Tuesday, May 5, 2009

2-11: Safehouses



Chapter 10 here ... Chapter 12 here

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I

In the last week of the current sojourn, all houses received, simultaneously, a message from someone calling herself ‘13’. That was all, except that it was encrypted in their own code of the day, which they’d only decided on two hours earlier, and it was signed ‘Thirteen’.

On each of their transponders, which worked not unlike a mini laptop or Black Berry, a hazy blue image now appeared, an image of a very beautiful girl, dishevelled, distressed and seemingly in chains.

Her face turned towards the screen, her lips formed the word ‘Thirteen’ and then the image disappeared. A bit of hi-camp theatrics, according to Hugh but Geneviève was deeply concerned about the security breach, a breach which meant they went to ground, as per procedure.

It was as though life had suddenly fast forwarded.

Hugh’s gyps was due to be removed the next day and they’d brought in one of Nicolette’s family for the job. This, of course, gave the game away that their safehouse for those two weeks was actually deep in France.

In other news, the weapons training stepped up – an allocated officer appeared every few days at each safehouse, turning the place into an urban jungle as they practised the various drills over and over again in one hour bursts.

The basic strategy was response-fire in pairs – one with an armour piercing carbine and one with the soft round carbine. Hugh had designed modifications to the Pinnacle Dragon Skin body suit to accept the carbine clipped to the chest, the pistol holstered and the spare magazines in pouches behind the vest.

II

Coming back online at the end of the communication blackout which had delayed the changeover, the image of the girl phased itself back on all screens, speaking two words, ‘Desist, Albus’.

Thirteen had returned but now the image had changed. She was as some sort of seated goddess, draped in translucent white folds, revealing a perfect nakedness beneath, and holding an orb and a sceptre. Her lips pouted and text then appeared, ‘Desist, Albus. Desist.’

The enemy was most certainly present amongst them.

Geneviève now had a fair idea who the active traitor was but would keep her own counsel until the time was right. She also had a very good idea that Hugh was the Albus of the message but urged Emma and him to say nothing for now.

Thierry quizzed her about Thirteen.

‘She’s a young prostitute, Thierry. She must be, to fulfil their legend.’

‘Is she one of them or is she someone who should be rescued?’

‘She’s programmed, drugged and simply their tool. They’ll have orgiastic rituals with her, using short daggers to draw blood but she’ll live and be used the next time. Eventually they’ll murder her in a ritual, then kidnap a new girl.’

‘Can she be saved?’

‘This is what I’m now turning my attention to.’

Thierry was stroking his chin, thoughtfully. ‘It’s like something from a horror movie.’

‘The other way round. Horror movies sprang from the reality no one wished to confront.’

‘It seems so far fetched.’

‘In this case, I’m sure you’re right – it is far fetched. This Thirteen business is too theatrical – I’d swear it was produced by someone not far from us. There’s a creative spirit in this image.’

‘If it is who you think it is, how do you feel about that person?’

‘Without words. Horrified and depressed.’

.o0o.

Thirteen was working overtime and her evening message was more of the same: ‘Expel Albus, who plans your doom - or death will come upon you all.’

Nadine spoke of ‘no smoke without fire’ and now Nikki too had got it into her head that Albus might be Hugh.

There was a One2One awaiting Hugh from Geneviève, saying that it was probably now beyond doubt about the traitor. She ran the following message past him, asking him if her reasoning on this was sound:

‘Basically, it’s like this - Jacques received a message from their grocery suppliers this morning. Procedure demands, as you know, that the receiver repeats to the sender, via the transponder, each letter or number as it’s sent.

Problem was, electrostatic interference today made one or two of the numbers drop out and instead of immediately aborting, Jacques sent back what he thought he’d heard, knowing in advance the correct sequence for the day.

The first mistake passed without incident but on the second, Francesca was passing and observed, over his shoulder, what was going on. She apparently pushed him aside, hit ‘abort’, then told him he’d nearly had them all killed.

Immediately she warned me, their twelve hour transponder jammer came into play – they’re offline at this time. What use is the code of the day to the enemy anyway? To get a geographical fix, of course, which is what’s been happening.'

III

The Seven were undecided. ‘We can’t move, as yet,’ concluded Richard Japhet, ‘in the light of this hiccup. It really does puzzle me why they should persist in this pointless obstruction of the natural order of events, events that their principals are well aware of.’

Japhet was now certain that the Sophie-Fleury Order, as they were known in the Elysian Circles, was being secretly funded and abetted by some of the northern chapters. How else to account for their all-seeing omnipresence? They were clearly versed in the decretal lays, most notably through the Ancient and Honourable Guiscard and the arcane orders were never hounded, never hindered, never even mentioned in SFO dispatches.

Celeste Iduna had done the reading on them and the perceived wisdom was that they were a novo-oracle of some form, sent for some purpose still shrouded in mystery. Best left alone until the true lie of the land became clearer. If they turned out to be less than supposed, they’d be summarily disposed of.

Peter Jambres proposed sending the Lestrigon Detail to consume them once and for all. Erik Freischutz concurred, as of course he could be expected to, and begged to be allowed to conduct the extermination personally.

Jean Jannes, Aian Opinicus and Alberto Tiresio were undecided but inclined to support the Iduna conclusion - this became the balance of opinion for the interim.

The Seven concluded the formal business of their meeting and as there remained seven and a half hours until the High Day ceremony, they went their separate ways and took care of whatever needed attention, with the exception of Jambres, Jannes and Freischutz who lounged in the Great Reading Room over whisky and cognac and discussed the thorn in their sides.

‘Marchant has been the highest degree so far exposed,’ Jannes stated the obvious. ‘Each successive exposure has been one degree higher than previously. Has anyone else noted that?’

‘In other words,’ smiled Jambres, ‘You could well be next, brother. Is that what’s concerning you?’

‘It’s common knowledge that Opinicus has his eye on my seat.’

‘Are you suggesting that he’s somehow the power behind Section Sophie-Fleury?’

‘Someone is giving them inside information. I don’t say it’s Opinicus but they are aware of our moves, and even the climate of our opinion, soon after our conclaves. Albus and Belus seem to be among them.’

‘Why do you persist in this idea that Albus and Belus are reincarnated in the SSF?’ said Jannes. ‘You’ve got those two on the brain.’

‘Japhet is of the opinion that Albus and Belus must never come together,’ Freischutz put in.

‘Bit late for that,’ urged Jambres. ‘Unless they altered the order of houses at their ‘changeover’, as they call it, then Albus and Belus will soon be together.’

‘But not sentient as yet.’

‘The chances are extremely remote this would ever occur, especially as Albus is betrothed to the Vasseur girl. This would prevent union with Lavacquerie.’

‘So, if Albus and Belus never come together, what need we fear?’

Jambres concluded, ‘As far as I can see – absolutely nothing. And this is why Japhet, wisely, has not moved.’

‘That’s not entirely true,’ said Freischutz. Their expectant looks encouraged him to continue. ‘Japhet has entrusted me with a task which will come to pass before the next full moon. It will resolve our major concerns and unbalance their organization.’

‘And naturally,’ smiled Jean Jannes, ‘you are not at liberty to divulge the nature of this task.’

Jambres explained how he saw it. ‘Celeste Iduna knows that certain things must be. It would concern me if the Lestrogen were used; they attack with a rocket when a scalpel is required. Parts of Sophie-Fleury Order need to be excised but some need to be preserved for the higher purpose.

Belus is of child and dies in childbirth, to fulfil the legend; the child will then go on to be one of our greatest lieutenants; Albus must be prevented from union with Belus, for the issue of that union would threaten the very order itself.’

‘Is that why the woman Vasseur is encouraged in union with Albus?’

‘She only need keep him from Belus, the rest is unimportant. It could be any fertile female.'

IV

The next changeover was delayed, due to a strange falling out between Emma and Michel. What the origin of the dispute was, no one knew and neither of them was talking about it. Emma in particular clammed up. No one had told Emma about Michel and Nikki, nor about Amelie and so there was general puzzlement.

The housings had to be rapidly revamped by Geneviève and it came out looking like this:

1. Jean-Claude and Sophie-Fleury, Jacques and Francesca;
2. Nicolette and Hugh, Emma, Francine and Jean;
3. Nadine and Paul, Michel;
4. Geneviève, Thierry, Olivier, Gemma coordinating.

Nicolette was of the opinion that something was brewing and asked Hugh.

‘I know no more than you on this. The traitor assumes, quite correctly, that Genie will immediately contact me for my opinion and that I will seek the opinion of Emma and then share it with you. Remember that for the traitor, this is a game of intellectual superiority.

Emma suspects this person is on big money and needs to deliver the goods – not immediately but over a period of time - the enemy are very patient people. This person has been present at all major decisions made by the Section, knows all the procedures but I don’t think always knows the codes. This person seems, to me, to have a partner and both will have to leave just before the hit.’

'I see.'


In their room, Genie explained, ‘We must be ready to move quickly, Thierry – it’s all going to happen soon.’

‘Yes?’  She felt him tense up.

‘It’s over for them. We know a very nasty set of boys who can deal with such things – we've never used them but a dear friend of ours from Parisien days has always placed them on offer.’

‘Who are they?’

‘They’re called Detail 503. You know of them?’

‘I’ve heard of them, yes.’

‘How?’

‘During your rehabilitation. Tell me about the traitors.’

‘One’s a man, one’s a woman, one’s the cleverest, the coldest traitor I’ve ever witnessed and the other is a weak pawn in the hands of the first. It’s ever the way.’

‘The weak one slipped up?’

‘No – it was the strong one who gave the game away.’

‘How?’

‘Too clever – tried one too many embellishments.’

‘Could you be mistaken?’

‘Not now.’

‘How can you be sure?’

‘People give themselves away in the smallest ways, when they least expect it.’

.o0o.

The changeover took place next day and no one, not even the enemy, had a hit on the agenda at this time. They all settled into their new houses.

.o0o.

In the dead of night, two dark-clad figures, a man and a woman, looked at each other, peeled their suits to their ankles and engaged in intercourse so violently that each thrust lifted the female off the floor. Shorn of the last vestige of civility in each other’s company, she was tearing chunks from his neck and he thought it a great joke to deposit the wrong fluid in the wrong opening. Neither of them had ever acted this way before – it was something they brought out in each other and it knew no decency of any kind.

Spent, they zipped up their dirt inside their kit, lifted their packs onto their backs and went to the first door.

An interminable time later, they then proceeded to the second door. Now the man turned to his companion, lowered his head and their mouths locked hungrily once again, as if they’d never see the dawn.

Then they opened the last door, slipped down the steps, caught the signal on the other side and scuttled across the grassy slope to meet their contact.

There was a whoosh, then another, and both dropped to the ground.

Five men in black uniforms and balaclavas put the pair onto stretchers and four took them to the van. The fifth went up the steps to meet a young man who asked if the two were now dead.

Receiving an affirmative, the young man opened the transponder and sent his signal to PLN. Papillon nodded, switched off the device and turned to Thierry for comfort.

V

With the execution of the traitors, the pairings suggested themselves really:

1. Francine and Jean, Jean-Claude and Sophie-Fleury;
2. Geneviève and Thierry, Olivier and Gemma;
3. Emma and Paul, Jacques and Francesca;
4. Nicolette and Hugh coordinating.

They were back to fourteen.

Emma was sad, yes but not inconsolable as she'd been integrally involved in the executions, she understood what had been happening and was pragmatic. Geneviève, on the other hand, was inconsolable and Thierry had his work cut out. All members One2Oned her at intervals.

Hugh and Jean-Claude had long One2Ones, missing the old bonhomie and determined to occupy the same safehouse sometime in the near future.

.o0o.

At Geneviève's safehouse, Thierry pulled back the blinds, went to Gemma’s room and knocked. On receiving the word, he entered and saw they were at the computer. Gemma usually slept in the room with the computer and Olivier took his place on the divan in the main room but during the day, he was constantly in there playing games.

Thierry wanted time with his son but when he saw they were engrossed in the game, he quietly withdrew. No sooner than he had departed than Gemma pressed exit.

‘What’d you do that for?’

‘I don’t want to play that anymore.’

Olivier was way ahead of her and terrified. ‘You’re making me nervous.’

‘Uh-huh.’ Clearly she was going to have to lead him. She put her lips close to his and he took a peck. She waited for more then gave it up. During dinner she planned to steal something from Geneviève’s room.

Just turning fifteen, she was precocious, far in advance of Olivier, in an experimental frame of mind and Geneviève was beginning to think she’d made an error in approving her airlift.

.o0o.

Evening approached.

Silence eventually descended on the house, not a peep from the two in the other room. Softly, silently, Gemma’s toes touched the floor and then the rest of her was gliding across the floorboards towards Olivier on the divan.

He was awake; she urged him to be silent, gesticulating for him to follow her, which he was disinclined to do. She stood there, head inclined to one side, puzzled and summoned him again.

In the other room, Thierry lay on his back, staring at the ceiling. Geneviève asked, ‘How old were you, Thierry?’

‘Fifteen.’

‘He’s sixteen.’

‘I’m going out there. He’s not ready for this.’

‘If he’s not, he won’t. If you go out there, he’ll try it next time in spite of you.’

.o0o.

After the scares of the past days and the rubbing out of the traitors, Hugh and Jean-Claude pushed hard for the Section to be battle ready.

Everyone had to train daily to a regimen, tailored to them.

For example, Sophie-Fleury [the woman] was not going to be capable of much so a lateral solution was found. As a girl she’d roller skated and thus their safehouse was one with a sloping pathway at the rear, at the end of which they always had support staff nearby to lift her when she got there.

Every member had the defence mechanisms tailor made and the pairs drilled in support fire and how to cover in a foursome.

Each safehouse had to be studied in detail for its escape possibilities within an hour of arrival and all gear had to be left in a trail to that escape route, to be donned in motion, as it were. Nobody, including Hugh and Jean-Claude, were to be allocated a safehouse where the escape procedure was beyond the endurance of either her gender or his years. There were no beg-pardons here, no sensitivities. If you were too old for the route or too weak, you were endangering the other partner.

Hugh arranged that body armour was always at the ready and the food packs were always in place. The outer wear would remain unchanged, the second unisex layer would last one week, the unisex undergarments were interchangeable daily, and one spare carried in the pouches. Another pouch carried only personal items. It was a remarkably compact and yet efficient outfit.

For himself, he’d allocated the HK UMP 45 sub machine and the M1911 pistol as its holstered sidearm, firing the .45ACP round. It was either that or the SIG-Sauer P220, the latter useful for Europe but the 1911 gave that assurance in critical situations which Hugh demanded. Nikki was using the Russian PP-2000 SMG and GSh-18 pistol, both about half the weight of comparable arms and accepting the hollow nose 9mm Para rounds for soft targeting.

The greatest problem with convincing her to use the Russian weaponry had been her normal European bias and the extreme functionality of the two. They were simple action weapons but simple action meant reliability and reliability meant living.

He showed her that, as her function was the opening suppressive fire and the mopping up of those not blasted out by the 45s, she needed both large magazine capacity and large rate of fire, which both these gave, all in a super light format. Plus, she was a small girl and both these weapons suited her size.

They were all ready for the flee procedure – in the case of Hugh and Nikki, the second part disagreeable in the extreme.

Slowly, slowly, they were becoming hard, slick, fast and determined to work with their partners, as they knew full well that any altercation, any health issue, anything at all, could threaten their lives.

No one had to mention it but sexual relations were obviously encouraged to improve the bonding but they were out of order within hours of either a changeover or an alert. That was only logical, especially for the males.

Jean-Claude suggested that they should become more proactive and people agreed. The killing of the traitors had sent out a clear signal to the enemy and all of Europe too that a Section whose modus operandi had once been seen as purely diplomacy and intrigue was now ruthless, armed and ready to excise problems from its midst.

This unfortunately played into the hands of the enemy who could quite rightly label them terrorists and yet Europe knew they were only terrorists for key elements in power, not in the least for the common people and lacking an ideology. In short, they were fugitives from the elite.

.o0o.

Emma looked across at Paul and saw a boffin who might have been technically excellent, adept at politics and intrigue but was he hard enough to protect her? Plus he had overseen the demise of her child's father.

She made a mental note that she would not make love to him, not that it was on the agenda at all. It would take time to adjust and to be fair, he’d lost someone too. That must have been tough on him.

In his late thirties, Paul Fougeres had done all the training with the rest of them and had come through without complaint and yet … and yet. Emma had almost fallen in the bathroom one day and it was Paul who’d raced in and saved her, so what was she saying?

Actually, the more she thought of it, the more she warmed to the man. She went over to him and rested a hand on his shoulder while he was reading Paris Match. He looked up and appreciated the gesture.

He’d come into a Section already up to speed and had been given a tricky assignment, not being seen as part of the unit and not really partnered with anyone. He didn’t want to complain but the coolness of Emma, though understandable, still hurt.

So the gesture was nice.

VI

April 2007

It happened at 16:17 and there was no doubt whatsoever.

The first rocket went through the living room wall, took out the wall opposite and began its explosion within the bedroom. This kept them alive, despite the falling debris and Hugh and Nicolette moved swiftly.

Dragon Skins and pouches donned as they ran, they also kissed as they’d always promised they’d do in this situation and scrambled up to the attic of the chalet, crouching near the little attic door. Both SMGs were primed and slipped into the diagonal chest holsters and they were ready.

Another rocket hit down below, the building shuddered and groaned.

Hugh threw open the attic door, fired the carbon fibre cable from the harpoon and saw it cross four roofs, then dig into the wall of the chalet eighty metres away down the hill.

Nicolette clipped on to the cable and disappeared, he clipped himself on and away he went. Being 85kg, his feet touched the top of the second roof, he had to curl up for the third and had just spun back facing downhill when he saw the sniper run onto the balcony fifty metres away and almost fling his weapon on the railing, by his stance, trying for Nikki; a three round burst from the UMP took care of him and as Hugh slid diagonally down past the balcony door, another three round burst seemed to collect the one inside but he couldn’t be sure because he was already past and lower than the balcony.

At the chalet, she was already unclipped and now he did too, he shot the carbon fibre cord with the 1911, the cable whipcorded back over the roofs to the attic.

Inside the chalet, they scrambled down the stairwell and out to the drying room. The far wall panel removed, it was into the next chalet and two familiar faces appeared, now into the prepared, hollowed out refrigerators with the rear air vents, which were then loaded onto the triple wheeled removal trolleys, out to the waiting removals van with household goods in the back.

Inside their respective refrigerators, they could feel the van gently feeling its way down the winding road – a removal van would never hurry. Out of the refrigerator, with a slight push on the door, he called to Nikki, she opened her door and they were ready for the next move.

They felt the van slow to a stop at the crossroads and prayed the drain cover in the road had already been slid across, they got out, Hugh slid their floor hatch open and breathed a sigh of relief – it was open. Nikki went down first, then him, closing the manhole cover after him; then they heard the van turn right, whilst they clung to the metal ladder.

Down the ladder and the torch was switched on for the one and only time – uggh, the sewage was disgusting, overpowering, but it was the only way. The Watchers would have expected them to take the regular water supply pipes - they’d be anticipating that and anyway, it was only 58 seconds in the sludge after all, they had their disposable waterproofs on, top to toe and there was a hot bath waiting at the other end.

She dropped into it first, he after her, and down they went, two giant faeces on a journey to near oblivion – 55 … 56 … 57 seconds – she grabbed the bottom of the ladder and tried to haul herself up, he was prevented from being swept on by her body, he got a hold on the ladder and together they managed to finally scramble onto it, pausing to get their breath back, the shaft was opened at the top - they could see the light, then there was the sudden darkening above, weapons primed, the wait for the signal – yes, it was them – up, up, out of the shaft and in through the floor of the other van, one of them would replace the manhole cover, he closed the floor hatch, the van moved off down the hill, then turned right; yes, that was correct - then back up the hill again, yes, all correct, finally turning into the driveway, the sound of the creaking wooden garage doors opening, in they went – the back of the van opened – and out they got.

‘Abend, Franz. Wie gehts?’

‘Herr Jensen, schnell, schnell, hier entlang, bitte. Fraulein, bitte.’

Thirty-eight minutes later saw them in an upstairs bath together, washing the bits and pieces of the filth from one another, mainly from her hair. They got out and flushed the scum down the drainhole, then filled the bath again.

The obnoxiously soiled waterproofs had already been dumped by Franz as he began the haircut which she’d trained him to do, she stood in the bath and looked in the mirror, satisfied it looked chic enough for the nonce.

They scrubbed and disinfected some more, got out, dried each other she looked so ravishing and … well … freshly scrubbed in her new short, jagged hair that he had to kiss her intimately and make love to her there and then, standing just where they were, her reddened mound pushed out of shape and her kiss finer than wine. For her part, this was just the tonic she needed, settling her nerves, reassuring her and her smile said it all, encouraging him to new, piston-like levels which took her to a peak, which then sent him over and then they had to run the bath and wash each other all over again.

‘Welcome to the homeless,’ he intoned and she smiled that smile which went straight through him every time.

o0o.

Dressed in layers again, they went downstairs, where both were handed gluwein, feeling the roar all the way to the stomach, then they fell on the repast on the table – meats, vegetables, bread and water.

‘Herr Jensen,’ Franz dropped into English, ‘You’ll be taken at 19:00, in forty minutes, all right?’

Their other equipment was in the room and Nicolette now checked over the communications gear – it all seemed to be OK. Hugh checked the food and drink containers, Nicolette checked their clothing, a quick check of the weapons and they were ready.

‘Entlang hier,’ said Franz and they followed him through to his garage and into the back seat of the X5. ‘If all is well, he’ll be there, and Gunter will give the signal, otherwise we continue on, understood?’

‘Verstehe.’

The garage doors automatically opened, the X5 made its way over the bumps onto the main roadway and they drove into the Austrian night. Far away, in the distance, was Kitzbhuel and the Hannenkahm.

.o0o.

The drive had been near interminable – they couldn’t tell how many towns they’d either bypassed or gone through, they seemed to be forever turning at crossroads or avoiding the edges of narrow lanes.

Eventually, they made it to a field in the middle of a virtual wilderness; Erik put his mobile to his ear and said something in German.

The next thing they heard was the sound of rotors overhead; the shadow of a helicopter passed over their vehicle and onto the field in front of them. Hugh offered both men his hand from the back seat, they shook it in turn, the car stopped, they got out and sprinted, bent over, scurried to the copter and got in the open door, Hugh first into the back and Nikki in the front, beside the pilot.

Even as the copter rose, they saw an enemy burst come at them from the bushes and strike the fuselage, Hugh rested the UMP and gave a short burst to the bushes.

The copter swung away to the left, straightened and they were away into the clear, starry night.

.o0o.

With the helicopter flying low to the land, Nicolette reminded him of the OK signal.

‘Doing it now,’ he replied, assembling the apparatus in the back seat. He entered his ID, entered the numbers which spelled the message, scrambled and sent it to the other three safehouses.

He awaited the auto-confirmation and it duly came from all three, then, just as he was about to switch off, the screen filled with a blue glow and there she was again – that girl called Thirteen, her lips puckered and her voice said simply, ‘You were warned.’

From his sharp intake of breath, Nicolette sensed something was wrong, swung round and put two and two together: ‘What did that bitch say?’

‘We were warned.'

'Then the traitor -'

'I think it was preloaded. I don't think there's anyone else now.'

‘Switch it off, Hugh, switch it off.’

‘It's off. We were the only ones hit. They’re all fine, apparently.’

.o0o.

With Hugh and Nikki now back in a safehouse, one of the two houses in their inventory geographically furthest south, life returned to what, for the Section, was deemed ‘normal’.

Those two actually had the best of it, being on an island and able to go down to the water at dusk, crunching along the sand, arm in arm. Yet she seemed somehow out of place and for how many women could that be said?

'You're so urban, chic - you're not a beach girl, are you love?'

'My skin - it burns, it's uncomfortable, you know that. This is nice now in the evening -'

'We never dance, you and I.'

'I'm not very good at it,' she smiled. 'Je suis idiosyncratique.'

'Don't I know it. Do you want to try a little dancing together? When we're close, it's not really dancing, more shuffling.'

'Music?'

'Could you stand me singing in French?' She looked at him incredulously but was even more so when he reached over for his pack, rummaged through a pocket and brought out a small plastic cardholder, in which were a dozen scraps of paper. He tipped them out and found three, put the rest back and turned to her. 'You ready?'

It was an upbeat number by Cabrel and he half-read from the scrap of paper, basically in tune:

'Pas besoin de faire de trop longs discours,
Ça change tout dedans, ça change tout autour,
Pourvu que jamais tu ne t'éloignes,
Plus loin qu'un jet de sarbacane,
J'ai presque plus ma tête à moi,
Depuis toi.'

She stood stock still, staring at him, then broke into a smile he'd always remember.

'Start again. Do you want me nue?' She didn't even wait for the answer but jumped up, disrobed and waited for him to start.

He did and she cavorted around the hut, not half bad but as she'd said - 'idiosyncratique', putting in thrusts and oscillations all over the place but with exceedingly graceful arm movements.

'Alors te voilà bout de femme,
Comme soufflée d'une sarbacane.
Le ciel s'est ouvert par endroits,
Depuis toi.
Oh depuis toi ...'

She did one final pirouette and fell over. He skipped across and straddled her on the floor, hard as a rock, almost forcing her apart, to her smile and gasp; she was taken aback by the force of the thrusts and hungry kiss, which had her going now. In rhythm, it was close to brutal.

The result was messy.

They lay, panting for some time, getting their breath back, settling down.

'Now for something a little different,' he eventually said. He looked at the other scrap, mouthed the words a bit first and then delivered softly, gazing into her eyes:

'Au fond de ses jeux de miroir
Elle a emprisonné mon image
Et même quand je suis loin le soir
Elle pose ses mains sur mon visage

J'ai brûlé tous mes vieux souvenirs
Depuis qu'elle a mon coeur en point de mire
Et je garde mes nouvelles images
Pour la fille avec qui je voyage'

That earned him a bearhug which almost squeezed the life out of him and a big sloppy kiss. 'You had three pieces of paper. What was the other song?'

'I'm not singing it to you.'

'Oh?'

'Je pense encore toi.'

'Ah, yes. Don't sing that one to me.' She shivered and held him close. 'Why did you have those?'

'I've always liked Cabrel, I thought I could work them in somehow, one day.'

'Opportuniste.'

'Mania for preparation.'

'Make love to me. Start at my mouth.'

VII

A complication was the general tightening of security in Europe for the 12th European Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production and this would make movement all but impossible.

They were trapped unless they could move today or tomorrow.

Another factor was the World Cup, clearly an opportunity too good for the enemy to miss but when they’d strike was anyone’s guess. Geneviève asked Jean-Claude and Hugh why the ERSCP should affect them and Jean-Claude saw it this way:

It was well known that France hoped to make an impact in its EU presidency over security and border controls. Germany wished to stymie this. France therefore needed an event to illustrate the need. The conference was in Berlin for three days and delegates would be billeted in various places, some in the building Hugh’s safehouse would be located in.

If there were to be a terrorist attack, more sweeping controls could be brought in. After all, they’d managed it with 911 and 7/7, so why not again?

Geneviève decided to bring the changeover forward to the next day, uneasy about the other three houses, plus she wanted to allow Francesca back with Thierry and to give Olivier and Gemma some space away from Papa’s disapproving gaze.

Francine had been observing matters for quite some time without comment but now she put a message on Conference. ‘Do the enemy want Hugh, do they want Nicolette or do they want both together? Do they want to kill or capture?

Sophie-Fleury now had a proposal and everyone was keen to know her opinion. ‘Well,’ she typed in, ‘if Hugh and Nicolette were not in the same houses for a few days, that might tell us which one the enemy wants. It would also save at least one of them.’

Geneviève added, ‘There’s also evidence that Hugh is this Albus they spoke of and we know there is a Belus. This seems, to me, to be Emma. If Hugh and Nikki were willing, why don’t they, for two weeks, agree to be in different houses?’

'No!' Nikki immediately replied. ‘I don’t like it and you know very well why not. You know exactly how I feel.’

‘Hugh?’ typed in Geneviève.

‘Nikki speaks for both of us.’

There was silence for just under a minute, during which time a lot of thinking was going on.

‘Nikki,’ wrote Geneviève, ‘we’ll never know unless we do it.’

‘You know very well what you're asking, both of you,' she responded, 'and I want you to know I'm upset that you could be so dishonest. Do you take me for a fool? I'm discussing this with Hugh for two hours now.’

'Hugh?'

'I support my wife in this - it sounds a set-up to me.'

They all agreed, got off their transponders.  If Genevieve was at all shocked by the vehemence of Nikki's response, to Emma it was predictable, as was Hugh's support for Nikki.

.o0o.

Nicolette climbed into bed beside him, quite agitated. ‘So, here it is.  What we discussed. Were you in this too?'

'Not in the least - this is a new one on me.'

'You want her though.'

He groaned. 'Nikki, we’ve been through all this.'  

'Emma has good legs.'

'Good thighs actually.'

'You've noticed.'

'Nikki, this is pointless.   She's a beautiful woman but I have a beautiful woman here who gives me the best loving possible.  Am I an idiot?'

‘That’s too easy.  That puts it onto me.  You could tell me no right now.’

‘No.’

‘You mean that?’

‘My final word.’

She pondered that. 'I have to know.'

'You have to know what?  Nikki, why do you want your man to cheat on you?  If I go there, sooner or later something sexual happens.  I can tell you straight away that it wouldn't be intercourse - that is not attractive with a pregnant woman.  But there are other ways and I can't see how I could be on that bed with her and something not eventually happen.  But worse, much worse, is that she and I might form a bond.  It would never transcend ours but it would be there, below the surface.  This is not a good idea.’

'Do this for me.  Emma deserves this.  She's been very good about us.'

He shrugged.  'I don't like it.  I'm saying that now before it happens.  Is it that you need a break from me?'

She laughed.  'Who with?' She looked at him shaking his head, jumped off the bed and One2Oned their decision.

VIII

The houses were arranged this way:

1. Jacques and Francesca, Francine and Jean;

2. Emma and Hugh, Olivier and Gemma;

3. Nicolette and Paul, Jean-Claude and Sophie-Fleury;

4. Geneviève, Thierry coordinating.

Nicolette thought it improved the odds for her if Emma and Hugh had to look after the young ones - there'd be no real rest.   Thierry grumbled about Hugh and Emma - he saw both as licentious people.  

Geneviève gave him one of those scathing looks. She wanted Olivier to be able to have some time away from Thierry's constant vigilance, to be able to find his own feet.

Thierry was not happy, so much so that they had to rethink and in a fit of pique, Geneviève came out with an outrageous arrangement, mitigated a little by saying it would only be for ten days, she stepped back and awaited the firestorm of protest:

1. Jean-Claude and Sophie-Fleury, Olivier and Gemma;

2. Emma and Hugh, Jacques and Francine;

3. Nicolette and Thierry, Jean and Francesca;

4. Paul and Geneviève coordinating.

The strangest thing was that there were no howls of protest forthcoming.  She waited and waited, eventually sending out: 'Well?'

Thierry looked at it and his respect for those two in the first house was such that he didn't mind the two young ones being there.  Hugh looked at it and as Geneviève half suspected, didn't really mind Thierry - if it happened, it happened - she was annoyed that Thierry was so scathing about Hugh, for that reason.  

Francesca could have a break from sex and could emote again as a kid, at least as far as Thierry saw it.

Nicolette was amazed that Hugh did not object and was determined to behave, especially as she'd gone on so much about Emma.   She liked Francine in there as a limiting factor and would have a quiet word about tactics.  Olivier saw peace and quiet and Gemma knew she could now freely get at Ollie, Jean had someone young for a change.

Geneviève was a little dismayed that Thierry hadn’t at least offered to refuse Nikki.

Jacques needed the break from Francesca really badly and Thierry understood his daughter's ... well ... boisterous and sometimes difficult temperament, both Paul and Geneviève wanted to catch up on old times and to organize technical matters.

People actually liked it.  It was daring but it was probably the relief all had needed, the break, the variety without ostensible danger.

Geneviève put her own misgivings about Thierry on hold, smiled and breathed a sigh of relief when they all agreed.

Sarbacane

La fille qui m'accompagne

Je pense encore a toi....




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