2nd Book Chapter 25 here ... 3rd book Chapter 2 here
August 19th, 2009
Kemal Altikardesh set down the dregs of his syrupy coffee and smiled.
‘Your hospitality, Hugh, is only exceeded by the charms of your - what do you call Emma - your distant early warning? You’ve even turned on the weather - I feel right at home.’
‘Glad it meets with your approval, Kemal,’ perspired Section 32 co-coordinator. He loosened his tie, wiped a handtowel over his balding pate and wondered when this bloody heatwave was going to end.
‘Have you considered airconditioning, my friend?’
‘Well, we actually do have conditioning of sorts, believe it or not, somewhere in this rabbit warren – ’
‘The Citadel, you mean?’
‘Well informed, as always, I see. As temperatures go, it's only around 28 or 29 but the way the building's are laid out, the narrow streets - after a few days, it becomes a bit asphyxiating.’
His Turkish counterpart smiled to himself. ‘Beautiful location though, Hugh – north of a northern city, parks nearby, cobblestone lanes - very old world.’
‘It’s pleasant enough to work in ... on a cool day.’
They got down to the business of the standard issue sidearms contract.
In reception, Emma finished munching her green apple, aimed the core at the wastepaper basket, wiped her palms and face on a teatowel and asked the Level 4, Ryan, if he’d like another glass of water whilst he was waiting.
Outside, the city was gasping for breath, the sun beat down on rooftops and concrete footpaths, searing east-facing rooms.
The meeting with Altikardesh now concluded, Hugh ushered him through to the outer office to be left, as usual, to Emma’s tender ministrations – guests always enjoyed this part of it. Fielding the standard marriage proposal with her usual repartee, she bundled him away and returned to say that Ryan was waiting to be seen.
‘All right, let's deal with this now.’
Once this side of the carved double doors, Ryan propped, uneasy, his slight, ever alert form and blinking eyes incongruous in the sombre stateroom - oak panelling had always intimidated Ryan. Some metres away, the security head’s form, forever poised between being in shape and going to seed, was seated side on to a desk awash with paperwork.
He was contemplating the top document of a thick file, worry creasing an already deeply creased brow. Glancing at his watch, he set down the file and gazed across at their top operative- there were less than four hours in which to come up with an answer about this Sentinel business.
‘Come in, Ryan, sit down.’ He indicated the leather couch and chairs to one side of the room, under the portrait of the nation’s greatest naval hero.
Hugh watched as the man crossed the ersatz Bokhara and perched on the edge of the couch, feeling the cool dark leather below him yield, as if inviting him to relax his guard. He planted his feet all the more firmly, half a metre apart on the rug and resisted the invitation to further drop his defences.
Emma came through and cleared the coffee tray away; Hugh came over and sat down, ran a handkerchief over his balding pate and loosened the tie yet further.
‘Tell me, Ryan, are you aware we lost another Sentinel today?’
Ryan blinked. ‘Yes, Mr. Jensen, sir.’
‘Any ideas about – about whom it could have been?’
‘I know who it was – it was Miss Waverley.’
Hugh was patient. ‘I didn’t mean the victim, Ryan, I meant the perpetrator.’
‘No idea, sir.’
‘Aren’t the Sentinels your immediate responsibility?’
‘Ye - es, although Mrs. Carrington is in overall control.’
‘But you’re in control on the ground.’
‘Yes, sir, as you know.’
Hugh sighed and wiped his brow again with the hand towel. He walked across to the desk, stabbed at the button and asked for another tea and aspirin. Ryan’s tastes didn’t run to tea, so he wasn't asked. ‘You were close to Miss Waverley, Ryan?’
‘Vanessa was a fine young lady, sir, patient, intelligent and a good chess player.’
There was a buzz from Ryan’s pocket. ‘May I go?’
‘A call, sir, I’m needed.’
Hugh stared for a moment at his most expensive operative, rose and swept his arm towards the door. ‘Thanks for coming.’
Ryan passed through the double doors with the economy of movement which had been trained into him over three long, tedious years. He fully appreciated that, in those few minutes just now, his entire persona had been scrutinized and he hoped he’d been able to at least partially resist the penetration, not that he’d had anything to hide, of course.
Emma, the shawl she’d worn for the Turkish visitor now discarded, shook her mop of hair and came through with the tea but no aspirin, laid it on the low table, then paused, reading his expression from experience. She reflected.
They were quite comfortable now, financially that was and it was generally understood that they did things in tandem - it had been her idea to set up the Sentinels, their distant-early-warning, the clearing house for accumulated data. Based on the French model, she'd recruited girls from good families, flanked by young men of talent, they were a notoriously close-knit unit, with a roving commission to detect, inform and if necessary, close down potential trouble.
The PM placed enormous store by their advice, particularly following the incidents at the Loire and this had, naturally, given rise to inter-service jealousy.
In the early days, the PM had taken quite a shine to her big innocent eyes and French mystique but Hugh had snuffed that idea out straight away by formally offering her as the second member of the PM’s new harem. She'd smiled to herself.
Neither saw anything dirty in the word "nepotism" in security work of this nature and in the three years they’d been in charge, the only people who’d ever found their way in had been brothers or sisters of sons or daughters. It was a family of sorts and like all families, they bickered and fought but out of all that came strength and solidarity and so the Citadel hadn’t been breached ... until five days ago.
‘Hugh, this is what Sophie and Janine meant by them coming for us. I’m worried, I can’t take how we’re losing these people.’
‘You and me both. We’re under assault – did they have to be so murderous to our people?’
There was a call, she took it. ‘Rowthorpe?’
‘Yes ... I’m sorry.’
His shoulders sagged. The kid had been the daughter of his oldest friend from TA days. He’d sworn to look after her, he’d taken exquisite pleasure in watching her become someone very, very special under Emma and things had been looking up.
Now he’d have to face the kid’s papa and explain why he hadn’t been able to provide the protection he’d solemnly sworn. ‘Ryan’s working in Rowthorpe this month, isn’t he?’
‘It wasn’t him. He was seen in Moran’s by Doug Baines. Doug went over for a chilli.’
‘What’s wrong with the canteen?’
She fixed him with a long look which spoke volumes.
‘I see. All right, I’ll speak with the caterers first thing tomorrow.’
‘The whole outfit seriously needs replacing.’ She didn’t move. ‘There’s something else. You know Bridgewater, where it crosses the river?’
‘The shopping town?’
‘No, over the road.’
‘You mean that goddawful swamp?’
‘That goddawful swamp is home to seven species of fish and there’s a colony of otters as well. There’s a pathway through the trees and in autumn, there’s a carpet of leaves covering it.’
‘I - I haven’t seen it recently.’
‘No, you haven’t. They’re building over it - multilevel shopping complex and carpark.’
‘Yes, I know. Progress, Petite - 1500 jobs, reclamation project, I believe.’
‘Progress for whom?’
‘Exactly. Could you have a word with the PM?’
‘But he has nothing to do with these things directly and nor do we. It’s a council matter; besides, the permits have been signed and the building’s commenced.’
‘And the otters are still alive.’
‘All right, all right, I’ll speak with him, I promise.’
‘For the otters or for me?’
‘Emma, don’t think I’m hell bent on the destruction of the planet – I’ll leave that to the conglomerates. We have other issues today, can we concentrate on them?’
'I've been over and over it,’ she said. ‘I suspected Rosa. She's clean. Clean bill of health from Janine.’
‘The Prime Minister went back through the file himself. I'm watching and waiting for something, anything and can't breakdown why this is happening.’
‘Jackson is possible - there are anomalies in his lifestyle.'
‘OK love, I have to put this report together and by my reckoning, I have 2 hours and 40 minutes.’
There was a call outside anyway so she departed.
Of course he suspected Ryan but there was no proof. Five Sentinels down in five days and so damned hard to train too, so expensive, every one them. Human beings, not automatons, deceased and no one among the general public even remotely aware. No news coverage of them at all - they entered those buildings and that was that.
Another worrying thing was the general societal descent into behaviour which had, ten to fifteen years earlier, been only whispered about. Now it was trumpeted all over the media, even the broadsheets - the triumph of the trivial and the bizarre.
He shook his head. He picked up the Echo and thumped the paper with the back of his hand. Look at it - Debby does Dallas [the musical], for Heaven’s sake! Why not Sodom and Gomorrah [the musical]?
How could the Sentinels have been lured into off limit areas? They knew better than that. And yet each had been monitored entering various proscribed office blocks in four cities.
Not likely – they were superbly-paid, those girls. OK – maybe Ryan was on the take – a Maserati, trip to the Bahamas? No - he was a robotic workaholic and besides, he didn’t drive.
Ryan already had power, by his own lights, and he was never going to be Head of the Citadel anyway - there were too many obstacles, not the least being his temperament.
Perhaps he was the patsy but for whom? A thought softly meandered through the brain, just a trickling brook.
Rosa? Jackson? Paul?
He had to tread carefully here, had to maintain his balance, his rationale.
Staring down at the document in front of him, there really was no other explanation. Emma was the only person present in a supervisory capacity when all five had disappeared. Not even Rosa had been there.
It was obviously Jamieson and Co but how?
An impulse made him get up and go to the double doors; he’d saunter through on some pretext, and the first image of her would be the one to internalize; he knew this from long experience.
She covered the gasp and the phone almost imperceptibly slid back onto its holder. Matilda, the tabby, sat on her lap, purring. ‘Hugh?’
‘Darling, you know we have to eliminate all suspects, one by one. Everyone will have to be closely scrutinized. Everyone ... including me.’
‘It’s the nature of our business, I’m afraid.’
‘I don’t know why it took you so long. By the way, that was Delicatess on the phone – they’ll take over the concession. Trace the call, Hugh - I want you to clear me of that, at least.’
‘Darling, I didn’t -’
‘I don’t need.’
That’s when he saw the corner of a slip of paper she was sitting on. He chose to ignore it and stepped back through to his office, an unsettled man with 2hours and 29 minutes to come up with his considered opinion for the PM.
Jackson Carter had always had to live down his name.
Thirty-five years old, self-styled playboy with a now receding hairline, there’d always somehow been an expectation attached to his sobriquet which had produced acute disappointment in those who’d met him. Once he’d cared about it but it didn’t concern him now. He was the one who’d been selected from hundreds when the Meteor had had his spectacular rise to superstardom.
Meteor - that described Hugh Jensen to a T. Until this current business, the guy had seemed to have a sixth sense, he had a nose for what was going down and he was physically hard too, as people who misjudged his years found to their cost. The PM was no fool, recognized that he needed Jensen and the Meteor was quite good but also that rarest of subordinates – loyal and unambitious for any political office. He did what he did.
He’d even been sounded out by the aging PM about various roles but there’d been nothing doing – Jensen believed firmly in the Peter Principle. He had enough power, salary and perks, a nice routine, a wife he adored; he was a happy man.
The PM had been satisfied.
Rosa had been the first. An auburn haired lady of thirty-eight, married for eight years, two scallywags for kids because she’d always been too soft with them but the rope she gave them was by no means elastic – just long. The kids weren’t spoilt - no one could claim that.
Rosa was no looker but she scrubbed up well enough and handled Operations with quiet aplomb, revelling in the lack of drama in this section. She knew the Meteor appreciated that she kept a tight ship.
Emma though was the thirty-four year old pick of the crop, with her compact frame of whipcord strength, all curves and with that pixie face.
The Meteor had surrounded himself with class – just downright nice people really - ordinary people in a way - believable people even, and then he’d selected Jackson himself, stalked him more like and had then sprung the question. How could Jackson not have felt flattered, how could he not have agreed to the oh-so-reasonable request to throw in his lot with the team?
What a collection.
And Emma could have been a bitch to him and to everyone else for that matter, they all knew that, but she was kindness itself. She was forever coming down on the side of the embattled underdog, even vehemently defending Rosa in the Sidbury business, standing up to Hugh until it was shown that Rosa had been right all along, and that had mightily impressed Rosa.
It had impressed Jackson Ronald Carter as well.
Emma. She was a honey all right and when she smiled, the sun most certainly came out.
He liked to think of himself as a loyal part of the team, Jackson and anyone in his right mind didn’t mess with the team; people spoke with respect of the team. And yet the little bit extra he’d agreed to, well it had come in handy and he didn’t consider he’d compromised his position – not at all.
He was musing over this as he waited behind the wheel of the E500 in the relative coolness of the underground car park, waiting for the call to action. That’s when he saw Ryan poke his head around the lower door.
But Ryan didn’t drive.
Jackson dropped back in the seat and pressed recline. Ryan ventured into the park and went across to the BMW, Emma’s old Z8. He stood there, swivelling his head, then bent down, straightened up and strode swiftly for the door whence he’d come. Jackson snapped open the mobile, scrambled an encoded message to Emma and awaited the reply.
It came swiftly. He was to go upstairs casually and make his way back to the Citadel, noting everything along the way. The Mercedes was to remain unlocked.
He made it through the carpark door, according to the security cameras later, but his body was fished out of the canal at 8 o’clock that evening; death had been instantaneous - total brain shutdown.
No blow, no poison, no drugs.
Deep in the bowels of the sprawling heap of buildings which housed the Treasury, a phone rang.
‘Jamieson – uh-huh, one moment.’
The thin female voice on the wire could be heard by Jamieson’s secretary; he looked at the latter pointedly; she gathered up some papers from her desk and went off to attend to other Treasury business.
‘I’m listening,’ breathed the light grey Italian suit and pink tie. ‘Uh-huh. Rattled, you say? Uh-huh. Question of time.’
He rang off and a smile played on his lips. The bloody maverick didn’t have the least clue what was in the pipeline. Still, Jensen had his uses for a while yet.
Paul Waley had taken the call from Jackson in the carpark the day before and was reflecting on it now in Moran’s, sipping on a cold Black Label and mopping his forehead under the ceiling fan.
When would the damned heatwave end, he wanted to know.
Hard to describe his function at the Citadel – Chief Hacker, he called himself. Actually, Jackson called him Bugs Bunny, on account of his slightly protruding teeth and his habit of gnawing a pen he never used - he was always on the Servocom, programming in something or other he’d dreamed up. What a classic scenario for taking over the country. What a classic scenario for enriching himself beyond his wildest dreams.
And yet his tender twenty years belied a moral underpinning which had been sniffed out immediately by the Meteor.
His parents had been personal friends of the Meteor long ago. There were few skeletons in that family’s cupboards and the fact that there had been any skeletons at all was quietly reassuring, to tell the truth. They weren’t the perfect family – just typical, that was all. Paul couldn’t actually see the point of living a life on the run, and the squillions he’d been offered meant nothing to him.
He didn’t want to go down in history as the mole, the white ant; he wanted to go down as the formidable techno-defender of the team, the one past whom nothing ever got – the one who found out, in the end.
The Meteor implicitly trusted his advice and that was good enough for Paul. He could ask for a raise anytime he liked but they always did the budget together and he knew exactly what everyone was getting anyway, even the Meteor himself. It was more than generous and the bonuses made it even better.
Yeah, it was a tight team.
So what was going down here? Five Sentinels down, Jackson hit and he, Paul Waley, hadn’t picked up on it; he’d missed it. Was he getting soft, had they hacked into him, the Hacker, and given him a demonstration of his own impotence? Was he on the way out of the Citadel? Who were ‘they’ anyway?
He ran bony fingers through his touselled red hair and pondered this, while ordering his next beer. And that was another good thing about the Meteor – he let his staff unwind and trusted that they’d limit their intake, as they invariably did. Ryan glided through the door of Moran’s and the slight frame was at Paul’s table in a flash. Unsettling, that.
‘May I sit down, Mr. Waley?’
‘Depends on what you want, of course.’ Ryan just stood there. ‘Sit down, man, don’t draw attention to yourself.’
Ryan sat down, perched on the edge of the bench. He spoke.
‘Jackson Carter was not as he seemed, you know; he was on the take.’
Paul kept his cool; he was noted for that. ‘So who eliminated Jackson, Ryan?’
‘No, Mr. Waley, you don’t see - I do as I’m ordered.’
‘Classic Nuremberg defence, huh?’
‘I do as I’m ordered. You know that.’
‘Who ordered the hit?’
‘I can’t tell you.’
‘Won’t tell me?’
‘Can’t tell you. The order came correctly encrypted; I obeyed.’
‘Why tell me?’
‘I was ordered to.’
‘I can’t tell you.’
‘The order came correctly encrypted. I obeyed.’
‘Ryan, are you free to tell me if you’ve been ordered to hit me?’
‘Have you been ordered to hit me?’
‘Do you have a … theory as to who’s behind these orders?’
‘Yes, Emma Jensen de la Mere is behind it. Now I must go. Excuse me, Mr. Waley.’
He swiftly dematerialized onto the clammy street. Paul snapped open his mobile, scrambled, sat back and waited.
About twenty five minutes later, Emma sauntered in and sat down opposite him.
‘This had better be good.’
He didn’t reply, just handed her the Datastore. She plugged it into her mobile and read the display. Paul read her eyes - she was clearly puzzled.
‘Is it true?’ he asked softly.
‘That I’m Hugh’s daughter? He certainly treats me like that at times.’
‘But it’s not true?’
‘Paul, look at me – do I look like his daughter? And I’m French, also. Someone’s having a sick joke here.’
She unwound herself, looked at his glass, caught the eye of the girl and ordered another Carling for him and a house red for herself. She leaned her slender forearms on the table and looked him squarely in the eye.
‘This is more than a sick joke, Paul – it’s a clear attempt to unsettle us, to tie up our operatives and network in unnecessary investigations. I think we have two choices here – to keep our own counsel or we can open up to each other, no matter how dire that might seem. Hugh suspects everyone, even me.’
‘Don’t give it another thought – he even suspects himself. He’s a suspicious man, by profession.’
‘Excuse my boldness but what exactly do you see in him?’
‘What does any girl see?’
‘But he’s, you know, a little ineligible.’
The girl came over and set down the drinks.
‘You mean he’s moving past middle aged?’
‘I’d never –’
‘No, but that’s what you’re intimating, isn’t it? You asked the question, Paul; now do you really want the answer?’
‘Full or abridged?’
‘Go on, I’m intrigued.’
She thought for a minute or so, breathed in, then began.
‘All right, physically, he’s a strange collection of different elements, he’s cute, earnest, sincere, boyish, with wild, crazy eyes but he's mine.’
‘I see. And that’s enough for you?’
‘He has most of the elements I need.'
‘I’ll never understand women. Why did you tell me all this?’
‘Because I know you had your own plans for me.’
He blushed and she smiled, she leaned across and kissed him on the cheek.
‘Emma … why did Ryan say those things about Jackson or about you, for that matter?’
She shrugged her shoulders.
‘We have a problem, don’t we?’
‘Yes Paul, one enormous problem. We’re being set one against the other. Someone’s got inside, that’s clear enough. Stay with us, Paul, there’s strength in numbers.’
‘I plan to.’
He fell forward across the table, knocking the drinks to the floor. Emma shrieked, shrank back and then burst into tears.
There were three of them left in the Citadel proper now - Rosa, Emma and the Meteor and they were under siege. There'd been no more disappearances or brain aneurisms, there'd been no more trouble of any kind and there were still five sentinels left, fully operational and operating.
The Prime Minister had wanted to know why the trouble had stopped and Hugh did not have an explanation, nor Emma, nor Rosa. Whoever it was had them over a barrel, was toying with them. It could start again at any moment and all three knew it.
Emma decided she could think better in Eden.
The buildings housing the section, either side of the cobblestoned Rohan Row, were a sprawling, higgledy-piggledy line of afterthoughts and the main, central stateroom had been added to and extended over the years, in a haphazard manner.
The result was that metal skyways were required between some buildings and these raised three problems – they were the perfect access points for terrorists, they were the perfect target points for snipers and they were just plain rickety and dangerous.
Money had been expended by previous occupants to rebuild and enclose the narrowest of these but there was one point, just beyond the end of the stateroom, where the building was recessed somewhat and the fabric was in a greater state of disrepair.
Four and a half months ago, Rosa had hit on a plan to extend and rebuild the rickety old iron balcony into a sort of terrace, maybe with a few pot plants and what not and they might take morning and afternoon tea there. It could also double [amusing, this] as a place to entertain dignitaries of a less hidebound variety.
Hugh had immediately embraced the idea, Emma had seen it brought to fruition and now, constructed in hardwood planking, with cement rendered walls covering two and a half sides and with a pergola 10 feet above, it was their pride and joy.
Emma had set to it, surprised by Rosa’s reticence in doing the decoration of her brainchild herself and Emma had turned it into a veritable jungle. It was not only flora she encouraged but fauna as well and all manner of birds chirped and chirruped, pecking at little string bags of peanuts and cavorting and splashing around the edges of the birdbath, until it had got on Rosa’s nerves.
‘The city has a bird problem, Emma – excrement and damage cost millions each year, and here you are encouraging the little varmints.’
‘They’re blue tits, Rosa, not just birds.’
Hugh had only drawn the line at pets roaming about.
Mindful of the gift Eden afforded enemies of the state – it was the perfect setup to wipe out an entire department, Hugh had negotiated for the CAS to send in their boys in a fullscale dummy hit – helicopters, cable droplines, snipers, the lot. The reports had spawned a procedure which went into effect every time Eden was used.
On a regular basis, minor operatives took care of the flora and fauna and others were seconded at sniper points on opposite rooftops and at ground level and there were even three anti-aircraft nests in position, at strategic points around the building.
Emma was carrying three coffees, he was standing over by the railing, some peanuts in his hand, encouraging a blue tit who'd perched on his shoulder to venture down his arm for a shot at the treasure. From his puckered lips, little tch tch noises emanated.
She slipped into the wicker chair and observed one half of the PM's distant early warning in action. He turned and smiled sheepishly back at her.
‘Say hello to Emma, Florence.’
The door from the inside corridor slid open and Rosa stepped out onto the balcony, efficiently businesslike, Florence squawked and flew off in terror. Hugh sighed and joined them at the table, Rosa sitting and brushing away the most persistent blue tit, who flew off to join his compatriots.
They turned to business. Hugh would take over the joint functions of the two erstwhile Citadel members and split some of these with Rosa.
‘The PM’s taking it hard, ladies - wants to wind up the whole show; wants to make other arrangements. He … er … didn’t appreciate the introduction of ‘otters’ into the discussion either.’
‘You chose this morning to ask him about the otters?’ Emma giggled.
‘Well, when else could I introduce them?’ Hugh asked.
Rosa was a little put out. ‘Would either of you two care to explain to me what all this is about?’
‘I’ll explain it back in reception, Rosa. What was his reaction?’
‘Well, he was sure I’d taken leave of my senses under the strain but when he saw I was serious, he agreed to have them moved to Rochester Pond, an ecologically acceptable environment, I’m informed.’
Emma relaxed and allowed herself a satisfied smile. Rosa looked on, wide eyed, realized that that was the end of the matter and returned to business.
‘Well, Rosa, how do you feel about being on probation?’
‘We all are – the Section, I mean.’
‘Chief,’ said Rosa, ‘your nonchalance does you credit but some of us have much at stake here. You have little to lose - you've a hefty pension coming your way and various side ventures you can involve yourself in. Emma wouldn’t find too much difficulty in slotting in somewhere else either, if she didn’t want to be house bound.’
Emma shot her a glance.
‘And so to the question of you, Rosa, dear,’ he interrupted. ‘You know the PM’s insisting on your removal and you know I’m doing what I can to stymie him. But he wants results and he wants them soon. Ladies, I’ve asked Doug to come in and join us under the Cones.’
There were some truly bizarre aspects to the Citadel.
Hugh’s eccentricity and penchant for lateral solutions, verging on the comically absurd, had brought in a secure dialogue system he called the Cones of Silence, based on the old ’70s U.S. spy comedy Get Smart.
Up to four operatives could sit under these bullet proof, sound proof, perspex-like helmets, linked by perspex-like tubing, no electronics involved and yet they were surprisingly effective. Also, no one was physically in any position to copy anything down nor to push any buttons, being within full view of the others.
From outside, any conversation came out garbled.
But the sight of four grown people sitting under divers’ helmets in a security section office was nothing short of surreal and Emma had advised him not to make too much of this device in front of the PM.
Douglas Baines joined them in the fourth cone and Hugh opened the meeting.
They had a problem on their hands.
They considered total restructuring and how that might affect things. They considered new codes. They'd change the mobile system and the cards. They considered everything that could have a bearing and yet the gnawing doubt remained that the enemy was merely biding its time, playing merry hell with their nerves.
They considered how the actual security around the PM and the upper echelon had shown no crack throughout the entire business whilst they themselves, at the Citadel, appeared to be falling apart.
Rosa suggested they temporarily close Eden and move to more secure premises but Emma, predictably, pooh-poohed the idea. Hugh, also predictably, came down on the side of his wife in this, as he’d come to immensely enjoy the simple pleasures of Eden.
It was time to move on to the question of treachery within. ‘We all harbour suspicions and wild ideas about the others, so let’s come out and air them. Take particular care to mention minutiae, the smallest details – they might be vital. We’re going to step on toes here but I do insist on it, ladies and gentleman, for our own safety. As for me, I confess I suspected Emma and the little paper she slipped under her bottom the day Vanessa Waverley went down.’
He heard the intake of air from one of the cones.
‘That was my fault, sir,’ replied Doug Baines. ‘It was an invitation to Emma to meet me that evening.’
That intake of air again. ‘And would you have?’ Hugh's voice addressed Emma.
‘Yes, I’d planned to. You couldn’t do anything except misinterpret it, Hugh, so I was tossing up whether to tell you about it when you walked into reception.’
‘Perhaps I’d better say, sir, that THAT issue didn’t come into it at all – you understand?’
‘What was in the note?’ Hugh ignored his assurances.
‘Emma, be at George’s in the Mall at 2000. I have something you might be interested in.’
‘What was the ‘something’?’
‘It was information I'd found in the car, on the seat - in an envelope. I wanted to discuss it alone.’
‘You could have discussed that at reception,’ Emma put in. Baines did not answer, they waited ... but nothing.
'So what was that information, Doug?'
'It was only about the catering, nothing special at all.'
'You gave me to understand -' Emma was indignant.
'I wanted time with you, to be with you, talk with you about it all, about all the troubles, about you sir.'
'Me? Tell it and I can assure you that if you can put it diplomatically, I'll take it on board and not jump down your throat. We're at the stage we need to know things.'
'I wanted to speak with Emma about whether it could be you behind it.'
‘That's fair. I’d like to know why you planned to go, Emma.’
‘To follow the thread and see where it led - you know our philosophy.’
‘Meaning you suspected me?’ Baines asked.
‘I had to explore all avenues. And Hugh, you can put your spouse-based logic aside on this one, before you even begin.’
They all lapsed into silence and it was not a happy atmosphere. 'OK,' Hugh ended the silence, 'the real reason? Did you suspect me, Emma?'
'You said it - we have to look at all possibilities. Do you think it's over?'
'Not in the least. Does anyone else think so?'
'Well I was hoping,' said Baines.
'I thought there might still be a threat,' said Rosa.
There was another silence and all were deep in their own thoughts.
'If anything else happens, we'll most likely disband and set up elsewhere. We seem pretty institutional but Emma and I have been far from that in our together so far. We could be out of here quite quickly. We need to start looking for escape routes for you other two as well.'
Hugh got up from his chair in the garden and made for the computer room, Emma touched him on the shoulder, for him to relax, to come back with her to the garden.
He clearly didn’t want but agreed and there they were on their chairs when Sally brought the makings of a late supper.
Emma was watching him, his body language, his movements brusque. ‘This can’t go on. You. This way. Me. Suspicion.’
‘We knew it was going to happen. We were warned.’
‘All the more reason for us to talk.’
‘I agree but things like that paper aren’t pleasant.’
‘We went for a long time, there were many bits of paper, many men came into the office, I went many places and you weren’t in the least concerned then – and you were right not to be. Now, anything I do you’re suspicious of.’
‘I think it’s that you’re trying to do this alone and you’ve stopped including me, keeping me in the loop.’
‘Part of my job is keeping all the minor worries off you. Anything you would want to know about I tell you, that hasn’t stopped.’
‘What of Celeste? Sophie?’
‘Sophie’s in London, working, has a young man, Celeste’s shown no signs yet of coming out of it.’
‘You’ll not like this, Emma but I think they’ll try to compromise you. I’ve seen it done before –‘’
‘You think I don’t know that? A small favour is done, a small bending of the rules to someone known, another one here, another there. Then you find that one of those was the enemy. Look, we’re both very busy, I do tell you all the relevant things –’
‘That’s what worries me. Who decides what’s relevant?’
‘Me of course. I don’t like the implication of the question, Hugh. You always trusted me before.’
‘I do trust you, it’s just that I’ve begun operating in a vacuum and I’m a hands on person, at the pulse, as you know. This job has shifted me more and more from the operational side and more to the ceremonial.’
‘Then let’s alter the way we do it.’
‘OK but for the interim, just keep me informed. Please? We have to stop these losses and we have to stop this wedge I feel is coming between us. Above all, if we develop any grievances – especially those, anything which annoys us, let’s please both talk about them, sort it out between us, present a united front.’
‘Exactly what I was about to say.’
‘I’m tired, Emma. Let’s go to bed.’
‘You go first, I’ll read for a little while, collect my thoughts, I’ll be there soon.
He looked at her, stood and went to bed. She waited till he’d gone and took out her mobile.
2nd Book Chapter 25 here ... 3rd book Chapter 2 here