Tuesday, May 5, 2009

1-20: Forest



Chapter 19 here ... Chapter 21 here

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I

Viktor phoned Hugh the following Tuesday.  ‘Got time to come over?’

.o0o.

Over the inevitable coffee, he confessed he’d been looking further into Ksenia’s background.

‘And your thoughts on that?’

‘Will you accept them?’

‘You know me.  If it’s the truth, I won’t like it initially but in the end I’d prefer the truth.’

‘All right, Man, I’ve seen nothing to alter my view that she’s dangerous. She’s definitely intrigued by you, even flattered and it probably isn’t something she’s been used to but, in the end, the raving maniac must come out and if you’re around at the time, you’re probably for it.’

Hugh pondered while Viktor went on.

‘You’re emotionally digging yourself in deeper and deeper with this woman and how are you going to extract yourself, once you yourself decide she’s a homicidal maniac? You don’t extract yourself from such females - Fatal Attraction and all that.’

‘Yes, I know.’

‘I know there’s something quite binding between the two of you and in the end it’s your business, but for me, there are grave warning signs.’

‘Yes, yes there are. Thanks for the consideration. It’s food for thought. Thanks again.’

.o0o.

On the way home he reflected on it.

Truth was – he wasn’t actually averse to departing the world, as he'd said to Anya although he’d never tell his friend that. If she was crazy enough to do it, well - it was a definite motif with him too. He’d had the experiences he’d wanted, there wasn’t a lot else he still had to do - so why not?

As for Ksenia, she was close to the edge and his job was to keep her this side of it.

II

February, 2002

Louise was entertaining Geneviève in her new apartment in the 12ème arrondissement – she’d done herself proud. Vaulted ceilings and bay windows created the illusion of space and fluffy rugs took the chill from the polished wood floorboards.

‘I can’t come to Shadzhara for the semester, Louise.’

‘But you promised,’ she cried, collapsing onto the Ottoman.

‘I certainly said yes and meant it at that moment but you know very well of my new appointment and then there’s Philippe. He can’t propose while I'm in another country.’

‘Really, Genie - is that the only reason you don’t wish to be away from him?’

Geneviève narrowed her eyes. ‘Oui, Louise, I couldn't go a semester without his touch and I don’t wish to be touched by any other. Philippe is my focus and you know it. But that’s not what you meant, is it?   You meant that Philippe will stray.’

Louise offered no comment.

Geneviève continued. ‘There’s some truth in that. He’s a catch and other women would like to get their hooks into him. I’ve seen things happen between couples where simple proximity would have prevented this from happening. I don’t wish for him to do this.’

‘I see.’ She curled up, pouting.

‘I'm sorry, Louise but I do promise I’ll go to Paques and bring you anything you need over there when I visit.’

Louise said not a word.

III

Anya was sitting in Viktor Igorovich’s living room, sipping coffee. She wanted to know what was really going down with Hugh and Ksusha. They were in agreement - Hugh was not out of the woods with her.

Viktor showed her a summary he’d written. He couldn’t show the original file.

‘What’s this?’ she asked.

‘Read it.’

Her eyes nearly popped out of her head. ‘But how could you let him near her, if you knew this about her?’

‘How could I stop him?  In my experience, men can sometimes get quite stubborn if they suspect you’re trying to undermine their relationship, and with Hugh, it might take him the other way - he might become more attracted than ever. He’s  obstinate.’

‘Obstinate’s the word. So it was her all along?’

‘No, I don’t think she was the one who was causing Hugh problems - quite the opposite, in fact. I've actually changed my mind on that, given all the documentation I've seen.  I think she’d got it into her head that she was his protector and that augured well for him.’

‘So, is he safe with her?’

‘No.’

‘I don’t think so either.’

‘The forest visits.  She keeps returning to the forest, doesn’t she?  Look at the file.’

‘What should we do?’

‘What can we do?’

Anya was pensive, her face set.

IV

Sarah Retton took a swig from her sportsbottle mix - water and glucose - and hit the thigh machine again - six - seven - eight - could she make nine?

Not quite.

She wiped her brow along with various other parts and walked across to the tri pulldown. Last for the day and she was almost ready for Russia.

In the shower, she could see the body was ready but was the mind? Carly had been working on that, on her resilience, on her fatal trust in people she read as friendly and therefore harmless. Her qualms in jettisoning bad leads if she liked them - she reflected she’d become less nice but more invulnerable.

Morally - well she was fairly well without any great complexes, men swarmed like flies in the constant game of the vulnerable damsel. Didn’t they understand that a young woman who dressed in see through tops and low hipsters was not likely to be all that vulnerable? No, they didn’t see that - ever.

The arrogant smile on the man who found himself alone with her, the relaxing of his guard and the trotting out of the lines - welcome to my parlour.

V

When Ksenia walked into the Fitness Centre to find him, he was training. The girls at the desk immediately gave her, with bemused eyes, dispensation to go through to find him - he was over by the leg machine.

Now this represented her first 'coming-out' since the 'accident' and what a way she'd chosen to do it - coming straight into the Palace of the Beautiful.  That wasn't its name but it may as well have been.

She'd done it with verve and now here she was.  He saw her out of the corner of his eye, delighted by three things: Firstly – that she'd come out. Secondly – that she had come there just for him.

Thirdly, he just happened to be on his strongest exercise, triceps and today he was shifting just short of his body weight in the close grip bench press. She trained too so she knew what was on. ‘You don't have to do this for me, you know.’

‘This one’s on the programme.’

After it was done and he’d done his smaller wind up exercises like wrists, he showered and took her next door to the cafe without asking. ‘I have to eat immediately. Have to get protein in, within forty minutes, OK?’

She knew the score with anaerobics.

‘OK,’ he concluded. ‘You’ve done what I wanted. Now I need to go to Naf Naf. There are some good shirts on sale and I need a blue one. Will you come?’

She smiled. ‘I don’t want you doing this.’

‘What, buying myself a shirt?’

‘Who are you kidding? No, buying me something.’  His face fell.  She continued. ‘All right, we’ll have a look and then go further into the forest this time, right?’

There were some jeans which caught her eye but she tried to disguise it. They were bluish, moving into grey and with maroon blended in - sounded garish and awful but they were actually lovely.

Would she try them?

She smiled.

Of course they fitted like a glove and he was as happy as a lark when she agreed to wear them out of the shop.

They stopped off at a produkti and bought some makings and headed out of Shadzhara the other way this time, towards Borovoya Matyushina. All the way down, heater blasting, he was hatching his plan. The cord was long enough - two metres.

Parking halfway up a track, he stopped the car in a sort of lay-by and got the space blanket out of the boot. Yep, it stretched all right. He plugged it in and spread the blanket on the snow. She was intrigued. Not only that but he had a second blanket in the boot - the big synthetic coverall from his bed.

She got the idea immediately and began to slip out of her new jeans. 

VI

Ludmilla Petrova stood by her favourite window overlooking the Shadzharka River, mobile clasped to her ear. She was getting regular reports on Sharova, Jensen, Shaidullin, Seymour, Kurbova and a host of others.

This mission for Ksenia wasn’t all that important but she’d had to upgrade it not to arouse Ksusha’s suspicions that charity was being meted out. One thing state security did was look after its most trusted and Ksenia fell into this category. Whatever else she’d done on the side, she’d never acted against state interests.

Trouble was, her usefulness as a field agent had now all but dissipated, the Alexander Suvorov affair having made her a mini-celebrity and this disfigurement really being the final blow.

That’s why Mr. Jensen was useful at this point - to maintain her self esteem but what would happen when she fell back to her old ways and discovered she was now trapped with him?

That was why the monitored call to Ksenia from Shaidullin was both puzzling and worrying.  There’d been multiple calls from him and a final call soon after she’d learned the destination of her job.

She and Ksenia needed to talk.

VII

Geneviève Lavaquerie stood on the balcony of her apartment in the 12ème arrondissement, down a tree lined and yet narrow street abutting a park, with a black wrought iron fence in varying state of repair.

Though spring was almost here, she was a worried woman.

She wouldn't have traded this place for the world, except perhaps for a cottage near Fontainebleau but that was too much to hope for. Her work was here in Paris.  She’d persuaded Philippe to move in with her and that was a first step, he leasing his own first apartment out but retaining the other in the 19ème arrondissement.

The cause of the worry was behind her, inside the elegant drawing room, on the coffee table and it was a handkerchief. Philippe’s handkerchief.  And coming off Philippe's handkerchief was a faint but unmistakable scent of Jean Patou Joy.

She went over and moved her nose up close to it yet again.

In the circle Philippe moved, it could have been any one of those women, any one. It could have been his secretary Sophie-Fleury, a femme fatale if ever there was one. But she suspected not.

Imagination is a dangerous thing when combined with suspicion but there was only one woman in her own circle whom she knew used Joy - it was a most expensive perfume of jasmine - and that was Louise. Not only that but Louise was an academic with pretensions and Geneviève had met Philippe through her.

Logical, she supposed, that her tall, handsome Philippe should meet Louise from time to time but there was nothing in Louise to attract Philippe.

VIII

March, 2002

They went out to the forest again, the snow turning to slush now and it all becoming a bit impractical until maybe May, when the ground dried out and the trees were covered in leaves.

It was an auspicious day too because Ksenia had a mission.  ‘Nizhny Novgorod, Moscow, St Petersburg.’

Hugh was immediately on guard and she saw it.  ‘Yes, I’ll be meeting up with Timur and Vitaly.  I don’t know how to say this to you but I don’t plan to sleep with them.  I do plan to test the new disfigured Ksenia on them.  I have to do this.  It’s for me.’

IX

Late-March, 2002

Things come to light in the most surprising ways.

Anya had a girlfriend who’d gone to work in Nizhny Novgorod, still with the same airline and they often communicated. Alla had used their secure net to ask Anya about the procedure on a Polish customer and the details had come up on Anya’s screen.

She advised Alla on that but also noticed the name Shaidullin on the manifest and further connections from Moscow to Shadzhara. Common enough name, she supposed but still, it might be him.

She thought for a minute, then called Ludmilla Petrova to ask if Shaidullin was being tracked and another thing - was he still married and living with his family?

‘Da to the first and nyet to the second. He moved out two weeks ago and doesn’t seem to have taken up with anyone else.  Now my question to you, Anya: Have you seen the news about the Alexandrova child? The little girl’s been kidnapped but a tip off to the militsia said a woman who fits the description of Ksenia took her.  I’ll call you back if I hear anything.’

Not twenty minutes later, Ludmilla phoned Hugh. Her superior in Moscow wanted her to fly tomorrow to discuss certain irregularities in her accounts, the Alexandrova child had been kidnapped, possibly by Ksenia and she now warned Hugh to be careful because something seemed to be happening on a number of fronts.

Hugh wanted to contact Ksenia but they’d agreed never to call when she was on a job. He called Anya, who said she’d try and then reported that the number was switched off.

Two minutes later, there was a call to Anya and it was Ksenia. What did Anya want?

Anya spoke of the Alexandrova child, of Ksenia’s name being used, of Shaidullin’s flight path and of Ludmilla’s own trouble. Ksenia swore at the other end and asked if Hugh was at home.

She replied that she’d called him earlier there and Ksenia now switched off.

Twenty seconds later, there was a call to Hugh’s landline from Ksenia, warning him to get out of the flat and to go to either her friend Yulia’s place or to Anya’s. She’d possibly phone at any hour of the night or day, depending on developments. There appeared to be things happening. She also said it might be an idea not to go in to work tomorrow.

Anya called to suggest Hugh phone Viktor, to put the scenario to him.

In a cold voice, Viktor asked if the e-mails to Daniella had been necessary.

‘What e-mails? No, I know nothing of any e-mails. All right, forward them to me.’

The call ended abruptly. Hugh scratched his head and reflected that whatever was going down, it was much too much, all at once.

After ten minutes he switched on the computer and checked the e-mails. There, in his inbox, were forwarded copies of mails which only he could have sent, with his header data, written in his style of banter and very, very critical of Viktor and what he was up to in Shadzhara with women.

He called Anya and asked her to drive over to his place.  Yes, it was urgent.  She was there in twenty minutes.

He showed her the emails, she read one of them through and asked, ‘Why did you do it?’

‘Well, they’re faked, of course, aren’t they?’

‘They look quite real to me.’

‘They look quite real to me too but they’re not. I recognize the style and there are definitely expressions I use but I never sent one of these. One minute – I think I can access this.’

He fiddled around in his Bat files for sometime and finally came up with an e-mail he’d sent two months ago, containing two of the key insults which he had supposedly sent to Daniella.

They were in an e-mail to Viktor himself over there, at Daniella’s address, yes, and it was banter between the two of them about the women over there in general. Someone had extracted these and when put together with other extracts to create a new e-mail, sent to Viktor’s woman at the same address, it had the desired effect.

Very clever.

‘Anya, to prove this, I’ll stay back from the computer and you go into my ‘send’ folder now. Check if I’ve sent any e-mails to that address in the last week. She did so and dammit, there were three. She opened them one by one and they were identical to the ones Viktor had forwarded. This looked bad.

‘Let me see those,’ he said.

‘Don’t touch them, Hugh. You’re going to trash them.’

‘That’s the last thing I’m going to do. I want them preserved. Give me two minutes and watch me like a hawk, that’s all I ask.’

He scoured the top e-mail and then he found it in the header. ‘Vot!’ he almost shouted.

‘What?’

‘Come over here, my love, and look at this,’ he said, stepping back from the computer. ‘Look carefully at the date of creation - there is none. Now look at any regular header. Check any e-mail you like.’ She didn’t need to be invited twice. ‘Look at the date of creation on the regular mails, Anya.’

She did and said, ‘Well, I never.’

Hugh slowly released his breath. ‘Do you understand what’s been done?’

She nodded.

‘Now you have to contact Viktor please, on your mobile,’ asked Hugh, ‘he won’t take my call and please explain it to him. Meanwhile, I’ll send him copies of these original e-mails to jog his memory.’

She got on the phone, he set to work also and within fifteen minutes there was a most apologetic call from Viktor to his line. ‘But what it means, Man,’ said Hugh, ‘is that someone has hacked me. I’ll contact Daniella and set it straight from this end but you, I think, might have some problems.’

After they’d hung up, he asked Anya how she read it. ‘Someone is trying to get at you and they’ve gone through Ksenia and through your best friend.’

He told her about Ludmilla.

‘There you are, you see.  It’s almost too obvious.’

X

April, 2002

The Alexandrova child was recovered unharmed, Ksenia had been exonerated but Ludmilla Petrova, on the other hand, really did have troubles.

As the trumped up charges against the others fell away one by one, a double effect was created – it gave added protection to the victims, and it damned Shaidullin himself.

Unfortunately, the charge against Ludmilla Petrova stuck.

This was in great part due to elements in the service having long sought her blood and now, having her head presented on a platter, they weren’t about to sew it back on. The woman now found herself friendless and in grave need of support.

Ksenia had ditched her mission and returned to Shadzhara.   She, Anya and Hugh met at Viktor’s pad and thrashed it all out. It was a golden opportunity to repay some of the loyal support and even if it failed, Viktor couldn’t see how anything but good could come of it.

‘Leave it with me for 24 hours,’ he urged, ‘and we’ll put together a defence. I'm calling in the artillery.’

Ksenia herself had forces to summon and a pretty formidable team gathered to fly to Moscow to confront the Commission set down to hear her case on Friday the 8th.

.o0o.

They blew the commission away, all except for the most stubborn member who showed himself so completely after her blood that they did a behind the scenes hatchet job on him over the weekend – much money changed hands, deals were cut and by Monday morning, the man himself was up on bribery and corruption charges.

It took two more sittings, one closed, for the case against Ludmilla Petrova to appear unviable and in the face of such a passionate defence, it finally broke down.

Everyone in that room knew it had been a beat up from the very first. The woman herself had tears in her eyes and secretly vowed to place the names of each and every one of those who had come to her rescue in a special dossier so she’d never forget them, come their hour of need.

The team flew back, dispersed and it was a pretty happy bunch who crawled into their respective beds that Thursday night.

XI

June, 2002

Ksenia was called away more and more to various cities but her scarred visage was severely hampering her ability to draw in the targeted males and time and again she’d drop into the sultry voice of a honey – a surefire winner in better days but now it was taking on a slightly ludicrous note - Ludmilla Valerievna was quite worried about the woman’s psychological stability in the face of this humiliation.

.o0o.

The two of them met in Cheboksari at a run down eatery and covered a lot of ground before the inevitable topic of Ksenia’s operational future arose. ‘Ksusha, I’m thinking of stepping down from Chief of Section. This latest business has shaken me up – it needs a younger woman with field experience and a razor sharp intellect.’

‘I prefer the field work.’

‘That’s the intellect I’m referring to - you just jumped three steps.’

‘I prefer the field work.’

‘Ksusha, I want you to think more clearly – look at your recent results and don’t put it down completely to your scars. Time to move up, time to take the position that’s long been awaiting you – did you think I ever had anyone else in mind?’

‘I’m still good – there are always ups and downs in our business.’

‘Ksusha, Ksusha. You have to grow, develop, move onwards and upwards, otherwise you’ll stagnate. There’s a fresh crop of young agents requiring your firm, quick, guiding hand and the security of this part of the country requires someone of your stature in charge. Won’t you give back to the youth what you were given in your own youth?’

Ksenia sat fuming, biting her lip but Ludmilla Valerievna was in no doubt that she could read the writing on the wall - this level of politeness usually indicated an offer she couldn’t refuse and Petrova was not in the habit of wasting even one unnecessary word.

Ksenia knew that full well.

Ludmilla Valerievna continued, ‘We’ll need to put in seven or eight hours a week on procedural aspects and communications, starting next week. The whole process should take five to six months.’

‘When are you considering retiring?’

‘When you’re trained.’

‘I see.’

‘Now to Hugh Jensen.’

‘Da?’

‘State your intentions.’

‘I wasn’t aware that private relationships came under the brief of the section.’

‘For field operatives they don’t, beyond the usual procedural checks. But this is a section head we’re discussing here and that’s a different ball game.’

‘I see.’

‘Well?’

‘I don’t know. We’re obviously together but I don’t want it under these circumstances.’

‘Difficult, isn’t it?’

‘Insufferable.’

‘He seems to me to have the elasticity to handle you. He’s been in unusual relationships and thrives on them.’

Ksenia was becoming more and more irritable – even agitated – and Ludmilla Valerievna considered that enough groundwork had been laid for one session. She steered the conversation to the morrow’s doings.

XII

Carly had put Sarah through a gruelling psychological routine and pronounced her ready.

‘You’ll be stopping off at Prague to start with and meeting up with Marc Lacour.  Your assignment will be given to you there.  It involves going to Russia and basically, the whole thing is just fact finding plus one other task.

We want you to become a player on the board.  There’s a French Russian connection now and we want to know what level they’re cooperating at. So it’s not a life or death mission initially but it’s still vital to our service.  You’ll be going with one of our other recruits, Terry Parker and you’ll compare notes along the way.  Any questions so far?’

‘Not really.’

XIII

Ksenia looked at Hugh across her kitchen table and wanted him to see reality.  He was living in this sort of dream world with her and ignoring the way she was falling apart at the seams.

She’d been watching him through narrowed eyes and now said, ‘Have you ever really seen a snarling mad-woman with physical strength?’

‘Have you ever killed anyone that way?’

‘What do you know about that?’ she hissed.

‘Know?  I know nothing beyond your dossier but I’d sure like to know. I think you killed someone close to you.’

She sprang up, face all uncontrolled fury. ‘Tell me now what you know.’

‘I told you,’ he said quietly, ‘I know nothing but I can guess that anything you did, you did it to protect someone or to avenge her. You’re a protective girl, not malicious.   Frederika was plain malicious though she might not have been gunning for me at the end. But what you did dislocated your brain, Ksusha, my love. It’s not a problem for me because my brain is already dislocated and one day I’ll tell you why.’

It wasn’t his words, it was the manner that dowsed the fire. She fell into a chair and buried her face. ‘All right, you’ve had a little taste of it,’ she sobbed. ‘Now get the hell out of my flat and leave me alone.’

‘No. I’m yours and that’s that.’

‘What the fuck do you want with me, Jensen? Leave me alone. Can’t you see I can’t do this?’ He wrapped his arms around her, she fought to shake him off and her eyes were red raw. ‘If you remain,’ she sobbed, ‘I’ll kill you. I’m terrified to lose you now.’

‘Don’t you think I might want to go out this way?’

‘But why? Why?’

‘What else do I have to look forward to in life? The woman I love is here.’

She looked at him, shaking her head. ‘I can’t handle you. I can’t make you do things - I can’t drive you away.’

‘I've said it before and I'm saying it again now - you only have to tell me you want me to walk out of that flat door right now, out of your life completely and I’ll go.’

She burst into tears. ‘This is what I didn’t want you to see. This was why I kept you away. I didn’t want you to have these memories of me.’

‘Sooner or later, you'd have to have told me.  We both have pasts and I know you think yours is worse than mine.  I know much of it - don't you think I read every word?   But I'm for real here - I want to spend whatever time we have left together with you.’

'Why don't you say 'forever' with me?'

'Because we both know that anything could happen.  I take things day by day and my intention is to remain with you while I still can.  I've already said that.  Now, may I kiss you or not?'

XIV

Sarah Retton shook Marc’s hand and was invited inside.

The apartment was quite chic, well actually sumptuous, with high, vaulted ceilings, in a good part of town as far as she could see and she now met the lovely Dilyara, newly pregnant and obviously enjoying the love nest.

Sarah took a seat on the divan and was asked if she’d eaten.  She had.  Did she want coffee?  Yes please.  It was brought.  With Dilyara in one seat opposite and Marc in the other, she opened her bag and handed the documents to him.

He skimmed through them and was satisfied.  Naturally, he’d verify that with Geneviève later.  ‘So you’re here for field experience, Sarah?

‘Yes.’

‘The British obviously feel a bit left out of things in Europe these days,’ he joked and noted that she was not amused.  First black mark – certainly not easy-going.  ‘You’re obviously very fit by that bulk you’re carrying – do you train?’

Her eyes narrowed and he had the distinct impression she was about to attack.  Second black mark – easily provoked.  It had not been a good start.

Her recent training now kicked in, she got herself under control and was even cordial in her reply, to which Marc said, ‘Sarah, I’ve given you two tests so far and you failed.’

Her shoulders slumped.

His voice was kind. ‘You were sent here because I was not likely to use your weaknesses against you but in a real situation, every crack, every crevice will be exploited.  I’m sure Carly told you this.’

‘Yes, of course.’

‘You must be tired and might want to get organized upstairs.  Dilyara will show you where everything is.’

They went upstairs.

XV

Ksenia visited Viktor Igorovich and came straight out with it. ‘Why do you continue to investigate me?’

Viktor didn’t bat an eyelid; didn’t attempt to deny it. He went to his desk, drew out a bulging folder and laid it down beside her. Moving aside the thick coffee, she untied the string and glanced inside, catching her breath as she did so. She flicked through a few pages, then her attention was rivetted on one particular page.

‘Never knew he’d put that in, did you, Ksenia?’

‘That was a frame-up. The man lied to cover his own back.’

‘Look at page 23.’ She did and the sharp intake of breath and the narrowed eyes told him what he’d wanted to know.

‘Does Hugh know any of this? Have you shown him this?’

‘No.’

‘Why not?’

‘He’s besotted by you – he’d never accept it from me.’

‘He’s a good man.’

‘Do you love him?’

‘You know I do.’

‘And the first time he crosses you?’

‘He’s crossed me already, many times.’

‘No, really crosses you – gets angry and shouts, says things about you to your face.’

‘He has done but I know what's behind it, I know he does it for effect, to calm me down.’ She knew he’d hit the mark and he knew she knew. ‘I wanted all that behind me. I would have told him. He’d understand.’

‘He might but I also think he’d be a worried man from then on, glancing over his shoulder from time to time, whereas now he’s full-on with you. What’s in the file is pretty gruesome, Ksenia.’

‘There were reasons.’

‘I’m not judging you. I’m trying to keep Hugh alive.’

‘Now it’s my turn,’ she said. ‘You have no authority to possess that file and I’d like to know who signed for its release.’

Instead of arguing or refusing her request, he went straight to his phone table drawer and pulled out a stamped document. In the lower left was a name she instantly recognized. She nodded once or twice then asked how much longer he would hold it for.

‘I must return it next Monday.’

She thanked him for the lovely coffee and departed soon after. Viktor picked up the phone and called the number on another slip of paper on the phone table.

.o0o.

'And that's what was on page 23,' she said, lying on her back on one side of the bed.  'I'm telling you in your flat because I know you won't walk out on me.  So I have to do the walking.'

She could see it had really hit him hard, that this woman who touched him with those hands - that those hands had done what she'd just described, that her mind had allowed her to.  This wasn't lashing out - it was premeditated, not unlike Frederika.  The only difference was that it was revenge, every time.  Long-term revenge but revenge nonetheless. 

She continued.  'When a person has no one to limit her, when no one even tries to set rules for her, she is truly wild but a wild human is worse than wild animal because he - she - can devise cruel ways.  The animal just kills.

Also, a person does grow up, move on, find herself in new company and if she's young, that can change her.  All of that was before the security section -'

'But they knew of it and chose you despite it.'

'Because of it.  It's not a nice line of work, ours.  The reason I never got higher, Hugh - well, not yet anyway - was because I had scruples.  I wouldn't do certain things.

If you look at that file, it starts badly and gets better, with time.  It's never gone backwards.'

She waited for all that to sink in and went on. 'Viktor spoke of the forest motif, the way I lured victims to the forest and he sees parallels with you and me, that I keep taking you back there, deeper and deeper into the forest. 

Time to explain my madness to you.

There's a reason but I don't know it.  Is it back to the womb somehow?  I don't know but I know the deeper we go into that forest, the closer I get to you.  Twice it's been asked that if I decided to end it for myself, would I take you with me.  I thought of it as the fitting end - we get to the middle of the forest, the only way now is out of it and so I take you with me.

It crossed my mind but then I saw you'd given me a new life, a new way and I thought you might do that with someone else - after me and it was cobaka na senye.  I did think of you getting this close to the next woman.  I couldn't allow that, for selfish reasons, couldn't let you give all that to the next woman. 

So would I take you with me?  If I tell you I would never do that now, ever, would you accept that?  Would you believe me?'

'Yes.  Are you saying that to me?'

'Yes.'

'What haven't you said?'

'You've every right to ask. I see people are determined that every bad thing in my past comes to you ... and none of the good.  Yet I think you see the good in me, you know it's there.  That good was also in that file but nobody is interested in it.'

'I saw.  On the last file I mean.'

'I'm very frightened that I might have lost you now - deep in your soul. In case you don't realize it, I'm pleading with you now.'

She stopped talking.  He'd taken on board all she'd said and it had hit him more than any of the other material had.  He had to concede her logic though- it had been a steady coming out of those dark early days, far younger, less controlled.  He also knew some people retained that forever.

Her hands, they were the thing.  She'd been violent with them.  Could he take that, take loving from her with those hands?  This was a woman though in very dire need.  And she loved him.

'OK, that's knocked me backwards but I also see your logic, the way it's gone from those days onwards.  If I said to you that it was all fine, I'd be lying and you'd know it.  It will take me days to get used to it.  But the reason I don't run is not just love, it's because I've also been violent.'

'You?'

'Yes, me.  Early days again.  Say if you want to hear this.  OK.  There was a kid and we were fighting, playfighting - all the boys did that, to establish the pecking order, to try out our strength, that sort of thing.  This is the first time I've told anyone about it since that day, ever.

What we'd generally do was try to get the other one down on the ground, sitting on top and ask, 'You give in?'  Often he wouldn't and would throw you off and that's how we operated in play times.  But there were rules.  If someone said yes, then that was an end of it.

I'm a person who gets very angry if someone doesn't play fair, if someone betrays me.  If they betray me, something not nice happens to them some time later.  At least it used to.  Maybe I've got more religious, I don't know but these days I see someone is doing it and sigh.  In those days, it sent me over the edge, I simply would not take someone breaking the rules of the game.  Shall I go on?'

'What do you think?'

'This day, he got the advantage over me and was on top.  He asked the question. I said I gave up.  But he must have been annoyed with me beating him many times that he didn't stop - he started slapping my face and that's not nice at any time.  I told him stop and he didn't see it building up in me.'

'And?'

'We were near a tree, with roots sticking out of the ground.  I threw him over, climbed over him, grabbed his head and started smashing it against the tree root.  I might have killed him but a few boys dragged me off.  You know when you've gone beserk - you have the strength of three or four.'

She was taken aback. 'Does Anya know?'

'No one but you knows.  Why do you think I never fight anyone?  Physically, I mean?  My view is that if I ever do get into a physical fight - not for fun with my woman, I mean - then I would have to finish it.  Even if he beat me up, his car would explode or one day he'd have a piece of wood across his skull.  If I start it, it never ends.  I never physically fight for that reason.'

'Did you physically fight Anya?'

'Of course, she loved it, it turned her on perhaps, I don't know.  She also didn't play by the rules but I'm going to say something sexist now - she was my woman.  I couldn't have hurt her.  It's trained into me, my parents drummed that into me.  With you, I don't know.  I feel your physical strength in our lovemaking.'

'And I feel yours.  It's surprising for your -'

'Physique?'

'Yes.  But as you say, that doesn't matter all that much.  When a person goes over the edge, straight strength isn't everything.  I'm glad you told me.  I think you do understand.  That's why it can never, ever be that way with you and me.  So how do you release it?'

'Storm out of the house, walk hard a long way, go and drink, kick trees and walls on the way home.'

'Hugh?  I never realized how important it was to talk.  There are no more incidents than what you know.  Viktor would have found them.  I might still need to talk out other things which happened - my father and I, my mother and him, my mother and I.  Would you do that?  Just listen to them?'

'You know I shall.'

'Hugh, this is going to sound strange but if I ... don't go on ... if something happens.  Look at you, no - I don't mean they will or I have anything in mind.  I don't mean that.  I just mean if something ever did happen - I want you to go on.'

'I think I know what you mean.  You're telling me I'm safe with you.'

'Yes.' She kissed him with all she had and when she kissed you, you stayed kissed.

XVI

The best part of the morning was spent on the computer, Marc showing Sarah a few of the tricks he’d picked up but it was clear her heart was not in this sort of thing.

He was coming to the conclusion that she saw intelligence work as spy v spy and femme fatales.  The grind, the hardworking side of it had obviously not sunk in.

He kept her at it for a little longer and then they had lunch.

In the afternoon, he took their Golf and showed her over the town while she saw this as her first opportunity to try the femme fatale.  Marc wondered why the Brits had sent this one and then he tumbled to it.  Her game might well have been the forlorn damsel who was ‘not a very good spy’ but everyone was sympathetic and helped her out in her hour of need.  No doubt there were some who might fall for that bombshell magnetism but Marc wasn’t one of them.

He rephrased the question to himself – not why they had sent her but why to him?

In her own eyes, this had clearly not been a good start.  Perhaps she should have shown more interest in the computer, perhaps she shouldn’t have been so bored the whole time.  It all seemed a bit stupid to her, the trip, the mission, the testing.

What she really wanted right now was a Southern Comfort and coke, eight of them, a large video screen and the parry and repartee of the gang. Gawd, what was she doing here with this prat?


She smiled weakly at him and he decided that he could stand no more than another day with her.  He’d book the flight himself and Geneviève could sort out the fine details.


Chapter 19 here ... Chapter 21 here

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