Tuesday, May 5, 2009

2-7: Melun



Chapter 6 here ... Chapter 8 here

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I

Le Roux was bored and it was not yet lunchtime.

He was on his third glass, the girl he’d just thrown out had been pathetic, just lying there like a store dummy; he needed a break in the sun - maybe Majorca, maybe the Maldives.

He’d get the business done first, neutralize the section, deal with the policeman and hand over the lovers for extended treatment – then he could deal with the Lavacquerie pest – she was becoming a pain, that woman.

The buzzer on his desk went. ‘Oui?’

Suddenly he snapped to attention, walked around to his black leather swivel armchair and sat down, setting his glass down on the old leather coaster and picking up his mobile.

‘Oui, sir?’

He listened impassively for a minute or two. ‘Must it be then?’

He listened to the explanation, nodding from time to time. ‘Understood. I’d thought maybe earlier, while she’s still in Melun. Right, right, I see that. Public. Right sir. Naturally.’

He closed his mobile, a thoughtful look on his face. That was a tall order. Why did he ask for the near-impossible? Because the man couldn’t do it himself? He was getting tired of this role, anyway – always the villain. He wanted promotion – the philanthropist’s life - the wheeling and dealing. He needed recognition, dammit! This small time stuff wasn’t headed anywhere.

The buzzer went again.

‘Who? Sophie-Fleury – little one, of course you can, delighted.’ He pressed the buzzer and cancelled the boy. Then he jumped up and scurried around, making sure all was well. There was still a bit of blood on his desk, over by the drawer.

His heart was pounding. He hadn’t felt this for – well – for a long time. Many years, in fact.

Now, what was it she liked to drink?

II

Jean-Claude Guiscard sat on a park bench with Geneviève, staring at the grass a few metres in front of him.

‘You’ll be safe tonight. Three of my men will patrol outside and I’ll stay there too, if you permit, on the divan.’

‘Ah, I see. I can save you some time ... I know what you really have in mind –’

‘Geneviève –’

‘… and I’d like you to know I’m considering it.’

‘Well, we needn’t speak of that now,’ he said. ‘I’m just here to protect you today.’

‘Oh really, and who’s going to protect you? I’m a crazy woman, don’t forget.’

‘Neither of us believes that.’

‘Listen to me, Jean-Claude, I don’t think you really know what’s happening - I’m clearly far from a well woman. Your help and support is appreciated but don’t expect too much too soon. I also need Hugh at this point in time.’

‘We have all the time in the world.’

‘I’m glad to hear you say that. Perhaps things might be possible, in the end. Just be patient with me, all right?’

‘Of course.’

Geneviève now put in a phone call to Nicolette, handing over the running of the Section to her from Melun. The other girls would step up one place and fulfil their new roles. This is what they’d all trained for, this contingency plan, and Geneviève had implicit confidence that things would be in hand.

Effectively, it meant Nicolette was exiled in Melun and would not come up to Paris.

III

There was a call from Nadine to Hugh, she’d shopped and would bring the evening supplies.

She let herself in, removed her coat and boots, put on slippers and went to the kitchen to put the goods away. This was so uncannily like the coming of Nicolette, he couldn’t help but suspect that Nikki might have had a hand in it and that Nadine would report all later.

When she returned to the living room, he commented, 'You’re Nikki’s lifeline right now. Tell me a bit about yourself.’

‘From my childhood onwards?’ she smiled.

‘Ah - should have been more inventive, eh?’

She laughed. ‘I come from the Dauphine area, in the south-east.’

‘It’s an ancient name?’

She laughed again. ‘Yes, it’s quite old.’ Damned hard going, this, he thought. ‘M. Jensen, Hugh, do you think Mademoiselle’s in danger?’

‘Which Mademoiselle?’

‘Geneviève.’

‘Oui, she’s in danger.’

‘Can you help her?’ The girl was appealing to him.

‘I’ll give it my best shot, but first I need to get to her.’

‘The Inspector will drop Mademoiselle here later this evening, that’s why there was more shopping this time.’

'I didn't mean in one evening.'

'I know.'

.o0o.

The doorbell eventually rang and Geneviève came through, her brown hair cascaded down her back and her queenly manner had returned.

‘Ah, Hugh, you really are working your way through my girls, I thought so. And how do you find Nadine?’ She turned to Nadine and shot various questions in rapid French, the questionee taking her leave soon afterwards.

They spoke for hours, covering vastly more ground than ever before. He noted she’d erect defences, then break them down of her own accord and he needed to do very little beyond listen.

Finally, they came to the question of the programming.

Hugh prompted her. ‘I know it was done outside of Paris, I know it was your people involved and I know there was a Russian connection, which I’m trying to get to the bottom of. We need professional help in deprogramming you, as I don’t have the expertise.’

‘We can’t use any help from here.’

‘No. It's a difficult one.'

Back again in the bedroom, she went straight to his drawer and took out his large blue shirt. To raised eyebrows, she laughed, ‘Don’t worry – I just like it, promise I’ll wear my own underwear this time.’

There was a call on his phone and he took the extension. ‘Oui? Nadine? Oui? Je comprends.’ He turned to Geneviève. ‘Nadine will stay with us tonight, she’s back here now.’

Even as he opened the door, an ear had to be kept open for Geneviève and he waved Nadine in quickly. She understood, disrobed, went straight to the linen cupboard, took the recliner bedding and walked straight back to the recliner.

‘Nadine, what are you doing?’

‘I’m sleeping here.’

‘Non, non, you’re with Genie.’

‘Non, Hugh, you are.’

‘But that’s the only other bedding I have.’

‘That’s unfortunate.’

Geneviève had appeared at the door. ‘You needn't worry, either of you, I’m sleeping alone. Merci beaucoup for making me feel so welcome. Actually, Hugh, would you call me a taxi, I’m going home. My plants will welcome me.’

‘NON!’ Then more quietly, ‘You’re not going anywhere, Mademoiselle.’ It was Nadine’s authoritative tone which stopped them both in their tracks.

They awaited her explanation and it was swift in coming. ‘Emma says that if you go back there tonight, you’ll be taken. They don’t dare hit here as there are too many eyes outside.’

A painful silence ensued whilst they took this in - the first time such things, merely whispered of before, were now being categorically stated as fact.

‘Rubbish!’ faltered Geneviève.

‘Mademoiselle Geneviève, with all due respect, you’ve been out of things for some days. Here’s my mobile, phone Emma.’

Hugh expected her to take the phone but she shook her head and sat down in her chair. She sighed wearily. ‘If Emma says I’d be taken, then I’d be taken. She’s never wrong.’

‘Thanks, Mademoiselle Geneviève.’

The fire had gone out of her and she asked Hugh to see her to bed whilst Nadine made ready with the recliner. He did a few things, then went to the bedroom. Lying on her back, staring up at the ceiling, she had tears in her eyes. ‘Two people I love trying to get out of staying with me. What a pariah I am, what a pariah.’

‘Absolute rubbish, you’ve completely misinterpreted it, completely. The only issue was decency and respect and that’s all we were arguing about. Understood, Genie? Nadine would be horrified if you genuinely thought that.’

She smiled weakly and he kissed her. ‘And you,’ she added, ‘you won’t even force yourself on me any more, breaking down my defences. I don’t even get to slap your face.’

He had to laugh. ‘Genie, no one talks like that these days - your parents brought you up the lady, it’s a stone round your neck. That's why people adore you and look up to you.’

‘Don’t forget I’m just a Madame with a harem of girls.’

‘You’re classic. I’m having a lot of fun with your harem, as a matter of fact.’

She grinned and leaned over him, suddenly there was a call on her new mobile and all hell broke loose. She answered, her breathing slowing almost to a stop, she started to reply with repeated phrases, some clap-trap, he ripped the phone away and shouted, ‘Nadine, come here!’

Nadine was already there. Hugh threw her the phone and barked, ‘Trace it,’ grabbed Geneviève and held her tight with his one arm. She struggled, dragging him to the floor with her but he locked her with his plastered arm, trapping her.

She started dragging him with her powerful thighs, pump by pump, along the floor – but to where?

In the end, his sheer drag became too much and by then Nadine had returned from the rapid calls she’d made on the two mobiles and the land line. Suddenly, Emmeline and Alana appeared, Nadine shoving her own mobile into Hugh’s hands.

It was Nicolette at the other end. ‘What words was she using, Hugh? Tell me if you can. It’s important.’

‘I don’t know – some sort of mumbo-jumbo. She was a handful too - I could hardly stop her.’

‘It took three of us last time.’

‘What was she trying to do?’

‘Rejoin her trainer or suicide.’

‘Trainer?’

‘That’s the euphemism. OK, we’ll do what we can at this end. Stay with her, all right … and Hugh?’

‘Yes.’

‘I mean stay with her – right beside her. Don’t take your eyes off her.’

He sighed. ‘OK, I’ll wear her like a glove.’

‘That’s not entirely necessary. All right, put Nadine back on - please.’

He hobbled into the hall to check on Geneviève. She was on the floor, back to the wall, Emmeline and Alana seated either side of her, not going anywhere. Hugh helped her up and led her towards the bedroom. ‘You need the bathroom?’

She nodded and went in. In a flash she’d locked the door and Hugh swore, half hopped to the kitchen, rummaged in the drawer under the sink, pulled out his little hatchet, to the raised eyebrows of the girls and hopped back to the bathroom.

‘Open up, Geneviève!’

He waited no longer but splintered the door around the lock and kept hacking until he was through. Pulling back the bolt, he flung the door open, asked Emmeline to get the medics, leaned down and noted the handles of the nail scissors sticking out from her side. ‘Nadine, we need Nikki again.’

There was very little blood and it was a case of whether anything had been ruptured. She couldn’t be moved and the scissors couldn’t be removed, so he sat down with her on the bathroom floor. She was crying - clearly the passion, the madness, had now dissipated.

Nadine came in and handed him the mobile. ‘Moineau, did Nadine tell you? Good, say something to her, now.’ He pushed the mobile across to Geneviève’s ear and held it there. Slowly, Geneviève raised her hand shakily and held the phone in place herself.

What followed was a conversation of sorts, Genie progressively more comforted. At the appropriate juncture, he took the mobile back and Nicolette said, ‘I’m sending my own doctor. She has short auburn hair, is about thirty-three and about 175cm tall. Her name is Isabelle Verdier.’

‘Bye.’

They waited for the doctor and Emmeline brought bedding, wrapping Geneviève up and putting what padding she could under her. He kept talking to her, coaxing her to reply.

.o0o.

The doorbell rang and Nadine took charge of Geneviève – very efficient girl. He hobbled to the door, went through the procedure and opened to Isabelle Verdier. She spoke no English but nodded to him, went straight through to the bathroom, acknowledging Nadine, then started her patter to Geneviève.

Some minutes later, Mdm Verdier emerged and spoke to Nadine, who translated to Hugh. ‘Mademoiselle Lavacquerie needs hospital treatment, so we’ll drive her to a place near Melun which Mademoiselle Nicolette knows. Usually she’d go to the nearest hospital but there are security considerations this time. Mademoiselle Geneviève’s been given a sedative and now we have to make a stretcher to carry her. Do you have anything here or shall I phone?

‘I’ll be back in a few minutes,’ Hugh said. ‘There’s wood and cord in the downstairs garage.’

‘You can’t go in that gyps,’ commented Nadine. ‘The girls will go down. Tell them what you need.’

Hugh told them and where to find it.

V

Michel and Stefan turned up to take Geneviève and they put together the stretcher. Hugh was to hold the fort and await Nicolette’s call, Emmeline was to remain with him and her car would go into the garage.

The four departed and it was the first proper view he'd had of Emma's hubby and his mate. He couldn't say he liked them but then again, that was understandable - they probably didn't like him having the run of the women this way. He turned his attention to yet another girl from the stable, Emmeline but this one was from a Paris he didn’t know.

About 167cm, hair tied back severely; her hands large but her arms skinny like the rest of her – she had to be almost 20 years old. Dressed a la mode, to appear more childlike than she really was, made up darkly, the steady gaze from the eyes betrayed something other than innocence.

She went to the kitchen, made coffee and a little late supper, then brought it back through, setting it down on the coffee table and taking the Moineau Chair - Hugh said nothing. Something made him uneasy about this girl - she was too quiet. Nadine had initially been reserved but this one was what the Russians called ‘skritaya’ – closed and watchful.

‘M. Jensen, relax - she’s in good hands. Nicolette and Nadine are there, and the doctor.’

Yes, that was true – Geneviève couldn’t have been in better hands. ‘You like being part of the team now?’ he asked her.

She replied in English. ‘It’s – different. Yes, I like it.’ Friendlier voice than Nadine’s but still ‘skritaya’. ‘There’s no need for you to stay up, M. Jensen, if you’re tired.’

‘My bed’s here. Yours is in there.’ He indicated with a thumb over his shoulder, the bedroom.

‘But that’s your bedroom.’

‘Actually, it’s become a lady’s boudoir in the last few weeks. My place is here.’ He indicated the recliner.

‘All right, you take the recliner and I’ll sit here with you – I have to stay awake.’

‘We both do, Emmeline. I’ll get the bedding from the bathroom for myself, if you’ll take some from the bedroom to put over yourself.’

.o0o.

With the bedding arranged, Emmeline settled back in the Geneviève Chair and it was unnerving having this strange female on edge, a metre from him, just staring at the opposite wall. ‘Emmeline, dear, why don’t you find something to read over there? I don’t have television but there are some films you could watch on the computer.’

She flashed a smile and declined. Another call came, this time on the landline beside Hugh’s recliner. ‘Moineau,’ he was delighted, ‘it’s you.’

‘Yes it's me, now listen very carefully, Bebe.’ Her voice was low, slow and deliberate. ‘Follow my lead in this conversation, OK?’

‘OK.’

‘Fine. Now miss me like crazy and ask how Mademoiselle is.’

‘Moineau, I’ve been so worried, Emmeline had to tell me to relax.’ He smiled in the girl’s direction. ‘How’s Genie?’

‘Actually, she’s fine, Hugh, it’s not life-threatening, unlike your current situation. Now, whatever I tell you next, don’t react, that’s if you want to live. You ready? We’ve made the most terrible mistake but we think we might have discovered it in time. Don’t react. Do you understand? We think that Alana and Emmeline are working for them. We think Emmeline is going to try to kill you tonight.’

‘Of course, of course,’ he replied in his most reasonable voice, ‘I can’t wait to see you, Nikki.’

She chuckled at the other end of the line. ‘For now, keep your mind on the job. Right, we’ve already dealt with Alana, which leaves just this one. Listen carefully. Nadine’s going to enter your flat in about 35 minutes, using my keys.

She’ll have a weapon with her which fires a dart - we use it in our work - the girl will collapse on the floor but she won’t be dead, just knocked out. Nadine will also have a pistol in her bag, but don’t be too worried about that either. Make sure the door’s unbolted. The boys will go to the garage and take care of Emmeline’s car. You need to tell her Alana’s coming back to stay with her. Do it now.’

‘Who, Alana?’ Emmeline’s ears picked up. ‘Overnight? Oh, that’s nice.’ The girl was quite definitely smiling to herself.

‘That’s fine, Hugh. Nadine’s on the way. Now, you just have to keep this one happy for about 30 minutes or so. When your landline rings, you’ll need to create a disturbance, to distract her from the door. Do you understand?’

‘Non,’ he replied.

She sighed at the other end. ‘Look, Hugh, it’s very simple - any call in the next 30 minutes won’t be Nadine, so answer it as you ordinarily would. Any call after 30 minutes, create a disturbance to take the girl’s attention away. You understand now?’

‘Oui.’

‘All right, we’ll make contact again after it’s over. Good luck, Bebe.’ She clicked her mobile off at the other end.

The girl was watching him. He saw her check her watch.

The minutes ticked away and Hugh went into the state of drowsiness he’d need to feign to carry out his subterfuge.

.o0o.

The girl’s eyes were definitely upon him now and there were about eight minutes left, by Hugh’s estimate. He fell into a drowsiness.

.o0o.

The minutes continued to tick down – seven – six – five – then, on four, the phone went, he woke with a start and crashed onto the floor, holding his plastered left arm with his right and howling with pain.

‘Ai-eee! Emmeline, help me up, back to the recliner - no the other arm, girl.’

She huffed and puffed, helping him; then suddenly he felt all the life go out of her body as she sagged and collapsed in a heap on the floor. Hugh turned to see the deadly, unsmiling face of Nadine, her weapon pointing directly at him.

‘Am I next?’ he asked, only half jokingly.

She placed the weapon on the coffee table and started going through Emmeline’s things. Notepad, mobile - and then she found it, but not on her body. It was under the seat cushion, underneath where she’d been sitting - a medicine bottle with an eyedropper inside. It would need to be analysed.

‘Michel and Stefan are coming back to take her away and all her things. May I let them in?’

He nodded.

They waited maybe two minutes and then came the doorbell. It was the work of about seven minutes to get Emmeline and all her paraphernalia out.

Nadine finally looked at Hugh and breathed, ‘Coffee?’

.o0o.

They sat forward on their respective chairs and she explained, ‘The girls were sleepers. Not working for le Roux, someone higher. They sort of grew into our Section and their credentials were impeccable. What fooled Mademoiselle was that she’d known these girls from Melun - they’d been planted there years ago – it’s a very worrying trend.

Alana did it well but Mademoiselle noted Emmeline didn’t follow procedures properly. There were little things – her reaction to our tragedies was strange, her insubordination with Nicky was another factor, Nicky put it down to her age and yet we have a strict hierarchy in the Section which stops that sort of thing. We think they killed Melanie but we’ll have to wait till tomorrow to be sure. Pretty girls, didn’t you think, Hugh?’

‘Ah, I’d better be careful what I say in front of you,’ he smiled and she returned his smile. Your English is very good, you know, Nadine. Genie can speak it but we mainly converse in French, as with the Inspector, Nikki and I half and half but you dropped straight into English and it was quite advanced.'

'I studied it, that's why but thank you - from you that's nice to hear.'

‘So what of Genie?’ Hugh asked.

‘Good and bad. She obviously has something inside but she disobeyed her programming and didn’t put the scissors in here,’ she indicated a place on the side of her head.'

‘What do you read into that?’

‘It means she’s gradually coming out of her programming.’

‘And the injury?’

‘Minor. She’ll be back tomorrow morning.’

‘How is … er … Nikki?’

‘On top of it all. She’s a good manager. Now it’s getting late, let’s catch a few hours sleep.’ She picked up the bedding the girl had dropped.

‘OK, Nadine, good night.’

‘No, you don’t understand, you’re to come with me. The boys have taken the car, we’re alone and I need to be by you.’

‘Or you need to keep an eye on me. Was this also Nikki’s doing?’

‘M. Jen – Hugh, there’s no emotion in this, I assure you. We tread a fine line and stay there. I can sleep on the floor if it’s a problem for you.’

‘Don’t talk rubbish.’

‘All right, so let’s catch some sleep.’

She went to the bathroom, to eventually emerge in satin pyjamas - a little chunkier than Nikki, but that was no bad thing. The thought crossed his mind that they were all having a joke at his expense, handing him around and comparing notes later.

Well, the joke was on them, he was the one getting all the pleasure. He glanced across to see if she was ready, then switched the bedside lamp off.    The pale moonlight half-illuminated her face, a very different face to his love. ‘Where’s your boyfriend tonight, Nadine?’

‘I don’t have one.’

‘Stefan?’

‘Just a close friend ... Hugh,’ and she smiled for the first time this evening. ‘I’ve no time for a regular boyfriend. One day I’ll go onto ‘other duties’ and have a family but I don’t need that just yet.’ She was lying through her teeth – she’d tried and tried and tried to make him hers but the bstd would never commit himself.

The phone went and he took it. ‘Oui, Moineau – oui, she’s here.’ He handed her the phone and could hear the conversation in dribs and drabs, ending with Nadine handing him back the handset.

‘Oui, Moineau?’

‘Nadine cuddly, is she?’

‘We’re going to discuss this when we meet.’

A conversation started at the other end and the unmistakable voice of Geneviève came online. ‘Hugh?’

‘Oui, Genie. Ça va?’   His heart immediately quickened, a point noted by Nadine, lying back, head on the pillow.

Eventually she handed the phone back to Nicolette.

'Right, Bebe, bonne nuit and kiss Nadine goodnight for me, would you?' She chuckled and the phone clicked off.

‘Nadine?’

‘Oui.’

‘I snore.’

‘I know.’

‘I have rhinitis in the morning.’

‘I know.’

‘Is there anything you don’t know?’

‘Not much.’

‘Nadine, Nikki also asked me to do something for her.’

‘Right.’

He tried to turn to her but the gyps stopped him and she laughed out loud. ‘That was Nikki’s joke. We both knew you’d follow her instructions, we absolutely knew it. We took bets on it.  Now for my joke.’   She leaned over and placed her lips on his. ‘Bonne nuit.’

She turned over and went to sleep.

VI

Francine was home and Jean rose to the occasion.

All the same, she knew that when all the bandages came off and everything went back to normal, it could never be normal again. Her work at the Section was one thing but Jean himself was quite another.

How was he going to accept the new Francine?

She gazed at him from her unbandaged eye.

VII

On the morrow, about 09:30, Geneviève appeared at Hugh’s. Her head was back together and she was more in control of herself. Nadine was - well, she was just Nadine. They didn’t waste time on preliminaries but made a quick breakfast, took it through and got down to business.

‘Let’s look at the Emmeline and Alana question, all right?’ began Geneviève. ‘I’d thought our selection procedures were pretty good – we’d chosen Nicolette, Nadine, Melanie –’

‘But also Elaine, Emmeline and Alana, I have to remind you.’

‘Yes, yes, that’s what worries me. We need better procedures.’

Nadine put in her contribution. ‘We need to check records better and check the checkers as well. Expand our database.’

‘You weren’t selected solely on your record, Nadine - it was Geneviève here who decided to take a chance with you. The ability to sniff out talent and danger is everything.’

‘But that’s unreliable and it makes one person indispensable,’ protested Nadine.

‘That’s the eternal dilemma. But after a long period of time, even if you're an unwise person, which describes me perfectly, sheer experience helps you pick up certain things.’

‘Mademoiselle employs intelligent girls.’

‘Yes, yes she does and that’s where the problems are coming from.’

‘How do you mean, Hugh?’ asked Geneviève.

‘An organization like yours is totally dependent on the leader being able to sniff out whom to accept and whom not.’

‘And?’

‘And so, if an enemy wants to infiltrate, he’ll use sleepers who get past your guard at the recruitment stage, then act perfectly normally for a long period of time, allaying your fears.’

‘They can’t keep it up forever and sooner or later, I’d pick up anomalies.’

‘You’d pick up certain anomalies which you were sensitive to. For example, this Emmeline was insubordinate to Nikki. But there might be other anomalies which get past you.’

‘Such as?’

‘This Emmeline’s manner was closed, too intense. Plus she had a stud in her nose.’

Nadine huffed. ‘What does that have to do with it?’

‘Nadine, do you wear a stud in your nose or a nail through your eyebrow?’

‘Well, non.’

‘Why not?’

‘That’s my business.’

‘Why don’t you just say, ‘Because I don’t want to.’?’

‘All right – I don’t want to.’

‘That’s the point - you’re a certain type, brought up in a certain way. This Emmeline was far more cavalier, less careful in her ways.’

‘I don’t accept it.’

‘I do,’ Geneviève chipped in. ‘I’ve had my eye on her for some time.’

‘Why, Mademoiselle?’

‘The boys Emmeline hung around with were rough. Stupid, yes?’

‘No,’ said Hugh. ‘Exactly the opposite. You know the saying, ‘You’ll know them by their fruits?’ Each little anomaly, on its own, is indicative but not conclusive. But when several anomalies are combined, then that’s danger.’

‘So, why didn’t you pick her?’ persisted Nadine.

‘Because I observed and yet dismissed what I saw.’

‘What did you observe?’

‘About 167cm, hair tied back severely; her hands large but her arms skinny like the rest of her – she had to be almost 20 years old. Dressed a la mode, to appear more childlike than she really was, made up darkly, the steady gaze from the eyes betrayed something other than innocence.’

‘And?’

‘I didn’t fall for her little girl beauty but at the same time, I didn’t really see the viper lurking behind the eyes. She was pretty – that’s how they got me in Russia.’ Hugh sat back in the chair and sipped his now cold coffee.

‘Let me top that up,’ offered Nadine.

Geneviève had been listening carefully. ‘So are you saying we should be more vigilant?’

‘That and other things. There are things you would pick up on, I’d pick up on others, Nadine would pick up on something peculiar to her world. We need to be in conclave and hear different opinions before making a decision. But more than that, we need to follow the trail to the end. We need to pool our human resources and rely on technology only to support that, not as a panacea for all ills.’

‘Meaning?’

‘Analogy - how would you describe the way I drive, Genie?’

‘Too fast.’

‘And so my road accident would not have surprised you?’

‘Well –’

‘And yet, a glance at my driving record would show that I’ve had two accidents in my history – both involving people walking onto the road straight into my car, which means I was going too slowly for them to hear me.’

‘And?’

‘Why haven’t I had any other accidents?’

‘Tell me.’

‘Because I trust absolutely no one. I would never ride a white line or go near other cars – they’re all idiots. So that night was out of character, unless I’d gone out of my mind.’

‘You forget you were upset that night.’

‘I’d have taken a taxi and left my car at home or else not have gone at all.

‘So?’

‘The danger is in looking at only, say, 80% of the story, when the last 20% alters the picture significantly.’

‘Why didn’t I pick up on Emmeline and Alana earlier?’

‘Firstly, they were designed to get past your guard. Secondly, your own antennae weren’t picking up clear signals due to your own troubles and that was factored in – to make you less effective. Thirdly, those girls were only bit players, on the peripherique. And there is a fourth point.’

‘Go on.’

‘Sometimes we're blinded by close association with people. On the grounds that we've been working with them for a long time and that they appear to be our kind of people, we make the logical jump that they are, therefore, good people. We don't really know that - we don't know who has what hold over them. Are they more likely to betray that or to conceal it?’

‘Example?’

‘Philby, Burgess and Maclean, especially Philby.  At our school, an absolute little dream came for a job interview and we gave her the job. She was the front girl for a gang of thieves.’

‘Anything else?’ asked Geneviève.

‘Any form of body piercing beyond earrings, a ring worn on the thumb, tattoos, dressing a la mode, excessive attention to make-up, arriving late for meetings, not apologizing for things, speaking of ‘doing’ a country you’ve visited, excessive travel, beach worship, nightclubbing more than once a week, loudness in general demeanour or the opposite – excessive shyness, uncompromising attitude on certain issues, primaeval tendencies such as heavily rhythmic musical preferences, very personal questions early in conversations - I could go on and on.’

‘What’s wrong with wearing a ring on the thumb?’ Nadine protested.

‘Nothing in itself. But if you also club, wear clothes a bit on the immodest side and your speech is coarse, then that’s very much a sign. And certain things often go together.’

‘I still can’t see it.’

‘I can,’ said Geneviève. ‘I see it very clearly. Any other factors?’

‘Any number of them - taking yourself too seriously, unreasonable habits like being in a car and realizing you forgot your compact and expecting the driver to turn around and go back for it, a man who uses come-on lines to a woman instead of natural conversation, excessive internet usage at night, general secretiveness, feeling things are unfair or that you’re not getting your fair share, coming up with new plans all the time and so on and so on.’

‘I’d appreciate it, Hugh, if you’d write these down and discuss them with me at a later stage. Any others?’

‘Hedonistic lifestyle, suntan in winter, beach worship, excessive muscular development in a guy, narrowed eyes, glazed eyes, feeling your business will break down without your presence, being a natural rebel rather than a natural loyalist, having no time for simple pleasures, doing only leisure activities which require money, inability to control personal finances, excessive shopping.’

Nadine had been listening to all this and was near-apoplectic. ‘But almost everyone I know does those things – suntanning on the beach, for example. Are all those people dangerous?’

‘If they continue the tan into the winter – they’re possibly unreliable. Not because of that itself but because of the mindset and the other things which go with that mindset. You think this is outrageously wrong, don’t you, Nadine, because it attacks things in your age range which you accept as normal? I'm sorry. We can’t afford to worry about who’s upset about what – we need to be sure and so niceties don't come into it. It’s not a foolproof method but experience often bears it out.’

‘You're sad. May I ask you something - are you happy in your life?’ harrumphed Nadine.

‘Need to get a life, you think?’

‘You promise to write those things down?' asked  Geneviève.  'Now we have to go and do a few things but maybe I could come back later? Nadine herself has to go to Melun.’

‘I hope you do come back.’

.o0o.

In the car, Nadine driving, heater on full bore, Geneviève asked, ‘What do you think?’

She thought long and hard before replying. ‘We were close before ... before –’

‘Before this man came on the scene?’

‘Well, oui.’

‘Emma says we've always had situations, long before he came along. I’m afraid Elaine started that story.’

‘You like him, don’t you?’ She nodded. ‘Where’s his family? How can he sleep with me but not even try to touch me? Why is he in France? Where are his men friends? Why was that Russian girl he was with killed?’

‘She had enemies, as we did.’

’But you agree there are questions?’

‘Oh yes, there are undoubtedly questions. What does Emma think?’

‘She likes him.’

‘What do you think of Emma’s judgement?’ Nadine was again silent. Geneviève reached for a bon-bon and offered to unwrap one for her, but Nadine shook her head.

Eventually, Geneviève said, ‘One of us, either Nikki or myself, will probably marry this man and so it’s vital we know everything there is to know. If you have strong misgivings, Nadine, please tell me their foundation.’

‘No, I didn’t say ‘misgivings’, Mademoiselle. I said ‘questions’. I told you that personally, I like him a lot now.’

VIII

Emma had taken Nikki for a drive and wanted to go to a cafe - they went to Cafe Josephine, not far off the road to Sivry.

Eats and refreshments before them, Emma opened. 'Thierry, Hugh?'

'We had to come here for that?'

'No for something else I'm going to tell you.  Your answer?'

'I'm resisting saying goodbye to Thierry but I think I have to.'

'What if I tell you I have inside information that Hugh's eyes are for you?  You say anything to Mademoiselle and I'll kill you, Nikki.'

'From you, I'm glad to hear it.'  She was relieved.  'But at the same time, Em, how do you know?  Don't lie to me.'

'I went to him, I visited.'

'Why?'

'Because I wanted to discuss operational things, run some ideas by him.  You know that wasn't the only reason.  He told me I had to tell you this.'

A horrible sinking feeling seized her, as she feebly said, 'Go on.  Tell me.'

'I touched him where I did last time.  He pulled his body away and said why.'

'Did he now?'  She was, if anything, curious. 'Still, there's something with you and him.  Aside from it being totally wrong, him being my man, you being married and with a child and me being down here and not able to be there.'

'He took all the guilt on himself for not moving away sooner.  I didn't let him.  I knew you weren't coming till later and I knew Mademoiselle had gone out.'

'Being honest isn't going to help you, Emma.  It was wrong.'

'He said he is shutting me out now, that his only choice is between you and nothing, the wilderness he called it.'

'Did he now?'  She gazed at Emma. 'I'm still going to be angry with him.'

'You mean you won't leave him?'  she smiled.

'How can I leave him if ... ah, clever Emma.'  She thought and then said, 'No, I'll not leave him this once but it's the last thing he does with another woman.'

'But you've left him up there with Mademoiselle and they will not be reading books together.'


'All right, all right, all right!  I hear you, Emma.  And Emma?' She looked into the other's eyes. 'Thank you.  I know you just saved Hugh and me.  That must have cost you.  Don't tell him he's saved and don't go there, all right?  Not till I have, I mean.'


Chapter 6 here ... Chapter 8 here

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