The mission, while having very tight time constraint, was relatively straight forward. Attend a society party at a rented mansion where a transfer of sensitive documents was set to take place. Eroica was to steal the documents before couriers arrived for a pre-arranged exchange. So far, the only thing to go right was the Director being able to persuade Eroica to participate.
Klaus didn't think things could get any worse, only to realize he did not know what "any worse" was until he and his men arrived at the mansion. The party was a huge social affair and was overflowing with aristocrats, dignitaries, and spies. The officer was certain everyone in the intelligence network would recognize him. He soon learned that the Earl had managed his metamorphosis so skillfully that no one batted an eye when he was introduced as a cousin of Iron Klaus, Ms Klaudia Persimmon, who, regretfully, was suffering from laryngitis and could not speak above a whisper without sounding like a bullfrog.
The Earl of Gloria was in top form as Ms Persimmon's escort, introducing "her" to various influential individuals, most of whom Klaus knew already. When the host of the party finally appeared, Klaus felt the Earl's grip on his arm tighten warningly.
"That's him," Dorian said softly, both to the Major and the listening Alphabets who were stationed somewhere on the grounds. "The one in gold beside the main staircase trying to impersonate King Louis XIV."
The edge to the Earl's voice set off an alarm in the Major's head. He followed Dorian's gaze, seeing he was not exaggerating. The only thing the man in gold was missing was the powdered wig.
"The Right Honorable Walter Francis Fitzroy," Dorian went on, keeping his voice low. Then he gave a small snort. "You think I'm a pretentious wanker, Major. Our host will tell you that he's named after Sir Walter Raleigh and Francis Bacon, and that his surname means he's descended from the illegitimate son of a king." He turned to see the Major's inquiring gaze fixed on him. "The truth is; he bought a village with a population of about a hundred to acquire his title, his given name is Cadwallader Franklin, but...the last bit's true." Dorian turned back to see their host had spotted them and was making his way across the crowded room. "He's a real bastard."
This was enough to cause the Major to give a small croak of amusement. It wasn't often that the Earl showed such disdain for anyone, much less someone as good looking as their host. He could not help but wonder if there were more to it. Some history between the two that he was unaware of. This thought had no sooner crossed Klaus's mind than he felt a wave of jealously wash over him. He shot Dorian a quick sideways glance, seeing he was preparing himself for the impending introductions. They had ended it. Why should he feel jealous?
The Major's reflections were quickly put out of mind as their host--and target for the mission--arrived to greet them. Despite his attempts to appear as well-bred as the Earl of Gloria, whose grace was natural and effortless, Fitzroy struck the Major as being a second rate actor playing the part of nobility--and failing miserably. Every phrase and gesture seemed forced, and Klaus found himself mentally agreeing with the Earl's assessment of Fitzroy being a pretentious wanker.
Fitzroy smiled congenially as the introductions were made. "Oh, such bad luck," he oiled to the "ailing" Ms. Persimmon. "Now you have to listen to everyone's bland small talk and won't be able to excuse yourself politely."
An elbow nudge in his side reminded the disguised Major to lower his eyes at this remark. He gritted his teeth as a kiss was planted on the back of his hand. He was going to have to wash in disinfectant after this.
"You'll pardon my impudence, Gloria, old boy," Fitzroy went on, turning to the Earl, "but I hardly expected you, of all people, to be turning up with a woman on your arm. I heard you were involved with some very butch military type. Not your sort at all, is it? Don't you go for the pretty, fluffy things?"
Dorian did not even bat an eye. "Actually, Wally, I'm currently unattached." He pretended not to notice the annoyed scowl his use of other man's nickname induced. "My former paramour is not just a military type, he's Ms Persimmon's cousin as well. She's just recently separated and found herself alone in Paris. I thought this evening's festivities would amuse her and asked her to accompany me. There are always so many handsome and unattached young men, so naturally..." He let his voice trail off as his toes were abruptly crushed under the heel of Klaus's shoe.
Fitzroy brightened, turning back to "Klaudia," who looked up and smiled, putting an arm around the Earl's waist so he could not escape the continued pressure on his foot.
"Ahh, and then you came down with... Oh, you poor thing," the host went on. "We must go out of our way to cheer you."
How about letting me use you for target practice, you pretentious git? Klaus thought.
"This is so like you, Wally," Dorian was saying cattily. "You come all the way to Paris to throw a party, dress like Louis the Sun King, and then insist everyone speak English because you never bothered to learn French."
Fitzroy smiled with effort and then quickly excused himself to greet some other guests.
Klaus mentally gave that round to the Earl. Then he took advantage of the fact that he still had an arm around Dorian's waist, giving him a pull to indicate they make a hasty retreat into the room further on.
This turned out to be a mistake, and the Major went on to add it to his growing list of things that would make this mission any worse than it already was.
# # #
"I think a drink is in order after that," Dorian said as they entered what seemed to be the main room for the evening's festivities. He stepped slightly aside and held out his arm. "Take my arm and try to look submissive," he said in a low voice. He received a murderous look from Klaus in reply. "If we play this right, we'll be in and out before the couriers arrive for your precious information."
The Major could not argue with the logic. He grudgingly took the offered arm, silently thanking whoever decided to place the bar conveniently near the door.
"Yes, sir," the bartender said amiably. "What can I get you and the lady?"
The Earl gave the young man behind the bar a dazzling smile before ordering a drink for himself, and a plain tonic water for the "ailing" Ms Persimmon. After this, they moved away, intending to locate the study where the documents were located. Instead, a voice stopped them short.
"You! Have you no shame, disgracing Britain by coming to a respectable gentleman's party?"
"Damnation, not him," Dorian grumbled as he and Klaus turned as one to find themselves face to face with...
"Charles Lawrence of the SIS," the agent said quite unnecessarily. "And you are--"
"An old friend of the host," Dorian cut in sharply. "Mr. Lawrence, allow me to introduce Ms Klaudia Persimmon." His voice dropped in pitch as he added pointedly, "Major von dem Eberbach's cousin."
Seeing Lawrence's face light up, Klaus decided that just beating the shit out of the Earl after the mission would be too lenient and started considering different forms of torture.
"Is the Major here?" Lawrence asked brightly, quickly searching the room.
"Good Lord, no," Dorian replied with the wave of a hand. "He only endures parties if they're part of a mission. I'm here strictly for pleasure."
"The consummate professional," Lawrence sighed, putting on the expression his audience knew only too well before he began waxing poetic. "We could all learn by his example, separating the gritty world of counter-espionage from the gaiety of high society."
Klaus rolled his eyes and groaned. It came out as a loud croak.
"Dear me! Are you alright?"
Dorian patted the hand that was still on his arm. "I'm afraid Klaudia is suffering from laryngitis. Her lovely voice has been transformed into, well...as you heard."
They were spared any further dreary conversation when one of Lawrence's fellow agents came to retrieve him. "You can play James Bond later," they heard the man saying as he dragged him away. Obviously, the SIS was keeping an eye on Fitzroy as well, and the Major wondered if they were also there for the documents.
"Thank God for small mercies," Dorian sighed, returning Klaus to reality. He turned, looking around the room. "Major, I'm going to make a quick search of the layout outside before we completely lose the light," he said quietly. "You saunter around and see if you can find the study. If anyone stops you, just make a motion like you're looking for the powder room. No one will bat an eye."
The disguised Klaus drew a deep breath, suddenly not wanting to be left on his own while dressed as a woman. He reached up as though to adjust his hair, pointing to the earpiece as he did so.
"Oh, Klaudia, you'll be just fine," Dorian said for the benefit of the small group brushing past them. "Why don't you mingle a bit?" He lowered his voice, adding, "Mr. A, still with us?"
"Loud and clear, Lord Gloria," came the reply in their ears.
# # #