Agent A had pulled the other Alphabets aside for a brainstorming session. It was obvious the Earl was not going to give up the idea of returning the Major to Germany in the elaborate casket. It was equally obvious that there was no way they could allow it.
After several minutes and no success, A was delighted to see Bonham appear in the side doorway. "Mr. Bonham!" he said happily, crossing to the man as if he were a long lost friend.
Bonham raised his eyebrows, a small smile coming to his face. Now for his part in the Earl's plan. "'E's not changed 'is mind, 'as 'e?" he asked calmly, nodding in Eroica's direction.
"No." A threw a quick glance in the Earl's direction and winced. "Mr. Bonham, we can't take the Major back in that…that…"
Bonham held up his hands. "Not to worry, Mr. A," he said in a conspiratorial whisper. "When 'is lordship ordered that…er, well, I 'ad the undertaker add a wooden coffin to the bill. It'll be delivered along with that 'n. Then you lot can deliver the Major in a more fittin' way in Germany."
Relief washed visibly over the faces of the assembled Alphabets.
"One thing, though, Mr. A," Bonham went on to say. "'Is lordship is insistin' on comin' with you lot."
"You'd best 'umor 'im. Otherwise, 'e's like t' get 'ysterical."
At this point, A was beginning to wonder if he were too young to consider an early retirement. He looked at his fellow Alphabets, seeing they all had the same expression. None of them wanted to deal with a hysterical Earl of Gloria. The only one capable of doing that was lying in a casket.
"How…will we be able to transfer the Major to the other casket without making him hysterical?" Agent A wanted to know.
Bonham gave a small smile. "Best if someone goes 'n comes back. Give 'im a regulation of som'it," he suggested. "If you let 'im keep the fancy one, 'e'll most like put it in the Chapel at Castle Gloria. Turn it into a shrine t' the Major."
All the Alphabets nodded in agreement. This sounded exactly like what the Earl would do. And at this point, the last thing any of them wanted was for Eroica to go into hysterics.
"I think I can manage that," Agent A said, giving B a steady look. "Transportation is already being taken care of. We should be able to load the…erm, Major onto the plane as soon as we arrive."
Everyone jumped when the Earl gave his delighted cry. "I'll let Mr. Santini know. He has a truck that can get us there in two shakes!" So saying, Dorian strode from the room, leaving a perplexed group of Alphabets behind.
Agent A was very seriously considering an early retirement when he arrived at the airfield. The group had followed the truck containing the casket, only to find all of Eroica's men waiting at the entry gate. He did not even want to begin to ask how they had gotten there, nor did he want to get into an argument with the Earl and risk hysterics. In the end, he simply relented, allowing the group to board the plane. Once they reached Germany, they could find their own way to England.
Dorian smiled as the gild casket containing the Major was lowered from the truck and then rolled up the ramp into the back of the transport plane. He pretended not to notice the plain wooden one being loaded after he had gotten onboard. He simply remained beside the ornate one as the base was strapped into place to prevent its rolling around in flight. His men boarded silently behind him, all taking seats along one side of the plane. To everyone's amazement, even James was remarkably subdued. Only the Earl knew this was because he had threatened to nail him into the wooden coffin if he so much as sneezed.
Within an hour, the plane was taking off. The occupants sat silently looking at one another, no one daring to speak. As soon as they reached cruising altitude, Dorian got to his feet. "Bonham," he said calmly.
Bonham nodded and moved to the cockpit.
Agent A exchanged a baffled look with the others. "Lord Gloria? What are you doing?" he asked as the Earl started to release the locks on the lid of the casket.
"What does it look like?" Dorian said calmly. He then heaved the lid open. "Somebody help me so this doesn't slam shut." One of his men jumped to his feet and moved around to hold the lid open.
To the astonishment of the assembled Alphabets, the Major's voice sounded from within. "What the hell took you so long!" he snarled. "It's bloody suffocating in here."
"Major!" G squeaked as the officer sat up. "You're alive."
Klaus gave him a dark look. "Somebody help me out of these thing," he growled. He received a stricken look from his subordinates. Iron Klaus asking for help?
Dorian pushed open the bottom half of the casket, another of his men coming over to hold it. The Earl then dug out the bag containing the Major's gun and handed it to him. "He's still recovering from a stab wound," he snapped impatiently.
Suddenly several Alphabets were ready and willing to assist their wounded superior out of the casket and over to a seat.
"Have we changed course yet?" Klaus asked.
Agent A scowled. "Changed course?" he repeated. "We're on course for Bonn, sir."
"No, we're not," Dorian replied. "We're on course for London."
A blinked. "London?"
Klaus leaned back in his seat. "Lord Gloria has the microfilm," he informed coldly. "He has agreed to return it in exchange for passage to London." He gave the Earl a piercing look. "Haven't you?"
Dorian gave him a dazzlingly smile as he held out a damp towel. "I have," he agreed. "Here. This should help take all that undertaker's makeup off, Major."
Klaus saw Agent G's eyes widen and gave him a quelling look. "Not. One. Word," he said threateningly.
"No, sir," G replied, quickly looking away.
"I've arranged to have someone bring you more appropriate clothing for your trip to Bonn, Major," the Earl said as he took a seat beside him, holding out the officer's cigarettes.
The Major's eyes narrowed as he took the cigarettes. "Define more appropriate."
Again, a dazzling smile lit up the Earl's face. "What you wear on a daily basis."
Klaus nodded approvingly and finished wiping the offending muck from his face as best he could before lighting a cigarette. He would probably have to wash for a month before all the wretched stuff was removed.
The remainder of the flight consisted of the Major debriefing his men. When they arrived in London, Eroica's men silently deplaned, taking both caskets with them. Someone appeared with a very expensive suit for the Major, made exactly to his measurements. Klaus wondered how long the Earl had had it in his possession before finding an appropriate time to give it to him.
All of the Alphabets made a discreet exit while the caskets were being offloaded, leaving the Major and the Earl alone in the plane, still sitting side by side.
"Your microfilm, Major, as promised." Dorian said, holding up the tube and then placing it into the officer's outstretched hand.
Klaus nodded approvingly, pocketing the tube. "Satisfy my curiosity," he said calmly. "What did you smuggle in that casket other than me?"
Dorian gave a delighted laugh. "Oh, Major, I didn't smuggle something in the casket," he informed. "I smuggled the casket."
The Major's eyes grew wide. "What!"
"With a few other baubles, I'll admit," Dorian went on. "But everyone assumed they were just part of the decorations."
Klaus put a hand to his head and closed his eyes. "As soon as I'm fit…"
"I know. You're gonna beat me up."
"Selfish, self-centered, son-of-a-bitch!" Klaus thundered. "You did all this just to steal a casket? What the hell is it with that fucking country and caskets?"
Dorian gave a small laugh at this. "I thought you'd blotted Detective Casket from your memory."
"Don't even mention that idiot! What is it about Italy that makes you lose your mind?"
"I don't know. Maybe it's having you in my bath when I'm naked," Dorian replied seductively.
"Shit, don't start that crap again."
"Oh, really, Major. I'm the best thief in the business. I could steal even you, if I wanted to."
Klaus gave a derisive snort. "Fat chance."
The Earl held up the can of knockout gas. "All I have to do is use this, and you're mine for the taking."
The Major's eyes narrowed. "You wouldn't dare."
Dorian gave him a knowing look. "Are you sure about that?" he said as he rose to his feet. He saw the edge of panic flash across the man's eyes and shook his head, returning the can to his pocket. "You're right. I wouldn't. There'd be no challenge in it."
"Is that what I am to you? A challenge?"
"No, Major. I was rather hoping I might be a friend."
"Friend! How the hell do you figure that after what you've just put me through!"
"You mean after I just saved your life and smuggled you out of Italy?"
"Along with your own stolen property!" Klaus rejoined.
"I had to salvage something!" Dorian replied. "After you turned up and—" He broke off and turned, starting toward the ramp.
"After I turned up and what?" the Major demanded, getting to his feet. When the Earl turned back to look at him and he felt a smile coming to his face. "After I turned up and fucked up your operation. Isn't that what you were gonna say?"
Dorian ground his teeth. "Something like that."
Klaus actually laughed. "Well, that makes it all worth it! Finally, you know what it's like." He gave the Earl a steady look. "You didn't like it, did you?"
"Ah! Now the thief gets upset because NATO got in the way," Klaus taunted.
"Major, so help me!"
The Major's eyes grew wide in mock terror as the Earl took a small step towards him. "Whatcha gonna do? Hit me?" He jutted out his chin and pointed to it. "Go on! Just try to hit me. You might even feel better for it."
"Don't tempt me, Major."
"Be a man, for once. I'll even close my eyes and make it easy for you," Klaus said mockingly as he closed his eyes.
Dorian stood motionless for a full second. Then he closed the distance between them, took the officer's face in his hands, and kissed him full on the mouth.
The Major's eyes snapped open, his expression going from challenging to shock. The next thing he knew, the Earl was striding from the plane, calling to him over his shoulder. "You're right, Major. I do feel much better now."
An enormous smile spread across the Earl's face as a stream of obscenities issued forth from behind him. A priceless casket and a stolen kiss. Definitely a profitable undertaking.
— END —