Tuesday, May 5, 2009

France 21 - Weddings


Chapter 20 here ... Chapter 22 here

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I

December 2007

There was to be a get together in a little town called Nesselwang, on the other side of the hills from Oberammergau, not far from Kempten.

The Seven seemed to rotate their scheduled meetings and if word of this upcoming meeting had filtered through to the temporarily reconstituted SSF, no doubt SSF’s interest in the one called Thirteen had got back to the Seven as well.

SSF wouldn’t have to find her as the enemy would virtually dangle her in front of them for the taking.  This was going to be a game of thoroughness, of layers.  They’d be allowed to capture her but in the capture would be their own capture and if each had done its planning properly, with its people in place and if each layer was successively stripped away, whose layer would be the last one left in place, whose would finally prevail?

This was what it was all about – out-organizing the enemy, neither underestimating them nor overestimating them.  Interestingly, this was precisely the type of battle the enemy adored – survival of the last man standing, the one who had outwitted the other and could claim the victory spoils.

There was great danger in SSF descending to the same dog-eat-dog mentality of the enemy, which would ensure the victory of the latter.  Rather, they had to counter them with their own strategy, based on other precepts, such as loyalty, compassion and so on.

The illusion of decoys and doubles was a new strategy for a new SSF but this is where Carly’s people came in.  Each of the four had his/her double and even triple, travelling simultaneously but using different means of concealment – some in disguise, some travelling as another persona, some concealed under the rear seat of a car.

The actual lifting of the girl would be done by local operatives in the area, which precluded the need for escape routes.  They’d slip back into the background immediately after their charge had been handed over.  It was going to work this way:

First one group would take her in one of their vans they used to kidnap victims, complete with chloroform, manacles and needles, made to look as if one of the enemy’s cells had done it.

Then a second van, a furniture van, unbeknowns to the first – this was the essential point – would hold up the first with maximum force but with no injuries. The crew would also believe they were spiriting her out of the country.

But a third group would snatch her from under their noses when they tried to take her through a checkpoint and this was the point here – the checkpoint officers would be pro-Section and would facilitate her papers to get her through.

She’d be manacled but given a breathing helmet and secreted in a closed container of oil. It was a hideously expensive operation and Genie had commented that, by bringing forward the demise of Section Sophie-Fleury, they were able to use the surplus funds to cover the operations.

Hugh and Carly would actually be elsewhere, coordinating in transit by transponder and at each communication, moving to another venue.  The other three would be under the protection of Janine back in Britain, hidden from prying eyes who would swear they’d seen the four of them spirited away in vehicles.

Following the sting, doubles of each of the four would suddenly appear with local press in four main cities, with the scoop of what they had done.

While all this was going on, the three would have been quietly taken to Fontainebleau and concealed within the chapel by one of the more sympathetic locals who’d known Geneviève from her childhood.

They’d discussed Hugh and Carly appearing in Zurich or deep in Bavaria themselves but this was deemed too risky and they were to be spirited across to France before the press interviews took place.

Geneviève had questioned the need for Carly and Hugh to even go to Europe for the operation but a bit of thinking showed her it was necessary because of the peculiarity of the transponders.

Plus, it was the gall of these two prancing about Europe with impunity which could only get up the noses of the enemy.

II

It began.

The lifting of the girl who’d obviously been trauma programmed went smoothly, as both parties knew that that part must.

The next part – the ambushing, the re-ambushing, the turning of some whom the enemy themselves had put there – that’s where the real battle was taking place. 

The bottom line was that the capture of Hugh and Carly was the main priority and the greatest effort was being expended on this and it bore fruit.

With the lift of the girl completed and the press interviews soon to begin, Carly’s and Hugh’s exodus had started.

Hugh, in his vehicle, felt himself ascending a winding track up into the hills and took a sip of liquid - he was allowed eight of these before the changeover. There’d been a freak storm and he could feel the squish under the tyres as the car sped along; it felt exceedingly fast but actually would have been about right according to the speedo.

An hour and a half later, Carly felt her car enter a major area, which she had to assume was a port, and they slowed to a stop.

There was lots of shouting and bustle outside, lots of discussion from her driver and passenger. One of them went to do the documentation and was an interminable time returning.  Finally they started moving in a circular path towards something bumpy and metallic and the car suddenly ascended – seemingly up the ramp, then along a corrugated floor.

It stopped and someone shouted instructions to the occupants, who grabbed certain things from above her and left the car, slamming the doors and setting the alarm with two beeps.  Well, she thought, now to put in the next eight hours.  She had her food, she had her tube, she had her thoughts of Hugh. 

She sighed to herself and tried to drift off to sleep.

...

At his first vehicle changeover, Hugh felt the bolts being undone; the seat was pulled away and he could uncramp himself – it was no joke for a man even of his size.

He stretched a little, silently, then followed the beckoning hand and went over to the other car. Now sitting in the front passenger seat, soup and sandwiches were successively put into his hands and all this was topped off with a flask containing some Merlot.

Then it was handshakes all round and once again he was being bolted into his place and the next seven and a half hours began, with one embellishment. 

One of the passengers was taking his golden Labrador.  This could cut both ways.  Even the best behaved and most uncurious dog could show interest, at the wrong time, in what was going on under the seat, despite the distraction provided by his owner.

On the other hand, it seemed a good ruse.

The question of snoring from under the seat was problematic. He could sleep during the journey but not on the ferry, which they now reached a little over schedule but still in time.

Once more, on the road on the other side, the whoosh of tyres on wet roads dulled his senses all the more but he knew there was a tricky border crossing coming up.  Even though the EU’s intra-national agreements had taken the sting out of border crossing, the heightened atmosphere of two ‘terrorists-at-large’ was going to have the crossing guards frantic.

The car slowed to a halt but it seemed at a distance from the border – perhaps there was quite a queue ahead. 

The slow shuffling forward began, then the pause, then the shuffling; it had a double effect both on the Labrador in the back of the universal station wagon and on himself.

Both dropped off to sleep and the next he was aware, there were angry voices in German and he heard the source of the main voice now close above his own seat, the owner of the car protesting at being asked to pull his car over into quarantine for checking.

Through Hugh’s own folly in dropping off, this was clearly the end.

The dog was barking up a storm and the officer, for the first time, began to have doubts; he was now joined by his superior officer who clearly knew the driver and signalled for the car to go through – they had a lorry behind carrying possible contraband to take care of.

Actually the team had had suspicious drugs in the car two ahead and the lorry behind had had inadequate documents.

A junior officer snapped orders at Hugh’s driver, who nonchalantly put the vehicle in gear and with a few German oaths at the bureaucratic ninnies at the guard post, drove through.

When they eventually pulled up at the changeover and the back seat was unbolted, Hugh was a very relieved man, a view shared in the expressions of the occupants of the car.

One wiped his brow. The other shook his head. 

After a soup and bread meal, the rebolting in a new car took place and they were once again under way, this time, after a kilometre or so, onto an autobahn and Hugh could feel the spray yet again lashing the underside of the chassis.


Carly had one or two problems.

Twice the car suddenly swerved, spun round and went hell for leather in the direction from whence they’d come. Then they’d stayed in some place, lights out and with absolutely no sound, for some considerable time.

They were pulled over twice, once for speeding and the driver, cursing and no doubt gesticulating angrily, probably went over to sign or pay the fine; he returned to the car and took off again.

Carly took her third last sip on her tube, proud that she’d passed up the previous drink in order to have more in reserve near the end. Now she began relaxing the muscles, wiggling the toes and fingers and thinking about the next stage - France.

She heard and felt them leave a town but a kilometre later, an official posse swarmed onto the road, and demanded the vehicle stop. The driver and passenger were ordered out and Carly could hear their hands hit the roof. She had no fear that she could be quiet enough – the problem was going to be the dogs.

They’d planted an illegal quantity of booze under a blanket in the luggage compartment in the Estate, and now the dogs were snapping excitedly at the back. The driver was ordered to open the hatch and the dogs swarmed inside, sniffed around, found the booze inches from her head and the process of confiscation, protestation from the driver and passenger and the business of the fine took place.

The driver noted that once they’d been sufficiently chastened and the notice of fine had been served on them, the chief officer phoned through that if this car came through, to check if they’d bought more booze.

Carly thanked Heaven they’d thought of that ploy.

...

It was the last major obstacle for either of them and they reached the area of Fontainebleau around 02:00 on the Sunday morning.

Parked in the courtyard behind Geneviève’s childhood church in Barbizon, the bolts were released, Hugh and Carly sat up in their respective cars, got the feeling back in the muscles, looked down ruefully at the crumpled formalwear but smiled at what was about to happen.

A door at the back of the chapel opened and both moved swiftly to it, thence inside and up the steps to the balcony above.  Appearing from the shadows came Jean-Claude and Geneviève, Carly was already checking the chapel from top to bottom and now she beckoned them down the steps.  She was going to have to act as best man and flower girl combined.

They lined up quickly, side by side, a priest appeared from the shadows, certainly ordained and he explained that the father was currently en vacance in the Holy Land, they'd forced the lock on a side door to afford the absent father added protection, the priest himself was prepared to travel back to the UK with them and now it was time to begin.

Then, from where he'd emerged, now also emerged Emma and Hugh's heart missed a beat, noted by Emma who came to him swiftly and the embrace was quite fevered.

The priest began a truncated version of the marriage service.

When they came to the putting on of the rings, both men reached into their pockets, produced the necessary items and placed them on the fingers of their betrothed.  The kissing of the brides sealed the issue and then the formal signing took place, over to one side.  Carly had taken all the photos for later distribution to the press but now they had to leave and leave quickly. 

They all congregated near the rear door again and waited, the sidedoor rebolted from inside. At the signal, they hurried, in single file, into the back of a dairy van which had pulled into the church yard along his early morning route, the refrigeration switched off, except for a cold cabinet near the back double doors, from where milk and cream would be taken and set down at house gates and verandahs along the way. The big door had clicked shut and the van headed off.

.o0o.

At one point along the route, behind shrubs and bushes, the van stopped, they got out and into two dark coloured vehicles, one a Volvo and the other a Peugeot, for the most dangerous part of the journey.

It was getting late – almost 04:00 and this had to be done quickly.

The vehicles turned down the gravel driveway of the farmhouse from where the Flight to Egypt had started all that time ago.  They didn’t know it but friends of the families had visited the farmhouse from time to time, bringing with them some relic of their departed friends and families – Nicolette, Francine, Nadine, Michel, Sophie-Fleury, Paul, Thierry, Gemma, Jacques – even Philippe.

These had been placed around the living room as a sort of shrine, each accompanied by a photo of the deceased.  Flowers had been brought in the night before and now each of the four took three blooms, to dispose of as they wished.

Hugh raced upstairs to Nikki’s room, gathered some of her things from the drawers, including a garter, things to make him weep later, some of her most personal effects.  What was he saying?  Weep later?  He was weeping now. 

He put them in her pink and white holdall and left it near the door.

He jumped on the bed into exactly the position where she’d made love to him, was going to the window sill but then decided it was unsafe.  He kissed Nikki’s favourite doll instead, said goodbye to her and scurried downstairs.

Emma had spent some time at the small photo of Michel and she laid her flower before it, lifted and kissed his picture and said goodbye, she knew forever.   Yet she was calm.

Geneviève stood stock still in front of Thierry's visage and those of his children, held back the weeping, kissed the photos before she'd break down, quickly placed the flowers and ran into Carly on the way out, who commented how terrible it was that the farmhouse needed a thorough clean – it was thick with dust. Jeanette-Fleur would have been appalled.

Carly took strategic photos of the ceremony, knowing what was coming next.

A short ten minutes later, it was time to run for a helicopter which had now set down, rotors beating.  They bent down, scurried for the open doors and climbed onboard.  The helicopter lifted off, its tail swaying, it turned and headed out over the parallel rows of trees.

As it turned sideways near the end of the trees, a nice gesture, they thought, they could just make out the top of the farmhouse, Geneviève waved, Emma blew a kiss but then an explosion rent the calm, debris and smoke rose twenty metres into the air from where the farmhouse had been, the helicopter immediately dropped lower, swung back in the direction they were headed and picked up speed, flying almost as low as the fences surrounding the fields, a quite animated discussion taking place up front.

Geneviève sank down on her haunches against the side of the helicopter, staring up at the roof, unable to speak, to move, Emma was on her knees on the floor, shaking her head from side to side, Jean-Claude was stony-faced and Hugh had no words where he perched on the edge of a bench.  Marie sat opposite, also speechless.

.o0o.

Now, after four hours, the first rays of dawn told them they were out over the ocean, there appeared to be a fishing boat below and it was clear the pilot was angling for that.  One of the crew indicated to them that they were to be lowered, they lined up and, one by one, the cable did its job, then was retracted, the helicopter banked and flew back in the direction of the French coast, they waved from the deck and then made their way below.

Someone whom Marie knew came out from the short corridor, there were words and a large plastic box was the result a minute later - sandwiches.  They each took a couple, fruit juices were given them, the next ten minutes were spent munching and drinking, to then be led to a rear cabin, one of four crew quarters.

It was a tight fit in there for five people and all except Marie marvelled at what was on the other bunk or rather - who.

Trussed up in a sleeping bag which had been tied to the bunk was a person and the face of that person, peering from the sleeping bag hood, was a scowling Thirteen - they'd have recognized her anywhere.

'Have you been fed?' asked Marie in French and for that was spat at, as far as the girl was able, the spittle landing on the floor and over the bag.

'Magdalena, you'd best get used to the fact that your future life is going to be with us.' 

Scowl and growl. 

'You're to be deprogrammed and will work for good.' 

More spittle came Marie's way. 

'We wish you no harm - we've actually saved you from harm,' went on Marie, oblivious to the reaction of the girl.  'Allow me to introduce M. Guiscard and Mlle. Lavacquerie and here are two people you might wish to meet for the first time - Belus,' Emma gave a sort of a salute and a cheeky grin, 'and Albus,' at which a projectile of spit came his way, to fall short by half a metre.

'How do you do,' said Hugh, offering to shake her hand, which had her near apoplectic and shaping up for a new projectile.  'No?  Well, no matter.  I want to tell you,' he dropped into French, 'that we are not your enemies but your friends - you've been lied to, Magdalena.  What you know of us is false and you will see that without the need for any 'training' from us.  Now you can spit at us again,' she did just that, on cue, 'or you will realize, when nothing traumatic happens to you,' Emma corrected his French here and Marie wasn't sure they should be so categorical about deprogramming, 'that we, in fact, wish for your rehabilitation and more productive life in the future.'

It was Emma who was the chief doubter about this. She lowered her voice and dropped into English.  ‘Will your people … do things to her?’

‘Not the way you imagine.  She’ll be deprogrammed step by step and part of that process is kindness. We want her working for us.’

‘And then?’ asked Geneviève.

‘She’ll be trained and educated the same way the armed forces train and educate their personnel – nothing more sinister.  No one said it was easy but it won't be what she's had before.’

‘How do you know?’

‘Because you, Geneviève, will be her training officer.’

‘What if I don’t want to?’ asked Geneviève.

‘You will want because you’ll be in charge of a Section again, just as you were with Sophie-Fleury, and her training will be your own decision, no one else’s.  Do you know anyone better to deprogramme her?’

Geneviève was silent.

‘Your job will be to rescue as many people as possible and get them working for us. Perhaps you don’t wish to do that type of work any more.’

‘Is this serious, Marie?’

‘Oui.’

‘But who am I working for?’

‘A joint Anglo-French security unit, based in Britain.’

Hugh had been concerned that this was being said in front of the girl who was listening intently but Marie shrugged and said it did not signify.

III

In a northern British city, Hugh and Emma were being debriefed.

On their third day, they were allowed to rejoin one another in a side room and they hugged.  The clinical grey door of the room opened, four armed men came in, ignored the two of them and checked over, under and all ways around the room, then stood back against the wall.

After some seconds, a man with close cropped hair came in, carrying an overcoat over his arm.

‘Hugh.’

‘Prime Minister.’

‘Well, aren’t you going to introduce me, man? I don’t have all day.’

‘Ah, right.  Prime Minister, allow me to introduce my wife Emma.’

‘This was the brains of Section Sophie-Fleury?’  He couldn’t take his eyes off her, Hugh grinned and she blushed.  ‘She’s a woman of many, many talents.’

Emma felt she could possibly handle a bit more of this sort of appraisal.

‘Madame,’ said the Prime Minister, taking her hand and kissing it.  The compliment had been awkward and obvious but Emma saw that she’d disturbed the man’s composure and felt good inside.  ‘Hugh, your taste in women is …’ he looked for a word, ‘… well, impeccable.  All right, must be off.   You’ve agreed to accept, yes?’

‘With Emma, sir, yes.’

‘Of course with Emma.  Word is that she ran the show while Ms Lavacquerie did the diplomatic part.  I do take your point that you’ll have to have her with you.  So long.’

Then he was gone.

Janine came through and asked if they were all right.  Assured of that, she informed them, ‘We’ll take you to your accommodation now, which goes with the position, you understand.  If you have any problems with it, you’ll call me.  Settle in and tomorrow morning, you’ll both be collected and taken to your workplace.’

‘Is there a cathedral nearby?’ Emma suddenly asked.

‘Catholic or Protestant?’

‘Doesn’t matter.’

‘There’s an Anglican church not far away. We can organize the security for tomorrow afternoon.’

‘Yes please. I have to light some candles.’

‘Not sure if they do candles but we'll organize it.  Are you both ready now?

IV

January 2008

The house was secure, a two story built-to-purpose, though in an Edwardian style, set in grounds of approximately one hundred metres all round, there were no ornate little cellar openings or any other breaks in the seal between wall and gravel driveway and no subterranean space of any kind.

The high wall surrounded the entire property, except for the gateway at the front and though there were trees at intervals around the walls, they were not dense enough to afford cover.  It was a bit sparse but Emma understood the necessity for that. 

All points within a mile of the property had been scanned for sniper possibilities and those positions either neutralized or utilized by their own people.  That was a potential weakness, thought Hugh but they’d look at that later.

Inside, there was a mock bedroom, living area and rear bathroom on the outside, which was irregularly used by staff to give the appearance of being their rooms but the real living space was in the centre of the quite large building, behind a foot thick firewall - a modest two bedroom unit with a twenty by thirty foot garden right in the middle, from which all the other rooms led off.

It had been well thought out.

Emma felt that the central garden redeemed everything, with its opening to the sky which could be closed off by armour plated glass - the whole effect was not of a prison but of a grotto, a sort of Shangri-la which looked in on itself.

She was satisfied, so he was satisfied.

The security people withdrew to the outer house, the two now had their privacy and took advantage of it.  He grabbed a huge white towel from the bathroom and a cushion from the bedroom, laid them out on the lawn in the middle of the garden near the pond, went to the garden drinks cabinet, opened the bottle and poured two cognacs, set them down on the wrought iron table on the lawn, indicated the towel, she grinned, undressed and accepted the glass he now offered her.

They toasted, he disrobed, she lay on the towel, head on the cushion, he lay down between her and they began.

V

Jean-Claude and Geneviève were installed in their apartment by some new, purpose built waterways and the moat effect was their primary security.

A short distance from London, they were near a created tributary from the Thames, the overall colouring of the building being white, with lattice windows and elegant doorways and their apartment was part of an extensive security complex which enabled them to work from the little island they were on.

The décor had been left to her taste and she took full advantage of this from the start, recreating, as far as possible, the Lodge in Fontainebleau.  A present from Carly - how they’d got it here they didn’t know - was Francine’s own coffee table and the occasional chairs she used in the summer.  These were now placed in the patio conservatory.

Geneviève was satisfied and so was Jean-Claude.

They made love on the sheepskin rug by the fireplace and Geneviève felt this would do quite nicely for some time.

VI

Emma was taken to the church and security was stepped up for the nonce. 

It was the rule that they couldn’t leave the house together and in fact the only place they could be together, other than the house, was at their workplace.

It wasn’t the usual thing for the laity to light candles in that church but dispensation was given and she allowed herself to break down for the first time and weep for Michel, for the others and for the shutting of the gate against her to her own homeland.

She loved Hugh, loved their new home, realized they had an enormous job to do but still she was dying to see Melun again.  Dying, she realized, would be the operative word.  One day she might just say, ‘To hell with it,’ and go back there to die.

VII

Geneviève began her work with Magdalena but the girl wasn’t her only subject. 

Having said that, she was the main one because inside that young lady were the secrets to the mind of the enemy - if the PM had installed Hugh and Emma to go through every aspect of security; he’d hired Geneviève to unlock the secrets of this girl.  Though he’d stopped short of putting pressure on them, nevertheless Geneviève knew the time frame.

It was conceivable that the four would not only be out of a job at any moment, their position entirely dependent on the PM’s largesse but they might conceivably be on the run again. 

Even the PM himself had recognized this and had suggested they look at an escape plan, should all go pear-shaped.

VIII

In the third week, security brought an interesting piece of equipment to Hugh’s office, like a transponder but with a wide, flatron screen. Puzzled, they watched a chap called Ian Cross set up the gear and then explain it.

‘There’ll be a live feed at 19:52. Can you stay in at the house this evening?’

Black joke.

‘Press here to switch on; press here to receive; press here to respond. You must position yourselves looking directly at the screen and angle it so that it’s 90 degrees to you. You follow?’

‘Yes,’ answered Hugh. ‘How’s the resolution?’

‘Fair so stay within a metre of the controls. Actually, it’s not too bad. The colour can streak a bit, especially the reds, so don’t wear checks, stripes or reds and don’t move too abruptly.’

‘Anything else?’

‘No, that’s about it. We’ll collect the kit tomorrow. Good luck.’

‘Hugh, what’s it all about?’

‘Haven’t you tumbled to it, Emma?  Let’s wait until 19:52.’

They switched on shortly before the required time and then, on the dot, Geneviève’s face appeared and Hugh grinned from ear to ear.

Emma spoke to her, then Jean-Claude came on.  He was working with the criminal records bureau right now and had other projects after that.  There was considerable respect for Surete methods this side of the channel and they wanted to know about them in a practical, day-to-day sense.

The whole thing took twenty minutes and then they shut the device down.  That had been a lovely gesture. 

Janine phoned the PM, he grinned, turned over to his wife, who’d been listening to every word. ‘Do you think they’ll work out?’ she inquired.

‘Together, I’m sure they’re unbeatable. Their operational experience is second to none. We’re lucky to be able to draw on that. Her English is weak, which makes it difficult to place her in any official capacity but she’ll be his controller in the sense that you are mine. You know I could never have gotten this far without you.’

‘Yes, darling, you say it four times a day and I never want you to cease saying it.’

‘So you’d understand.’

‘But won’t they polarize the cabinet – he has a cavalier reputation, from what you've said.’

‘Undoubtedly he’ll do that and the sooner the better.’

‘I’m so glad I’m not in politics,’ she concluded, turned over and went to sleep.

IX

Hugh and Emma had a regular meeting with the PM but with them not being able to travel themselves, he had to fly up and Hugh’s office was made over to him for the morning.

10:55 saw them both at the double doors, awaiting the call, which now came.  They greeted each other, then went over to the low chairs and coffee table, Janine bringing through the tray.

‘Sorry to have kept you both,’ he apologized. ‘Bad news from Europe, I’m afraid. France has refused to budge, we’ve protested, there’s been a spill of positions and your country, my lady, has a new Premier. It’s largely irrelevant, as you’d know.’ She didn’t. ‘Anyway, Dubois is less intransigent on Europe.’

‘You said ‘bad news’, Prime Minister.’

‘Yes, on the surface a reasonable man but we have a file on him as long as your arm. He has some extremely questionable antecedents and he’s in with shady elements in the finance.  He has two offsiders and we’re keeping a close watch on them.’

‘Do we know them?’ asked Emma.

‘Oh yes, Mrs. Jensen, you know one of them very well.  Shortly, you’ll have to deal with the new Secretary to their Foreign Office, Francois de Marchant. Name ring any bells?’

Emma’s hands gripped the armrests of her chair and Hugh looked woodenly ahead.

‘Yes, I thought it most probably might. That’s the calibre of person we’re now dealing with. The question is, Hugh, do you have the stomach for this job?  Are you prepared to meet him and not to let personal antagonism interfere?’

‘We can only try, Prime Minister.’

‘And you, dear lady?’

‘He’s pond scum.’

‘Be that as it may,’ the Prime Minister smiled wrily, ‘we can’t actually address him as such.’

‘We’ll observe the ordinary decencies, Prime Minister,’ said Hugh.  ‘Some of it might even rub off onto him.’

‘Hardly likely. He’s bound to be apoplectic at your very presence. It should be a lively meeting,’ he grinned. 

‘May I ask a question, sir?’

‘Fire away.’

‘With all due respect, why are we meeting someone at his level - I mean his official level?  He's FO and we're merely security.’

‘He's here for a meeting with his opposite number and then he'll be flown up for some strategic advice on an expansion to their department - it's been in the pipeline for some time.  The truth is, I engineered it, I’m routeing certain things through you for the once over and in this case, I need your assessment of the man.'

'I can give you that now.'

'No, I mean your assessment of how much he's trusted over there, how far in he is with Dubois and so on. Obviously we have our regular channels but we can't rely on those - they're fed the brown stuff.  The mutual antagonism and antipathy might loosen his tongue though - watch for how much carte blanche he has to make decisions.  We've offered him a slice of the M8P4 and they can't afford to pass that up - you will finalize the details and for that, there can be no intermediaries - or so the story goes.

Both your salaries are proportionate to your value to me and you’re paid from my own estate.  This is a private, not a governmental appointment and your role is a cross between a policeman and a distant early warning system.

You have no track record in this country – you’re wildcards who happen to be very experienced wildcards in this area and I think loyal to me, if Mlle. Lacour’s word is anything to go by.

I need you to work together.  While Hugh is ostensibly the head, in some ways you, Mrs. Jensen, are the more important because you handle the administrative side of the office, where attempts will be made to pilfer your secrets.  On paper, you’ll be the PPS to Hugh but will actually be running my defense from the reception area.  You’ll be the one bribed to make representations to Hugh and you’ll be the one they’ll try to turn to their side, so that I’m surrounded by enemies who will act when the signal comes.  Do you both agree to take on these roles?’

‘For my part,’ said Hugh, ‘there’s no question.’

‘Nor with me.’

‘Good and now if you’ll excuse me, I must run.’

X

Their island wasn’t anything like France but it was surely the comfort Geneviève had been craving since they’d left the farmhouse that first morning of the Flight to Egypt.  It was decorated in her style, on the inside at least and they did actually have a punt at their disposal.  Of course, they could only go fifty metres up their canal, two hundred metres along to the right and then back again but it was the thought that counted, wasn’t it?

Anyway, the thought of going anywhere near a boat again was not Geneviève’s first priority by any stretch of the imagination.  Jean-Claude would look wistfully down at the upturned punt though.

He was the one who had no genuine work.  They'd made him an advisor but he knew and they knew that it was a mere created position, remunerative though it might be.  There was also no great future in it.  For the first time, he seriously looked at his future and to where he and Geneviève were going.  He could see she wasn't overly happy with the training role she'd taken on, possibly because of the constant reminder of that which she'd prefer to have forgotten.

And yet, what else was on the horizon?

It also hadn’t helped, in that transponder visual link with Emma and Hugh that they’d caught a glimpse of sumptuous surroundings in the room - a room fit for royalty, which is how Genie did see herself to an extent.  He did not place a great deal of store by such things but Genie liked to be ... comfortable ... and living in a style she'd been used to.  The sight of that room of Emma's and Hugh's had had her reflecting on how she had rescued Emma from oblivion all those years ago - not the other way about.  If Emma had a comfortable apartement in a nice street, she, Genevieve, had had a plush apartement, tres chic, tres elegante, abutting a park and worth a small fortune. 

It was her with whom members of the hidden elite made contact, it was she who organized funding for their work.  Emma had been given a role and had done it well, to Genevieve's satisfaction.  She gave Emma full marks for that but this now - this was insufferable.

She was most displeased.

Jean-Claude gazed at the upturned nose and arched brow and realized that Geneviève was going to be a handful and the critical factor in how well they were going to adapt to the next few years.

XI

Hugh and Emma went straight to the garden and Sally had left them a light supper.  He opened a bottle of red.

The moment they sat down to dine, she asked, ‘Do you think I loved Nicolette?’

Hugh stopped in mid-forkful.  ‘What sort of a question is that?  Of course you did.’

‘So I’m quite happy for you to keep Nikki’s personal things in her bag, Hugh but it’s only going to cause you more grief to keep that bag closeby, to take out her handkerchief from time to time and cover your mouth and nose with it.  I do understand how awful you feel about her.  I miss her too.’

‘Ah, you saw that, yes?’  She nodded. ‘Right, even Nikki wouldn’t have wanted that - I'm sorry, I’ll put the bag in the top of a cupboard straight after supper and leave it there.’

‘Thanks, Bebe.  It also reminds me of my own losses and I’d prefer just to let them be.’

They ate for some time and then Emma said, ‘We agreed to be honest with each other but I know you want to keep your thoughts to yourself on what the Prime Minister said about our roles.’

He laid his knife and fork down and wiped his mouth.  'I had a good look at Russian security when I was over there and Ksenia was a major factor in that.  I also got to see your operation in France.  You yourself commented on my analytical skills and you saw fit to utilize my thoughts in your own work.  In other words, I'm not entirely useless or inexperienced.

You ran a Security Section of 14 girls and did it well.  You were known for never being wrong, for being able to anticipate and circumvent.  I don't include the things which went wrong because they were designed to go wrong from above and Genie was a factor in that.  So you are an experienced, efficient and very cool operator - just the sort of person the PM needs at that desk.

I see no problem with what he said because he also acknowledges that together, we are pretty hot.  If we're apart, jealous of one another, goading one another, acting personally triumphant, we will lose our advantage.  Your take on that?'

'I just thought you might not have been happy -'

'I know exactly what you thought and why you asked it, Emma.  I've answered that now.  Your take on what I've just said though?'

'As long as we work together ...'

'Precisely, Emma.  As long as we don't let any external factor, even the PM's well-placed compliments, divide us.  The simple fact of the matter is - neither you nor I are up to this job by ourselves.  If he takes just you or he takes just me, he gets a fair bit of efficiency but not someone who sees the whole picture.  It's us working together who are the key.  He knows that.'

XII

It was two weeks later that they had their magical mystery trip, as Janine called it.  They were advised to pack overnight bags with very warm clothing and boots and to be prepared to spend two days away.

Collected in the dead of night by helicopter, Hugh and Emma knew they were going south-east, Jean-Claude and Genevieve were taken by van and just before dawn, they found themselves on what Hugh surmised were the Broads but which one, he didn't know - it had never been his part of the country.

They were set down near a windmill and soon a van was seen coming down the track towards them.  It pulled up, Jean-Claude and Genie got out and the embracing went on for a minute or so.  Now they were called to the end of the jetty, the ladies stepped gingerly into the punt, helped by the two punters, the men stepped in and the punt headed away from the jetty, around the reeds to the left, they looked at each other and wondered.

The thought flitted through Hugh's mind but he didn't dare hope, Emma picked this up from his face and her heart leapt and sure enough, around the next bend, there before them, looking quite large in this setting, was the Sophie-Fleury, in perfect nick.

.o0o.

Onboard was one of the ensigns from the sub who'd sailed her back, the water had boiled in the front cabin, they went forward and sat inside, the sandwiches were distributed, cups of tea and coffee were handed over by the girl who'd prepared them and they settled down to hear about the voyage.

John Stemmins was his name and they'd had some adventures, including being becalmed and then hit by squalls near the equator, they'd got the Sophie-Fleury home though, due in some small part to the royal ensign being flown from a jury-rigged pole at the stern, she'd been dismantled and taken overland and here she was.

Would they care to look over her, to see that all was ship-shape?

Would they ever!  They almost tumbled out and swarmed over the craft, the ladies making a beeline for their rear-cabin 'boudoir', in perfect condition, with their own things in the places they'd been left and both were reduced to tears.  The men poked their heads in, smiled and checked all the systems.

The sails were furled and covered by dacron covers now, the lines had been upgraded and the whole boat had been cleaned and scrubbed.  She was clearly better than when they'd been taken off and onto the sub.  Naturally, the weapons were nowhere to be seen.

At this time of year, there were precious few boats out and a strong breeze cut across the Broads but no more than they'd encountered during their voyage.  'A bit tame, eh?'  commented Stemmins but Hugh smiled and quietly said, 'It's perfect. Thanks for getting her back here and thanks so much how you've treated her, improved her out of sight.'

The man was beaming. 'I'll be getting off now, sir and will be back here this time tomorrow.  There's enough food on board, you all have a change of clothes and the cooking facilities are better now.'  They'd noticed.  'This is a short break before you get so entrenched in your work that you can't get away again.  You'll be safe enough.'

With that, he got into the punt and the four of them were alone.  The map was in the front cabin and so it was clear, as the sun rose, that they had twenty four hours of relaxation ahead.

Jean-Claude found the crate of wine in the ama and it was a nice enough Merlot to do the job for the journey.  He also found two bottles of Drambuie.  Hugh told him this was going to be vital when it got a bit chilly this night.

.o0o.

They cruised the Broad which they still didn't know the name of and though it was limited in area and though they kept to half-sail, the feel of the Sophie-Fleury underway with them sailing it, taking turns again, was quite emotional, a really fine gesture by the PM or Janine, Carly, whoever had caused it to happen.

They ate superbly, the meat had already been prepared and garnished, all that was needed was microwaving, which had been installed and fed off the power source - Geneviève heartily approved.

XIII

Robert Jamieson paused and realized he had to reassure the caller. ‘Richard, Albus will suffer the decreed penalty and the woman will be delivered for your pleasure, as promised.’

‘Thank you, Robert.  Walk in the light.’

Japhet rang off and turned to his companion. ‘Celeste, people like Albus are a flame. They burn brightly for some time, even for some years; then they flicker and go out. Sometimes we can even manage to blow them out before that.’

‘Be careful with that one. It does not augur well and he dwells, for now, in a protected sphere.’

‘Can it be pierced?’

‘There are ways.’


‘Then we must make that our main priority.’


Chapter 20 here ... Chapter 22 here

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