Tuesday, May 5, 2009

1-9: The Thames


Chapter 8 here ... Chapter 10 here

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I

Next morning was too magnificent for words and in London you learn to take advantage of opportunities like that.

Hugh’s resolution to lay low and fully recuperate simply flew out the window, Greenwich demanded a stroll and anyway, there were always people on that route and there was safety in numbers.

The stroll up Tranquil Vale and onto the heath took it out of him a bit but he crossed the grass, past some sort of kite flying convention, to the A2, crossed that and went past the donkey rides, in through the main gates and down the main tract, over the ridge, past the observatory and there was Greenwich in the distance.

With half the job done, he took a breather and sat under a tree, considering it good to be alive.

.o0o.

Now the last stretch before the lower gate and he was across the road and into the village proper.

Ten metres ahead of him, walking into the TexMex café, was Frederika on the arm of a nasty looking bruiser. Adrenalin rising, he followed them in - her minder ordered some nachos and guacamole while she looked on.

.o0o.

Twenty minutes later he found himself on the footpath leading to the riverside, a fair distance behind the two of them and the obvious question was whether either had picked up on him or else some third person had.  Neither had used a mobile during this time and he had to think it all out on the move. 

The two were heading down Evelyn Street now, which would bring them out on King William Walk and The Cutty Sark and there wasn't a lot of time, plus there were too many people about.  Fine to get lost in but not so fine for anything he had in mind.

What the hell did he have in mind?  The insanity of it struck even him.  What could he hope to achieve?  To frighten her, frighten him?  As if the type could be fazed.  If they had seen him already, then moves would have been made already. 

That's when he glanced down Nelson Street to the right and OK - he was paranoid but there was a female with a mobile about twenty metres away, looking at him and making no move to do anything - not shop, not go back, not go forward.

Nothing in it, he told himself.  If she had been watching him, she was damned pathetic at it.  However, a split second after she'd lifted the mobile to her ear, Side of Beef, with Frederika, had lifted his mobile to his ear. 

Many thoughts raced through his brain - it couldn't be a job on him because there'd been no heat on her since the airport and that was because he'd not described her to the police and that was fair enough because he hadn't actually seen her do it - he just knew those hands and fingers, plus the voice.

He'd wanted her sure she'd finished the job, assuming she'd get out of London.  Why was she still here then?  Perhaps she'd enquired - mortuary etc. and having drawn a blank, had then tried hospitals. 

Either way, his own manner had now alerted that girl and she'd now communicated a description to Side of Beef, so he had to assume they were preparing for him.  What a mess.  If he withdrew, she'd know he was not only alive but not 100% and possibly scared, so she might track him down. 

There was one more thing.

He was carrying a flickknife in his holdall, a ceramic job given him by Zhenya and he kept it in his undies, didn't he?  The only defence he had was that knife and his mind worked overtime how to use it to get rid of her, without actually killing her?

Number one, he'd have to get her alone and number two - he'd have to get in close and press the point into her side or whatever.  Then what?  The moment he didn't knife her, she'd know he was as soft as he seemed and that might be the end.  Therefore he had to knife her.

Ah, hang on.  Thoughts came into his head.  She, of course, could never afford to held by the police, as that would lead back to the airport and a knife in her side would automatically put heat on her.  She needed to know that even if her people sniped him now, there was the slightest chance of error and that's when the knife would go in, no compunction - did she know of Klenovaya Gora?  If she made the slightest move, it would go in her and while he'd be in trouble for an illegal knife, she'd lose her liberty and livelihood.

Zhenya though - he'd not want heat on the man, if only because of the loan of the knife.  Solution - get rid of the knife.  How?  In the river.  Need to be near the river.  Need to get her away from the others.

II

Ludmilla Valerievna was more than surprised when the one she considered her opposite number, though hardly in a section such as she administered, agreed to fly to meet her.  Ludmilla had taken it as read that the queen never leaves the hive but clearly the French did things differently, at least in Section 37.

She began to wonder if Geneviève was high enough to deal with and whether it might not be better to concentrate on the woman’s superior.  Then again, as part of the discussion was going to involve just that superior, she felt it should go ahead as planned.  What she might not have known was that Section 37 was an internal section, dealing with specifically French matters and would hardly be of interest in Russia, not even for ransom.

It was agreed that they’d meet at Borovoya Matiushina, the riverside resort, at the dacha of one of her friends.  It was defendable from both water and the road and flanked by other houses but best of all, it was built like a bunker during the cold war.

When Geneviève and entourage were dropped at the military drome, a hovercraft collected her and took her downstream to the appointed residence.  Marc was already inside.

The luncheon was traditional and ritualized – both Russian and local cuisine - she enjoyed the Moldavian red and gorbusha fish the best.

She came clean on their original aim of following the cash trail and gave as close to an honest account of how far they’d got.  Ludmilla spoke of rival companies, of the clinic outside Shadzhara and of attempts to set operatives against one another.  There didn’t appear to be any specifically jihadi thing in this nor any anti-Russian thing.  It all seemed a commercial matter in the end.

Still, they’d keep an eye on things.

It had been a worthwhile discussion. 

III

Ksenia returned from St. Petersburg with a brother overseas, Hugh also overseas and Ludmilla having entertained French intelligence.

It wasn’t any of her business, any of it, until a colleague told her the Denpasar girl had flown to London with her, Ksenia's, ‘protégé’, as the others described Hugh.  She knew he’d done some reckless things but this just took the biscuit.  She contacted Zhenya immediately and was relieved he was onto it.

Fretting, walking up and down the corridor - she hated this.  She hated what he was doing and hated her own feelings about him doing it.  It was time to play one of her cards in reserve - she knew Anya's mobile number and as hers was unknown to Anya, the chances were she'd answer.

That's exactly what happened and to say Anya was shocked was an understatement.  When she heard that he'd gone to London with a killer, fear for Hugh and anger vied for vindication.  'Not a nice feeling, is it, Ksenia?'

'No, it's not.'  Ksenia was direct and asked for Lisa's number.  Anya would phone.  No, it was her job this time, as Anya well knew, as Hugh didn't know she knew Anya's number.  Anya saw the force of that and then thought it might be good anyway if Ksenia learnt the hard way what it was like to be with Hugh - the uncertainty, the way he went with women.  Let her have the worry and humiliation for once.  Utter fool the man was.

She gave the number, Ksenia thanked her and called Lisa.  To say Lisa was shocked and appalled was an understatement but what she couldn't understand was that if her brother was seeing her, why Ksenia couldn't have got the number from him, rather than through Anya.  How was Anya, by the way?

Ksenia simply hadn't known he'd made contact with her, Lisa, so how would she have asked her brother for the number?  Now she knew, Lisa was to get onto him immediately after this call and get him onto it.

IV

It happened rather quickly and surprised both.

Firstly, he did lose sight of them around the corner of the College Approach.  When he went round the corner, there was Frederika ahead but no Side of Beef.  Then he saw the slightest outline of a calf through a typical London architectural quirk.  Porches did hide people but stonework had slight gaps in places and this showed someone was on the porch - could have been anyone but the jeans were at least the same.  Logical too - he comes around the corner, Side of Beef is on the first porch, he sees her walking on ahead and follows.  End of story.

He slipped back around the block but that was only going to bring him to that girl again.  At the corner of Nelson Street he paused, just out of sight and peered through a gap in some balusters, nothing there, no time to wait, down Nelson Street, weaving through people, into King William Walk, danger at the College Approach, first bit of luck - both of them near that porch in the distance, deciding whether to double back.

He slipped across the end of the road and now luck ran out - Side of Beef noticed him, he was sure.  Two and two said he, Hugh, was going to the Cutty Sark or the riverboat.  Now he was the followed and he had to revise the plan.  OK, straight onto a boat, no matter if they saw him buy the ticket.  They'd not crowd him this side of the boat - they'd let him get on first and get on themselves at the last moment.

He was feeling more and more foolish with every passing minute but his only chance now was to stick it out.  He bought the return ticket and it was in two minutes so they'd have to shift to catch him.

Up the gangplank, show ticket, inside, glance back and yes, here they come, swiftly but walking.  No crew on board yet, slip into the crew area, come on you two, come on, Side of Beef first, flickknife open, no closed - need her to hear the noise of it opening, what's keeping her?

Suddenly she slips through the hatchway, he's at her side, holdall pressed against her.  Quietly and quickly: 'Frederika, darling, long time no see, we're sitting together.  Any move at all and the knife goes in you.  Think through why it's my only choice.'

She did, she knew the score, puzzled why he hadn't used the crew, told the captain - clearly felt he couldn't take the risk.

'What knife?'  He pressed the button and it sprang open - she heard it - he pressed the holdall against her again, only this time it was sharp.  'Where?' she asked.

'I'll guide you.'

Five seats back on the other side of the boat, Side of Beef was nonchalantly looking out of the window – he’d be a mongrel to tangle with.  Nice couple – they deserved one other.

He guided her to a seat against the window and kept the knife point into her side. 'Any move at all, in it goes.  You're  a killer, I'm taking no chances - self-preservation.  I'm assuming you have your gun and something on your leg under that sari thing.

She stared straight ahead, impassive, a smile playing around the corner of her lips, which was the most unnerving part. Hugh half hoped she’d just jump out of the boat window into the Thames and save them all the trouble of taking this thing to its logical conclusion.

She didn’t jump though - she just acquiesced.

Side of Beef now caught the scene but a gesture from her meant he subsided into his seat, watching like a hawk.

‘All right Sweety,’ Frederika broke her silence.  'What do you hope to achieve?  Yes you have a knife and yes, you'll use it.  Let's think ahead.  The boat ride finishes.  And then?'

'You and I go for a little walk.  Do you speak Russian?'

'Some.  Why Russian?'

'I know the type - his forehead, his manner.  He's not French.  Call him and give me your mobile.  Did you hear about Klenovaya Gora with Zhenya and I?'

'Zhenya?'

'OK, so you know the knife goes in by automatic reaction - this is my life here.  Call him and give me the phone.'

She reached into her bag and ever so slowly drew out the phone, punched the number and put it to her ear but his hand moved and she felt in an instant where it was going, how it was going and that was a definite move to knife her - she slapped the phone on the table.  He picked it up with his other hand.

He conversed with the man in Russian, heavy with street jargon - mightily surprised over there and she picked up on that.  Conversation over, the phone went back on the table. 'Leave it there.  Handbag - give it here.'

'No.'

'When the boat reaches the other bank to the Tower, there are not many people there.  Your man leaves, others leave, knife goes into your heart, I take your bag and leave.  They find your weapons, catch up with me, I tell them about the airport.  Give me your bag.'

She slid it over and he couldn't help think it was not on account of what he'd planned to do but due to something else she couldn't afford to happen.  He'd have dearly liked to have known.  He knew she was reticent - crew were walking up and down and she made no attempt to enlist their help.  He felt she was keeping him on the hook, planning the kill later - that type ties up loose ends.  Reputation.

'Left hand, warm day, open window now.'  She turned the catch and lowered the window.  'Twenty minutes of this only.'

'And then?'

'I told you - we go for a walk, which is what you're hoping anyway as it gives you your chance.  Alternative your death.'

'Charming.'

'Enjoy.'

V

‘Tell me about Nicolette.’

‘She’s my sister, my friend.  Nothing there, Dilya.’

‘Do you want to speak about Marie-Ange?’

‘Non.  But I will.’  He got up from the chair and went to make coffee in the kitchen, bringing back two cups and the pot. 

He spoke as he poured.  ‘If you were a man, I’d pour out my heart about her but you understand …’  She nodded.  ‘She was ordinary, vulnerable, wilful, impossible, wonderful.  She loved company, which I don’t.  She loved travel, which I can take or leave.  She thought I was cruel to neglect her but when I went to work for Mademoiselle - this took much of my time. 

Marie-Ange loved me, I am sure of that and I loved her but she wanted me beside her all the time.  I don’t know if we’d still be together now if the … well … alors.  I can’t say it.’

He sipped on his coffee and gathered himself.  ‘Some time after I went to work for the section, some months, there’d been a bad night with Marie-Ange and she’d cried most of it.  She was too consuming, too consuming.  We parted badly the next morning and I was sharp with her.  I turned on my heel and went to work.  I was sorry and phoned her late in the morning but she didn’t answer; I knew she’d said she’d be at home that morning. 

By lunchtime I could stand it no longer and Mademoiselle told me to go home to mend the situation.  I did not have long to wait, once I turned the key in the door.  She was on her knees, with her lower legs a little bit out; she was leaning against the divan and her head was resting against the armrest.

There was a hole and blood over her forehead.  It was not suicide.’

Dilyara was at a loss.  She couldn’t reach him from where she was lying and she couldn’t move all that well, so she lay back and stared at the ceiling.  Eventually, she asked him to come to her.

VI

At the little stop on the left bank, just before Tower Bridge, Frederika’s henchman suddenly got up and left the boat, glancing across at the two of them as he went.

Hugh had seen the bag and its contents, the mobile phone was back in there, he now took the bag and heaved it through the window.

She gasped and he felt massive emotion in her, then it died away.  Yet she was excited - there was a tone to her face and she was right on edge.  She began the verbal counterattack.

'You have nowhere to run, honey, nowhere to hide, not here, not in Russia and not in Australia. You can’t kill. I don’t mean that you’re not brave enough - I mean you have scruples.’

She paused before continuing. ‘But I don’t have scruples. Think about my family situation in the village outside Denpasar. Think about our combined income. What do you think girls do to bring home the money to the family?’

He raised his eyebrows and she continued. ‘Not me, though. I took a different course and that’s called necessity. I’m good, I get the job done. If I stuff up, I make reparation later. I don’t like loose ends.’

‘Am I a loose end now?’

‘Need you ask?’

.o0o.

The boat had tied up at the Tower.

They alighted and walked up the gangplank together, Siamese twins.  'We’re going for a little walk up near those office buildings.’

She nodded.

.o0o.

Now they were up near Mincing Lane and the time of day was such that people would be in their offices, the tourists were far away, a foreign couple who'd been strolling along behind them now turned off and suddenly, passing a concrete buttress, she swung away from him, reached down, whipped out what he assumed was a Beretta and stood, feet apart, pointing it straight at his chest.

He saw the end. Why, he didn’t know but a sudden wave of resentment at the unfairness swept over him. ‘Stop! I haven’t eaten this morning - let’s at least eat before you kill me.’

She stared at him, her thin lips, her eyelids, not even flickering. She lowered the pistol and muttered, ‘What the hell. Let’s go to McDonalds.'

He stared evenly at her.  'I'm buying.'

VII

Marc was seated on the floor, back to Dilyara’s divan and her hand rested on his shoulder.

‘You’re going to leave me here, aren’t you, Marc?’

‘I can’t see how I can be here and be there at the same time.  This work of mine – well, you see, I’m not really qualified for anything else.  You are so important to me but we can’t live on love alone.’

‘And you think I don’t understand that?’

He swung round.  ‘Not many do.’

‘I do.  I don’t like it but I know how you feel.  I think Geneviève took you in like a family and it’s more real than your own family.’

‘I’m the only child of the marriage and both my parents were only children.  It’s a small family.  My father died of a stroke and my mother still lives in Fontainebleu.  She’s in good health and doesn’t need me to be there every day but I don’t like to be far for long.  For some months maybe.  Not permanently.’

‘You don’t seem a mummy’s boy.’

‘I think that’s a silly expression.  Why shouldn’t a son love his mother?’

‘He should, he should,’ she said hastily. ‘But maybe not to the exclusion of anyone else.’

‘Look, Dilya, she’s not the type to want me close by.  She prefers me to be out making a life.   I know you needed to ask all this but what it comes to, in the end, is whether we stay together.  For that, we need a plan.  We need to be clear in our heads where we are going and we’re not clear because I’m not. 

There’s fog and I can’t see clearly.  I’m with you now, maybe even for months and years but it will be a strain on both of us.  I seriously don’t want anyone else except you – my work consumes my other time.’

‘I see.’

VIII

It was surreal sitting there eating McChicken Meals and ice cream desserts with a woman who’d now twice tried to snuff his life out but he was also on some kind of adrenalin high. ‘Is it over now?’

‘No, I’m afraid not, not for you. It’s over for me though and for Georges, whom you met. We both stuffed up.’

He detested her coarse speech and wondered why he cared. It came home to him that he did care for her. ‘It won’t be on this trip, you can be sure,’ she broke him out of his revery.

‘Why not?'

'Emotionally involved with the target. Can’t be done. Rule number one. It happens.’

Hugh looked at her. ‘Really?’

‘Really. But I have a little piece of advice for you, Hughie, darling,’ she added in a quiet, sincere voice, ‘you were never in any position to escape.  You sussed out Georges and dealt with him on the boat, good but you didn't see Malik - possibly you saw Riya.'

'Riya was the girl in Nelson Street who phoned Georges?'

'Yes.  Malik was always behind you.  When you turned around, he faded, when you turned away, he followed.  It did shock me that you were still alive - Riya's description was you.

'But why was I your contract?  I'm nobody.'

'Not my business.  I only found out I failed today.  You didn't tell them about me?'

'I didn't.  The reasons included Zhenya.'

'Zhenya?'

'He knows you so you know him.'  She didn't bat an eyelid.  He told her about Klenovaya Gora.

'So you would have - I assumed that.  You're going to cost me now.  I can't afford loose ends, as you say but I can refuse.  I've done it before.  Not often but it needs to be right, needs to be emotionless - if not, I can't.  Messes my mind.  I'll have to repay them and that's because I was the one who discovered you're still alive - before they did. I then decided not to, I'm well enough regarded and they know my way.  They know I'll take the next one but Hugh, they'll send someone else.  You're not free of this.  I have to show I'm emotionally involved now.  That will be easy because I am involved.'

He just looked at her.  'Why did no one arrest you, accost you, ask you questions at the airport?'

'I got away quickly - didn't even stay to make sure - gone before anyone knew what it was about.  I went out with a crowd of people just off a plane.  You not saying anything - that was puzzling.  That was one thing keeping you alive.  You say it was Zhenya?'

'Yes.'

'I think it's his sister.'

‘Let’s go.'

‘Where?’

‘Um, how about a film in Leicester Square, then we’ll work it out from there?’

.o0o.

Later, he took her back to Blackheath to occupy the room opposite him on the upper floor - Susan was glad of the extra income for five days.

They went to the Chinese and he recommended the Peking duck, which she was not averse to, even if the Chinese were not the flavour of the month back home. The cuisine was broad enough for her tastes and seated at a double table by the wall, as distinct from the multi-place tables dominating the room, they were in a perfect position to observe Zhenya and Lisa coming in on the upper level.

Frederika grinned a Cheshire grin and waited for the inevitable recognition from Zhenya who, in terms of their current contractual obligations, was diametrically opposed to her and might prove a handful very, very quickly.

Actually, it was Lisa who recognized Hugh first, she was about to say, ‘Giving the blondes a rest, Hugh?’ when Zhenya suddenly caught sight of her, swore under his breath, grabbed Lisa's arm and hurried her from the restaurant forthwith.

Frederika chuckled.  ‘That shook him up. Did you see his eyes?’

‘What did that signify?’

‘He’ll be in a sniper position somewhere opposite when we emerge. You’ll have to block me, Hugh, unless you want the dead body of a girl to drag back to the B&B. He likes headshots, Sharov. If he gets the idea you’re protecting me, it will sow doubts in his mind that he’s missed some new development, some new directive, as he can’t possibly have guessed about today.

He’ll then follow us back and try to get you aside.

Put me inside the B&B and then wait for his girl and him. Do you know her? He’ll explain the mortal danger you’re in with me and you can tell him I tried to kill you today but decided not to at the last moment.

Then he’ll relax because he knows the game - that once we’ve refused, that’s an end to the matter this time. It will reassure him more than anything else you can say. He’ll probably tell you what you have on your hands. Understood?’

IX

Ksenia returned to Shadzhara and briefed Ludmilla Valerievna about the Stephen Morgan push into St Petersburg.  So far it appeared to have nothing whatever to do with Deputatov but did have a lot to do with Yevgeny Usmanov and that was not something anyone wanted to get tangled up in.

‘You look tired,’ were Ludmilla’s concluding words. ‘More than usual.  What’s on your mind?’

Ksenia was seated the other side of the discoloured wooden table on one of the rickety chairs the service still had to endure and now she drew herself up and fixed her superior with a not unkind look.  ‘Zhenya, of course.’

‘I don’t suppose it’s his safety you’re concerned with?’

‘It is and it isn’t.  Like you, I’m concerned how far he’s in with this company and whether he sees beyond tomorrow.  I’m more concerned about you, Ludmilla Valerievna because if you can’t hold him in the section, he won’t be held at all and he’ll go over to them, as his first loyalty.’

‘Putting him at odds with you, Ksusha?’ she asked.   Or not?’

Ksenia paused one moment and answered, ‘You need have no fear on that score, as long as I’m not the one sent after him.  But it’s more than that, isn’t it?’

Petrova did not smile a reassuring smile but she did lean forward in her chair.  ‘Ksusha, you’re the best insinuator we have.  Zhenya is the most capable hound we have – he has this knack of finding out the truth very quickly and he’s a wizard in a tight place. 

Look at me, Ksenia Vladimirovna.  My superiors depend on me running a tight section. That’s all there is to it.  I have no deadly plans, neither of you is in a T23 file but I have to tell you that Zhenya is in a P18.  You must see that.’

Ksenia’s throat went dry.

‘Go home, KsenVladmirvna.  Get some rest.’

X

It panned out exactly as Frederika had predicted and when Zhenya saw Hugh ostentatiously, symbolically protecting her face with one of the restaurant menus, he followed them back, saw Hugh blanket Frederika with his body and let her slip into the B&B and he was mightily puzzled.

He walked up, opened both palms in a ‘WTF’ gesture, shaking his head, then began to explain to Hugh about how dangerous the woman was. Lisa was far more unforgiving. ‘We came to protect you, Hugh but if you’re going to hob-nob with your executioner, then I throw up my hands and give up.’

He took those hands, ‘I have to stay friendly with her, Lisa, so she doesn’t complete the contract. She has to stay close to me to justify to herself and to them why she didn’t. This is protection in itself.’

She looked doubtfully at Zhenya but he was nodding. ‘Da, that's true. Let’s go up and see her – I’ll go first.’

Lisa was the most reticent but as the victim himself didn’t seem too fazed by the idea, she shrugged and followed them both. Susan came out, greeted them and advised about visiting hours – it was a family house, after all - and they all agreed. Plus, they all seemed respectable enough.

At the head of the stairs, Zhenya told them both to lie on the stairs, beneath the lowest angle of a shot and he asked Hugh, with a gesture, which room she was in - the one to the left. Suddenly, Zhenya burst into the room on the right, pistol pointed with both hands straight at the head of the rigid, upright form of Frederika, also pointing her Beretta with both hands back at him.

After a few moments, both grinned, lowered their weapons and Zhenya called in the others. ‘Well, Frederika, who’d ever have thought it?’

‘Zhenya,’ she acknowledged, still not completely at ease. ‘Does this mean that all bets are off?’

‘I suppose it does for now,’ he replied.

‘Good,’ and she put away her weapon, an article of trust in him and he did the same. ‘I’ll be here five days, until Hugh goes back. You know he’ll be safe, don’t you?’

Zhenya nodded, even shaking her hand, indicated their departure to Lisa who didn’t know if she was coming or going and they left with a final, ‘We’ll look in again tomorrow.’

.o0o.

At the B&B, finally left to themselves, Hugh and Frederika had coffee and biscuits and poured a little of the Baileys she now took from her pack.

She spoke of Bali, where her family lived, handy for trips overseas, of the village mentality, of how she’d had to get out of there and of how a passing Brit had rescued her. Strangely, it was no tale of vice and prostitution and naughty foreigners. She’d been a good girl and quite modest. Hugh could believe that.

Frederika was sexy in herself, undeniably so, she didn’t dress immodestly, she dressed for comfort and with a modicum of style. Her colours were quite light, including her jeans, and it threw her swarthy features into sharp relief. She favoured whites and blues, her dark locks tumbled over the light coloured fabric and her slender hands were hard, with a suggestion of length in the nails and a pinkish hue of polish.

Frederika was OK - that is, if she hadn't happened to be a cold-blooded killer.

‘I’d like something better for you than this life,’ he started.

‘Are you going to offer that kind of money?’ He lapsed back into his chair in silence. ‘Don't try to dissuade me that way.  There's only one way you could succeed.’

She came up to where he was sitting on her bed and stood between his knees, looking straight ahead of her, over his shoulder.

When he failed to respond, she raised her eyes to the ceiling, sighed and undid her big belt buckle. 

As he got to work, he noticed the tattoo on her upper left thigh and near her left shoulder.

She was a hard lover and her short, hard thrusts in the opposite direction to his  bruised both their bodies.

During a pause, she asked, ‘Why didn’t you try it on - on the plane I mean?’

‘Well – I – er – I don’t know. I didn’t think you’d –’

‘If we’d done that, I could never have killed you.’

‘Would you have let me?’

‘Oh yes, I’d have let you. I’ve always wanted to join the Mile High Club.  Exciting in the exit row.’

He smiled and made a mental note for future reference.

XI

Zhenya woke up on the divan and reflected on the previous night.

Interesting indeed, he smiled to himself, as he jumped up and went to the bathroom, passing Lisa heading for the kitchen.

Having stashed his things in his bag, he joined her in the kitchenette and straddled a stool, reminiscent of Blackheath days. She was feeling a bit confused but laid out a good breakfast.

‘So, Zhenya,’ she finally looked him in the eye and made light of it, ‘Are you going to make an honest woman of me?’

He didn’t understand the expression but understood the import and guffawed. ‘I told you I can’t settle.’

‘Maybe it’s time you did.’

‘You don’t understand. My job takes me here, there, everywhere, at a moment’s notice. No woman’s going to stand for that.’

‘How do you know? Some might quite like the lifestyle.’

He glanced at her. ‘You don’t know me. I can be dangerous.’

‘I know – I can see it and that’s exactly why you need a woman to keep you straight. You don’t frighten me.’

He gazed at her with new eyes and gave it more than a moment’s thought. She cut across his thoughts. ‘Hugh and that woman – what do you think?’

‘I don’t like it.’ His voice became grimmer. ‘He should stick to one woman.’

‘Meaning Ksenia?’

He thought for a moment and then repeated. ‘He should stick to one woman.’

XII

Hugh and Frederika had been to the city for the day and decided to take the last boat back. Boats didn’t go from Westminster after a certain hour, so they’d have to walk to the Tower.

The first chill of night air blew across the water; he took off his black silk jacket and put it over her shoulders. ‘Are you a night person?’ he asked.

‘I’m a ‘candlelit dinner’ type of person,’ she lied.

‘Let’s do that in Greenwich. Best to get out of here now, agreed?’

‘Greenwich it is.’

They went Mexican but the music made conversation well nigh impossible and she tugged on his sleeve, both thinking the same thing. They couldn’t go back through Greenwich Park, because it was closed for the night, but it was a nice enough walk beside the long, red brick wall.

.o0o.

Once back near the village, they hit the Princess of Wales for nachos and a curry, then, on the way up through the village, he pulled her into the French brasserie on the left assuring her the dessert was well worth it - and it was too. The crepes, coffee and cognac hit the spot, they did a little shopping, then it was back to the B&B.

That night he began with her forehead but halfway through, she stopped him and said, ‘Just hold me.’

She’d prepared her words. ‘I don’t want you getting upset with what I’m going to say.  All right?’ 

He glanced down at her head on his chest and grunted, ‘Right.’

‘This is not you.’

‘Eh?’

‘This is not you, taking lovers as you jetset round the world.  This ain’t you.  The way you made love to me was with love, do you understand what I mean?  Don’t get me wrong.  It was sweet and I want more in a minute but you need something different.’  He went to answer and she continued, ‘I mean a regular woman, not someone like me.  I’m too far gone, I take my sex where I can.  I don’t want this for you, Hugh. Is there no one in Russia or over here?  What happened to the girl in the photo?  Was it Anya?’

‘She went away.’

‘No one else?’

‘Well, there is, actually.  Zhenya’s sister and I have an understanding.’

‘Thought as much.  Then Zhenya is not going to like you and me one little bit.  Hugh, you might be in danger from him.'

'No.  His sister loves me and I love her.'

'Love?  Ksenia?  She's a killer.'

'So are you and you have feelings.'

She whistled.  'She really loves you?'

'We made love on the concourse at the airport - not sex, just love.'

Frederika was goggle eyed.  'Then how can you ... ah, I see and I don't think I like what I see.  You betrayed her now because you thought I wouldn't kill you if you made love to me.  That's ... low.'

'I accepted what you said at McDonalds - that I was already safe -'

'Well why then?'

'It was an emotional thing with you, in the plane.  I can't explain it and if I did, it wouldn't sound very good.'

'You're confused, aren't you?'

'Yes.'

'So am I.  For now.  For this time together.  We'll go to the end of the week and then leave it at that, all right?  As I said, you're not cut out for this.  Go home to her and treat her properly.  Will you promise me you will?'

'Yes.'

XIII

‘Crab salad please, Zhenya.’

Zhenya looked about the Travellers Arms and imagined his sister’s meeting with Hugh in this pub. He ordered a steak for himself, got the drinks and came back to the table. ‘Is this the same table?’

She didn’t immediately answer but sat, elbows on the table, chin cupped in hands and awaited the next move, which had the effect of unsettling him until she asked, ‘Would you kill me?’

He recovered himself and breathed to her, ‘Lisa, you really must lay off that topic.’

‘But it’s interesting to a girl.’

‘Enough all right?  We have our job, you have yours.  You’re not on any list, if that’s what you mean. 

XIV

Zhenya flew back the day before Hugh and was soon sitting at the kitchen table, sipping coffee.  He knew his sister was fishing, he was incensed with Jensen and was going to drop him in it.

It only took her first lightly probing question.  'How did it finish up with Hugh and Frederika?'

'He was fucking her all week.'  He saw her shoulders slump, ignored it and asked, ‘Any more coffee, Ksush?’

‘You have two hands. I’ll be back in a minute.’

He nodded to himself, his worst fears confirmed.

XV

The day of Hugh’s flight came round and it was a day neither seemed particularly inclined to see come around. They went to the airport together and she stood with him at the barrier for some considerable time, hand in hand.

The last kiss was sad and then he was gone. She stayed staring after him for some time and many thoughts passed through her mind.

.o0o.

In Moscow, he took the train from Shadzharniy Vaksal and then, the following morning, Shadzhara came into view yet again.

No one came for him, he returned to his house, went in to the lift, got out on his landing, found his keys, opened the door, licked off his shoes and deposited his things in the hallway.  Quickly going round the flat, just in case there was any sign of ... anyone ...  anyone female ... he saw there was not, just a coating of dust over the furniture and the refrigerator with the door open, just as he'd left it.

All his elaborate little hairs over cupboard doors, things stacked in certain ways he remembered, all of it - indicated that he was a man alone and one who probably had been, in terms of relationships, for some time now.

He sat down on the end of his bed, turned up the quilt and looked at the green underlay.  Aliya was long part of the past now.  He reasoned that Ksusha had probably been told by Zhenya and that's why she had not come to the airport, perhaps she was still overseas.

Anya was his first call and here came a shock - her mobile was no longer in operation.  He knew she sometimes hadn't paid and had been cut off.

He called Ksenia.  It rang for a long time and then auto-ended the call.

He tried again.

And again.

The fourth time he rang, after a minute, the receiver was picked up and he was about to speak when it was put down again - he heard the click and then the dial tone.


He pulled down the quilt, climbed onto the underlay, pulled the quilt back over him and went to sleep. 

Chapter 8 here ... Chapter 10 here

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