Tea for Two
The Schloss had survived virtually unscathed, a cold, damp erection in the centre of the forest, the moat green and stagnant, turrets overlooking extensive, overgrown grounds. Back in the day, marauding invaders had tried to overthrow the aristocratic owners and been shot and killed, or covered in boiling oil from those same turrets, or locked in the dank dungeons, never to be seen again.
It had taken him six months to get the place into some sort of order. It had been commandeered by the Gestapo, due to its location and the occupants had not been as respectful to the building as they might have been. It had required a deep clean, from top to bottom. The complete inability of Gestapo intelligence to use a dustbin and clean a fireplace should not have surprised him but it offended his sense of smart professionalism. The paintings and furnishings had been unearthed from the deepest of the cellars along with the best of the wine. Even now it was barely homely but – it was home.
The owner stood on the front steps, smoking a cigarette in a long, amber holder. He was immaculately dressed, hair cut short, military style, his slim lithe body straight as a ramrod, his blue eyes gleaming, the perfectly polished monocle sparkling in the spring sunshine.
The guards approached, uniforms faded, but smartly turned out. Their captive walked nonchalantly between them. He too was perfectly dressed, even down to the polished gold chain that held his monocle, currently in the pocket of his shirt. A faint wisp of moustache adorned his upper lip, adding to his almost foppish demeanour. A vacant smile adorned the somewhat weak, aristocratic features.
“Lord Lissie. An unexpected pleasure.”
The visitor eyed his host with interest. “Might have known I’d have the luck to crash right outside your bally ancestral pile.”
“Lucky indeed. Perhaps you would like to come in.”
“Like the spider and the jolly old fly what?” A shrug of elegant shoulders that disguised unexpected skill and strength. This man had once learned the art of boxing and he wasn’t a novice. “Don’t suppose I’ve got much of a bally choice have I?”
“Not really,” agreed his host. “Come, we will have tea.” He glanced at the guards. “Cover him,” he added sharply. “If he tries anything, shoot him. He is not the idiot that he looks.”
The visitor raised a perfectly manicured eyebrow. “You wound me Erich.”
“When winter comes, can spring be far behind,” quoted the German acidly. “Do not expect me to believe that you are here alone or by accident.”
The library, a large, booklined room, held a big mahogany desk and utilitarian chair positioned under the window. There were a couple of comfortable looking armchairs either side of a small, antique table. This was evidently where the host spent the majority of his time. The threadbare rugs on the floor did nothing to hide the cold, dark floorboards.
“Nice spot.” The visitor sat down, unasked, in an armchair. “Lovely view of the lawn old boy. Although, if you don’t mind me pointing it out, the grass needs a bit of a trim if you know what I mean.”
“I will tell the staff,” his host commented icily.
“Did I hear you offering a cup of tea? It is four o’clock. Just about the right time for a cup of Earl Grey don’t you think?”
“You did.” The host nodded to one of the guards who disappeared. “It will be brought to us. Leave us Franz,” he added to the other guard. “I am more than capable of looking after our guest alone.”
“So you’ve often thought before,” remarked his guest cheerfully. “You’d have thought you’d have learned your lesson by now.”
“I am unarmed.”
“Of course you are old son.”
The German’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Bigglesworth would not be doubting my words.”
“I’m not Biggles dear boy. Or hadn’t you noticed?”
“Indeed,” was the reply. “You’re not.” He wondered why he found the vacant expression so appealing. Bigglesworth never looked like that, even when he was trying to act stupid.
“Why am I here? You could have left me alone outside. I wouldn’t have been any the wiser.”
“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” returned the German. “Having somebody like you wandering around in the vicinity is not conducive to relaxation.”
The visitor yawned. “I really don’t know what Biggles sees in you old chap. You’re hardly the greatest conversationalist.”
The two men regarded one another in silence for a long moment, neither flinching from the gaze of the other, brown eyes meeting the steely blue ones. The moment was broken with the arrival of the tea tray, placed untidily on the table between them. The visitor was surprised to see delicate china, possibly from the last century, a plate of rye bread sandwiches and a plate of appetising looking cake.
“Perhaps you should be mother.” The German smiled. “You are English, more experienced in the – etiquette.”
The need for a cup of tea overrode the other’s natural objections. The visitor poured out, conscious of the balance of power in the room. The German was outwardly relaxed, but he was watching every detail of his visitor’s actions. The visitor wasn’t fooled. The German wasn’t studying the etiquette of pouring out a pot of tea.
The meal passed in an oddly companionable silence. The cake proved to be apple based and of excellent quality. The tea wasn’t quite Earl Grey but it was warm and wet and brewed to his liking, although it was made with bags rather than leaves. You couldn’t have it all, the Englishman thought whimsically. He wondered what his friends would say if they could see the scene unfolding in front of them.
He eyed his host thoughtfully. He was good looking rather than handsome, still a slim, powerful clothes peg, face clean shaven, dark hair showing no grey. A deceptive façade that hid the ruthless efficiency and quick thinking brain of the high ranking German Intelligence Officer that the man undoubtably still was.
“So what happens now?” The visitor spoke as the tea tray disappeared, leaving the two men alone with their thoughts.
“That rather depends on you.” The German lit a cigarette and proffered the box. His guest shook his head. His voice was lower in tone now, almost a purr. Seductive.
The Englishman shrugged off his jacket. “So how long are you planning to keep me here in this palatial monstrosity?”
“As long as it takes.” The German tapped ash into the ashtray with a slim forefinger, an oddly engaging gesture. “The tea was to your satisfaction?”
“Not quite Fortnums, you understand old boy, but acceptable.”
The German stood up and moved to stand behind his guest. “I will be sure to tell the chef.”
A pause. The Englishman could feel faint breath against the back of his neck. Slim fingers rested on the top of the armchair. He could sense their closeness.
Neither man was under any illusions about the scenario. The Englishman, his sense aware of the other’s presence, was excited, apprehensive, curious. This man had a reputation for hard, ruthless, efficiency. Would he be like this as a lover? The German, for his part, wondered whether Lissie would be as delicate and as sensitive as he looked, as he imagined. As he had anticipated.
A long, fraught silence. The German tentatively moved is fingers to touch the smooth, straight neck in front of him.
“By Jove. Just get on with it.” Impatiently, the Englishman turned his head slightly, pulling the other down to meet him, instigating a kiss.
It was, he felt, as all von Stalhein’s activities were, thorough and intense and yet – there was something more to be discovered. His instincts were shouting to him not to trust this man and yet, he couldn’t pull away. He didn't want to pull away.
Curiosity had killed the cat.
He hoped it wouldn’t kill him.