberbachs? He knew more than one Erich... wasn't that M's real name? Or maybe that was N... Either way, neither of them had artwork. One of his piggish bosses, perhaps... But he didn't remember the name Erich in connection with any of them. Erich, Erich... Er...
"Erich what?" Klaus said suddenly. "What was his last name?"
"Rosenthal. He seemed to be a very proper young man - aside from that disgraceful mop of hair. Even more ridiculous than yours."
Rosenthal. Klaus barely stifled a particularly nasty curse as he whirled about, stalking his way to the tower as quickly as he could manage without running.
The vault was not empty when he arrived, but that was no relief. There was that painting of fruit, the vase of flowers, the fat lady, the stupid naked angels...
He counted. Everything was there, except for the large portrait that would have fit perfectly into the empty space against the wall. What was there instead was a much smaller envelope which Klaus could recognize even at a distance. He opened it, his fingers already shaking with rage.
Your father and I had a lovely talk over some drinks. I was surprised - for a man his age, he holds his liquor remarkably well. But then, he's your father, so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised.
At any rate, he was generous, hospitable, and showed excellent taste, so I won't anger him by taking all the paintings - just the one that will most anger you personally.
By the way, I think he'd like it if you talked to him more often.
-From Eroica, with love
About to bellow another string of profanities, Klaus was silenced by his father's voice calling from the doorway behind him. "Everything is as it should be, isn't it, Klaus?"
Klaus ground his teeth. The old man had let Eroica move the paintings for him? He had been hospitable? They had talked over drinks?!
Klaus took several deep breaths. "Everything's fine, father." He couldn't very well shout at his father and call him an idiot for being taken in by a thief. Even if it was true. And he couldn't go charging off to England to get the painting back in the middle of the night, while his father was visiting. As soon as he was gone, though...
"Good. Now stop being paranoid and go get some rest, so you won't be useless tomorrow."
The question was, Klaus thought as he pasted on a fake smile and locked the door behind him on the way out... If he couldn't get it back, how was he ever going to save his father's pride by keeping this covered up?
Author's Chapter Notes:
For the Papa Eberbach challenge, as if it weren't obvious.
As everyone seems to have decided that Papa's name is Heinz, yep - I'm going with that part too.