Chapter 13 here ... Chapter 15 here
Hugh felt it was time to get to know Paul a little better, while he still could. After all, the man had been instrumental in dealing with the traitors and Genie spoke highly of him.
He'd had quite a prestigious past. Born in Mont-de-Marsan, in the department of Landes, He was educated at the Lycée Victor-Duruy and went on to the ESIEE in Paris, in computer science and electronics and that explained a lot. That’s how Genie hacked into Nadine’s little scheme, it seemed and the true value of Paul in the section was coming through.
Hugh intimated as much and actually apologized for not having got to know the younger man earlier. ‘We didn’t do a lot to make you welcome, Paul but that’s because there were other things on our mind, dangers and we had interrelationships already. Don’t forget that I also came to Paris cold and had no one at the start although I'd met two of the Section in Russia previously.’
Paul nodded, as Hugh topped up his glass and continued, ‘Tell me about your field of work.’
‘Well, I developed the One2One, as you probably know –’
‘No, I didn’t. I knew it was someone on the support staff. I’m sorry.’
‘It was relatively simple, just a variation on a circuit I’d been thinking about at the school but it seems to block interference and it’s not atmosphere-susceptible.’
‘Let me ask you about Thirteen then. How do you think they did that?’
He dismissed it with a wave. ‘Simplest technology - no magic. Nadine was good and she listened to me explain -’
‘I bet she did.’
‘- she found how to channel the One2Ones. She stole the code from Mademoiselle for that day and so they not only had the ability to broadcast to us but they also knew the codes and were privy to Section changeovers. No names or locations were ever used in the changeovers so they had to second guess that bit and not even Nadine knew until she was actually in a Safehouse, so that didn’t get them too far. They sent Nadine the images that same day and she fed them in.’
‘Could she have got away with it? Could she have fooled you for long?’
‘It always worried her about me but she did have a good brain, much better than she let anyone think. Her English language is … was … supposed to be very good –’
‘It was exceptional.’
‘Well, she was like that in engineering as well. I think I would have woken up to the trick but I might have been killed before that, as she’d learned all she was going to. It was Mademoiselle who woke up first that it was her.’
‘How much of what you were doing did anyone else know?’
‘Mademoiselle was the only one who knew what I really was, apart from Nadine and then Michel, of course.’
‘Il n’y a qu’un bonheur dans la vie, c’est d’aimer et d’être aimé.’
‘Georges Sand,’ smiled Nicolette, turning to face him in bed. 'If you really feel that, then let's marry tomorrow.'
He tried to speak but she'd stunned him again - she watched closely and smiled. Eventually he managed, 'Absolutely sure?'
'Yes, my grandmother said I must, at your age and in my situation.'
'She said that, I didn't. I want. I'm ready. My questions are answered. And you?'
'It must be you.'
'If I said you could either have sex with me twice a week this next month but not sleep the night with me ... or else you could sleep every night with me but no sex, which would you choose?
'No, for real. Choose.'
'Not a question with me - I can last a month without sex. Can't last without your arms though. I take the latter.'
'I don't believe you.'
'You said it was for real. So I've chosen.'
She just stared at him, then embraced him in a vice-like grip which almost squeezed the life out of him. 'You knew I was joking, didn't you?'
'Not really. I thought you might have been punishing me - I don't consider that punishment.'
'You don't know how exotic you are. Your body's so straight, your breasts stick out, your bottom's small, your neck is so kissable, you're thin enough for me to get my arms completely around, you lay so straight, not curled up and that straightens my body behind you and I sleep better, you smell lovely, I like the way you rest the sole of your foot against my leg when you sleep. You are willing to drop off first, knowing I'll follow in a few minutes, when you turn over, you have a way of keeping contact with my body and still breathe. And I just need to know it's you there.'
She just lay in his arms and couldn't think of anything to say for some time. Then she did.
'I'd like to hear about the night before you and Ksenia got married - if you can.'
'If it's too painful ...'
'No, no, it's fine.' He thought of which bits to talk about. 'We’d had a lovely evening, food, wine and conversation – Genie, Francine, Jean and the two of us … Ksenia had to lie down in her room. Genie went in, lay with her and they talked. Then Genie came out, I said goodnight and went in. Ksenia said to me: ‘You’re unsure about all this, Hugh?’
‘Not any more. You?’
‘Honestly, Hugh, I’m terrified. But I’m sure it’s right too. Right for me, right for you. It’s what we’re going to do anyway because we want to do it.’
Nicolette fought back tears. ‘And next morning? I want to know what it was like.’
‘She’d made a scarf for me, knitted it and I don’t think she’d knitted anything in her life.’
‘Was it any good?’
‘Well, it was … OK. No, it was wonderful because she’d made it and I said to her, ‘It’s perfect, Ksusha. Thank you.’ I had a little present for her, a classic doll, dressed in the old style. I’m sorry, Nikki, I don’t have something for you this time.’
‘We don’t need it. Go on.’
‘Genie had made breakfast of croissants with honey and also eggs, the English way. In the early days, everyone had been against Ksusha and I getting married but now people were supporting us. That’s all I want to say, just to remember the lovely part.’
She was already doing that thing she always did - her body moving the whole time beside him, against him and now it simply erupted into sex, then she suddenly stopped and said, 'If you want our baby, I'm ready. If you don't, I can wait.'
'Were you on ... er ...'
'Tonight, yes. Tomorrow I'll stop if you want. Hugh?'
'Do you want time now with Emma? To tell her?'
'Why can't we both do it?'
'Thank you. I'll get her.' She slipped out of bed, went to the kitchen and asked Paul if they could borrow Emma for half an hour? His eyes were amused.
She came through, was told to take off the combat gear, which she did, laying it out in their manner, climbed into the middle between them and though it hadn't been planned, Nikki started kissing her on one side of the face and he on the other. Nikki took her cheek in her palm and directed Emma's lips to hers, that went for some time, then took the other cheek and brought Emma's lips to his.
When it stopped, Emma asked, 'Can I have some of whatever you two are on?' Then she realized this was serious and the import began to seep through. 'No,' she murmured, 'I think I know what you are going to tell me.'
'You tell us then,' said Hugh.
'You two are leaving.'
'We're marrying first.'
'Marrying.' Emma let it sink in. 'And you're then leaving me. You expect me to have Paul.'
'Tell us a better way.' The problem was that Emma herself had formulated and organized the personnel for all the escape plans. She knew very well where this was going.
'I - I know you two need your life together. Without me. But I don't want to lose you both. I've got feelings for Franka, Mademoiselle but it is you two I need to -' she stopped herself saying 'be near' - 'to not be out of contact with. All right, I'll go with Paul but I want us to meet and I would not try anything with Hugh, I promise.'
This sent Nikki into tears - Emma had been her bane, yes but the woman was pleading with them.
'We're saying it now so that you can reorganize, Emma,' he said, 'make the contacts you need to, make it so that we are separate but together. I think what we're saying is we don't want to lose you either but you are the organizer of these things.'
'I'll do it first thing tomorrow morning. It's too late now for some of them.'
'Fine but it's in your hands. What you want, how you see it with us and you - that is now in your hands, you understand? Not ours.'
'Merci. Je vous remercie.'
They now fell upon her in a repeat performance of the kissing but this time it became a bit more risque and she was treated to just a touch of how these two made love. Nicolette put her hand inside Emma's thigh, he got the same idea on the other one and then they both seemed to tug slightly, her legs went apart and both stroked the inside of her thighs and over her knees, which almost sent her over the top.
Now, with bedclothes still between them, he climbed into position as if making love and Emma could feel it right there, Nikki climbed onto her face, tempting her and she made contact, Nikki climbed off and kissed her instead. Then they gave it away and lay up beside her again.
Emma looked left then right and shook her head. 'You really are crazy, both of you, when you're with each other. You really are. You provoke each other. That's how you do your lovemaking?'
'We have dozens of things we do,' said Nicolette, 'we just make it up as we go but then we throw something in like that. I watch him, he watches me.'
That's probably when Emma finally, completely realized she should not have made a play for Nicolette's man. It was so ephemeral, so delicate, so easily broken and she'd made it so base with Hugh who seemed to have been reading her thoughts. 'Every person is different, every couple. What you do with your lover is just as real and works for you two. Ours works for us, for now. Who knows what will happen? The central point is yes, we express it in sex but it's the love that drives it. We couldn't have that sex that way without that feeling, without us working together. Some people can, I'm told, even with a stranger. We can't. Nikki, I'm going out to Paul, this is not fair.'
He did so, Paul poured a drink and Hugh said, 'I feel awful, Paul because the three of us have been together for so long ... and you're the other one. I've been where you are a few times. You know we have to go very soon - Emma is organizing it tomorrow morning. Do you have any issues with going with her? We'll be in contact.'
'Issues? No, just hoping she'll accept me. I want her, yes, even with his child. I think we'll make a life -'
'Away from us.'
'Well, I wouldn't have said anything,' he smiled.
'We'll stay in touch. Emma is organizing it. Now be honest - do you want to?'
'Yes, the continuity you know. Yes and we've become closer, you and me. Yes, I do.'
'Good. Let's toast.'
Thierry was having one of those rare tetes-a-tete with Jean and neither was sure if this was man-to-man or a father-in-law and son-in-law.
The father wanted to know what made Jean tick, whether he’d look after his daughter, whether he had it in him to be her future. Jean wanted to know if the other had regrets about his choices.
‘Some. I’d have chosen Nikki but Nikki did not want. Genevieve is the other of the two. I’m happy with the whole thing, if we can now go our way and have a normal life. That’s my big worry – that this capture of Opinicus might have been one step too far. I can’t see us getting any peace now.
Gemma was also looking at the overall position. She missed home but also knew it was not the same home they’d left. Olly – she still felt the same, he was more caring but was still Olly – that would take years and could she wait years?
It was almost surreal for Nicolette and Hugh, neither could sleep, nor did they wish to make love - that could wait till after the ceremony. It was heady, she was quite nervous, almost delirious at times and then she'd suddenly pour herself into him.
She eventually broke the silence. 'We should have disbanded before Opinicus. It was a great thing to achieve, if we were continuing but we were never going to, so we should have organized instead for all of us to follow escape routes to different places in the world. Now they might make it very difficult for any of us to get away.'
‘Yes but it also bought us a few things. It makes the enemy more unsure what’s next, it gives us street cred so that people will still help us and it makes our escape easier. You know which town we’re in, of course.’
‘And you know our people here.’
‘Yes. Same people. Staying in the daughter’s house this time.'
'I was talking to Pieter today, he was in the skip area we’d escape through, he clambered up the metal spikes in the concrete and we discussed it. You were asleep, he turned up.’
‘He confirmed he can get us all out but in pairs, he can’t shift four people at one time. He takes Paul and Emma one way, back to France – she has no choice anyway as she’s with child, it’s a softer route for her, it involves Pieter’s wife and family – there’s more risk that way but once in France, Paul has his own contacts and so can hide Emma.
The other route. ours is physically harder, he says and requires only Pieter’s sons to get us out but it’s more secure en route. At the other end, it’s what we make of our lives on the other side of the world. I don’t even know where – best we don’t know. That route suits our physicality better.’
The morning was dull and drizzly but it wasn't going to dampen their spirits.
They breakfasted, Emma had organized a complicated way to communicate, Nikki now went over the fine detail again of the ceremony and their own exodus which would follow. Hugh went into Paul’s and Emma’s too.
There was a certain nervousness all round.
Nicolette removed her ring and gave it to her betrothed, Paul took on the role of officiant, Emma was bridesmaid and the ceremony, as far as they could remember it, began.
When they got to the 'I do-s', they looked at one another, he put the ring on her finger, they kissed and Francine announced: 'I now pronounce you man and wife.'
'Do you think this ceremony counts in law?' she asked.
Emma replied. 'It was conducted according to what our support people dug out, it followed the script, we all said a prayer - I'm sure it counts.'
'Oh my goodness,' he said, 'I've forgotten something. Nikki, do you have a garter? I've forgotten the garter.’ Her face was a blank. ‘Well, do you have a hair band – something elastic? We have to throw it over our shoulder – do you know our tradition? Whoever catches it is the next married.’
Emma said, ‘Our bags are packed. I’ve got a scrunchy I don't use for obvious reasons,' she patted her bob. 'You get it, Hugh, third drawer down.’
‘You're sure you don’t mind?’
He called out from their bedroom that he couldn’t find it. ‘Oh my goodness,’ sighed Nicolette. ‘Emma, I’d go but you know where your things are. Would you?’
Emma strode to the bedroom and immediately saw he was looking in the wrong chest of drawers. ‘Hugh, it’s th-’
All hell broke loose and she fell back on the floor.
Acrid smoke billowed through what was left of the bedroom and he ran for the door along the floorboards sticking out of the still intact inner wall. The outer wall was knocked through, the one opposite was smoking and there was almost no floor any more. He raced for the edge of the chasm - broken masonry and lengths of charred wood at all angles - looked down and there was what remained of Paul. Of Nikki there was no trace but he had the gut-wrenching realization that she’d been standing right in the path of whatever it had been.
Now he saw part of her wedding dress - just a dress really but done up like a wedding dress – near the far wall and then he saw the thing he never wanted to see - her left hand and wrist near that. Some metres away were her left boot and part of her lower leg.
He couldn't emote, couldn't throw up, couldn't do anything ...
Emma had got up and was beside him, she saw it too and covered her mouth, shuffled away a metre and retched and retched and retched.
They had to get the hell out of there, he was paralysed, she recovered and shook his shoulder, there was no sign of Nikki’s bag, Emma had hers, his was gone, they stumbled to the chute which dropped to the skip.
Though there was a cushioned piece of material of some kind which the support team had obviously put in, he still had to lift her in and the issue was the baby.
The landing was as soft as it could have been but still not good.
He jumped himself into the skip, the support staffer closed the lid, it was now wheeled out, the loader’s giant arm swung across; the pincer lifted it, turned it upside down and the two of them fell into what looked like the town’s daily rubbish collection, only it was a surrogate loader they’d brought in from a nearby town and kept in a garage five doors down for the duration of the two weeks and instead of rubbish, were two old mattresses.
The metal lid clanged back into place.
He told her to get over to the far side under the giant hinge and await some real rubbish on top of them, which duly came within five minutes, as the next collection was made. She wanted to throw up but he pointed to the bolt holes in the side and clapped his own lips to them on his side.
They made four more pick ups but on the fifth, as the skip emptied its contents, he heard Klaus telling them to climb out - schnell!
'Emma, come now! Emma!' She moved and he lifted her up, out of the truck and into another skip in which a strap had been attached, which she now grabbed. She knew the drill. He followed.
Inside the rubbish area of the place they’d been wheeled, the outer door appeared to close and an inner seemed to open. It was Pieter, calling them out of the skip and shooshing them into the house. In the foyer, he told them to get out of their gear and wash, throwing Hugh two towels, the bath was already half-filled, at an acceptable temperature for a parturient woman.
Peeling off their gear and leaving it in a soggy pile on the tiled floor, they climbed in and scrubbed and scrubbed. ‘Hugh, about Nikki -’ but he said, ‘Not now. Later we’ll cry. Let’s get out and refill the bath.’
They drained and filled it again, got in and scrubbed again, drained the bath and re-ran it a third time, got in and he washed her mop of hair thoroughly.
Pieter’s wife appeared with overalls and other items for him and a jumpsuit for her. She handed them both a stiff drink which they immediately knocked back - modesty apparently the last thing on anyone's mind. She had a black bin liner for their garments and now took them away.
Eventually they got out, she went through with Pieter's wife and lay on the bed, he went downstairs, Pieter handed him a tablet and water which he knocked back.
The soup was warm, not hot, he gulped it down and tore off some bread to follow. He felt the drug kick in, that he could now control himself until Emma awoke.
‘Any damage to you or her?’ asked Pieter.
‘To me, negative. To Emma, I don’t know. She’ll need medical attention, the baby, you know.’
‘Should we mount a rescue?’
‘No one to rescue.’
‘But you might go back when it’s safe and see what can be recovered. Don’t bring any of my things unless they’re really personal but do try to get one of her bootlaces from her stiletto boots, don’t ask why. If you find her, that is.’
The man nodded.
Helga brought the meat dish and Hugh forced it down. Suddenly he remembered and asked, ‘Our combat gear?’
‘Still being washed, of course.’
The next hours were difficult to fill in.
The doctor arrived, went in and came out seven minutes later, shaking his head, Pieter whispered, in simplistic English that they were worried if the baby was still alive, they needed to get her to a hospital.
Hugh was sure that Helga and Pieter would arrange something or try to, the doctor departed, he went to Emma and she asked.
'He doesn't know but he was worried. You need to be seen to. It may involve a long vigil, a long trip, to get you to a hospital or medical help far from here. Can you do it - can you manage that? This is not the soft route you had planned for Paul and you. You know exactly. Can you do this?'
'I have to.'
Helga handed them their still slightly damp outer gear, which they donned, she then ushered them into the garage, where two men they hadn’t met before opened a horsebox, of all things, which was all right in principle, except that there was a horse in it.
The men backed the horse out, Hugh and Emma climbed the ramp and Pieter arrived. ‘Hugh, Emma – get under the blanket, weapons ready.’
They got themselves covered, the horse got in, the back of the horsebox closed, the outer door opened and they hadn’t even had time to say thanks.
The vehicle pulled onto the cobbled road, very uncomfortable for Emma and no picnic for him. All they could do was settle into switch-off mode, which they’d practised, slowing the breathing and becoming nearly inert.
There were some turns and then the vehicle slowed down.
Now they heard a hubbub up ahead and the horsebox slowed to an eventual stop, with German voices all around them. The door was thrown open and a torch pierced the gloom. The horse kicked back and stamped nervously but still the scrutiny went on.
Then the box was closed, they heard their driver get back in and they moved off again. Soon they turned into what appeared to be a track and some distance on, the vehicle slowed to an eventual stop.
The back of the box opened once again and they heard the horse being backed out, slowly, down the little ramp.
‘Hugh, Emma,’ called Klaus, ‘Komme, macht schnell.’ They threw off the smelly blankets, made their way out and an earnest conversation took place in German.
Hugh turned to her and explained: ‘There are other road blocks ahead – too dangerous to proceed. We need to stay in the forest, in a little gully Klaus knows of. We’ll have security codes to exchange when two other men arrive in five hours.
She nodded and they followed Pieter into the forest.
The gully was reached after about half a kilometre, up hills, down gullies, along little valleys and through some boggy places. ‘Don’t drink the water,’ nodded Pieter, indicating the little brook, he handed them a sports bottle each and with a handshake, he was gone. Emma was nearly dead on her feet but she was persevering.
For the first time, the two of them looked at each other.
‘We’ll survive, Emma, we’ll survive the next hours, then the rest of this day, we’ll go north, then we’ll get you to the hospital. Can you do that?’
She nodded but was clearly distressed, both physically and spiritually. Five hours was going to be a very long time with nothing to do and they had to talk, now, before the enemy came. They had to go over the procedural things.
First, they needed to check out the surrounding area, by going to the top of the gully and letting their eyes peep over the top. That would fill a good twenty minutes.
The scrutiny from the top of the bank was just as well because in the distance, over a series of hills and gullies, they could just make out some figures coming over a crest – they were uniformed, appeared to have body armour and had dogs. This was not good. Emma glanced across at him but he was just observing.
He beckoned her over and whispered in her ear. ‘They’re going to come from this side and I’m going to keep my gun trained on them but I need you to keep your eye and your gun trained on the other side of the gully. If you see someone lift a gun towards us -'
The difficulty was that the search party kept coming over rises and then disappearing into the valley, then rising again – it was as though they were advancing by fits and starts.
Another ten minutes and conversation could be heard in the distance.
Suddenly there was a cry from the party and Hugh strained to hear what was being said, not that he’d understand much of the language. But from what he could make out, someone had fallen in – but fallen in to what? It seemed the others were trying to get him out. He could make out the words Treibsand and Sumpf which meant quicksand or a swamp. When someone called out to be careful of the Marsch, he knew for sure what had halted their progress.
When the three of them had come into this gully, now he came to think of it, it had been via a circuitous route, at times balancing on fallen logs and the like. Though not particularly well hidden, with only medium cover from the trees, nevertheless, they seemed to be surrounded by natural hazards - Pieter had chosen this point for that very reason.
Not only that, but there were countless gullies in which they might be hidden. Just for a moment, it seemed to him that they might get through this one alive. He rested a hand on Emma’s arm to reassure her, smiled at her, then made a little circle with finger and thumb. She grinned and took up her vigilance again.
The party had obviously got the fallen member out and was now skirting round the back, the way they'd come in themselves, and this represented even greater danger. Hugh very slowly shifted position behind a fallen log and rested the barrel on it, taking in the head of the gully fifty metres away. He indicated to Emma, with a sweep of his hand, to cover the other direction again.
He beckoned her and reminded her that if there was any firing from them, they must immediately shift position after each burst, in the direction where the enemy’s last burst had hit.
Did she remember? Good.
There was shouting at the head of the valley – it seemed that the marsh surrounded them on three sides but at the other end of the gully was a cliff face and that was strategically a weak point, except that the gully itself curved slightly to the contour of the hill and might cut off the line of sight of anyone on the hill – they had to hope so.
Another possibility he feared was that they’d send a burst of fire through the valley, just on spec. Against that, again, was that the party had no reason to suppose that Emma and he were even in this particular valley and there hadn’t been firing in any other valley until this moment. Plus again, the gully was curved.
Perhaps they’d pull through, after all – there was a lot of wood around to touch.
Slowly, gradually, the voices faded and they seemed to be skirting round the marshes altogether and heading further up into the hills. Hugh, being the untrusting creature he was, indicated to Emma that there might be one or more rogue scouts still behind the main party, to pick up any late movement from a quarry now feeling themselves safe – he indicated for her to be very still but she was more untrusting than him and told him the same.
One smart cookie, Emma was. He wondered what she was dwelling on.
It was as well, as there was a crack of a twig near the cliff top and someone seemed to have almost fallen over – they could hear his scuffle trying to regain his foothold. They heard the lightest of noises from his feet as he finally left to rejoin his party.
Still they didn't dare move and she was cramping a little – they both were – but they also knew they had to – for life itself.
The weak sun was slightly to the south and this cast shadows in the gully which also aided concealment. He further reasoned that an aeroplane or copter wouldn’t avail the enemy much either – no, this cover seemed to have been well chosen by Klaus and Pieter.
Emma indicated that it was time to drink a little of the water – stress takes it out of you. He followed suit, then the flasks were put away. They brought weapons into position across their chests.
Silence was essential for another forty minutes or so, to be sure - she knew how to wiggle her toes and fingers to keep the circulation going.
The sun slowly moved across the sky and it became necessary to shift position into the shadows but she was feeling the first chill of inaction and was loathe to leave the sunshine. There was no choice though and they went further along towards end of the cliff – a strategically bad place in the remaining two hours of sunlight but it would be fine after that.
Time to eat. She took out one of the bars and urged him to do the same – they were well within their limits of food and water but who knew what the situation would be later?
Still the afternoon wore on and he glanced at his watch – one hour and forty minutes until contact with the boys. She glanced at her watch and came to the realization as well. They’d done very well up to this point but the dark was going to be another thing. Strong girl or not, she was weakened with child and that issue needed resolution very soon. It was not going to be a pleasant time for Emma.
The shadows were quite long now and they were thankful for their warm dragon skins. He took out his cloth cap, took off his head casing and put the cap on, then replaced the casing. She did the same.
Darkness was almost upon them and with it, the sounds of evening in the far distance – they could hear a train somewhere about two or three kilometres away. Less than an hour now and with it, a certain amount of apprehension of the unknown. Would he recognize these boys, would they be the right ones, would it be a sudden and swift end for them both?
This was fruitless thinking.
He thought of how he was going to hold onto her without frightening her. She was thinking whether introducing the personal element and holding him would trigger off Nikki in his mind. She was relieved when he came over and held her to him. He hoped a little of his faked confidence would rub off on her and she hoped hers would rub off on him.
Twenty minutes to go and no sign whatever of their contact.
They would surely have picked up some sort of sound, some light perhaps. Perhaps something had gone wrong and they’d have to think out the next step, if that was the case. They had procedures and Klaus and Pieter would know of those, so contact would not be irretrievably lost.
Emma was now shivering and he held her lightly, whispering in her ear. She needed this right now but she also knew he needed to be looking after her, to keep his mind off the events.
He could feel her pain, her agony inside, she'd breath in sharply from time to time and he'd just hold her, her bleary eyes would look at his and she'd nod her thanks. Poor girl, shocking thing, all of it. He had to shut out such thoughts for now.
Twelve minutes to go and he indicated, with his arms, for Emma to be perfectly still, so that they could pick up any sound. Suddenly, they both almost had heart attacks as a boyish voice whispered, ‘Herr Jensen?’
When he didn’t respond, the voice sang, in a low voice, ‘I can't live without you if the love was gone,’ to which Hugh sang back, ‘Everything is nothing if you've got no one,’ and then a second boyish voice replied, ‘And you just walk in the night, slowly losing sight of the real thing.’
Emma thought the world was going mad.
‘You were very quiet. Herr Jensen, schnell, follow us – tread where we tread.’
So began the trek out of the gully, up hills, down gullies on the other side, gingerly stepping along tree trunks in the dark – the taller first, then Emma, then Hugh and finally the shorter and thicker of the late teenage boys.
It was slow going.
Almost all the noise came from the middle two and that noise was not excessive. After thirty minutes or so, they stopped in a gully and the boy at the rear took a package out of his rucksack – meat and cheese sandwiches. The taller took out a flask and it wasn’t water – probably it was a schnapps mix.
They felt the warm burn reach the stomach.
Refreshed, they started off again but never seemed to be getting anywhere close to a road. Hugh reasoned that they were running parallel to the main road now, possibly in the direction of the train tracks.
This was confirmed some minutes later when they heard a long convoy of industrial trucks pass through what sounded like a crossing. Fifteen minutes later, they stopped again, on the edge of the forest and the taller and elder introduced himself, ‘Ich heiße Erik, dies ist Karl.’
Salutations were effected and Erik handed Hugh two pouches about the size of his hand. One was full and the other empty. Inside were personal effects and some were clearly Emma’s, which he now transferred to the other pouch, handed it to her and then checked his pouch again. There were various baubles she would have valued, two handkerchiefs, the ring and he didn’t want to think how that had been removed and that was all. No boot lace, nothing else. He came close to losing it, which Emma noted, he put the items back, closed the pouch, and put it in one of the body suit pockets.
Erik continued, in English:
‘Herr Jensen, here is the karta of the railways. You vill jump into the empty wagon when the zug slows, you vill get out again where we make a kreuz hier on the karta. Use your Taschenlampe only when there is light overhead at crossings. All crossings are marked. You vill get out on the left of the wagon and go down the hill, schnell. There vill be a dark blue Vectra Kombiwagen and you vill climb through the hatch and lie under Wolldecken – er, blankets - you vill not speak. Maria will introduce herself at the end of the journey. The journey will be forty minutes – not dangerous. Verstehen Sie?’
‘Verstehe und vielen dank.’
‘Bitte und viel Gluck.’
Emma picked up the main idea from all that and now they came to the top of an embankment. Erik indicated that they should crouch down and approach the edge, which they did and now they simply waited. Karl took out the second sandwiches for them both and they gobbled them down, to the boys’ approval.
Presently, they heard the sound a of a goods train approaching and soon it had reached the bend and slowed down for the crossing, which it took very, very carefully, the line a little suspect at this point, apparently.
‘Jetz, jetz!’ urged Erik and Hugh and Emma dropped down over the embankment and into a half full open container wagon – it appeared to have coal in it. The fall had been about two metres and Emma had worked out a way, not unlike parachutists, to let the legs touch first and quickly crumple, followed by bottom and slewing onto her side.
The problem this time was the uneven coal, with its sharp edges. The positive thing was that coal crumples too.
That had worsened the situation, Emma needed attention right now. Hugh started to blacken his face and his clothing and she knew she had to follow suit.
There was still one very light patch above her nose and he dabbed her there with soot. He turned over and she did his back, then turned over and he did hers. They were now as black as the coal they were sharing the wagon with.
The train went through a second crossing - Hugh flicked on the torch and picked up that there’d be seven crossings, including the one they’d got on at. After that, they’d need to prepare. One by one they counted the crossings through, until the last had passed and then they prepared for their egress.
The main problem would be the weaponry; Hugh reached for Emma’s gun and detached the magazine, then opened the breach and extracted the round, giving both to her to put in her holster. He did his own next. He indicated that she had to hold the muzzle beside her headgear and the weapon parallel to her body; they were going to slide/shuffle down the hill.
They could feel the train slow, pass through the crossing and then he counted ten, helped her up and over and went over the edge himself. The SMGs dug in as he rolled and he found himself at the foot of the embankment, by a station road, weapon trained above her head.
A car without lights, a dark Vectra as it turned out, moved towards them, almost noiselessly and they heard the rear hatch released. Shuffling round the back with her, they got in, as they’d been instructed and pulled the blankets up over them.
It turned out that the precaution was unnecessary and after the designated time, the car turned into a side road and then onto something bumpy – perhaps a field. It came to a stop and someone got out, came round to the hatch and opened it.
‘I’m Maria,’ she said in English.
They got out and heard the sound of rotors starting up. Thanking the middle aged woman, they struggled across to the helicopter, Hugh got in the back, Emma in the front, they strapped themselves in and took off.
The pilot was Pieter.
Twenty minutes into the journey, Hugh decided it was time for the transponder. Opening up the apparatus, he did all the preliminaries and half expected a blue image and drop in temperature. There was none this time. He immediately One2Oned Genie and awaited her reply.
The helicopter flew on through the night and still Hugh awaited a reply. Then the copter dipped and came down in a field, he knew not where, he shut down the apparatus and they got out, thanked Pieter profusely and transferred to the next helicopter. They didn’t know this pilot but he spoke a strange language and Hugh seemed to think it was Finnish - there were a lot of long ‘a’s in it.
As they flew over water, Hugh decided to try the transponder.
There was a reply.
‘WBT. Show absolutely no emotion. Only contact is ARI.’ Aristocrat, he knew that to mean. ‘No others respond. What is your situation? PLN.’
Translated, they’d lost Thierry, Olivier, Gemma, Francine, Jacques, Francesca, Jean and Sophie-Fleury, along with their own Nikki and Paul.
So, Jean-Claude had escaped, now incommunicado until he was supposed to go south – Genie would have told him where and how.
Hugh acknowledged her message, wrote that they’d lost MNO and CGK during the wedding ceremony, ELF was in a bad way, medical help was being sought, he was OK, they would not go to the first house but would meet at the second.
He punched the send button and awaited the reply. It came swiftly. ‘WBT. Horrified. Better second house at due time. PLN.’
Geneviève clicked the One2One shut, ran to the bathroom and vomited.
Emma now turned and asked him about it.
‘That was Genie. Jean-Claude's somewhere, the others haven't confirmed as yet.’
They landed and a similar convoluted process took them via circuitous route occupying another three and a half hours.
The house was nondescript and was mainly for cosmetic surgery - one of Jean-Claude's people. A bit dodgy but good medical staff. It was costing a pretty penny.
Out of one of the downstairs rooms came a woman in white coat, wearing sandals over socks. She beckoned them both through and there was another woman who looked important, asking for this and that in coat, mask and gloves and a man also waiting, seemingly of equal status and similarly attired. Three other young women were probably the orderlies.
Hugh hugged Emma’s shoulders, she disrobed without ceremony, was handed a hospital robe and climbed up on the padded table, set at a slight angle for comfort. He went outside.
One of the two doctors came out of the room and shook his head, Hugh put a finger in the air for the man to wait, he took a slip of paper and drew a picture of a mother and a baby and pointed to the mother. The man put both thumbs up and that seemed all right.
He pointed to the picture of the baby, the man turned his thumbs down and shook his head. Hugh felt weak and sat down on the bench behind.
The doctor went back in, then came back out with forms. Oh my goodness, the bureaucracy, even in this situation. Fair enough, those people had to cover themselves when the fallout began later.
With no language link between them, the whole thing was done by sign language and with gestures. The doctor indicated Hugh’s picture again on the table and Hugh brought it over to him. He pointed to the mother and made a gesture of falling asleep, meaning the anaesthetic, then drew a mark on the mother’s stomach, making a cutting gesture, then pointed to Hugh and made a handwriting gesture. He handed back the pen and indicated the forms.
Hugh understood but made a gesture of Emma waking up and signing, the doctor shook his head and showed she was out like a light. He scribbled '100%?' on the paper, showed it, with a gesture of the baby being removed and the doctor nodded.
He made a praying hands sign, then an imploring hands gesture to the man. The doctor put a hand on his shoulder and showing great sympathy, still shook his head, he reached over for the paper and pointed to the baby picture, crossing his hands in a gesture of sad finality.
Hugh nodded, made the decision, took the pen and signed … here … here … and here.
That done, the man went back inside the room. A nurse got Hugh to don mask, hair covering and gloves and he went in and sat over by a wall.
Eventually, it was done. The doctor was sewing her up, the two nurses were bent over their task, Hugh felt mortified but Emma would now live and the greatest danger had passed.
Now came the long wait.
Emma awoke and instantly knew what had happened, Hugh sitting beside her.
Her moan became a low, guttural, inconsolable groan of grief and as she learned he’d authorized the operation, her first reaction was to lash out but hard logic dictated to her, even in her state, that he’d had no choice - the baby had no longer been alive.
Chapter 13 here ... Chapter 15 here