Tuesday, May 5, 2009

France 23 - Canalboat


Chapter 22 here ... Chapter 24 here

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I

The car was on a left curve when it pulled up, the woman told them this was it, they got out, he took both bags from the boot, they reached the bank of a canal and there was a boat moored in the dark, a door opened and first Emma, then Hugh, ducked down and went inside. 

Emma saw where they were to be seated, Hugh followed and another lady onboard handed Hugh a whisky and Emma a cognac.  They could feel the boat slipping away from the bank and to Hugh’s raised eyebrows in that murky light, Janine said quietly, ‘Just us four.’

They heard the fourth person come through and there were no prizes for guessing who. 

‘Hugh, Emma.’

‘Prime Minister.’

‘Like old times for me,’ he chuckled quietly and conspiratorially.  ‘I’ll be departing a bit before Foulridge.  Do you know the canal, Hugh?’

‘Only the stretch near Bingley.  I know the three and five rises.’  Emma was sure they knew what they were talking about, sipped on her drink and decided not to ask but did venture, ‘You’re taking a risk, Prime Minister.’

‘No more than on any other trip and this one was easier to organize.  I’m supposed to be laid up with a sore back apparently, seeing no one in London.  It’s a relief to get away, I can tell you and I love this stretch.  Did it in my 30s.  I think you’ll both love it too – there’s some stunning countryside.  You’ll go through to Burnley, of course.’

He went into a bit of the history of what would be coming up on the morrow and knew his stuff.  ‘We’ll moor a bit further on for the night and douse the light – there are locks galore tomorrow morning, we can’t take them tonight.’

The PM was quite something, taking them well into the night with his tales and they had a fair idea how he’d got where he’d got. Eventually it was time to grab some sleep. 

There was precious little privacy so the men turned the other way and Emma made ready behind them.  When she was ready, she and Hugh bid the PM good night and sank into the beds which had already been made up for them.  The PM and Janine spoke in low voices long after sleeping noises came from the other end of the boat.

.o0o.

When they awoke, Hugh went the length of the sixty foot boat and realized the two of them were completely alone, the starboard gunwhale was resting against the bank, which was what they’d been told to expect and the relief of finding themselves on a boat on a waterway, with nothing but rest for some days was quite a filip.  Emma was humming at the cooker and her whole body language spoke of good things ahead.

She did her version of an English breakfast – scrambled egg and salmon hashed up, with a couple of slices of thick buttered toast and the bowl of French coffee.  She had to have her coffee and it had to be in those bowls.  Interesting habit that, he thought.

He made to tidy and wash up but she told him to start the boat, which turned out to be pretty straightforward.  They’d replaced the old engine with an Isuzu and it ticked over fine -  he opened the throttle slightly, closed the pressure relief valve, turned the key to On and checked for voltage, ignition lights and so on, turned the key to preheat for around half a minute, then turned it further against the spring to run the starter. When it started, he left it a few seconds, then returned the throttle to idle.

Now came the fun part. There was practically no crosswind and no current and Emma was showering - he jumped onto the bank and cast off, jumped back on board at the tiller, moved the throttle forward until he felt the gearbox engage, then moved it back until it was ‘glugging’ nicely.

He’d been told to stand dead centre and use the front of the boat like a sight along the canal.  Well, it seemed to be doing all right but now Emma got in the way and he called out to her, arms waving her aside, she looked bow-wards, realized immediately and moved to one side.

They were underway.

She came down inside the boat now, through his door and immediately jumped up on him, locking her legs around him and planting her lips over his face as he tried to steer the narrowboat in a reasonably straight line.  ‘Emma, enough.  Here, you have a go – you know how to use a tiller and this is a straight section.  Just don’t touch the throttle though, Fayette.’

‘Throttle?’

‘This thing – le commande de puissance.’

‘Ah,’ she smiled back with her sweetest smile.

‘You’ll be all right for a while?’

She nodded and he went forward. 

The instant he was out of range, she opened the throttle and the boat leapt forward, he fell against the cupboard and half shouted, ‘Emma!’  She pulled the throttle back just as he poked his head through the door, saw her ‘butter wouldn’t melt look’, shook his head, came out and kissed her, went in again and took a shower.

Just this side of Holme Bridge, they’d been told to look out for a couple and there was certainly a couple on the bridge but they might have just been passers-by.

Hugh took the helm and she went inside.

The ‘passers-by’ dropped a drink bottle over the side, it scraped alongside the narrowboat, Hugh scooped it up with a plastic-handled colander and stood, one leg either side of the tiller, reading the note inside, just as they passed under the bridge. 

He handed the letter to Emma near the door, immediately throttled back and the next thing, to the left, the two were half-sliding down the embankment and immediately on to the bow – one, two, then through the boat, nodding to Emma who nodded back to Hugh and they were at the lock.

Hugh went inside to join her and the two newcomers did the lock work.

They now put together a lunch for four, of greens with prosciutto, melon, cassis vinaigrette and bread, with a sauvignon blanc to wash it down.  They put the boat to the side of the canal and trusted it wouldn’t drift further, having already drifted to that side anyway and tackled the lunch followed by a snooze together – the other two went up to the bow and puffed on cigarettes.

.o0o.

When they started again, the first bridge was a pretty, white-arched thing called Ray Bridge and this was where Emma began to appreciate the beauty of England.

Lock followed lock, each involving cranking, the slow drift in, the water rise, cranking again, the drift out, cranking again and so on. 

Eventually they reached Priest Holme Aqueduct, they started across the aqueduct and the two of them looked out over no countryside at all – they were flying through the air or so it seemed.  She had her eyes glued to the view, then turned and grinned.

The greenery was lush and when they got to Bank Newton locks, there were other narrowboats moored by the starboard bank, the whole process taking a good two hours to negotiate.  Beyond the locks, the canal began to wind, following the contours of the land and even did a 180 degree at Trenet Laithe.

This is where they pulled into the bank again and tied up.  Though there didn’t seem to be any paths or roads whatsoever, the other two said their goodbyes and took off across a field, Hugh and Emma looked at one another, ensured that the boat was secure, jumped onto the embankment themselves and strolled a bit across the field, hand in hand.  It was a bit soggy and Emma was wearing only plimsolls so they really needed to stop before they became too mud-caked.

‘Do you like the break, Fayette?’

She kissed him by way of answer and he was happy. 

.o0o.

The rule for the night was no light and thus all the eating had to be completed, the washing up and their toilet done before the dusk fell.

When it did fall, they went out and sat on the cabin roof, side by side on the blanket they'd brought out and watched the stars, identifying constellations, seeing what looked like a shooting star, watching the slow passage of the new[ish] moon.  It was fairly dark all around, pure countryside but there was a dull suggestion of light in the distance.

'Emma, I'm worried.'

'Yes.'

'We circumvented much trouble and outed the naughty people by both looking at data coming in and talking to each other.  We're talking less now because I'm in that room, with other problems involving people outside and you're taking care of all the internal systems.  You love the autonomy and I don't wish to change that.'

'But?'

'But we're communicating less, you're feeding me less data.'

'We're busier now, as you said.'

'Fayette, you know it's more than that.  You were in charge in Paris, you went here and there, running things and I helped out with ideas and opinions.  Here I'm nominally the chef but you're protective of your ability to do it by yourself.  You don't need me, you think.'

'You really, honestly think that's how I see it?'

'You're sharing less and less information and that is making it impossible for me to do my job.  You work in real time - someone comes in and you sum him or her up, you peruse files and see anomalies and you do it well.  I'm the futures person, anticipating future scenarios and it needs different input.  It needs a mass of data coming in from all sources, including nuances and things people might think not important.  I look at that and get your opinion, overview the whole thing and work out where it seems to be going, put it to you and you keep an eye out next time a certain person does something we could predict ... and so on.  You don't rely so much on me feeding you data but I rely completely on you feeding it to me ... or sharing it at least.'

'You don't trust me.'

'I didn't say that. That’s a worry in itself.  I think it's more a case of you not wanting to worry me with this or that, particularly as you can solve it.  That's highly dangerous because it's both our views together, both our judgments, which are important.  If I began to feel I could do things on my own, I'd also start to wonder if I needed you in there.  You see where that is going.  Our brief was to work together, not on our own separate projects.  We can take care of different aspects of the joint project and put it together, synthesize it at the end.

I think that to an extent, you resent having to include me - you see your judgment, always celebrated in Paris, as maybe superior and if I say that our joint judgment is more superior than either of us alone, then the PM would agree with that.  Now having said that to you, you're going to like me less and keep even more to yourself.  This worries the hell out of me.'

'I see.'

'I'd better tell it all.  In Russia, I saw how they do it.  They plant someone inside the building, the organization, someone seemingly kocher, who appears to be one of us, who never gives any hint of being anything other than a loyal operative - like Nadine.  That person has conversations in certain places, e.g. the canteen.  He's heard you show slight annoyance at something I've done.  Maybe I act a bit like a king, I don't know.  He sees your slightly raised eyebrow and then, in a conversation with someone, casually mentions me being cavalier.  In the next couple of days, he's in the outer office with someone else and they speak quietly, so that you won't hear but you're meant to hear, perhaps about how I treat you as inferior, something he knows you're sensitive to.

When we talk at night, you'll never mention that because it's not important enough yet to bring up with me.  So it grows, like a malignant flower and then one day, it blossoms.  Meanwhile, all sorts of little annoying things are told to me about you and where normally they wouldn't mean much, in the hands of these professionals, they're made to mean something bigger.  Suddenly you and I don't want to work together as much.  You might get the idea that anywhere I go, I dominate, I take over.  It might not be so but someone has quietly agreed that I do.  I've seen it happen in Russia, Emma - I've seen people who were very close falling apart.'

'I hear you, Hugh. I get all that. I don't know what to say - I'll be sure to tell you things and we'll always talk, talk, talk, the two of us.  But please, Bebe - may we discuss that when we get back?  Can't we just enjoy this night for now?'

'Yes, of course.  Sorry - it was my anxiety.'  He began the kiss, pulled back two minutes later and breathed, warming to this topic: ‘Ces étoiles, Fayette, sont seulement un fond pour vous.' She laughed but urged him to continue. 'La lune a voyagé à travers le firmament étoilé plus tôt et elle observait seulement où vous étiez, ces sont un rival de toi ...'

'Don't let me stop you,' she paused and laughed.

'Si je devais se reposer ici, l'observation des étoiles, alors seuls de eux serait très gentille. Avec vous ici, elle est tout exquise et parfaite.’

‘Merci, Bebe.  Merci.' 

.o0o. 

Approaching Williamson Bridge next morning, the forest came right down to the banks either side and Hugh thought it a fine place to hide.  This is precisely what someone else felt too, as a couple appeared from nowhere, jumped on at the stern, exchanged the requisite codes, the man then took the tiller and the woman went up to the bow.  If the last pair had been barely communicative, this pair said ne’er a word but more than that, the man seemed a tad surly.

No matter, thought Hugh but Emma had picked up on it too.

.o0o.

Now they went through some truly lush countryside after the double arch, the most beautiful being around Greenberfield and the creamy stone dwellings were visible from where they passed.  A gaily painted red and green boat was moored to the right bank.

As they began to come into a more built up area, passing towns and approaching Foulridge Hall, the day ticked away and by the time they reached the mile long tunnel, it was getting on for late afternoon.

Hugh was holding on to a paddle, Emma strolled up to the bow and looked back at him, now at the stern door - they both nodded, Emma went straight at the woman, knocking her into the canal, at precisely the moment Hugh shoved the paddle blade under the man’s chin, forcing him up and then, with a shove, he was off the boat as well.  Hugh seized the tiller, opened the throttle and they could feel the woman thrashing and bashing along the port side of the boat, desperately trying to get a handhold and swearing like a trooper.

Hugh looked back to see why the man was silent but he was swimming towards the bank, not a peep out of him.  Emma came running back and took the tiller, they’d rehearsed this, Hugh’s transponder found range, they latched onto Doug Baines and explained all, there were people ten minutes away, the holiday was over and the mile tunnel was the most immediate danger – who had the enemy inside there, waiting?

This was their official tunnel entry window now, it had gone green and they had to go through.  The question was whether to commit to the tunnel or tie up by the bank but to do that, they were at the mercy of the two they’d thrown off the boat.  There was a helicopter coming, according to Doug but it was going to be about twenty-five minutes and by then they might be hit.

It was going to take about that same time to pass through the tunnel but the cell phone of the man in the canal – that now was the issue.  Why had he not reappeared and was he making contact?  What had they intended in the tunnel?  Perhaps nothing, perhaps it was all up to the others at the other end.  Perhaps the couple were sacrificial lambs – they’d certainly seemed innocent but their codes had not checked out and so the action taken was what had been laid down before the trip.

Hugh contacted Baines again who said the couple were kocher, two of their own, most likely now thinking Hugh and Emma were the villains and not wishing to re-engage.  Therefore the codes were wrong, had been changed, whatever.  Therefore those two wouldn’t have contacted the other side and yet might have done so inadvertently.  Baines got onto the PM’s aide, Sam Foulkes, Janine took the transponder, internalized all the data quickly, saw who the bad link was most likely to be, thought ahead, Doug now came back on and advised Hugh which people were almost at the towpath now, gave the new code, advised that there were two of the foe at the other end of the tunnel – they’d be taken care of but anyone encountered inside the tunnel had to be dealt with by Hugh and Emma – could he see anyone?

He could and described them.  Kocher, said Doug - check the docs.  These two had dropped to the towpath and were running towards the boat.  At the stern, they jumped on, all exchanged docs, all seemed kocher, Hugh handed the transponder to the sharper looking one and he spoke with Baines, then handed the transponder back.

‘As far as we know, Hugh, these two are ours.  We still haven’t sorted it out, we’re running it through now – Paul is running it through – the thing is, we can’t trust the chopper so don’t deal with it.  You’re still within your window for the tunnel so get in there now and everything then comes down to the other end.’

Hugh turned the device off and joined Emma in the centre of the boat, seated on the floor, back to back, weapons trained on either end of the boat, the man on the tiller covering the roof, the other at the bow.

The good thing was that the tunnel was almost straight, which meant you could see light at the other end but the down side was that dusk was approaching.

Scarcely rippling the water, the narrowboat made its way along, nothing and no one else appeared to be in there with them, unless they were going to secretly appear from a gap in the stonework.

Still they moved steadily forward.

Now it was a case of the other end, apparently less built up and more open to attack.  Anyone obvious would have been taken out but it would be sniper points and the fact that Hugh did not know all the players, as a result of the double-cross, that lay heavily on his mind.

‘Someone called Wayne Sutton will drop to the roof and run to the stern as we come through,’ he whispered back to Emma.

He felt her nodding and the movement of her small back against his was more than pleasant.

The bow emerged, amidships emerged, they heard the thump above and the running, a man appeared at the stern, the man on the tiller checked his papers and nodded to Hugh who’d skewed round to observe, he came through and presented his papers a second time, Hugh nodded, the weapons were put to one side and they sat at the table.

‘Speak, Wayne.’

‘It makes no sense.  The Rowlings, the ones you turfed into the drink, they were kosher, sir.  So why the false code?  To get you suspicious and to provoke what happened, therefore telling someone watching something about you.  With you now on the alert, there’d be no other end of the tunnel to worry about.  Whoever had been there has now melted away.  We saw no one.  By the way, the Rowlings bear no grudge - they know what happened now and are just as puzzled.  They didn't like it but agree you had no other choice.'

‘What do our people think?’

‘I’m not up with all that.  We were just to see you through Barrowford locks.’

Hugh turned on the transponder again and got the little thud when it powered up.  He phoned Doug Baines.

‘Yes Hugh, the only thing wrong was that code, our people saw nothing, there was no actual incident, apart from yours, it may have been that they flushed you out by your own actions and by our instant response.  I’m not saying you had a choice but up till then, there weren’t all that many chances to verify it was you two on board.  Now they know you are.’

‘So the real hit will come further along.’

‘They only have until Burnley but Janine feels, politically, that the idea is not so much to kill you but to compromise you in the eyes of the Prime Minister.  They might force you to sign something which would damage him, you’d lose all kudos, even though we all know what really happened, the Citadel would be bypassed and Robert Jamieson would be inside.  You’d be mopped up later.  We’ve looked at the ordnance map and the ideal place for them is at the aqueduct.  They could drop someone to the roof there – actually, they could drop someone anywhere but that’s the most unlikely and therefore the most likely.  We think they might stall you there and a helicopter might be involved.  It might even be a straight kidnapping.

They’d know our people will be on either bank but along the aqueduct, despite it being strategically too open for them, it’s also a blind spot for us until our other people take over at the far end.’

‘So, we’re to slip off the boat just prior to that.’

‘Actually, no.  You’ll come off under the old Colne Road bridge, near the M65, just before Lock 49.  It will be a swim, I’m afraid, back to a blue cross we’ll paint on the embankment tonight, climb out and we’ll take you back to the Citadel by road.  The boat will go on with the two crew.’

‘They could just gun us down tonight while we’re moored.’

‘No, they’ll assume we have you guarded.'

.o0o.

Geneviève, Jean-Claude, Sophie and half a dozen others were spirited away for their own safety, it had been planned to keep them in MOD tunnels but as loyalties were unknown and most departments now riddled with Europeans, they’d had to think laterally.

Emma and Hugh were now on board, as were three men and a woman - the show hit the canal.

As the sun came up, the pastoral scene was something for sore eyes, a scene of contentment and they were at one with the world, which had been the original idea for three days.  They negotiated lock after lock, Hugh took her hand and said, ‘We’ve been in worse than this.’

‘I was going to tell you exactly the same thing.’

Lunch was a prosciutto snack once more, a little less wine was consumed this time round and so they reached the old Colne bridge. 

On the left was some considerable foliage, she and Hugh went quickly out to the stern and slipped into the water, Hugh bunked her up at the blue cross, she helped him, they went straight up the hillock and into the waiting car, into the footwell and away they went. 

They heard the passenger, a woman, speak to someone at the other end, ‘Yeah,’ and 'No, not at all,' Hugh expecting the transponder to be handed to him to speak with Janine or whoever but no.

The road noise was sufficient to cover him placing his lips over Emma’s ear and whispering, ‘When-the-car-slows-almost-to-a-stop-use-your-scarf-as-a-garotte-on-the-woman-and-I’ll-deal-with-the-man.’  She nodded and showed no surprise, obviously having picked up on the front seat conversation as well.  If it had been an error of protocol by the two in the front, it was going to be a costly error.

Emma had been in tight situations in Paris and across Europe but had not actually killed anyone yet.  There'd been no close encounters with the enemy such as Nikki and he had had.  Perhaps he was forgetting that and she was mulling over whether to tell him she couldn't do this but she knew 1. they had to, in order to stay alive and 2. she couldn't show any weakness, not just for him but in terms of her position in the Citadel.

The only question was whether they'd read it correctly.  She went over and over it, imagining scenarios where the woman in the front might have been straight.  It was a terrible thing, deciding life or death for someone - for two people - all on a matter of judgment but the time was coming up and coming up now.

The car eventually slowed, Hugh got off Emma onto the back seat, she got up and stretched, the two in the front began noises of, ‘No, it’s too early, get down, sir, get down,’ but Emma’s arms were around her target and Hugh’s round his, the thrashing of arms of the man and the woman was violent, he was desperately trying to reach back for Hugh and got his leg at one point but Hugh tightened the grip all the more and eventually the two in the front fell limp.

The car had been in the process of taking the slip road to the M65 and now slid into the ditch on the side, the jolt knocking them about - Hugh bumped his head on the roof. 

He frisked the man and Emma the woman, taking the mobiles and other bits and pieces, throwing them into their bags. Carrying the bags, they put in 7 km cross country, keeping to hedgerows and other greenery, then contacted Janine.

II

The Prime Minister tugged at his chin and looked alternatively worried, then bemused, then worried again.  ‘Any comment?’

‘There's someone inside.’

‘It certainly looks that way.  You identified two of them but they were small fry.  Who would be the highest placed with the motive, access and knowledge?’

‘There are Janine, Doug and Carly who know of the transponders … and yourself, sir.  I haven't eliminated you.  You could well have been running an exercise.’  The PM smiled.  ‘Other than that, Vanessa and/or father, a man named Bryan Lucas - Level 3, then we come to the smaller fry.’

‘Lucas has been taken.’

‘Then, with respect, sir, I suggest you look at your Praetorian.’

‘No, Hugh – you are to look at my Praetorian and do a thorough and unorthodox backgrounding of your own, not delegating it, not communicating it, not even to Emma here.  You’ll report it to me next Tuesday – I shall want you down here.’

‘Right.’

‘And Emma – you’re to clear your database, reinstall and start the whole Citadel up from scratch.  You’ll not be effective for two weeks or so – I’ll try to survive that long.  Trusted only, Emma.  Don’t communicate any of the data to Hugh but do run the names of the inductees by him and the two of you work on new people.  And Emma - I do mean you work with Hugh, not parallel to him.  As a team.  You understand what I really mean?’

‘Yes, Prime Minister,’ said Emma, lowering her eyes.

‘By the way, well done, both of you, for scraping out of that one.  Did you hear what happened?’

Hugh grinned. ‘Saw it on the tele.  But why blast the far end of Swinden Aqueduct though?’

‘You tell me.’

‘They love drama.  Where they could send in a sniper, they send in a missile.  Where they could hold up the boat at the far end, they blast an aqueduct and have a boat fall to Colne Water below.  Gung-ho boys’ games - we're meant to be impressed.’

Not far off. Never use a nutcracker when a sledgehammer will do. There are continentals after your scalps as you well know. This is in no way a threat, Hugh and Emma but you are on your last chance, not because I don’t value your services any more but because the prime directive was my safety whilst I’m in office.  You need to redesign from the bottom up, you have my permission – run the plans by me – and you have a modest budget, supplemented by myself.   I need you one jump ahead, not playing catch-up the whole time.  I need to see ruthlessness, Hugh and Emma, of the type we saw in the car.  Are you on board or not?’

‘We begin the instant we go north again.’

The Prime Minister looked across at Emma.  She looked back into his eyes and was bolder: ‘May I co-opt Janine from time to time?’

‘Of course.  All right, I think we understand each other.’

http://www.penninewaterways.co.uk/ll/ll42.htm
http://www.wikihow.com/Control-a-Canal-Boat-%28Narrowboat%29

III

September 2008

Emma arranged for Sophie to join the team as a Level 1 and was impressed how she took to it.  On the 18th, while she was training Sophie, Hugh had his regular meeting in London and the PM wasted no time.

'How would you characterize your relative strengths, Emma and yourself?'

'Emma's great at detail - she can sniff out an anomaly almost before it arises.  As things arise, as things come in, she keeps the show on the road.  She's thorough, she's set up the training well and the first “graduates” are coming through now.  Me?  I tend to anticipate more, see anomalies in the present which might impact in the future.  I look to future possibilities of enemy action.'

'So, you have a high opinion of what you're achieving?'

'I never assume I'm right - too many times it's come back on me, sir if I let myself think that for a second.  Everything is run past Emma but still, there comes a time when you have to back yourself, your experience.  You asked for an honest assessment.'

The Prime Minister took in his personal security man and asked, 'All right, Hugh.  What dangers would you anticipate are coming up?'

'Long term - if Mr. Jamieson is still in a position of influence this time in two years, I suspect you will be out, sir, one way or the other.  He's a bad 'un and no mistake.  His loyalty is twofold - to his European masters and to himself.  He's one of the illumined.'

'And you know of those things?'

'Yes.  I know you've also been touched by that but you're more like a JFK - you've some of your own ideas to implement and they're not on as safe a wicket with you as they would be with Mr. Jamieson.  He needs to go, sir.'

'What would you suggest - snuff him out?'

'I would, yes. The one who rises to take his place will take time to become comfortable and frankly, he'd also have the diabolical cunning but slight lack of overall brainpower of Mr. Jamieson.  It's an unfortunate combination.'

'And in the short term - what do you anticipate?'

'I don't like the Masque.  For a start, Gli Vecchi is a well known term and to use it for the Anglo-Italian Fellowship is becoming just a little too emboldened.  The EU is the reason for this and because of the diplomatic immunity involved, too many of the hidden power will be here.  This also means that my counterpart in those countries will also be present.

So it's not only you in danger, it's Emma and I as well - they have long memories.  I would imagine they'd try a bold move and take all of us, placing one of your doubles as PM and no one would ever bring that out into the open.  Fait accompli.'

'I'm committed to it.'

'Why, if I might ask?  I mean, who committed you, sir?'

'All right, Hugh, yes, it was him.  What are the odds of circumventing them?'

'You have, as far as I can ascertain, two others who double for you, which is not bad going because your looks are idiosyncratic.  Could we be doubled as well?'

'Have to negotiate two of each of you in future?  Seriously though, is it necessary?'

'Put the cost of that against the cost to you, sir, if it doesn't come off.  Are you planning on attending?'

'You know I can't tell you that.  Not until closer to the time.  I want you on this one now.  We have a couple of months and I wish to see your plans well before then.'

'On to it now.'

IV

Robert Jamieson stretched back on his reclining office chair and listened to the woman at the other end of the secure line.  'Yes, I've read it but I've also read some other accounts from locals.  Seems to me they don't have the backup any more, don't have the team.'

He listened to the voice at the other end. 'I appreciate that and no, I'm not underestimating them.'  He gazed outside the window at the ageing elm and wondered how long until the first leaves began to fall.  It had been later last year. 'No she can't, not in any way - she has to play a straight game here - it can't be sheeted home to her, just over a masquerade ball.'

He listened some more. 'I concede he's a noise but all he does is vet the Praetorian - we've already slipped one past them, though she picked up on Marwick. All right, Celeste.  More on Friday.'

V

They adored their garden and the bedroom opened onto it, the irregular spa/bath was actually part of that area, although there was no firm division between house and garden - just as they'd wanted it.

The nagging doubts about the enemy dividing them had not diminished and he'd insisted they must never be drawn into the agenda of others, into someone bringing a problem which needed to encroach on the time they should be devoting elsewhere, including personal pleasures, drinking, eating, training and relaxing.  No Michel types, no Emma types.

It was time to plan the Masque.  Sally took the tray and left them to it, Emma got up and took the notes from the top drawer, he brought over the large clipboards and they began the brainstorming.

'You've the more Macchiavellian mind, Fayette.  How would you kidnap the PM, his key protectors and us?'

'It will all be in the doubles.  The weakest point is the free form of the event - not like a banquet where everything can be covered in advance.  That and the Praetorian being in the same place as us.  Demarcation problem.  Also, Hansen, Bond and Gillies resent us as - what did you call it - jumped up nonentities.  They see themselves as the professionals and us as the usurpers.'

'Which we are, of course.  The PM sees this as striking a balance, keeping both sections on their toes but he can't see that it weakens his protection.  I'm going to ask Guy to see the PM with me and I'll concede to the Praetorian if it comes to it.  There must be one section running security and all other parties have to knuckle down to that. Also, he's privy to inner secrets about the Praetorian and knows who is and isn't loyal, despite what we've been able to come up with.'

'The Prime Minister has released more to us of his personal life, his mindset than to Guy.  Don't sell yourself short.  Our brief is his protection.'

'For a start, Emma, no one but the two of us shall know anything - not Doug, not Rosa, not Penny.  We have to make the arrangements from home.  This is not showing great trust in the Citadel but we can't afford anyone else in on this.  Let's bring Janine right into it, plus Guy and that's all - not even the PM because walls have ears. I'll talk to Guy in two days.

VI

October, 2008

'Well, gentlemen?' said the Prime Minister.

Guy Fairchild looked at Hugh and Hugh spoke.  'If we both came to see you, sir, then we're obviously deeply concerned.  From a security point of view, neither of us like you being there, I'm perfectly happy for Guy to run the show and for us to hold up our part of the deal.  You may see it differently.'

'Guy is to be in charge of security for the event.  You are in charge of mine.  Obviously the two of you must coordinate but there are things I'll divulge to each of you, separately and ne'er the twain must meet.'

Hugh saw Guy about to speak, he waited, the man did not and so Hugh said it for them. 'Forgive the impertinence, sir but divide and rule is not going to protect you in a fluid situation like that ball.  That's unless you have your own agenda, of course, which we know nothing about.'

'I repeat, gentlemen, there are things to be divulged to each of you separately.  I'm well aware of your concern but I can assure you there is no divide and rule in this.  It's merely a need to know.  I am not a free agent myself and it must needs be this way.  Was there any other matter?'

Obviously not in front of the other so both shook their heads and the interview concluded.

.o0o.

Outside, they passed Janine who gave them each a thick envelope and smiled, Guy suggested they repair to the bar for a quick one.

Both were whisky men, they looked at one another, toasted to the event and got down to details, well aware the bar was not a secure area.  A largish man, Fairchild spoke in a whisper which was not quite a whisper and various names were passed on.

In turn, Hugh mentioned a few names as quietly as he could and then, looking about to see that no one but the barman was in range, mentioned Robert Jamieson.  Guy touched the side of his nose, knocked back his whisky, stood up, shook hands with Hugh and departed.  Hugh sat down again, sipping at his remaining whisky and smiling to himself.

.o0o.

Hugh went back to the anteroom and shortly after, Janine let him through.

The Prime Minister grinned.  'Well?'

'You are you.' He wrote the reasons why down on a sheet of notepaper he took from the blotter and handed it to the PM.

'Ah, I wasn't aware of that - that will be attended to.  And Guy?'

'Of course it wasn't, sir.'

'I thought it was.'

'Timbre of the voice.'

'It was his.'

'Staged.  Reticent to speak, set phrases, did the eyebrows a bit too much.'

'It was actually him, Hugh.'

Hugh took a sheet of paper from his inside pocket and handed it to the PM who took it and laughed.  'Fishing, were you?  Good enough for me but it's going to be the very devil of a business, all the same. 

.o0o.

The flight back was uneventful and when he'd gone through the convoluted procedure to enter the outer and then inner building, there was Emma, sitting with a cocktail in the garden. 

He sidled up behind her and slipped his hands onto her shoulders, she touched his hand and he said, 'Wrong hand.'

Going round to face her, he sat down on his garden chair, Sally brought through a whisky for him and Emma followed from behind - the real Emma.  She took another chair.

'Not bad at all.  From behind, it fooled me because of the mark on the shoulder and the curve's not dissimilar.  The hair covered much, of course but Emma's usually hangs looser by this stage of the evening.  The feet are still wrong but if they're in shoes, they should be fine.  In the next few weeks, the real Emma needs to start adopting some of your own mannerisms as well ... er ...'

'Marie-Ange,' she supplied.

'Ah, the voice is excellent, even to the slight fall at the end of sentence.  Height's right.  Body shape has obvious differences.  The dress will be critical.  We can't afford too much coverup and the breasts point a bit differently.  It's good though, very good.  You've had enough to eat, Marie-Ange?'

'Fine, thank you.'

'Side of the mouth needs adjusting.  So you'll stay a couple of nights and understudy Emma, eh?  Now, who exactly are you?'

'Cousin, Hugh,' answered the real Emma.  'Actual cousin.  Marcel fetched her and they came back as a couple.  It's been a lovely day but as you can see, we've only just started on her.'

VII

November, 2008

Janine walked in the park with Hugh and the burgundy of her coat blended well with the pink hue of the trees and leaves.  He told her so.

She smiled and moved to business. 'He's worried, of course. Three of the Praetorian have pretty well gone over and they'll be decommissioned just before the show. Any others to report?'

'No, the others test out, as of now. That might change - a bribe in the next week, a megabribe, is awfully hard to counter and they're not without over there. Take these possibles,' he handed a slip to her. 'This thing is far too fluid, Janine. He's not going to do anything silly and heroic, is he?'

'He'll do as we ask on almost all scores but he does have one payback in mind.   Three things he wants to do but only one is a payback.'

He groaned. 'As if it's not difficult enough. Can we factor it in?'

'If you're the bribe.'

'Ah. One of these?' He stopped, took a pad and pen and jotted for half a minute. 

She took it, looked at what was scrawled and commented, 'If you know that, then you'll know there is actually danger.'

'Yes, Janine, this is their big chance. So you see, we have a personal stake in this. We're going to need a lot of official documentation - it's an awful lot of cooperation we're asking and by even asking it, we're alerting suspicion.'

'We're ahead of you on that one. The official arms aren't involved and their engine rooms will be otherwise occupied just prior to the Masque. We think we can slip it under the radar, if it comes from him himself.'

'And Jamieson?'

'He wouldn't be present anyway, if what we think is going to happen happens. He'll be in Canada.'

'Remote control - still, we're through that barrier already.'

'That wasn't within your brief.'

'Someone had to.'

'Hugh, there are ... political implications, considerations here. She paused in mid step and turned to him, even resting a hand on his forearm. We don't doubt your earnestness but he cannot afford to give Jamieson the fuel. If he did, then the agenda is simply brought forward a year and a half. And yes, it's as you think. Everyone makes mistakes on the way up. Have some political sensitivity too. Can you do that?'

'Our position depends on it.'

'Thanks - he'll be relieved to know that.'

'You care for him, don't you, Janine? I mean, beyond the call of duty.'

'Yes and I see you do too.'

'The ... er ... other chief execs ... they're going to have to be bloody good. One of them will be in the glare. What chance I can look them over?'

'They don't exist, Hugh ... not even for you.'

'Understood. Then our lives are in your hands.'

'I shan't let you down.'

VIII

'Anything interesting?' asked Emma, wandering inside and seeing him pouring over maps and blueprints in the dining room.

'They've reactivated RAF Holt.  The PM's confirmed it's in support of Cromer.'

'Cromer?'

'It's a resort, weather station, well known spot right on the coast in Norfolk, within light plane range of the continent.'

'You mean Europe.'

'Yes.  They've also beefed up the Royal Golf Course and then there's the conference complex known as Loire, built in the French style.  It's a few kilometres in from Cromer, in what was once a fallow area.'

'Ah, the masquerade.  Have you been to this Cromer?'

'No, I'm going on what I've read and what's been told to me.  I think we need to either get down there or to send someone.  It seems to be the EU port of call for strategic meetings - discreet, out of London and away from the whole continental travel route, easy to zip back to Europe.  Holt's not a big airport, it was a World War II base - I'd imagine only helicopters or light planes, so charter flights are the way.

The Loire is something else again.  Only on two levels, spread out over an acre, shopping, boutiques, pools, theatre, ballroom, accommodation and so on and so on - plenty of room for aides and officials.  I've just been looking at the security aspects.  Excellent for that - CCTV, alarm ring around the complex - if they're going to try anything, it will be officially.  The VIP helicopter pads are on the roof.'

'Meaning they could get the PM away easily or do you mean us?'

'Us of course - we're destined for Bavaria, have been for a long while.  The PM - only need to replace him with one of the doubles and kill the others.'

'Unless he's done something to them.  Maybe he was expected to act in certain matters and didn't do as they wished.  Then they'd want to take him back, as they do us.'

'Could be.  You'd agree that they're as dependent as we are on getting it right about who's genuine and who are the doubles.  We need Sophie in on this, if we can trust her but that's putting her in grave danger too.  I say we at least put it to her - we need her to identify any of the Seven who might be present.'

'For what purpose?'

'Squeezing power. With one or even two of them taken, we can put a little shopping list to them again, including things the PM wants - we'll put it to Janine.  The flights are under our auspices, we vet them, the default, if it all goes wrong, is that we are still on our own territory and with the Praetorian to help us.  If they want us, they are the ones doing all the planning.'


'I don't like it, Hugh.  They know you're cavalier enough to risk all, we had one victory in such a battle of wits - I'm not sure they haven't learned their lesson this time.'


Chapter 22 here ... Chapter 24 here

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