They took a vote. Carly, Geneviève and Ksenia opted for Paris as a known secure environment with strong policing, though everyone knew Ksenia wanted anywhere exotic outside of Russia.
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, the whole point being that it was to be public knowledge what the accords stated. The media would have a large hand in this. It also made the affair more secure, being in the public spotlight.
‘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.
There they were again in Paris, only this time it was called The Paris Accords. Well, why not?
Ksenia settled into Geneviève’s apartment, Geneviève not having any of that again and Hugh, not a delegate but a ‘special adviser’, as he kept telling people who asked, went to Marc and Dilyara, also a secure space.
They needed to fit in 73 participants, support staff, translators and security people into one room, it needed to be in the 12eme arrondissement, a small, no frills hotel was required for the Americans and for 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 not a 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. The unique aspect was that this was a collection of internal security groups from each participant nation, not externally known agencies.
The major agencies were most interested and had their people present too.
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.
By the morning of the opening Monday, all was in place and the plenary at the Mercure was underway.
Participants immediately reported 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 databanks around the sides of the room.
Coffee, water and nibbles were constantly at hand.
So it went on 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 more than a security exchange.
Midway through the afternoon, 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 section 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, she 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,’ observed Geneviève.
‘No, it’s usable today but is rarely used – there’s junk stored behind.’
They went through and had a look about, this being a very great honour, presumably marking the conference.
Later, Hugh met Marc outside and the question came up of filling in half a day while Ksenia and Geneviève went on their jolly. Hugh 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 concord 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,’ said Carly. ‘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 young chap whom Hugh immediately liked.
Francine explained that The Lodge had been given over to her by her parents when they’d eloped to Noumea – at their age [!] – and she basically administered it for them. As they’d had no intention, even if they’d 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 elongated and parallel rectangles, the main one closer to the road and the Gardener’s part separated from the forest by a low fence and gate.
The two buildings were about two metres apart after the extensions, the walls looking in towards each other, with much glass, drapes over these floor to ceiling windows.
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 the Gardener’s, to the left, was a smallish room which had wall heating coming from the main house.
Therefore it was warmer in winter.
The bathroom/toilet was on the far or forest wall and the rest of the space to the right – what would otherwise have been a living area, at the moment comprised two divan beds and inset into the right wall was a working fireplace, stacked wood beside on the left, tools on the right.
The carport from the road, of course, abutted the fireplace end of the main building. That pretty much described it and it was idyllic. Trees overhung both buildings and there was a garden of sorts.
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 in the Gardener’s, with Marc, Dilyara and baby occupying the rest of the space. Geneviève would occupy the divan in the main house.
They prepared for bed and the moment their 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 and he asked. ‘Were you pleased with the Accords?’
‘Much more work-oriented than the last one – it certainly 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.’
She relaxed a bit. ‘Look, it was a lovely idea and internationally it was a success – within Russia though , I’m not so sure.’
Philippe came home and for once seemed interested in Geneviève’s affairs.
‘So, how were The Grandiose Accords? 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?’
‘I hadn’t thought of that, Philippe. Why do you think they’re trying to kill us then?’
‘I should have thought that was fairly obvious – 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 three times 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, Mr. Public is not likely to part with his Euro for something he never sees and could be turned against him.’
‘He will if he thinks his own welfare depends on his being secure.’
‘I see.’ Philippe had tired of the debate and now it was time for something else.
Francine, Ksenia and Hugh went for a short walk in the forest in the morning and Ksenia thought it the most beautiful thing she had seen, after the beriozi, of course.
Trees and rocky outcrops were the primary motif everywhere – this was the forest of Fontainebleau after all and even the feel underfoot was soft and yet crisp.
They went for a drive a bit later and saw a little chapel she fell in love with immediately, it was a delight, a sort of holy series of farmhouses and outhouses.
‘What’s it called?’ she asked.
‘L’Eglise Anglicane de Fontainebleau on le rue des Provenceaux – just off boulevard Maginot.’
This didn’t mean a lot to Ksenia but she knew she loved this chapel, she asked if they could speak with the priest and was told it was Anglican and had a vicar.
‘Well can we talk to him?’
‘If you wish,’ Francine shrugged.
Hugh watched incredulously as she asked the chaplain, John, if he’d marry the two of them – the man was taken aback and asked a few questions. ‘Do either of you live here?’
‘Do you plan to live here?’
And so on and so on, Hugh wondered if he were ever going to be consulted. In the end, they agreed to drive down again the next day.
On the way back, Ksenia was dreaming and that was a turn-up for the books. That most dangerous of emotions, hope, was clearly in her eyes.
Francine picked up on it too and said, ‘You’re in the right country for this, Ksenia. Love, romance, anything becomes possible if you really want. But there are many lovely chapels. I’m thinking of the church in La Chapelle-la-Reine, south of Fontainebleau itself but that’s a long way from Barbizon, a grand affair with a lofty spire. Our side of the family were never Chapelains anyway.’
‘I love this eglise.’
‘I’m sure this would be possible if you really wanted it, do you want this one, Hugh?’
‘I’m easy.’ He caught Ksenia’s look. ‘No, no, I really want, I’m really, really desperate for it.’
Ksenia suddenly kissed him, then leant forward between the front seats and kissed Francine. Francine laughed.
Hugh asked if she, Francine, had wedding bells waiting. Outrageous question.
‘Mmmm … in a way.’
‘He won’t propose?’ asked Hugh.
Francine chipped in. ‘Oh he wants, all right – I’m the problem.’ Her voice was silky and her dark brown hair matched the fern and earthen outfit.
‘You must adore that house of yours,’ said Ksenia.
‘Lodge, Ksenia, Lodge,’ corrected Francine, ‘on the route de la Glandée.’
Then reality hit Ksenia. ‘Oh Hugh, I have to get back to Shazhara. I’m on a Commission and it’s about security funding, they had to fight to get me a seat so I must be there … but we can come back and do this wedding here, da?’
‘Yes, love, we can come back and do this wedding.’
Francine now chipped in with a poem, in French, he remembered much of it and between them they translated roughly:
‘When December snows fall fast, marry and true love will last.
Married when the year is new, he’ll be loving, kind and true.
When February birds do mate, You wed nor dread your fate.
If you wed when March winds blow, joy and sorrow both you’ll know.
Marry in April when you can, Joy for Maiden and for Man.
Marry in the month of May, and you’ll surely rue the day.
Marry when June roses grow, over land and sea you’ll go.
Those who in July do wed, must labour for their daily bread.
Whoever wed in August be, many a change is sure to see
Marry in September’s shrine, your living will be rich and fine.
If in October you do marry, love will come but riches tarry.
If you wed in bleak November, only joys will come, remember.
When December snows fall fast, marry and true love will last.’
‘September or some time in winter,’ thought Ksenia. ‘September might be best.’
‘Good time for us too,’ said Francine.
Geneviève appeared in the late afternoon and settled in, then joined them all in the main living area for a supper. Unfortunately, Marc and family were going to be late and would eat before they came.
Hugh asked Geneviève if she loved it down here too. Francine broke in and said that Mademoiselle was from this area, from Barbizon itself, actually.
‘Ah, so maybe you like Rousseau, Michel and Millet.’
‘Do you like the naturalists?’ asked Geneviève, delighted.
‘I like Millet, I’ve wandered around Barbizon you know – through this forest too, with bare trunks interspersed with boulders.’
‘You’ve been here before? That’s – nice. I like Millet.’
‘Have you heard of a Russian artist – Shishkin?’
‘When did he paint?’
‘End of the 19th century, his landscapes are natural.’
‘Do you like him, Ksusha?’
Ksenia looked across at her. ‘Of course, he’s one of our national artists and a local too. His pictures have much light.’
Marc and Dilyara arrived, there was a lot of noise and bustle, Hugh embraced Dilyara and congratulated her and noticed that Francine was standing back, beaming – she clearly adored all the mayhem, this was surely, in her eyes, the entire purpose of the Lodge right here.
She’d given one or two thoughts to babies herself and had a quiet word to Jean about inviting the crew to stay on for two nights, not one. After all, this might never happen again in their lifetimes for all they knew. Jean thought he could get a day off, the others were working for Mademoiselle and the guests’ flight was not for two days. They could easily make it to Orly for the flight.
‘That linen for the bassinet was beautiful, Hugh and Ksenia.’ Dilyara turned and beamed at Ksenia.
He’d actually forgotten about it. ‘All right, let’s see the baby,’ he demanded.
Ksenia was moved and asked if she could hold her for a minute. As for the baby herself, being the centre of attention obviously suited her.
Next morning, the day was superb again and different people found themselves in different combinations as the day wore on – Hugh and Francine, Ksenia and Dilyara, Marc and Geneviève, Hugh and Geneviève, Ksenia and Marc.
Francine took Ksenia and Hugh down to the chaplain. They resisted more than a light tea, pleading the need to get back to Barbizon, so they covered the details of the service, dealt with the documents and all was underway for when the happy couple would return in September.
The evening came round, there was good cheer until late, Dilyara seemed to lap it up before dropping off to sleep and finally, silence descended on the household.
The following day, it was frenetic. People had to work, farewells were hurried, the guests went to the airport and flew, things returned to relative normal.
Anya, Viktor, Gulya and Hugh met at Giuseppe. Pizzas were ordered, champagne was bought, feasting began.
Viktor asked, ‘Man, are you coming back here to live or staying there?’
‘We have to return – there’s Ksusha’s position, you know.’
‘Are we invited to the wedding?’ asked Anya.
‘Each person here has an invitation, we’re not going to issue written ones – consider yourself invited. Not really done, of course but we’ve done it.’
‘Will she wear white?’ Anya continued and Gulya was interested in this.
‘How should I know? I dare say she’ll think it out.’
‘Perhaps she could do with a little help, a few suggestions,’ said Gulya.
‘Well, let me ask her, I’m sure she’d appreciate it.’
There was a lull in the conversation whilst thoughts ran through everyone’s head and then Viktor felt he should toast the couple. ‘I don’t know if it will work out, Man, you know what our view was but if possible, let it be a happy time.
To both of you.’
Glasses clinked together.
Ksenia’s apartment had been cleaned out thoroughly, especially the bedroom. That bed had gone and he was having to look for a new flat too, not so easy with the change in the real estate scene in the past two years.
They decided they’d buy a new flat after the wedding and before the baby – for now, they were renting.
Warnings remained vivid though in the back of their minds – at this time of planning of weddings, babies and new projects, the horror lurking just under the surface, in the shadows, could strike at any time.
He couldn’t help thinking of Klyenovaya Gora and the other killings and secretly, she was of an equally cynical [realistic?] mind.
Barbizon had been a shot in the arm, no doubt about that, a real pick-me-up and that’s where she’d begun to believe, truly begun to believe that it was going to be possible.
That’s when she’d seen a baby girl in her mother’s arms in one of the shops and wanted her own so badly – a boy, a girl, byez raznitsa, it didn’t matter to her.
That’s when she saw that people could carve a good life out for themselves and it wasn’t necessary to be at the whim of evil forces the entire time.
She looked over at him and smiled. Her sickness at different times of the day was a concern and she felt a bit washed out but it wasn’t 24/7.
The day of the flight came around.
One sad moment was that Viktor and Gulya couldn’t make it – she had a meeting in Moscow and he had an interpretation job in Prague, of all places, that’s how things go, unfortunately.
They’d come round to give their well wishes.
Anya wasn’t going to be able to either but then, at the last minute, she was given a few days’ leave and then, cruelly, it was withdrawn and she was sent to Moscow instead.
The evening before she departed, Anya and he were allowed down the road to a café to chat over old times but most of it had already been said. Instead, they just drank each other in and parted tenderly. ‘It might have felt strange to you, Hugh, if I’d been there behind you, watching my former man leave me forever.’
‘I’m coming back to Shadzhara, you know.’
On the day of the departure, Ksenia was lovelier than he could remember, in dark maroon ruffle wrap dress, allowing for the bulge, with scarf, largish navy grace coat and thick beret – tights and boots completed the effect.
He wanted to know what else she’d packed away in the two travel cases. She had nibbles with her most of the time, secreted away, her hand would sneak into a bag and out would come a Mars Bar or some biscuits or whatever.
The trip was pretty good, a bit of bounce over the Caucasus but apart from that – acceptable.
They touched down and were met by Geneviève and Louise, both nodding their approval of the Ksenia they now saw, which meant far more than words could have, into the Citroen they got and they were on the way – not to Paris but further south.
It had been left to Geneviève to arrange so they were both figuratively and literally in the dark, as night now fell.
Next morning was their only free day so, after an inadequate French breakfast supplemented by boiled eggs, Geneviève’s concession, they stepped into the forest proper with its dark brown beeches, and the grey, overcast sky made for a more subdued mood.
Hard to know which musical composition should be played, were this a film – Sibelius and Tschaikovsky came to mind but this was France, after all.
They clambered over boulders, all except for Ksenia who took a regal path round them and deep they walked into the forest, conversing little.
Back at the Lodge again, tournados were washed down with a heavy red and the repartee went long into the night.
It had a different feel to the last time they’d been here and wisely, they hadn’t expected the same mood to be recreated but there was something else, something equally as nice .. but different.
Ksenia needed to lie down but when Hugh made to get up, Geneviève stopped him with her hand, saying, ‘Groom mustn’t see the bride.’
He thought Genie a bit out on that one but no matter. She took Ksenia through to the Gardener’s with her.
Geneviève got in beside her and drew the duvet over them both. She ran her finger from Ksusha’s chin down her neck, over her chest, down to her stomach, only one fingertip, down to her navel and almost to her forest. ‘February, yes?
‘Merci. For all of it.’
Geneviève smiled and was content, she lay on her side, looking at Ksenia who grew a little self-conscious. ‘Why are you looking at me?’
‘Because you’re very beautiful and I understand Hugh more now.’
‘I’m scarred and pregnant.’
‘Non, you’re beautiful and Hugh knows it too, I’d say he’s played his part in your beauty as well.’
‘Geneviève,’ she coughed, ‘we’re not, well, not as flowery as you are here.’
‘I don’t know, I just wanted to say that.’
When the other didn’t reply, she looked over and Geneviève was pondering. ‘Who decided to marry – you or Hugh?’
Ksenia lay back, hair spread over the lace-edged pillow. ‘You know, I really can’t remember. Hugh was always one-on-one, despite appearances and I took some convincing but actually marrying – I think it was seeing that chapel really.’
‘I want to marry but Philippe doesn’t, it’s less of a tradition these days in this country and he certainly doesn’t want children.’
‘I’m not hearing wonderful things about your Philippe, Genie.’
‘He has a way with me, he can excite me. He knows what to do in situations.’
‘Does he love you?
She looked down at the bed. ‘That may come one day. You’ll rest a little now?’
Ksenia nodded, Geneviève slipped back to the others in the main house, Hugh was putting wood on the fire and Jean was in the kitchen with Francine, getting more coffee ready.
Francine called over, ‘You’re always going to be welcome back here – anytime you wish.’
Hugh thanked her. ‘Now, this rule about bride and groom not seeing each other – sorry but I need her and she needs me. Good night all.’
She was awake when he came through. ‘You’re unsure about all this, Hugh?’
‘Not any more. You?’
‘Honestly, I’m terrified. But I’m sure it’s right too. Right for me, right for you. It’s what we’re going to do anyway because we want to do it.’
Geneviève knocked next morning and announced, ‘You have one hour before breakfast.’
Ksenia said, ‘Reach under my side of the bed, Hugh.’
He jumped out, went round and pulled out a packet in brown paper. Undoing it, he lifted up a long, long woollen scarf in navy and maroon., seemed a bit uneven in the stitching and then he realized. ‘You – you actually made this?’
‘You cunning girl, you really made this?’
She nodded and then looked anxious. ‘There are one or two mistakes.’
‘It’s perfect, Ksusha, thank you.’ He kissed her, went over to his wheelie case and brought back a package as well. ‘Here you are.’
She unwrapped it and stared at it. It was a porcelain doll, a girl figure, dressed in ornate folds of clothing, with frills and all that type of thing girls seem to love, a classic doll. She hugged it to her and then hugged him.
‘Do you think we could squeeze in a few minutes and then we’ll get ready quickly?’
Geneviève had stretched breakfast to croissants and honey this time, with the mandatory eggs, they then did the necessaries and dressed.
By 11:00, they were ready to go, waiting for two cars from Paris, one with Marc and Dilyara, one with some of Geneviève’s girls.
The cars congregated, discreetly festooned. Greetings were exchanged and off they headed for the Anglican Chapel, a bumpy drive but they made it well within time – due to meet with the chaplain at 12:30, they had some fifteen minutes to kill.
The back entrance via rue de Fleury was a lychgate, beyond that the gravel path and then the chapel itself the other side of some outbuildings. If Ksenia was nervous she didn’t show it, the sky had cleared up, chilly but not drizzly.
She was deep in conversation with Jean and Francine, Geneviève watched him watching Ksenia and noted it, Ksenia now looked around for him and came over.
Then she just stopped and wobbled, crashed to her knees and fell over sideways to her right.
Hugh leapt to where she was half lying, Marc was almost there too, he cried out and then Hugh saw it – blood had seeped out through her wedding dress; it seemed to come from her heart. He dropped to his knees to support her head, talking to her, Marc had already called for help on his mobile, Genie took it and called a different number, quoted a code and that probably meant faster, Hugh had found the hole and called for two pieces of plastic, Jean sprinted for his car and opened his trunk, she was alive, his hands were full and he asked Genie to find the exit wound, she dropped to her knees and found it, he reassured Ksenia, she turned her eyes to him and smiled a small smile, Jean had returned and was cutting a plastic sheet at the cleanest part, Hugh called for two, one was given to Genie to close the back wound, Hugh undid Ksenia’s dress, apologizing and put the plastic on the bloodied hole, her breathing was already laboured and he held the plastic close on three sides, he looked into her eyes and kissed her, he saw the first blood seep from her mouth, her eyes glazed and he kissed the side of the lips quickly so she’d know, she slipped out of consciousness, he lay her back on the blanket Dilyara had brought, head to one side, he sucked blood from her mouth and other things too, Marc had started the chest pushes and he seemed to know his stuff, Hugh used a finger to keep the tongue forward, the blood was too much from the chest and it was choke on blood and do chest pushes or turn her over the whole way and let the blood drain, resuscitation won and Marc continued, Francine had been watching and now took over from Marc, Hugh tried to suck mess from her mouth but the blood had welled up completely and he had to let the hole open a little, telling Genie to keep hers closed, the medics arrived, took in the situation, the stretcher was brought and four of them did the move with very little movement, Hugh went in the back with them and Genie.
It was the utter stunned silence of everyone, the vicar had now run out to the gravel carpark and taken in the scene, crossing himself which might not have been Anglican, who knew, the ambulance now arrived.
In the ambulance, Hugh dared not interfere, they had an IV feed in her and resuscitation attempts were constant, the hospital was less than ten minutes away and that was a boost for them all, the siren sounded.
Almost the next thing they were in the casualty, the stretcher came out on its wheels and she was rushed down the corridor, into a side room.
Hugh was allowed in but not Genie – a nurse came over and he put on a mask.
They worked and worked and there seemed to be movement. Hugh was in her line of sight, should she come back but away from the table, not interfering, he willed her back and then something he should have done far earlier, he prayed, he hoped not too late.
They didn’t give it away for forty minutes, they let him take her hand but it told him what he’d feared, he prayed for a flicker of an eyelid, they all knew the score, they’d let him have that moment of hope.
He hoped that whatever state she was in, she would recognize the touch or if she was in the next state, she’d be seeing what he was doing, he looked at them and pointed to his lips, they understood and turned away.
He kissed her forehead and lips in that particular way they always had, hoping that that would register but it was pretty plain it was over.
He looked up and saw Geneviève through the little square of wire gridded window – she was expressionless, she’d seen it all before. One of the nurses came to him now and touched his forearm.
Oh hell, he didn’t know what came next, he didn’t know whether to stay, to make arrangements, he didn’t want her on a slab, he wanted to jump to the burial without the intervening stages, to get it all done and finished.
He couldn’t cry, he couldn’t move.
He had to move.
He had to … well, he had to take his leave.
He didn’t have enough French to talk to them, so he called Genie but she was already in there, talking to them, telling them what was arranged.
He asked at what point Ksenia had actually … departed, Genie translated. In the ambulance, really.
So it had been quick – quickish anyway. Ksusha had been one tough cookie and she’d have remembered his face looking at her, she was not unhappy, he remembered that clearly, it was as though she accepted this, was resigned to it, the ambulance had been quick.
He asked Genie to ask what else could have been done differently and that took a minute. Hugh saw from their gestures and tone that they felt Genie and he had done all they could – he wondered how they could know.
Genie explained that she needed his permission now for them to take her. She knew the best people for this, there’d be respect, there had to be a time now, overnight in fact, in which he could not be with her. They had to prepare her and make it all a bit more pleasant.
They revered those who passed on in France, it would be done, not by strangers with no respect but by people she had worked with.
He couldn’t go. He now knew how totally dependent on her he’d become and had thought it was the other way.
This was his wife lying here.
Genie said it was best to go now, to say au revoir for now but he’d see her tomorrow, he asked her to promise to drive him there, wherever ‘there’ was. He couldn’t cry, not with Genie there, he just couldn’t do that with her present, she knew that.
He wanted one last chance to revive her, just one.
She might respond to the kiss, the touch, it had happened before, miracles had happened.
Geneviève did not prevent him, the medical staff, the two remaining nurses were patient. He went to her and stared a long time, many minutes, taking in every single feature, he ventured a kiss to the cheek, to the side of the lips but he knew – he knew completely.
If she could have spoken, she’d have told him to just take his leave and part this way, not embarrass everyone.
Geneviève was so patient. He got up and walked towards the door, away from his Ksenia, he turned to go back one more time but she stood slightly in the way and he took the hint.
He went through the door, Genie following.
Then he stopped. ‘I promise it’s only once more – one minute only, some things I must tell her.’
She nodded. He went back in, straight up to her and poured nothings into her ear, promising he’d get back to her flat and look after things, promising he’d see her tomorrow.
He kissed her, took five steps and swiftly went through the door.
The ride back was inconsolable. It was all the worse because he was going back to the very place whence he’d departed that morning with a living, breathing woman and now he’d left her on a slab.
Almost as though she’d read his mind, Genevieve leaned a little towards him and said, ‘She’s not going to be there, Hugh. Are you forgetting she was shot? The surete – they must do certain things, the coroner, you know. You signed that release.’
He couldn’t even start to get his mind round that one. ‘In our work,’ she said, ‘this is always possible, with you and me too, never forget that.’
That did help. Actually, it helped enormously. He thought how Ksenia would have handled it.
A third time she tuned into his thoughts. ‘I’ll stay on one divan in the Lodge of the Gardener. You need to decide if you can stay in that bed again or else on the other divan or else in the main house.’
‘They’ll meet you and then depart.’
They’d been primed not to be too effusive, not too quick with the sympathy and yet he felt it in the handshakes and in their voices. As for himself, he was just dazed and dog-tired.
They said their pieces and departed, good people, nice people, Francine supplied him with warm soup in a big mug and he drank it down.
Geneviève said nothing but she understood. When he was ready, he got up, she got up and he said, ‘Let’s go. Francine, Jean, je vous remercie.’
In the Gardener’s Lodge, she went to get ready and he sat on the edge of the divan across from her. When she came out, he went in.
Eventually they were done.
There was silence, except for some creatures of the night in the trees out there. ‘She wasn’t religious,’ said Hugh, ‘but in these things, it’s always done that way.’
‘The Russians say the soul has until the 9th day to visit loved ones, to generally take care of business, after which it goes to some place where it rests and then, on the 40th day, the decision is made whether the soul goes to heaven or not.
The job of everyone left alive on the 9th day and on the 40th day is to say prayers for the soul, in a sort of wake. Then they need to get together again at the one year mark.
‘Je comprends. You’ll be at the churchyard, you’ll take care of those things with my help and then you’ll return to Russia, her home soil and do the necessary things there.’
‘Anya will go to her flat and see if she can find any documents which say what to do, I don’t know if she wanted to be cremated or what and we have to know quickly now.’
‘I’ll contact Anya, Hugh, if you’ll let me.’
‘Merci. Her mother will know what to do, Ksenia does have family and that will be sorted out.’
Geneviève looked a bit the worse for wear next morning too, he must have looked a fright.
‘I’d like to see her today.’
‘Comprends. I have two days free to be with you … if you want.’
He took her hand. ‘If you would, if only you could.’