2-10: First salvo

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I

The next changeover was delayed due to a strange falling out between Emma and Michel. What the origin of the dispute was, no one knew and neither of them was talking – Emma in particular clammed up. No one had told Emma about Michel, so there was general puzzlement.

The houses had to be rapidly revamped by Geneviève and it came out looking like this:

1. Jean-Claude and Sophie-Fleury, Jacques and Francesca
2. Nicolette and Hugh, Emma, Francine and Jean
3. Nadine and Paul, Michel
4. Geneviève, Thierry, Olivier, Gemma coordinating

Nicolette was of the opinion that something was brewing and asked Hugh.

‘I know no more than you on this,’ he said. ‘The traitor assumes, quite correctly, that Genie will immediately contact me for my opinion and that I will seek the opinion of Emma and then share it with you. Remember that, for the traitor, this is a game of intellectual superiority.

Emma suspects that this person is on big money and needs to deliver the goods – not immediately but over a period of time – the enemy are very, very patient people. This person has been present at all major decisions made by the Section, knows all the procedures but I don’t think always knows the codes. This person seems, to me, to have a partner and both will have to leave just before the hit.’

‘I see.’

II

In their room, Genie explained, ‘We must be ready to move quickly, Thierry – it’s all going to happen soon.’

‘Yes?’ She felt him tense up.

‘It’s over for them. We have a very nasty set of boys we can use to deal with such things – we’ve not used them till now but a dear friend of ours from Parisien days has always placed them on offer.’

‘Who are they?’

‘They’re called Detail 503. You know of them?’

‘I’ve heard of them, yes.’

‘How?’

‘During your rehabilitation. Tell me about the traitors.’

‘One’s a man, one’s a woman, one’s the cleverest, the coldest traitor I’ve ever witnessed and the other is a weak pawn in the hands of the first. It’s ever the way.’

‘The weak one slipped up?’

‘No – it was the strong one who gave the game away.’

‘How?’

‘Too clever – tried one too many embellishments.’

‘Could you be mistaken?’

‘Not now.’

‘How can you be sure?’

‘People give themselves away in the smallest ways, when they least expect it.’

III

The changeover took place next day and no one, not even the enemy, had a hit on the agenda at this time. They all settled into their new houses.

.o0o.

In the dead of night, two dark-clad figures, a man and a woman, looked at each other, peeled their suits to their ankles and engaged in intercourse so violently that each thrust lifted the female off the floor.

.o0o.

An interminable time later, they opened the outer door, slipped down the steps, caught the signal on the other side and scuttled across the grassy slope to meet their contact.

There was a whoosh, then another, and both dropped to the ground.

Five men in black uniforms and balaclavas put the pair onto stretchers and four took them to the van. The fifth went up the steps to meet a young man who asked if the two were now dead.

Receiving an affirmative, the young man opened the transponder and sent his signal to PLN. Papillon nodded, switched off the device and turned to Thierry for comfort.

IV

Late March, 2007

With the execution of the traitors, the pairings suggested themselves really:

1. Francine and Jean, Jean-Claude and Sophie-Fleury
2. Geneviève and Thierry, Olivier and Gemma
3. Emma and Paul, Jacques and Francesca
4. Nicolette and Hugh coordinating

They were back to fourteen.

Emma was sad, yes but not inconsolable as she’d been integrally involved in the executions, she understood what had been happening and was pragmatic. Geneviève, on the other hand, was inconsolable and Thierry had his work cut out. All members One2Oned her at intervals.

Hugh and Jean-Claude had long One2Oned, missing the old bonhomie and determined to occupy the same safehouse sometime in the near future.

V

At Geneviève’s safehouse, Thierry pulled back the blinds, went to Gemma’s room and knocked. On receiving the word, he entered and saw they were at the computer. Gemma usually slept in the room with the computer and Olivier took his place on the divan in the main room but during the day, he was constantly in there playing games.

Thierry wanted time with his son but when he saw they were engrossed in the game, he quietly withdrew. No sooner had he departed than Gemma pressed exit.

‘What’d you do that for?’

‘I don’t want to play that anymore.’

Olivier was way ahead of her and terrified. ‘You’re making me nervous.’

‘Uh-huh.’ Clearly she was going to have to lead him. She put her lips close to his and he took a peck. She waited for more then gave it up. During dinner she planned to steal something from Geneviève’s room.

Just turning fifteen, she was precocious, far in advance of Olivier, in an experimental frame of mind and Geneviève was beginning to think she’d made an error in approving her airlift.

.o0o.

Late evening, silence had descended on the house, not a peep from the two in the other room. Softly, silently, Gemma’s toes touched the floor and then the rest of her was gliding across the floorboards towards Olivier on the divan.

He was awake, she urged him to be silent, gesticulating for him to follow her, which he was disinclined to do. She stood there, head inclined to one side, puzzled and summoned him again.

In the other room, Thierry lay on his back, staring at the ceiling. Geneviève asked, ‘How old were you, Thierry?’

‘Fifteen. I’m going out there. He’s not ready for this.’

‘If he’s not, he won’t. If you go out there, he’ll try it next time in spite of you.’

VI

After the scares of the past days and the rubbing out of the traitors, Hugh and Jean-Claude pushed hard for the Section to be battle ready. Everyone had to train daily to a regimen, tailored to them.

For example, Sophie-Fleury [the woman] was not going to be capable of much so a lateral solution was found. As a girl she’d roller skated and thus their safehouse was one with a sloping pathway at the rear, at the end of which they always had support staff nearby to lift her when she got there.

Every member had the defence procedures tailor made and the pairs drilled in support fire and how to cover.

Each safehouse had to be studied in detail for its escape possibilities within an hour of arrival and all gear had to be left in a trail to that escape route, to be donned in motion, as it were. Nobody, including Hugh and Jean-Claude, were to be allocated a safehouse where the escape procedure was beyond the endurance of either her gender or his years. There were no beg-pardons here, no sensitivities. If you were too old for the route or too weak, you were endangering the other partner.

Hugh arranged that body armour was always at the ready and the food packs were always in place. The outer wear would remain unchanged, the second unisex layer would last one week, the undergarments were interchangeable daily, with one spare carried in one of the pouches. Another pouch carried only personal items. It was a remarkably compact and yet efficient outfit.

For himself, he’d allocated the HK UMP 45 sub machine and the M1911 pistol as the holstered sidearm, firing the .45ACP round. It was either that or the SIG-Sauer P220, the latter useful for Europe but the 1911 gave that assurance in critical situations which Hugh demanded. Nikki was using the Russian PP-2000 SMG and GSh-18 pistol, both about half the weight of comparable arms and accepting the hollow nose 9mm Para rounds for soft targeting.

The greatest problem with convincing her to use the Russian weaponry had been her normal European bias and the extreme functionality of the two. They were simple action weapons but simple action meant reliability and reliability meant living.

He showed her that, as her function was the opening suppressive fire and the mopping up of those not blasted out by the 45s, she needed both large magazine capacity and large rate of fire, which both these gave, all in a super light format. Plus, she was a small girl and both these weapons suited her size.

They were all ready for the flee procedure – in the case of Hugh and Nikki, the second part disagreeable in the extreme.

Slowly, slowly, they were becoming hard, slick, fast and determined to work with their partners, as they knew full well that any altercation, any health issue, anything at all, could threaten their lives.

No one had to mention it but sexual relations were obviously encouraged to improve the bonding but they were out of order within hours of either a changeover or an alert. That was only logical, especially for the males.

Jean-Claude suggested that they should become more proactive as a Section and people agreed. The killing of the traitors had sent out a clear signal to the enemy and all of Europe too that a Section whose modus operandi had once been seen as purely diplomacy and intrigue was now ruthless, armed and ready to excise problems from its midst.

This unfortunately played into the hands of the enemy who could plausibly label them terrorists and yet Europe knew they were only terrorists for key elements in power, not in the least for the common people, they lacked ideology and made a point of playing the Robin Hood, setting off countless court cases, and paying for them, for people the public were sure had been wronged.

Thus they had enormous tacit support but of course – traitors among those as well.

VII

Emma looked across at Paul and saw a boffin who might have been technically excellent, adept at politics and intrigue but was he hard enough to protect her? Plus he had overseen the demise of her child’s father. She made a mental note that she would not make love to him, not that it was on the agenda at all. It would take time to adjust and to be fair – he’d lost someone too. That must have been tough on him.

In his late thirties, Paul Fougeres had done all the training with the rest of them and had come through without complaint and yet … and yet. Emma had almost fallen in the bathroom one day and it was Paul who’d raced in and saved her, so what was she saying?

Actually, the more she thought of it, the more she warmed to the man. She went over to him and rested a hand on his shoulder while he was reading Paris Match. He looked up and appreciated the gesture.

He’d come into a Section already up to speed and had been given a tricky assignment, not being seen as part of the unit and not really partnered with anyone. He didn’t want to complain but the coolness of Emma, though understandable, still hurt.

So this gesture was nice.

VIII

Mid-April 2007

It happened at 16:17 and there was no doubt whatsoever.

The first rocket went through the living room wall, took out the wall opposite and began its explosion within the bedroom. This kept them alive, despite the falling debris and Hugh and Nicolette moved swiftly.

Dragon Skins and pouches donned as they ran, they also kissed as they’d always promised they’d do in this situation and scrambled up to the attic of the chalet, crouching near the little attic door. Both SMGs were primed and slipped into the diagonal chest holsters and they were ready.

Another rocket hit down below, the building shuddered and groaned.

Hugh threw open the attic door, fired the carbon fibre cable from the harpoon and saw it cross four roofs, then dig into the wall of the chalet eighty metres away down the hill.

Nicolette clipped onto the cable and disappeared, he clipped himself on and away he went. Being 85kg, his feet touched the top of the second roof, he had to curl up for the third and had just spun back facing downhill when he saw the sniper run onto the balcony fifty metres away and almost fling his weapon on the railing, by his stance trying for Nikki, a three round burst from the UMP took care of him and as Hugh slid diagonally down past the balcony door, another three round burst seemed to collect the one inside but he couldn’t be sure because he was already past and lower than the balcony.

At the chalet, she was already unclipped and now he did too, he shot the carbon fibre cord with the 1911, the cable whipcorded back over the roofs to the attic.

Inside the chalet, they scrambled down the stairwell and out to the drying room. The far wall panel removed, it was into the next chalet and two familiar faces appeared, now into the prepared, hollowed out refrigerators with the rear air vents, which were then loaded onto the triple wheeled removal trolleys, out to the waiting removals van with household goods in the back.

Inside their respective refrigerators, they could feel the van gently feeling its way down the winding road – a removal van would never hurry. Out of the refrigerator, with a slight push on the door, he called to Nikki, she opened her door to say she was OK and they were ready for the next move.

They felt the van slow to a stop at the crossroads and prayed the drain cover in the road had already been slid across, they got out of the fridges, Hugh slid their floor hatch open and breathed a sigh of relief – the drain was open. Nikki went down first, then him, closing the manhole cover after him; then they heard the van turn right, whilst they clung to the metal ladder.

Down the ladder and the torch was switched on for the one and only time – uggh, the sewage was disgusting, overpowering, but it was the only way. The Watchers would have expected them to take the regular water supply pipes – they’d be anticipating that and anyway, it was only 58 seconds in the sludge after all, they had their disposable waterproofs on, top to toe and there was a hot bath waiting at the other end.

She dropped into it first, he after her, and down they went, two giant faeces on a journey to near oblivion – 55 … 56 … 57 seconds – she grabbed the bottom of the ladder and tried to haul herself up, he was prevented from being swept on by her body, he got a hold on the ladder and together they managed to finally scramble onto it, pausing to get their breath back, the shaft was opened at the top – they could see the light, then there was the sudden darkening above, weapons primed, the wait for the signal – yes, it was them – up, up, out of the shaft and in through the floor of the other van, one of them would replace the manhole cover, he closed the floor hatch, the van moved off down the hill, then turned right; yes, that was correct – then back up the hill again, yes, all correct, finally turning into the driveway, the sound of the creaking wooden garage doors opening, in they went – the back of the van opened – and out they got.

‘Abend, Franz. Wie gehts?’

‘Herr Jensen, schnell, schnell, hier entlang, bitte. Fraulein, bitte.’

.o0o.

Thirty-eight minutes later saw them in an upstairs bath together, washing the bits and pieces of the filth from one another, mainly from her hair. They got out and flushed the scum down the drainhole, then filled the bath again.

The terminally soiled waterproofs had already been dumped by Franz and now he came in with kitchen scissors, leaving them on the stand.

Nicolette looked at him, he looked at her – his hair was already close-cropped. ‘Bourne Identity,’ he breathed.

‘Precisement. Do it as best you can, it needn’t be pretty.’

As he cut, she stood in the bath with its mirrors on adjacent walls, she made occasional suggestions but at the end, she was satisfied it looked chic enough for the nonce. There was no lovemaking to follow it.

They scrubbed and disinfected some more, got out, dried each other, she looked so ravishing and … well … freshly scrubbed.

‘Welcome to homelessness,’ he muttered and she smiled that smile which went straight through him every time.

Dressed in layers again, they went downstairs, where both were handed gluwein, feeling the roar all the way to the stomach, then they fell on the repast on the table – meats, vegetables, bread and water.

‘Herr Jensen,’ Franz dropped into English, ‘You’ll be collected at 19:00, in forty minutes, all right?’

Their other equipment was in the room and Nicolette now checked over the communications gear – it all seemed to be OK. Hugh checked the food and drink containers, Nicolette checked their clothing, a quick check of the weapons and they were ready.

‘Entlang hier,’ said Franz and they followed him through to his garage and into the back seat of the X5. ‘If all is well, he’ll be there, and Gunter will give the signal, otherwise we continue on, understood?’

‘Verstehe.’

.o0o.

The drive had been near interminable – they couldn’t tell how many towns they’d either bypassed or gone through, they seemed to be forever turning at crossroads or avoiding the edges of narrow lanes.

Eventually, they made it to a field in the middle of a virtual wilderness, Erik put his mobile to his ear and said something in German.

The next thing they heard was the sound of rotors overhead, the shadow of a helicopter passed over their vehicle and onto the field in front of them. Hugh offered both men his hand from the back seat, they shook it in turn, the car stopped, they got out and sprinted, bent over, scurried to the copter and got in the open door, Hugh first into the back and Nikki in the front, beside the pilot.

Even as the copter rose, they saw an enemy burst come at them from the bushes and strike the fuselage, Hugh rested the UMP and gave a short burst to the bushes.

The copter swung away to the left, straightened and they were away into the clear, starry night.

.o0o.

With the helicopter flying low to the land, Nicolette reminded him of the OK signal.

‘Doing it now,’ he replied, assembling the apparatus in the back seat. He entered his ID, entered the numbers which spelled the message, scrambled and sent it to the other three safehouses.

He awaited the auto-confirmation and it duly came from all three, then, just as he was about to switch off, the screen filled with a blue glow and there she was again – that girl called Thirteen, her lips puckered and her voice said simply, ‘You were warned.’

From his sharp intake of breath, Nicolette sensed something was wrong, swung round and put two and two together: ‘What did that bitch say?’

‘We were warned.’

‘Then the traitor -’

‘I think it was preloaded.’

‘Switch it off.’

‘It’s off. We’re the only ones who were hit. They’re all fine, apparently.’

X

With Nikki and Hugh now back in a safehouse, one of the two houses in their inventory geographically furthest south, life returned to what, for the Section, was deemed ‘normal’.

Those two actually had the best of it, being on an island and able to go down to the water at dusk, crunching along the sand, arm in arm. Yet she seemed somehow out of place and for how many women could that be said?

‘You’re so urban chic – you’re not a beach girl, are you, love?’

‘My skin – it burns, it’s uncomfortable, you know that. This is nice now this evening -’

‘We never dance, you and I.’

‘I’m not very good at it,’ she smiled. ‘Je suis idiosyncratique.’

‘Don’t I know it. Do you want to try a little dancing together? When we’re close, it’s not really dancing, more shuffling around.’

‘Music?’

‘Could you stand me singing in French?’

She looked at him incredulously. ‘You? Sing in French?’

He reached over for his pack, rummaged through a pocket and brought out his organizer, in which were a dozen scraps of paper. He tipped them out and found three, put the rest back and turned to her. ‘You ready?’

It was an upbeat number by Cabrel and he half-read from the scrap of paper, near enough in tune:

‘Pas besoin de faire de trop longs discours,
Ça change tout dedans, ça change tout autour,
Pourvu que jamais tu ne t’éloignes,
Plus loin qu’un jet de sarbacane,
J’ai presque plus ma tête à moi,
Depuis toi.’

She stood stock still, staring at him, then broke into a smile he’d always remember. ‘Start again. Do you want me nue?’ She didn’t even wait for the answer but jumped up, disrobed and waited for him to start.

He did and she cavorted around the hut, not half bad but as she’d said – ‘idiosyncratique’, putting in thrusts and oscillations all over the place but with exceedingly graceful arm movements.

‘Alors te voilà bout de femme,
Comme soufflée d’une sarbacane.
Le ciel s’est ouvert par endroits,
Depuis toi.
Oh depuis toi …’

She did one final pirouette and fell over. He skipped across and straddled her on the floor, hard as a rock, he almost forced her apart, to her smile and gasp, she was taken aback by the force of the thrusts and hungry kiss, which had her going now. In rhythm, it was close to brutal and the result was messy.

They lay panting for some time, getting their breath back, settling down, almost shocked how quickly a man and woman could get to that level of frenzy so quickly.

‘Now for something a little different,’ he eventually said. He looked at the other scrap, mouthed the words a bit first and then delivered softly, gazing into her eyes:

‘Au fond de ses jeux de miroir
Elle a emprisonné mon image
Et même quand je suis loin le soir
Elle pose ses mains sur mon visage

J’ai brûlé tous mes vieux souvenirs
Depuis qu’elle a mon coeur en point de mire
Et je garde mes nouvelles images
Pour la fille avec qui je voyage’

That earned him a bearhug which almost squeezed the life out of him and a big sloppy kiss. ‘You had three pieces of paper. What was the other song?’

‘I’m not singing it to you.’

‘Oh?’

‘Je pense encore toi.’

‘Ah, yes, don’t sing that one to me.’ She shivered and held him close. ‘Why did you have those?’

‘I’ve always liked Cabrel, I thought I could work them in somehow, one day.’

‘Opportuniste.’

‘Mania for preparation.’

‘Make love to me.’

XI

A complication was the general tightening of security in Europe for the 12th European Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production and this would make movement all but impossible.

They were trapped unless they could move today or tomorrow.

Another factor was the World Cup, clearly an opportunity too good for the enemy to miss but when they’d strike was anyone’s guess. Geneviève asked Jean-Claude and Hugh why the ERSCP should affect them and Jean-Claude saw it this way:

It was well known that France hoped to make an impact in its EU presidency over security and border controls, Germany wished to stymie this. France therefore needed an event to illustrate the need. The conference was in Berlin for three days and delegates would be billeted in various places, some in the building Hugh’s safehouse would be located in.

If there were to be a terrorist attack, more sweeping controls could be brought in. After all, they’d managed it with 911 and 7/7, so why not again?

Geneviève decided to bring the changeover forward to the next day, uneasy about the other three houses, plus she wanted to allow Francesca back with Thierry and to give Olivier and Gemma some space away from Papa’s disapproving gaze.

Francine had been observing matters for quite some time without comment but now she put a message on Conference. ‘Do the enemy want Hugh, do they want Nicolette or do they want both together? Do they want to kill or capture? Sophie-Fleury now had a proposal and everyone was keen to know her opinion. ‘Well,’ she typed in, ‘if Hugh and Nicolette were not in the same houses for a few days, that might tell us which one the enemy wants. It would also save at least one of them.’

Geneviève added, ‘There’s also evidence that Hugh is this Albus they spoke of and we know there is a Belus. This seems, to me, to be Emma. If Hugh and Nikki were willing, why don’t they, for two weeks, agree to be in different houses?’

‘No!’ Nikki immediately replied. ‘I don’t like it and you know very well why not. You know exactly how we both feel.’

‘Hugh?’ typed in Geneviève.

‘Nikki speaks for both of us.’

There was electronic silence for just under a minute, during which time a lot of thinking was going on.

‘Nikki,’ wrote Geneviève, ‘we’ll never know unless we do it.’

‘You know very well what you’re asking, both of you,’ she responded, ‘and I want you to know I’m upset that you could be so dishonest. Do you take me for a fool? I’m discussing this with Hugh for two hours now.’

‘Hugh?’

‘We don’t like this – we’re now going to discuss why you’re doing it.’

They got off their transponders, Geneviève shocked by the response but to Emma, it was predictable, as was Hugh’s support for her. In fact, if he hadn’t supported Nikki, she, Emma, would have been most surprised and not at all sure she’d have liked it.

.o0o.

Nicolette climbed into bed beside him, quite agitated. ‘We knew this was coming and they were my closest friends. Tell me the truth – I know you supported me now but were you in this too?’

‘Not in the least – this is a new one on me. Nikki, I’ve been meaning to talk to you. Be brutally honest – does it still hurt you that Franka and I … did that?’

She began to cry. ‘Does it play on your mind when you’re inside me that he was too?’

‘I hate it, I try to put it out of mind but it’s easier because you weren’t lying there as in that disk they sent.’ She gasped. ‘Yes, Nikki, intercourse is the final barrier, it brings us together, but it tears us apart if it’s with someone else. I was not wrong in saying that.’

‘I never said you were wrong, I said we thought differently. Now I start to see just how damaging it really is. We’re not going, we’re not leaving here.’

‘Agreed, you send the message.’

‘You come with me.’

They went out and she sent it. There was a period of silence from all, then came a reply from Papillon, ‘How about you two, Francine and Jacques? I’m concerned you two have been coordinating too long without a break.’

‘We’re fine. Put up your house list and we’ll talk about it.’

She turned to him. ‘It needed to be in that tone, Bebe, the traitor [if there is one] will be worried that we know something and they’ll send One2Ones to each other.’

‘Yes but it’s all about who is sending to whom, isn’t it?’

She looked at him and placed her palm on his face. ‘Bebe, we’re at a very dangerous stage. We are, geographically, quite near our own escape route we planned, we’ve saved most of that distance already here and we can get local help – I saw fishing boats. We have money, we can get more. We could suddenly skip over to our safe place and then we’re in someone else’s hands. The down side is that we lose contact with SSF forever.’

‘How bad do you feel that is now? Given that there’s still a traitor, given that we aren’t close to most of those people any more, given that we’re probably coming to the end with Jean-Claude sponsored safehouses – who would you miss most?’

‘Don’t forget Mademoiselle and you also put in money, Thierry some.’

‘Nowhere near Jean-Claude’s level. Who would you miss?’

‘I’d say Francine, you might add Jean-Claude.’

‘Yes. Let’s look at Genie’s house plan when it comes and decide. Our long term though, Nikki, does not look good – they could track us down. We need to think our whole plan through again.’

.o0o.

Geneviève’s house plan was not forthcoming – instead, she One2Oned that it was now too dangerous to send a plan and she would One2One pairs one pair at a time and if they received nothing, then just stay put where they were. There was a communication ban on anyone One2Oneing.

This could be taken a number of ways – if Geneviève were the traitor, then she had now divided and ruled, if Emma, her communication channel was gone, if Thierry … well, you could make a case for anyone. Francine had been the one to suggest separate houses for the two of them and both were hurt by that. They simply didn’t know and it was most worrying.

‘Can’t we even go for a walk any more?’ asked Hugh.

‘Bebe, I don’t know. If we do and there are watchers, then that’s it. If they’re already targetting our hut, then it might be best away from it.’

‘If we walk through the huts until we get a fair way away, watching the beach, that might help.’

‘Let’s do that. I know some places we could hide in, I saw them along the way. We’ll leave all our gear, including the suits, to indicate we’re returning, but dress native.’

‘No One2Ones worries me.’

XII

Geneviève knew the Section was not happy but she’d arranged the current accommodation with Paul and her coordinating, Emma and Thierry as a house, the four young ones in their own house, Sophie-Fleury with Jacques … but Francine and Jean-Claude were on separate missions which involved a hit some weeks from now.

Unfortunately, SSF had to score a success to keep the sponsorship coming in to pay safehouse staff, at least for the final safehouses. She realized that Hugh and Nikki no longer trusted her so she’d sent Francine for that reason, Francine already not far from them and she should be there on the morrow. Whether they would be there themselves was something only Francine could find out.

XIII

They were staying in a hut they’d found some distance from the original but stayed away during the day, coming back to it at night and this was the second night.

They were carefully walking through the huts, pistols under their gear, noting any natives they did not know of, which could mean a number of things and it was Hugh who squeezed her arm and said to go ten more metres.

They went behind one of the huts and peered around it, back at the beach. There was an unknown sitting close to the grass adjoining the beach, sitting in a most unnative way, a way Nikki recognized. Semi-darkness had fallen and it was quite still, the spoken word could be heard at about five metres.

The half-moon gave a weak light.

He whispered in her ear that she needed to make up five words which would establish beyond all doubt that it was her, if the other was who they thought she was. It had to be something which could not have been learnt or guessed by the enemy.

She nodded, thought and came up with, ‘La pâquerette does not smell.’

She spoke it, the unnative stood and moved behind one of the huts they had gone past, the two of them slipped back inside their own safe-hut entrance and waited.

She now appeared between the two huts and said softly, ‘Leurs fruits dégagent des odeurs qui attirent les insectes.’

‘Francine, come in here.’

She slipped in and sat on the grass floor – no matting in this hut – and they went through the to-and-fro with Nikki which the two had always had set up, then it moved to things which could not have been planned.

.o0o.

Now it was time for the documents, Nikki pored over them by her led light.

.o0o.

Francine noted that Hugh had drawn his weapon and was casually, nonchalantly, standing to one side, she also noted that when it was time for Francine to drop her attire to the ground, Hugh moved around side on, Francine smiled because she knew the whole routine.

Nikki disrobed and the two woman embraced and kissed.

Nikki went over and took his gun, he dropped his gear and embraced Francine too, then, both looking over at Nikki who nodded, they kissed quickly.

He went through everything Francine had had on her, checked the lining, checked every part and finally satisfied, they all dressed and lay in a three pointed star.

‘Speak,’ said Nikki.

‘Have you woken up that there’s another traitor, you two?’

‘Yes.’

‘I also know, as Nikki said, that you’re near an exit route for yourselves here and the boat I came on will take us to that tonight. I’d not go back to your hut now – you’ve lost the armour and personal effects, sorry.’

‘We’ve all the things we need with us here.’

‘Except food – there will be snack type food in the boat. Our fisherman friend will go back later with his friend, take what there is and bury it in another part of the island.’

‘Journey time?’

‘Four hours getting here, we have six hours dark still, the sea is better now – maybe three and a half going back.’

‘Security?’ he asked.

‘Various checks. We have to walk to near the point now, so let’s get going, apart but within sight.’

XIII

‘Wouldn’t make for a very interesting tale,’ thought Hugh, ‘were someone to write the story as a novel.’

Nothing had happened on the boat trip, the wind and waves had stayed down, no one seemed to be anywhere, and here they were in this bizarre situation of a normal house, not like the safehouses they’d had, now sitting about, having just tucked away a chicken chasseur apiece.

The hostess, the wife, was now pouring the coffee. Maybe the coffee wasn’t up to Nikki’s or Francine’s standards but hey …

Said Francine: ‘Mademoiselle wants you back in position, Hugh, for Jean-Claude and you to do your business.’

She now explained the Niedelmeier story and they had to own – it had a certain piquancy to it. This was the real name of an investment banker from Vienna who, they were seemingly reliably informed, was one of the council they’d been trying to infiltrate through their backers. At least, everything pointed to him being one. He was the one visiting this banker’s conference and the one who’d be in that hotel on the required day.

The staff would lift him and he’d be taken to a stately home they’d hire for the day, to be met by Jean-Claude and Hugh in the guise of people vastly more important in the world of the Seven than they were, with due respect to Jean-Claude. ‘Sorry, Hugh – to you too.’

‘Jean-Claude and I would need to meet to plan and order the equipment.’

‘You will meet at the stately home but not before. I’m afraid it will have to be done off-air, via paper notes. The notes will be sent in bits via real gifts which need sending, like something sold on one of the online commercial sites. The gifts will be sent from all different places in Europe to different destinations and re-routed. This is the support staff’s last act of support in a way. But we still have to get you, Hugh, into position and that’s why I’m here, to stay with Nikki. Do you entrust her to me?’

He ignored that but did say, ‘I was getting concerned that it was only Nikki and I together,’ Nikki looked on incredulously, ‘because a girl needs a girlfriend as well as a man.’ Now she relaxed. ‘Personally, I’m happy enough with two girls but of course it will be lovely to see Jean-Claude again.’

‘What if Nikki and I make love?’

‘How many years have you two been together? Whatever’s going to happen I’m sure has had the chance to happen many times in the past. No, it was clever of Genie to send you.’

She was about to reply that she was the only choice both would have accepted but decided not to. Instead, she dropped the bombshell, ‘I’m afraid Hugh must go tomorrow because none of the parcels must come from here.’

.o0o.

‘You’re not happy,’ observed Nikki beside him in the comfiest bed they’d had in a long while, ‘and I know why. It’s not the mission, not the danger, is it?’ He just looked across at her. ‘The only thing you care about is that I do not sleep with another man.’

‘I care for your safety too. I’m not worried about company because Francine is with you.’

‘I believe that not even a death would affect you like another man inside me, as you put it.’

‘It’s pretty major, we’ve been through all that, and I don’t like Francine’s attitude.’

‘I could have killed her when she said that – I know you don’t really care about her and me doing anything, it just got you thinking though, didn’t it? And I know who you were thinking about – you saw me giving him a glance in that boat. There’s no point telling you that a glance and smile do not add up to sleeping with someone but you think they do.’

‘If a man is intrepid – and you would only look at an intrepid type – then he will try. He’ll work his way into the place on some pretext.’

She had nothing to say for some moments. ‘I tell you what I hate in all this – I never said anything about a man -’

‘But you did, Nikki, you’re the one who mentioned him.’

‘All of this is horrible. Everything is lovely with us, then suddenly Francine comes and it falls apart. It makes me want to die.’

‘How can I stop you dying?’

‘By believing what I say – that no man will get into this house, you can believe that or not, Hugh.’

‘Of course I believe you. We need to talk to Francine about this. I’m going for her.’

She was in the kitchen, leaning on the benchtop and her delight was obvious as he approached, he led her back to their bedroom, Nicolette already in bed. She moved over, he told Francine to remove her clothes and get in, he got in the other side of her.

Francine it was who spoke. ‘I know you’re not happy with me, either of you, for suggesting you go to different houses. I know that – it was just spite, frustration. I swear I’m not the traitor but I do think I know who it is, I’ll keep that to myself because I have no proof, I just think I know.’

‘All right,’ said Nikki, ‘can that person harm us here or Hugh when he goes tomorrow or me?’

‘No, I can’t see how. Hugh,’ she turned to him, ‘did Nikki tell you about what I told her about us having sex?’

‘Which part?’

‘That I engineered it.’

‘Yes but I don’t agree – I was just as guilty.’

‘I needed you so badly, I actually needed both of you so badly. I lost my reason. You are Nikki’s, there is no question in any way, I must go with Jean or Jacques -’

‘Paul?’ asked Nikki.

‘He’s keen on Mademoiselle. Hugh, you don’t know what it did for me you sleeping with me but I knew it was once and forever, this now is a bonus, though I had hoped this might happen. You and I will never sleep together again though, Hugh Bebe, not after tonight, because I love Nikki.’ Francine was crying. ‘You see, mes petites, despite your kindness, I know how I look to men, these are life’s realities. I feel the world is coming to an end.’

There was an open-ended question in that and Nicolette waited for Hugh to speak. ‘Franka,’ ah, that was a nice gesture, thought Nicolette, ‘Nikki and I are in a brittle state at this moment, we’re worried about the traitor and we’re only just recovering from Michel and you. And here you are with me now, lying against me again. I’ve shown you I will make love to you any time, any place but I’m not going to actually do it again, not while Nikki still wants me. It’s essential I do this for my wife because firstly I love her but I must also show her that I do. Even this night she’s unhappy with me for not trusting her and some man -’

‘There was nothing in that, Hugh, trust me, I know when there is and when there isn’t. You must show her faith – she would be distraught, chagrined if you did not show her faith. But not only that, you will strangle her love for you and only bitterness will take its place. Be ultra-careful, Bebe, how you treat Nikki this way. And Hugh … you would lose me and any other female too.’

‘You don’t need to tell me, I understand that, I trust her implicitly, I feel secure going north to Jean-Claude. My other concern was leaving her here in general, safety-wise, but I think you two together can look after each other, it’s a weight off my mind that you’re lying in this bed and telling me these things.’

‘That’s the truth, darling man?’ she asked from over there. ‘All of that is true?’

‘All of it, Nikki. Now, what are we going to do this night?’

‘Franka and I can make love all we want tomorrow,’ Francine looked at Nikki sharply, then at him, ‘but I want her sleeping with us tonight because I’ll accept all three of us in here together. But I also need to say farewell to you, Bebe -’

‘I’m off then,’ said Francine and began to climb out but he held her there.

‘Not so fast. Nikki, how long do we need, it’s 23:30.’

‘Is an hour enough for us?’

‘Done. Franka, we want you back here at 00:30, all right?’

‘All right?’ asked Nicolette too.

‘I’ll pour you both drinks now and then leave you in peace.’

.o0o.

‘Amazing night, Bebe.’

‘A very productive night.’ They could hear Francine in the kitchen preparing snacks, so knew they’d be interrupted but it was OK. ‘Now, Nikki,’ he whispered, ‘are you sure she’s no traitor?’

Strangely, Nikki took that seriously. ‘I’m pretty certain, I tried a few traps she fell into which showed me she actually wasn’t. Remember you told me about being sheepish and all that?’

‘All right, we have fifty minutes or so – shall we?’

Coition took about three seconds, the rest of it happened over the course of the next hour. They knew Francine would come in, it had always been her way and here she was now, placing the snacks on the side tables with the cognacs.

Nikki paused his thrusts and said, ‘Franka, I completely forgot about whether you could get into bed with us after it.’

Francine paused, thought how to put it and said, ‘Don’t be upset by this, Nikki, but I am well used to Hugh’s fluids … and yours too.’ She smiled at Nikki, Nikki smiled back and slapped his thigh to continue.

.o0o.

When Francine did eventually climb back in, it was to a relatively dry bed and she knew they’d avoided some things for her. ‘How do you want to … er …’

‘Hugh in the middle, he can lie in his own mess.’

.o0o.

After half an hour of constant conversation, he was dead tired and those two were conversing rapidly over him in French, so he said, ‘Nikki, into the middle, into yours and my mess, I’m where you are.’

They changed places. ‘Goodnight, ladies, talk all you want.’

‘Aren’t you going to kiss us?’ asked Nicolette.

He climbed out, went round and kissed Francine quite deeply, then went back, got in and kissed Nikki more deeply, the point was not lost.

Those two talked half the night.

___________________

Sarbacane

La fille qui m’accompagne

Je pense encore a toi….

___________________

Chapter 2-9 hereChapter 2-11 here

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