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Major von dem Eberbach sat in his office with a pained expression on his face, taking a report from Agent L. The man tried hard, he knew - but he’d never perfected the ability to report concisely. Clenching his teeth, the Major resisted the urge to shout “Get to the point, you damned fool!”, and instead listened intently, trying to sort out the relevant information from the dross.

“…And then we received intelligence that the KGB contact is an actor on tour with an English company. They’re opening in Munich next week.”

Agent L, who was a theatre fan, was rather proud of having tracked down the man suspected of being a go-between passing on intelligence from the KGB. He was a little afraid, though, that the Major would find out he’d attended three days’ rehearsals while he was investigating. If he knew that, the Major would surely accuse him of being slack and indecisive. Amongst other accusations. Unmanliness, for one. He knew the Major had a low opinion of people who frequented the theatre.

“H’mph. Actors. Unreliable. No backbone.” The Major frowned at the close-typed sheet of paper Agent L had handed him. Too much irrelevant detail; I must get Agent B to coach L on how to write an efficient summary. “And who does this intelligence come from?”

“From one of the lighting technicians, sir. At the theatre. Travelling with the company. He was up above the stage, on the rigging, hanging lights - and he observed the actor receiving a package from a man in the wings. He said the man was nothing to do with the production but he’d seen him together with the actor more than once, giving him packages. He said the man looked Russian.”

Looked Russian? What, did he have a fur hat on? Was he wearing a Red Army uniform?”

Agent L swallowed hard. He knew he wasn’t expressing himself clearly. The Major always made him nervous, no matter how carefully he’d prepared what he had to say.

“No, sir. I mean, the technician said he’d heard the man speak before and he had a Russian accent.”

Klaus rolled his eyes. “All right, then. Let’s move in on him. What method do you suggest?”

“Well, sir, the first Preview Performance is this evening. The company allows critics and special guests in to preview the show. My strategy would be to attend the Preview, and confront the actor in his dressing room after the final curtain.”

It might be a roundabout way of doing it, but it should work. This actor didn’t sound like a difficult target. “All right, we’ll put that into action. What is the show, by the way, L?”

“It’s called Cats, sir.”

The Major groaned. A fucking musical. Great.
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In a private box in the softly-lit theatre, the Major, Agent A and Agent L sat waiting for the curtain to rise. Agent L was to point out the alleged go-between, and as soon as the performance was finished, they would confront the man in his dressing room and bring him in for interrogation.

Most of the seats in the stalls and the dress circle were full, and the Major thought dark thoughts about the kind of freeloader who goes to the theatre for free and then writes pretentious nonsense in the papers.

There were two private boxes on the side walls. The one they occupied afforded a clear view of the stage, and a good overview of the rest of the audience. The box on the opposite side remained empty.

“What part does this actor play, anyhow?” the Major asked L.

“Pouncival and Carbuckety, sir.”

“Two people? At once?”

“Cats, actually. And they’re never on stage at the same time.”

The Major shook his head. Pouncival? Carbuckety? Fucking ridiculous names. He hated musicals. Seeing grown men and women cavorting around singing songs with vacuous lyrics seemed a monumental waste of time to him.

The lights were already dimming when a small group was ushered into the empty box across from the Major and his agents.

Unpunctual bastards, he thought automatically, barely giving them a glance.

Beside him, Agent A went very still. “Sir,” he hissed, “Take a look at the group in the box opposite.”

Klaus glanced at A, noticed that he’d gone very pale, and raised his opera glasses to look.

Scheiße!

Three men, all flamboyantly dressed and dripping with jewellery. Klaus had seen those three men before, far too many times: Eroica, and two of his Nancy-boy thieves.

Swearing under his breath, the Major lowered his opera glasses.

“Shhhh!” A woman seated at the end of the front row of the dress circle glared at the Major across the intervening space.

The Major glared back.

Alarmed, she turned to the stage, where the curtain was rising.

Leaning across so he could be heard by both his agents, the Major spoke in a quiet whisper. “Fucking Eroica’s here, with two of his damned thieves. If they get tangled up in this business, I swear I’ll shoot somebody. Make sure they don’t see you, because if they recognise you Eroica will come and stick his nose in.”

Generally, Major von dem Eberbach was able to sleep soundly during church services, and often went to church for the express purpose of catching up on some rest. He tried to do the same during the play, but the orchestra and the singers made it much more difficult than the soothing drone of his parish priest’s voice.

At last, a stirring crescendo from the orchestra pit and a resounding chorus on stage announced the final moments of the play, and he roused himself. He leaned across to whisper to his agents.

“I’m going down to the dressing rooms now. You follow me down when the audience starts to leave. Watch those buggers over there in the other box; take note of where they go “ but don’t let them see you!”

The Major checked his concealed holster, and slunk out through the door leading directly from the box to the upstairs foyer. Behind him, thunderous applause broke out and the audience came to its feet as one, clapping and calling “Bravo!” Because he’d already left his seat, he didn’t see Eroica sidling out of the opposite box and closing the door behind him.
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Timothy Jackson-Spence sat in his dressing-room, wiping the heavy make-up from his face. The performance had gone well. His own energy levels had been high, and he’d performed the difficult acrobatic choreography flawlessly. He hoped the reviews would be good, and would mention him by name. This show could be his big break!

Carefully, he peeled off his costume and hung it on the rack, then sat down in front of the mirror in his underpants to clean off the last traces of makeup. He loved the actor’s life but really, the greasepaint and pancake played havoc with his skin.

Behind him, the door opened, and he turned with a radiant smile “ but the man who strode into his dressing room was not the guest he’d been expecting.

Timothy sat open-mouthed, staring at the hard-faced stranger.

“You!” Major von dem Eberbach snapped. “Get some clothes on. You’re coming with me.”

The young actor collected himself. “With you? I don’t think so! As a matter of fact, I’m waiting for a friend, who should be here any minute. So if you don’t mind-!”

Waiting for a friend! Was he expecting his KGB handler?

The Major advanced on the actor and stood towering over him, wearing a chill half-smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Are you in the habit of receiving guests in your underpants?” He reached inside his jacket and drew out his handgun. “I suggest you put some clothes on, because you will be coming with me - but if you like, we can wait for your friend. He might like to come with us.”

Timothy froze, terrified, staring at the gun in the Major’s hand. He hated guns.

Neither of them heard footsteps in the corridor before the door opened once again. “Darling! You were wonderful! You - Oh!”

The Major turned his gun on the newcomer, who stood just inside the doorway, wide blue eyes flickering from Timothy to the gun to the man who held it.

Before anyone could speak, there was a great jostling in the corridor, and the Major’s two agents squeezed in through the doorway, followed by Eroica’s two companions. The dressing room was becoming very crowded.

The Major lowered his gun and snarled, “Agent L! Shut the door. Eroica! Sit down and keep your mouth shut. You two degenerates! Stand over there!”

The more he looked at the collection of men crowded into the dressing room, the more the Major felt certain he and his men had missed their mark. Unless Eroica himself was working for the KGB, this collection of fops would have nothing to offer in the way of a solution to the case. Nevertheless - business was business.

“Agent A!” he barked. “Go and get the car, bring it round to the side door. You’re all coming with us - all of you. And you - ! Unless you want to be interrogated in your underpants, put some damned clothes on!”
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The ride to the safe house was an uncomfortable one. Seven bodies stuffed into a car designed to carry four people made for an awkward crush.

Agent A drove. The Major sat in the front passenger’s seat, ready to quell any trouble. Naturally, Eroica tried to insist that he should sit on the Major’s lap, but he’d ended up shoved into the back seat with Agent L on his knee, an arrangement that displeased them both. Eroica’s two thieves jammed themselves into the opposite corner, one sitting on the other’s lap quite happily. Timothy sat wedged in the middle of the back seat, confused and apprehensive, and everlastingly thankful he was thin.

The car drew to a stop and everyone got out. There was some awkward struggling, and toes were trodden on in the effort to clear the back seat. The Major ordered everyone inside.

While Agent A organised the ‘prisoners’, the Major drew Agent L aside.

“I want you to be sure that we’ve got the right man before we waste any more time. Are you absolutely certain that Jackson-Spence is the man seen receiving packages from this purported Russian?”

“Yes, sir. I’m sure, sir. He’s the man the lighting technician pointed out to me, sir, and I’ve had him under surveillance - ”

“All right!” Anticipating one of L’s long rambles, the Major cut him off. “We’ll question them all together first. I don’t think those two perverted pansies trailing along after Eroica will have much to offer, but Eroica himself might know something. He’s a nosey bastard; who knows what he might have found out?” Or - is it even possible? “ has he become connected with the KGB himself?

The Major strode into the room where everybody was gathered, and cast one of his most intimidating glares around, making sure every individual - including his agents - felt the full ferocity of his gaze.

He fixed his eyes on Timothy Jackson-Spence, who sat shivering in a Cats t-shirt and torn, faded jeans.

“You! You’ve been observed receiving packages from a certain visitor, a Russian. Who is he, and what was he giving you?”

The two thieves swapped smug glances, the same thought in each one’s mind. Presents from an admirer. Some stage-door Johnny trying to get into Tim’s pants. What else could it be?

Timothy’s hands shook. He laced his fingers together and took a deep breath. “Reznikov.”

The Major took two paces toward the actor. “Who’s Reznikov? Does he have any other name?”

Timothy shrugged. “He said some people call him Spotted Seal, and laughed. I suppose it’s some kind of joke, but I didn’t get it.”

The Major and his agents exchanged glances.

“And what did Comrade Spotted Seal want?”

The story began to unfold “ a young and ambitious actor, easy prey for flattery; a man presenting himself as a representative of a Russian underground theatre company; vague promises of leading roles and quick advancement.

The audience was enthralled.

All except the Major, who took another step toward the actor and snarled, “What was in the packages, Pussy-cat?”

“Oh, for goodness’ sake! Stop this charade.” Eroica leapt to his feet. “Major, stop intimidating poor Tim. He’s an actor, not a spy.”

Eroica picked up his fringed suede shoulder-bag, reached into it, and drew out a package wrapped in brown paper, which he held out to the Major.

“This is the package Comrade Spotted Seal gave Tim earlier today. There are two more. I’ve got them in a safe deposit box at my bank.” Eroica thrust the package into the Major’s hands and went over to sit beside Timothy, a protective arm around the young actor’s shoulders.

“When Tim told me about Reznikov, I smelled a rat at once. So we hatched a plan. Tim continued to take Reznikov’s packages but instead of passing them on to the place he was supposed to, he gave them to me.”

“And what were you going to do with them, you interfering idiot?”

The defiant blaze faltered in Eroica’s eyes. “I was going to give them to you, Major. I thought they’d be of use to you.”

The others in the room, thieves and agents alike, were on the edges of their chairs, leaning in, listening avidly. This was great theatre!

The Major hauled Eroica out of his seat by the front of his expensive embroidered silk shirt. “What the hell were you thinking, interfering like this?” He shoved Eroica away from him; the thief staggered, and regained his balance. “Espionage is a dangerous business, Eroica. KGB agents are trained killers. You don’t fuck with people like that. Why the hell would you want to get tangled up in this?”

Eroica lowered his eyes. “Because I love you.”

In the moment’s silence that followed, all eyes were on the Major, whose expression shifted from anger to contempt.

“Not this bullshit again!” He drew back his fist.

“No! Stop!” Before the Major could land a punch on Eroica, Timothy was on his feet between them. “Don’t hit him. It was my idea. Hit me.”

The Major stepped back. The sight of skinny Timothy shielding Eroica should have been comic. It wasn’t.

“Sit down, both of you.”

He picked up the package and carefully tore open the brown paper wrapping. What secret materials was the mysterious Comrade Spotted Seal passing?

“Who were you supposed to give this to?” he asked.

Drawing in a shaky breath, Timothy replied, “I was supposed to leave it on the end seat in the highest row of the dress circle, at eleven o’clock in the morning the day after I got it. He said it’d be collected and I didn’t need to know who by.”

The Major pulled away the last of the brown paper.

It was a box of chocolates.

Everyone in the room leaned forward. Chocolates? Was something hidden in them?

The Major lifted the lid.

A hand-written note rested on top of the glossy sweets. He read:
To my dearest Verushka. I miss you so much. Since you defected, my life is empty “ but you made the right decision. The West is the richer for having a choreographer like you. I will wait for you in Marienplatz this evening when the Town Hall clock strikes six. Please come to meet me if you can get away. If you cannot come tonight, I will keep trying. I must see you, my darling. My heart is your heart forever. Vanya.
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Two more hours spent questioning Eroica and the actor satisfied Klaus that, in fact, the intelligence they’d acted on had been mistaken. There was no plot. There was no secret material being passed. Only a love-lorn and lonely Russian - possibly a KGB agent, but not operating in his professional capacity - longing to make contact with his former wife, now living and working in the West.

In the early hours of the morning, the seven men packed themselves back into the car - Agent L sitting in the middle this time, and Timothy on Eroica’s lap - and Agent A ferried them all back to the hotel where Eroica’s party was staying. Nobody bothered to ask, but it seemed likely Timothy would be happy enough to join them. The Major didn’t want to know the details of Eroica’s relationship with the young actor, but he thought he could guess.

The two thieves took Timothy into the hotel with them, while Eroica lingered on the pavement with the Major.

“Now that I don’t have Tim here to defend me, I hope you’re not going to try to punch me, Major.”

The Major snorted dismissively. “No point. I wish you’d stop telling the world you love me, though, Eroica. It gives me the shits and it’s no help to anybody.”

Eroica smiled. “Perhaps I’ll try.” He didn’t look as though he meant it. “I’m glad Tim wasn’t really in any danger from the KGB. He’s a sweetheart, but he’s not cut out for dealing with assassins.”

“He’s not cut out for dealing with you, either, Eroica. Not if he lets you get him involved in cock-eyed schemes like this. It’s just as well those packages weren’t what you thought they might be. If you’re any sort of friend to him, you should tell him to stick to acting. It’s a useless profession, but it shouldn’t get him into too much trouble.”

“He’s very good, you know, Major. He should have a bright future in the theatre. Sadly, though, so many talented actors spend half their lives out of work.” Eroica’s smile became cunning. “But if that happens after his contract finishes up with this show, I think I can offer him an alternative.”

“What?” The Major looked startled. What perverted nonsense was he about to hear? “How?”

“Well, Major, you watched the play. You saw for yourself how athletic he is: he’s an accomplished acrobat. A very handy skill for burglars. He might have a bright future in other branches of the Arts. Good night, Major.”

And Eroica was gone in a swirl of velvet and silk floating into the hotel’s revolving door.




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