Chapter 12 here ... Chapter 14 here
Sergei Safin had a problem on his hands.
He felt that if he didn’t join the indecent scramble to be in with the main money makers soon, he’d miss his chance.
It was something Uncle Dima had said – that from every national disaster, people make huge money and Oleg had countered that it was before the disaster they needed to make their move and be poised to invest at the lowest point in the crisis.
All the mega-rich had done that and he, Sergei Safin, wanted a slice of the action this time round. The blackmail on Oleg had not worked but Sergei had learned a thing or two from the encounter. Prostituting his sisters had seemed only a logical extension of their natural proclivities but that one had put him in danger with Papa.
There had to be some way of making money.
With the demise of Zhenya, there seemed an opportunity at last. Good of Ksenia to have cleared that path and he’d presented himself to Seymour forthwith. Now he was awaiting the promised call.
No matter, if the man did not call, Sergei would approach, late afternoon, Seymour’s rival in Kirova.
The doorbell rang at 21:30, too late for ordinary people to visit. Through the peephole Hugh could see that it was Olyesa, alone. Ksenia slipped into the bathroom and closed the door.
‘One moment,’ he called out to his visitor. He went to the living room, out to the balcony, looked down and saw the car she'd probably come in. He phoned Tanya across the landing - she could look out of her peephole and say if Olyesa was alone.
Tanya checked from her peephole and reported that there was indeed a guy to the left of the door from where she was viewing, about 30, long fair hair, looked a hard man. Hugh apologized and thanked her, hung up and went to the door. ‘Olyesa, you’re not coming in here until Safin goes away. I’ve already contacted Ksenia.’
‘I’m not opening until I see him, from my balcony, get into his white BMW below.’
There was a sound of consternation and rapid conversation. ‘He’s given her something I can’t see and she’s put it in her bag,’ reported Tanya.
Hugh thanked her profusely, put the phone down and went to the balcony. The guy was down there already, getting in. He went back to the door, unlocked it and through came Olyesa.
It was the work of a moment to rip her handbag from her, stride to the balcony and heave it over the railing.
‘You -’ she screamed, fists pummelling his back.
'Privyet, Olyesa,' said Ksenia quietly, from behind her, Olyesa spun round, took in the look in the other's eyes and ran from the flat. From the balcony a minute later, they saw her get quickly into the car and tear off, doing wheelies all over the congealed mud and grass.
Ksenia grinned. 'Not over-endowed with brains, I'm afraid, Babe, either of them.'
Anya awoke in the sumptuous four-poster bed, with the ornate turned wood pillars and gazed up at the canopy.
It would be nice to have such a bed at home but the thing was that her room was too small, the ceiling too low. The principle of proportion was necessary in decoration, in design really and she had an eye for proportion.
The Italian came through with a tray of coffee and nibbles and Anya realized that if only he would, she could make her life here. Hugh had told her that this was coverting, wanting another woman’s things, another woman’s life and doing something to take it.
He’d said it was a sticky wicket and had then had to explain that. She’d argued but not convincingly because she knew what she was doing was not right. She just wanted it, that was all.
Maybe she’d been spoiled and she blamed Hugh for starting that. The Russian hadn’t helped either with his prostrate at her feet attitude but here she wanted something and she couldn’t have it.
She resented his smugness.
To be fair, he never showed it. Oh no, it was all sincerity to her face and yet he had manoeuvred her where he’d wanted her – a bit of fluff, Hugh had called it, someone he could call over or go over to visit when the wife was not about. She didn’t want it. She was a person with feelings and she resented his attitude to her country, as if it was a cultural backwater, saying he’d never live there in a million years.
Hugh had never felt that. He loved the country, which reflected on his taste really. No! No it didn’t. It showed Hugh had good taste. What the hell was she saying?
‘We’ll visit the coast today, Anya. I have to see Paulo about the hospital wing but there’s a nice craft place and a café. I shouldn’t be too long.’
‘Is it possible to swim there?’
‘Not really. It’s still a bit cool but there’s a pool – yes, I know, you’ve told me before. We’ll leave in an hour, all right? Enough time?’
He planted a kiss where it counted and went for a shower.
As it turned out, Paolo was one of the hospitality providers of the world, in proportion to how much money he owed and to whom. When they arrived, he wouldn’t hear of Anya having lunch in the village but she had to stay there with them and practise her Italian.
The fact that she did not wish to socialize at the moment was inconsequential in Italy. The social occasion was the social occasion and so she had to sit at the long table under the pegola, sipping on her aqua minerale and making small talk with the daughter of university age who was practising her English. The girl’s little daughter was nearby, in a high chair and Anya was expected to make a fuss over her and generally carry on.
She hated social events like this unless Fabio was at hand to lead the conversation.
It was a blessed relief when the two men returned and announced they were all going down to the beach to have lunch there. Paolo’s mother now had to redo all the preparations and pack them into baskets with the help of the son, Georgio and the other daughter Francesca.
Then they all crammed into three cars, Massimo stopped at the head of the driveway, got out, ran back to get the wine and then they were off.
Ksenia and Hugh had taken to visiting the forest, a motif with her and they went to a different part every time. Because of her work, she couldn't go every week but when she returned, she virtually flew home and off they'd go to buy the makings.
It was still his summer holidays, except for the state work, which he kept up, she was always chafing at the bit, he'd see that and smile, they'd pack the car and go.
Today they got past the airport checkpoint, turned off to the right and slowly made their way along a bumpy track, only just drivable with its deep dips and ridges. Shifting between first and second gears, they found a place to park, just off the track under the trees.
They took their hamper and rugs from the boot and they made their way into the forest. The temperature was hovering around 25.
As soon as they appeared to be alone, no one able to see them, she laid lay down the rug, simply all bar her trainers off and he ditched trainers and undies. Relations would occur.
She liked the routine, did not wish to vary it and he got the impression it was almost a ritualized thing. No matter - he was loving every minute, not least because the moment they got anywhere close to the forest, her whole mood would change. If she'd been a kitten, she'd have been purring.
The bit he wasn't so sure about was when, after a few strenuous bouts of love, they'd eat and drink and then she'd want to go deeper into the forest - minus all bar footwear. He'd never been partial to nudism but it sure was something important to her so he went along with it.
One of her favourite tricks was to climb a low branch of a tree, let herself slip off until the crook of one leg was keeping her up there - that and one hand - and her nether region was exactly at the right height for him to insert himself. Just why she liked that he never fathomed but she certainly shuddered sooner and then fell to the ground.
There was something almost feral in the woman, he didn't mind because it was her but it always remained in the back of his mind.
They flew on the 23rd, booked into the Gran Tenerfe in the tourist area on the south east coast of Tenerife, their room opening onto the coastline, stretching into the distance towards the east.
He didn’t mention that he’d been there with Anya.
The view from the narrow balcony was the best of both worlds – the extremely busy main drag and shopping precinct with all its cafes, restaurants and bright lights and a little to the right, the shoreline with the beach bars, occasional beach and the endless sweep of the navy sea.
The way they were located, it was clear they’d need to rent a car, a fact not lost on the car hire firm ensconced in the foyer of the hotel. In line with his usual craziness when hiring a car, he took a maroon Renault Megane Cabriolet, brand new, the pride of their fleet.
It was neat, that little machine, exceedingly sexy, with its curves and bulges, instantly responsive and hot under the hood. After one day, Ksenia’s feelings for the car soured when she realized that he'd fallen in love with it, given his penchant for disappearing every few hours with the words, ‘Just going downstairs’.
Initially she thought he was flirting with a chambermaid or whatever, then, on one of these disappearances, she followed him down and found him lovingly washing windows and playing with the soft top in the hotel car park.
‘You’re sick, you know that? No one washes cars on holiday, especially in a hotel carpark.’
When they went out exploring the open road late in the afternoon and he pulled over and let her take the wheel; that went some way to compensating. The note of the engine, the Gallic lightness of touch, the swift, silent gear change, the top down carefree laughter, the feeling of vacation – liberation.
Later, pulling into the hotel park again, sporty engine bubbling, the attendant dipping his hat as he lifted the barrier, the last throaty roar of the engine as they shut down, the putting up of the hood, clutching the day’s shopping - there’d been worse moments in life, she reflected.
Hugh wasn’t about to spoil it with what he felt he had to speak about – that could come later.
Dinner was like being at a feeding trough in this hotel, one large dining area, with a lower, smorgasbord serving floor and steps up to the tables on a sort of surrounding balcony, overlooking everyone helping themselves down below. They never liked the arrangement but what could they do?
They bought a shiraz and took it back to their room on the fifth floor, then changed their minds and decided to go for a swim, still an hour before the pool closed for the evening.
Lift downstairs, out of the main door, down the rough, concrete Spanish steps, tops and towels on the sunlounges, she in bikini bottom only, with towel over the shoulders for decency.
‘Race you to the other end,’ she cried and in they went. Hugh won by a head.
‘Race you to the other end,’ she cried again and she got there first. Hugh took her hand and swam her out to the centre of the pool. It was quite dark but the warm water was caressing.
Suddenly, a guy in shorts and polo T started jabbering at them in Spanish from the side of the pool. He looked official, so they swam apart, while he gesticulated for them to get out, indicating his watch.
Later, taking the bottle and two glasses, they went out onto the little balcony, overlooking the coastal lights of the Tenerife tourist area and sat on the plastic chairs at the plastic table.
They smiled at one another and he could sense she’d allowed herself to settle in more, to relax. He made no demands.
Next day, they drove to Santa Cruz, the capital, at the other end of the island and spent the morning there, buying a heap of pastries at a local conditiori, then onto the far side of the island, diagonally opposite the resort, to Loro Park, the wildlife sanctuary.
They took the road back over the top, up, up, up the winding track, ever upwards; they literally drove through the clouds and, at the summit, it was exactly like the view from an aeroplane - fluffy white clouds stretching endlessly in all directions - sheer magic, apart from the temperature, which had dipped to 13 degrees.
It was down mountain passes, winding, winding, down below the cloud, back onto the return autobahn and Hugh was pretty knackered once back at the hotel. Roof up, heater off, everything shut down and now for an aperitif.
The days slipped by.
On the Friday, there was to be a flamenco show and dancing afterwards, downstairs. Would she prefer to go out? No, she preferred to wear the dress she’d kept until now. Hugh went down to wash the car yet again, whilst she got ready, then went and had a whisky in the bar.
When he got back to the room, his mouth fell open.
She was wearing a long black backless dress, plunging to a curve across her bottom, then sweeping up forward past her waist into two billowing but narrowing strips, which crossed and finally tied behind her neck. A gold chain and bracelet set off the neck and brown arms. Her hair tumbled behind her shoulders. Her polished, high heel, toeless shoes compacted her toes.
He lost the power of speech - really lost it. His mouth opened and closed like a guppy.
‘Well, are we ever going to get there?’ she snapped but with a smile.
The flamenco was a good show but the dance floor later, when it was their turn, filled him with dread. When a flamenco number came on, Hugh grabbed a flower from a vase, put it between his teeth and strutted up and down with her. Trouble was, they all had their eyes on her.
At the end of the number, he placed the bloom in her hair, occasioning some applause from a few people around them; her cheeks reddened.
On the last number of the evening, they danced classically close and then stepped out into the huge foyer, with its panes of sheet glass and magnificent view of the waterfront lights. One thing he now realized was that she was no great shakes as a dancer and he was overjoyed by that – they could just relax and enjoy it together without having to prove anything.
They eventually took the lift back up to their room and stepped out onto the balcony, nicely imbibed. ‘So here we are,’ she stated obviously, placing her drink on the table.
He tugged at the bow which kept her dress tied around her neck and caught it as it fell. She stepped out of it in her high heels, he folded and placed it on one of the three chairs, then took down her string underwear, placing it on top of the dress.
He indicated the chair on one side of the table and she sat elegantly, stark naked as he handed her the wine. He sat on the other side and took his wine. ‘What shall we toast to,’ he asked, ‘the night?’
‘Did you ever tell Mademoiselle about the Benvolio matter,’ asked Nicolette, ‘and what happened afterwards?’
Her small frame was dwarfed by the brown and beige patterned armchair in Marc’s living room he'd kept on in Paris and she loved that chair, curling up like a kitten, sipping at her coffee and gazing through the steam rising from the cup.
Marc drew the curtains and was puzzled that Nikki had made no move to go home yet. He wasn’t complaining, mind but it was 23:40 and he did have to drive to Villemarechal next morning for the disks and Nikki knew that. Not only that but she had to go with Francine to deal with la Martinière at midday.
Well all right, he saw that it wasn’t as crucial for her to get a night’s rest.
He looked across at her and wished she’d feed herself. How could a girl like that survive? On what fuel did she run? He imagined that though she was as pretty as a flower, there might not be too many Frenchmen who would appreciate her shape or her sharpness.
Hell, what was he thinking? Nikki was their prime operative and she’d never not come away with the goods.
She looked across at him and pursed her bow lips.
Now he scrunched up his face in that way she didn’t like because it made him seem wizened beyond his time and accentuated the neck which could not conceal his forty plus years. Nice face, Marc, pleasant without being handsome, in proportion to the body which was also nothing special but was still better than the average; the slight taper to the hips was appealing and meant he could wear most clothing well.
‘Well?’ she repeated.
‘Marc, are you that blind?’
The penny dropped. ‘We’ve been through that, haven’t we?’ To her silence, he continued, ‘Why, Nikki? There's Dilya. Why rock the boat?’
‘How many men have I actually slept with?’
‘How the hell would I know?’
‘Stop. Think. You know my story. Discounting the rape, how many?’
He was put out by this line of questioning. ‘I don’t know. One I know of.’’
‘Exactly. So why am I still here at midnight, Marc?’
‘I give up.’
'Do you think that lovers can’t be best friends or best friends can’t be lovers?’
‘Nikki, even if I wanted and I’m not admitting I do,’ she now glanced between his legs and saw he did, ‘why would you want? What’s in it for you?’
‘Do you love me?’
He sighed. ‘Oui.’
It was a beautiful evening in Tenerife.
She'd sat, stark naked, except for her high heels, on that chair on the balcony whilst he, still fully dressed, ignored that nakedness.
He now walked across and let his red wine run from his glass down her breasts like a waterfall, over her ribs, filling her navel and dripping down to her groin, past her bikini line, he dropped to his knees and drank.
Her body began to move, he stood, got the bottle, refilled her glass, refilled his own and repeated the move, this time gripping just below both her knees and moving those knees, slowly, further apart whilst he sipped at the wine.
By now, her head was to one side and he completed the cleaning up of the wine with the tongue, she called for him to 'come here', unzipped him and extracted the equipment, leant forward and went to work on something already quite hard.
'Go on, go on,' she breathed and he did, she moved her stiletto heels further apart and the audience from the balcony opposite them across the pathway watched from behind parted curtains.
She was aware of it. ‘Well, we’re saving them the cost of pay-per-view.’
Now they both went inside their room, just as a knock came on the door. Hugh went to put on his robe but she put a hand on his arm, went to the door herself in just her shoes and opened it wide.
The hotel official was superb.
Keeping his eyes trained on hers, he said they’d received ‘a number of’ complaints about their lewd behaviour and trusted that they would keep their enjoyment of the night within the confines of the room. Was the room comfortable? Was there anything untoward? Could room service bring them anything?
‘Si, por favore,’ said Hugh, now in his robe, bringing the menu over, they discussed what to eat and which wine to go with it. ‘Oh, and this same champagne for afters, he indicated. Don’t worry about the bucket – we’ll keep it in the fridge for now.’
Hugh pressed a tip, well over the odds, into the man’s hand, Ksenia stepped forward and kissed his lips with more passion than was necessary. His face broke into a grin and he hurried off to take care of business.
‘Coward,’ she admonished him, as he threw off his robe and took her against the door. Her legs wrapped round him, he carried her over, grabbed one of the cushions and put it on the dresser, turned her and rested her bottom on it, then went to work again.
There was a knock on the door, he threw his robe on and even Ksenia did at the last moment, the two boys brought the eats through and set them down, saw the state of the cushion and could smell love. Hugh tipped and thanked them, they departed and now the quandary was whether to continue the lovemaking or tuck into the food.
There was no real choice.
She kicked off her shoes and stepped onto the bed, sitting with her back to the wall whilst he brought over the napkin and spread it over her lap, then brought all the makings across, poured the wine and they tucked in.
‘Hugh,’ she said between mouthfuls, ‘if this is just a normal holiday, what would we do on a honeymoon?’
He grinned and toasted happiness for her. ‘For both of us,’ she added, as they clinked glasses and knocked back the wine.
The 12ème arrondissement in Paris had an area near rue de Bercy where old warehouses were being renovated or knocked down and a shopping precinct was being constructed.
Naturally, as befits Paris, quite a few of the new stores were café restaurants and the locals were largely delighted by this development. Marc had picked on one to his taste, Chez Faufines, which did a consomme he was quite partial to.
The ambience was still not cosy, the renovation not fully complete and yet it was open for business at reduced prices, another factor in its favour.
The meal done and not wanting to go through the rigamarole again, Hugh put the tray outside the door with a Gracias written on a napkin and when he came back in, she threw him onto the bed and herself on top, spreadeagling her legs over the bedding so he couldn’t move.
Now she held her eyes ten centimetres from his, looked deep inside him and her expression became deadly serious. She stroked his cheek and continued to stare into his eyes until her lips softly met his.
She pulled back and whispered, ‘I have no words. I’m not good at that type of thing. You understand how I feel though, don’t you?’
He nodded. Summoning up his strength, he flipped her over on her back and put in his most powerful work for the night, feeling the progressive abandonment in her body and ending with a denouement neither complained of.
‘Let’s stop there for tonight,’ she suggested. ‘We can’t beat that and I want to just lie in your arms.'
Yulia came through to Ludmilla Valerievna and handed her a communication from Moscow. A routine trawl had brought up the names of Mikhail Grigoriev and Dmitri Shallyapin, both on the manifest of the same flight to Tenerife.
Ludmilla was puzzled. The former was an odd job hitman for Deputatov although impossible to prove, of course and Shallyapin was a professional from the Tomsk region. Both had reputations as fairly nasty boys, the latter connected, some years back, with Frederika Djamato.
There were many Russians, tourists and otherwise, in Gran Canares all year round, so it didn’t necessarily prove anything but still, better to buzz Ksenia and let her be aware.
In Tenerife, lying on the cool white sheet of the king sized bed, Hugh asked Ksenia, ‘You’ve heard of the Mile High Club?’
She looked at him, smiling. ‘Of course.’
‘You also know then, that there are two categories of membership. The lesser category, N2, is for those who join the club when the lights are out and other people are sleeping or else it’s done in the toilet.
But the star category, N1, is for people who join the club in broad daylight, with everyone watching.’
‘Are you a member of either?’
‘Sadly, no but I very nearly joined N2 on the way back to London. She was ready to, so she told me later.’
‘Anyone I know?’
He grinned. ‘Oh, you know her very well.’ Then he went silent.
‘Come on, you bastard. Tell me.’
She went quiet at that name. 'Why are you telling me this?’
‘We fly back in two days and I was just thinking that I never managed it with her.’
She thought that through and the hook had been nicely baited. ‘But how?’
‘It depends what we wear onto the plane.’
She went red.
Ludmilla decided to run the names past Viktor Igorovich to see if that came up with anything.
On Grigoriev, it didn’t; on Shallyapin, it did. He was a contract man, not enormously well paid but he had a good reputation for getting the job done and his speciality was arranging untraceable accidents.
They both pondered that thought and then dropped into small talk about daughters, education and the cost of living.
They took the Megane on its last run in the opposite direction, north-west from Playa de las Americas, past Las Chozas towards Santiago del Teide, enjoying stunning views to the left, down to the ocean.
She was driving and the wind blowing her hair back spelt freedom for them both until they approached Tanaimo, after which it got a bit tricky with the hairpin bends, climbing, climbing and he could see she was losing her enjoyment of the drive.
‘Ksusha, pull over in the next gravel area and I’ll take care of the boring bit so you can get a bit of the view. When we come down off the mountain, I’ll hand the wheel back.’
She pulled in and the crunch of gravel under tyres complemented the freshness of the air.
Some kilometres further on, he pulled over at another gravelled area to allow the dark blue Alfa behind to go past, which it duly did and now came the grind to Santiago, noting that the Alfa had also pulled into a gravel area a bit further on.
At Santiago, they stopped for a coffee and pastries at a little place on the main thoroughfare and the car was glad of a breather after that haul.
She looked radiant to his eyes and that was all that mattered, he took her hand across the table but now she went a little too quiet and he looked at her quizzically.
‘Hugh, did you notice anything unusual on this drive?’
One thing both of them had was the desire to cut straight to the chase every time and that was the spirit in which she’d asked the question.
‘Ludmilla called me when you were downstairs - there are two characters from Moscow, neither who need concern us individually but when taken together, I start to wonder. They’re on Tenerife.’
He cut to the chase again, throwing over his wallet. ‘Check the cards, the visitnis. In the middle is one called Ford Four Car Club.’
She found it. ‘So?’
‘Do you remember when we came back from the Saltersgate, travelling down that hill?’
‘Ah, so you’re telling me you can drive.’
‘Just allaying some fears on your part. Now, are you armed and don’t spin me a tale.’
‘No, this was a private trip; it wasn’t worth it with airline security. I have to improvise.’
‘All right, just so as I know the lie of the land. I can’t afford you telling me lies now if we’re going to run into trouble later. Are you sure you don’t want to change that story?’
‘Hugh, I have no weapon.’
‘Fine, fine. Are you ready to go?’
'Wait.' She searched down her numbers, made a call, speaking in rapid Russian, full of greetings at the beginning and then obviously getting down to business.
She eventually got off her mobile and said, ‘Drive for Buenavista del Norte; we have someone there, an ex officer who’s retired with his wife in a house on the hillside. He still has security measures in place and we only have to get there alive.’
Hugh left a lavish tip and then asked the English proprietor if she knew of a vantage point from where they could look down on the street without going out the front. They thought there could a jealous boyfriend on their tail and it might be an idea to not go out the front door.
She led them through the staff exit, up the stairs and to her office, from where they had a good view up and down the section of road they were on, before it curved round the corners at each end. Ksenia touched his arm and he saw the Alfa as well, a short way back from where they were headed next, parked in a line of cars and presumably with eyes on their Megane.
‘You have a young lad serving downstairs. Could he drive our car round to another approach road to Buenavista del Norte and we’ll stock up a bit on supplies for the journey in the meantime?’
The woman nodded, took Hugh’s keys and went downstairs.
It took five minutes but they saw the passenger in the Alfa alert the driver and both seemed puzzled. They indicated and pulled out, supposedly following the Megane but must have lost it because they came back up the road and then, a few minutes later, back down again.
Minutes later, they went back up again, turned the Alfa and parked once more, waiting.
The proprietor said the car was in their yard at the back. There were no other approach roads. They went down with her to stock up, as promised, paid, thanked her and went out to the car, deciding to leave the top down for 360 vision.
He looked at the map. ‘Nineteen kilometres.’
‘No, not that far. I lied in there, in case we were heard. We’re actually going to Carnizal Bajo, a left turn halfway along. Ludmilla’s friend lives there, overlooking the sea. It’s a good redoubt. And I really don’t have a weapon although I will have when we get there.’
He took her in his arms now and kissed her as if they were parting forever. She was confused. ‘Hugh, it’s not that dramatic, you know.’
‘Yes it is. I don’t want to lose you. Let’s go.’
It was a B road and though they fairly shot out of that yard, nearly colliding with a bread van, the traffic was virtually non-existent once outside the town, they dipped and were into the hairpin bends running across the Alto ridge, forcing him to draw on his rally experience and placing him under duress.
She watched his feet alternately throttle and brake, hands ten to two on the wheel and eyes checking the mirrors the whole way, changing down just as he approached a corner, lightly braking then powering through, juggling the centrifugal force against the loose gravel on the verges and concentrating. Ksenia realized that her life was in his hands and that was not a position she liked to be in. Better to shut up and let him drive; she could look around and see if there was any sign of the Alfa.
There was and they knew where the Megane was, probably most surprised that it was hurtling down that B road at that pace and forcing them to up their game.
‘The problem,’ he shouted across the wind and engine noise, ‘is that we’re driving on the right, which means we overtake on the outside of the mountain. That’s tricky.’ He changed down and took a bend.
Suddenly there was what they hadn’t wanted, a couple of tourists gawking at the view and he was about to overtake them when he decided instead to draw up alongside, the woman of about sixty wound down their window and he rapidly explained that his girl’s jealous boyfriend was on their tail down this road. Ksenia now leant over and pleaded with the couple that if they could momentarily block the road, she would be eternally grateful. There were crocodile tears in Ksusha’s eyes, which Hugh noted for future reference.
‘Leave it with us, honey,’ drawled the woman, a determined look on her face.
‘Thank you, thank you,’ said both Ksenia and Hugh, as they overtook the Seat and took the next bend. Ksusha smiled and playfully punched Hugh’s arm in appreciation, turning to see the progress of the Alfa, which had clearly made ground but was about to lose it again. They heard the blare of a car horn from behind them, which seemed to go on and on – their new friends appeared to be quite slow on the uptake; Hugh chuckled.
Now about a kilometre from the turn off, according to his super-navigator, he suddenly saw what he was looking for. By a fortuitous coincidence of circumstances, a turn left looked to take them in a 270 degree upwards loop into a small flat area but they couldn’t see properly because it was covered by a long expanse of green plastic sheeting, used to provide a wind break presumably, for some sort of crops growing there.
Hugh jammed on the brakes, pulled on the handbrake and wheelied up onto the track, bringing them up to a flat area where they handbrake turned and faced the way they’d just come. They couldn’t see anything but knew the Alfa had just gone past and this was where Ksenia was flabbergasted.
Instead of relaxing and breathing a sigh of relief, Hugh was on edge and seemingly ready to make a move. ‘What are you doing?’ she cried.
He didn’t answer but seemed to be counting down.
Then he put the car into gear and slipped gingerly back down to the main road, cruising well within himself and listening all the while. ‘Listen for the Alfa,’ he asked.
‘Hugh,’ she half whispered, ‘we were safe up there and you’ve squandered the tactical advantage.’
‘No, Ksusha, we weren’t safe. Please do as I ask.’ The note in his voice made her look at him sharply. ‘Did you see their faces back in Santiago del Teide? Did you recognize either of them?’
‘Da, it was Shallyapin. I didn’t want to frighten you.’
Hugh continued to drive within himself and then they saw their friends overtaking someone on the far hillside but the problem was that they were also seen and the Alfa stopped at the next bend and turned to face up the hill.
‘How far’s the turnoff?’
‘Before we reach the Alfa.’
He nodded and kept driving. On the last bend before coming out on the Alfa, he asked her to climb over the back and lie in the footwell. When she made to protest, he was sharp with her about it. ‘One of us has to stay alive.’
The Megane stopping before the last bend, she scrambled over and he prepared, releasing the bonnet hood, jumping out and opening it to its highest position, which still gave him a sliver of a gap to view the road through. Jumping back in, he put the car in gear, came round the bend and headed straight at the Alfa.
Realizing the Megane was on top of them, they made their jump from the Alfa too late, the Megane’s bumper hit the the driver’s door, the Alfa skidded on the gravel, he put his foot flat to the floor and over it went, as he swung the wheel and nursed their car back onto the road, turning on the gravelled area at the next bend.
He got out and closed the hood - it didn't close flush now at the edges but he managed to jam it closed all the same.
She now got up and climbed back over to the front, in shock, he pulled onto the road, just in time to see their friends drive past and they both waved.
'We'll need to file a report with the police. The Alfa skidded on a loose piece of gravel and span round, unfortunately we hit it - there'll be paint on the body - we over-ran your friend's place because we're new to Tenerife, we're terribly stressed about the whole thing.'
'And our friends we cheerfully waved to?'
'We didn't want to upset them and drag them into it. We were heading back up the hill to get to your friend's place as quickly as possible to report it, not knowing local customs.'
She just stared at him until they reached the turn-off.
The communication channels were running hot to Russia and from there to other places, even Paris, as the two of them sat in light wicker armchairs, sipping on tea, having told their tale.
‘A bit ruthless, your friend,’ Arcady Panov smiled to Ksenia.
‘I’m still in shock,’ she admitted. Turning to Hugh, she said, ‘I’d never in a million years have expected you to do that. Putting me in the rear footwell too. To kill them like that. I’m … well, I hadn’t read you that way.’
‘Why not?’ he answered. ‘They were gunning for my girl. Besides, you remember Klyenovaya Gora. If we’d stayed up on that ridge, it wouldn’t have solved anything - they'd have returned - this way, we send a message to the bastards who sent them. Seemed logical to me.’
‘Logical maybe but not what I would have expected.’
‘You’ve said that already, my love.’
‘All right,’ said Arcady, ‘I’ll return the Renault, adjust the difference and Ludmilla can take care of how far I’m out of pocket. We'll deal with the police today but you might have to come back for the enquiry.’
Ksenia nodded spasibo and sipped on her tea. Arcady put out two glasses and a half-full bottle of vodka.
They missed breakfast and very nearly missed the plane but it did take off with them seated just behind the wing and they settled into the flight, reading the magazine, eating the light lunch and then snoozing a little.
They checked out the passengers in the middle row and closest to them was a young woman of about twenty five, Russian, and her boyfriend, a little older. Well, they’d probably understand. The moment came and Hugh climbed over to the window seat. They put the blue green cabin blanket over them and she turned to face the aisle, as if to snooze on the cabin pillow. The mechanics of it were actually quite straightforward, no fuss at all.
It must have been an involuntary gasp or something because the girl opposite, who’d been just a little suspicious before, now tapped her boyfriend and both surreptitiously glanced across, saw Ksenia’s eyes momentarily close and Hugh’s equally feigned look of pain.
The girl looked at her boyfriend appealingly, he turned away in disgust and picked up his in-flight magazine but she stared straight ahead of her, bright red, every so often glancing out of the corner of her eye.
Five minutes later, Ksenia went to the little room, Hugh picked up his in-flight magazine and read an interesting article on African pygmies. When she returned, the girl opposite shot her a knowing look and Ksenia casually asked her, ‘Would you like a turn?’ nodding to Hugh.
‘Ksenia!’ hissed Hugh, as she sat down again and he pushed the button to get two brandies. The girl didn't seem all that keen.
It was time for Anya to fly home and as usual, nothing had been resolved, as the Italian had wished it not to be but it was highly unsatisfactory for her. These times for her were deeply destructive. He knew it but did nothing to solve the problem, just resorted to the hand waving and passionate protestations of love.
Par for the course with an Italian but she was more difficult than most. All gems were. She’d had a screaming fit again this morning and that had been difficult too. The reality was that she was flying in a few hours and there she was now, at the door, with her wheelie case and handbag, hair done in the wavy chemistry she reserved for significant moments.
He took the case and put it in the boot, got in and arranged herself. He checked over the house, locked up and they were away.
The day was fine, the dry stone walled lane was narrow, the green fields beyond were her concept of Italy and she was leaving it all and going back to Shadzhara, via Frankfurt. What was there back there for her? Well, there was Hugh and that caused pain in itself. She really wanted him to get settled and find happiness. That would then make one of them.
At the airport, they said their farewells and she refused to cry.
Ludmilla caught Ksenia at home and invited herself over. Over tea and pirok in the kitchen, she asked, with a smile, ‘How was the trip?’
‘It was wonderful. I never realized how much I needed a holiday.’
‘I've offered before.’
‘I know but there seemed little point then.’
‘Are you going to open up to Aunty or not?’
‘It’s been some time since you said that,’ Ksenia smiled. ‘Well yes, he was excellent but I still feel he's a bit too gentle.’
‘He was gentle with the Alfa Romeo - yes, I see what you mean.’
‘Yes but he did that out of love.’
‘He might humanize you.’
She shot her boss a sharp glance. Then she owned the validity of the comment. ‘Possibly. Doesn't matter anyway because he's mine and I love him.'
'Are you his?'
'More than before. Why did you really want to see me, LudValerievna?’
‘You can’t stay in the field forever, you know.’ Ksenia shot her another look. ‘You have years in you yet but not that many. Don’t forget that I was where you are now.’
Ksenia did not like where this was leading one bit so she changed the topic but Ludmilla’s shot had found its mark.
Chapter 12 here ... Chapter 14 here