Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Jerusalem 2 - Questions



Chapter 1 hereChapter 3 here

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I

They were under the cones the next day.

‘May I make a suggestion, Chief?’

‘Go on.’

‘Can’t we get a bit of this famed nepotism going here? Jim’s a fine man but he’s outside the Citadel. Better he’s inside so he stops driving me crazy with his eternal questions. You all know he’s into computers and has a feel for the internal workings of the electronic world.

Of course, that’s the perfect route for our enemy too, to get inside and destroy, but then again, that’s another of our strengths, isn’t it? If we’re destroyed, the pieces just pick themselves up, transmogrify into something else and there we all are again, minus the traitor.’

‘Emma, for or against?'

'For.'

'If you'll do the prelim work. I’ll square it with the PM.’

Emma mused, ‘I’ve been thinking about those aneurisms that took out Jackson and Paul.  I think it might have been so with Vanessa and the others too.  We know the method, we know it’s cued electronically and we know they’re not implants.’

‘So?’ Hugh prompted.

‘How do they work it?’

‘We’ve been through all that. We don’t know.’

‘Maybe we’re missing something here,’ she continued. ‘It might be sitting right in front of our noses and we can’t see it.  And yet a diligent and logical process of cross referencing and elimination would throw up the result, if we were patient enough to carry it out, instead of running scared.’

‘They’re obviously laughing at us,’ put in Rosa.

Hugh agreed. ‘These people are immensely arrogant. They put these things on display for all to see and laugh at how it goes over the heads of all but those in the know. For those who are in the know, it’s meant as a salutary warning. And now, let’s please get out from under these damned Cones; I can’t stand them any longer.’

II

Jim Carrington, four years older than Rosa, was a computer buff who'd once had the horn rimmed specs to prove it. Rosa had reworked his image – contact lenses, fitness club, naked bed-top wrestling on call at home. He was a happy man. 

Computers were his first love and Rosa thought it wiser to let him have his little plaything, rather than risk a more insidious male preoccupation. He wasn’t immediately exultant over the Citadel offer and hummed and hawed for some time. He’d have to stew over it a while.

‘There’s no ‘while’, you idiot,’ Rosa was exasperated.

‘Still, better to think these things through first, chick, no?    I do have my other work, you know.’

‘All right Jim.’

She knew better than to push him once he’d dug his heels in. James Carrington was making a lot of cash on the side from his anti-virus company, his services were in demand and his little company suited him down to the ground.  He was a free agent outside the Citadel, this Rosa knew, and it was going to take all her wiles to get him to agree.

As she went past on the way to answer the doorbell, she noted the word ‘Citadel’ in the lower left corner of the spreadsheet on his screen.   He heard Jane in the corridor - good - he wanted her to check over the Compak report.

‘Hi,’ he mumbled out of the corner of his mouth, as she sidled in, moved up to the computer and perched on the second stool, facing him. Her long, cobalt, blue stretch jeans extended before her, her almost bare feet extended below them; she gave a flick of the head and threw back her trademark auburn haired plait.

Twenty five and full of vigour was our Jane, he mused - either Rosa was a very trusting soul or else she must have had some other motivation. He swung round and took in the girl’s intense tanned beauty, her open neckline, bare waist and groin-revealing hipster jeans as dispassionately as if she’d been a cold water fish.

Was the girl a fool to dress like that in front of Rosa?  Was he a fool to employ her?

Truth was, Rosa’s own career rivalled family commitment in her world. That was not to say she wasn’t a good mother - the boys were testament enough to that. In Rosa’s view, everything was a question of checks and balances and it was the equilibrium, the duality, she appreciated most.

So anything which threatened that equilibrium, such as the Citadel matter; well that roused her fighting instincts.  She wasn’t above sacrificing her own husband, if need be. As for Jane, Rosa wouldn’t think twice about sinking that little madam. Jim would take the job, she knew that.

She brought in the coffee.

III

Hugh accepted the coffee from Janine and settled back in the plush leather chair, facing his boss.

‘Any for’arder, Hugh?’

‘Sir, you have the report.  We know the Citadel has been targeted; nothing’s touched the Praetorian as yet.’

‘Yes, it’s been brought home to me in no uncertain terms that you’ve lost your touch, too old for the job now.  There are elements, especially in Treasury, that do not smile favourably upon you.’

‘And your feeling, sir?’

‘Oh, I don’t want to reveal my innermost thoughts but I’ll say this, Hugh - character counts for something here and the people behind this business can be sniffed out in a second. In this department, I think I could pinpoint where the trouble would come from.

As you know, you need to listen closely to a man’s conversation, the topics he brings up unasked, his preoccupations. Put them together with a database readout on his opportunities, and it’s a fairly good guide. There could be any of seven I could name straight away at this end. That doesn’t mean that they’ve taken the plunge into disloyalty – they may even perceive their actions as highly patriotic.’

‘So that leaves us with what, sir?’

‘With a mole in your camp, Hugh, to employ the vernacular. Someone’s making it easier for our end to do damage.’

'Unless you have any violent objection, sir, I'd like two of our team to debug your office and surrounding offices.  The Praetorian can accompany us.'

'Consider it done.  I'd like to know that myself.  Now, back to your mole - how far down could it be?'

'Level 4 - no one lower has the access for these hits.'

'That's my reading too.  So, any ideas?'

'Let's start at the top.  Emma - there are things she's been doing and we've not had the time to talk.  I need to make that time.  It might be that she's just covering my backside but there are some anomalies and I'm going to be frank there.  Then me - they might be doing a number on me, such that, when I issue an instruction, it is removing protection from that particular operative, without me knowing.'

'Or else knowing full well.'

'That's your decision to make, sir and yet Mr. Jamieson has not intimated that I'm the mole.  On the other hand, if he were the trouble at this end - then he'd act as he has done.  Sow suspicion.'  The Prime Minister nodded for him to continue. 'Rosa - could be although you had her vetted, your wife did too – that’s significant.'

'Yes, I’m aware of that.  Why do you suspect Rosa?'

'Some of the things she's suggested ... well, let me put it this way ... she introduced the idea of her husband working for us at exactly the moment we were under the greatest stress.  Now, that might just be her nature - she's quite brusque at times - but that and one or two other things had me wondering.

The driver, Doug Baines.  One of yours, sir.  Janine knows him well and if she's in on it, if he's a sleeper, then it follows that he would be largely unsuspected.

Moving to the Level 4s.  They're all dead now, except for Maria and Jonathan.  The credentials of the latter two were impeccable but we've seen that before - they would be.'

'So are you going to take a stab at it?'

'It's easier to say who I think it's not.  I'd cut out Doug, on account of Janine.  She doesn't seem a traitor.  Maria came to us from Europe and that's the only reason I'd suspect her.  She's one of Emma's inductees and Emma vouches for her.'  The Prime Minister's eyebrow gave him away. 'Yes, I know, sir - Emma's on the list.  My feeling is that there's not just one.  There might be a few, at various levels.

With respect, the Praetorian is currently clean and I'd like for Emma to claim much of the credit for that.  Your people are clean and ours aren't.  If we can't get to the bottom of this by the end of the month, sir, perhaps you'll need to suspend the Citadel for the foreseeable, then bring in only those you can be 100%, goldplated sure about.'

'You're serious?'

'It's already crossed your mind, it's certainly crossed Mr. Jamieson's, it's crossed the Praetorian's.  Financially, the two of us can survive quite well for a couple of years, at the flat I've always had.'

'You're not escaping that easily.'

'Oh we'd not be doing that.  We'd still be working for you, if you still wanted us but it would just not be the Citadel any more.'

'A strong Citadel is essential.  That's why you're being targetted. It’s a decoy for me.  I'd like you here once a week now.  Next Thursday I'll be in Prague but you can tell Janine, as you would me.'

IV

Ryan was decommissioned as a precaution. He must have known it would have come to that and interestingly, nothing much happened either way.   He must have known he was being monitored.

In the Citadel, Emma had done a good job of training James in Paul’s old role but Jane had proven a little disappointing.  She hadn’t come into it with quite the same gusto, with quite the same esprit de corps of James Carrington. Emma needed to keep an eye on that one and hoped she’d come around to what they were all about. 

There was just a little too much of ‘I’m-number-one’ about Jane Simpson.  Quite frankly, that powdered, chiselled, determined little jaw and slender neck were worrying - they had the power to attract a man’s lips and no doubt tributes had been laid at that door over the years.

Yet she'd been the Prime Minister's recommendee.

Delicatess had taken over the concession, with the result that the old canteen was almost immediately transformed into an attractive place to eat.

Jane caught Emma on the way downstairs for lunch.

‘Emma?’ she laughed, grasping both her hands with free spirited joie-de-vivre.

Emma did not appreciate this bonhomie one little bit, politely moved to withdraw her hands from the other’s and yet she was disturbed to find the prolongation of Jane’s touch not altogether unpleasant.

Under the table, eating their lunch together, Jane’s calf moved close to hers and she felt no revulsion, no, not by a long shot.

She decided to broach the subject with Hugh that evening.

.o0o.

One bedroom light was still on.

‘Are you disgusted I felt that, Hugh?’

‘No, not really, I don’t see it in the same light as you and me. Maybe that’s wrong, maybe it’s misguided but I can’t feel passionately against it.’

‘And what if it was another man?’

‘I’d kill him or maybe even you.’

‘Really?’

‘No, not really. I’d just break up the Citadel and drift away somewhere into my old age. That’s more my style.’

‘For a security chief, you’re sometimes so passive.’

‘Passive?  Perhaps.  People’s feelings change; there’s no future hanging on when the other wants to move on. I think a woman must be fought for initially, but not to the point of martyrdom.’

‘Not even if she’d been lured away but really loved him deep down?’

‘That’s another matter, of course. If I felt that, I’d move hell and high water to get her back.’

She fell asleep in her husband’s arms, her thoughts to that point elsewhere.

V

Jim Carrington was in reception, running programmes, Jane Simpson doing the fetching; Emma, in white blouse, striped navy jacket and silk scarf, was munching on an apple.

Doug drove Carrington home for the disc he needed; Emma was expecting Hugh about three. There was now simply herself – and there was Jane.

A madness gripped her. She made a snap decision, strode round to where the girl was shuffling papers and stood there until she put them down.  She sat beside Jane and tried to find something appropriate to ask but she was fooling no one.

Jane’s hand found its way between her thighs, she didn’t push it away at first, then she stood and returned to her desk.  The other got up, gathered her papers and quietly left the room.

When the two men returned, all was as it had been.

Hugh returned, put out a few requests, Emma ignored them and followed him in through the double doors.  He turned, waiting but she led him to the armchairs, sat him down and perched on the armrest.

‘I raped Jane earlier.’

He was too old a campaigner to be moved by this. ‘D’you think she might be pregnant?’

‘You know what I mean. I took her.’

‘Actually, my darling, I don’t know what you mean - I’m a little hazy on the mechanics of this ‘girl-girl’ biz.  You’ll have to enlighten me a little.’

‘Hugh, don’t be obtuse; I wanted her.  Since last evening, I’ve been thinking about her, on and off. When she came here today, I wasn’t impervious.’

He cupped his chin in his hands and leaned forward, taking this in. ‘You know you could be up for sexual harassment?’

‘She was fairly active.’

‘It’s still a danger, even in a nepotic section like ours.’

Emma stewed on this for a moment or two. ‘She might take me from you.’

‘I hardly think so.’

Doug and Jim were still at the computer, stifling smiles, when Emma eventually returned to her place. ‘Yes?’ she snapped, ‘something the matter?’

‘No, no,’ and they bent to their task even more diligently.

Jane Simpson, who’d been enlightening the boys, walked up to the counter, looked straight into Emma’s eyes and put the silent request, Emma’s own eyes transfixed.

Doug noticed it first. ‘Hey, what is it with you two?’ he laughed, bracing himself to be savaged.

Both of them looked at him, then Jane turned on her heel and went out. Emma reached for the phone  and called Rosa. ‘Rosa, hi, can you come in for two hours? Now, if possible. I have to go out.’

‘Is that Rosa?’ asked Jim, ‘let me speak with her. Listen, can you bring in the red covered diskette labelled Turbotrans? It’s with the others to the right of the mouse. Soon, OK?’

Twenty five minutes later, Emma was walking out the door - a 21st century fox. She reached for her mobile, scrambled and reached Jane at home.

VI

They were under the Cones, Hugh, Jim, Rosa and Emma and the atmosphere was strained.

‘Go over it again, Emma,’ requested Hugh.

She sighed. ‘I arranged to meet her, I met her at Moran’s and we went back to her flat. The flat’s too magnificent to be hers. I left her about 20:00.’

‘Any witnesses?’

‘Not that I know of.’

‘How did you part?’

‘Tenderly, Hugh. She’s had a hard time in life but she was certainly being kept.’

‘And?’

‘I’m not sure this should come out in this forum.’

‘I can go out of the room, if you like,’ offered Jim.

‘Stay where you are ... if you would,’ requested Hugh. ‘Go ahead, Emma.’

‘She was being kept by Jackson.’

‘Really?’

‘There’s not a doubt of it. He was being funded independently of us.’

‘Any ideas?’

‘Council for Economic Cooperation.’

‘But that’s the outfit the Deputy PM moonlights with.’

‘Yes.’

‘I don’t believe a word of it,’ protested Rosa.

‘Facts are ugly, stubborn things, Rosa.’

‘Not in a million years.  What’s your source?’

‘Systec.’

Rosa was silent. She’d set up Systec with Hugh three years ago. It was her baby.

Then Hugh spoke again and his voice was strangely quiet. ‘The girl died about 20:30 of a brain aneurism. That’s the first thing. The second is that we know Emma left her about 20:00, as she said.  That’s OK. The third thing is that Systec has been tampered with.’

‘That’s impossible.’ It was Rosa’s turn now.  ‘Chief, this is madness. You know it was encrypted and only you and I knew the codes.’

‘No, Rosa, not only us,’ Jim put in. ‘Emma also knew.  One of those codes was used by their man, Chris Jones, in the Treasury yesterday, to access our Telescans.’

'Procedures?' asked Jim and everyone knew he was referring to Emma even going to the girl's flat.

‘I don’t accept that Emma’s guilty,’ concluded Hugh, 'although I accept your point.  All right, I'm going to come clean on this - the purpose of all this trouble is to break Emma and me up because divided, we are only two-thirds as effective.   The bottom line is that there are elements in cabinet who must have us discredited and the best way is to get things past us.  They have someone in our building - could be one of us, could be one of the other two, could be Level 4, could be a frequent visitor and scouring that log is next.'

'What will that tell you?' asked Emma.

'Nothing,' said Rosa. 'I think the Chief means that if someone was visiting and if it wasn't logged, then that would raise questions.'

'Well that's hardly likely to happen, is it, love?’

There was a deafening silence from Emma’s cone but they could hear her uneven breathing. Finally she whispered, ‘Do you want me to leave, Hugh?’

‘No, just put us straight on that.   Obviously there was no one not logged in, was there?’

She didn’t reply. With ashen face, she disconnected and stumbled to the door, pausing silently, taking one look back at the three of them, under those ludicrous Cones of Silence, then went out.  Security were waiting in the outer office but they didn’t need to touch her.

‘Would you like to get back to the computer, Jim?’

He took the hint.

Rosa then spoke. ‘Chief, you already knew about Chris Jones, didn’t you?  How?’

‘He was contacting Emma, so I used him as a source.  He set up a meeting with her.’

‘A meeting?’

‘A meeting.  Jones works for the CEC and was funding Jane, through Jackson.’

‘So why didn’t you stop him?’

‘To see who would bite.’

‘And Emma bit?’

‘Yes, I’m afraid she did.  It might be that she just knew too much, a finger in every pie, or it might be that she’s connected with it all.  I have to know, for obvious reasons.’

‘Chief, will they ... hurt her?’

‘No. I sent Featherstone.’

‘He’s worse in his own way.’

‘He’s not physical, he probes verbally and Emma knows that.   She knows even now that if she's straight, he'll get zero.  She'll be looked after well in there and I'll be visiting.  I think we can rely on his report and then we'll have something concrete on her to present to the PM.’

‘This is your own wife.’

‘Tell me the alternative, Rosa.   You know full well it can’t be an internal investigation, you know that, the cabinet quisling won't stand for that.   Featherstone is independent.’

‘And Jones?’

‘The Praetorian is doing an internal, according to the PM.’

‘May I be so bold?’

‘Go ahead.’

‘This Jones, what’s his real connection with your wife?’

‘Shrewd question, Rosa.’

‘Do you want my opinion?’

‘Why do you think I’m patiently sitting here, under these Cones?’

‘You were kind enough to once suggest that I often get it right.’

‘Almost always get it right. Yes?’

‘Emma’s not guilty, Chief, neither of this nor of Jones.’

‘Your reasoning?’

‘I know she’s straight, because I can feel it here. She has enormous curiosity but she’s straight - and there’s another thing. Even if she comes out of it clean, how can she ever come back to you again?   Guilty, she couldn’t; innocent, she wouldn’t.   You’ve hurt her.’

‘Don’t I know it.’

‘So that leaves me.’

‘Yes.’ There was a silence. He continued. ‘Rosa, we went three years without trouble.  Each of us had ample opportunity during that time to foul things up, then things suddenly started falling apart.  What changed?’

‘I can’t think. Do you think Jackson was behind it?’

‘No. He didn’t have the psychological capacity to run a major scam. I also don’t believe he was on the take, at least, not to the point of disloyalty - he may have accepted their largesse.’

‘Perhaps.’

‘Rosa, aren’t you going to ask me who, from our team, does have the psychological capacity to run a major scam?’

‘No.’

‘Why not?’

‘I think you know the answer to that.’

VII

Emma’s room was not uncomfortable. 

There were no pictures on the walls of the three metre by four metre room – just a bed, two compact, vinyl cushioned armchairs, a metre wide cupboard with four coathangers in it and a recording device.

Her feet were cold in the November weather or maybe it was just this building.

She was in a tracksuit but she’d neglected to put on her thick woolly socks, and the muscles in her feet were contracted with fear.  Sitting cross legged on the floor, her back against the wall, she rubbed some circulation back into the small toes - they looked anything but pretty right now in their scrawny redness.

She loved Hugh to distraction, she knew all that was going on in the Citadel and Hugh knew nothing; it was her, Emma, who was protecting him.  Why couldn’t he understand?  This thing was deep, much deeper than he'd any idea about, she was doing it for both of them and he'd now publicly accused her!  Not in as many words but he still had.

There were vipers in there, all smiling faces, yes sir, no sir, hail Chief and they’d happily let him go down, down, down. How many times had she found something compromising against him and she’d silently reversed it, hacking, lying, changing codes and he’d never known about any of it?

That’s why she was seeing Jones, with the beautiful touch - for both of them.

The door opened, she scrambled up onto her bare feet with the red toes and walked unsteadily, but with dignity, across to an armchair.  She indicated for her husband to be seated in the other, feeling hope for the first time for many days.

He looked awful. ‘Has Featherstone been yet?’

She shuddered. ‘That man gives me the creeps.’

‘That’s why we use him, you know that. He’s the best there is.’

‘To browbeat your wife?’

‘Emma, you’re no fool, you know he doesn’t browbeat and as one half of our team, you know an external investigation was the only way to clear you once and for all.  It couldn’t have been just on my say-so.   You would have done exactly the same with me to show you were not favouring me.’

‘I know that, Hugh.  I know what you had to do, to show no favour but they’re laughing at us.  You should have flatly refused to believe what you saw and quizzed me about it at home.’

‘Of course that's what I would have done but they'd worked us into a corner and we let them.  Let me go further - Jamieson was demanding, on the evidence, that you go in for questioning by his team and you know very well their methods aren’t pretty.  I wasn’t allowing that.  Why can’t you see that, Emma?’

She deflated. ‘I do see it, I do.  I don’t have to like it.  You’re in danger, Hugh and I’ve been preventing most of it for months.  I don’t tell you all that I do but you need to believe me and trust me as you did before.  I’m telling you now – I’m spending most of my time just protecting you.  Maybe I should have taken my own advice and shared that with you but I really hoped you’d trust me.

Chris Jones was seeking information and compromising me at the same time.  I know what he was doing, a woman is not an idiot - and he thinks he can drive a wedge between us -’

'He has already.  I don't see the big picture as you've just mentioned but you don't either, love.   You see, whoever this is and I don't think it's you for a second,' she tried not to let her relief show, 'whoever this is also knows I have other ways of checking.  I knew he was seeing you, I knew many things and I also kept those to myself.   This person knew that, knew my suspicious nature.   This person knew you missed being the security head in Paris.'   Her mouth was a tight line. 

'In Paris, you ran it and it worked.  Here you have to work with me and it's falling apart.  On the boat, you were the one who said that as long as we talked everything out and didn't hide things, we'd stay together.  For the first three years of the Citadel, we circumvented everything.  You told me about that woman saying I'd been to the hotel with her - you did some checking and busted her story.  You covered my derriere and I did this with you quite a few times with the PM but didn't tell you about it.

We were causing Jamieson and his lot big headaches and they simply had to break us apart.  A full-frontal assault wasn't going to do it because you and I would just join together.  They knew though all about how we were set up - me in my room and you out in reception.  You've said it yourself a few times - that I'm busy and don't give you all the time I should. 

When we began, it became clear that some things were in common to us both, e.g. the database information but some things we did pretty much by ourselves, for example you did the training and I did the forward thinking.  I'd take what you fed in, what the PM fed in and I kept an eye on Europe too.  I ran things past you, the way I'd been thinking, needing your feedback. That was my job and it relied heavily on you feeding me information.

It was working.

Into that came someone or some people and they began to work on you through a two-pronged attack, the oldest in the book.  The first was a constant whispering campaign, very clever, very subtle.  Wasn't I cavalier?  Hadn't I changed, didn't I think I was god?  They never suggested it but they played that card - that you could do it without me,' her lips pursed and she realized she'd given herself away, 'they saw when you were annoyed and they fed that annoyance while boosting your pride and the same happened in London.  I was the one called down there, I was the problem according to Jamieson, not you - do you see how they let me slip into believing I was the main person too?

Slowly, you changed your attitude towards me.  We still made love at home but you had this resentment of me and inside, I was annoyed about your resentment and so it was bottled up and never came out. 

Worse than that - you were told things I'd said and I was told things you'd said and we never checked with each other about it.   We always had done so before.  And they were setting up and allowing us individual, never joint successes - our last major one together was Celeste.   For example, there was Jessica Marlow -'

'You know about her?'  She was taken aback.

'Of course I do.  She accused me of whatever, I can't remember and you found out about her and stopped her little game.  So you really were protecting my derriere, for two reasons: 1. you loved me and 2. you felt you were the one in charge.  You were the one who was showing them they couldn't mess with you.  You were thinking I was getting pompous and awful to you and it was being whispered: 'Poor Emma, to have to put up with that from him, after everything she does everything to protect him.  Tell me that wasn't so.'

She was silent.

'They were feeding you, Emma but they were feeding me too, make no mistake.  With me they were trying to convince me of your treachery the whole time, by letting little things happen.  Doug's note was one of these.   Someone had thought it through and knew it would pan out that way.   I don't believe it was Doug but he obviously told someone at some stage what he thought of you.  It was used.   I had Level 4s who'd mention something you'd said and I never checked it out of loyalty.   But then I would check something else.   You see the way it goes?'

'Did Rosa say anything?'

'No, it was never her.  She actually defended you under the cones.  Have a look at this, love.' 

He pulled a document from his coat pocket and gave it to her.  She glanced through it, then her eyes were caught by page 4. 'Yes, my love - this woman you exposed was actually working for the CEC who were funding Jane, through Jackson.  You were meant to break her story down and that fed your satisfaction that you were playing your part and defending me, a brute who never appreciated what I had in you. 

I've always known what I had in you, Emma but let me quote the PM, when he said that working together, we were unbeatable.  He also said that he had no use for each of us alone and especially when we failed to co-operate.  He said this at our last meeting.  He asked me who looked guilty.  I gave four names it could have been and yours was one.'

'You told him I could have been guilty?'

'Emma, get real.  Wake up, please.  I'm now going to tell you why.  The PM was greatly concerned that the Treasury was breaking into our telescans.  They found who gave the Treasury that information - it was the CEC.'

'Yes.'

'Who gave it to the CEC?'

'Go on.'

He took out a memo from his pocket and gave it to her.  'Non, non!' she cried.

'Yes, yes.  He works for them.  Here is proof of that.'   He took another document out of his pocket, showing remuneration to Chris Jones.  This is the man you broke the rules and went to a hotel with.  Let alone not telling me about it.'

She was mortified.  She couldn't find the words. 'I'll kill him.'

'Five quick questions for Emma. 1.  Is Jones good looking, a Michel type? 2.  How old is he? 3.  How old are you? 4.  How old am I? 5.  What did he say to you to make you soft on him?  You see how they played on you, Emma?'

She was in a fury.  'I knew his game.  I wasn't going to give him anything.'

'He got the code to the telescans.'

'And you think that was me?'

'Emma, there were four people it could have been, do you agree?   The PM knew I had to say you and Rosa - I gave him two other names also to make it a wider choice.  You see how I'm also trying to fight for you in London?  Do you see that?  Don't think I don't appreciate what you do because you are everything - I love you and this is killing me, what's happening between you and me.'

'It's killing me too.  I hate it all - I want to leave it all behind.'

'With or without me?'

'I - I don't know.'

'There we are, my love,' his voice suddenly went quiet, 'there we are. A change in our relations.  You coming to bed long after me. For me, it would only ever be you.  I'd never leave, in my head, unless I knew you didn't want me any more. And I’m getting close to thinking that now.'

'No!  Y-y-you know I wouldn't leave you.'

‘That’s not the same thing.  We agreed – centre of each other’s affections or we part.  I said on the boat there’d be pressures on us.  Actually, far more on you.  There’s a bigger world out there than me, isn’t there?’

‘Please stop.’

‘We are rapidly losing the PM's confidence as a pair.  He too brought up the question of my trust in you.  You see how, at every turn, at every opportunity, someone questions me about you and you about me.

And you know what happens once we lose the PM - we are unprotected from the CEC, they move in and we’re in Bavaria, Belus.  Jones is part of this.'

'You - you make me out a fool, as if I can't see this.'

'You see as much as me and together that’s about 95%.  But apart, it’s about 50% for me and about 70% for you.'

Her eyes were moist.  She just stared at him for some time, then murmured, 'Hugh, you destroy me when you're like this.  I want you back the way I had before. In Paris, we had a Section and it did good work.  Jean-Claude and you came along and made me know it was a false dream.

That's a terrible thing to find out.  And now, in the Citadel, I thought I was protecting you, helping you, building our reputation and protecting it.  And you tell me I was wrong.  I can't do anything right, can I?'

He went over swiftly and knelt beside her chair, putting his arms around her, hugging her to him.  He looked up.  'You are one of the best operators in the business.  You protected that Section in Paris many, many times - nothing escaped you. I learned things along the way, in Russia, in Paris.  I watched the way you did it and learnt.  You know my respect for you is enormous.’ He could feel her relax. 

'When can I go home?'

'Right now.  I've come to take you home.'

'Hugh - that's the first time you've smiled at me in a long while, the first time you've been ... kind, soft in your manner.'

VIII

She'd gone back to work, he was tied up with a video-conference at home and would be there later, it had ended, there was a knock on the door to the Jensen apartment and security had cleared someone.

Rosa came through to the garden, Sally brought coffee and a slice of apple strudel, he joined her and they sat down.

‘Have you checked any of Emma’s account balances in the last ten days?’

He groaned.  ‘No.’

‘Do it, Chief.’

‘Come with me.’  He led her to the computer room and accessed Emma's account details.

‘£5000 deposited last Wednesday.’

‘Now enter these codes, chief.’

‘What are they?’

‘Never mind what they are, enter them.’

‘OK, it’s an account. Whose?’

‘Check the withdrawals.’

‘£5000 withdrawn last Wednesday.’

‘That’s Jim’s account.  There’s no pressing need for cash you know about, lately?’

‘None whatever.’

‘Another thing, Chief.  I noticed now that you accessed her account without a password.’

‘Yep, our accounts are open to each other. We use one password to enter the computer.  No secrets - it has to be so.’

‘Very touching, chief. Your idea or hers?’

‘Mine.’

‘And she went along with it?’

‘Yes.’

‘Wouldn’t a woman who knows that £5000 is coming her way do something to create a password?  Or alternatively, wouldn’t she start up a new account in another name?’

‘What are you saying?’

‘She either doesn’t know about this money, she’s naïve or else she’s an amazingly cool operator.’

‘How did he get her account details then?’

‘Good question, isn’t it?’

‘This is your husband, Rosa.’

‘I can’t help that.’

‘Rosa, if she’d seen something or he just thought she had, wouldn’t he pay her in cash?’

‘No, he’d have to physically withdraw it and I could check on that.  This way, a few presses of a few buttons and it’s done, provided he had the code.’

‘She’d give him the code?’

‘She didn’t need to. He knew it already.’

‘Is there an innocent explanation which would clear him?’

‘Oh yes, Chief, there is. She needed the money herself, to pay someone off.’

‘Then she’s guilty, after all.’

Rosa shook her head. ‘She might have been paying for information.’

‘What kind?’

‘Information that would have compromised you.’

‘Is your husband guilty, Rosa?’

‘I think he knows a hell of a lot more than he’s saying and I think he found a lot going on with Paul and Jackson. As for guilt - what is guilt?  Guilty of what?’

‘Why wasn’t I brought into this?’

‘Because someone had something to lose if you knew. No matter how openly you ran the Section, you were the Chief and had the power to hire and fire, apart from Emma. There’s no getting away from that, despite all your egalitarian gestures.’

‘I see.  So, what do you suggest?’

‘I suggest we consider this scenario.  Some years back, Hugh Jensen set up an organization and rose so swiftly that certain interests had no time to crack the security screen that was put around the cabinet, put by you. 

That screen meant no graft inside the cabinet, aside from the usual 'commercial'  interests. Naturally, Jensen was a target but to physically remove him was pointless because security would be made all the more tight.’

‘So what started the rot, in your opinion?’

Rosa paused, then decided to lay her cards on the table. ‘It’s quite simple really. They must make you look incompetent and exploit any division of any kind between you and Emma.  She only needs to look at you in an exasperated way or for you to act in a cavalier way with her, which any woman would resent and they have the fissure to pry open.

Then they have the regular weapons – disinformation, hacking, disabling devices and so on.

It seems that splitting you two up is some sort of a key move in all this, that with you separated, the rest will fall, by being in two factions.  Our greatest strength was when everyone worked together and we were open with each other.

I don’t think it matters who the commercial elements are behind this. If it isn’t the mafia, then it’s some contractor. These things will always be with us. What’s important is that the PM continues to receive protection and sees that he is receiving it, despite anything happening at our end.  We could be riddled with subversives but if we still essentially do our job, the net effect is that the prime directive is protected.'

'Right, Rosa.  Thanks and I need to be getting into work.'

She drank down her coffee and departed.  He picked up the phone and called Emma.  'You'd best get home now.  Rosa's been here and this is serious.'


'I'll be thirty minutes.'


Chapter 1 hereChapter 3 here

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