1-4: North

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I

Marc was in touch with Geneviève by secure line.

The gist was that this Hugh Jensen lived in Shadzhara with a girlfriend who was friends with his Dilyara whom this Jensen had given his, Marc’s, card to and that had started the affair. Now M. Jensen was asking Marc about a Russian security matter.

Rather than dismiss it out of hand, Geneviève wanted to explore the connection and if it ended up with them doing Russian security a favour, well, that could be no bad thing.

‘Give him what I give you in an hour or so, no more, no need to give less. That will interest Russia for a start, especially if he’s with one I think might be with this section. I don’t know her offhand but the section I do know.’

II

‘All right, Ksenia, talk.’

They’d eaten a light late lunch, they’d sat back beside one another, not opposite and both knew what this was about.

‘We have to look at motives here, Hugh. At Heathrow, I had a job, I saw you. It was once I’d done that, while talking to you, I didn’t … ah … I didn’t want you hurt. Our section does not bother with surveillance unless it’s about a target or someone who needs protecting – then we look at everyone and make decisions, mostly quick decisions, sometimes we explore. We had to know your girl’s movements as part of that, plus yours of course. Some of her movements I think you would jump to completely the wrong conclusions, as men do.

But some, Hugh, I’m not sure you’d have liked – you wouldn’t know them, you wouldn’t know the places – you either accept that I know and am telling you … or you don’t accept that and that’s fine with me. I’ve done my job. When we get where we’re going now – and I haven’t asked – perhaps you will phone her and if you do, ask about this address,’ she wrote in her pad and gave him the sheet, ‘and you can judge from the reaction. I am not making a play for you, I am on a job over here but I do not like dishonesty if this is dishonesty, maybe I am completely wrong and it’s not my business. Ask her. Now, can we get onto more pleasant topics please?’

.o0o.

They took the Sprinter from York to Scarborough, then the bus to Robin Hood’s Bay. Her section would cover a cab so they made the Victoria, overlooking the North Sea, purely on spec, they might have to try a B&B on the main road if that didn’t work. If he went further north, past Ugglebarnby he thought, then that was getting into home territory and complications he didn’t particularly wish for.

No, this would do fine.

.o0o.

There were no single rooms available, as he admitted he had hope, the landlord showed them the one state room with fabulous views over the North Sea.

He had to make an instant decision, could see she was over the moon about the view, he turned to the man and said, ‘We’ll take it.’

Once the man had gone, Ksenia rushed over to the window and gazed down on the view below. She extended her arms and spun round like a ballerina, which she may well once have been – too intoxicating for words. ‘It’s so good, it’s so good, it’s so good,’ she almost squealed. ‘So, what’s on the programme?’

III

In Paris, there were other things brewing.

Marc sent a message by secure-line to Genevieve, which she showed to Nicolette, then sent back to him. ‘You feel up to it?’ she asked.

He replied, ‘I’m all right about it but will she be? Shall I book?’

Genevieve replied in the affirmative and he was set to fly the next day to Shazhara. He phoned Dilyara on her mobile, she was shocked and thrilled, all in one – of course she’d see him at such short notice.

Good, thought Marc and then in the next moment wondered why he was re-opening an old wound.

It was in the nature of the Section that operatives appeared for the night and sometimes departed in the middle of it. So it was no surprise when the phone rang while he was laying clothes in the pack – it was Nicolette, saying she’d been assigned that night to whisk him away if need be.

He didn’t mind Nikki with her sparrow frame and frisky manner but he preferred his women with a bit more meat on them. Actually, he reflected, the Section was fairly lean itself that way, Mademoiselle must starve them, herself the most normal looking of their bunch.

Nicolette gave the signal on the doorbell, he put down his slice of torte and let her in. She’d always had trouble with the zips on things and this time it was her soft leather ginger handbag. She pulled at it, tugged at it, grimaced at it and then thrust it at him to do.

He didn’t do much better for some time but then managed to work the clip free of the material. A three pack of condoms spilt out on the floor, plus her compact and he glanced at her. She blushed and was about to tell him not to get any ideas when she thought – why not play him along a bit.

In the skimpiest of navy short-hemmed dresses with white polka dots, the material clinging to her shape, she was like some delicate flower and the thought suddenly leapt into his mind and then out again.

She picked up on every changed line in his face, every change to his deportment, the way he too quickly took up and polished off his food. Too quick was Nikki.

‘You want something to eat?’ he called over his shoulder, heading for the kitchen.

She didn’t but something was driving her on at this point and the kitchen was where she had to be. ‘Ah, oui, un café.’ She followed him in and when he spun round, coffee pot in hand, she dropped her eyes in that devastating way which normally trapped the high and mighty into revealing too much about themselves.

He was more bemused. ‘Nikki, what is it with you this evening? This is me – Marc.’

And yet he was more than uneasy. She deemed it time to move half a pace closer. ‘Hell, he thought,’ and her body was hard up against him now, the lips so, so soft and she was waiting.

‘Nikki, this is crazy. We don’t do this on duty, you know that.’ She was silent, he pressed his lips against hers and her hands went up to his shoulders, then he pulled away, breathing unevenly. ‘No, I can’t.’

She stepped back, still staring him in the eyes.

He poured her a coffee, which she accepted without comment, raising the cup and sipping on it, without shifting her gaze. Then she smiled as he sat on the other side of the round peninsular table and indicated her place.

She sat down where she’d been told to.

He added, ‘I don’t believe you’d have gone through with it.’ No answer, a record silence for Nikki. ‘Would you have?’

‘I don’t know, Marc. I was curious.’

‘But you don’t make love for curiosity’s sake.’ Nicolette raised her eyebrows at that and smiled that smile of hers. ‘Well, I don’t anyway,’ he said.

‘Then you’re a catch for some lucky girl, Marc.’

‘You’re not getting round me that way,’ he laughed. She let his misunderstanding of her remark pass and decided on poignant silence again.

He came out of it and realized, ‘Hey, you’re playing with me, you’re the coldest girl in the section, Miss Ice. In Barbizon -’

‘Quite.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘Marc, I might have done it, you know, just this night. I might have, you’re not … not threatening to me. Merci for the coffee.’

IV

Dusk was upon them, so Hugh suggested a short repast, then maybe a wander down to the old fishing village.

With her apprehensive yet excited about the one-in-four descent down the narrow, tortuous path to the village, they stopped at the first pub halfway, tucked into a little nook between the high walled buildings.

‘What’s here?’ she asked.

‘Some of the best real ale in England. I used to come down here quite often for quiz nights. You want to try the ale?’

‘You mean beer?’

‘Natural beer – the real thing.’

‘Strong?’

‘Not really, except for Old Peculier.’

‘I don’t understand a word you’re saying.’

‘Old Peculier – it’s a strong, dark ale made not all that far away, over at Masham. Three pints is more than enough for a regular drinker – it’s 5.6 percent. The other beers vary from about 4.4 to 4.6 percent.’

‘That’s water,’ she scathingly replied.

‘In settings like this, we drink real ales for the flavour and for the ambience.’

He ordered half an XB for her to sip on and she looked at it dubiously. ‘It’s foaming,’ she complained.

He laughed. ‘If the foam remains on the inside of the glass, then it’s been prepared properly and it’s ready and this one is ready and if you don’t try it soon, I’ll take it from you and drink it myself.’

She sipped cautiously and then a little more.

She liked it. She tried a little more.

The landlord called him over and had a quiet word. Hugh agreed, paid for two more beers and nibbles and for something-extra as well, they went and perched on the primitive bench next to the rough-hewn internal wall – this was a historic pub. The landlord slipped out the back and returned with a soft, wrapped package.

Foam dripping from her pink lips down over her chin and with a smile turning up the corners of those lips, she asked, ‘What’s the packet?’

‘My turn to be mysterious. I’ll tell you later.’

Her exotic appeal was attracting too much attention from the locals, so he suggested, one half later, that they continue down to the stone apron by the water. Night had fallen as they picked their way down the path, Ksenia leaning heavily on his arm, as he knew she must on those heels.

From the stone apron upon which lapped the North Sea, she took in all the tall, narrow, stone houses crowded either side and thought they were like giants gazing down on her.

He filled her in on the history. ‘These villages are the stuff of legend – look at those old coracles turned upside down over there – fishing nets shabbily draped across them at the end of the day. Admittedly, that’s a bit too Ye Olde for mine but you still get the idea of what it must have been like.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘In the old days – smuggling! That’s what they did here – it’s pure theatre.’

‘Do – do they do it today?’

‘I don’t know, doubt it but the joke might be on us and they might still do it. They used to launch boats from here, I think.’

‘Dangerous?’

‘I’ve been here in a storm and wouldn’t like to be standing where we are. By the way, see that little alley over there? There’s one of the best little fish ’n chip shops in Britain over there, in my humble opinion.’

Her smile became broader. ‘Let’s walk over there now.’

‘Yes but it’s closed at this hour. If you want, we can come back down tomorrow.’

.o0o.

Back at the Victoria, it was time for her story, from her childhood onwards. She sat up in bed with the duvet covering her modesty, he perched on the end of the bed, listening.

The story was straightforward enough – at school, she’d been a champion volleyballer, the one they called a setter, neither tall enough nor skilled enough to step up a class but she’d always stayed in shape through aerobics and dancing. There’d been one young man in her life named Airat whom she’d met at the Institute, the relationship seemingly not going anywhere, her brother occupied most of her thoughts and of course, she adored travelling.

As she spoke in that sweetly accented English, her story became more animated, the bedclothes fell away, she quickly retrieved them but it was too late for him – she knew she had a captive, so easy, wasn’t it?

‘One moment,’ he said, ‘it’s getting too late to call Europe, I need to call now.’

He called Marc who apologized for not getting back, he was in transit now and things had hotted up for them. Yes he’d got what was needed and this was it. He told it. It was no more than Hugh already knew but he thanked Marc profusely and wished him bon voyage.

‘Advice to avoid me like the plague?’

‘All the warnings are remarkably consistent, Ksenia.’

‘So what are you going to do? Leave me here tonight?’

‘First thing I’m going to do is get you dressed, otherwise I’m not going to survive this night. He went to get the package and gave it to her. ‘Here – promise me you’ll put it on straight away.’

‘What is it?’

‘Well, if you don’t open it, you’ll never know.’

She tore open the packet and it was an XB rugby shirt, in royal blue with white trim, the XB motif woven into the left breast. She looked at it for a few moments, then slipped it on, juggling the bedding all the while, then jumped out onto the floor, shaking the hem down with her hips but she knew exactly what she’d exposed and that he had drunk it all in.

Spinning round in front of the mirror, happy as could be, the oversized shirt threw those thighs into mesmerizing relief. ‘How do I look?’

He emitted a strangled noise. She slipped across, planted a kiss and he stuttered: ‘I was worried whether you’d like the colour.’

‘It’s perfect, Hugh. Thank you.’ Now she adopted that coy ‘here I am’ stance and it was just too much – he never bothered with protection and she never asked.

.o0o.

Lying in his arms some hour and a half later, she murmured, ‘Love is war, Bebe and I’m the first to say I had to get you to do this with me for so many reasons. First, we had to know where we were – you had to know, I had to know if I liked. Then there are the things they’re saying about me and I needed some sort of protection from those. Then there is the phone call to your girl which I noticed you did not make. I had to have you before you received any news.’

‘It’s all a game?’

‘Yes and no.’ she was honest. ‘Love is always a game to a point, there is always something happening, it’s a process where each of them makes moves. But she does not let that game go on unless there is something more. Either you are my mission or there is something else.’

‘Am I your mission?’

‘Yes but not this way. It was entirely unnecessary for me to bring you north and bed you, there are no state secrets, there is no advantage to us, to me or to you in any strategic way. No, this was my doing and I’m sure my brother is not happy – he watches over me from a distance – it’s not creepy, it’s necessary. And I don’t want your money and I have not compromised you, except with your girl. Think this through, Hugh, think it through, Bebe.’

She was so convincing but then again, these are trained to perfection in this, aren’t they?

She continued. ‘We have information coming in from everywhere, most of it useless but some not, that’s just our job. In your case, it’s been easier because there’s a girl you teach, never mind who, and she’s my section chief’s daughter, plus you tell them so much about your life. It’s actually helped you because my chief followed up a few things and unless you’re a secret super agent, then you are who you say you are, you do like our country … and you really like our women.’ She smiled at this.

‘Hugh, I am dangerous, I can dispense with targets, you will hear this. I also get close to the target sometimes. I swear to you that you are no target, you are on the protected list and that’s my job. I’ve just been a bit excessive in that job this time.’

.o0o.

About 03:30, a rainstorm hit the area from nowhere and between the sheet lightning and the thunder, she woke up, looked across and saw him now look across at her. He reached for her hand and took it.

What a strange gesture, what a nice gesture. She liked it far more than she should have and her judgement was becoming clouded. His own had long left him.

.o0o.

He awoke first around 05:50, climbed out and made coffee, she awoke and watched through narrowed eyes, bedding up to her neck.

He brought it over to her bedside table, then climbed under again. She kissed him and then asked, ‘Do you regret me?’

‘Of course not, not you, how can I ever regret you? But I regret not having called Anya first. I’d planned to give you a nice time up here, I still do plan that, I’ve a plan in my mind to give you a really fun time.’

‘Good, because you’ve made me happy, you’ve let me relax for once. Maybe you’ve made the wrong woman happy but that’s life. You’ll go back with me when the flight time comes and then, back there, you’ll let her come to you, you will not go banging on her door, shouting, you will not do any of those things. You will wait for her to make contact. If she doesn’t, then you consider all your options – and you do have options. I’m not including myself because I am here, there, everywhere for my job. You will have to make your mind up about all that.’

He looked at her. ‘You’re devastating. Ksusha, we need to wash and get down to breakfast, buy some clothes this morning … and I need to make that phone call.’

V

Lisa had had a call from Riccardo – he wasn’t going to be over for some weeks.

She sat down heavily on her fluffy bed with the light blue floral duvet and looked around the room. It had been done up, she’d cleaned the place and made it more cheerful. All to no avail.

‘I suppose I’ll have to go over there again,’ she muttered.

‘I need to go to Prague,’ he confessed.

‘Wonderful.’

‘I told you this sort of thing was going to happen, Lisa. Of course I want to see you but I’m tied up in this project and we have to see it through.’

‘When?’

‘It’s to be signed in October but there are some problems.’

‘In Prague.’

‘Si.’

‘But the Czech Republic is not in the EU.’

‘It’s part of the Visegrád Triangle and it’s important.’

‘When may I come over there?’

‘Can you come next Thursday?’

‘I suppose so.’

VI

Marc went to Prague from Shadzhara – coordinating and arranging protection for Nicolette and Francine – who in turn had been briefed on keeping an eye on Marc himself.

Actually, his main purpose was to trace the way the money began in Nizhny Novgorod, went to Shazhara, returned to Nizhny and then seemed to jump to Prague. From there it ended up in Paris but didn’t seem to be funding anything openly. At least it didn’t seem to produce any known effects within their world in Paris, save that Geneviève often went away for a few days, a couple of weeks after the transfer.

The money was always activated in Nizhny following an EU meeting somewhere to discuss the Helsinki Headline Goal, the EU Petersburg tasks incorporating Geneviève’s section. That’s where her primary funding was coming from.

Thing was, after the three weeks were up and Geneviève had returned from her trip away, the section always took a hit of some kind and she seemed incapable of dealing with it. Nicolette usually took the reins and brought some sort of order back.

They were discussing these things in Prague and Nicolette found Marc taking an inordinate amount of interest in real estate, as in flats and houses in Prague. She looked at Francine, her tall partner and the look was returned. ‘On again with Dilyara is it, Marc?’ asked Nikki innocently.

He was reticent, so Francine added, ‘Come on, you can tell your Aunty Francine everything.’

‘I’m just looking, for interest’s sake.’

‘Then you might need this.’ Nicolette handed him a pile of brochures they’d collected, he glanced down and they were exactly the properties Dilyara and he would need for a first home. Nikki smiled sweetly, he sighed.

‘All right, you’ve caught me.’ Nikki was a lovely person behind that manner.

VII

Anya was speaking with one of her friends, Liya who had her own issues. They were at Liya’s place and a call came in.

Liya took the phone and turned, as if that gave her privacy, Anya looked up at the ceiling – it was sickening. Liya got off the phone, all gooey and Anya asked, ‘Well?’

‘He can’t come, he has a sportsman’s night tonight at Olympia.’

‘That’s what he told you?’

‘Yes.’

‘It’s next Thursday.’

‘Well, there’s obviously some mistake.’

‘Wake up, Liya, you have to stop doing this, stop kidding yourself.’

‘Yes,’ she said, glad to turn the tables. ‘And yours doesn’t look like a wedding to me.’

‘He chose to go for a holiday instead, then goes with on another holiday with some woman.’

‘All of it was circumstances – yours, his – you both got onto the wrong track. See what happens when he comes back.’

‘What makes you think he’ll call you? She’ll advise him to wait for you to call.’

She said nothing.

.o0o.

When she got back, her mother called to say she’d had a call from Hugh but she hadn’t been home. he’d left a number.

VII

They’d need to buy Ksenia something. Her undies hung over the shower rail upstairs and she’d worn just her XB top, tights, yesterday’s skirt and boots to breakfast, they’d have to go into Whitby – the issue was getting her there.

She came up with a solution. ‘Here are a couple of stores I found in the phone book – get a cab and try them first – get me 40 Den tights, 3 pack, about £8, these boots will be fine, then get me a mini-skirt, just material with clasps, navy or cobalt, ask the woman – I can adjust the size when you get back. Here’s £50.’

‘No, I’ll buy first, we’ll adjust later.’

‘Don’t buy a top – that round neck cashmere you’re wearing will do fine, not sure what you’ll wear.’ He smiled. ‘Now, guess my measurements.’

‘I’d say … hips 35, bust 34B, waist I don’t know – I’d say you’re halfway between an 8 and a 10. Inside leg maybe 28.’

‘Not bad at all – I know British and European equivalents. Measure the inseam – I’ve got a tape measure in my bag. Hang on.’ She went and got it, removed her tights then beckoned him. ‘Crotch to ankle.’

‘I’m not touching you there.’

‘Go on, promise I won’t look.’

He measured it, 28.5 inches and they both knew he was pushing her mound around a little, but he still asked, as if to cover it, ‘How high was I meant to hold it?’

‘As high up as you want, as far as you want. Try it again to be sure.’

‘Don’t do this. I shall return.’

.o0o.

When he got back, also carrying two wind jackets, he emptied the bag on the bed and she checked through it. Good, the tights were fine, the skirt neutral as she’d said, if the other gear dried, it would do a few days, alternating.

‘There was a call.’

‘Ah.’

‘I spoke to her personally, she was not polite but not terribly rude either. I said you’d call her back, that you were in town. There is a booth downstairs or you can call from here. Same price.’

‘I’ll call from here.’ He contacted the desk, they were aware of the toing and froing, yes they’d connect, one moment.

Now came a series of Russian obstacles as things went through exchanges, there some final click s and he got her grandmother, who immediately put her on the line.

‘So,’ she opened. ‘You don’t want to marry me, no?’

By way of reply, he mentioned the address Ksenia had given him and there was deathly quiet at the other end. Then a click.

He sat down heavily. She came over and knelt beside his chair, looking at him. ‘Call her again, ask for her to comment, not hang up. Answer any question honestly, because that will help later.’

He did, the grandmother said, in Russian, that she wouldn’t come to the phone. Then she did. ‘Da?’

‘Speak to me, love. Tell me things are fine, that we’ll speak when I get back.’

‘I needed you so much.’

‘You’re not answering about that address, love, not even asking about me. Say something which can repair this.’

‘I can’t. We’ll talk when you come back. Wait for me to call. Bye for now.’

And that was it. She came over and knelt down again. ‘This is a heavy blow, whatever she said. Would my advice be any use?’

‘Please.’

‘I’m the last one to give love advice but I have seen much in life, I know Russians and I know women. Paths converge, run parallel, then they can diverge just like that. Paths can converge again. There’s a thing you call cutting your losses too. The big thing is not to over-react – she has done something, you have done something, the innocence is gone. This does not mean it is over, unless you want it to be so, if she does, if I do.

I must go back there, it’s a different world to this room with you but that also does not mean it is the end. Believe this, Bebe, things are possible if you want them to be. But everyone must make decisions for himself, herself, myself. We now hae two days together no matter what, the flight does not go back until then and you can’t change it because of your registration plus what I have arranged to get you through. So we are here together.

Now, is it going to be chilly between us or are you going to carry out your plan? You can do your regretting back in Shadzhara.’

He touched her cheek and smiled, they got ready for the day, it was a bit chilly this morning, she pointed to the jackets. ‘Owner lent them until we buy new ones – let’s go in the Scarborough direction first but we won’t spend too long there. I’ve ordered a car, just have to collect it from up the road.’

VIII

Genevieve had not allowed Marc to bring Dilyara to Prague, both for expense and security reasons but also because she didn’t want the two of them setting up there. She needed Marc at hand.

This was going to be spoken about when he got back but meanwhile, it was back to Shadzhara, they’d met again but the flat was crowded with family, they’d headed into town.

For a change she took him to the main shopping street, Baumana, which had been recently converted to a mall and was now looking quite snazzy. They tried Chai, near Astronomichoskaya and ordered blinii with tvorak and raisins. Dilyara then saw something which made her gasp, she rested a hand on his and said, ‘Don’t look.’

As he didn’t know what he wasn’t supposed to have looked at, he involuntarily glanced across and there was a pretty blonde alone at a table and memories of that photo Hugh had shown him came back.

‘Ah.’

A dark-haired man now brought their orders to their table and he seemed calmly proprietorial, something she did nothing to dissuade. What was worse, she rested a hand on his forearm, he leant over and kissed her.

‘Ah,’ said Marc again.

Anya herself now spotted them, worked out who Marc was in relation to Dilyara, put down her napkin and came over. More formal introductions were made, then she returned to her table.

Dilyara looked at Marc and asked the obvious, ‘Do we buy into it or not?’

‘Depends where your loyalties are, Dilya.’

‘I’m not 100% behind my friend on this one. But I’m not making the call.’

IX

The morning was spent as planned – down to Scarborough, they got in, did the shopping, got out and now they were going to see a few places before heading back to their own hotel for lunch. He explained that it was a pretty substantial afternoon ahead so they’d need their strength – sounded fine to her.

He thought York was the way, wasn’t sure about Betty’s, probably wasn’t Ksenia’s thing, but there were plenty of other tearooms … and there was Jorvik. That would see out the morning.

.o0o.

They got back via the same main drag on the coast and had lunch at their hotel.

Over lunch, he’d been thinking – 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, supper might be either at Goathland or they could take the steam train to Pickering, if the restaurant train was working but that might be best on the morrow – they could check the timetable in Grosmont.

.o0o.

He walked back up for the Escort he’d left with Peter Hall for an hour, carparking near the hotel being expensive, and off they set, first to a supermarket in Whitby, where he bought two plastic tubs, plus tinned corn, tinned peas, lettuce, some oats and seeds, plus some other things they could do with. She was intrigued.

In the carpark of Perry’s tearooms near Whitby, he asked her to help, they made up two tubs of the seeds, corn etc., he was quietly chuckling to himself and she laughed, ‘What? What?’

‘Nothing. Nothing at all,’ he smiled. ‘Let’s go in and buy something for us.’

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. He made sure she was on the side nearest to and facing away from the tearoom.

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. ‘What shall I feed them, do they like bread?’

‘Don’t feed them bread. That’s what the tubs are for. Just scatter it in front of them, don’t hold it in your hand as they’ll peck you.’

She was beside herself and he was glad that one at least had been a winner.

.o0o.

Next they drove 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 buy some more nibbles.’ A conversation ensued with the publican, both grinning, then Hugh came back. ‘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 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 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 have to keep a fire eternally burning so that no one will ever look underneath. Even in the middle of summer, that fire’s still going.’

‘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 Richard proceeded to explain to Ksenia the intricacies of storing, tapping, the cleaning of the pipes, the gas 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 – plus she was the centre of attention and two men were falling over backwards for her – a most satisfactory arrangement all round.

.o0o.

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

Probably best now to head back ‘home’ – they could do Grosmont tomorrow and Goathland, he’d have to get her walking and hungry again for the chish ‘n fips later. The way was to get her to Boggle Hole and walk along the clifftop.

X

‘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 spoke: ‘All right, let’s summarize this. Her plan was originally to use Mr. Jensen as a courier with no danger at our end of the flight. However, certain operatives working for western companies saw Mr. Jensen as an irritant, irritants get swatted – we know all that, so what are you going on about? Correct me if I’m wrong but there’s something I still don’t see here – why would anyone decide to hit Ksusha over that?

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 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 just yet.

Pardon? Da, we could do that, 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 you hanging about and observing. Yes, yes, protecting her then. Yes, the connection with Section 37 is intriguing, we’re watching that one too.

Actually, 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 someone else is pushing him to act and that someone is at our end. I’d give them a few more days, they’ll then take their flights as scheduled.

Right, contact me tomorrow at hourly intervals from 09:00 onwards unless something special happens. Yes, I’m sure she has, I’m sure she’s well in control of it and playing him along. Poka, Zhenya.’

XI

At Boggle Hole, a deep ravine where stream meets sea, where they now left the car, they 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’d seen the monument to the men of Whitby and now asked about that.

In his best tour guide voice: ‘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.’

.o0o.

Time for the fish ‘n chips. They dropped down to the apron, went over and bought haddock, chips and mushy peas with curry. ‘We can eat them on the way back.’

‘How?’

‘Out of the packet – a bit like you do with syemyechki seeds, only hot.’

Climbing the rickety stairs to the top again, they found the old railway line which led to Ravenscar and walked side by side, munching the last of the chips and curry sauce, stepping over the remnants of old railway sleepers embedded in the earth.

‘Why did you leave here?’ she asked.

‘I lived further north.’

‘Why did you leave there?’

‘There were reasons.’

They’d got back and now it was a case of dropping her at the hotel, taking the car back and booking it for the morrow.’

XII

Dilyara looked at Marc across the table at Chai once the other two had left and thought Prague sounded good. This flat was family in one form or other, she now needed a bit of distance, a bit of independence.

The thing was to convince him to take her there without him feeling 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.

But he’d given her to understand that it was the head of his Section who was digging in against it – not even her own parents were.

XIII

Ksenia thought she couldn’t eat another thing but as eating does, it gives you energy and she had plenty of it, he did too. It was still early enough and she was hoping he had a plan.

He did. ‘Fancy some live music? Have you heard English folk music yet?’

‘Not sure.’

‘I noticed on a board down by the apron that they have live music at the Dolphin this evening – there’s the walk down there and up again, not bad beer, not sure what music you like. This is a few musicians coming in and jamming.’

‘Ah, that’s good – guitars, violins and things.’

‘That sort of thing, yes.’

‘Well what are we waiting for? What should I wear?’

‘Dress down -’ he looked at her and realized that was not going to be possible, ‘- dress as you are,’ he smiled. ‘Let’s go.’

On the way out, he had a word with the proprietor that they’d be back in around eleven but could they sleep in until nine, miss breakfast and lunch but be back for dinner?’

‘No need to miss breakfast, sir, we can make a sandwich box, put some fruit in, that sort of thing, plus a drink.’

‘Exactly what the doctor ordered – thanks. We’ll be tomorrow night as well, as scheduled.’

‘Of course.’ The proprietor couldn’t keep his eyes from her assets as they left the hotel. He sighed. ‘Jammy beggar.’

Just before the steep incline, he pulled her over to the grass where the memorial was and took her in his arms, his lips touched hers and then it intensified.

They eventually disengaged and she said, ‘Thank you. We’re being watched, we have things coming up later, that was a nice ice-breaker. So far, you haven’t put a foot wrong, Mr. Jensen.’

‘Let’s hope it stays that way. I feel I’m playing with fire here.’

‘No, Mr. Jensen, you’re not … well maybe a different kind of fire.’ Her eyes were sparkling. He was close to being gone on her and she knew it. Thing was, she did not wish to abuse it because she was having the time of her life and … she also had some feelings.

There was a call to her mobile, she looked at the screen and put it on speaker.

In Russian: ‘Da, Zhen, da, it’s still live … shto? … why shouldn’t I have been enjoying myself? Have I ever not? … Tell LudValerievna things are going well, there’s no security threat from this direction … Ti shto? … Ah, thought there might have been … You’re out there, aren’t you, watching over us? … Yes, of course you’re my brother and I’m your keeper too … Look Zhen, get off the phone, he’s coming back.’

She closed the mobile and looked across.

They got to Grosmont in time, parked and paid, went in to see the craft shop owners, long time no see and she stunned them, as she did everyone. She was also diplomatic enough to choose an item she could put in her pack home, they went across and boarded the train.

.o0o.

There wasn’t a lot to say about the meal – very Grand Pullman in its own way, the scenery stunning, lovely outing.

.o0o.

And so it was back to Whitby mid-afternoon, Goathland having to be foregone – there was only so much they could fit into one day. Here was the 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 climbed 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.

‘How old is all this?’ she asked.

‘The headstones say but they’ve been worn away a lot. Let me ask you some questions.’

Chapter 1-3 hereChapter 1-5 here

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