AUTHOR'S NOTES: Many thanks to Esther, for cluing me in on the military regulations in 1980s Germany relating to women. And for her assistance with the German, be it translations or customs.
This was my first Klaus-centric story and was included the "Iron and Silk" fanzine.
MAJOR DECISIONS CHAPTER ONE DAMSEL IN DISTRESS
By Margaret Price
DAMSEL IN DISTRESS
"Excuse me, Herr von dem Eberbach, could I trouble you to rescue a damsel in distress?"
Klaus turned to the woman who had come up beside him, the expression on his face a combination of surprise and suspicion. He was standing just inside the main door of the ballroom of Schloss Eberbach and had not heard her approach over the noisy gathering. How he hated these social affairs. His father had arranged this one, and, naturally, he was expected to play the perfect host. The perfect gentleman to all the fawning females being paraded before him.
Klaus had no illusions as to the purpose of the ball, notwithstanding what his father claimed. It was not to raise money for charity. It was another attempt to get his son married off and secure an heir for the von dem Eberbach line.
Klaus looked at the woman now standing in front of him, taking a second to recall her name. Anna Schmidt. The daughter of a wealthy industrialist who had suddenly appeared within West Germany's high society not long after the end of the Second World War. As women went, he supposed she would be considered good looking, although not overly beautiful. Then the intelligence agent in him took over and he quickly noted her physical characteristics. Average height, slender, slightly athletic build, shoulder length strawberry-blond hair and green eyes. Unlike the other women who had been thrust at him all evening, she was not weighted down with jewelry, nor was she wearing an overabundance of make up.
"I wouldn't have dreamed of bothering you," Anna went on, pulling Klaus back to reality, "but I hoped your being the host would be a deterrent."
"Deterrent to what, Fräulein Schmidt?"
Anna threw a quick glance to the other side of the room. Klaus followed her gaze, seeing two men, dressed in the same uncomfortable formal attire as he was, huddled in conversation.
"Those two won't leave me alone."
Klaus felt a flush of anger. The last thing he needed was to have a woman accosted in the Schloss. He would never hear the end of it. "Did they…?" He fumbled for the right words and looked down at Anna. "Did they…put their hands on you?"
Anna found the awkwardness of the question amusing but did not allow it to show. "No. Well, not this time."
"This isn't the first time I've run into them. They're the sort who won't take no for an answer. I was rather hoping if I spoke with you a few minutes they'd...well, go annoy someone else."
Klaus looked up, seeing that this was not the case. He was amused, however, to see the men in question flinch when they noticed him looking at them. It appeared Fräulein Schmidt had been correct in her assumption that they would not venture near while she was in his vicinity.
The music stopped at that moment and Klaus turned at the sound of giggles. He had his own group of pursuers to contend with. Three women stood in a tight group; exchanging whispers, throwing glances in his direction and then bursting into a fit of the giggles again. He gave a resigned sigh, thinking he would rather face the KGB than a group of scatterbrained females.
"Looks as though you have your own problems, Major," Anna observed mildly.
Klaus turned sharply back to her. "What did you say?" he practically demanded.
Anna flinched. "I…said you had your own problems."
"You called me Major."
"I'm sorry." Anna met the accusing glare steadily. "Was that wrong?"
The music started again at that moment. The last thing Klaus wanted was to have to shout over it to be heard. He wanted answers. He also wanted a cigarette. He held out his arm. "Come with me to the garden." His tone made it clear that this was not a request. Anna obediently took his arm and he went to the nearest open doorway leading to the garden.
Once outside, Anna expected her escort to drop his arm. Instead, he led her to a stone bench a short distance from the doorway. She took a seat, glancing back to see the three women who had been giggling were now peering through one of the windows, struggling to see into the darkness. Thank God it's dark or we'd have an audience.
Klaus lit a cigarette and took a long drag on it, blowing smoke into the air. He suddenly fixed a piercing gaze on the woman, asking sharply, "Who sent you?"
Anna started and looked up. "I beg your pardon?"
"Who sent you?"
"No one sent me."
"You can drop the act, Fräulein Schmidt."
"It isn't an act, Major von dem Eberbach. My mother dragged me here, kicking and screaming, if you must know."
Klaus stiffened slightly. This wasn't the answer he expected. "That's the second time you've called me Major," he observed coldly.
"I always call you Major."
Now Klaus was completely thrown. "What?"
Anna sat back, the expression on her face one of genuine surprise. "My God, Iron Klaus doesn't know who I am. I thought you remembered everything."
Suddenly Klaus was no longer the host of a social gathering. He was Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach of NATO intelligence. He drew himself to his full height, his eyes narrowing. "Just who are you?" he demanded coldly. To his surprise, the woman before him met his threatening gaze steadily, something few ever dared to do. To his added surprise, she smiled.
"Major, I'm Lieutenant Maria Susanne Schmidt. I work in the NATO Records Department, Intelligence Division. I'm part of the team that was brought in to coordinate the upgrade in the records system. I'm the one your subordinates are always pestering for the files you want at a moment's notice."
Klaus blinked and looked at the woman before him as though seeing her for the first time. "You're the one with the glasses," he said without thinking.
Anna could not help herself and laughed. "Oh, so that's how you tell us all apart!" The expression on the Major's face caused her to laugh again. "I never realized that contact lenses could be a disguise."
"Canadian army. My family traveled a great deal. I'm Canadian by birth, sir."
Klaus nodded. "I've never seen you out of your uniform," he said in way of explanation.
Anna's eyes lit up, a hand going to her mouth in a vain attempt to stop a giggle from escaping. The puzzled look on the Major's face did not help matters. Then he suddenly realized what he had said and a horrified expression passed over his face. Clearly embarrassed, he took another drag on his cigarette and stepped further into the garden, widening the gap between them.
"Anna! Anna?" a voice called suddenly.
Klaus turned and then groaned as one of the gigglers poked her head out the door.
"Shall I get rid of her for you?" Anna asked.
"I'm supposed to be the host."
"You rescued me from the gropers. Let me pay you back."
When the woman called again, Klaus realized his only other means of escape was to go all the way around the garden. He crushed out his cigarette and stepped back into the shadows where he would not be seen. Anna observed this with a small smile and turned back to greet her friend. "I'm over here, Hilde," she called out calmly.
Hilde looked around before going over to the bench and sitting down. "Well?" she asked expectantly.
Anna scowled. "Well what?"
Hilde slapped Anna's arm playfully. "Well, what's he like?"
"What's who like? Hilde, you're not making sense."
"Anna! You came out here with Herr von dem Eberbach! Everybody's dying to know what happened."
Anna rolled her eyes and groaned. She was uncertain, but thought she heard the Major give a low growl of disapproval at the same time. "Nothing happened. I just asked him to get me away from a couple of gropers, that's all. We came out here. I sat down on the bench. He went into the garden to smoke a cigarette. End of story."
"Oh, Anna! Why must you always be so unromantic?" Hilde moaned in disappointment.
"Oh God, Hilde," Anna moaned in reply. "Real life isn't a romance novel."
"The least you could've done was lie and say he told you how beautiful you are."
This time Anna did hear the Major as he groaned in annoyance. A sentiment she shared. "You know I don't lie, either."
Hilde pulled out a compact and started powering her nose. Her friend wondered if she were only doing this for affect, as there was no possible way she could see what she was doing in the dark.
Anna glanced over to the ballroom, seeing one of her relentless pursers at another of the windows. Then a devilish smile came to her face. "Alright, Hilde, I wasn't going to say anything about this…"
Hilde did not even stop what she was doing. "What?" she said in a bored tone.
"You see that man looking out the window over there? The one with the white flower in his lapel?"
Hilde glanced over at him. "What about him?"
"Well…he told me he likes you, but he's afraid to approach you because—" Anna broke off, looking her friend in the eye. "You're not going to let what I have to say go to your head, are you?" she asked admonishingly.
Hilde was suddenly bouncing up and down. In fact, Anna was certain she would fall off the bench if she kept at it. "Tell me! Tell me! Anna, what did he say?"
Anna threw a quick, furtive glance towards the window and then leaned close to her friend, lowering her voice as if she were confiding a state secret. "He said he's afraid to approach you because…you're so beautiful and must have dozens of boyfriends. Now how's that for romantic nonsense?"
It was all that the listening Klaus could do not to give a loud disgusted snort, not that Hilde would have heard him. She was too busy squealing and making all the other unpleasant female noises he hated.
"Well, don't just sit there," Anna was saying, "go talk to him."
"Oh, Lord, how do I look? Do I need to fix my lipstick? How's my hair?"
"Hilde, I don't think he'll care about any of that," Anna said as she pushed a stray strand of Hilde's hair back into place. "Now, go before one of the other girls grabs him for the next dance."
Hilde was up and gone in a blink. Klaus came out of the shadows and watched as she went shyly up to the man at the window. In less than a minute, he was offering her his arm and they were heading to the dance floor.
Anna looked up as Klaus lit another cigarette. "Well, that gets rid of one for each of us, I think, Major. Maybe I should thank my mother for bringing me after all."
"You handled the situation like a pro, Lieutenant Schmidt," Klaus remarked evenly.
A ghost of a smile passed across Anna's face. "I have intelligence training, too, Major von dem Eberbach." She threw a quick glance toward the door. "To be frank, I'd rather face a terrorist than any of my so-called suitors. They wouldn't give me a second look if my family didn't have money. And my mother's Victorian outlook is no help. She doesn't approve of me working. I'm supposed to find a man from 'a good family,' get married and have babies." She gave an indignant snort at this thought. "That's why she insists on dragging me to every social gathering and pushing me at whoever has been fool enough to invite us."
Klaus replied with an indignant snort of his own, taking another drag on his cigarette.
Anna suddenly realized what she had said, and to whom. She put a hand to her mouth, clearly mortified by her remarks. "Oh my God, Major, I'm so sorry. That was incredibly tactless of me." She received a look through hooded eyes that was completely unreadable.
"It was an honest observation," Klaus said without malice. "Women like your mother have been pushing their daughters at me since I was presented to society at sixteen."
"Oh, God…" Anna moaned, closing her eyes. "Did you have to endure that horrific coming out ritual, too?"
Again, Klaus replied with a snort.
"My mother had the brilliant idea that I should be presented at the Debutante's Ball in New York City." As she spoke, Anna pulled a cigarette from her purse, accepting the light from Klaus with a small smile.
"Why New York City?"
"Apparently, Bonn wasn't prestigious enough, or some such nonsense." She waved a hand in the air. "She wanted me to look like Jackie Kennedy."
Klaus's eyebrows went up. "And did you?"
"I looked more like Jack Kennedy," Anna replied darkly. "It was a disaster." To her surprise, she heard the Major give a small chuckle. She gave him a steady look but did not comment further, thinking that she had probably said too much already. She finished her cigarette and got to her feet.
"Thank you for rescuing me, Herr von dem Eberbach," she said politely, smoothing the skirt of her dress. "I think I should go find my mother before she comes looking for me."
"And I should return to my duties as host."
Anna noticed that he had used the same reluctant tone she had. Neither of them seemed too keen on being at the Schloss that evening.
Klaus offered his arm and was surprised when Anna did not take it. "No, I think I should go in alone," she said mildly. "From the way Hilde talked, everyone in the ballroom knows we came out here together. If we went back in together, that would start the most appalling rumors."
Klaus closed his eyes at this horrific thought, but did not reply.
"It would keep the morons at bay, though, wouldn't it?" Anna then remarked offhandedly, looking over to the ballroom.
Again, Klaus gave a small chuckle. "For both of us."
Anna caught her breath, turning to look at him, her eyes sparkling. "My God, it would at that."
Klaus's eyes narrowed. "What are you saying?"
"Major," Anna said firmly, "I'm well aware of your reputation. Iron Klaus, the mission-a-holic. You're no more interested in being domesticated than I am."
"Just what are you proposing, Lieutenant?"
Anna gave a small smile. "I think you might want to consider using a different term, Major." She could not help laughing at the stricken look this remark produced. "I'm suggesting a covert intelligence operation. Let everyone think there's something going on."
"The more we deny, the more they'll be sure they're right. That'll keep those gigglers out of your hair and the gropers out of my blouse."
Klaus flushed slightly at this last remark. He stood thoughtfully for some minutes, mulling over the extraordinary proposal…no, use another word. Proposition? No, that one's even worse. Scheme. Yes, that's better. The extraordinary scheme to keep all the giggling, tittering females and their mothers at bay. Then another thought struck him. This would also make his father ridiculously happy and would keep him out of his hair, too.
It might actually work. The gossips in the ballroom would have the news to everyone in society by dawn. It was an intelligence network that rivaled that of NATO, the CIA and the KGB combined. And all he had to do was escort Anna back into the ballroom not ten metres away.
Klaus drew a deep breath and looked at the woman standing before him. She merely gazed blandly back at him, awaiting his decision. The music had stopped only a moment before, adding to the eerie stillness of the garden.
"Well, Major? Yes or no?"
NOTE: The html version of this story in Fried-Potatoes contains the excellent illustration for this scene done by The Reverand. The Major's shocked expression is priceless.