Chapter 5 here … Chapter 7 here
They’d all pretty well settled in during the first two days and Emma had it in mind to visit Sophie. They’d been involved in her rehabilitation but had hardly socialized and now might be just the time to rectify that.
It was early afternoon, Sophie was lying on her bed, her convalescence probably in the region of two weeks now. Hugh and Emma stopped a few metres from her hut but she’d seen them anyway, incredulous.
They called out and were bidden to enter. He found a box to sit on, Emma had the chair. She launched straight into it, in French. ‘We met in one set of circumstances, Sophie, then there was some unpleasantness, can we now be friends? We hope so.’
Hugh, in faltering French, said, ‘If you look at the people on the island, we know each other best.’
It was so – she’d been thinking about just such a thing, realizing she was a duck out of water, knowing no one, none of her nationals – except Emma in way. This seemed a nice gesture on their part.
‘What will we talk about?’
'Tell us about yourself,’ said Hugh, ‘your early years, before it got nasty.' Sophie's eyebrows shot up. She thought for a moment or two and launched into it but in English.
‘It was a normal upbringing so I don’t know when it all went wrong. I was a local girl, went to a local school, had normal friends, made the usual mistakes but there was always something not quite right with the way boys looked at me - I’ve always found myself with the type of boy, type of man, who turns nasty and hurts me. Maybe I just like it hard. That’s how they found me – drinking in a bar.’
‘You er … had a few boyfriends at the time?’
Hugh’s question had been pathetically clumsy, Emma's eyes opened wide, she looked at the ceiling and groaned, Sophie grinned but was not averse to answering, now trying something of her own.
‘No, Mr. Jensen ... Hugh.' Emma shot her a glance and did not like this one bit. It was all being done above board but she didn't want it, just the same. She now needed to speak up, before it went any further. Trouble was, she couldn't think of a major objection she could voice but she was certainly going to have a word later.
Sophie explained. 'I was not pure, sorry to disappoint. I wasn’t the school harlot, if that’s what you’re worried about. If there were parties when parents were absent, I wasn’t the one in the bedroom, taking four or five boys - I was the one in the bathroom with the locked door, with the boy I’d gone to the party with. That’s just one step up, isn’t it?’
Emma herself went quiet, preferring to forget. She shot a glance at Hugh.
What Hugh did not want to admit, for his own reasons, was that he wasn’t familiar with the type of parties Sophie was speaking of. His late teenage seemed to have been a time when you really did go to a party to enjoy the music and if you had alcohol, you needed to stay at your mate’s place overnight so your parents wouldn’t know or smell the smoke on you.
Only in later years had come the grass and acid.
The incident which remained in his mind, even to this day, was meeting a girl at a bus stop one day, a girl he’d once taught. He couldn’t remember but he might have been fifteen years old and she was still in school, perhaps in Form 4, Year 10.
She’d mentioned a school camp and how the boys and girls were in separate buldings but, she now skited to him, the boys had managed to get to the girls’ room. There’d been a girl named Jenny, whom he’d also taught, with a sister Sarah and he knew the mother. Both sisters were genuine innocents but Kylie - ah, that was her name, he recalled – well Kylie had never been innocent, so in a way, he didn’t mind so much.
Now Kylie was skiting about how Jenny had been had by every boy in that room, in every orifice, from what he could gather from Kylie’s garrulousness. Many people would have shrugged it off and said that that was life, those things happened. They might even had said Hugh was jealous that he’d missed out on all that in his own schooldays.
How could a girl do this? How could she have so little self-respect?
He tuned back into the conversation and it was about various games they played, comparing Switzerland and France, a lot of this local stuff and Emma was enjoying it. He didn’t want it to stop so he showed as much interest as he could muster.
He put some questions, she did too, it hadn’t been a bad first time. Emma went over and gave the Gallic kiss, he thought whether to or not and did, to Sophie’s huge surprise.
On the path back, Emma asked, 'Would you have kissed her on the cheek if I hadn't been there or on the lips?'
'I wouldn't have kissed her at all. I only did that because you were present.'
'For what purpose?'
He stopped in his tracks. 'I wanted to thank her for the help she’s given since her rehabilitation.'
‘Help to you. Don’t forget I was on the end of some of that help.’
He sighed. ‘All right, Emma.’
'If I ask you not to kiss her or hold her because it will create a need in her, would you listen to me?’
‘You know I would.’
The weeks slipped by and training was the order of the day for twelve operatives – the task force bound for the old country.
Evenings often saw the Jensens and Sophie invited for drinks; the PM delighted in the company, Hugh suspected, of two sari clad women.
Still, it was all highly pleasant, wasn’t it and cut through the essential boredom of island life.
‘Legitimacy, Hugh, what’s your definition of a legitimate government? The Cartel has labelled us insurgents. How vital is it that we get back there and represent the people? People see us pollies as self serving, elitist toadies - the ruling status quo.’ Another classic from the PM which raised eyebrows.
‘People in our country, as you well know, are basically apolitical. As long as you don’t touch their beer or weekly football or if you hand them the occasional mini-windfall, that’s all that matters. So, there’s now been a reshuffle in the pack at the top. Most people will yawn and think, ‘Let’s see how this lot goes.’ ’
‘More than a reshuffle, sir,’ observed Hugh, dryly.
‘Is it Hugh? Is it? I believe it is more but I’m biased – I’m the one who stands to be the leader.’
‘The leader also serves.’
‘You’re certainly feeding me the right lines this evening. I do believe it, Hugh, I do believe I was doing a job for the good of the country. Yes, there are the cars, the yachts at the marina, yes, I loved all those things, but in the end, they’re peripheral, they’re the reward at the end of the day’s work. We do line our pockets and secure our family’s future and who doesn’t take the opportunities presented to him?’
‘There is the question of principle, you know.’
‘Ah, principle. Yes, good old principle. There are certainly things most of us wouldn’t countenance but then there’s something else darker at work, Hugh. Let me replenish our drinks - would you then hear me out?’
‘Yes, of course.’
The Prime Minister brought the drinks, settled back and said, ‘The Club is dark, Hugh.’
You start aspiring for political office because you see the glamour of it, as well as the chance to serve. It’s vibrant, flying into parliament, returning to the constituency, people calling you Minister, taking Sunday morning off and walking with your dog in the forest, putting in a couple of hours swimming.
You have the best wines at home. Your wife is seduced by it all, possibly more so than you are. She’s a good woman but, like Eve, can be led down the path of excess.
Then start the rationalizations for what you do. Like a drug, you can’t give it up. It consumes you. Imagine how many ordinary people are in this situation, Hugh? They can’t give up their habits.
The young bespectacled man with his death games, the middle-aged, balding man, in the wee hours, with his internet images of young girls, the all-consuming shopping mentality - if it shines, if it glitters, if it treats you like a VIP, it seduces.
Where does it all come from? You join the Cartel, look at them - mild mannered, besuited, bespectacled men, fine men on the surface. But you see the empty look in their eyes, the arrogant nonchalance when speaking of the common herd and how they react to a half point increase in interest rates.
Then you start to believe your own rhetoric and it’s fed back to you, at all levels, by the sycophants and by those more sinister, that you are doing vital work for the country, which the ‘little people’ can’t hope to understand, not having all the facts at their fingertips.
The perks are no more than your rightful due. You are the elite, you are more than human; you are almost the master race, certainly the master class. You’re in a lofty world there, Hugh and it’s divorced from the common herd; it’s divorced from the real world. You lose your grip on humanizing constraints. You can do anything and nobody dare oppose you.
And it’s treacherous, even for you. You can’t show the least sign of rebellion against this madness. Eyes stalk constantly for signs of backsliding. They report. To whom do they report?
Men of principle, like the former PM, eventually say ‘enough’ but realize they can’t stop it. It’s a juggernaut.
The Club knows you’re restless and shows you the alternative – scratching for a living, your wife having left you and having taken the children, then the wine bar and finally … the street.
Oh yes, Hugh, there’s another side to all this. The glitter, the manners, the Mercedes door opened for you, the red carpet, panelled conference rooms, the elegant luncheons, the artificial seating arrangements in the oval office – a weak man will never buck the system. His livelihood, the life his wife has come to expect as her due, so susceptible to the glitz.
No one is saying that wanting a better life, a higher standard, is wrong. But somewhere along the line, something creeps into it all, very subtly. The desire to be clean becomes the desire to buy some product to ensure that cleanliness, then another and another, because the first product doesn’t cover all contingencies and so it exponentially escalates expectations. You tell yourself you must have more to survive. What is fuelling this? Is it the dark side of human nature?
‘I have a feeling you’re going to reveal something more, something not particularly pleasant.’
‘Yes, yes I am. You see, I was part of that point of view until I attended the most grotesque party I’d ever witnessed, in Omaha. Everything was laid on, girls, narcotics, whatever your heart desired. There were no limits, none. We were the tired, bored, cynical elite of the world. Some of those girls were thirteen or fourteen and the overweight men didn’t even retire to another room.
It was grotesque but the stalking eyes were in that room, ready to report on the least revulsion against the spectacle. I tell you, Hugh, people were afraid of something, an unknown enemy.’
‘Why can’t you come out and name this enemy, Prime Minister?’
He shook his head. His hands were now clammy and his breathing had shortened considerably. ‘I’ve been there, Hugh. There was an atmosphere in there I can’t describe and something was urging it on, driving it on. This reduction to human baseness, blindness and obedience was seen as sophisticated by those indulging in it.
I rebelled and the reaction was not slow in coming. The PM asked me in to see him some days later, over some peripheral matter regarding my treatment of a fiscal policy paper. In short, someone had shopped me. And here’s the thing also – the PM was no fool. He equally knew I’d been shopped and he’d been thinking along the same lines as me.
Why do people descend to this? I’m not explaining myself well. What I mean is, why don’t people become naturally philanthropic over time? Why, instead, do people regress to baseness, if unchecked?’
‘Are all people at that level like that?’ asked Hugh.
‘Of course not and that’s the surefire way to remain on the outer. It ensures that they’ll never achieve higher office.’
‘And you, Prime Minister?’
‘I was one of them but mark this, Hugh, I’ve now told you about the Club. I’m the boy who blabbed and there’s only one punishment for naughty boys who blab, isn’t there?’
Hugh looked at the Prime Minister.
‘Sir, I know you were elected by the people to parliament and by the party to the Prime Ministership. Those now in charge in the old country were not. The rest of it is done with, assuming you’ve mended your ways.
The bottom line is that you are the legal leader of our country, end of story. Though there've always been party leadership putsches, this is far more than one of those. I’d agree we’re in the end times, sir but that’s no reason not to battle on.’
‘May I add one more thing?’ asked Hugh. ‘We’ve indulged in a bit of doom and gloom here this evening but there’s a danger in dwelling on it. I once had a short correspondence with a writer for the Washington Post, Gene Weingarten and he did a funny piece called, ‘A foolproof way to pick the loser’. It was about Dukakis’ bid for the presidency. May I go on?’
‘A bunch of Niemian Fellows were interviewing Dukakis and afterwards, the Senior Fellow asked the others, ‘So what do you think?’ They all waxed lyrical about Dukakis’ abilities, his grasp of the economic situation, his sheer intellect.
The Senior Fellow said, ‘He won’t win. No sense of humour.’’
‘Point taken. We’ll meet tomorrow to discuss the details.’
It was a solemn and grim faced group of individuals who congregated under the thatched roof of the ‘Great Hut’ which the village chief had made available at short notice.
There were thirty seven of them, some from security, some from departments of state, all materializing from the various islands.
The Prime Minister addressed them.
‘We are the last established democracy in Europe to fall. The peoples of the world are still largely oblivious to the true state of affairs and every effort has been made to secure their acquiescence by means of massive capital inflow at middle and lower levels of society.
Where we were urging people to tighten their belts and to prepare for a grim depression, brought on by mass foreclosures, the ‘interim’ government is creating an artificial land of milk and honey, to win the hearts and minds of the many.
Meanwhile, the intense militarization of our country is specifically designed to prevent any counter-insurgency by the discredited, traitorous, greedy and amoral lowlifes who have been bleeding the country dry for years – namely us.
The mindboggling levels of cash at the beck and call of the Cabal beggars description and is being disbursed globally through ‘benign’ conglomerates. All legitimate avenues and instrumentalities have been co-opted for this cause. The simple question facing us is – to oppose it or not.
And if so, then how to oppose it?
It’s no accident that it’s reached this stage. The other democracies are assured that my fall was some localized affair – nothing to do with them, of course and they were blissfully unaware of what was just around the corner for them too.
In short, ladies and gentlemen, what the hell can we do?
On the surface, not much, short of vain heroics. Everything from the moral fibre of the people to the means of communication and the monetary system have been carefully weakened until all the strings are finally in the hands of the Cabal.
Again, what to do?
A religious person might point to Ephesians 6:12 as the relevant passage. I’m not going to quote it – that’s for those of you who are interested.
You might say it is better to remain on this idyllic island and to govern ourselves.
This thing is global. We are targeted. If, as I have been assured, their policy is the reduction of the world’s population by 4.5 billion, who is likely to be among the first targeted? The sophisticated search and destroy systems are in their hands. Small wonder that Hugh’s department was white-anted.
There is another choice – heroic action.
This assuages consciences far better and is more in line with the mood of the assembly but in strictly military terms, what targets can realistically be hit and of what lasting military value would they be, given the level of risk?
On the other hand, if by some miracle, and by the grace of the Almighty, we did manage a temporary coup back home, how could the news be communicated to other nations to strengthen and resist the end of democracy?
Would the enemy collapse in a heap, as a result of our one victory? These people’s minds are cold and clinical. They will note the failure, learn from their errors, redress them and then continue the agenda with renewed vigour.
Our ringleaders would then be in for some fairly gruesome, prolonged vengeance as well. In terms of the danger faced, we are maybe in a worse position than that facing the Allies at the start of the Second World War.’
The meeting was silent. No one had much to add to what had already been said. Then one of the officers spoke out. ‘Question, sir? Frank Mills, psy-ops. Isn’t it a bit far-fetched to equate this thing with a biblical apocalypse?’
‘And what do you equate it with, Mr. Mills?’
‘Well, it’s … well … I don’t want to bring religion into this at all, when it’s a simple military and political threat we face.’
‘Mr. Mills, this thing hinges around whether you accept a certain principle or not. Look at World War 2. Did a form of madness grip the German people, something more than just mob instinct at work, or was it just clever propaganda?
In the French Revolution, why did they bother to seat a prostitute on the altar of Notre Dame? Simple disrespect? Why not just tear the cathedral down or convert it to secular uses? Why all the spitting and mocking, if such things presented no military threat? And why does an occupying force decimate the forests and convert the landscape to a moonscape? How does that help the occupying forces?’
‘To instill terror, sir. The terror principle.’
‘Granted, Mr. Mills, at the start and until you achieve the victory. But after that, you inherit a blighted landscape. And you, above all people, know full well what psychological state a soldier enters into, to be able to participate in a group act like that.’
‘I’ve listened to your arguments sir, I know what you’re driving at but I have to say that I can’t accept this, as it's been presented. These things have been around since long before you and they’ll be around long after you’ve gone. You can’t fight the depths of human nature, sir.’
‘If that’s so, Mr. Mills,’ asked the PM, ‘do we just lie back and accept it? If it’s only human nature, do we accede to it?’
‘I didn’t say that, sir. I just don’t think there’s anything particularly religious in it.’
‘Do you accept that the new PM may be working for powers which are not British?’
‘You mean Europe? Yes, I can well believe that and I support you in getting back.’
‘Well, let’s leave it at that then, shall we? Time to get down to brass tacks. You could view this gathering, if you like, as some sort of Grand Council and it’s fairly vital we decide now between two variants: either waiting here for them to come and put us to gruesome deaths or else trying something before they come and put us to gruesome deaths.’
‘He certainly has a way with words,’ Emma muttered to Hugh.
‘There seems little choice, in my book,’ concluded Hugh, out loud.
‘Do we all concur?’ questioned the PM, running his eyes over the entire gathering.
He hadn’t asked for a show of hands, exactly, but this is what now happened, as one by one the hands went into the air. The PM couldn’t help noting the power of group dynamics.
At the end he concluded, ‘Well, that’s that then. Now let’s devise a plan.’
The cloud cover accentuated the depressing darkness of the night, blotting out the half moon - ideal landing conditions. On board the launch were:
# Janine and Rory Cale
# Julia Federova and Frank Mills
# Emma and Hugh
# Sophie and Doug Baines
The idea was that in each of the second team, there was one who had done well in the physical and one who had barely scraped through but all the first team had done well and were the most mobile.
The brief of the first team was damage, done in pairs and meant to take out key personnel and infrastructure. They had specific targets, had no face-to-face with the second team and would get out quickly once their hits were made.
The second team was more for red herrings, disinformation, sabotage and laying booby traps away from the main action. All had emergency codes, in the form of entries to the national newspapers’ classifieds and the net, with fall-back venues and pick up points.
All scenarios they could think of had been played out and rehearsed, particularly psy-ops atrocities directed at them. They’d learnt from the experts on the island how to approach these things. Escape routines had been gone over and over.
In dark uniforms, they paddled to shore in black inflatables, which were then deflated and stacked in an enormous tied poncho, shortly to be removed by a cat-rigged boat. They met their contacts, went to their respective safehouses, not to see one another the rest of the stay in the UK. It was all surprisingly clinical, they were on home soil, and it was the end of the summer.
Pairs stayed overnight in different places and bed came early.
Next morning, it was drizzling outside Hugh and Emma’s four quartered window with its peeling wooden frame. Not a pleasant day and they recoiled a little from having to face it.
Hugh jumped out of bed first and did the check. Emma put one foot out from under the covers and pulled it back under again. She pulled the bedclothes up to her chin, her big eyes following his slightly cushioned form around the room.
‘Come on, darling,’ he asked her.
With a sigh, she threw off the bedclothes and slipped into the bathroom for twenty minutes. When she came back, there was a breakfast of sorts on the low table at the foot of the bed. They ate in silence, she wrapped in her giant towel.
It was 09:00 and Sophie and Doug were due in the next hour.
10:05 and still nothing. She drew water from the bathroom, filled the kettle and a few minutes later they were sipping Lipton’s Gold. Hugh suggested they put their outerwear on and leave the swing windows unlatched.
11:10 and Hugh was shifting uneasily.
12:00 came and now it was time to make contingency plans. A rope swung across the window, a dark form slipped down and propped outside the window. ‘Open the window, Hugh, quickly.’
Sophie swung through, none too steady on her pins – it was touch and go whether to bring her - she took in the scene, nodding at Emma. ‘There's no time, we have to go. Julia made contact through the right channels, said Frank had disappeared and not come back, she went to the holding area. Doug told me he had to go to her and left me to it.’
‘Actually, Sophie, he was meant to get out of there fast in case it was you – sorry. But he’d then make contact with Rory and clearly didn’t, otherwise it would be back here by now. So Doug took it on himself to go to where he thought Julia was. I wonder why.’
'But first,' said Emma, 'Doug and Julia still have time to check in as they should at 13:00. If they don't, we check the news channel.'
‘OK,’ said Hugh – scenarios. Whoever comes out of this alive from those who broke the routine goes north near the collection point, whoever is in an untouched unit, e.g. us, decides, with the other untouched units, who goes north to meet them. Only one, in our case it was down as Doug.’
‘The most expendable,’ said Sophie, dryly.
‘No, the most experienced and mobile, who can handle himself. So, we don’t have Doug but we might make contact with Janine and Rory, though they’re at the other end of the country. Rory would be the one. I imagine they’re in their regular place and we need to send the signal. We’ve rehearsed this colour coding, they’ll vote on who goes north.
Emma sent the signal and waited. Those two were allowed 10 minutes.
Answer came back – Rory first, Hugh second.
‘Trouble with me is I’m not mobile enough,' said Hugh. ‘I’ve the wherewithal and we three are geographically closer to the northern point by a lot. We have votes too, don’t forget. For me, any of us are canny enough, Emma did best in the physical and would be more incognito, I stick out like a sore thumb. Sophie’s not recovered enough, plus she attracts too much attention because of the blonde hair. Don’t read anything into that, Emma. Let’s wait for 13:00, Emma, would you signal them?’
13:00 and the signal had not come in from any of the three but had come back from Rory and Janina. In response, Emma sent a second 'sit tight' signal. TV was switched on, news channel clicked to, almost immediately it appeared. Two schoolkids had discovered the box near their school, two heads were inside. Male heads, fitting the description.
The colour drained from Sophie's face, Emma ran for the bathroom, he got up in a daze and went to her.
It was ten minutes before they could clear their heads enough to talk, now in automatic mode. The psy-ops training kicked in and they calmly discussed who went north.
He opened. 'She’s innocent or guilty. Let's assume she's innocent. She’s frightened, needs a canny person to keep her physically safe – Sophie or me. Or she needs a canny person with her head on straight who can keep her out of trouble. That’s Emma. She did this sort of thing in France.'
‘You know that land, Hugh,’ said Sophie.
‘Almost as if you were clairvoyant, wasn’t it?’ added Emma.
‘How? Let’s kill this one now. How, Emma? How could I have devised this and that’s what you’re saying? Explain how and either you or Sophie go.’
‘No, it’s a factor. How Emma feels is a factor here, not to be dismissed. If Sophie were physically up to it, she’d go. I’m not sure I’m mobile enough. I’m voting for Emma.’
‘Leaving you with me ... Hugh,’ repeated Sophie in that manner from the hut and he wished she hadn’t. ‘I say Hugh goes north. Emma, can you ask them to vote for one person each, not a combined vote?’
‘Doing it.’ Emma punched it in and sent. It was swift coming back. Rory had voted for Hugh, Janine for Rory.
‘Let me add this before Emma votes. Whoever is chosen – and it’s line ball – that person has the right to refuse. OK. Emma.’
‘Rory’s too far but is quicker, he doesn’t know the area. Neither Sophie nor you are mobile but both are clever. Up there’s your territory, Hugh. Both of you stand out. I vote for myself. By my tally, that’s one Rory, two Hughs and two Emmas. Time for the second vote. Ten minutes thinking while I signal them the result so far.’
The votes came in from those two – Hugh and Hugh. Emma was chagrined.
‘So,’ she said, ‘I’m still voting me.’
‘So am I,’ added Hugh. ‘Guess who that leaves? Think about it a minutes or two, go through it with us and why, Sophie. The why is important.’
‘All right. Julia innocent. Reasons for Hugh to go – knows Julia, knows the terrain, knows the escape route well, is clever and can read people. Reasons for Hugh not to go – social reasons, it leaves Hugh with a girl, it also leaves Emma in my hands, if I’m the mind controlled enemy. Reasons for Emma to go – she blends in, she’s done these things before, she can cleverly keep Julia out of trouble and it leaves Hugh free to coordinate things with everyone. Reasons for Emma not to go – it leaves Hugh in my hands and it doesn’t need a coordinator, we all know what to do anyway.
Julia guilty. I should be the one because I know the signs and can kill her quickly. Hugh is strong enough to handle her, Emma would not be attracted by her honeytrap. In this case, I’m really not sure. I know we have to get out of here now and I’m holding everyone up but I can’t decide.’
‘That surprises me,’ said Emma, thoughtfully. ‘Hugh, you have to go. I can’t see any other way. I won’t hold it against you and I hope you can remember me while you’re there.’
‘In that case, I change it to Hugh,’ said Sophie. Emma quickly communicated the decision and all parties now knew what they had to do.
‘Sophie, would you allow me a few minutes with Emma?’
She nodded and went to the kitchen. The other two went to the bedroom but didn’t lie down in the combat gear. She stood in his arms. ‘I don’t like it, Hugh. You know why. It can only be you.’ He lifted her chin and kissed her, her eyelids closing. ‘It’s only you, Emma, not Sophie, no one else. We’ve just come back from hell and I don’t want to go back to it. I do think she’s guilty and that makes me wary. That helps. You know the search though.’
‘I know, I hate it.’
‘Shall I pass over it?’
‘You know you can’t. The rules were made on the island. I hate it.’
‘It’s a lie if I say I hate it from that point of view but I hate it from the point of view of you and me. I didn’t need this. I don’t need her. You saw my vote, it counted.’
She sighed. ‘See you back at the island. Hugh, hold me close now.’
There was a knock on the door. ‘Have to go.’
Sophie flopped down on her bed and asked, ‘Who actually brought up the idea of rescuing me in the first place? Who came up with the idea?’
‘I think Mademoiselle did.’
‘Oui. We all went along with it though – we all wanted you out of there and we hadn’t quite thought you might not wish to.’
‘I wished, I wished night and day, day and night. The way I was during my rehabilitation – sorry, Emma.’
‘That’s plain silly. How could you possibly help how you were? But I’m very happy to hear that you did want to get out, that it wasn’t wasted effort.’
‘No, it was far from wasted. You'll say when we go now, yes?’
In the Basque country, Jean-Claude Guiscard turned to Geneviève Lavaquerie and didn’t know what to say to her. They might have stayed in London, they’d had a pleasant waterside villa, both had security work after their own heart, to an extent and contact with Emma and Hugh. He himself had chafed at the bit, of course and that had made his wife more restless in turn.
They’d both given it up for a chance to see home, via a protected position in Paris but a late evening visitor to Jean-Claude had advised them to get out that night, they'd taken an hour to pack and had hurried out to the waiting Citroen C5, thence to the coast and a waiting fishing craft, owned by the man's company.
Now, lying low in the Basque country, seemingly the only western European place of any safety any more, they looked at one another.
It was rustic in Biriatou, with the high mountains all about, the white-walled houses with the red trim and their place in a basement, a cellar of a larger establishment with a mixed business and rooms above, in which students and others were often billeted. It was almost acceptable here, the residents spoke French of a sort but perhaps that was their northern attitude to the south.
Look, it was fine – the scenery, the cuisine, the language about them, Basque and French, the border almost right there where they were and where they were poised to slip across and revisit home. This last was always on Geneviève's mind and there was more than a little unreasonableness about it.
They'd gone back to Paris, at great personal cost to him, she'd gone into a mood when he said they couldn't go to Fontainebleau for the day, except as a planned campaign and now, in as good a position as they might have hoped for, she was again planning her return to France, asking of him why he would no longer share that desire.
He'd tried to get her to see sense, to see the new realities and yet she kept pressing, with the result that the longer he prevaricated with one earnest and heartfelt excuse after another, the more unsettled she’d become.
He wasn’t given to roughhouse tactics, Jean-Claude but he might have to resort to something close if she refused to see sense.
Love? Yes, he’d always admired and had then loved her. And her? Even now that was not a given. Insofar as two people who had been through what they had, with one completely devoted to the other, that had still only resulted in very warm affection on her part – at least that’s what he secretly suspected.
Today, he’d bought some sea-bream and some bottles of cider, the fish they lightly grilled over charcoal and she made a salad.
‘Genie, we’ll cross the border the moment word comes through from Paris. Maurice is reliable, if he can get word through, he will and if he doesn’t, it can’t be for now. They watch the Lodge routinely and routinely is enough to catch us even appearing in the middle of the night. At least wait for the report and I beg of you not to put an ultimatum, a fixed time on this, to say you’ll give me X weeks or days. How can I know when I shall hear?’
She touched his arm. ‘Pauvre. I am not much pleasure to be with, n’est ce pas?’
He took her hand and kissed it. ‘I speak our tongue in the shop, I walk home with les petits pains, les poissons aussi, it is a beautiful view, the air is fresh –’
‘Oui, d'accord, Jean-Claude, mais il n'est pas à la maison, ce n'est pas notre patrie.’
A tear came to his eye and he walked over to the four-paned window. She knew it was over her intransigence that he was chagrined and she spent time now assuring him she would wait. He turned and held her.
She asked, ‘I wonder where Emma is now? They were not in England according to the last message we had from Carly; they’ve fled and we've lost all contact. I’m sure she’ll be with Hugh and they’ll be hiding somewhere, alive, neither in their homeland but both being at home with one another,’ she looked up at him, ‘as we are.’ She was reassuring herself so he just held her close and let it be so.
‘Can we make contact with them?’ she suddenly asked.
‘When the word comes from Paris, that will be our next request.’
‘Good, good,’ she said, visibly relaxing. ‘Good.’
Hugh had had a bit of a tricky cross country mid-morning, at his most exposed, it was also his slowest leg, his most careful.
In fact it was nearing dusk when he reached Pickering and he hoped she’d found the Burgate Tearooms all right. They could walk from there to the A169 via Whitby Rd, which would get them to their intended B&B. The issue, it seemed to him, was not so much her ability to get there but what state she'd be in.
And if she was a killer or a Judasette.
He got to the Burgate, went in, she was already there but showed no reaction to him, he took a seat on the other side, the lady came over and he ordered.
About three minutes later, the lady brought the chunky soup, bread and tea.
About two minutes after that, the girl got up and came over to him. ‘Excuse me, I was waiting for a friend and she hasn’t come. Her mobile's off too - battery must be dead. Are you going to Whitby after this?’
‘I am but I’m on foot right now. Car's at Peter Hall's. Local man,’ he added. 'I've arranged a lift in about half an hour into Whitby. Could you wait that long?'
'Yes. Thanks ever so much. She might turn up anyway. Half an hour sounds good.’
‘We'll need to leave in twenty minutes though. I’m having a dessert – will you join me?’ She nodded and the lady, who'd been listening to everything, came up. ‘Pot for two please and two slices of that cheesecake?’
She smiled and went off to get them. Hugh asked the girl, ‘So you’re not from around here then?’
‘No, I used to live in the south.’
‘Ah, I see - we’ll have to tell each other our deepest darkest secrets while we walk.’
She giggled and the conversation was desultory from that point on. They ate and he paid for the comestibles, they thanked the woman and departed, making sure they strolled casually as far as would put them out of sight of the tearoom and then doubled back in a loop.
‘Let’s get straight down to it. Keep walking, OK. What happened?’
She blanched. ‘It was Frank. For some reason he doubled back to get something from a stall and that was that.’
‘The first morning after we arrived.’
He thought whether to break it and decided to. He told her about Doug. She went very white, staggered but kept her footing and continued – tough cookie, this one but then again, that’s why she’d been selected. She thought it through and said: ‘Frank talked.’
‘Doug responded to an emergency call from you.’
‘From me? I never sent one – I just hid in a building, I never went to the holding point, I waited, then came here, as agreed.’
She'd passed that one.
They took two rooms at the B&B, father and daughter.
He glanced at her pack. ‘You’ll have to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. In the bathroom, you need to take your whole pack with you, ready to grab. Take things out to use only as you need them. Wash, don’t shower.’
‘Mr. Jensen, we were told all that on the island. I can assure you I remember all of it – you can test me.’ He grinned and she went on. ‘You know you have to check my bag so do it now please. And I know you have to check me too,’ she quietly added.
She took it all out and laid it on the bed, every little purse or compact was opened, all was opened. A couple of the places he looked surprised her.
He'd finished, he now looked at her sitting on the bed. She was going to make him sweat for this.
'This is the downside to our system,' he began.
'But you're still going to somehow find it in you to do your duty.'
'Suggest another way and I'll do it.'
'Don't check. Take my word.'
'What did they tell us on the island?'
'I'm not going to make this easy for you, Mr. Jensen. I know the rules but I'm still me, I'm still my age and you are what you are. Your Emma's waiting back there, thinking about this moment. You knew all about this when you came north, I think that's why you selected me for the trip.'
'Three things. Firstly, the Prime Minister selected you but yes, he asked if I objected. I didn't. Secondly, you accepted the position, knowing what would happen in this situation. Lastly, you really don't know me if you think I want this - Sophie is a danger to my wife. But you're a girl and I have trouble with girls. I don’t need this, especially after Emma and I have just got back together.
'What if I refuse?'
She looked straight at him but still didn't move to comply. Instead, she reached for the photo he'd kept trying not to look down at. There were about five other photos but this one seemed to intrigue him. 'It's from the fashion shoot two years ago - you know, we all hope to make it as a model.'
'The bike you're draped over?'
'What of it?'
'You're very beautiful, very slender.' She looked down at it, at the backless number and the short dress, at her expression. 'It's the look you have,' he continued, 'as if you know every move, as if you know exactly what you're doing but you have that innocent expression with a slight smile. Exactly the same expression you have in your eyes now.'
'You got all that from a photograph?'
'You're too tall, too young.'
She now grinned. 'Oh that’s classic, your justification. You dig yourself deeper and deeper. All right, let's get this over with.'
She summarily removed the bra and threw it to him. He looked at it in detail and put it on the bed. She slipped the underwear down, wriggled it down to her ankles, stepped out and threw it to him. He put it on the bed too.
She came over, put one foot up on the bed, looked away, making clear that this would be statutory rape if she was younger, then pulled herself open. 'May I go to the bathroom now?'
He nodded, she snatched her toilet bag and went through but he didn’t buy her faux anger for a moment and she suspected he hadn’t.
When she came back out, it was without towel.
He was going through his own pack, rearranging things. She started to gather her own and pack them into her bag but paused at the photograph, thinking, leaving it to one side. Then she packed the rest.
He looked over and then looked away from her nakedness.
'Don't look away, you owe me at least that. You didn't have to do that to me. What could I have hidden? You'd checked anywhere there could have been a weapon. You knew that, I knew that. You didn't spare me. You did know I couldn't have had a weapon there, didn't you?'
He thought of saying it could have been a phial, some small item but decided to be honest. 'I knew.'
'Then you would have been wrong, Mr. Jensen. Reach in.'
The brashness knocked him for six, she was going to rub this right in. She put her foot up as before. 'Go on.'
'Go on. And this time you'll have to do it yourself.'
'I said no.'
'Then you're as guilty as hell. It’s my body you’re messing around with now and I told you to do it. So do it. Now! I want to feel you reaching in.'
He got up, turned and knelt down. The first touch made her shudder and he pulled back immediately but she said, 'Do it,' and he did quickly. Immediately there was a sachet which he now drew out by the strings, she'd made it easy for him, it was a small hotel soap sachet, it was damp, he opened it and there was nothing in there. But the point had been made.
'You're as stiff as anything.'
'Well what do you expect?'
'You're doing this to Emma. I could tell her you raped me ... or seduced me. In a way, you have done, haven't you?'
He was losing control of this when she suddenly stopped, softened and did the last thing on earth he needed - she placed a hand on his cheek and smiled a kind smile. A sneer would have allayed his guilt somewhat but this redoubled it - perhaps it was meant to.
'Will you hold me tonight?'
'I can't. You know that.'
She relented. 'All right, Hugh, if you now trust me, you have first sleep. And Hugh- I want you to have this photograph, I know you like it. I’m going to sign it.'
She reached for a pen and did that, then stepped up to him in her nakeness, looking straight into his eyes. She put a finger to his lips. ‘One thing. Whatever happens next with us, with me, I want you to promise you’ll keep this photograph forever. To preserve my memory. Do you promise?'
‘I promise.’ He took it, took out his organizer, slipped the photo in and put the organizer back in his pack.
Chapter 5 here … Chapter 7 here