Chapter Thirty-One

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"The men all seem eager," David said as he walked Maria back up to the schloss. "I loved your approach. It will cause them to think for the next while before you have your chats." He chuckled. "Even Manny."

"I'm wondering if he has ever had success with his attitude. I question whether it actually is his attitude. Or if he's simply strutting a bravado image in front of the others."

"I saw a lot of that among the men while we trained in Quebec, and again on the Canterbury Plains. Big talk but little cock was a common expression used behind their backs." David opened the front door and ushered Maria into the foyer. "I bet the quiet ones had more success."

"And I bet you were one of the quiet ones." She squeezed his arm.

"I had to be. I didn't want any more attention from the fellows than I already had."

"That would have been strange. We've not talked about that — except in the mountains as we escaped. At least that's behind you now. There are no more gang showers."

"It followed me to Oxford. There was a member of my former regiment in an intake a few weeks after mine. He recognised me and called me Big Dave. Word spread, and I was soon being called Sir Lotalance."

Maria snickered. "Like in King Arthur." She looked down. "I like a lot of lance."

David shook his head. "That's more of the objectifying thing about which you've been talking. Ignoring the person to focus on the parts."

Maria slowly nodded as they walked along the hallway toward the kitchen. "It is, isn't it? So easy to slip into it. Automatic, actually. That's another direction I need to follow. And the size thing. I hadn't thought to investigate that also."

"With all your research, will you have time for your studies?"

"The studies are easy and all so logical. The research is what fascinates me; the excitement of finding undiscovered reality in cold data. And in finding ways to gather fresh information to mine."

Bethia looked up from the counter as they entered the kitchen. "You've been quiet since your return."

"We're sorry, Tante. We've had things which needed attention." David hugged Bethia and kissed her cheeks. "Sorry to have been so foreign. What may we do to help with dinner?"

"Relax. Enjoy your time together. I've a big stew on the stove, and little needs doing." She pointed to the table. "Let's sit. You can tell me about your travels as dinner cooks."

Thursday, 30 December 1915

Maria spent Thursday morning formulating a new series of questions to add to her previous ones. Then through the afternoon, she sat in the withdrawing room in a repetitive cycle, asking her list of questions to the men and making notes. Each session lasted thirty to forty minutes, the major part being an examination of their answers, followed by an open discussion on sexuality and attraction. By the end of the day, she was drained, having met with six of the men.

David looked up from the desk in their suite as she entered. He put down his pen and rose to greet her. During their long hug, he said, "You look and feel exhausted. Let's lie down and take a nap."

"I can't. I have to compile a summary while everything is still fresh." She looked at the desk. "What were you working on?"

"Projects for the men, mainly." He pointed to the maps and documents. "And I've begun planning an itinerary for myself."

She tensed. "You'll be going again soon, won't you? When?"

"After we've settled into your suite in Bern. I'll be working out of there, leaving Georg to run the team here. He needs only general direction, and I can offer it from there as easily as from here."

Maria dropped her shoulders. "You'll be staying with me in Bern? That would be so divine. Why didn't you tell me earlier?"

"I didn't know until a short while ago."

She lifted her head from his chest. "How did you find out?"

"I analysed the situation and saw it made the most sense. I'll have direct secure communication with London from Bern, and it's as easy to drive into the Rhine Basin from there as it is from here. Likely easier. Also, it's much closer to Bienne. Besides, I don't need to mother the team, only direct them. They know their jobs better than I do."

Maria nodded. "And William? What would he think of this?"

"I'll tell him what I've just told you. He'll see the logic."

"So, you'll be working out of the Embassy?"

"That's my official appointment, Aide-de-Camp to the Ambassador." David chuckled. "And it's another reason for you to not use Colonel Wyndcom's nickname. I'll likely be working closely with him."

"Hopefully, Hans will have smoothed some of his rough edges for you."

"I hope he has a sense of humour buried somewhere under his gruff front. You knocked the wind out of his sails last week, and he's unlikely to forget." David nodded toward his papers on the desk. "I'll clear that and give you a place to work."

"Leave it be, David. I work far better nestled amid cushions on a chaise longue. The desk reminds me of the lecture halls, and it cramps my creativity." She giggled. "Besides, the hard chair gives me a numb bum."

"I'll continue clearing the desk, then." He chuckled as he reached down and cupped her butt cheeks in his hands, gently massaging. "So I can do this to ease the numbness."

Maria hummed a sigh. "Maybe we could continue this on the bed. It's more comfortable than the chaise longue, and I can compile notes in my mind as we futter."

A while later, as they lay entwined and gently moving under the duvet, David said, "You can review your findings aloud with me. I often talk aloud to myself as I juggle and analyse information."

"But, I told the men I wouldn't share it."

"You don't have to mention who said what. Only what was said. The data are going to be published, anyway. Besides, I have no interest in knowing who you've interviewed today, but I'd love a glimpse into the motivation of other men. I have no idea how my thoughts compare."

"I should ask you the questions first. I hadn't thought of doing that; it would add another subject to the research."

"You can do that now."

"I'd need to read from the list and take notes." She shifted her hips and moaned. "Let's play here first. Release the tension which has been building through the afternoon."

"Did the discussions cause a stir?"

"As objective as I try to be with my research, new information always does. Maybe that's part of my attraction to the whole sexuality area." She shifted more vigorously. "Come, help me release some of these tensions."

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