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“Married? You’re getting married?”

Ordinarily, Klaus might have remembered that he was a von dem Eberbach, the present-day master of his family’s ancestral Schloss, an officer and a gentleman” and he might have conducted himself with the dignity those things demanded. The news he’d just received had rendered his ordinary reactions null and void.

“Yes. Married. Do I take it that you object?”

“Object?” Klaus was raising his voice to a level that could be heard through the solid-timber doors, should any of the domestic staff be passing by. “Object? Yes! I object! You’re nearly eighty years old!”

Klaus’s father sat back in his chair, unmoved by his son’s shouting. “You’re correct: I’m seventy-eight years old. Seventy-nine in September. Perhaps you would explain to me why my age alone should preclude me from contracting a marriage?”

Klaus flung himself down into the seat opposite his father’s, breathing hard. “You have been a widower since I was three years old. Forty-two years! I have never once heard you express any wish to remarry. Why the sudden change of heart?”

The old man smiled. A superior smile. He appeared to be enjoying his son’s discomfiture.

“Until recently, my life was satisfactory. Everything was well-ordered, and I lived in comfort. There were disappointments”” and here he looked pointedly at his son” “but on the whole, life was agreeable. Circumstances can change.”

“You loved my mother.” The words sounded like an accusation.

“I did. I loved her very much, and I was heartbroken when she died. For many years I couldn’t bear the thought of seeking the company of another woman, much less marrying again. But she died forty-two years ago, Klaus, and circumstances change.” Heinz von dem Eberbach picked up the glass of whisky from the small table beside his chair and took a sip, savouring the flavour. “This is good whisky, Klaus. An Islay single malt, if I’m not mistaken?”

Klaus ground his teeth. “I will not be distracted, Father. Tell me about this change in your circumstances.”

His father sipped again, and put the glass down on the table. “I have met a woman whose company I enjoy.”

“And who is she?”

Heinz favoured his son with another smile, more superior than the last. “She's a Professor of Physics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Her name is Valentina Mikhailovna Medvedeva.

The air went out of Klaus’s lungs. Mikhailovna Medvedeva? Her father was called Mikhail Medvedev? He swallowed hard. Not Mischa the Bear Cub?







Making his excuses about the pressure of work, Klaus returned to Bonn the next day.

Breakfast was a frosty affair. Klaus breakfasted at the usual hour, and was joined at the table by his father, also an early riser. Their disagreement of the previous evening had not been resolved, so neither was inclined to chat. Klaus ate quickly, left the table with the tersely-delivered information that he was wanted urgently at the office, and drove immediately to Bonn. He put in a nine-hour day at Headquarters, snarling at his agents more than usual, and trying discreetly to find out whether Mischa the Bear Cub had a daughter called Valentina who had taken up a career in Physics.

On the way home to his city apartment, he stopped at a restaurant that served good plain food, where he ate dinner. He then crossed the street to a bar, ordered a large whisky, and tried to think logically about this latest disagreement with his father.

Did it really matter if the old man got married?

Perhaps it didn’t. It wouldn’t affect his own position in any way” all the legal papers had been signed years ago to ensure that, and at his father’s insistence, too.

What if the new wife wanted children? No, that was unlikely. She was, according to what his father had said, in her mid-forties, and a dedicated career academic.

No, the worst of it would be that the old man would make a fool of himself, marrying a woman more than thirty years his junior, but so what? It didn’t have to affect Klaus at all. It would just be one more in a long list of disagreements between father and son over many, many years.

He ordered a second large whisky.

Just as he took the first sip, a new customer came in and sat at the bar, leaving a stool between herself and Klaus. He gave her the merest glance. A handsome woman, he supposed; strong-featured, with broad shoulders and large, square hands. Middle-aged. Perhaps forty? Forty-five?

“Whisky, please,” she said to the barman. “Water, no ice.” She turned her head in Klaus’s direction. “Excuse me. You are drinking whisky. Which brand do you recommend?”

Klaus raised an eyebrow. Before he could reply” or choose not to” the barman lifted down the same bottle he’d poured Klaus’s drink from, saving him the trouble.

The woman now turned to face Klaus properly. “I commend your taste. Prost.” She smiled. “I am in Bonn for a conference. It’s been a long day. I could do with a conversation that doesn’t involve university politics and funding protocols. Are either of those your fields of interest?” There was a humorous twinkle in her eyes.

Klaus felt tired. He’d had a fatiguing day at work, and last night’s argument with his father had drained him more than he liked to admit. A conversation between two professionals in need of a diversion from the things that had occupied their minds all day might be just what he needed.

The woman held out a hand: businesslike. “My name is Vali.”

“Klaus.” He shook her hand. Her handshake was firm.

Their conversation skimmed over the surface of social niceties. Neither offered much substantial information about what they did, or where they lived, or what they thought about anything of any consequence. Klaus was very happy to keep things on that level, and was happy that Vali seemed pleased to do so too.

They ordered another drink: her second, Klaus’s third. He was aware that the combination of drink and fatigue was blunting his senses. The woman’s conversation was starting to become tiresome, too; the whisky seemed to be loosening her tongue.

“The thing is,” Vali was saying, “the colleague I’ve brought with me to this conference is to take over from me when I go on sabbatical, and I really don’t think he’s going to be up to it.”

Klaus grunted. Why should he care?

“But I’m committed to taking the sabbatical. I need to finish the textbook I’ve been working on. I’m also getting married.”

Klaus rolled his eyes. He’d recently heard enough about intended marriages to last him a lifetime.

“To be honest,” she continued, “I haven’t known my fiancé very long. I wonder sometimes if we were too hasty in agreeing to marry so quickly.” She sighed, and took a large sip of her whisky. “My fiancé is quite a lot older than I am, so he was keen not to waste any time.”

What? Klaus turned his head sharply to look at her. Vali? Valentina? No! Surely not!

“My fiancé is a good man. He’s been a widower for many years, so he’s independent in his ways. He’s a man with intellectual interests. We’ll have much in common, in spite of the gap in our ages.”

Vali sipped her whisky again, while Klaus searched her face intently for any resemblance to his old nemesis, Mischa.

“Why, Klaus” you look unsettled. Is something wrong?”

“You are an academic,” Klaus blurted. “You are marrying an older man””

Briefly, Vali looked startled, and then her face softened. “Ah. You recognize the dilemma. My career has always been my first concern” but I’ve found someone who will not want me to put my career aside. He has reassured me of this. As for his age”” She shifted along to the stool next to Klaus and laid one of her large, square hands on his arm. “I’m quite committed to spending the rest of his life with him as a faithful wife” but perhaps I owe myself one last chance, one last time with a young, strong, virile man. A memory to take with me for all those years of being his comfort.” She slid her hand down to cover Klaus’s, interlinking her fingers with his. “Could you be the one to give me that gift?”

“No, I could not!” Indignant, Klaus snatched his hand away.

“Oh, I beg your pardon!” Confused, Vali sat back, restoring some distance between them. “I misjudged. I apologise.”

H’mph. Klaus stood up, stiff and formal. “I think we should terminate this conversation. Thank you for your company. Good night.”







“M’lord? There’s something I think you should read.” Bonham stood in the doorway of Dorian’s studio, looking uncomfortable.

The Earl put down his palette and brush, and wiped his hands with a damp cloth. “What is it?”

Bonham held out a piece of paper. “It’s a letter from Agent A. ‘E says Uncle NATO’s been actin’ strange lately. And the day before ‘e wrote this, that’d be last Tuesday, Uncle NATO went out and bought a new suit from ‘is tailor. A tuxedo.”

“And this is something I need to know because”?”

“It’s in the letter, m’lord. I think you should read it for y’self.”

Dorian took the letter and skimmed through it quickly at first; then, midway down the page, he slowed down and began to take more notice.

‘…and you know what a busy-body G is when it comes to clothing. He sneaked a look inside the tailor’s bag when the Major was out of the room. It was a new tuxedo. Then, at the end of the day, the Major pulled me into his office to brief me because he was going to take a week’s leave. He said there was going to be a wedding at the Schloss.’

“A wedding!” Dorian exploded. “Bonham” he’s getting married! Oh, the bastard! How can he do this to me? Getting married” and with all this secrecy!” Dorian thrust the letter back at Bonham. “When did this letter arrive?”

“This mornin’. Postmarked two days ago.”

“Oh, Bonham! Whatever am I going to do? How could he?” Tears welled up in the Earl’s eyes. “He hates women. Why would he do this?”

“’Is old man’s been at ‘im for years to get married. Per’aps ‘e just decided to get it over with?”

The Earl sniffed loudly, and squared his shoulders. “Bonham, go and book me a flight to Germany. Book two tickets: you’re coming with me.”

“Er” is that wise, m’lord?” Bonham squirmed with anxiety. “I mean, is there anythin’ you can do about it?”

“Book two tickets to Bonn, and we’ll find out.”







“Nearly there, m’lord.” Bonham, in chauffeur’s livery, turned the hired limousine down a tree-lined lane.

From his seat in the back, Dorian watched Schloss Eberbach loom closer and closer. “Very good, Bonham love. Will you be able to amuse yourself while you wait?”

“Oh, don’t worry about me, m’lord. Got my picnic hamper, got my deck of cards. Bound to be some other drivers waitin’. Might be able to get a game of poker started.”

Once the car was parked, Dorian followed some other guests, but as soon as he was able to do so without being noticed, he vanished into the greenery near the house and headed for the far side of the building. He knew there was a side entrance near the garages; he should be able to slip in and make his way up to Klaus’s rooms, where he expected to find the bridegroom preparing for the ceremony.

He’d rehearsed a number of different things to say, but now he doubted that any of them would be of any help at all. He had no idea what he would say to Klaus” but he knew he had to talk to him; he had to say something.

He emerged from a clump of evergreens, brushing leaves and twigs off his suit” to hear a slightly slurred but very familiar voice say, “What the fuck are you doing here, Eroica?”

Dorian turned, startled: and there was Klaus, sitting on a low stone wall, wearing his wedding-day tuxedo. He had a cigarette in one hand and a glass of whisky in the other, and a half-empty whisky bottle on the wall beside him. He looked genuinely astonished to see Dorian. He also looked as if he’d already drunk several glasses of whisky.

“Major?” Now that he was face to face with his beloved” his faithless, callous, heartless beloved” Dorian could not summon up the right words.

Klaus took a last drag from his cigarette and crushed it under his heel. “What are you doing here?” he asked again. “I know you don’t have an invitation.”

Dorian drew himself up to his full height. “I came to tell you that you are a cruel, traitorous bastard!” He tried hard to inject some of the pain and anger he’d suffered into his voice, but somehow his words sounded less than convincing. “And look at you! Drinking! Are you trying to get up some Dutch courage so you can face it? Because I know you never would have chosen this for yourself. What on earth made you give in? You won’t be happy, you know.” Dorian sniffed. “At least you could have told me.”

“Told you? That my father’s getting married?”

Dorian blinked. “What?”

Klaus drained his glass and poured himself a refill. “My father’s getting married. Randy old goat. And to add insult to injury, I’m supposed to be the Best Man.”

“But”"

“But what?” Klaus looked at him blankly, then grinned. “You thought I was getting married, didn’t you? Where did you get hold of that idea? No” don’t tell me. Agent A’s been gossiping to your man Bonham, hasn’t he? I should put a stop to that.” He swallowed a large mouthful of whisky. “That’s what you thought, isn’t it?”

Dorian, feeling foolish, flopped down onto the wall beside Klaus. “I’m afraid so, Major.”

“And you came to make a scene.”

“Well” yes. I admit that I did.” Dorian smiled awkwardly. “But I must confess that I’ve been losing my appetite for it ever since we arrived.”

“We?”

“Bonham. He’s my chauffeur today.”

Klaus chuckled quietly, and passed the whisky bottle to Dorian. “I can’t offer you a glass” but have a drink.” He lifted his own glass in salute. “Prost!”

“Who’s the lucky woman?” Dorian asked, raising the bottle to his lips.

Klaus shrugged. “Some academic from a Swiss university. Haven’t met her yet.” I hope I haven’t met her yet.

There was a rustling in the shrubbery and Herr Hinkel emerged. “Your father is looking for you, Master Klaus,” he said, with a sideways look at the Earl, seated on the wall drinking whisky from the bottle. “The ceremony will begin soon. You need to be ready. The wedding party is gathering in the small dining room.” He nodded at the unexpected guest. “Lord Gloria. Good afternoon.”

Klaus swallowed the last of his whisky and stood up” a little unsteadily. “Thank you, Herr Hinkel. I’ll be there presently.”

The butler left, and Dorian looked anxiously at Klaus swaying on his feet. “Major? Klaus? Are you going to be all right?”

“Of course I am. Nothing much to do, except be there.” Klaus frowned. “Come round with me. I could do with some back-up.”

“Back-up? You sound as if you’re going to face an enemy. Is being your father’s Best Man as bad as that?”

“Could be.” The two men threaded through the shrubbery and fell into step along a broad gravel path. “I’m not sure what I’m going to see. Could be some nasty surprises about to happen.”







Klaus marched into the room where the wedding party was to gather as if he was marching into a military meeting. Dorian followed, a pace or two behind him.

“Klaus! There you are! Another three minutes and you would have been late!” Heinz von dem Eberbach strode across the room to shake hands with his Best Man. “And Lord Gloria? Welcome. I wasn’t expecting you” but I’m pleased to see that my son has invited at least one of his friends!”

Dorian’s hand was shaken, too” then, aware that his presence was somewhat superfluous, he melted away onto the sidelines.

“Klaus. Klaus, you must meet my fiancée and her father.” Heinz turned his son around and half-pushed him forward. “Valentina, my dear! I would like you to meet my son, Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach.”

From his vantage point at the side of the room, Dorian saw the colour drain from Klaus’s face as the bride stepped forward to shake his hand: a handsome woman, strong-featured, with broad shoulders and large, square hands.

She smiled brightly; a little too brightly. “Klaus, I’m pleased to meet you at last. Your father has told me so much about you.”

Klaus gulped, and tried to smile in return as they shook hands.

Then Valentina said, “Klaus, I’d like you to meet my father, Colonel Mikhail Medvedev.”

Watching from the shadows, Dorian now felt the colour draining from his own cheeks as well” as Klaus shook hands with his father’s prospective father-in-law: Mischa the Bear Cub.

“Major von dem Eberbach, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I am sure we will find we have a lot in common.”







Outside, a patch of lawn had been tastefully garlanded with white ribbons and lilies. Dorian found a seat amongst the guests, and waited for the wedding party and the celebrant to arrive. He could see now why Klaus had been hiding out in that secluded corner of the garden, drinking. What was it he’d said? ‘I’m not sure what I’m going to see. Could be some nasty surprises about to happen.’ Had he known who the bride’s father was? Had he already met the bride before?

The string quartet stopped playing soothing background music and struck up the wedding march. The bridegroom and his son walked out to their places in front of the guests, who stood up and turned to watch the bride and her father walk arm in arm along the grassy aisle. The ceremony was short, and it was not long before Valentina was walking back down the aisle with her husband on her arm instead of her father, and the guests were showering them with rose petals.

The quartet went back to playing background music, and a barrage of popping champagne corks signalled that festivities had commenced.

Being a social creature, Dorian mixed easily with the guests. He thought it might be wise to let Klaus have some time to himself, but when more than an hour had passed and Klaus was still nowhere to be seen, Dorian went in search of him.

Klaus had retreated to an isolated corner of the garden overlooking the lily pond.

“What are you doing here, Klaus?” Dorian sat down on the other end of the long seat. “I’ve been looking for you.”

“Came here to get some peace and quiet. Sick of people.” Klaus pulled the cork out of a fresh bottle of champagne and poured, filling his glass to the brim. Dorian noticed another empty bottle in the grass at their feet.

“You’ll have a terrible hangover, Klaus” whisky, then champagne.”

“Don’t nag me. Here” you can have the glass this time.” Klaus held out the over-filled glass in Dorian’s direction, and raised the bottle to his own lips.

The Earl took the glass and slurped the first mouthful from the top. “Did you know your father was marrying Mischa’s daughter?”

“No. Suspected” because of her name. Told myself I was being paranoid” I mean, how many Russians are called Mikhail Medvedev? I just had a bad feeling about it.” Klaus raised the bottle and took two or three deep swallows.

“So you thought the best plan was to get drunk?”

“Get off my back, Eroica.”

They sank into silence for a minute or two.

“Didn’t see much of you after the ceremony,” Klaus grunted. “I mean, before I came up here.”

“Oh, I circulated. Talked to everyone. Was charming to the old ladies and talked agriculture with the men.” Dorian took another sip. “Your father was very friendly.”

“H’mph.”

“I spoke to Valentina for a while.” Dorian noticed Klaus turn pale again. “What’s the matter, Klaus? When your father introduced her to you, you looked as if you’d seen a ghost. Had you met her before?”

Klaus groaned. “Met her in a bar in Bonn, the day after he told me he was getting married. We didn’t exchange names properly; I didn’t know it was her.”

Dorian looked quizzically at Klaus, and then his jaw dropped. “Klaus! You didn’t sleep with her, did you?”

“What? Fucking hell! Of course not! I don’t sleep with bints I meet in bars!”

“All right, all right. I withdraw the question. What happened?”

“We talked. Had a few drinks.” Klaus swigged champagne. “She propositioned me.”

Open-mouthed, Dorian stared. “No! Not really? Still, she wouldn’t have known who you were, either.”

Klaus groaned again, more loudly this time. “Leave it alone, Eroica. I really don’t want to think about it.”

After a pause, Dorian said, “Valentina and your father do seem fond of each other.”

“But her father was a high-ranking KGB officer, and it’s less than ten years since the Soviet Union dissolved. This won’t do my security clearances any good at all.”







As the sky began to darken in the early evening, the newly-wed couple made their farewells, ready to leave for their honeymoon.

“I can’t see Klaus anywhere. We really ought to say goodbye to him,” Heinz fretted. “I’ll go and find him. I won’t be long, my dear.”

Valentina and her father watched Heinz disappear into the crowd.

“Now, Valyusha: let me give you one last piece of advice before you go,” Mischa said to his daughter. “Don’t let this marriage distract you from your career. You are a leader in your field. You should see that you remain so.”

Valentina smiled. “Don’t worry, Father. We’ve already had some discussions about that. Poor Heinz is a traditionalist. For instance, he would prefer it if I were to call myself Frau von dem Eberbach, but I’ve made it quite clear that I’ll continue to be known at Professor Medvedeva. I have a professional identity to preserve.” Her smile widened. “I think he understands my point of view.”

Amused, Mischa looked at his watch. “Your husband is taking his time finding his son.”

“Heinz worries too much about his son, you know. He wants him to be settled, but I suspect his idea of ‘settled’ is not the same as his son’s!” She pulled her cashmere shawl around her shoulders. “That nice English man, the Earl of Gloria. He seems to be Klaus’s closest friend.”

Mischa lowered his voice. “I think that nice English man might be more than Klaus’s closest friend. If you see what I mean.”

Valentina looked surprised, but not displeased. “Really? Then perhaps I should also encourage Heinz to reconsider some of his other traditional ideas.”

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