A high-pitched, terrified shriek shattered the early-morning silence of NATO’s Bonn headquarters. Twenty-six heads simultaneously jerked up from their work. They paused and listened for a moment—sure enough, the scream recurred, sounding more frantic this time. Responding to a gesture from A, Agents B, G, and Z rose as one and started off toward the source of the noise.
"Well, it wasn’t G this time," B noted with a smirk. "What do you suppose it’s about?"
"Oh, shut up!" G swatted him on the arm. "I only screamed like that once, and it was only because someone decided it would be funny to sneak up and goose me while we were supposed to be on guard duty." He scowled at B, who simply leered in response. "One of the secretaries probably thought she saw a mouse, or something. I don’t know why A’s making us run down here like this." They halted in front of the door to the breakroom.
The three men stood there for a moment, looking back and forth between the door and each other. "Well? Open it!" said B.
"I’m not going in first! You always make me go first," G whined. "Z, tell B it’s his turn to go first!" He gazed up at the taller agent with what was, if all his practice had paid off, an absolutely irresistible pleading look in his eyes.
Z rolled his eyes. "Oh, for God’s sake...I’ll go first." Idiots, he added mentally. He’d never say it out loud, but he was becoming more sympathetic with the Major’s assessment of the Alphabets every day. B and G exchanged triumphant grins behind his back as he opened the door.
Despite his resolve of a moment ago, even Z shrank back at the sight that confronted them. They made an interesting picture, framed by the doorway—Z stood as if frozen, a look of utter confusion on his face. Behind him, B simply covered his eyes, unable to process the scene. G strained on tiptoe to peek over Z’s shoulder, blue eyes becoming impossibly large with alarm.
"Well, don’t just stand there, you idiots! Find the damned thing! It’s in here somewhere!" The Major’s voice broke the spell, and with great hesitation, the Alphabets stepped into the room.
Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach stood before them—above them, actually. He had climbed atop the table in the center of the breakroom, gun in hand, and was wildly scanning the room, searching for something, or someone. "What the hell are you looking at? Start searching the room, dammit! It’s got to be here; it can’t have left the room yet."
"Er, Major," Z said tentatively, "exactly what are we looking for?"
"That...that THING, you idiot! Nasty little scurrying, scampering thing...where there’s one, there are almost always more. We’ll have to search the whole office."
The agents looked at each other incredulously. If they didn’t know it would almost certainly mean a trip to Alaska, they would refuse. Assuming that the Major hadn’t lost his mind—which they had to assume, if they valued their jobs—whatever "that THING" was, was terrifying enough to provoke Iron Klaus into girly shrieking! What sane men would agree to take on such a powerful, unknown force?
Apparently, Klaus’s Alphabets would, as they soon found themselves patrolling the hallways, ransacking offices, and even rummaging through desk drawers and trashcans in hopes of finding some trace of what the Major would only darkly refer to as "it." The fear eventually wore off, as the absurdity of what they were doing began to occur to them.
"I’ll bet it was just a mouse, or something," G grumbled. With obvious distaste, he plunged a slender hand into the Chief’s trashcan, pulling out old papers, chocolate wrappers, and far too many crumpled tissues for his liking. "Here we are, wasting time (and ruining a good manicure) looking for this thing, when all we really need to do is hire a good exterminator!"
"He must be working too hard," agreed C. "He never lets himself get this worked up over anything—"
"Unless it involves Lord Gloria," the other agent finished for him. "But the Major isn’t afraid of him..."
"You’re damned right, I’m not." Klaus stood in the doorway, glaring down at them threateningly.
"Ma--major!" C leapt to his feet. "There’s nothing in here, sir; we’ve checked the entire room, right down to the Chief’s chocolate stash. Nothing."
"Fine. Go and check the bathrooms, then. And make sure you close the—" He stopped abruptly, eyes widening as he spotted something behind the two agents. G and C whirled around and saw nothing there.
"What is it, Major? What did you see?" G’s voice shook slightly with apprehension.
"Didn’t you see it? No, it must have been gone before you turned. They’re fast...very fast, always. Good at hiding. And you can’t even hear them coming because of the carpets..." The Major trailed off as he turned and walked distractedly over to another group of Alphabets who were diligently examining a large potted plant.
G and C exchanged worried glances, but said nothing. After all, the Major was most likely just suffering from overtiredness, and they knew that suggesting otherwise would get them nowhere, except maybe on a plane to Alaska.
Although the Alphabets’ searches soon stopped, Klaus himself spent much of his time stalking the halls over the next week, hunting for the mysterious creature that he still refused to refer to in all but the vaguest of terms. The atmosphere became unbearably tense. Whispered jokes about the Major’s self-appointed mission gave way to open worrying and speculation as to his mental state. When A was with him once and saw a small, sinister, fast-moving shadow from around a corner, he joked weakly that it must have been one of the Stingy Bug’s rats. But there was an unmistakable tremor in his voice, and he took some extended vacation time soon after. The Major was behaving like a man obsessed and there was no denying that it was deeply affecting his agents.
The final straw came when, on a simple mission to recover some stolen paperwork from a counterintelligence agent, Klaus had nearly botched the entire operation by screaming and firing his gun into the shadows in the midst of cracking a safe. By some miracle, none of his men was injured in the subsequent shootout, and the papers were saved—but it had been much too close. His fear was endangering his team and NATO operations. He had to be stopped.
The Chief had Klaus pulled from active duty and sent to a NATO psychiatrist for evaluation. The sessions were generally unproductive, as one might expect, and Klaus’s references to "sharp little teeth" and "slippery, squirmy things" only confused him. He finally gave up trying to make any sense out of it and prescribed a vacation, citing overwork as the most likely cause of Klaus’s…distraction. The Major seemed uncharacteristically relieved at these orders. "I’ll just stay at the Schloss. I’ve never seen them there. They wouldn’t dare invade my home!" He left quickly, without the usual fuss.
The Chief had obviously called the Schloss to inform the staff of Klaus’s imminent arrival. Dominic seemed to have been fussing even more than usual; he even suggested that Klaus might like a nap to calm his nerves. The Major gave no more response than a stony glare, and swept past him, heading in the direction of the gun room.
He had gotten no farther than dismantling his Magnum, when the butler appeared in the doorway. "You have a visitor, sir. I’ve, er, shown him into the library."
"Who is it?" Klaus did not take kindly to being interrupted with his guns at any time, and was more irritated than usual at being disturbed now, when he was closer to relaxing than he had been in at least a week.
"Ah...well, it’s...hm..." Dominic’s nervousness made the answer fairly obvious.
"Eroica," Klaus said flatly. Well, he should have expected that...he’d heard that the thief had been seen in Bonn not long ago, and he had apparently learned about Klaus’s current state. He made a mental note to speak with A about exactly how frequently he was in contact with Bonham, and what sort of things not to mention to him in the future. "He can wait while I finish in here," he told Dominic, and went back to cleaning his gun.
Several minutes later, Magnum reassembled and back in his shoulder holster, Klaus entered the library and found Eroica draped decadently over one of his leather armchairs. The thief rose. "Major...I heard that your Chief put you on forced leave. Are you all right?"
"Don’t concern yourself with my mental health, Eroica," he replied scornfully. "I’m all right, just a little overworked. The last thing I need is pity from a fucked-up faggot like you."
Eroica would not be put off so easily. "But...don’t you want to talk about it, Major? Maybe I can help; the Alphabets told me you were looking for something, something you thought was coming after you." He gave what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "You might feel better if you tell someone what’s going on."
"I feel fine, thank you," Klaus snarled. "Why don’t you--" he stopped abruptly as his ears caught a faint clicking sound, like nails against a stone floor. A familiar shadow flitted across the wall, flickering eerily in the light from the fireplace. As Klaus watched in horror, a small, furry being came running out from a corner, launching itself at Eroica. He backed away, reaching for his gun with trembling fingers as the thief bent and picked up the creature.
Dorian straightened and regarded Klaus with an expression of genuine guilt. "Major...I’d like you to meet Schatzi."
A second later, he was tossing the dog onto a chair and diving to catch the Major as he fell.
Klaus awoke after a few moments and found himself lying on the couch. Eroica sat perched on the edge, apparently watching over him. He lifted his head, searching for the dog, and saw her curled in front of the fireplace, asleep. "You fucking bastard," he growled. "It’s been you all along, hasn’t it?"
Eroica looked away. "Well, I didn’t mean for it to go quite this far, darling. She actually got loose in the office by mistake, the first time. I’d come to visit G, but I had to forget about that when she ran away. You weren’t supposed to know I was there, and I certainly didn’t want you to find her, knowing...er, how you feel about dachshunds. When you started tearing the office apart looking for your tormentor, I couldn’t resist pushing it a little farther." He sighed. "I didn’t come here to scare you, you know. I really was worried—I had no idea how bad things were getting! I wanted to apologize, and make sure you were all right...of course, in hindsight, I guess it should have occurred to me that it might not be such a good idea to bring her along..."
Klaus glared. "How the hell did you know, anyway? I don’t recall ever telling anyone that I, um. Don’t like them. Dachshunds." He shivered in revulsion.
"Oh, it’s just something I picked up after a particularly difficult mission, once. You tell some very interesting stories when you’re drunk." Dorian cocked his head to one side, regarding him with a mischevious glint in his eye. "Besides, darling..." And Klaus suddenly knew what was coming, had to shut him up before...
"DON’T FUCKING SAY IT!"
"...I always knew you were a big weenie!"