Chapter 22 here ... Chapter 24 here
Genevieve looked evenly at Ksenia.
‘Were you carrying any other weapons in the room?’
Ksenia immediately tumbled to it that the poison had not killed the man but that one of her other weapons might have.
She could have claimed immunity but though that would have got her back to Russia in one piece, it would have irreparably damaged relations with the French and possibly even the British. She had to go with the truth.
‘I had my PSS, knife and garrotte. They were with our security and then passed to me.’
‘The garrotte is not a Russian weapon.’
‘It’s useful though.’
‘K, we know you had those and we found no others. The man was killed with a garrotte and found in the chair in the foyer you’ve indicated. The thing which helps you is that he did have that quantity of the drug in him you’ve indicated and one of the brighter hotel staff noticed blood on his chest and groin but it had also seeped into the chair at the front, matching where he was slumped. So he was garrotted where he slept. Plus one important point - CCTV broke down during the killing. You were not in a position to arrange that.’
‘So where does that leave me?’
‘With diplomatic immunity, with an inspector of the surete, Jean-Claude Guiscard, agreeing with me that it certainly looks as if you are innocent of the killing and with an aeroplane awaiting you after your closing speech tomorrow. It was a dangerous game to play … Ksenia.’
‘I’m going to leave you two together for an hour. I’ll be near the end of the road at a café, with my people. You’ll have security outside this apartment and at all strategic points. And they are my security this time.’
She left the apartment.
They looked at each other a few moments and she explained. ‘I was really lonely, cut off, Hugh. I wanted him to fuck me, it’s been so long since someone like him walked in my room, just for the lust. Then I knew I couldn’t do it to you, plus I knew he was wrong all along.’
He tossed up whether to tell her he suspected the real story was that le Febvre had had no intention of bedding her, except to compromise her, that she knew this.
She knew exactly what he was thinking. ‘You think I did it, don’t you? That I couldn’t face the shame of knowing I didn’t drive him wild.’
‘You’d shut yourself off in your room, you were bored and frustrated. He was on a mission and saw his chance. No one else was going near you on this trip for one simple reason – you’re K. You were too high-powered to go near for anyone in that bar. Did you kill him?’
‘I went out there with the garrotte in my bag. I was angry for his reasons, the reasons he’d actually come to me. I turned and went back. CCTV would have me leaving my room and coming back, not actually being at his chair.’
‘So Geneviève must know that.’
‘She knows I didn’t do it. She also knows she could make a case against me if she wished. I compromised K, compromised myself and let Ludmilla down. I’m resigning when we return.’
‘We have twenty minutes before Geneviève returns. I have to have you; I can’t wait any longer.’
Viktor Igorovich had some health issues. Always having given 110% in the gym, he hadn’t taken into account the advancing years and they’d started to catch up.
Also, something had happened in America, he steadfastly refused to discuss it with anyone and Hugh just had to grudgingly accept that the lie of the land had altered.
Viktor turned to his friend Gulya, her hair all over the pillow and said, ‘I rang Hugh again today and he’s not answering. Anya doesn’t know and Ksenia isn’t in town.’
‘Well, there you are. They’ve gone away.’
‘They’ve only just come back from Paris. Anyway, he’d have said something.’
‘Why don't you go over there tomorrow if you have no luck? You also have the key he left you with long ago.’
‘Are you going back to America?’
Back in Shadzhara, Hugh picked Ksenia up at 16:00 on the second Sunday and they headed for the forest again.
It was a magnificent day, minus five only, brilliant sunshine and the dusk they loved in the forest would be upon them in an hour or so. They had it down to a fine art now, rugs, baskets, running down tracks through the forest, laughing, feeling free, Ksenia leaping about like a child and letting all the tension drain away. Hugh wanted it so and that drained off the tension for him as well.
They found their favourite clearing, spread the rugs and in a moment of madness, she threw off her fur coat, naked except for her boots. When he went to take her, she ran around the edge of the clearing but in a turn of speed he leapt for the boots, rugby style, pinned her down and as she scrambled on the snow to get away, he took her, flipped her over and took her again.
She was starting to shiver badly so he slipped over and brought her coat back. It took some minutes for the shivering to stop and then they went over to the makings. He lit the new Weber from Mega, put in the sausages, she opened the salads and within fifteen minutes, they were eating their fill.
When the last sausage had gone down the hatch, she didn’t wait one second but walked over on her knees, shoved him off balance so that he fell on the rug, pulled his thing out and straddled him.
As the light faded and the trees became gloomy at the edge of the clearing, it was almost time to go. They finished the desserts and he suddenly asked her a strange question, out of the blue. ‘Did you ever get into trouble for going to Paris?’
She looked hard at him and spoke quietly. ‘Nyet. You know it was a success … officially, that was.’
‘I know but still.’
‘Hugh, that’s perceptive.’ She giggled. ‘Do you really want to know what happened?’
‘I’m not K.’
‘I’m not K. I gave it up before the conference, I was forced to. How do you think I’m now allowed to the forest with you?’
‘Whoa. Stop. Then who the hell are you?’
‘I’m Ksenia,’ she answered, like a girl.
‘You know what I mean.’
‘You’re going to love this. I’m the English X, the Russian ‘khe’. You know, X. Well, we thought it was good anyway.’
‘And what is she?’
‘She has a roving commission for the service. She’s adjacent to K but not as important for operational matters. It's like being in the field in a way.’
‘You know my next question – is there now a K?’
‘Well, there has to be. It’s Yulia.’
‘The very one.’
‘She’s so young.’
‘Ludmilla Valerievna is helping her for one year. Look, Hugh, it was clear that I wasn’t cut out for it, Yulia’s excellent and willing to learn. She’s more conservative than me and more cautious. LudValievna saw it and agreed it was best. Oh I’m still reporting for duty but I get some juicy jobs again, the difficult ones requiring diplomacy, meeting people.’
‘So that’s why the buoyant mood lately?’
‘Well, that and you. I really do love you, you know.’
‘Ditto. Ksusha, it’s getting cold. Let’s go.’
She sighed and conceded that all good things had to end.
It had taken months for the result of the investigation into the killings at Marc’s home to come through.
There’d been obstruction at every level from two government policing bodies, all the while trying to pin murder on Nicolette. It had been argued that she’d simply got into the car with a weapon and shot two officers but as she’d had no prior whatsoever in such matters and as it was ludicrous that she would have bothered herself with two such men unless they were threatening her, the case against her was not proved.
Dilyara fully believed it had been Geneviève who’d engineered the whole thing, just to get her to agree to go to Paris, which they’d now done and Marc had had no luck in assuring her that Geneviève would never, ever be capable of such a thing.
‘It’s not long now, Marc. I’m not sure I want to have the baby in Paris, I’ve told you that many times. I know you’re being quiet about it because you’d like him to be French but I’m not sure I want that. Why can’t we slip across the border and have the child near our home?’
‘Do we want him to be a Czech? What real connection do we have with the place? Why not American? Canadian? Australian?’
‘My family will want me back home for it. They’re quite traditional that way. You must at least consider that. It is an important matter, nationality, for a child.’
‘I know, I know. Don’t forget my connection with Britain too. We’d better get onto the internet and find the situation about the countries on our list.’
‘Well, let’s do it soon.’
One evening at Ksusha’s, Hugh met the lovely Yulia again. There’d been a scare over a delegation from Iran – one of the delegates had gone missing from a swimming session.
The man had been dropped off at the pool at his insistence, some sort of fitness fanatic and he’d had only his own security detail on hand. They’d stated that he'd gone into the changing rooms but had never come out.
Now this was not really K’s affair – local militsia could handle it and yet, the very fact that it had been a disappearance, well, they’d been reluctant to touch it and word had come from above that K should investigate.
She’d sent people and nothing had come up. She knew it was late but could Ksusha help her, pretty please?
Hugh noted she was dressed more powerfully than the last time he’d seen her but would never cut it as an austere, soviet type bureaucrat. She was too voluptuous and her old manner of carriage had not been lost. In short, she was way too sexy for the role.
Ksenia excused herself from Hugh and took Yulia through to the living room, where they were tucked away for over two hours. When they eventually came through again, Ksenia had a worried look and Yulia nodded to Hugh, dressed and left quickly.
‘Do you think it will be all right?’ he asked.
‘I think I know where he is. Seems a little bit of Iranian politicking here, positioning themselves for the discussions tomorrow. The main thing’s for Yulia to find him before they announce they've recovered him.
‘Do you think she’s good enough for the job?’
She sighed. ‘I want her to be, for obvious reasons. I fear she’s not. She doesn’t seem to have the – the –’
‘The insight? Second sight?’
‘She doesn’t seem to distrust enough.’
Viktor and Gulya flew to Cyprus for a holiday. They stayed at the Holiday Inn in Limassol and went on the excursions.
She wanted to visit the Holy Land, one of the side excursions and so they took the boat across, just as rockets began to rain down on Northern Israel and security was tightened in the Gaza and on the West Bank.
The road up from Jerusalem, after they’d taken in the wailing wall and the Temple Mount made Viktor feel like one of the ancients, except in an airconditioned bus. Gulya pointed out the Jezre’el Valley and Har Megiddon in the distance, to which he joked, ‘The end of the world is nigh.’
They took in Nazareth and Bethlehem but Tel Aviv did not fit the schedule they’d bought.
Before they returned to Cyprus, they did their souvenir buying. They bought for his mother, sister, ex-wife and daughter and she bought for the three closest to her. Now came something for her best friend Tanya and a couple of work colleagues.
That left Hugh, Anya and Ksenia - Viktor wanted to make the gifts inspiring, with a message. For Hugh, they decided on a statuette of Solomon, in the hope he’d make wise decisions. They had a laugh about a statuette of Jezebel for Ksenia but Gulya flatly refused to allow it. They chose a Rachel for her. For Anya, it would be Sarah, in the hope that she’d find a husband and have a family some time.
Marc phoned Hugh from Paris. Dilyara had had a baby girl they’d named Dilyara, weight 3.2 kg, both in rude health.
Congratulations and best wishes poured in from friends and family; Ksenia sent money to Geneviève and asked her to buy the bedding for a bassinet with it.
Well, that was one worry over.
The phone rang at Nicolette’s flat mid-evening.
She was putting a piece of ham croissant in the mouth at the time and only half concentrated on the message. It was Guillaume, asking her to be ready to go to Mademoiselle’s for an urgent meeting on the accords.
Sighing, she finished the croissant, looked into the hall mirror, pulled out and applied a little more pomada, locked up and went downstairs. In the back of the car she put a call through to Geneviève but got no answer.
She tried the mobile.
She tried the secure device.
Nothing. OK, she thought, she’d try Francine.
‘Oui, Nikki? You too? I’ve been trying to catch her for the last hour. So has Nadine. Where are you?’
Nicolette maintained her silence and Francine immediately put two and two together. ‘Tell me, oui or non, are you at home?
‘Are you in a car?’
‘Are you being driven?’
‘Let me see, by Michel?’
‘Oui. I have to see Mademoiselle about the accords. She called Guillaume.’
‘But Nikki, he doesn’t … ah, I see. All right, leave it to me.’
‘Right, I’ll see you tomorrow.’ She shut the mobile off and rested her back against the backrest, gazing out of the window.
They arrived in good time and immediately she got out, Guillaume sped off. Nikki turned towards the apartment block but instead of going in, she ran towards a blue Volvo and jumped into the passenger seat through the held-open door.
The Volvo tore off down the road and cornered at a terrific rate, only slowing down once they’d hit rue de Bercy. Nicolette stared straight ahead but asked Francine, ‘Alors. What happened?’
‘You broke procedures, Nikki.’
‘I know, I know. But we don’t expect –’
‘We never do.’
‘She was sent on an emergency call to save you at Marc’s apartment. Apparently you’d fallen and broken your leg. Guillaume made the call. She’s down at Fontainebleau now.’
‘We’re going there now?’
‘Oui. The boys will take care of Guillaume and Mademoiselle's apartement.’
Nicolette looked across at Francine – tall,with pretensions to being a fashion model, a bit highly strung and inclined to be a bit too serious for comfort. She’d been Nikki’s partner for a while now and Nikki had had no complaints. There was no better friend than Francine.
The drive south of Paris in the late evening was pleasant, just the gradually diminishing traffic after Orly and sections of open road. There was silence in the car but the two women found comfort in each other’s company and the passing scene either side of the road.
Rain began to fall, just a little drizzle and the wipers were on slow.
Nikki spoke. ‘Can’t believe I fell for that, Francine. Must be getting old.’
Francine guffawed. She loved Nikki, her dramatic gestures. ‘I might have done that too. Interesting that Mademoiselle didn’t phone you.’
‘There’s bound to be a reason, let’s wait for Fontainebleau.’
About forty minutes later, Francine pulled into the carport and the automatic grille closed behind her. They went inside and there was Geneviève, who hugged Nicolette to her. ‘That was the second kidnap attempt.’
‘Is that what it was?’
‘Oui. I couldn’t phone you after Guillaume called because he didn’t hang up and I was on the road with the mobile. The secure line had been shut down.’
‘They're a bit amateurish, don't you think? Prague and now here. Why not a sniper?’
'Too public perhaps. I think you were meant to be 'disappeared'. Completely. The interesting thing to me is that the people who fund us obviously don't mind what we do, as long as I expose the right people. Where do you think the information on the corrupt comes from? So this is someone else on our case. Someone is getting nervous about the accords but they weren't that important, they were a bit of theatre in order to have a meeting of three sides. Someone though thinks the accords were important because there were some clauses in there affecting them. It's one I'm thinking about.'
'Yes but how does killing us change them?'
'New conference with their people, change to the accords. Neither Carly nor Ksenia would do that - it was the connection with the three of us which got those accords signed. It's stirred things up.'
Ksenia and Hugh drove back in high spirits from another late Sunday afternoon forest session and high spirits tended to make her do outrageous things. It had been a fine day, not particularly warm and they’d made the most of it.
She heaved the baskets into the kitchen, onto the bench, still chuckling, he put his gear in the living room.
‘I’m going to change,’ she called out. ‘Can you put the water on for the soup?’
After about seven or eight minutes, she still hadn’t returned so he called out to her, over the bubbling water. Obviously, she hadn’t heard him. Sighing, he switched off the gas and strolled down to her bedroom, saw her crumpled on the floor, convulsing, dry retching and then saw why.
He had to use all his strength to lift her to the living room, where she collapsed to the floor again. He went straight to the drawer, took the Makarov, put in a magazine and proceeded to check every cupboard, every crevice in the place. He went into that room again, pulled the bedclothes back and saw the whole gruesome tale. The head of one of her childhood dolls had been placed at a comical angle on her pillow but the naked, headless body in the bed was for real. Hugh knew instantly who it was, from the bust and hands.
Retching himself, he went back to the kitchen, ordered a taxi then returned to Ksenia, holding her tightly; she was lifeless, not even rigid but lifeless. Her head lolled to one side, letting out a low moan which knew no ending. She then managed to pull herself together enough to ask if it was a taxi he’d ordered.
‘Cancel it. Bring me my pager.’ She ordered one of her own people. Then she collapsed again, Hugh keeping the rag doll head and upper body near vertical.
It seemed an eternity but when the bell came in the pre-arranged sequence, she stumbled out of the flat, handing him the keys and he locked it behind him. The driver was trained for these situations and asked who was going to tell him where to go.
Hugh gave him his address.
It took them the usual twenty minutes to get there and they parked some distance away, Hugh took his key from the ring and gave it to him, they waited.
The driver returned. Yes, as they'd suspected. In his bed it was. The driver pulled out.
On the road, he maddeningly kept exactly to the speed limit and observed the highway code, as per standing orders, they were only barely into the countryside when Ksenia slowly got a grip.
She took in the situation, knew the route implicitly, knew what was happening and accepted it. The driver had made quite a few calls on his secure device and now pulled off into a road leading to a field, his headlamps showing the narrow, bumpy way between two wire fences.
There was a light aircraft waiting in the distance, the lights were on and the moment they pulled up, Hugh and Ksenia got out, minus even a kitbag and stumbled across to the plane. The pilot acknowledged them, checked the IDs, nodded and they climbed in to the back, Ksenia first.
Hugh didn’t even want to think of the takeoff without landing lights so all he could do was trust the seat of the pants flying ability of the pilot.
The man made a good take-off and soon they were airborne, the two engines making a hell of a racket and the wind buffeting the sides, causing the plane to rock slightly from side to side. Hugh shut everything out and held Ksenia close, she did the same.
They landed at what had to have been one of the old, soviet style, green summer camps but this one had a landing strip and was lit. The instant they landed, the lights all went out and the pilot taxied by feel.
At a large building which seemed to be the hangar, the doors opened and the plane went inside, finally pulling up, the pilot shutting down the engines. Someone opened the door and first Hugh, then Ksenia, alighted. They headed towards the only room with a light and were surprised once they went in.
It was not what you’d call plush but it was certainly homelier than a hangar and contained a double bed, bed linen, a walk in toilet bathroom complekt, a galley area with fridge and cooker and a couple of armchairs, all fairly modern and new. Someone with taste had obviously done the décor.
Now, for the first time, away from it all, they knew the unwinding would start and in that was the danger.
The pilot and one other indicated that their quarters were down the hallway. Hugh and Ksenia were incommunicado, either coded or uncoded.
'I take it what was at your flat, Hugh, was the missing part.'
Early June, 2003
When it was deemed safe, they flew back and it was clear that this type of thing, the wanton killing, had to end. The only hope to stay the hand of the hidden power was to go totally public and have something not in the diplomatic accord line but some sort of international security conference with the press in attendance.
‘We have to get this summit in by the dead season,’ said Ksenia on the conference line. ‘Nothing happens in July and August here.’
In Paris, Geneviève concurred. ‘We would like it near the end of June.’
Carly agreed, as did the Czech, German and Spanish heads of sections. One thing they were all agreed upon was that their standing orders more or less required them to stay in position in their own HQs so the solution was to train and appoint a duplicate M, K or whatever to take over, should conferences like this need to take place.
‘I’m sorry to bring it up,’ said Carly, ‘but you lost K because she was lured out of the citadel. Also, there was no active line between the two of you. I believe a similar thing happened with the deputizing Mademoiselle. I’m not criticizing you - I’ve done it too in the past.’
Ksenia conceded the point. ‘We really must have one visible, mobile, secure, official head of section to speak for the section and an operational head immediately below this person, in situ, both replaceable by someone else.’
'As you do, Ksenia,' said Carly.
'I'm sorry. But you have a replacement, I hear.'
‘It seems to me,’ put in the Czech, ‘that it’s fine all of us agreeing amongst ourselves but this does not include those who actually perpetrated the outrages.’
Geneviève agreed but added, 'This being so very public will help. The public will then know what can and can't be done by security services. Of course, anything done later by those people will be suppressed the way it always has been and we've achieved nothing but it gives us leverage within the service to bring those others to book. If we have the weight of our own law supporting these measures - and the politicians will like this because it's a vote winner, so I think they'll put it through our assemblies - we always then have the power to bring down the people doing this. At least our successors will. It's better than nothing.'
‘All right,’ concluded Ksenia, ‘we need to arrange our own diplomatic immunity with our governments before we fly and use our national carriers to fly in. Where's this conference to be?’
They took a vote. Carly, Ksenia and Geneviève opted for Paris as a known secure environment with strong policing and Geneviève's own people at the airport. The German wanted Munich, the Czech wanted Prague and it came down to the Spaniard who wanted Madrid but conceded Paris. So Paris it was, then.
‘Open or closed,’ asked Marie?
Everyone went for open of course, as Geneviève had pointed out.
‘By the way, Ksenia,’ said Marie, from her end of the line, ‘I believe congratulations are in order. When is it due?’
‘Next February. Spasibo.’
Late June, 2003
The arrangements were that all delegates were to be billeted at secure houses, with Ministers poised back home with pens for signature.
Naturally, the delegates were enthusiastic because of the chance to observe the inside of their rival’s operations, if not for the ambience and thus they found themselves once again in Paris.
Ksenia settled into Geneviève’s apartment, a vastly better arrangement than last time and Hugh, not a delegate but a ‘special adviser’, as he kept telling people who asked, went to Marc and Dilyara.
They needed to fit 73 participants, support staff, translators and security people into one large room or hall, it needed to be in the 12eme arrondissement, a small, no frills hotel was required for the Americans and other non-participant observers not billeted out and this would supply the justification for using their conference room and business facilities.
The logical choice was le Mercure on rue de Bercy.
There’d be no press in the initial stages. This was no summit where delegates would give pretty speeches - almost from the start it would be workshops and internet access, along with closed circuit exchange of data. There’d be a lot of fraud poised to happen, theft of data and the like.
Strictly speaking, the organizer was the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire but Geneviève’s spin-off group were the real organizers.
There were some very amateurish touches, for example, Geneviève’s favourite sandwich shop, Livraison [Lina’s], was within range, Café Brasserie Pont Gamma also. The idea was to live like the locals, eschewing big chain pseudo Paris and actually doing as the Parisiens did. The shops were over the moon and agreed to deliver.
By the morning of the opening Monday, all was in place and the plenary at the Mercure was underway.
Participants immediately reported great satisfaction with the billeting and the mood was buoyant. Geneviève gave her little speech and then they got down to business with the dozen closed circuit banks around the sides of the room.
Coffee and hot water were constantly at hand.
So it went during the first day, lunch was taken in the Mercure, they resumed and around 18:00 decided to call it a day and break to return to their billets. Hugh had had a nice chat with Marc about this and that and with Kishimoto Hitomi about Kamakura art and the Kei school.
Ksenia had found herself with the American Jason Kennedy learning about his Irish roots and extended family, Geneviève was negotiating the attentions of Steve Edwards from the British side. It was threatening to turn into a cultural exchange programme rather than a security exchange.
Midway through the day, the name of the conference was finally hit on - they were going to call it the RDE3 - real data exchange . Seemed as good as any other.
Twelve cars took them all for a tour of the city in the evening, billets acting as tourguides and a bit of shopping was possible before, each billet to entertain her own guest as well as she could. In some cases, this ended up being French TV.
Sarah-Louise Retton was holed up in her billet with a girl called Emma. Louise was not section but the American overflow meant she was hosting Steve Edwards, a hulk who’d probably be more at home with a Bud than a cognac.
The first night passed and Louise, to her delight, finally got hers – the conference had already justified its existence.
The next day saw them putting in a fair bit of work in the morning, then a late lunch, followed by a trip to Versailles. They bypassed the queues on their passes and spent the best part of an hour wandering over le Galerie des Glaces, the bedchambers and so on.
Geneviève took Hugh and Ksenia to the Queen’s Bedchamber, Geneviève showed her credentials, the woman on the door phoned the front desk, another woman appeared and he wondered what the hell was going on.
They went across to the Schwerdfeger Cabinet, moved it to one side and then he saw more clearly the partition in the wall.
‘But it has to be sealed off.’
‘No, it’s usable today but is never used – there’s junk stored behind.’
Later, he met Marc outside and the question came up of filling in half a day while Ksenia and Geneviève went on theirs. He preferred to wander about le hameau than go for a long drive but Marc had the grand tour in mind.
‘Mais le Chateaux, Hugo. I want to show you the area around Paris you might not have seen.’
‘Ah, that’s different. Let’s go.’
He laughed. ‘I don’t know what you'd be interested in. Perhaps we could try Le Bourget Air and Space Museum first, at the old airport. Perhaps, if security and Mademoiselle permit, we could drive down to le Chateau de Saussay, although the road is not very good.’
'Lead on, MacDuff.'
'Pardon? Oh yes - I remember.'
They put in a nice afternoon and all met up later for a decent meal.
On the last day, they got down to the Iraq War, detention centres, bin Laden and the like and predictably, the American contingent were not all that keen to participate.
They countered with David Kelly and the Hutton Enquiry, which the Brits wanted to know the relevance of, the Americans countered with the July Convention on the Future of Europe, which the French wanted to know the relevance of.
The Americans then walked out for an hour, only to return later on the advice of home, in order to ask about Anna Lindh’s death and whether it could have been prevented. The Chinese wanted to know about the Chechen suicide bombers and Basayev and so it went on. Finally they got back on track and broke for lunch at 14:00.
‘Rough morning, Geneviève,’ commented Ksenia, to which the other looked to the ceiling.
The press came in for the final afternoon, the accords had been printed and distributed and the questions began.
‘Neil Douglas, AP. There’s a great deal of high-sounding concorde in these releases but I’d like to know how they’re any more binding than the type of thing at other conferences, for example, Doha?’
Geneviève took the floor. ‘These accords sprang from the security people on the ground, these are hands-on solutions to real problems in real time, not just something to hand to the press. We intend to work to these and the greater the publicity by you people, the more you can hold us to them. Surely that’s a desirable outcome?’
A flurry of questions followed that, answered with great sincerity by the various heads and it was clear to the press that something significant had gone down these few days. RDE3 was going to fuel press speculation for some time to come.
The conference concluded and most of the delegates had departed but the French, Russian and British remained to evaluate the result.
‘We need,’ said Carly, ‘to have these on a regular basis and to have the press involved. Perhaps we need to rotate the conference, not unlike the EU presidency and make it a regular thing.’
‘I don’t know about you,' said Ksenia, 'but we’re getting concerted pressure from above, pressure to contract or disband internal corruption investigations. The simplest way is for them to redirect funding or plead poor, all very above board. If we don't find an answer, we’ll be shut down by 2005. Three times a year sounds good.’
‘We’re experiencing the same thing. You know I was hinting about London for the next one. We have the facilities - could we put it to the 'security community'?’
Everyone seemed happy with that, they wound up and Ksenia went looking for Hugh, finding him speaking to one of the British crew.
They had the longest drive down to Francine’s Lodge.
It was close to 22:00 when they finally pulled into the narrow driveway and Jean was on the verandah to greet them, a tall, spare chap whom Hugh immediately liked.
Francine explained that The Lodge had been given over to her by her parents when they’d disappeared to Noumea and she basically administered it for them. As they’d had no intention, even if they returned, of occupying this Lodge again, it was virtually Francine’s.
They’d extended the gardener’s old quarters to roughly the size of the main building and Hugh now joined the grand tour. Basically, there were two rectangles, the main one parallel to the road and the gardener’s part separated from the forest by low fence and gate. The two buildings were about two metres apart after the extensions, the walls looking in to each other were glassed, with drapes over that.
Both parts had almost the same configuration of rooms, except that the main living room was more formal and the better furniture was in there. The gardener’s was accessible through a door in each house roughly halfway along the rectangle and once inside, to the left, was a smallish room which had wall heating coming from the main house. Therefore it was warm in winter.
Then there was the bathroom/toilet on the far wall and the rest of the space to the right comprised two divan beds and at the far right was the fireplace. The carport, of course, abutted the fireplace end of the main building, to the right, looking from the street.
Trees overhung both buildings and there was a garden of sorts. Picturesque did not adequately describe it. The way it flowed into the forest beyond, with its boulders, rocky outcrops and moderately sparse forest made it all very, very special.
Hugh and Ksusha were to stay in the smaller room and Marc, Dilyara and Dilyara would occupy the rest of the space. Geneviève would occupy the divan in the main room.
They prepared for bed and the moment heads hit the pillow, Ksenia asked, ‘Do I cry much in my sleep?’
‘Often. You call your Papa and Zhenya.’
‘How can you stand it?’ He didn’t answer. ‘Not for my Mama then?’
‘Not so much because she found rest.’
‘Do I cry for anyone else?’
‘For me. Especially lately.'
‘I think it’s healthy, a release.’
They put the light out. 'Are you pleased with the conference?'
'It's achieved short-term results. I know the people in Moscow though and they don't like anyone doing anything above their station. They could make things difficult or even replace us, replace me. It was a lovely idea and internationally it was a success. Within Russia though - I'm not so sure.
Philippe came home next day and for once seemed interested in Geneviève’s affairs.
‘So, how was the grand conference? I caught some of it on television.’
‘It bought us some time, that’s all. The people who are trying to warn us off will have to stop the culling for now but they can cut our funding all the same.’
‘Have you thought they may have a reason for ensuring you continue?’
‘One lot, yes, the others want us dead.’
‘You’re a danger, a menace. How many of us are blameless, Genie? How many can afford to have all our private affairs brought to light? Clearly I’m not condoning corruption but sometimes a little of it doesn’t hurt and even oils the wheels of state.’
‘I can’t believe I’m hearing this.’
‘Genie, you’ve always been the white crusader. That’s fabulous stuff, it really is but what do you achieve overall? You blackmail a few corrupt politicians and others take their place.’
‘That’s so cynical, Philippe.’
‘Anyway, is that the last grand conference for now?’
‘For now. We’re going to do them thrice yearly, in different countries, make it into a worldwide press event.’
Philippe groaned. ‘Why? Why bother?’
‘Because if we show the public that this particular section or that one is necessary, we can keep it running and keep the funding flowing. Where there is a shortfall, the public might even contribute.’
He laughed. ‘I hardly think so, Genie. Mr. Public is not likely to part with his Euro for something he never sees and could be turned on him.’
‘He will if he thinks his own welfare depends on his being secure.’
Philippe had tired of the debate and now it was time for something else.
Marc and Dilyara had pretty well agreed on their future plans the day before they were due to go back to Prague.
'We can afford it?' she asked.
'Mademoiselle knows she's losing me officially but I can still do the work from there, flying to Paris every so often. Vastly reduced salary but it's enough when put together with the online business.'
'How much?' He told her. 'That's more than enough, I don't have huge demands. Let's buy the flat while we can.'
'And our children grow up Czech?'
'From my point of view, why not? If it's not my homeland, it doesn't much matter. It does to you but you already have your French baby.'
'We can have our second in Shadzhara.'
'Thank you. We need to learn the language here better, maybe you can do work for them, we put back into the local economy, make ourselves valuable over here.'
'Just what I was going to suggest. You could work part-time.'
Chapter 22 here ... Chapter 24 here