Tuesday, May 5, 2009

France 22 - Magdalena



Chapter 21 here ... Chapter 23 here

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I

Marie-Ange Bisset, a fair-haired woman of forty-two whom they’d spirited out of France, looked at Magdalena and sighed inside.

The hypnosis had turned up a few surprises and the booby traps weren’t all that hard to see coming. How the girl came not to be HIV infected was a mystery but still, there it was. The daunting task was to untangle the myriad threads and anticipate the self-destructs and destructs which had been built in.

One thing Mme Bisset discovered fairly early was that, as Magdalena, the girl was programmed as a service-prostitute but as Sophie, meaning ‘wisdom’, she was a normal upright citizen.

She and Geneviève had identified seventeen distinct personalities by this time but felt there were still more, each more complex and more destructive than the last.  In other words, the further they got in, the trickier it got.

Geneviève visited her in her cell, which was decorated in soft pastels and adorned with modern furniture to be as close to a living room as possible. Sophie wore a slip and pantaloons and had taken to relaxing whenever she saw Genie.

There was one personality though, called Messa, who popped up from time to time and this one was a killer. Fortunately the switch was not difficult to see coming.

‘Sophie.’

‘Hello, Genie.’

‘I brought you some magazines and a Toblerone. Do you need anything else?’

‘To leave here.’

‘And you will, as soon as we’ve identified the last of the personalities they put into you.’

‘You’d like that, bitch, wouldn’t you?’

She launched herself at Geneviève and tried to bite deep into her neck but Genie held her away long enough for the orderlies to rush in.  The obscenities being hurled thickened the air and the bestial body language was grotesque.  Geneviève was not at all sure she could continue with this.

Later that evening, she explained to Jean-Claude that they were having great difficulty latching onto the last few personalities, which would come near the surface then seemingly hide behind some other personality until the interrogation had ended. Certain sedatives had a more pronounced effect than others in drawing these last personalities to the fore.

He listened and then said, ‘It may be that the last personalities have been reserved for a ritual killing she is to perform.’

‘On whom?’

‘On Albus and Belus?’

‘Do you believe all that, Jean-Claude?’

‘Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  I do know it’s been very useful for us to date.’

That put an idea into Geneviève’s head.

II

Emma lay in his arms on the rug in their garden, which they'd come to prefer to the bedroom itself and wondered why he'd gone quiet. 

'Just thinking about things, about what's coming. You know when a child clings onto her parents and could never conceive of ever leaving but you know that one day she must.  You can't tell her that because she would be traumatized.'

'What are you saying, Hugh?'

'There are things in my character, things in yours and while we're not under pressure, like now, all is well. Yet our work is only going to increase in pressure - that's logical - and as we have success, so our enemies will multiply and their aim will be to separate us.  And it can be done.'

'How?'

'Pretty girl working on me, good looking man of the Michel type working on you - the slow drip, drip of poison.  We might be at odds over something and she'll give me a sympathetic look when you leave the room or he will when I get engrossed in a problem - I don't know, there are many scenarios.  We're on our guard but I'm sure that's how they'll do it.'

'You're saying I'm susceptible to other men, aren't you?'

'Oh come on, Emma, who isn't susceptible to certain types?  I'm susceptible to your type, aren't I?  It's so easy and it only needs us to be slightly mentally apart for days, for weeks and it will get in, like a disease.'

'That's horrible.'

'The greatest fear I have is how they're going to work on you, work on me, to separate us.'

'Let's get off this topic now.'

III

March 2008

The meeting with de Marchant was only two weeks away and Hugh quizzed the PM on what chance there was that such a beast, who'd spent inordinate amounts of time and money blighting so many human lives, would now try to finish the job on them.

‘That’s your responsibility, Hugh, to see that such a situation never arises. That’s what I’m paying you for.’

‘Understood.’

‘Also, consider, Hugh, that he might be just as fearful of your retribution for his alleged atrocities. If I were de Marchant, I would approach this meeting with some trepidation.’

‘I see. All right, Prime Minister, leave it with us.’ 

The PM rose, Hugh rose and departed.  Janine came through, to be asked, 'Well, what do you have on their operation?'

'They've already built the Section up out of nothing, sir, in a very short space of time. The requisite money's there now and they know it dries up later.  They’ve done their shopping lists and presented them, the training hall has been fitted out, programmes are in place -'

'I'm told he's nepotic.'

'You know that already, sir. Family ties are preferred in advertised positions, as long as the talent warrants it.  There's a distant-early-warning. The whole technological framework was overhauled by a young boffin, Paul Waley, and the new communicative device, the ‘telescan’, has been issued to section officers they jointly appointed.

The Section, which some of the staff have nicknamed the Citadel, is divided into levels, each with its own security procedures and they've had some early successes.  Mrs. Jensen doesn't let much get by her but there hasn't been a decent hit on them yet.  It would be good to see them under pressure.'

'Yes but can they ferret out the bad 'uns?'

'Look at this, sir.'

She handed him a one page summary, he skimmed down it and whistled. 'Wondered what happened to Sutcliffe.  Haines too.  All right, Janine, keep your eye on them.  It's still early days.'

IV

April 2008

‘Come in, Secretary,’ cooed Emma, in French.

The man peered at her, a supercilious smile played on his lips but he was shocked to discover that a smile was also playing on the corner of hers.

‘So, we both appear to be untouchable for the present,’ he oiled and the remaining conversation was in French.

‘Oh, I wouldn’t say that, Ver. I think you’ll find you’re quite touchable.’

‘Ah,’ he breathed. ‘It’s like that, is it?’

‘Albus awaits you within.’

‘You appreciate, don’t you, that if the least untoward incident should occur, it would be the diplomatic end for both of you? My government might already interpret this meeting as somewhat hostile.’

‘Your government, Francois de Marchant?   But we're more than delighted to finally have you here with us.  More than delighted, you can be sure.’

At that, the door from the corridor opened and four very stocky, uniformed men came through, arms folded, Emma repeated that which Sophie-Fleury had reported to them all: 'Leave him breathing,' at which she snapped her fingers, de Marchant was well aware of the reference and blanched, he shrank back as they advanced and struggled violently as they shunted him, vociferously protesting, into the side room, where he was strip searched and a recording device removed from his person.

When he re-emerged, he was apoplectic.

‘This is intimidation. You’re both finished. Finished, you hear!’  He turned on his heel and strode to the outer door, to be bodily thrown back by two of the beefies.

‘A recording device at such a meeting?’ Emma tut-tutted, in her sweetest voice. ‘Oh dear, whom did you say was finished?  These men here, Ver, were once known as the Lestrigons – you’ve heard of them, I see - but now they’re called Section Sophie-Fleury, after a colleague of ours who was disfigured and left to die in le Place de la Concorde,' her voice became more shrill, 'on the orders of a piece of human effluent, a piece of pond scum.'  She virtually spat that last bit out.  'Interestingly, I believe there were four men involved in her disfigurement as well - quite a co-incidence, wouldn’t you say, that we also have four here today?'  The man was now quite unnerved.  'Let's commemorate that event today - Albus awaits you within.’

De Marchant's throat was dry and he was gulping for air.  Jensen had a reputation for madness and the next few minutes were likely to be torrid.  He was literally picked up by four of the detail and bodily thrown into the large room, landing on the rug.  The double doors slammed behind him, he was alone and he ventured to peer around the room.

One by one, the four sides of beef filed in from the far end, dressed in dark cassocks and cawls, finger tips pressed together – Hugh had worried it might have been just a bit OTT but decided to go for it anyway and damn the expense - the four closed the blinds, plunging the room into semi darkness, then silently took positions at four points of the room and from under their cawls took out four candles and lit them.

By now, de Marchant believed Hugh and Emma had truly gone off the deep end and when Hugh entered, dressed head to foot in white robes, the man’s face was ashen.

In the middle of the room, the coffee table had been removed and a papier-mache  imitation of a stone block had now been put in its place – a highly incongruous object in a mahogany drawing room. It was flecked with what appeared to be dried blood.

‘You’re truly mad,’ de Marchant’s voice was hoarse.

‘I’m so sorry I was delayed,’ Hugh made a mock bow but did not extend his hand. ‘Belus has just informed me about the grandparents of a girl I was to marry.  They lived in a farmhouse in Châtelet-en-Brie.  Do you remember anything of them or of a man named Pierre le Roux?’

These two would pay in full once he had found safety. If he ever did.

‘Kneel,’ commanded Hugh.

‘I’ll do nothing of the sort.’

Hugh sighed, clicked his fingers and two of the bruisers came over, forced de Marchant’s knees askew on the floor and his head to the block.  'Ver, you know very well that in our world, position does not protect.  When we disappear, when instruments inserted in our chest tickle our heart and cause exquisite pain, when all you seek is death but it does not come, when your entrails are also slowly removed and burned before your eyes, when your heart is finally torn from your body, which is then found washed up on one shore while your head is found on the other side of La Manche, people never seem to get to the bottom of the story ... do they?'

Hugh gave the same guttural laugh he's used on Opinicus and de Marchant was faint.

One of the sides of beef came forward and a large scimitar was brought out from under his cloke - it was quite apparent that actual blood was encrusted on the sharp side, courtesy of a supermarket visit earlier, de Marchant's eyes couldn't leave the blade, he was unable to either speak or think straight.  He found enough to struggle but was held firmly in place.  Emma came through ritually, also in robes, bearing a salver with two goblets and set them down to one side of the stone.

‘Ah, Belus,’ Albus intoned, reverently.

Belus lifted her foot, placed the stiletto carefully on de Marchant's neck and held it there.

‘Choose!’ Hugh commanded him.

De Marchant indicated one of the drinks with his head and Hugh whispered, ‘A 50-50 chance, Ver, which is more than you gave Sophie-Fleury and Nicolette’s grandparents.’  He promptly took the other goblet, emptied it in one gulp and threw it aside, inviting de Marchant to take the other. 

One of the beefy boys released an arm, de Marchant reached tentatively for the other goblet, raised it to his lips, drank down the contents, let it clatter to the floor and noticing no evil consequences, found his voice, in cracked French, ‘I have never before witnessed such an outrage. There will be severe repercussions arising from this day.’

‘You can be sure, Ver, that there will.  Are you aware that Belus and I have consummated the union and she is with child?’ It was clear that de Marchant was not sufficiently high in the organization to feel that one deeply.  ‘Goodbye, Ver.  See you one day on the other side.'

As Hugh and Emma both left the room and the instruments were brought out, de Marchant screamed.

.o0o.

Hugh Jensen, head of a security section, came through, dressed in a suit.

Emma came through, also well-dressed, removed the goblets and various bits and pieces and went out, the sides of beef pulled the blinds back, the stone was removed, all was set back in order.  The first brought the coffee table back, set it down and arranged things on it, Emma came through with two coffees and accompaniments.

De Marchant was still held to the floor by two sides of beef who now released him, he leapt up, to be handed a coffee by Hugh who was careful to keep between the little man and the double doors.  The Secretary was shaking with rage, considering whether to fling the coffee down in the grand gesture.

Hugh looked at him with contempt and said, 'This might have been a show just now, Ver but when your people - the real ones I mean, the ones behind you - hear of this day, you will be too great a risk to be kept alive.  There are penalties - you know that in your heart, don't you?  I'm afraid it's over for you.'

A group of press photographers were now allowed entry through the double doors, Hugh swiftly stepped up to de Marchant and quietly hissed, in French, ‘Out of your mother emanated sewage, vidange, little man.  You are pond scum, as were your parents -’ at which de Marchant finally lost control and went for the throat, coffee cup clattering to the floor, along with Hugh's tray of coffee, cream and sugar.

The cameras caught it all for distribution to the networks, de Marchant, shaking with rage, stormed past Hugh, out of the reception area, out of the building, out of the country and out of any sort of public life.

.o0o.

The French press had a field day before they were gagged, de Marchant coming across as seriously unbalanced, confirmed by the attack on Hugh and by his gibberish about Lestrigons, Ver, Albus and Belus.

The internet buzzed but the silence of the French government was eloquent.  Hugh granted the French press a conference later in the day and answered all their enquiries, without actually lying.

‘Were you, in fact, dressed as an occult angel at your meeting and did you call the Interior Minister ‘sewage, vidange’?

Hugh’s face was pained.

‘Gentlemen, you’ve already seen the images of that meeting. You’ll have to draw your own conclusions. I myself am not going to add fuel to what is clearly a stressful time for your eminent Secretary and I suggest he will be perfectly well enough to resume normal duties in the not too distant future.

Also, I’m pleased to be able to report that Her Majesty’s Government has no intention of pressing charges over the alleged physical assault on my person nor of taking the matter any further at this time.   Merci, gentlemen.’

There was a great clamour and numerous questions shouted at Hugh but he smiled benignly at the members of the French press, shook a few key hands and departed.

.o0o.

There was a message for him to call the PM the moment he got in. He got on the telescan.

‘Impressive conference, Hugh. You’ll make a statesman yet. Oh and Hugh? I understand your motives but please don’t pull anything of that nature again.’

The line went dead.

He breathed out, relieved - a mild rap over the knuckles for him but a severe check to the arrogance of the people who'd sent de Marchant, who’d now lost his position, yet that was the least of the man’s worries.  By releasing arcane knowledge into the public sphere, there were statutory penalties, under their perverted law, which de Marchant was perfectly well aware of and which Hugh had alluded to.

Emma now broached the de Marchant issue with him. ‘You went too far, referring that way to his mother who was probably a long suffering woman.’

‘Yes, that’s been on my mind as well - I do sincerely regret what I said about his mother.  I genuinely do.’

V

The PM was in closed session with certain members of his cabinet who had presented him with a dossier on Hugh Jensen.

Robert Jamieson was the spokesman and put to the PM that though they admired his cleverness in co-opting the talents of the Jensens, the de Marchant episode simply illustrated that Jensen was a loose cannon and the woman – well, she was Gallic in temperament.

The PM sat side on to his desk, flipped through the dossier, then turned to Jamieson.

‘Robert, have no fear; I’m keeping an eagle eye on ‘the Meteor’, as he's become known; but at this moment I see no grounds for serious misgivings. This is not to say that things won’t change and I thank you for bringing it to my attention. Now, if you’ll excuse me.’

He stood, Jamieson and entourage rose and departed through the far door. The PM buzzed and Hugh entered through the side door.

‘You heard it, Hugh. They’ll have your guts for garters.’

‘Jamieson is part of the trouble himself, Prime Minister, but I’m sure you’re already aware of that.’

‘You’re with me, the two of you, not just on account of your talents but on account of your unquestioned loyalty. And yet there are charges of empire building, of nepotism, of excessive secrecy. I don’t want a J.Edgar Hoover on my hands.’

‘Prime Minister, with one stroke of your pen, our custodial role ceases. We seek no higher office, we seek no advisory role in your political world. We are certainly nepotic – in the security world, it’s whom you can trust.  As for my unbalanced mind and Emma’s wildness, they’re useful tools in our game, as you well know.  Empire?  What Empire?’

‘You almost convince me, Hugh.  Almost, but we’ll see. Thanks for dropping by today and we’ll meet next Tuesday, if you don’t mind, after I return from Scotland.’

Hugh departed and the PM’s secretary came through with the appointments. ‘How do you read the mood in his section, Janine?’

‘Word is that they’re fiercely loyal, Prime Minister and that he brooks no criticism of you, at least publicly.’

‘Certain sections of Cabinet are vehemently against him.’

‘No doubt, sir, no doubt.  He’s a thorn in the side of at least five people we can name. I think you need Mr. Jensen, sir.  He’s a good man.’

‘He’s certainly quite useful at present and what’s more, I like his spirit.  His wife is efficient too.   All right, Janine, what else do you have for me?’

VI

In almost a carbon copy of the last meeting with the PM, Hugh was ushered in and took the proferred seat.

‘First things first, you’ve had some success with the girl, I hear.’

‘Geneviève and Marie-Ange have.’

‘Oh, a little bird told me of the role you two also took on,’ he chuckled.  ‘How are things at your end up there?’

Hugh handed him a list.  ‘These are the people you need to worry about, in descending order.  The highest is the most problematic for you.’

The PM scanned down the list and nodded at one or two names, put back his head, thought about it a minute, then turned to page two.

‘Those are people we feel you can count on, sir.’

‘Any particular reason why the Cabinet Secretary is on the front page and not the second?’

‘He’s been compromised. Marie gave us that one.  He's a conduit for elements on the continent.  We have the tapes for when you need them.’

‘I see.’  He looked at both lists again.  ‘Hugh, let me ask you – do you know of a James Methuen?’

‘Had to sack him, sir.  He was caught stealing documents.’

‘I see.  The timing’s important on this now.  When did he do this?’

‘The day before we came down for the last business with the girl Sophie.’

‘Making it the 16th.  Would it interest you to know that the day before that, the 15th, he filed a report with Robert Jamieson, alleging your highhandedness with staff, that you were drunk on the job and that you told one girl who had failed to report for duty, on account of your sexual harassment and I quote: ‘Come in.  Now listen, I’m G-d here and I can do as I bloody well like!’

Hugh didn’t bat an eyelid.  ‘May we take those one by one, sir?’

‘Please do.’

‘The girl first.  I suggest you speak with Emma and Rosa about her.’

‘I have.  By phone.’

‘Good.  Now let’s look at Methuen.  The folder he took, he had no authorization to access – it was the specs to the telescans.  They weren’t really the specs – we leave decoys all over the place.  The only person with the key to that room was Joselyn Gates.’

‘The girl who alleges sexual harassment.  All right, how about being drunk on the job.’

‘I’d had the Beloruss security head in the office.  Do you know of him, sir?’

‘Not personally.  He likes a vodka, I assume?’

‘An Eastern European will not trust you unless you look at him eyeball to eyeball, shake his hand firmly, laugh at his jokes and drink one too many tipples with him.  He only trusts fellow lushes.’ 

The PM smiled. ‘Hugh, I actually know all this but you need to be aware of the pressure I’m under.  They know you have the names and tapes and are speaking with me.  It’s taken them a long time to move people into place and they're moving hell and high water to nail you and Emma.  They have her down as a girl who’ll sleep with anyone for a bit of promotion.’

‘I see.’

‘Politics is rough, Hugh.  They need to divide and rule, start whispering campaigns and they know the only thing they need do is convince me of your unsuitability and our relationship will become strained.  If they come up with revelations every few days and maintain the pressure, eventually they hope I may feel the game with you is not worth the candle.

Then they can pick you off and with me unprotected, they can also pick me off.  If they can't shake my faith in you both, then they will dispense with me.  That's the lie of the land - I’d like you to have a long talk to Emma and explain.  I’ll tell you now, they’re praising her to me in glowing terms, asking me to appoint her over you.  They feel your ego won’t take that.’

‘Emma and I have already discussed this.  We agreed on the way you put it last time, sir.’

‘Hugh, I’m building the dossier I need to justify a Night of the Long Knives around this place.  You keep plugging away, watch your behaviour and write everything down, note the time, day and date of any incident whatever which could be construed as negative or unusual.

Speak with the staff you can trust and let them in on what has gone on between us today.  You’re authorized to use your discretion in this.  The bottom line is, I need protection and I need it now but if you’re fighting your own battles up there, then you haven’t time for mine down here.’

‘I hear you loud and clear, Prime Minister.’

‘Good, good.  Call Janine on Tuesday.’

.o0o.

When he got up north again, he found Emma in the garden and joined her for a drink. 

‘Do you know a Julia Hayes?’ she asked.

‘You mean the lady who wanted to sell us double trigger mechanisms?’

‘That’s the one.’

‘Let me answer the question before you ask it.  Yes, I did go to Moran’s with her. She was charming, interesting.’

‘How interesting?’

‘Not enough.  I was feeling cooped up, you’d gone back home and Moran’s is still within limits.’

‘So you didn’t take her to the Grange Hotel in Lightfoot Street?’

‘Lightfoot Street?  No.  Why?  Is she saying I did?’

‘There’s a booking in both your names and a matchbox from the hotel in your coat pocket.’

‘And the management confirms this?’

‘Two chambermaids do but the manager doesn’t recall you in the least.’

‘I went to Moran’s.  That was all.’

‘She claims you badgered her for eighteen minutes on the phone.’

‘I had no call with that woman which went for eighteen minutes.  There’ve been two calls from her altogether, about five minutes apiece.’

‘Five and six, actually.’

‘Well, if you know all this, why are you quizzing me?’

‘To show you the case against you.  They slipped up on that one small point.  If they hadn’t, then even if you’d denied it, I might have started to have had doubts inside. They know my hatred of infidelity – obviously they’ve checked with Paris.  They know your weak points too.  Hugh?’

‘Yes.’

‘I don’t think I’m up to this job.  We’re both amateurs and we’re not cruel enough, not callous enough.  You say you don’t trust people but you trusted that woman Hayes.’

‘Yes, you’re right.  We have to be ultra-careful with anyone who approaches us, no matter how personable.'

'They'll always send the personable ones.  We have to trust each other enough to confide anything possibly compromising.  We're both seeing people all the time so we can't know what is and what isn't going to be compromising but there are some things - meetings in hotels and so on - we just can't do them.'

'Yes Emma, agreed.'  He now went on to debrief her on all that had happened with the PM - a remarkably similar story. 

She nodded her understanding of how things were.  'I don't like it, Bebe.'

.o0o.

The call came about 00:15 and Emma sat bolt upright in bed.

It took a moment or two for the haziness to clear and for her to realize that the telescan was buzzing.

‘Yes?’

‘Janine here, Mrs. Jensen, I’m terribly sorry it’s so late.  Did you see the news this evening?’

‘If you mean the Night of the Long Knives, yes.  How did they react?’

‘Predictably.  The Prime Minister wants you to know that new security passes are in operation but it will take me till the day after tomorrow to get yours up to you.  I have to hand them to you myself.  In the meantime, you won’t go into your office and won’t answer to anyone not showing the new pass him or herself, including me. 

I can’t show it or even describe it on the telescan but there’ll be a verification procedure when I arrive.  Don’t either of you be drawn into going outside for any reason or opening the door until you've seen me, even if that person was someone you thought you knew and trusted.  Sorry to have disturbed you.’

She rang off and Emma looked down at Hugh.  He’d slept through the whole conversation.

.o0o.

Hugh was in the garden with Emma when the buzzer went, he checked his robe and went out to the door. 

It was Neil Joseph.  ‘Mr. Jensen, new passes for you, sir.’

‘Janine not with you?’

‘She had to stay down south.’

‘Right, Neil, one moment.  You know the locks are centrally controlled.  I’ll go and release the master.’

‘Righty-ho.’

Hugh immediately buzzed Janine, who turned out to be in Birmingham.  ‘Janine, why is Neil Joseph at the front door with new passes?’

‘Neil Joseph?  Don’t open that door, Hugh.’  She’d dropped all formality. ‘Take the telescan to the door and ask Neil to come close, to talk to me.  See what that does.’

He did as he was asked and the man looked through the hardened glass at the telescan, with Hugh indicating he was to speak with Janine, he made a rapid excuse to get away, promising to return later with Janine.

She’d heard the gist of it anyway and now told him there was some danger.  They couldn’t penetrate the complex without substantial weaponry but what they could do was lay siege.  ‘Same thing that I told your wife last night – only open up to me.’

Hugh went back to Emma but in a more subdued mood. ‘We just had our first problem.  Neil Joseph.’

‘Neil, yes.  What did he want?’

‘To give us our new passes.’

‘But Janine -’

‘Precisely.  I just had Janine on the line - he made his excuses and left quickly.’

‘Oh, Hugh.  I don’t like any of it.  This country is unsettled when the Prime Minister has to fire half his cabinet and half of Whitehall with it.  Things are very wrong.’

‘The people are behind him, of course.  He was quite explicit in the broadcast but now he has a minority government and he’s on the way out.  That puts us in grave danger too.  My feeling is that he’ll get back with a new team and score a resounding victory.’

VII

Sophie was as right as they were going to get her.  They felt they'd got all the personalities but Geneviève wasn't sure there wasn't a quite cunning one hiding in there - anyway, all they could do was keep her away from Hugh and Emma and try to get some sort of life going for her.

One of the Whitehall boys on Hugh's 'good' list, Dan Bergman, had taken a shine to Sophie and as she didn't appear adverse, they briefed him, in fairness to him but it didn't dissuade him.

They'd got her employed in a clerical section - reasonable money and enough to cover costs in a very expensive country - that was about as far as their brief went.  Every so often she'd come in for a check-up and they'd take it from there.

VIII

June 2008

Hugh eventually went down to London to present his report and to show his plan for some modest development and the beefing up of their premises.

‘The only thing which concerns me,’ added Hugh, ‘is that Mr. Jamieson and a couple of others are still in there, doing their worst.  They might not be in positions of influence any more but they can still pull strings.’

‘I can’t get rid of him – it was made clear to me and he’s even being spoken of, in some circles, as my replacement.  I myself have another candidate in mind and we’re gathering the numbers on that now.  It’s looking positive as Jamieson’s ambition is naked and many in the party, even those not enamoured of me, would like to put a spanner in his works.’

‘Am I permitted to ask whom you have in mind?’

‘You’re permitted to ask,’ the PM chuckled, ‘but whether I can tell you is another matter.  I’ll tell you one thing – his security is now your issue.  I’ll write his name.’

He scribbled a name, spun the paper round and Hugh whistled.

‘Surprise packet, yes?’ said the PM.  ‘No baggage, liked immensely, the other side think of him as one of theirs anyway, a few boxes not ticked but who’s perfect?’

‘But you’re staying on for some time, no?’

‘Oh, I have no intention of relinquishing the reins just yet.  There are a few pet projects.’  He went over to his filing cabinet, rummaged through and came up with a single sheet, which he dropped in front of Hugh in passing, then sat down again.

Hugh looked through it quickly, then looked over at the PM. ‘This isn’t going to make you popular, sir.’

‘The country needs it though, Hugh, do you disagree with that?’

‘From the security angle, sir, it makes my job doubly difficult.  You’ll have Europe gunning for you on this.’

‘Should have been done years ago.’

‘Well, it’s your business, but you’re in a shaky enough position, as it is.’

‘The thing is, can you arrange the security?’

‘I’ll get onto it.  Need to know.  Anyone off the list?’

‘You can work that out, I think.’

IX

Jean-Claude turned to Geneviève and indicated the white floral linen, the turned wood furniture, the elegance of the room which she'd worked so hard on.  'It's divine, Genie - you certainly have an eye for these things.'

An experienced campaigner, she smelt a rat.  'But?'

'No buts but -'

She laughed.  'Oh Ari.  All right, what is it?'

'Is this where you wish to remain with me?'

She turned over to look at him. 'Are you not comfortable?'

'It's wonderful but it's not home and I'm not working at a proper job, a job I'm trained for.'

'Jean-Claude, there is the little matter of being out of police work for so long now, the little matter of our personal security, the little matter that we're that much older now.  Sorry to break that to you.'

'I know all that, Genie.  I know we can't return, unless it's virtually a military operation, I know France has fallen, I've lost so many friends - you remember Jules Colbert?'

'Oh non.'

'Among others, Genie.  So oui, je connais, it's all very clear and yet this work is killing me - 'advising' a police force who don't wish to be advised and something more - these are not police I recognize.  These are not eager young officers about to go through the process which will see them out on the beat, fully equipped.

These, Genie, are thugs.  I've seen it in so many of their eyes.  These are defenders of the state, rather than defenders of the people.  These are the riot police and they're coming in, in increasing numbers - intransigent, uncommunicative, nothing like the officers I once knew, for example - Jacques.

Genie, this isn't police work any more.'

She stroked his hair. 'What do you suggest?'

He lay back on the bed and thought. 'I don't know.  The point has now come and before that point, there was still a facade of civility, of society, of things going along normally.  After that point, there is, dare I say it, a police state.  It will get worse.  When the police are used for political purposes - openly used - then the society is on the way out.  I think we might have to depart.'

'To where?'

'Oui, to where?'

X

There was a call from Janine on the telescan.  ‘Pardon?  I didn’t catch it.  TV, right.’  He indicated for Emma to switch it on.  They were crossing live to Kitzbuhel.

He’d been skiing for years, the commentary went on, this had been a milk run for the Prime Minister, a blue of all things, a standard traverse, the edge of the piste, that was it.

They were stunned; they kept looking at the TV screen, taking in the enormity. 

Janine called him back to attention. ‘Jamieson still won’t have his way, Hugh.  I can tell you now the way the numbers lie.  You’ll have to stay put and await the summons but the PM’s successor will use the same security set up to begin with.  What’s that?  Pardon?’

‘I was saying that I should have protected him better than that.’

‘It wasn’t your job.  He had his Praetorian in Europe.  Yes, you’d vetted them but it didn’t come from the Praetorian – this was a European thing.’

‘Then they should have given him better procedures.’

‘Easy to say now.  As you can imagine, there’s so much to take care of at this end.  There’s also an emotional side to this I’m trying not to let intrude.’

‘Be brave, Janine.  We’ll pray for you.  Be in touch.’

They looked at each other, appalled.  Suddenly the notion of being on the road again hit home.  ‘We have each other, Emma.  That and the Lord above.  That’s all we have and all we’ll ever have.’

‘Children also, Hugh.  We need one, even two.  We need to perpetuate.’

XI

Eventually, he was summoned to London.

He was kept waiting some forty minutes but to be fair - the new PM opened with sincere apologies for that.  This was an altogether different specimen. Astute, a game-player, a number cruncher, a wily fox with a goatee beard and wild hair but Hugh felt there was a streak of the humanitarian fighting for space inside that head.

‘So, Hugh,’ he obviously intended to get straight down to business, ‘I’ve gone over the notes and I wouldn’t have sent you up there to the north but what’s done is done.  It’s a secure complex you have. 

I’m creating a Praetorian of my own people but they’ll be subject to your vetting.  The old guard are welcome to apply but you’ll be thorough, you understand.  We’ll see what's unearthed and whether we continue with the arrangement.  I’m more like an old broom retrieved from the cupboard than a new broom but still, let’s see how it goes.  Any questions?’

‘The ex-PM’s demise.  The press called it an accident, a soft piece of earth which gave way …’

‘Yes, yes, they did say that.’

XII

July 2008

In the outer world, the recession had gone global, the EU was a danger to all its inhabitants, America had gone pear-shaped with its new messiah, the rest was not wonderful.  Immense damage had been done to the fabric of society, which would take generations to repair and people were groaning under the plethora of new laws, which showed no sign of abating.

They urgently needed a holiday, as did the other two down south.  Geneviève was chafing at the bit, so Emma said. Dilyara Jnr was just over five years old now and Geneviève couldn’t see why they couldn’t go over to Prague where it wasn’t quite as bad as the other places. 

Emma had set her straight on some realities. 

There was another factor and that was that Marc had sent a message to Emma via a circuitous route, explaining that Geneviève would just draw heat now if she tried to make contact.  Marc was sorry but they were living a charmed life whilst they had no contact whatsoever with anyone in his past.

Emma understood completely but didn’t know how to break it to Geneviève.  She thought she'd break it to Jean-Claude instead, which she’d now done, he’d understood but had decided not to pass on Marc’s particular snippet.

For the first time, Emma felt hemmed in, in this golden cage.  They switched off the weather on the TV, she turned and said: ‘We’re stuck here, aren’t we?  I mean I’m sorry because it’s your home but … well, I think you know what I mean.  This is the bad part of you being English and me being French.’

‘Yes it’s my land but if I’m forced to stay here and can’t roam around even a little bit, then I take the same view as you.  Tell you what, perhaps we could find Sophie-Fleury, the boat and go for a little cruise.’

‘We’d never get away with it – that boat was distinctive, Hugh.  Perhaps if we disguised ourselves – easier for me, harder for you …’

They went back out to the wrought iron chairs and thought out how it could be done. 

They both had ideas at the same time.  Laughing, he said, ‘Ladies first.’

‘We need doubles here, giving orders, phoning on our lines, having conference calls, showing we’re at home.’

‘Who?’

‘Vanessa Waverley – a good girl and one who will move up in this Section.  She’s very thorough and if she’s putting on an act and fooling me, I shouldn’t be in this game any more, Bebe.’

‘What about the Hugh look alike?’

‘Tell me you won’t be upset when I tell you,’ she grinned.

He looked up at the ceiling.  ‘Go on.  Her father, I suppose.’

‘Clever.  Are you clever enough to think where we can have this holiday?’

He mentioned one idea he'd had, it was something outside of her experience but he  explained the sort of holiday in detail, she agreed to go along with it, they ran it past Janine who got back to them with an affirmative and so they began preparations.

XIV

‘There has to be a better way than this, Emma,’ he whispered.

‘Are you saying I’m heavy?’

‘No, no.  Not a bit of it.  My backside’s in one footwell, my feet are in the other and you’re lying on top of me – I should be delirious with happiness.’

‘Moan, moan,’ she chuckled quietly, having picked that expression up from somewhere, the rug covering them both and with about fifteen miles to go.  The car swung into another lane but they were well enough wedged in not to worry. 

A woman turned from the passenger seat on one of the bumpy bits and asked if they were OK.


‘We’re loving it,’ responded Emma and she sounded as if she really was.  That was nice, thought Hugh, it augured well.


Chapter 21 here ... Chapter 23 here

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