Chapter 9 here ... Chapter 11 here
Francesca took her father by the hand and went to the foyer. Jacques followed.
‘I want to marry your daughter, sir.’
‘Don’t you realize her age?’
‘Ten years younger than me.’
‘And you still want to marry her? Why?’
‘I knew it immediately after the first – er -’ He stopped.
Thierry supplied the word. ‘After the first kiss - don’t worry yourself about that – there seems to have been a lot of that going on today. Can you support her?’
‘Papa!’ admonished Francesca.
‘I draw a government salary, sir, but I have prospects, offers. Maybe you could speak with the Inspector about those.’
Most certainly he'd do some discreet research but that would have to wait for some time. For now he had to take the young man on trust.
‘Well, if you’re crazy enough to join this family, then I say, ‘Welcome.’ Francesca threw her arms around her Papa’s neck and kissed him to distraction, which had Jacques wondering, then they returned to the main room.
The only one missing was Nadine.
Geneviève went to find her and there she was, weeping uncontrollably on the bed. She sat beside her, stroking her hair, holding her, and saying whatever she could. Finally she said, ‘So we’ll see you in fifteen minutes, oui?’
They took their places either side of the table, with Yves at the head. The place to his left was occupied by Emma and the place to his right was left open for Nadine. Emma went to get her but she still wasn’t ready, so they chatted. Nadine said, ‘It’s OK – you go back, Emma. I don’t feel like supper.’
‘You know I’m not going back without you. You’re my dinner partner. Won’t you come with me?’
Eventually she did and the last supper began.
After the main course – l’agneau provencale a la Jeanette-Fleur, Jean-Claude rose to speak. ‘For some today – happiness; for some – severe disappointment. Tomorrow we flee Paris and I hope and pray we all meet again happier than when we left. I’d like to toast ‘The Flight into Egypt’.
They all rose.
Just before the men took their leave, Jean-Claude cornered Nadine and begged a word. She half knew what he’d ask and fiercely resented it – loser to loser. ‘Mademoiselle, tomorrow you ask your Stefan to fly with you, non? If not, will you fly alone? I’d like to offer you a place beside me – for companionship, if you like. Don’t answer now - tell me tomorrow. Bonne nuit, Mademoiselle.’
He turned to leave but she stopped him. ‘I’m not looking for a relationship, you understand.’
‘Companionship, I said, Mademoiselle.’ He smiled and took his leave.
Nicolette showed her grandmother the ring and she was at first puzzled, then it dawned on her. 'I know this ring -18 carat white gold, dark sapphire, set in a bed of the tiniest of brilliants – this ring has a history, ma cherie and that history has to do with you. Your Hugo must be the one to tell you.’
‘Is that good or bad, Grandmaman?’
‘If what I think has happened has happened - I think you might be happy at long last.’
Breakfast done by 08:40, after profuse thanks, they were away by 09:10, in the back of the same bakery van, onto the relatively straight N105 to Melun. Once there, Olivier was collected and received the double piece of news open-mouthed.
Nicolette rushed round to her parents with Hugh. They’d heard about him, of course but the shock of their daughter presenting this middle aged man, in gyps, as her prospective partner, left them without words. Hugh rescued the situation by going for a stroll with Marcel, himself no stranger to capricious actions of this nature, and they spoke for the best part of forty minutes, in limited French.
Marcel was reassured by the man’s approach, knew he’d look after his daughter and now gave him an envelope, which Hugh slipped into his inside pocket.
They had a hurriedly scratched-together lunch, the mother with suppressed tears in her eyes, and then it was time to depart.
Typical Nicolette, her parents concluded, as her daughter was driven away with her new beau by their family friends - away into the afternoon sunset, in the direction of a disused airstrip.
Part of the game plan had been that close friends of the fourteen people had gone to their respective homes and apartments and had done the administrative things which needed doing whilst it was still safe to do so. Twelve Section members now waited at the homes of the close friends, ready for the signal.
The largest of the four Safehouse groups comprised the Villeneuves and Jacques – five people in good physical condition, flexible and mobile.
The second group comprised Emma, Michel, Francine and Jean – a natural grouping, except that both Emma's and Francine’s conditions would attract considerable attention.
The third group comprised Sergeant Dupre and his wife Celine, Jean-Claude and Nadine. All were fit and well but Jean-Claude was of a certain age and truth be told - of a certain class.
The fourth group – the controllers for the first period, Nicolette and Hugh were already underway.
They were ready.
It was a matter of two and a half hours later when Nicolette and Hugh touched down at the other farm, bumping to an ignominious stop, Hugh’s knuckles white through to the bone. He detested flying at the best of times, but this bouncing nightmare was something else again.
She observed closely.
Soon they were inside their chalet on one of the more out of the way hills – it would do very nicely. They settled in, stashed the food, and then she set to work, checking codes, rechecking, scrambling and so on while he tested the outer defences.
Their secure messaging system, called One2One, had been designed by one of the support team with some embellishments they felt might have been unique to them - it was encrypted so that the senders and receivers of messages were only visible to other parties in the net for thirty minutes, after which that disappeared from the system and the messages themselves had no archive.
Any third party request from outside automatically triggered a destruct and anything in the system went to the ether.
When they finally found time to relax, both wanted sleep, they did what was necessary, she lay at an angle, the back of her head against his chest.
'They could hear us in the main room at the farmhouse,' she chuckled. Lovely time, very special. That room will never be the same now - that's our room now.'
She suddenly turned over on him and asked, 'Where did you get the ring? My grandmother said it has a history and that history has to do with me.’
‘Oh it does indeed' he smiled. 'That ring was always intended for you - it's been intended for you for twelve years.’
‘I thought it was too perfect. I'm impatient - tell me, Bebe.'
'There were two things happened at the same time. When you were with Thierry, they had hopes you’d marry, so your father made that ring you have, wanting him to give it to you. He never told you about it, nor your mother.’
She just stared down at him, knowing her father full well. ‘And you did as my Papa asked?’
‘Nikki, he has a name in this business, he knows your style, I felt I could trust him to produce something special. When I heard he'd reset the stones, I was sure it was right.’
‘But you didn’t know we’d be fleeing.’
‘No, I was going to propose to anyway.’
'But I was more recent. You hadn't been saving for me.'
‘As you say. I'd put some money aside, I had a feeling I'd marry Genie, as you know and hadn't decided on anything at that time, so that money stayed in my drawer and just built up. You never knew of it and that tells me something about you. When I wanted a ring for you, I asked Emma to take the money to ton Pere and for him to design it. I knew he'd put himself into it, he knew your size, your stones and so on.
He sent back to me, not through Emma but through one of your schoolfriends, Marie Duchamps –’
‘Marie! You’ve met Marie?’
‘Yes, I have now. She gave me the ring your father had made for you and didn’t want money. I know that trick and as it was going to be my ring to you, I demanded a fair price be placed on it. Through Marie, we reached an impasse and that’s what we settled on. Emma said there was change from what I’d given her. I don't believe there would be change so I wouldn’t take that. I believe he put it in an account for you.
There’s something else too – a letter.’ He moved her onto her back, went to his pack, pulled it out of the side pocket and gave it to her.
She used one of her hairpins to tear open the envelope and carefully took out the contents - two handwritten pages and what looked like a photo. Sitting crosslegged on the bed, she devoured the letter - he watched her lips forming the words - she examined the photo, tears came to her eyes and she stared out into space.
'Hugh, there was also this in the envelope. It's account documents for the both of us, for our account. We don't have an account.'
'Yes we do. It's a trust fund he took out for the two of us. May I see the papers?'
She handed them across, he glanced through, nodded and gave it back. 'Yep, that’s in order. Your Papa reasoned that anything put in it could only come out jointly, by the two of us signing. He got you to sign one day long ago when he opened other accounts for you, it wasn’t fraud but it does mean a person needs to be careful. It was the application for an account you’d signed but hadn’t been filled in, regarding personal account or joint, as he always hoped – they both did – that you would one day do this thing.'
‘We’re not married yet.’
‘No but in their eyes, this seemed to be the best chance yet. If you said no, he already has my letter to the fund, signing over the whole amount to you.’
‘Whose money is in the fund?'
‘Half his, half mine, plus some of your matured accounts redirected there. So it’s all of ours. It's not actually money - it's metals.’
'That is so typically my father. Even if you hadn't said it was him, I would have guessed. He plays these games the whole time.'
‘He loves you, ma Cherie and we or you might need that. I have my other funds, you do too. We have enough.'
‘How do we get to it?'
‘Your parents are targets in France now, we might need to get them out and they’d bring that metal if we authorized it.'
She looked over at him. ‘Come further over and hold me while we talk.’ He needed no further invitation. ‘I feel secure now and I don’t mean the money – I truly don’t mean that. And we have another issue. Mademoiselle One2One'd me. She wants me to be in a safehouse with Michel. Did she One2One you?'
'Yes. I heard what you said on the landing, I saw your tears. And yet we haven't put all the ghosts to rest. Emma had a long talk with me and then with you. I think you know that's over. It never started but you know what I mean. She thinks it is. Which leaves Michel.
You have the right to tell me about women, I'm asking the same for men. I want you to go to that safehouse with him. I want you to lay that ghost to rest or else lay me to rest. You and I are still in the early days and if there is any best time to do this, it is now. We really must finish these things off.'
'But you know I always wanted him. And would you do this to Emma? She saved us in a way.'
'She needs to know too about him. She needs to be clear, even now she has his child in there. I need to be clear. You've been made love to by another man recently - so let all that happen at the one time now. Then I think we can finally say that when you come back to me, you are mine and I am yours.
You impressed me, Nikki, on that landing. As you said, you could have threatened and I would have promised. But your tears I could not take. I want this, Nikki, go to him and see.'
‘She thought for a minute. ‘I don’t know. This child we're having,’ she completely changed the topic.
‘Yes?’ he laughed.
‘What if I couldn’t?’ She deliberately ignored that they’d not discussed it seriously before, he knew it, she knew it and she now gave him a quick glance to be sure, ‘What if something was wrong with me?’
‘Then we wouldn’t.’
‘We could adopt.’
‘We have to get my plaster off first, OK?’
‘Oui, oui,’ she laughed, ‘first things first.'
She’d almost dropped off when Hugh nudged her awake. ‘It’s time.’
She went to the compactable and opened it up – as neat a piece of technica as you could want - punched in the seven digit code and the signal shot across Europe, via their convoluted method.
Some time later, three cars pulled out from their secure positions and went through an equally convoluted process.
Two new fiancées were seated in the cabin of a minivan, in a disused warehouse, while Jacques, Francesca and Olivier, in the rear, played three handed Bezique - Olivier winning yet another brisque. The scene in the front, though, was more subdued.
‘Do you want a child?’
‘Heavens, you ask me that at this time?’
‘Because if you do – well, Chessa will marry in three months and Olivier – he’ll probably go to Nice for a couple of years, so if you did – well, it’s all right by me.’
‘Where will Francesca live?’ she asked.
‘That’s rather up to Jacques but I’d hope it wouldn’t be too far away - of course I’ll help the process along.’
‘I shall too. I’m not without.’
‘Maybe we’ll keep that in reserve – grandchildren’s education and all that.’
‘Grandchildren! We are thinking ahead, aren’t we?’
Thierry laughed. ‘Let’s get past today, you think? Perhaps you’re right. From what you say, there’s a very real chance of trouble in the next few days, so let’s hold on to what we have, eh?’
‘Let’s, Thierry, let’s do just that.’
They sat in silence in the front and the only muffled noise was from the players in the back.
The signal came.
As the driver, Nadine sat in the front of the Peugeot 405 with the darkened windows, Jean-Claude beside her and in the back - Paul Fougeres and the new lady, Amelie, a sympathiser who had been introduced by Francine.
Jean-Claude was wondering if the tall Amelie, with the model looks, had been brought in for Paul or not, Nadine was hardly going to accept him as any sort of partner and Amelie seemed quite mature for her mid 30s. It seemed to Jean-Claude that it would be a better arrangement all round that way.
Nadine had been thinking along the same lines - she knew Paul very well and though she was too young even for him, it was better than with any other male in the Section.
Amelie kept her own counsel. She was in the Section for a purpose and meanwhile, she would make herself useful and do what needed doing.
Paul liked the look of Amelie but as he already knew of her purpose, he couldn't very well start anything with her.
Just then, the signal came.
Seated in the front of the cream coloured Citroen with the darkened windows were Michel Laurent and Emma, and in the back - Jean Morel and Francine, all awaiting the signal.
Jean observed, from the back, the easy relations between Michel and Emma – not for them the anguished soul searching and endless drama of relationship analysis. The deal had been done, both were satisfied and that was that.
Francine glanced across at Jean. Hideously disfigured on the body, with a great weal running diagonally across her face and nose largely reset, she felt her usefulness in the Section was at an end, she was more than ever dependent on Jean but both Geneviève and Nikki had insisted she be included in the exodus.
All were worried about what lay ahead. Unless they were going to be able to pull off something remarkable, their future life appeared to be that of fugitives.
The signal came.
Some time later, three planes softly bounced down onto disused airstrips in three different countries, decanted their passengers and baggage and took off again – the passengers scurrying to redoubts for the duration of Noel.
Francois de Marchant placed the receiver back in its cradle, turned to his secretary and gave her face such a backhanded blow that it broke her jaw and dislocated two teeth. She collapsed on the floor.
‘Where have the little birds flown, my dear? What did you tell them?’
She was holding her face as the blood poured onto his rug. ‘You’re – a – maniac. What – are – you – saying? What – are – you – accusing – me – of?’
He stepped up to her and peered down. She could see only the shiny patent leather of his shoes and the perfect hems of his suit trousers. Grabbing her hair and forcing her head back, he hissed, ‘I know your game, souillon and all those who came before you. Do you think we don’t know about your calls to Laurent? Do you think we don’t know where some of their safehouses are?’
He pressed a buzzer on his desk and four bulky men came through the door.
‘Leave her breathing.’
De Marchant turned on his heel and stormed out. The four men got to work on Sophie-Fleury. After an hour and a half, what was left of the naked, bloodied mess was unceremoniously dumped in a sack and hauled down to a van adjacent to the house.
When they got to Place de la Concorde, the back of the van opened and the sack was dropped off.
De Marchant, meanwhile, was on his way to Sivry, driven by Jean-Baptist Martin, collecting Pierre le Roux and Philippe Legrand on the way. De Marchant turned to his fellow back seat passenger, le Roux and complimented him. ‘Great operation, Pierre. You certainly nailed Section 32.’
He maintained his silence and looked straight ahead, past Martin and out of the front window. De Marchant now did the same. The moment they’d turned off the N105, both de Marchant and Martin reached for guns and shot le Roux and Legrand simultaneously, the bodies slumping against the doors.
Turning into the farmhouse lane, they reached the gravelled area, dumped the bodies and retraced their route back to the main road. Some kilometres on, Martin pulled into a layby and de Marchant got out. ‘Clean the car, crush it as usual.’
De Marchant sat in his BMW Series 7, switched on the ignition and pulled out onto the main road. Debussy was his choice of music and he inserted the CD.
Word came through rapidly and the whole Section was numb with shock. Now that the poor woman in the Place de Concord had been identified – they’d left the face recognizable for that purpose, Geneviève was even more horrified to find that their informant was none other than Philippe’s ex-secretary.
Geneviève had carefully, patiently, pieced together a virtual library of documents, prepared for just such an occasion as this. These were now speeding to their destinations – every security service in Europe, all major news agencies, all alternative agencies, together with piece by piece evidence, dates, connections, motivations and means of verification.
People had been primed to phone talk back shows and the internet had been flooded with information. De Marchant’s and le Roux’s names were to be perpetually brought into the public sphere, every two days, in the form of ‘new revelations’ about their conduct and the tabloids had been given the juiciest information - nothing had been held back.
If the Section was to go down, it would go down fighting, with the public onside. There were other troubles as well.
Although the Sophie-Fleury tragedy exacerbated the situation, there were tensions anyway at one safehouse. Geneviève had made these changeover arrangements:
1. Geneviève, Thierry, Olivier to coordinate;
2. Nicolette and Jean-Claude, Michel and Amelie;
3. Francine and Hugh, Paul and Nadine;
4. Emma and Jean, Jacques and Francesca.
From the beginning, Nicolette was in for a horror time. She and Jean-Claude had arrived from different directions and now, with Michel, came the new girl, Amelie, supposedly a former fashion model in sympathy with their plight and Michel's eyes were all over her - which may have been what Genevieve and Emma had hoped.
Not only were his eyes all over Amelie but his arms were too and the tart didn't seem to mind one bit. Nicolette had Jean-Claude and though he was a lovely man, well ...
Still, she did get to discuss Hugh with him and that was valuable. Michel did play up to her a bit on the second day and by the end of the week, was tiring of Amelie. What had mortified Nicolette was the sound of sex coming from that bedroom - Michel was meant to be Emma's husband and though they all knew what he was really like, still ... to actually hear it was awful, awful.
Now he was making eyes at her, Nikki and what was worse - succeeding. Everything she and Hugh had spoken about came to mind and here she was breaking the very rule she thought she'd abide by. He was flattering her, Michel. Big, good-looking, that attention to her, making her feel she was the only one, the right words in French, which Hugh could never do, the large, laconic hands - she felt herself falling.
The denouement came on the second last night when Jean-Claude struck up a friendship with Amelie and to Nikki's absolute shock, planned to stay in her room the night.
This left her with two options - the divan in the hall or her room with Michel.
He came through to her room and got into bed late, something she’d desired for two decades, she began to discuss things - music, films, whatever but it was clear he was impatient. The thing was, she did want him but not this way - so gauche, so raw. Maybe it was Jean-Claude's refinement, Hugh's education - she saw herself as worthy of far more than this.
He was now upon her, pressing his lips to hers and she was falling. He moved into position but when he physically took her left leg and pushed it away from the other, she'd had enough. She said no, then louder, placing her hand over her privacy and then shouted it.
Within seconds, there was running from the other end of the house and it was Amelie, in nightdress. 'Nikki said no, Michel. Come with me.'
He looked at Nicolette, climbed off and went with Amelie. Nicolette ran for the door and locked it, stumbled back to her bed and lay in foetal position, crying for hours. In the distance, at the other end of the house, she heard Michel's grunting and Amelie's shrieking for half an hour but after that, there was silence.
She tiptoed to her door, unlocked it and peered out. Jean-Claude was sleeping on the divan.
The next pairings were:
1. Geneviève, Thierry, Olivier and Jean-Claude;
2. Nicolette and Hugh, Jacques and Francesca;
3. Emma and Michel, Nadine and Paul;
4. Francine and Jean coordinating.
Jean-Claude was the fish out of water but he'd be happy enough near Geneviève for the moment.
Nicolette-Hugh was always going to be the interesting reunion and it got down to the topic immediately they had their first time off at night.
'How much did you know, Hugh?'
'Truth? Most of it. Genie, Emma and I discussed it and interestingly, it wasn't actually to do with you for those two, but it was for me. Emma is unhappy with Michel but no one needs her to break up with him. I don't need it because it puts me with Emma and a baby, you fear that, I felt that you would always stop short with him for the same reason, Genie knew what he was like because she's been having information about him fed back to her from various sources and she knew, she also knew how stubborn you are [we all are, Nikki] and that there was a past desire for him.
Jean-Claude knew Amelie, a girl with a good heart but maybe a bit loose that way, so she was brought in precisely for that - it was her home town and she'd officially gone on holiday at that time. Jean-Claude did as I asked and took a shine to Amelie near the end. The idea was to keep Michel from you until he couldn't hold it in any longer.'
'That's awful. You were playing games with your wife.'
'I love the way, when you're not happy with me, that I'm always doing it to 'my wife'. Look, Nikki, you're like me - you don't like being told, you have to find out for yourself. You were safe enough, physically with Jean-Claude and Amelie, they were always ready to come to the rescue - you saw that, didn't you? The essential thing was that you really had to know how he was.'
'She's a whore.'
'She saved you from Michel. You do know she was drugging his drink the whole time? He did manage to penetrate her a couple of times before it hit him and he fell asleep -'
'That's awful ... for her, I mean.'
'Jean-Claude is a police officer - he knows how to deal with people like Michel.'
She'd already moved on. 'What I am worried about is that Emma seems so ready to throw Michel over now and I know where she would try to go.'
'She knows she can't come to me, can't even try it. If she hadn't had those two pieces of sex and one kiss, she might have but now she's made a promise.'
'Promises mean nothing, Bebe, if it's your future. All right, I see all that.'
There was a silence for a while.
'Hugh,' she opened again, 'he was awful. He used to have finesse. Do you think he was on drugs?'
'They were sleeping drafts Amelie gave him. They quieten a person down.'
She was thinking out loud. ‘I did know what he was like because Emma used to tell me.' She thought some more. 'Hugh, do you want to go to Emma for one safehouse?'
'No, we're past that now.'
Disturbing news was coming through that some of the safehouses they’d vacated had been stormed. The obvious question was whether any they were scheduled to stay in were similarly under fire.
Emma One2Oned Hugh, puzzled that the enemy did not always have completely up to date information, she suspected that someone inside the Fourteen was committed to bringing down the Section as a force but had stopped short of allowing physical harm to the individual members.
Geneviève One2Oned Emma. 'We need to get someone in for Jean-Claude but who?'
Emma One2Oned Nicolette, to see if she had any ideas.
'Sophie-Fleury, of course. She's in great danger out there, she’s alone and she’s recovering. It would be even better if we could get her from under their noses but we need Jean-Claude for that and it would help his chances with her later.’
Jean-Claude felt humble. Of course he’d use his connections.
Nikki hadn’t stopped there. She’d discussed with Thierry the idea of a mate for Olivier, a school chum. Thierry said he’d put it to Olly who was already in the room by now, having antennae which picked up whenever his name being mentioned, even from great distances.
‘Olly, do you need a friend to come and stay? Nikki seems to feel that you’re a bit alone.’
‘On who it is.’
‘Well is there anyone whose father and mother might not mind him coming into great danger and possible death to provide a companion for Olivier Villeneuve?’
Olivier grinned and answered straight away. ‘Gemma Bisset.’
‘A girl? Not a chance. Anyway, would her parents not object?’
‘We’re famous now, aren’t we? Her Papa always wanted her to do well and he always liked me and all that.’ Thierry looked at Geneviève and Olivier went on, ‘Papa, she’s my friend, that’s all and she has a Wii. I’m not interested in that other stuff.'
Thierry looked at him and sighed. ‘We’d need someone to reach them from outside. Someone they trust. Pierre Lefebvre? He was our mutual friend.’
‘I don’t know him,’ said Geneviève.
‘I could be smuggled out of here for one night to talk to them personally.’
‘Too dangerous, Thierry.’
‘No more dangerous than our current situation and shows our bona fides as nothing else could.’
Geneviève stewed over it. ‘All right, Thierry. We’ll set it up for tomorrow evening. You’ll fly in and change to a helicopter. The helicopter will lower you and come back in one hour for you, with or without Gemma.’
‘How do we know they’ll be home, that they’ll know anything about it?’
‘We’ll send a message the long way round during this day and a half. They’ll know the score by the time you get there. If we can’t do it, you’ll be One2Oned and we’ll call it off.’
‘I’ve had a thought, Nikki,’ One2Oned Geneviève. ‘Let’s call the Section Sophie-Fleury – it sums up what we are about, it's about avenging angels and gives us just enough mystique to intrigue the enemy. Also, it would be a lovely gesture for when she arrives.’
‘We should rescue her first, then name the Section.’
'Yes. We're asking Jean-Claude to organize Sophie-Fleury and we have to ask Thierry to get Gemma but let’s not involve anyone else for now.’
‘Ah, you too are having thoughts.'
That evening, Nicolette was on the computer, Hugh was on duty patrolling the place and the other two were off duty.
The moment Jacques wandered into the computer room, Nicolette immediately jumped up to find Hugh, leaving Jacques puzzled. And sure enough, there they both were, Francesca and Hugh, in the kitchen. He was in the process of chopping vegetables for a late supper, apron over his combat gear, he'd turned side-on and Francesca was standing less than a metre from him, looking up into his eyes.
It wasn't what they were saying as they weren't saying anything and that was the thing which concerned her. Even when she, Nikki, was obviously present in the room, they didn't alter their stance, Hugh shook his head and muttered, 'Not good, Chessa, not good,' she quickly hugged him, said, 'Thanks Hugh,' and went to find Jacques supposedly.
He returned to the chopping, still shaking his head, paused and looked at Nikki and whispered, 'I'll tell you later.'
The sight of Thierry air-dropped into the back garden of M et Mme Bisset would have been one to remember if anyone had actually seen it.
He was inside and explaining to the parents within thirty seconds. All sorts of assurances were given and Gemma was technically under Thierry’s guardianship; in the view of the parents he’d die for their daughter as if she were his own and they couldn’t ask more than that. They’d packed three bags of supplies on top of Gemma’s packs.
'Right Gemma,' said Thierry, 'time to say your goodbyes – I’ll wait in the kitchen.’
When all farewells had been concluded, he primed her on what to do and she put on the harness. They went out to the back door and awaited the chop chop of the helicopter. It was a relieved man when it came into position and the cable was lowered.
He attached Gemma and two bags first, then himself with the rest of the gear and up they went. That's how simple it actually was. The flight plan had taken this route so there was virtually no deviation, the pick-up had taken a minute and fifteen seconds. The drop-off would take similar.
Getting Sophie-Fleury out of the hospital was a split-second affair involving wild goose chases, made doubly difficult by her total lack of knowledge that she was being lifted and by her not knowing the people who were doing it.
It was only a photo of Philippe and Geneviève with her words written on the back that she held nothing against Sophie-Fleury which convinced her although that was hardly proof. They unfortunately had to stun the night orderly but they did get away, mainly as they'd wrongfooted the enemy.
Caught on the hop, no provisions had been made to circumvent her jorney and so she appeared at Geneviève's house in due course for debriefing.
To de Marchant, she'd long ceased to be of interest and was essentially being kept alive as some sort of bargaining chip but exactly how hadn't been thought through. Perhaps it was that the Section had not been proactive until now, only reactive or to be more accurate - it's proactivity had been in reaction. The enemy now saw it had erred in this and de Marchant thought through who the active elements appeared to be. He reasoned that if they could be plucked out, the Section would fold.
They fed the media releases indicating that something mighty big was in the wind and the teaser was the airlifting of Sophie-Fleury from under the noses of the enemy, complete with photos of her but only the hoods of the others.
Time, Newsweek, Reuters and Le Monde took particular interest, as specific releases to them came through security channels in all European countries. Hugh and Geneviève had spiced it up with the arcane gobbledegook both he and she knew, to leave the enemy in no doubt that they were more than a bunch of rabbits hiding down burrows.
They had now also devised a logo based on her family coat-of-arms and this gave the public something more concrete to focus on. The name Section Sophie-Fleury was liberally bandied about and the press loved it until, one by one, they were gagged.
The remaining free internet then took up the cudgels about what had been sent to which papers and when, with enormous question marks as to why the media weren’t running it.
The press naturally wanted good copy, so Geneviève had secretly arranged an interview four days previously, from their previous house, involving an overnight train trip for one journalist, with camcorder and it was agreed it would only appear once they were in their new houses.
The gist was:
GL: We're releasing the names of five criminals in high office over two weeks and today we’ll begin with the German Government:
It might avail Herr Gunter Eisner, 2nd Deputy Minister of Home Affairs to investigate Herr Erik Holtz, Chief Coordinator, 2nd Muenchen Sektor, on suspicion of murder, extortion and embezzlement, details of which are now being handed to my interviewer.
DS: That’s fine as far as it goes, Mlle Lavacquerie but how can we be sure that this allegation has any substance?
GL: Keep your eye on the departmental journal in the next few days and you won’t need to ask that question.
The denials and vilification of SSF came thick and fast and the paper came under fire for running scurrilous and unsubstantiated material but when it emerged that Herr Holtz had, in fact, turned out to be guilty as alleged, the paper knew it was onto a winner and wanted more.
'Chessa's not coping, Nikki.'
'And you think there's something going on with her and me - she saw it too but she’s too far into her problems to worry about that. So best I tell you.'
'Jacques is tired of her or else he needs variety or else many things - the bottom line is that their relationship is not 100%. Now you know her better than me so tell me where her eyes are.'
She was way ahead of him. 'That can't be - it's wrong for a start with Thierry. I've known it for a long time and he doesn't set her straight. I've spoken to him but he thinks I'm interfering.'
'There's nothing there ... in him ... is there?'
'I couldn't tell you if there was. I don't know - I hope not. It's just that they've been thrown together for so long. And Hugh - you're not father confessor to young girls. You're my man.'
'Then who is confessor in this case? You know why she can't approach you on this.'
'I hear all this, Hugh - but no. Not with Chessa. She possibly does have this issue but she's always had issues and agendas when it's suited her and she's like a tigress who has tasted human blood. She has a taste for men of maturity and if she sees one who listens, all the better. Will you trust me on this and not think it's my jealousy?'
'You know her better than anyone.'
'Think why she has no friends her own age, think why she can come up to a man of your age and play the coquette. What does she do when we’re all solving the problems of the world? She observes, thinks of an idea, hatches her plan and puts it into operation. She has Thierry around her little finger.'
'You don't like her.'
'Do you think I don't know girls? Chessa and I have never had an argument because I've meant freedom for her when I visit - her one criticism is that I only visit three times a year. It's not dislike, it's that I know her. You and Emma worry me but you and Chessa are never going to begin, for many reasons.’
‘I’ve no thoughts in that direction.’
‘Good, then that makes it easier. I’ll speak with Jacques and no, don’t even start to think that.’
‘I’ve no thoughts in that direction,’ he repeated.
She was about to repeat, ‘Good, then that makes it easier,’ but thought better of it.
Geneviève lay in bed, Thierry side on to her, listening. ‘Thierry, I’m frightened. Frightened it’s me who is doing this.’
‘Unless you get away from me when I’m not looking –’
‘I have many opportunities when you are not in the communications room, when you are in the shower. Many opportunities.’
‘But why would you? The Section is you.’
‘Yes but if I am being paid big money to play this charade, to finish the Section without anyone suspecting why, then there would be a point. Maybe now we are not operating in Paris, the paymaster wants to end it.’
‘Yes but the person doing this is also the person who let Melanie be killed. Nothing in our sessions indicates anything like that.’
She squeezed his hand and mouthed, ‘Merci.’
Of course, they had their own way of puzzling the enemy too.
Firstly, it gradually became clear that Section Sophie-Fleury were intent on exposing corrupt 2nd or 3rd echelon officials but never ever went higher to the real power.
With each allegation, accompanied by huge press interest, a pattern emerged. SSF had taken to exposing five officials at one time.
The first two names would always instantly check out and in many cases were known to be corrupt but the other three were difficult to believe. Then, in any set of five allegations, one of the other three names on the list did check out and suddenly the papers were speaking of the veracity of ALL the allegations. To employ the vernacular, ‘it hit the fan’. The public came to believe that ANY name on any list had to, ipso facto, be guilty.
The Club of Trondheim, in its inner sanctum, discussed this curious phenomenon, and came to the conclusion that this ludicrously named Section Sophie-Fleury were playing games with ‘expendables’ and that the Club itself was as safe as houses. It was even suggested that SSF was some mysterious chapter of themselves. Either way, the threat was downgraded and the upper echelons lost interest.
Secondly, SSF also seemed to have a knack of weeding out disinformation planted to discredit them, there was someone inside their own organization and at this time, therefore, it was a game of low returns.
Still, they'd keep the pressure up and throw a few things into the mix along the way, awaiting SSF's inevitable error.
Chapter 9 here ... Chapter 11 here