By Margaret Price
The suspense was starting to get on the Major’s nerves. It was killing him, not knowing what to expect next. Not knowing when the ridiculous succession of gifts would end.
It all started in late November, when a small package arrived for Agent A. Everyone assumed it to be from his wife, who occasionally sent items to her husband at the office. This practice embarrassed the Agent, as it gave his commanding officer further ammunition with which to tease him. Normally, when a token of affection arrived for A, the Major would have flowers sent to A’s “beautiful” wife. There were times that A suspected his wife only did this in order to receive the flowers.
This time, however, the gift was not from the beautiful Mrs. A. The card said it all. “From Eroica, with love.” Within the box was an extremely expensive fishing reel.
The Major brushed it off as a joke. That the thief was trying to ingratiate himself to the Agent, since he could not to the man’s commanding officer.
The next day, a box arrived for Agent B with a similarly personalized gift.
The day after that, a box for Agent C.
And so on through the Alphabet.
Klaus had barely arrived at his office before he received a phone call from his butler informing him that a large delivery truck had arrived at the Schloss containing gifts for every member of the household staff. Since the gifts were from Eroica—and the butler had strict orders pertaining to him—he asked if he should turn the delivery away.
Klaus had had difficulty getting the full story from his butler as there was so much noise going on in the background. When he finally demanded the cause of the uproar amongst his usually orderly staff, he was informed that there was a great deal of excitement about the gifts.
Klaus sat back in his chair and closed his eyes, feeling a headache coming on. He silently cursed Eroica in every language he knew. If he allowed the staff to accept the gifts, he would just be encouraging the man to continue lavishing his unwanted attentions. If he refused, he would have to endure the silent resentment of his household staff for who knew how long.
Suddenly the butler broke into the Major’s train of thought. “Sir? Shall I send it away?”
Even over the phone, Klaus could hear the collective intake of breath from his entire household staff as this question was asked. He drew a deep breath, braced himself for what would inevitably follow, and replied, “No. Just see that no one shirks his duty because of this.”
“No, no, sir. No one will touch them until they go off duty.”
Klaus gave a non-communicative snort before hanging up the phone. He looked up to see twenty-six anxious faces watching him. “What the fuck are you lot looking at?” he snarled as he snatched up his cigarettes. “Get your work done and get out of here! It’s Heilig Abend,* for Christ’s sake! Don’t you have any consideration for your families?”
There was a chorus of, “Yes, sir,” and then a flurry of activity. Papers and files flying in all directions, fingers clattering on computer keyboards.
The Major gave his Alphabet another disapproving glare before returning his attention to the reports on his desk. He completely lost track of time after this. The next thing he knew, Agent A was wishing him a Merry Christmas as he left for home. Within a few minutes, the whole Alphabet had followed suit, leaving the Major alone in the large office.
Klaus leaned back in his chair, his eyes fixed in the distance. He lit a cigarette and glanced over at the calendar. Christmas. Tomorrow was bloody Christmas Day. Fuck, what the hell was Eroica planning next? Showing up at the Schloss at midnight dressed as fucking Father Christmas?
Christmas at Schloss Eberbach proved remarkably uneventful. Klaus awoke at his usual time, going down to his usual breakfast. The staff was unusually cheerful, which was no doubt the result of the unexpected gifts lavished by the Earl of Gloria. They also seemed to be taking great pains to stay out of the way of the master of the house.
After returning from Mass, Klaus went to his study to catch up on some reading. Normally all the Christmas decorations in the Schloss would irritate him, but this year, the staff seemed to have made certain to downplay everything, the majority of the decorations being in the servant’s quarters. The most lavish thing was a large Christmas tree in the parlor that was decorated in hand painted glass ornaments and white lights. It was tasteful rather than garish, and he found himself approving of it.
An hour after settling in to his reading, the butler appeared to inform Klaus that his father was on the phone. Oh, yes. The annual Christmas phone call.
“Merry Christmas, Father,” Klaus said as he picked up the phone. He expected the usual disapproving tone and was surprised to find his father in high spirits. Then he learned why.
“I thought it was a mistake at first,” the senior Eberbach was saying. “Then Conrad told me that this…Eroica had sent gifts to the whole staff.”
“Yes, sir. Yesterday,” Klaus confirmed.
“A very generous friend you have, Klaus,” came the approving reply.
Klaus practically bit his tongue off to keep from screaming adamant denials into the receiver. Friend! I’d like to wring the bloody bugger’s neck! Instead, he could only reply, “He’s an eccentric Englishman, sir.”
“He has expertise that NATO utilizes from time to time,” Klaus said evasively before steering the conversation to the status of his father’s memoirs.
For the rest of the day, Klaus waited for the other shoe to drop. Who else was left for the Earl to drop a surprise gift on? He had even sent something to the Chief and his wife, the latter of which received a week-long, all expense paid trip at a beauty spa, making the former ecstatic.
Klaus was stymied. He had assumed the shower of gifts to be a harbinger of things to come. A room full of roses, perhaps. No, that wouldn’t fit the pattern. Everything had been personalized for the recipient not the giver. Did this mean that Klaus had actually received what he always said he wanted? Nothing?
December 27th through 30th
New Year’s Eve
Klaus wondered if this would be when the Earl finally made his appearance. At midnight, naturally. It would be like him to want to start the New Year with a bang.
Klaus waited. Again, nothing.
New Year’s Day
Klaus sat in his study staring into space. The computer on his desk displayed a News website. Across the room the television was on, tuned to a twenty-four hour News channel. He was ignoring them both. Instead, he was waiting. Still waiting. But waiting for what? Why was this making him so crazy? He’d never wanted any of the gifts the idiot tried to give him. Didn’t want his constant attention. Didn’t want him around. Didn’t want him, period.
Perhaps Eroica had finally gotten the message and this was just a way of proving that he had stopped his ridiculous pursuit of the Major. Had stopped his constant harassment.
This was good. Wasn’t it?
Klaus was making his way to his car when he caught sight of the Earl entering a hotel in Bonn. Bastard! How long has he been here? Probably laughing his ass off over all that crap he sent to everyone in creation.
Everyone but him.
It was easy enough for the Major to bully the man at the front desk into giving him the room number for the Earl. It wasn’t until he was standing in front of the man’s hotel room, banging a fist on the door that he realized he had no idea why he was so angry.
“Oh, I’d know that knock anywhere,” came the Earl’s honeyed tones.
The door was opened and the Earl stood grinning on the threshold. “How delightful to see you, Major. Do come in.”
Klaus growled in reply, glared a moment, and then stormed into the suite. He wasn’t surprised to see the room was lavish. He was surprised, however, to see the Earl was alone.
“May I offer you a drink?” Dorian purred as he closed the door.
Dorian did not miss a beat. “Did you have a nice Christmas?”
“What do you think?” Klaus snapped. “Explain yourself.”
Dorian’s eyebrows went up. “You’ll need to be a little more specific, Major,” he said mildly. “What have I done this time?”
“You gave gifts to my men!” Klaus thundered. “And my staff!”
“I wasn’t aware that gift giving at Christmas was a crime.”
“Don’t give me that! I know what you’re trying to do.”
“And what’s that?”
“You’re trying to ingratiate yourself to my men, you bloody thief!”
Dorian’s enormous blue eyes grew wide. “Is that what you think?”
“What else is there?”
“Oh, Major,” Dorian sighed, shaking his head. “I was trying to give you a Christmas gift without incurring your wrath.”
This was like a bucket of cold water, extinguishing the Major’s anger and leaving him staring, his mouth agape. “What? I received no gift.” Klaus was annoyed when he heard the slightly injured tone in his reply.
“Yes, you did. I gave gifts to everyone you know. With only a few exceptions, the only way anyone could accept these gifts would be for you to give the okay, correct?”
“Ye~es,” Klaus replied guardedly.
“Which made them all very happy. So happy, in fact, that they took extra pains not to annoy you.”
The Major blinked. This was indeed true. He hadn’t lost his patience or his temper with the Alphabet or his household staff in weeks. “That was my gift?”
Dorian could not help laughing at the confused look on the officer’s face. “My darling Major, you keep telling me you want nothing from me, so that’s what I gave you,” he said sweetly.
Klaus suddenly felt extremely foolish. His was the best gift of all. He had received absolutely nothing, and yet, had received everything.
A long silence followed. Klaus stood studying the Earl as though seeing him for the first time. “You went to an awful lot of trouble to give me nothing,” he said at last.
Dorian gave him an affectionate look. “If I say what I want to to that, Major, it will ruin the mood,” he said mildly. “I’ll just say you’re welcome and leave it at that.”
“Etiquette requires that I reciprocate,” Klaus said levelly.
This caused Dorian to laugh again. “Since when did you ever adhere to etiquette?”
Dorian cocked his head to one side. “So, what’s an appropriate gift for nothing?”
“Something beyond value.”
“Oh? And you have such an object?”
“You tell me.” So saying, Klaus suddenly crossed the distance between them, took the Earl’s face in his hands, and kissed him very gently on the mouth.
Of all the gifts Dorian ever received, this one was priceless.
— END —
Epiphany: 1. January 6 observed as a church festival in commemoration of the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles or in the Eastern Church in commemoration of the baptism of Christ.
2. an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking.