Tuesday, May 5, 2009

France 20 - Submarine



Chapter 19 here ... Chapter 21 here

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I

The return journey passed.

Certain of the crew were irritable over some internal issue, the Captain had some minor matters but most of it was the result of a long tour away, everyone wanting home to see their family and friends, maybe to sink a pint or two.

The equator saw some shenanigans and Hugh was doused but other than that, it was a tame affair.  The girls were having a ball and blushed each time a couple of ensigns would quietly wolf whistle or one of the ORs clumsily tried conversation with them.  The women would clutch each other and rush for the captain’s cabin.

Hugh and Jean-Claude nodded on.  Excellent.  About time everyone had a bit of fun to ease the stress.  Jean-Claude and he got in some useful conversation about the state of the world and their place in it, concluding nothing in particular but delineating the issues nonetheless.

II

November 2007

When they pulled into Portsmouth, there were some necessary formalities; they were now well and truly ‘outed’ and anyone who cared to know their whereabouts would know. 

In the small office where they were waiting, a phone call was patched through to them from Carly, supposedly in London.  ‘Well, well, Mr. Jensen, how was the trip back?’

‘It was getting a little hot until we were rescued by a passing submarine.’

‘Ah yes, we’ll go into that when we meet.’

‘When is that, Marie?’

‘No major delays.  Possibly tomorrow evening.  There’s a car coming back soon so be ready for it.  You’ll all stay with me for a few days, if that accords with your plans,’ he heard her chuckling.

Hugh laughed. ‘We were wondering about accommodation.  Do you charge like the Ritz?’

‘That depends, Hugh,’ she replied enigmatically.

‘Well, on the assumption that yours is a friendly voice, Marie, it’s lovely to speak with you again.  Give my love to Sarah.’

He heard her chuckle at the other end. ‘Oh, I’ll make a point of doing that.  You’ll be met there in an hour and a half by a Jonathan Yates and two naval personnel.  Yates is ours.  Check your transponder for confirmation.  See you tomorrow evening then.’ 

She rang off.

The others looked at him and he thought for a moment. ‘Well, they’re obviously going to be interested in certain things with us.  Much of what we know is out of date though.  I think she’d already be aware of our purpose in Europe.’

Two ears in the corridor outside found that information interesting.

In their room, they were wondering where this night would be spent.  Hugh remembered about the transponder and asked Jean-Claude to check it.  Surprising they’d been allowed to retain this.

He did and there was a message from Carly. ‘There’s no Jonathan Yates, he shouldn’t exist but we’ve reason to believe he just might. There’s a lady named Janine Falworth, she’s on the level and she’ll show you this code.’  He passed the transponder to Jean-Claude, who memorized the numbers and letters which followed, then handed it back.  You’ll go back later.  Don’t go with a Jonathan Yates.’

.o0o.

Two cars arrived at the originally named time, an orderly came to get them, they took their packs and followed him.  Just outside, on the asphalt, a young man with a pleasant voice stepped forward and introduced himself as Jonathan Yates and showed his credentials, a section pass which seemed in order.

He turned to lead them to the cars but Hugh and Jean-Claude didn’t move, the latter whispering to the women to run back to the door.  At that same moment, Yates spun round to see what was going on, four uniformed men ran from the door, weapons in hand, Yates ran for his car, dived in the back and the driver sped off.

One of the officers got on his walkie-talkie to the gate and then nodded to Hugh to come back inside.  Inside the door, the walkie-talkie buzzed, the man answered and grimaced. ‘I see.’  As he made no attempt to inform them about it, they decided it best not to ask. 

Soon they were back in the room again.  Coffee was had.

A good fifty minutes later, a naval officer entered the room, accompanied by a lady, about 170cm, auburn hair, maybe mid-thirties, pretty but not beautiful, seemed conservative, dressed in dark maroon skirt and jacket, with white blouse and scarf.

She handed Hugh her credentials, then pulled a paper from her bag and handed it to him.  He handed it across to Jean-Claude who nodded, switched on the transponder and there was another message from Carly.

‘Ask Janine whom she recruited two days ago.  It’s Julia.’

Jean-Claude showed the message to Hugh, who asked the question.  Janine smiled and answered, ‘Julia.’  Jean-Claude wrote back, signing off.

‘Ready?’ asked Janine and this time they left without drama.

.o0o.

The question of where they were staying that night was answered when they pulled into a standard B&B on the main road out of Portsmouth and took three rooms – two for them and one for Janine and the driver.

Hugh wondered about those two but nobody else could care less.  They put the things in their rooms and went to ask about food.  Janine was downstairs and she’d already ordered in Chinese.  Would that be all right with them?

Perfect.

The driver returned with three double servings of Peking duck and accompaniments, chowmein, spring rolls and rice - they were distributed. 

‘Tea is in your room. We’ll depart at 08:30 tomorrow. Good night.’

‘Well,’ Hugh remarked to Emma on the way back to their room, ‘she’s nothing if not efficient, our Janine.’

Emma now showed another side to herself – the ravening wolf.  She attacked her half of the foodstuffs with gusto and washed it down with coffee, most un-Gallic, Hugh couldn’t help but think. 

She looked over at him.  ‘Mange, Bebe, mange.’

.o0o.

Just under an hour later, curled up in each other’s arms, she asked him how he saw things.

‘You saw the patrol boat.  There’s trouble but this Janine seems on the level.’

‘Maybe they see us as the enemy.’

‘Carly knows we’re not but the word ‘enemy’ is a fluid term in politics.  Let’s just say we’re currently aligned in the right direction.’

'Bonne nuit, Bebe.’

'Bonne nuit, Fayette.'

III

Jean-Claude had just asked Geneviève the same question – how she read the situation.

‘I know Carly well.  She’s capable, she’s ruthless, she’ll outwit us and leave us holding nothing but I don’t believe she’d sit back and allow us to be harmed, even in the name of information. She’s too much of a game player, she likes the sport.  I could be wrong but I think we can sleep easy tonight.’

Jean-Claude relaxed, took her hand and kissed every finger in turn.  As she didn’t appear to have any violent objection to that, he continued on up her arm.

Eventually he reached her lips.


Janine turned to the driver and asked him how he saw things.

‘Present well, don’t they?’

‘Well anyone like that, any operative worth his salt, is going to be personable.  All the same, they do impress; I only hope Carly can use their talents.’

‘PM speaking of the Praetorian again?’

‘He might be, he tells me things on a need to know basis.’

‘Janine Falworth, ever the diplomat.’

‘Doug Baines, so-called driver.’

.o0o.

They’d breakfasted, the packs were in the spacewagon and now they piled in too.

The road from Plymouth was not bad but slow until they reached the main drag to London, after which it was relatively plain sailing.  They found a comfortable position each and gazed out of the window at the passing fields and settlements.

.o0o.

Twice they stopped off for a stretch, once for fuel and eventually the lights of London appeared in the distance.  Then came the long crawl down sundry connecting roads, across the bridge, back across some distance further on, through New Cross, through Blackheath, onto the M25 and off at the requisite exit.

Five miles further on, they pulled into a lay-by and a car was waiting.  The driver got out, came over to them with four strips of material, Hugh explained to the other three and they allowed themselves to have their eyes covered.

Doug then drove on and soon Hugh remembered the gravel driveway, the opening garage door and the reception committee.  He explained to the others what happened next.

Eventually they came through to the house proper, put their clothes back on and sat on the divan or in the armchairs.

They didn’t have long to wait.

Looking as resplendent as ever in black frock and scarf, Carly came through, smiled a welcome to all, kissed Hugh, to Emma’s astonishment but not to Geneviève’s, did the same with Geneviève and gave the traditional Gallic welcome to the other two.

From the side room came Sarah, drinks tray in hand but this time clothed a bit more soberly.  She also kissed Hugh, Jean-Claude decided this was a good British tradition and availed himself, the ladies passed on this one.

Early supper was ready and they went through.

Carly asked them all not to talk shop this evening but to relax.  What she was aware they had come back for could wait until the morning. 

The wines were right, the courses relaxed and Jean-Claude felt he was back home in a way, even though he clearly wasn’t.  Carly noted his discomfort ebbing away but Geneviève was one partner she did not wish to offend.  Emma was another matter.  She thought she might push Emma a little with Hugh to see how this pretty one reacted or indeed, Hugh himself.

Hugh was awake to her and asked if there were only two bedrooms this time.  Emma found that a strange question but Carly only smiled at him. ‘Well, you know, Hugh, there’s the room Marc took and that sleeps one, there’s my room and as you know, there is another bed in the alcove; then there is the divan in the living room. Who’ll sleep where?'  She was on a roll and he sighed.

The others became quite interested at this point and heard Hugh’s solution. ‘Jean-Claude will have the single room, Geneviève and Emma will sleep with you and I’ll take the divan.’

‘With Sarah.  Yes, that sounds the best way -’

‘No, Marie, by myself. Sarah's bed is in the side room.’

By now, Emma wanted to know what the hell was going on although Geneviève knew, from all Marc and Ksenia had told her.  ‘I’ll explain later, Emma.  It’s just Carly having her fun again.’

Emma wasn’t all that sure she liked this lady now.  ‘Hugh will sleep in the alcove, as you called it, Mademoiselle will be with you and I’ll be on the divan, with or without Sarah.’

Carly nodded.  So the little one cares for him and he for her and yet wasn't it Geneviève who'd been the focus of Hugh Jensen’s amorous attentions not so long ago?  Well, we live and learn.

Jean-Claude protested. ‘Non, Emma, that is uncomfortable for you.  The single room is Geneviève’s, you, Emma, will sleep with Carly and Hugh can sleep in the alcove.  I shall be on the divan.’

‘With Sarah,’ Carly mischievously added.

Geneviève sighed - Carly had never changed. ‘Look, either Jean-Claude or Hugh sleeps with you, Marie, Emma has the single room and I’m on the divan with Sarah.’

Carly replied, ‘Now Geneviève, you’re awake to me again.  I have to say it’s so nice to see you after so long; to have you as a guest in this house is a pleasure.  I have a question for you ladies – do you trust your men?’

‘No, Marie,’ answered Geneviève.  ‘You want to put the men to the test but we’re not playing.’

‘Geneviève, forgive me,’ cut in Carly.  ‘You’ve had a gruelling journey and you don’t need this.  The second room has another bed in there now – it’s a twin room and that’s for Jean-Claude and you.  If Emma is willing, she can sleep with me and Hugh can please himself – either in the alcove or on the divan.  And now it’s time to retire for the night,’ she smiled.  ‘Use the kitchen freely, as you need.  I wish you all bonne nuit.’

Still in the main room, Emma asked what that had all been about, all these musical beds and what was this Sarah to him?  He told her to be careful because walls have ears and rapidly recounted the story of Ksenia, Sarah and Carly’s game.

‘But that’s terrible,’ she said.

‘She has to do it, it’s her job to know these things and she does it well. She’s discovering who’s loyal to whom, who loves whom and that information is useful later.  If I’d gone to the divan, Sarah would have come to me during the night.’

‘Would you have let her in?’

‘Which answer do you want? The one which will make you feel better or the truth?’

‘I’d like to know that too,’ said Carly, who’d just come back through to get Emma.

‘The truth,’ said Emma, not enjoying this at all.

‘I can’t say what I would do if I was single – I mean if you and I weren’t partners.  But we are partners and there’s no question – I wouldn’t let her in.’

‘Would you have slept with Carly?’

‘Do you remember, at the start of us, about me sleeping with those 13 women?’

‘The 12?’

‘No, the 13.  Definitely the 13.’

‘Ah.  Right, understood.  I still don't have to like it though.’  Marie was intrigued.

Emma now asked him who was in the alcove and who in with Carly.

‘Your choice, Fayette.’

‘Enjoy your alcove, Bebe.’

She awaited her turn in the bathroom and Hugh used the one attached to Sarah's sideroom.  Sarah watched him go in and watched him come out; when he came out, she was waiting, he took her swiftly in his arms, kissed her deeply and said it was lovely to see her again, goodnight, all within about 20 seconds.

.o0o.

The next morning, around 09:00, they each had a coffee or tea, sitting around the chairs and divan in the main room.

Carly opened with the obvious observation: ‘You’ll see that no one else is here this morning.  They’re all out on errands of one kind or another.  What you don’t know is that this is the safest room in the house, the one with no microphones, the one where I can communicate freely.

Let’s start with your situation.  You’ve twice been close to being captured and taken to a place you don’t want to be – once in the Atlantic and then at the naval base.  Your conclusion?’

‘That people don’t like us,’ said Geneviève.

‘That each level is infiltrated to a greater or lesser extent,’ said Hugh. ‘Whenever an arrangement is made, a secure line used, someone is listening and either passes it on or issues orders directly.’

‘And what,’ asked Carly, ‘would be their purpose in doing that, as far as this country’s politics are concerned?  Leaving aside Europe for the moment.’

Jean-Claude put in, ‘There’s a club - a number of people loosely bound by similar allegiances is a better way to put it - and when someone inconveniences that club in Europe, its sympathetic members in Britain act on their behalf.’

‘Getting warm.’

‘They operate at different levels, there are different strata,’ added Emma. ‘At the level we were operating, it was minor to mid echelons we were exposing and those echelons wanted revenge.  That sort of person always does and it destroys them inside while they’re trying to destroy us.

Then there are the big fish, the ones hardly interested in the lower ranks and their troubles. We didn’t touch them until we needed some guarantees and even then we acted with respect.’

‘Which they duly noted,’ said Carly. ‘It confused them at first and then was appreciated later.  By accident, you picked on one of the Seven who was on his way to being squeezed out, so his concessions didn’t buy you much and only for a short time.  Full marks for trying though.’

Hugh spoke. ‘The higher you go, the more insane these people are.  Living for so long in their world in the sky, they are open to philosophies which present them as an elite, looking after the good of the planet.  Logic appeals, even when it is sick.  The two ideas of right and wrong balancing each other are an example, shown in the black and white peace symbol.' 

'Yes,' added Marie. 'It’s presented as a force for good, it’s a closed society which you join by invitation, by being hauled up from nothingness to being a Someone.  Very appealing to the human need to make a difference.  If you obey, if you go along with the parts you’re not sure about, you’re rewarded, with your base instincts being met.  It’s homosexual at the highest levels, we women being seen as lesser beings, except for the Mothers of Darkness, as they’re known as.

In their insanity, they call black white and white black, characterizing anyone who threatens their order as insane and dangerous or only fit to be laughed at.  They are heavily into denying things.  They deny anything and everything when they’re called out for what they do in secret.’

‘There was a film,’ he put in for the benefit of the others, ‘a children’s film with Nicole Kidman in it, the Golden Compass, which presented this philosophy and tried to present the bad as good and the good as misguided.  They’re everywhere, at each level and they’re legion.  Even someone who was a friend before is now ready to betray you.  Betrayal is good, in their eyes, when someone is not ‘of them’.'

There was a pause, which became a silence.  Then Carly spoke.

‘I am one of them.  At least, I was.  Now I make the noises and attend the meetings but they are highly suspicious, as people who know they are doing wrong are.  This is what alerted me first – the need to be furtive, secretive.  This excuse that the public would not understand their work did not go far enough.  It was exactly what the public did not understand which they don’t wish known.

The appeal is power, promotion, the good life, money, desires satisfied on this earth, rather than waiting for the next.  They see kindness as weakness and love as unproductive or a useful tool to turn people.  I note the love between Jean-Claude and Geneviève and between Hugh and Emma. It makes you vulnerable in their world.

In the real world, the one they think they inhabit but don’t, love makes you strong because you remain a human being.  They hate human beings.  Humans are unpredictable, they act against their instincts and throw off their control.’ 

She looked at Geneviève here, took a sip of coffee and continued.

‘There were elements who knew you were coming.  They wanted me to take you in for debriefing, on the grounds that it is the usual procedure but they wished to train you instead.  You know that ‘training’ means trauma therapy, torture in other words.  The aim is to break down your personality and replace it with multiple personalities – there is much literature on the topic. 

You would have become their tool and done great damage to those who still thought of you as friends.  Eventually you would become training resistant and they’d need to eliminate you.  Humans are expendable in their eyes, after all and non-believers are the most expendable.

This is presented as the new humanism, the dawn of man in a new society where your gods and religions have no place.  What it really means, and it took me so long to realize it, is that opposing religions are swept away and only the ‘true religion’ remains. 

Also sprach Zarathustra.

You are in grave danger, my friends.’

She looked at each of them over the top of her coffee cup.  When Geneviève looked into her eyes, she looked away.  Still averting her eyes, she said, slowly and in a low voice, ‘I have done so much wrong.’

Hugh said, ‘We all have.  To each of us - his weakness, her weakness.  It is sought out, discovered and used against us.  Yours was used against you, Marie.  That's all.’

Carly left the room, Sarah stepped forward and refilled their cups.  Having taken care of herself, Carly returned.

‘So much literature, so many films, deal with the theme - there are triggers everywhere. And yet people look at it and say, ‘It’s just a story, isn’t it?  Hugh, Genie, Jean-Claude and Emma, they know I wish to help you, so my usefulness is almost at an end.  Even in this house now is one who is passing on my decisions and discussions.  I watch every word I say or write.

You are wondering why I’m having this discussion with you.  I’m tired.  It has to end, this misery.  So yes, I shall help you and in their double cross is our triple cross.’  The others looked at Hugh at this point – it had been an expression he’d used. ‘We shall do what we can in a losing battle, a small force against a legion, as it always has been.

Now we need to get down to details.  We shall write and not talk – you have paper and pen and then we incinerate the notes, not shred them.’

.o0o.

They did communicate, in detail and a plan started to form.  It was daring and involved conning people in key positions to do favours which they’d later discover were misplaced.  It was a game of subterfuge, of cat and mouse, with them as the mice.

Four hours later, all done and all codes organized, they relaxed.  This evening, they were going out for a meal.  If the enemy wanted them, the enemy could come and get them or else rue an opportunity lost.

.o0o.

At Hugh’s suggestion, they all went to the Travellers Arms where he’d met Ksenia all those years ago, Lisa’s and his local in a sense.

In the way people who’ve suffered loss often do, Hugh half-hoped that she would appear this night, Ksenia.  His thoughts went to Lisa.  What was she doing these days?  Where was she?  In Brussels?  In Russia?  In Kentish Town?

How had he got out of touch?  Well, France and then Ksenia’s death had caused that.  Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea coming here again after all. 

Their table was free and that’s where he installed Emma, arranging everything around it, joining the tables and asking what people were going to eat.

‘That’s my role tonight, Hugh,’ smiled Carly and he came back to the present.

Everyone did order and when Hugh insisted on coming up to the counter with Carly, she wondered what he was on about.  He told her straight out.  She just nodded and didn’t think he was mad.  At least, she was too polite to say it.

Ksenia did not appear and to be fair, why would she when she could see that he was with another woman?

.o0o.

He settled down, the meals arrived and they ate.  They were good too, those steaks.  Gee, how long had it been?  He was almost delirious with nostalgia but it seemed somehow out of place with his French … well, fiancée really.

All of this both Geneviève and Carly took in, realizing that Hugh would be kind to Emma, would work to keep her interested.  At this moment, Geneviève perhaps finally conceded that Hugh was never going back to her. 

Carly was a good hostess and a good partygoer when she had to be.  She had to be now because Jean-Claude was the least adaptable in this situation, in this pub, with this British ambience.  She thought of the things which might appeal to him on the menu and had to concede there’d be few.  The Hennessy’s would help a little.

Hugh needed to come out of himself and help. ‘How do you see the situation in France now, Marie?’ he asked and that sparked their interest.  Now she had to do her part and respond with at least something.

‘The UMP will probably have another presidential term, now the Socialist leadership has imploded, the banyules are bad, many British are moving to France to escape the socialist state. The EU depends on après-Lisbon being universally accepted and has its usual identity crisis, with the Germans being intransigent.’ 

Jean-Claude nodded at this.

‘Are we welcome?’ Geneviève asked outright.

‘Non.  The pendulum has swung and those who supported you are now out of favour.  It’s a new Paris now and your dearest hope is going to take some time.’

There were tears in Geneviève’s eyes, Hugh held Emma’s hand tightly.  Understanding that this was not really an occasion for merrymaking, Carly looked at Hugh and both were resigned to calling it an evening, once the meals were finished.

.o0o.

Back at the house, this time with no security checks and with an open entry for the four, Carly threw off her jacket and sprawled in a chair. The others went to the rooms and did a few things. 

When they returned to the living room, she said, ‘Hugh, tonight, you two will use my bed and I’ll take the divan.  I’d like no argument on this, please.’ 

He nodded, sat beside her and took her hand.  ‘You’re very worried, aren’t you Marie?’

‘I’m isolated, Hugh, hemmed in by enemies.  You four are almost the last few friends I think I can still trust.  And there’s something else which might even drive a wedge between you and the other three.  You have a meeting tomorrow in Whitehall; I was asked to send only you.  What I suggest is that you take Emma with you.  Tell me now if she is the one woman in your heart.’

‘Certainement.’

‘It might just help to have her there.  Janine will be here for you at 10:00.

.o0o.

Hugh caught Geneviève in passing and touched her forearm.  ‘Look, it’s about Carly.  I haven’t seen her like this before.’

‘I have.  She’s afraid she won’t be able to pull this one off, that their all seeing eye has seen all.  For you, you could stay here and be relatively safe.  For us, to go back over to France, to our homes – that is now a dead land to us.  We all feel strange and uneasy.’

He held her to him, surprised that she at least conceded in words that it was going to be difficult to get back to her home. 

.o0o.

In bed, Emma had waited for some time.  He came in with two cognacs and explained, ‘Tomorrow I’m being taken to a meeting in the centre of London, where the government departments are.’

‘Oh yes?’ 

‘They’re going to make me an offer and I’d like you there beside me.’

‘But it’s for you.’

‘We're as one in this. I need you there when the decision is made.  Will you join me?

‘D’accord.  This Marie - she is a very worried woman, Hugh.  I've been thinking about tonight, for both strategic reasons and because we are human, she is human.  Can you state to me, looking into my eyes, that she would be one of the 13, not one of the 12?'

'Without a question but maybe you should be with her again.'

'She needs a friend.  Let's go out there.'

They got up, tiptoed out and in the half light, Marie's delight showed before she was able to conceal it again. 

'Come, Marie,' said Hugh.

She looked from one to the other, got out of bed, took his extended hand, quite in awe of Emma who was climbing under the covers, Marie kissed her quickly and went with him, just as Geneviève came into the room, took in the situation, grinned, took Marie's hand from him and those two departed for the night.

Emma realized the divan was too small, knew the alcove was too close for privacy, became resigned to a less than comfortable sleep on the divan for the two of them and at that point, Sarah slipped out and told them both to go to the sideroom, she herself slipping under the covers and turned over to go to sleep.

They went through to the sideroom, discovering that it was a double. Hugh looked at Emma, went out and kissed Sarah's cheek, Emma did too, then it was time for sleep.

IV

Janine arrived shortly before 10:00 and buzzed Carly, Emma was virtually ready, as was Hugh, Sarah came over with orange juice for both and they both kissed her cheek again. Doug Baines greeted them in the garage:  ‘Morning sir, ma’am.’

The car pulled out, no words were said for some time but Janine, from the front passenger seat, then handed over little breakfast packs, complete with toothpicks and floss. 

When he could observe they’d finished, Baines broke the silence. ‘Changed much has it, sir, in your eyes?  London.’

‘I see a few changes but the rest seems the same.’ 

They drove on around Whitechapel, crawled along some tight connecting lanes and gradually made it to as close to Whitehall as they were likely to get.  ‘We walk from here, sir, ma’am.’

Some distance before Horseguards Parade, they turned down an alley and knocked on one of the wooden doors.

The door opened and Baines showed the officer his credentials.  The party went down a series of corridors, up some steps, through another door, down another corridor and so on for about three minutes.  Finally, they were shown through to a room, a sort of anteroom.  A lady came through and asked Hugh to fill in his details, which he did.  She then called Janine who went with her.

Hugh and Emma sat there for some time, smiling at each other, making silly faces, with nothing really to say which had not already been said.

Time passed.

.o0o.

Janine came through and beckoned Hugh.  He squeezed Emma’s hand and went with Janine, eventually finding himself standing on a thick rug, oak all about him, in a cavern of a room.

He glanced up at the exposed beams in the ceiling and then at a standing figure checking some papers.  The man was of middle height, not all that thickset, still had his own hair, albeit short – what they used to call a college cut.  He wore thin rimmed glasses.

‘Ah, Mr. Jensen, delighted.’

‘Prime Minister.’

The Prime Minister indicated the chairs to one side and Hugh sat down.  The man picked up a sheaf of papers and came over to the other chair, putting them down on the glass-topped table. 

‘Right, straight to business.  You’re integrally involved, in Europe, in exposing naughtiness in high places, yes?’

‘Was.’

‘Quite.  Not a profession for unsteady nerves, is it?  Sailing a small boat ten thousand miles and being kidnapped by submarines is all in a day’s work, I’d imagine.’  Hugh smiled and awaited the punchline. ‘What would you describe as your main strength, vis a vis security matters?’

‘I can ferret out trouble and usually get it right.  I need to refer it to those around me though; they’ve been pretty skilled people so far.  I’m not a bad talent spotter.’

‘You have a little project coming up in two days, I believe?’  To Hugh’s look of concern, he added, ‘Janine and Carly know of it so far, no one else.  You see, Mr. Jensen … Hugh ...  things have changed around the corridors of power.  One’s department used to be loyal, at least in principle but now there’ve been some strange happenings - cabinet resistance at unexpected times, legislation which stalls and never sees the light of day … and so forth.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d say there’s a concerted move behind it.  Perhaps I’m just going senile but don’t you dare say so.’

‘You’d like me to vet some people?’

‘In a way.  You see, there’s a group of staff, my principal private secretary and others, who’ve been so close to me that they’re half-jokingly referred to as the Praetorian Guard.  There haven’t been that many new faces and yet things have started to go askew – leaked memos, mysterious goings on which I’ve already mentioned.

I’ve no way, myself, of discovering what’s happened and I can’t rely on internal scrutiny, for the simple reason that it could be them at fault.  It needs an outside man and yet one of us at the same time, someone with foreign experience in security or even in government itself.’

‘I get the point, Prime Minister.  Something of that nature would be a deep honour but as you say, we have a little project coming up which we might well not return from and even if we do, who’s to say we wouldn’t have been compromised?’

‘There will be support for you on that particular project.’

‘Coming from you, sir, that’s reassuring.  There’s one other problem.’

‘Oh yes?’

‘She’s in another room right now.  'You see, Prime Minister, I have certain skills but I can’t do it alone.  We feed off each other.  This is not nepotism in the least, sir, it’s very real.  I do my best work if she’s in there with me.’

‘You want Ms Laurent to be part of this?’

‘Not so much want as absolutely need.  If you want of my best, this is the way to get it.  I need to be interacting with this woman.  She’s astute and can sniff a wrong ’un a mile off.   It was her job in France.’

‘You’d be reasonably hard to employ with job conditions like that.’

‘Not conditions, sir - it's just the chemistry when both of us work on a project.  As I say, we feed off one another.  With either her or me, you'd get maybe two thirds of the efficiency.  With both of us, I'm pretty certain we'd get the job done and cause much grief for anyone trying to harm you.’

‘I appreciate your directness.’  Hugh was mortified he’d overstepped the mark but the PM didn’t seem to see it that way.  ‘All right, that’s settled.  Get back to Janine when you return.’

‘We will, Prime Minister.’

Janine reappeared and he followed her out again. 

‘How did it go?’ asked Emma.

‘How would you feel about doing some security work again?’

‘On what basis?’

‘I’m not sure yet but I said I could only do it if you were with me.’

‘Really?  You said that?’

He nodded and she gave him that smile again.  Janine now sat with them and explained that she was the go-between, she outlined the schedule, the various bits and pieces and then got down to the project in Europe.

For now they'd stay with Carly and then be collected.  Accept confirmations at each stage only from her.

Hugh nodded and asked, 'You know about this project.  What chance would we have had?'

'Fifty-fifty.'

'And now?'

'Better than even - perhaps 70%.  It is taking a lot of organizing and most of that is in checking out the various parties.  We won't move until we're sure.  The Prime minister himself stands to enhance or damage his own reputation on the success of this.  He does need to send a message to Europe.'

'Thanks, Janine.' 

V

Back at Carly's, the evening done and with the same sleeping arrangements as the previous night, Emma asked what seemed to be on his mind.

'Interesting times we're coming up to, Fayette.  What would you like to be doing if you had a free choice and no one was seeking us?'

'Paris of course, doing what I was doing before ... but now with you.   And you?'

'Home to me is where my woman is.   This has possibilities now but if Paris made you happy, I'd rather be there.   As it's not possible, then this will do for now.'

'Do you think things will get better?'

'No, do you?'

'No.   We were always the practical ones, perhaps the pessimists -'

'Realists -'

'Perhaps.  I fear we'll never be left alone to get on with our own life.   There'll always be danger and I don't know if we can survive that.   I'm not sure if I can.'

'We'll work to stay together, we'll watch the usual things which separate people.   We might need to stop speculating about it - I think you told me something similar before.   This project is going to be tricky, we'll have to think out every detail as it's the best chance in a while.'

'Would you have left Mademoiselle for me?'

He just gazed at her.   'We're assuming Nikki wasn't about, nor Michel, nor the baby?'

Through teary eyes, she said yes.   

'If I'd come to Paris with Ksenia the way we did, I'd be with her now I hope.   If what happened to Ksenia happened and Genie happened the way she did, I would have been with her.   That day at the Lodge, in the forest, speaking with you - that was genuine.

If you'd had no husband nor baby and had got there before Nikki, with Genie acting the way she did later, for sure I'd have drifted towards you.   Being with Nikki, it would have happened as it did.   You would have been the problem.  What worries me is that now we're back to civilization and you're an orthodox person.   There are many temptations for you.'

'Don't start all that again please.   Especially not before you go. Leave me something now to hold onto until you return.'

Sure there’d been plenty of time at the island, time on the boat, especially during their crisis at sea, when he’d had the chance to observe her physically but not all that much time to contemplate – there’d always been something going on.

Now he did, contemplate her, not with his yes but in words.

‘You’re so typically a woman and that cuts both ways.  You’re a full time job.  There’s a level, before they’ve been together a long time, that a man could still go from one woman to another and adapt – her features haven’t burnt into his brain yet, his soul.  Sometimes the features are shallow – thighs, toes, neck, the angle of the head, a particular hairstyle, sometimes it’s idiosyncratic language.

I saw you as pretty, beautiful but not as unique.  I now see you as irreplaceable.  The way you go about it, sometimes even annoyingly, it’s still you and that burns into the soul.  I’m not sure if it has for you yet, I don’t ask.  It’s happening with me.  I’m getting to that dangerous point where I’m very close to dying if I lose you.  I’m about to go to Europe and don’t want.  You’re not and you want.  I’ll try not to worry about you but it will keep coming back into my mind, seeing you here now, lying there, that face and that smile – I want to keep you happy so I always get that smile.’

‘Then make love to me, don’t just lie there talking.’

The first touch of the lips was tentative, she shot a kiss at his lower lip, he circumscribed her upper lip with his, they went deeper, he lifted himself across, knowing how much weight she could take, his left arm resting on the bed – they’d got this down to a fine art, they moved into that docking position, it all proceeded from there, she abanadoned herself very early, did Emma, he spent his time aggravating ever sensitive part on her and even before he’d come, she gasped and he redoubled his efforts, she did it again and then he came  and her hands were down around his bottom, locking him in.  ‘Don’t even think about it.’

She looked up at the ceiling, as if it was of interest, looked about, then looked at him.  ‘Come out.’

He did and she was other way round in a flash, her haunches brushing across his mouth, his member up to the hilt at the other end, with her almost manic.  He buried into her and he could feel her shudder the length of her body, then go hell for leather at the other end, which had the predictable result.  He knew she hated rest times after this and kept at it.

Suddenly she left off and turned right way up. ‘Go on. Hard. Don’t stop, please don’t stop.’  Feverish.

.o0o.

‘Something to remember, yes?’  he smiled.

‘Something like that.  Don’t let go.’

There were no words for perhaps ten minutes, she ran her fingers down his face, over his chest.

He made to speak.  ‘Don’t speak,’ and she put a finger to his lips, which he then took inside those lips.

...

Jean-Claude looked over at Genevieve and her at him. 

'Genie, we can't dwell.    We are where we are and lucky to have a roof and protection.   This flat is nice, though it's temporary.   That case of Merlot makes it that much more civilized.  I'll always try to find a way to go home, even briefly but it can't be just yet.   Can you be patient?'

'If I have work, if we both do.   Yes.   So much has happened since Paris.   Make love to me.'

'With or without the preliminaries?'

'Need you ask?'

He began his tour of duty but she said, ‘Non, now, now, Jean-Claude.’

The night ticked away.

...

Janine looked across at the Prime Minister.   It was late, the last sheet had been signed, they were relaxing with a mixed drink for her, a whisky for him.   Doug was in the car downstairs in the carpark.

'Why are you letting them go to Europe, Sir?'

'Have to.   Have to give Europe its shot at them, have to observe their mettle, need to know if I made an error, one or two scores to settle. Any plans this evening?'

'Couple of films recorded.   Last year's Strictly final.   Bed.'

'Can't do without you, Janine.'

'Kind of you to say so, Sir.   What time do you want the call?'

'Five.   Who do you see as the main problem?'

'Mr. Jamieson, Sir.   You neutralize him tomorrow and it might work.'


'My thinking exactly.'


Chapter 19 here ... Chapter 21 here

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