"Bonham! I've brought you a present!"
"That's very kind of you, my lord," Bonham said, looking up from the accounts.
"It's a new assistant," Eroica said. "I know you've been a bit overloaded, lately, so I hired you someone to help out." He gestured at a young woman who was standing next to him, looking a bit shell-shocked. "I'll leave you to it- Klaus needs us for a mission tomorrow, poor lamb, and he wants to have a prep meeting. It always makes him so cross when he feels there aren't enough flowcharts and whatnot involved." He beamed at them as he turned to go. "I'm sure everything will go splendidly!"
They blinked at each other for a moment in the silence after Eroica left. The girl looked a bit lost, as though she wasn't entirely sure how she had ended up standing in an earl's kitchen, wearing a dark suit and sensible shoes, her fair hair pulled back into a neat braid. Bonham smiled at her.
"Hullo, miss," he said, getting up and crossing the kitchen to shake her hand. "I'm Bonham."
"Gillian Jones," she said, shaking his hand with an air of relief. "Mr. Bonham, I'm terribly sorry, but I'm afraid there may have been a bit of a misunderstanding. Of course I'll be happy to lend a hand with your work, but I really don't have much experience with... household things. I tried to explain to Lord Gloria--"
"People often do," Bonham said, comfortably. "I find it's generally best to just nod along and then work it all out later. What sort of experience do you have?"
She looked sheepish. "I'm a forensic accountant, actually."
"That's all right, then," Bonham said. "You can help me with the accounts. Lord Gloria's got an accountant on staff, of course, but we have to massage the books a bit before we let him see them- he's a bit too good at his job, wants to make us all eat moldy bread and drink sour milk because it's cheaper." He indicated the ledgers on the table, and she sat down gingerly next to him. He wondered how Eroica had come to hire the girl, and was opening his mouth to ask when the earl's voice interrupted him.
"Bonham! I need a concertina!"
"In the blue box on the second shelf of the music-room cupboard, my lord," Bonham called back.
"A concertina?" Gillian said.
"Lord Gloria is very fond of music," Bonham said. "But perhaps you wouldn't have discussed that?"
"We didn't discuss anything at all!" she exclaimed. "It was all very muddling. One minute I was working like normal and the next I was in the middle of a gigantic row between Lord Gloria and my boss, and then my boss said he was going to send me to Alaska, and then Lord Gloria called my boss a hypocritical bastard and said he'd hire me himself, and then we just sort of... came here."
Light was dawning. "You'd have worked for Major Eberbach, then?" Bonham asked.
"How on earth did you know that?" Gillian asked.
"Oh, we're used to the Major around here," Bonham said. "He's got his little ways."
"Little ways?" Gillian stared at him. "Perhaps you're thinking of another Major Eberbach..."
"NATO, big gun, shouts a lot?" Bonham said.
"That's him," said Gillian.
"His bark's worse than his bite, really." A bell near the ceiling jingled merrily and Bonham crossed the room to an intercom set in the wall. "Yes, my lord?"
"Bonham, I just saw Klaus' car coming up the drive," Lord Gloria's voice came through the speaker. "Could you be a dear and put the kettle on? Shouting always makes him thirsty, I imagine he'll want some tea later."
"Of course, my lord," Bonham said, and started preparing the tea tray. Gillian was still sitting at the table, looking shell-shocked.
"The Major's coming here?" she said, her eyes wide. "Oh God, he'll kill someone!"
Bonham patted her shoulder. "You'll find he hardly ever does," he said. A thunderous knocking echoed through the house, closely followed by a slam and the sound of distant shouting that came steadily closer- the Major's strident tones, interwoven with the lighter tones of Eroica's voice.
"...flaunting that brazen hussy!"
"...constant perverted leering at my alphabets--"
"...can't help it if their arses-"
A door slammed, and the shouting died away again. Gillian looked at Bonham, blue eyes wide. "Should we go after them?"
Bonham bit back a chuckle. "No need, miss."
"But the Major sounded--"
"They'll be fine," Bonham said soothingly. "You'll see. They'll be ringing for their tea in a minute. Here, why don't you take a look at those ledgers while we wait? Perhaps we can give Mr. James a nice surprise."
"All right," she said doubtfully. "If you're sure."
They worked on the ledger quietly for a while; Gillian, soothed by the neat columns of figures, was showing Bonham a clever way to hide bits of the grocery bill when the bell rang again.
"Bonham, could you bring the tea up, please?" Lord Gloria asked.
"Of course, my lord," Bonham replied.
"Oh, and bring Miss Jones with you, if you would be so kind."
"Yes, my lord," Bonham said. He gathered together the tea things. "Come along then, miss," he said to Gillian. "You see, they've sorted things out."
"I suppose," Gillian said, and followed him cautiously upstairs to the red sitting-room. Eroica and the Major were side-by-side on the sofa; Eroica was lounging back against the cushions in a cloud of silk and golden hair, and the Major was sitting bolt upright on the very edge, as though reluctant to let any more of him touch the sofa than was absolutely necessary. His tie was the tiniest bit askew.
"You are absent without leave, Ms. L," the Major said.
"I'm sorry, sir," Gillian said. "It was an accident, sir."
"Hm." The Major looked at her narrowly; she started to turn pink under his scrutiny. "You may perhaps have a point, Lord Gloria," he said, "I must insist, however, that it was entirely irrelevant."
Eroica preened a bit; as he turned his head, Bonham noticed a fresh mark on his neck, slowly reddening.
"I'm always right, darling," he drawled, "but I suppose that means I can afford to be generous. Consider the matter closed."
Gillian was looking from one of them to the other, bewildered. "Sir?" she ventured, at last. "Do I still have to go to Alaska?"
The Major sighed. "I am understaffed at the moment," he said gruffly, "so I suppose that can be postponed. You should return to your post immediately; you have lost time when you should have been working."
"Call the car for Miss Jones, Bonham," Eroica said.
"Of course, my lord," Bonham said, and steered the girl gently away, closing the door behind them.
"I can't believe the Major didn't kill him," Gillian said.
"Lord Gloria says the Major shouts at people because he likes them," Bonham said soothingly.
"That's as may be, but I know for a fact that generally he shouts at people because he thinks they're idiots," Gillian said.
"Well, there's no law says you can only shout at people for one reason, is there?" said Bonham, logically. "Let me go ahead and call the car round for you, miss."
"Should I wait for the Major?"
Down the corridor, Bonham's sensitive ears detected a scuffle and a thump. "I believe he and Lord Gloria had further business to attend to," he said, ushering her back downstairs. "They sometimes take quite a time in their discussions."
"It's very odd, though," Gillian said. "I can't quite put my finger on it, but something about the way they act is just... off. I asked G to explain it, earlier, but he just said I was imagining things."
Bonham smiled to himself. "Oh, don't worry, miss," he said. "I'm sure you'll figure it out in time."