Tuesday, May 5, 2009

1-5: The Legendary Saltersgate



Chapter 4 here ... Chapter 6 here
HOME

I

Marc alighted at Shadzhara after an uneventful train journey and there was Dilyara on the main concourse with a friend, she dressed in white T shirt and jeans, the other in an airline uniform; they kissed in the Gallic manner, then she introduced the girl as Anya.

Marc said the right things, some dark-haired, swarthy man in his mid-thirties came through and started talking to Anya, they took their leave, Dilyara and he went out to the Sputnik.

Marc looked across and decided to try a long shot. ‘This Anya – she’s not Hugh’s girl, is she?’

‘Of course. Are you interested?’

‘Nice girl, not my type.’

‘That was the correct thing to say, Marc.’ He was well aware of that.

The rest of the journey back to her flat was uneventful and she’d prepared a nice late breakfast. Out of the blue, he commented, ‘That wasn’t Hugh with her.’

Dilyara thought for a moment before replying, ‘No.’

‘I see.’

‘It might not be as you think.’

‘You're serious?’

She shrugged.

They ate the blinii pancakes with honey and had half an apple each, after which she asked how he felt. Did he want to go to the city, did he want to be shown more sights? Did he -’

He kissed her.

II

In the morning, Hugh woke first, got off the chaisse-longue where he'd returned, took a shower, dressed, then went downstairs. Ksenia pretended to be asleep until he’d gone.

At reception he asked to make an international call and they sent him to the booth. He tried Anya at home, twice, then at her mother’s but there was no answer; he thought it best not to try the grandmother; he tried the airline instead and was told she wasn’t working that day so he tried Lisa’s number.

No, she hadn’t heard and would Hugh give her some number she could try if all else failed?  He did, saying he’d phone again in the evening, put the phone down and stared at the wall of the cabinet.

He left the booth, thanked the night manager and asked if coffee might be forthcoming. The manager said breakfast was up in half an hour and would he take the coffee in the lounge?

Ksusha appeared at that point, dressed but sleepy, so he ordered a second coffee and they went through to the lounge where it was brought to them with some toast and jam. She sensed his mood and got straight down to it. ‘You phoned Anya?’ There was no mal-intent in the voice.

‘I’m in the process of marrying Anya, as you know.’

‘In the process of?  In the process of!’

‘We plan to marry but haven’t set the date.’ Ksenia raised her eyebrows, as he went on. ‘We didn’t part well and she didn’t want to be left behind. This thing with you would kill off what I came to Russia for.’

‘Have you finished?’

‘Da.’

‘I have no designs on you, Hugh and I don’t mean that in a cruel way. You’re interesting and I like your manner. Whatever you’re offering on this trip, I’m not going to refuse and you’ve been a surprise so far, a pleasant surprise. So, what’s the programme today?’

‘If you don’t mind, I’m going to try a different number.’ He asked the manager and went to the booth, leaving her sipping on her now cold coffee.

III

After they’d managed to disentangle, shower and dress, Dilyara took Marc to the university and the national library, thence down the road to Giuseppe again, just as a party of Russian women also went in.

They were gracious enough to allow the couple to order first - pizza with salami and a salad plus some of that champagne which made Marc wince. They sat over at a side table and waited for the order to be filled. They watched the women placing their orders too.

There was a call on his mobile ‘Oui? Hugh?’ Dilyara’s ears pricked up. She gave him a questioning look and he nodded. Dilyara was now concerned.

‘Oui, my friend. Actually, I saw her yesterday. Yes, I was with Dilyara and Anya was there. Seemed … well, all right. Non, her health looks fine.'  His discomfort was palpable.  'Look, I’ll hand the phone to Dilyara. Yes, she’s here.’

Dilyara’s throat was dry as she took the phone. ‘Yes Hugh, lovely to hear you too. You can’t?  Well, she might have been out a bit lately. No, I know she doesn’t usually. She might have been with Liya.

Well, put it this way – there’s nothing for her to worry about. She’s all right, in good health, she’s working.  Hugh, it's not my place, all right?  Now I’m going to hand the phone back - lovely to hear your voice.’

Marc spoke. ‘Oui, Hugh? Yes, I’m going to save you some time. Do you have Anya’s work mobile? Dilyara will phone her,’ Dilyara’s eyes narrowed as he wrote it on a napkin, ‘so be ready for a call, OK?  Right, mon ami, bye for now.’

The champagne and pizzas arrived.

...

Hugh came back to the chair with another coffee pot and he looked white. Ksenia waited for him to speak and when he didn't, she said, ‘Something’s happened with Anya, hasn’t it?’

He answered, ‘I got my friend who’ll call her, she’ll call here.  This is pretty ungracious towards you, I'm sorry.’

When breakfast was eventually served, it was Ye Olde English. The storm had abated and the sun was out but a pall hung over the two of them while Ksenia tucked into the dishes and Hugh picked at his tomatoes.

'How could she just do that?'

Ksenia put her knife and fork down.  ‘Time for a lecture. She might be punishing you but I don't read it that way.  She might be more attracted to him, there might have been issues with the two of you - how can I know?  What I do know is that whatever has happened – and I’ll be honest here, I think it might have happened - it has to be allowed to run its course.’

‘I hear what you say. She mentioned you, by the way.'

‘Oh really?’

 ‘She told my friend you were dangerous.  She knows of you.’

‘And you said?’

‘That if I saw you again, I’d bear that in mind.’

‘I’m going to ask you a very direct question.’  She looked straight into his eyes. ‘Because of your feelings for Anya and this wedding you keep referring to, are you going to take two separate rooms now or are you going to look after me? Breaking the two of you up was never part of my mission.  Decide, Hugh.’

He stared at the floor.  About a minute later, he said, ‘I’m going to look after you.’

‘Good. So what are we doing today?  Do you have a plan?’

‘Oh yes, there’s a plan all right.’

‘I’ll leave that in your hands but I need to go upstairs first.  And Hugh?’  She leaned over and kissed his cheek.  ‘Thank you.’

.o0o.

Perry’s tea rooms were by the River Esk – they’d be a winner, with their surprise ducks clustering around her feet; then across the moor was Grosmont and the art gallery; lunch might be either at Goathland or they could take the steam train to Pickering, if the restaurant train was working.

That would be super-cool but he’d never actually done the journey himself.

The primary function - survival against a supposed hidden enemy - well, quite frankly, he’d lost interest in all that. Time for danger later, but first a little jaunt on the wooden walkway along the cliff top to Boggle Hole. They might even walk further along the old disused railway line, around to Ravenscar Hotel for a spot of afternoon tea. He told her to put on her strongest footwear and not to forget the jacket.

‘I don’t have a jacket.’

She didn’t, but that’s what he’d arranged with the landlord the previous evening. Some girl had left hers there on a recent visit but if Mr. Jensen would bring it back by nightfall? No problem. He’d also borrowed a brolly because the weather had looked predictably unpredictable.

They went down to Bay again first and she reminded him about the fish ’n chips. They bought haddock, chips and mushy peas with curry. ‘We can eat them on the way.’

‘How?’

‘Out of the packet – a bit like you do with syemyechki seeds, only hot.  Actually, they’re very hot so don’t open the packet for, say, seven minutes or so.’

They climbed the rickety stairs up to the wooden walkway to Boggle Hole, a deep ravine where stream meets sea, clutching the layers of newspaper surrounding the haddock and fries and the steam coming out of the hole in the top of the parcels was warm on the face, the aroma inviting.

The panorama hit her right between the eyes. ‘You used to live on this coast and you left all this behind?’

‘I lived further north.’

‘Why did you leave?’

‘There were a few reasons.’

IV

For a change next day, Dilya took Marc to Chai, near Astronomichoskaya and ordered blinii with tvorak and raisins. He saw Anya over in a far corner and was about to go over and make himself known when Dilyara rested her hand on his forearm and he looked at her.

‘Keep your eyes on me - you saw nothing, Marc.’

As he didn’t know what he wasn’t supposed to have seen, he involuntarily glanced across and Anya was alone so he couldn't work out what Dilya was on about. Then he saw it. The dark-haired man from the airport was bringing their orders to their table and the picture was clear. What was worse, she rested a hand on his forearm, he leant over and kissed her.

‘Ah,’ concluded Marc.

Anya herself now spotted them, knew who Marc was in relation to Dilyara, put down her napkin and came over.  ‘Will you tell him, Marc?’

Dilyara asked about the call to Hugh she’d said she’d make.

‘Yes, of course.’

‘Do it, Anya.’

She pulled out the new mobile and called the given number.

‘Victoria Hotel, may I help you.’

At a loss, Anya blurted out if she could speak to Mr. Jensen.

‘They went out for the day, madam. Shall I give them a message when they come in?’

‘No, no. That won’t be necessary, no need to mention it. Thank you.’

V

At Boggle Hole, Hugh and Ksenia could see where the rocks spilt out into the ocean and from there, giant faults, like saw teeth, streaked across in virtually parallel lines in the direction of Norway; at least that’s what you could see at low tide.

She noticed the monument to the men of Whitby and wanted to know about it.

‘Any ship silly enough to venture into this Bay, seeking shelter from the storm, would find itself a watery grave. The Men of Whitby carried a lifeboat overland through an impossible blizzard to rescue passengers from a stricken ship. It's the most famous local tale.’

They found the old railway line which led to Ravenscar and walked side by side, munching the last of the chips and curry sauce.

She was quiet as they stepped over the remnants of old railway sleepers embedded in the earth and suddenly offered, ‘We’ll get separate rooms, Hugh. I don’t want it this way. Let’s just enjoy the time together, all right?  I don’t want you doing something with me because you think Anya’s gone.’

‘No we won’t, we’ll stay together as we agreed.  I’d already decided that when you put on the XB shirt.  I came north with you, my job is to look after you.’

‘Job?’

‘Pleasure.’ He promptly switched topics. ‘This afternoon, on top of a mountain ridge, you’ll see something you’ve probably not seen before.’

‘True?’

‘Chyesni slov.’

‘OK,’ she agreed and they headed back to the Victoria.

.o0o.

Back in their room, he asked her to agree to something. ‘Ksusha, we’re having lunch somewhere else.  Promise you won’t eat while I go and get the car.’

‘What car?’

‘Thirty minutes, OK?’

‘Promise.’

VI

‘Da, Zhenya, loud and clear. Who? Ksusha?  Who’s she in danger from?’

Ludmilla Petrova set down her coffee cup, glanced in the mirror as she went past and lay on her four poster pine bed.

She listened for some moments, then summarized: ‘So, her plan was originally to use Mr. Jensen as a courier with no danger at our end of the flight. However, due to certain operatives working for western companies as their liaison, Mr. Jensen seemed a curious sort of character who is now an irritant to them. Irritants get swatted. Right so far?

Da, I know you wouldn’t. Correct me if I’m wrong but there’s something I still don’t see here. Why would anyone decide to hit Ksusha over this? Ah, I see. So, in other words, we were right to get that cassette into the country and this Seymour does not seem at all the sort of person we wish to have over here, money or no money.

Da, I know that’s not how Moscow sees it and there’s our dilemma. One of my own senior officers is on a list for neutralization by a foreigner and I’m meant to desist? It seems to me that we need to at least get Ksenia out fast and onto our own turf again; that would be a start. I’ve made contact with my opposite number and apprised him of most of it but they obviously have their own surveillance going on in that direction and don’t wish to intervene.

Pardon? Da, we could, if the British allowed us into their airspace but I suspect they’re also marginally interested in our Mr. Jensen and his real connection with the whole thing. Also in your modus operandi – how you protect Ksusha. They seem to want the thing to pan out in its own way. That doesn’t suit us though we shouldn’t show too great an official interest. I suspect it’s also to do with Mr. Jensen’s connection with Section 37 in Paris. Our service thrives on intrigue, even when there is none, as you know.

It’s these open mobile calls between everyone that are complicating the thing, some sort of love triangle –

What? Well, however it is, Zhenya - I’m sure you know that side of it more intimately. All right, what do you need and how many? No, we’ll fly them over; I don’t want any who are already emplaced. This thing seems very much to me a storm in a teacup and one more thing -’

She got up, went over to her cup and took a sip, then came back. ‘I don’t buy that this Seymour has any particular beef with our security. He might be an unpleasant man but it seems more likely that someone else is pushing him to act and that someone is at our end.

I have an idea who but not even over a scrambled line like this. All right, we have to go through with it and trust no one gets hurt. We can’t afford a direct link with Ksusha because we don’t know how clever our Mr. Jensen is, how far ahead he can think. That’s as maybe, Zhenya but that’s your opinion and we can’t take the chance.

Right, contact me tomorrow at hourly intervals from 09:00 onwards unless something special happens. Do you have any way through to Ksusha?  Zhenya, stop swearing please.’ She smiled.  ‘All right, that’s about it for now. Poka.’

VII

Dilya looked at Marc across the table at Chai and thought she’d like to find a solution with him, an accommodation, an understanding. She was prepared to accept that he’d be away, that she’d be a semi-widow in Paris but she also knew she could make friends quickly herself and languages had always been her speciality.

The thing was to convince him without making him feel she was a millstone. Part of that was going to be to show him that her religion was not going to interfere in any way and the second was to make him understand what was on tap if he wanted it. There was one way the Shadzharnis felt they had it over the Russians and that was in the area of service to their men. She was sure of that.

.o0o.

They took a car back, the flat was empty, things simply happened.

.o0o.

Later, they talked.

‘Dilya?’ ‘Marc?’ both at the same time.

‘You go first,’ he laughed.

She looked up at the ceiling. ‘You’re French.’

‘Not completely. I was born a Brit but lived most of my life in France. Yes, that surprises you, ma petite. But yes, I’ll own up to ‘French’.’

'Well, you Frenchmen are meant to be … womanizers.’

He turned, ran a finger along her side from breast to knee and spoke quietly. ‘I can save you the time. I’ve been burnt. The woman asks about trust and honesty and loyalty but it seems to be all one way – that’s how it seems to me. That’s why I don’t want to say ‘forever and ever’ until it is really possible. We have to accept the fundamentals.’

‘You think I’m not true?’

‘It’s not about you.  It’s my wariness.’

‘I can’t just live with you, Marc. I can get away with sleeping with you but to live with you is different – the community, the family.’

‘Moi aussi. I am from a Catholic family.  I tell you now I’m more serious about you than about anyone before.’

‘So the issue is how we can do this, living in two different cities.’

‘If we can solve that, we’ve solved our major problem.’

‘Make love to me again.’

VIII

Hugh hired an Escort from Peter Hall on the outskirts of the village and off they set, through the sleepy villages of the Esk Valley and onto the moors road, taking them to ‘The Legendary Saltersgate’.

He waited for the inevitable – why legendary – and had to admit he’d forgotten most of it but they’d ask the landlord. The road led onto a long, high ridge between two valleys and then, there was the pub in front of them in the distance, commanding spectacular views across the valley.

‘This is a postcard,’ she whispered and he smiled.

Once inside the place, the publican came from around the bar, huge hand extended, a meeting of long lost brothers. Hugh immediately ordered XB.

‘Nope,’ said the publican.

‘No?’

‘XB’s rubbish today. Try the Camerons.’

‘Camerons? Yuk!’

‘Try the Camerons today.’

A pint and a half of Camerons was brought to their table, not too near the fire, together with a bowl of nuts they hadn’t even ordered. Hugh was grinning from ear to ear and she was studying him. ‘You ordered XB Hugh. How can he tell you no?’

‘The man’s an expert. If he says it's Camerons today, then Camerons it is. He has the cleanest pipes in Britain.’

‘Cleanest what?’

‘Pipes, trubichki, you know - where the beer passes along. Right - stay here and let me get the menus.’ A conversation ensued with the publican, both grinning, then Hugh came back. ‘The Yorkshire Pud’s good today.’

‘What’s that?’

‘Tyesta, batter, in the shape of a bowl and into it is poured meat and onions and other things. You like kharcho at home?’

‘Of course.’

‘Then maybe you’d like this. And one more thing – while we’re waiting for our food, the publican’s going to take us … downstairs,’ he concluded, mysteriously, ‘and he doesn’t do it for everyone.’

‘I’m not even going to ask.’

Richard eventually came over and asked if they were ready but Hugh asked first about the legend which, to be fair, was written up on a sign but he just thought it would sound better from the man himself.

Richard felt the same and explained, ‘The legend is that there were some smugglers hiding out here at the pub, back in the mists of time, an exciseman got too close, he was bumped off and the body was buried beneath the fireplace. They had to keep a fire eternally burning so that no one would ever look underneath. So it has been ever since and even in the middle of summer that fire's still going - as you can see.’

‘You guys make the most of your history, don’t you?’

‘Yes,’ he smiled in reply. ‘When it’s interesting, why not?’

What followed was a tour down to the basement, replete with wooden and metal barrels and he proceeded to explain to Ksenia the intricacies of storing, tapping, the cleaning of the pipes and so on, until he’d led them back up and behind the bar. ‘And that’s where it ends – at the tap,’ the publican concluded.

‘And notice he doesn’t use metal valves, he uses the draw pumps,’ added Hugh.

She was more impressed with the level of passion these two were showing for their subject than with the finer details themselves but somehow she was sure she’d been privy to something pretty special that not everyone had seen - plus she was the centre of attention and the two men were falling over backwards for her - a most satisfactory arrangement all round.

Eventually they took their leave and crunched across the gravel to the car. The air was heavy with the unmistakable aroma of the countryside and always that breathtakingly sheer drop into the valley either side of the hotel.

IX

Marc took the opportunity to send a memo by secure messager to Genevieve, who sent an encrypted file back on his next moves. He’d have to depart the next day, early.

In addition, she’d received further data on Ksenia and now passed that on too, of sufficient gravity to warrant a phone call, so he rang the number Hugh had called from, got the manager and left a message to be passed on to Hugh, ‘Be careful, mon ami.’

The manager frowned at that and began to wonder what sort of guests he had on his hands. Knowing they were out, the manager wrote the message, thought about adding Anya’s but felt he had no right, gave the paper to the girl and asked her to put it on the side table in their room.

X

The Escort was a cabriolet and as they pulled onto the main road, the car gradually picked up speed down the hill, the breeze had her hair streaming behind and she briefly felt at one with the world.

He was driving faster now and the bottom of the hill was coming up and there was a sharp bend and he wasn’t slowing down.

She glanced across anxiously as the car suddenly dropped speed, then accelerated through the bend, bottoming out and tearing up to the next crest.  She looked over and smiled.

Next stop was Whitby itself, home of Cook and Dracula and the Abbey where they’d had a little meeting around 664 AD to decide the dating of Easter. They walked up the 5,894 steps or whatever to the Abbey ruins, out onto the cliff top and through the graveyard, the headstones worn away and indecipherable.

‘Ksusha, how old is Moscow?’

‘Coming up to 850 years.’

‘And Shadzhara?’

‘About 990 years, I think, from my lessons.’

‘Touch that stone there.’ She did. ‘That stone’s 1400 years old. The Abbey is older. I can never come to terms with standing here. It just seems to me - a bit unreal.’

Suddenly he stopped. He’d been facing the steps behind and a head had appeared above the steps, a head he knew well. She spun round, just as the head took in the scene and beat a retreat.

‘You saw him?’ he asked.

‘Yes.’

‘That was Zhenya?’

‘That was Zhenya.’

‘Are we in danger?’

She didn't immediately answer, then her reply was measured. ‘I think I can say no, quite the opposite; he's looking out for me - that's our way - but I really didn’t know he was this close.  There's no issue with him being here, Hugh but I'd like to know why - he keeps his distance unless there's something he senses.’  He scrutinized her and had to admit she seemed genuinely thoughtful. ‘He didn’t seem too worried, now I think about it,’ she said, ‘just checking everything was all right - possibly to see that I'm all right with you. I’m sure he’ll go back to London now.  As my brother though, I'm fairly certain he doesn't like me with you.’

They drove back to the village, Hugh dropped her at the hotel and continued up the road to leave the car and organize it for the next day. 

She went upstairs, having been told there was a message, saw the memo on the pillow, frowned and waited. She heard him coming up the stairs, he came in and she handed it to him.

‘Just another warning about you, Ksenia. Nothing I don’t already know.’

‘Maybe, Hugh but who is this who warned you?’

‘He’s French.’

‘I need more. You know that.’

‘He’s in intelligence. Not central.  I had them check you out.’

‘You have a connection with French intelligence?’

Hugh told her the story from the first train to Shadzhara through to Dilyara’s relationship. ‘So I used the chance to find out about you.’

‘And what did you discover?’

‘That you’re dangerous.  You stalk your prey and befriend them.’

‘Then why the hell are you still here with me?’

‘You’re in danger yourself and I’m protecting you.’

She was highly amused.  ‘You’re protecting me?  Oh I like that very much.’  She allowed the idea to sink in.  ‘Yes, I do actually like that idea very much.’  She rested her fingers on his cheek and his eyes involuntarily closed.

‘I’m going to tell you something, Mr. Jensen,’ and her voice dropped, ‘you’re in absolutely no physical danger from me tonight, tomorrow or at any time on this trip, from the bottom of my heart.   I can’t expect you to believe that but I know myself very well and I’m telling you it’s so. You might be in some moral danger though,’ she grinned.

She grabbed her rugby top and held it to her cheek, took off her clothes, item by item, folding them and placing them on the dresser then, stark naked, put on the rugby top, shimmied the hem down over her hips and looked at him.

Then she shimmied again, a grin on her face. That was enough – he stepped over but she put out a restraining hand, at which he smiled, ‘Ah, now the coy Ksusha, eh?’

She didn’t reply but dropped to her knees, unzipped him and fished out the offending item, gazed at it for a few moments, then enclosed all of it with her lips, doing the unspeakable with her tongue, lips and fingers.  

Predictably, it lasted less than a minute.  She was amused ... her hair and face was a mess.

She stood and lifted one foot up on a cushioned stool.  He needed no further invitation.

Her ability to read with her body was superb - she was both reading him and asking him at the same time and he dropped into this himself - it surprised both of them how much cooperation there was, so suddenly.

In fact, that was the aspect tearing at her own defences.  As for him, there were no defences.

.o0o.

In each other’s arms later, she looked into his eyes and touched him on the nose. 'Nice.'

He got up, went to the minibar and took two whisky miniatures, he went to get glasses and she said no, they clinked bottles and toasted the trip.  Then she said, ‘I have to wash my hair – you caught me by surprise at the beginning.  Give me fifteen minutes and then join me in the shower.’

.o0o.

The shower jet was too narrow and as he stepped into the bath, to his absolute shock, she stepped back, moving half out of the stream to allow him some water.

‘What’s wrong?’ she asked.

‘No woman’s ever done that before – given me half the water.  I’m in danger of falling in love.’

‘Don’t. Don’t. Because it might be contagious and neither of us can afford that.’  Her touch was already belying her words.

XI

Zhenya was not a happy man but what could he do?

On the way back on the Intercity, he felt Hugh was out of order taking his kid sister for a trek the length and breadth of Britain but perhaps Ksusha had had orders which only she’d received from Ludmilla Petrova, which hadn’t come out in that contact the night before.

This could mean one of two things.

Either Petrova was holding out on him or else Ksusha was. He couldn't believe his sister would actually have fallen for Jensen so this was going to take some sorting out. Ksusha must have known that he, Zhenya, would be expecting some sort of contact from her but there’d actually been nothing. And yet she’d left him a trail a mile wide, in security terms, announcing, ‘Here I am, come and get me.’

A vague feeling started to come over Zhenya that perhaps Jensen was something more than he let on.

Nah, it wasn't possible - they had the dope on the man.

And yet perhaps that’s what Ksusha was up to. If she’d felt that Hugh may have been other than what he claimed, well, she’d play it very close and wear Jensen like a glove, that was her method, after all. Much as he didn’t like that method, he had to own it was effective.

Yep, that was a much more likely scenario. All right, he could only wait now and see how it panned out; Ksusha knew how to get him if she wanted.

He wished she would.

XII

It was Sunday morning.

Hugh took the car again and this time they visited Grosmont, went on the steam train through the Esk Valley, came back, visited the Art Gallery, then finally made it to Perry’s tearooms.

He was quietly chuckling to himself and she laughed, ‘What? What?’

‘Nothing.  Nothing at all,’ he smiled. ‘Let’s go up to the teahouse and order.’

Some minutes later, a tray of food in his hands, they found a spot on the lower terrace, close to the river and began sipping the tea and munching slices of toasted teacake. 

About four minutes later, there was a sharp stabbing pain in her ankle, as if something had bitten her. ‘Ee-e-e-!’

‘Quick, put your feet up and feed her.’

She looked behind her at a mother duck, head inclined to one side, an expectant look in the eyes. Stretched out in a dutiful line behind her were five baby ducklings, all waiting for the first Ksenia leg nuggets.

The look in her eyes was worth all the tea in China. ‘Grab a chunk of bread and throw it to her, Ksusha.’

Angry at him but also delighted with the surprise ducks, she looked across, he nodded encouragingly, she grabbed another chunk, fed it to the mother, then another and another.  Soon they ran out of food and it was time to hit the road one last time.

On the road back, he glanced across at her and it was one happy lady, which made for one happy man.

XIII

‘Da,’ Ludmilla Valerievna answered the balding former tax inspector at the other end of the line. ‘Where? I thought you already knew that – he’s gone north with her.  Da, we have minders there already.  They would, if they had to.  Nichevo.  Dosvidanye.’

Ludmilla Petrova replaced the receiver and smiled to herself. Lucky man, Gospodin Jensen, to have friends like Viktor Igorovich. Actually, she quite liked both of them.

She was up with Ksenia’s news as best she could via her contact, Zhenya was behaving predictably and Safin was bringing enormous trouble down on both his family and himself.

She picked up the receiver and made another call.

XIV

Two men were seated in the East-West café on Lenina, Moscow, which was anything but a café with the ersatz-period furniture and assiduous service. Kryevyetki, prawn shells, were littered everywhere and the last four emptied glasses of beer had just been cleaned away.

The girl came too close, the well fed Sergei Deputatov made a saucy comment and slapped her behind. Instead of reacting in shock and horror, as western women have been trained to do, setting in train some lucrative litigation, the girl saw this as the start of some repartee which might be turned to advantage, which might get her invited to the leisure palaces of the rich.

She responded equally as saucily and extracting her telephone number was the work of a moment.

His companion, Ronald Seymour, returned to the other matter - why Deputatov was concerning himself with some obscure Englishman who’d just been assisting a member of security.

‘I’m surprised you ask. He gets invited to dinners and luncheons and he’s a conversationalist. If even two of those people got their stories together, our task might be a little more difficult.’

‘You’re gradually coming to the point, Sergei. But you’re not there yet.’

‘He’s a very rude man, this Jensen.’ Deputatov shoved his chair back and his lips were a grim line. ‘Not so long ago, Irina was at the garage opposite Tsum, just for benzine and he was chatting to some girl in the exit path. My wife naturally gave him a little toot and instead of moving, he came up to her, quite aggressively, so she reported. She wound up the window to protect herself from his attack but she still heard what he said, and in very bad Russian.’

Seymour tried to suppress a smile; he knew the feisty Irina, Queen of Shadzhara. ‘Tell me more.’

‘He was a stupid man, making all sorts of accusations about how her husband’s car, which she was currently allowed to drive, bought her nothing, that she was lacking in common decency - and other stupidities. Then he used a word towards her which he shall never be forgiven for. He called her ‘Hamka’.’

Seymour was finding it immensely difficult to hold it in now. Even he knew that Hamka meant a rude and boorish woman with no culture. Deputatov went on, ‘He’s a very stupid man to make an enemy like that on the street.’

‘That’s it?’

‘No, there’s more. Weeks later, she was turning into Ostrovskovo from Pushkina and the cursed man was crossing the road, saw her and stopped her. Can you believe that? Stopped her car in the middle of the road and all the traffic trying to enter that funnel as well. Then he came up to her window and said, again in terrible Russian, ‘Journeys end in lovers’ meetings, my sweet.’

Seymour almost choked on his drink, then recovered himself. ‘What will you do?’

‘He needed the frighteners put on him, the fool.’

‘Why don’t you take a different approach, my friend? Get the dirt on him. If he goes around bedding female operatives, he’s sure to have bedded others; maybe that would be a fruitful line of enquiry. You might even sheet something home to him through his workplace.’

‘He needs to learn, that’s all.’

‘And he will. He will. But let’s be more clever about it. Now I understand how this ‘cursed man’ has incommoded you but I’m puzzled as to why are you interested in the operative he’s with.’

‘Ah, my friend, that’s another matter. It’s internal. You needn’t concern yourself with her.’

There was a finality in the tone which Seymour recognized, so they moved on to the matter of the new Megastore in Kirova.

XV

The last night was calm and tender after the frenetic activity of the previous one and as he thrust slowly but firmly to the hilt each time, looking into her eyes, she'd let out a slight gasp, the feeling behind those thrusts catching her by surprise.  Her hand was on his cheek the whole time.

As for him, he was getting the impression she was managing his sexuality - administering it.  One and a half nights and she’d already worked out his capabilities, knew where he was best and where he was a bit ordinary, how to enhance this, how to play down that. More than this, she was doing it subtly and he was in awe of her.

He told her so - she actually reddened but said nothing.  She indicated with her body how she'd like it done next.

.o0o.

Just before they both dropped off, he murmured, ‘Some things stay with a person all his life. These days with you will remain with me forever.’

‘Works both ways. You do know, don’t you, that I didn’t really need to come up North at all?  Zhenya could have hidden me away.’

‘I had an idea and so did Lisa. You're right to say we shouldn't rationalize.  There’s no percentage.  Are you able to say you’ve enjoyed the days together?'

‘Began a bit strangely but definitely picked up, lover.’

.o0o.

They departed fairly early for an uneventful journey to London.

First stop after Kings Cross was Charing Cross, to drop her off, and then he headed for his B&B, promising to call her later. There was mail and he went downstairs to call Lisa.

‘Hugh, thank goodness you’re OK. Your friend Marc called again.’ 

She now conveyed the same message he already had, he thanked her profusely, rang off, went back upstairs, opening his mail, read the contents of one most carefully – twice - then called Ksenia at her hotel.

.o0o.

Thirty five minutes later, he was at reception at her hotel, getting the documents photocopied, he asked for a large envelope, slipped the originals inside, sealed it and asked if they could go in the safe for the night and could he have a second envelope for the copies please?

And yes, Ms Sharova was going to have company tonight, would they call her and warn her he was here?

He took the lift, she was already half in the corridor, she called him inside, the door closed itself.

‘Yes Hugh?’  She was a mix of curiosity and nerves.

‘My French friend, as you know, got back to me about you and the message was that if a girl called Ksenia was to approach me, not to have anything to do with her.’

‘Well, you’ve already told me that.’

‘That’s right, it’s old news.  However, when I got back this evening, there was a letter waiting for me.  I’ve put the originals into safekeeping – these are the copies.’

There was a definite involuntary intake of air. ‘Oh?’  She took the envelope, opened it and extracted the contents, wincing and dismayed.  She flicked through it but it was clear she knew all of it already.

‘Apparently,’ Hugh added unnecessarily, ‘the woman is a psychopath who lures lovers to far away places and then her henchmen do the rest.’

‘That’s ... that’s not so, not in that way.

‘So you’re not a psychopath, after all?’

‘Oh, I’m a psychopath all right. That’s on the record.’

There was silence for the space of two and a half minutes whilst he thought out how to reply to that bullet.  She waited patiently, it had been a good shot and her nerves were abating.

‘You come out and … tell me … you’re a psychopath?’ was all he could manage. ‘I have to admire your spirit … that’s the sort of thing I’d say.’

‘I didn’t mean it like that. I meant it was on the record.’

‘What you’re saying is that someone put it on your record but it’s actually a distortion?’

‘That’s what I’m saying. But there is also truth in the reports. I do have a psychological file from my childhood – a family matter – but you only have to read it to see it has nothing to do with my work. If it did, I would not still be working. We’re a bureaucracy and they don’t employ people without medical ‘spravka’ – a clean bill of health.’

‘Can you tell me anything about the childhood problem?’

‘I have trouble forming relationships. On the rare occasions I do, I can’t maintain them.’

‘Where does that leave you and me?’

‘See, there you go, Hugh.  Look, we slept together, we were lovers, that was all.  You have feelings for me.  You'd never make an operative.’

'I accept that.  You’re an operative, I’m softer.  If you want, I'll stay and hold you all night.  I'll phone the B&B.  It’s late but better I do.'

She handed him the receiver, clearly relieved.



Chapter 4 here ... Chapter 6 here

HOME

No comments :