2-12: Georg

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I

They sat in the shed, both close to the edge, even with the messed up food which was still food nonetheless. He thought it best she recover first, that she show the strength and now she did, her pity for him overcoming her own dismay.

‘It’s not so bad, Bebe. We do have food for today, we can divide this and eat it carefully. There are some tubs of what looks like water, we’ll find out when it gets light. He’s not a bad boy, just … boyish.’

‘Unthinking.’

‘He thinks as a boy does – you were one of those. Actually, you still are. We’re lucky to have anything. We’ve had a wash, we’ve had exercise, we’ve had food.’

‘Will you let me hold you now?’

‘You’ve ceased to be smelly. You may approach.’

II

Genevieve got the cryptic message through to Francine as arranged and got the reply that there’d been a change, that the enemy had been close and Hugh and Nikki had had gone into hiding by themselves. The date of the last house had now been put back and she, Francine, did not know it, the house owner herself knew it and would communicate with them. She, Francine, was ready to go to her own last safehouse.

Genevieve reflected. Days were when she would have leapt to Nikki’s aid, would have been chagrined by this development but now … now she wasn’t so sure. She hadn’t liked that rebellion over the houses, Nikki was getting above herself just now and that was Hugh’s doing – she recognized the cavalier disrespect behind it.

Plus those two had betrayed her. Terrible thing to say that but – and she shook her head sadly – those two had betrayed her. Well she was going to show she was above all that, that she would not betray them in turn.

III

It was just about time for the final move, they were reliant on Georg turning up – the little matter of food had also raised its head again.

They discussed getting him a present but realized they simply couldn’t.

.o0o.

Georg dropped by, ostensibly to bring tools and by so doing, was able to bring a bit extra food,

‘If we can’t buy you something, then would a kiss from me be any use?’

Georg went self-conscious and Nikki struck. He knew a little more about the charms of a woman by the end of those thirty seconds.

Georg drifted out of the shed and that was all they saw of him for the day.

‘All right, Bebe, I’m ready to hear it from you.’

‘No words. Be careful, just that.’ He got down to it. ‘We have to leave here, Georg should have told us – I expect he will this evening. This food’s not bad – he’s got the idea now we like chicken, which is a great improvement. Salad again too – luxury.’ Nikki did not see the humour in that at all – food was something to be respected. ‘I just mean we’ll last until we get there tomorrow.’

‘Sleep, Bebe, I have to stop your snoring.’

.o0o.

Georg returned at dusk, still shy and blushing, Nikki thought of trying it again and decided against it, not sure how far she could push Hugh.

‘Hugh, Nikki, I cannot stay with you. I have made a map for your new house, how to get there. Ernst, my friend, he is becoming too suspicious and so this must be the last time now. Oh yes.’ Out of his jacket was plucked chicken and salad.

They thanked him profusely for the varied cuisine, he looked to see if they were taking the micky but Hugh explained that it had been breasts one day, legs the next … and the salads had varied too.

He was dubious but happy enough. ‘So, I really must go. Look at this map and tell me if you understand?’

They pored over it for some time, Hugh asking some questions here and there.

‘If I can get out, I’ll come near the house late afternoon but I can’t guarantee I can get out. I’m sorry.’

‘That’s fine, Georg, and thanks for everything.’ She gave him another burst.

He remembered to shake Hugh’s hand, then he was gone.

‘I’m ready to hear it, Bebe.’

‘Necessary. So, Moineau, what’s your cunning plan to get there?’

‘I’m sure you have that worked out in your head. You tell me.’

‘The first part must be à pied, but at some stage we’ll need to do something dangerous – hitch a ride, probably with a truck. We just won’t get there in the afternoon otherwise.’

She already had it worked out. ‘We can pay him if we have to, we can tell him who we are and offer to help him in some way – we’ll work that out as we go. You’re right about our cavalier manner – it’s that and being careful at the same time which will save us. Plus a prayer.’

.o0o.

They woke up mid-evening, ready to make their first move towards the highway, they polished off the last of the food and had some water, their weapons had been checked over. It was going to take an effort to get back into this mode – the last time had been that hit on the house.

‘Moineau, you saw the map – there’s a main drag, a long road through the town and there’s that row of shops from where the pizza came – at the far end, did you notice a service station, a gas station – I heard trucks. There’s a trick my mate and I used to do – we’d go close to the trailer park and see someone go into the cafe. If he was chatting up a girl, we’d race round the back, untie a strap and climb in, tying the strap back down. Often he’d come back and check the straps, see that one, tighten it but everytime we’d get away with it. We’d jump off later. That though was in Britain – British roads, British laws. I don’t know the system here.’

‘We could try it – it’s safer, it’s the least worst.’

‘We’d have to know when to get off though. We might need the new money for a bribe too.’

‘Well we have that. I’m ready.’

.o0o.

A light drizzle had become a bit harder this evening, the lights in the trailer park glistened on the asphalt but not on the gravel, they stood behind a tree each, under a branch, and observed for forty minutes.

Neither of them was particularly soaked because of their hoods, it was not a bad situation at this point. And as if on cue, one transport pulled into the park, the airbrakes puffed, the driver shut things down, opened the door and ran for the cafe door.

One of Nikki’s jobs was to watch behind them and no one was nearby at this point.

The man clearly knew people in there, especially one of the waitresses behind the counter, there was repartee going on. Good. Hugh looked at her and she back, they made their move behind the transport, hoping no new one would come in the interim, Nikki’s fingers were better – thin and wiry.

They were inside and she immediately reached through and restrapped the strap – they heard footsteps, the man climbed into his cabin and started up. Then he must have noticed the strap, climbed down and come back, he tightened the offending strap.

This concerned Hugh because he knew the Germans as sticklers and the man would not have had a loose strap. Too late now. He pointed to his gun and hers, suggesting how they’d do it. She nodded.

.o0o.

About two miles further on, they seemed to have left the main road and were on a sideroad, there seemed to be a layby and the transport now pulled over.

The driver jumped down, came back and untied the strap, then another, then another. Then he called out in that sing-song voice: ‘Geh jetzt runter, hebe deine Hände hoch, wo ich sie sehen kann!’

That was clear enough, even for Nikki. Hugh waved for her not to make a noise. They knew he could not fire at any of this cargo and wreck his curtains, he would have to call mates probably.

He repeated, ‘Ich wiederhole, geh jetzt runter, hebe deine Hände hoch, wo ich sie sehen kann!’

He was not in a good position, the man, being alone, despite the tone of the demand, though Hugh assumed he had a weapon. The man now pulled the curtain open with his left hand, his right hand held a shotgun. He approached the tray and leaned in, big mistake – at that moment, Nikki pushed her foot down on his wrist, clapped her pistol to his temple and Hugh quietly said, in bad German, ‘Lege deine Schrotflinte sehr vorsichtig ab und klettere auf das Tablett.’

He imparted enough intonation to show he knew something of the language and meant business, the driver reasoned he was up against something more than freeloaders or migrants here. He did as asked, Nikki stooped and whisked the shotgun away, Hugh instructed him.

‘Setzen sie, Hände auf deinen Kopf.’ The man did but the German langage had been wrong – surely Hugh would have gone to ‘dich’ in this position but he’d chosen not to. Nikki knelt down, one step back behind him, pistol straight at the man’s skull.

Hugh came forward, his own pistol less closely trained on the other and he started the dialogue.

‘Es ist klar, mein Herr, dass wir Ihnen kein Leid wünschen, aber wir haben schon vorher getötet.’

‘I know some English. We can speak half and half perhaps.’

‘Gut. Bitte. Das ist unglücklich mit uns, du bist in etwas, was Sie nicht verstehen und wir haben keine Lust mehr, als in die Stadt gebracht zu werden.’

Ah, now he saw it. ‘You are some sort of agent?’

‘Let me ask you, friend, are you on the side of the people or the criminals above you?’ Now this was so deliberately provocative and they’d struck a typical worker who was totally pissed off with it all, the constantly increasing levies, taxes and so on.

Still the man needed to be cautious though. ‘What do you mean?’

‘Do you remember a hit on a house here by missile a long time back and they would have told you we were terrorists.’

‘You?’ He was incredulous.

‘They were trying to murder us. Do you know who we were?’

‘My son says you are a section who causes trouble for authorities. He knows you from the net.’

‘Yes, we are. This lady is French security and had to escape because she exposed corruption, I am a university professor. Are we terrorists?’

‘How can I help?’

‘Let us get close to this house,’ he brought out and handed over the map, the man looked and nodded.

‘I know this house. You are going to attack it?’

‘No, we will be staying there. They are our friends and they are waiting for us. Tell us about how things are now in Germany.’

‘Germany! What is Germany any more?’ And he began a tirade, glad of an audience where he did not have to mind his words. All the same, Nikki watched his shotgun. ‘… and now they have brought in another levy and my son cannot continue his education at the Institute.’

‘For money or political reasons?’

‘For money.’

‘How much is the shortfall? Wie hoch ist der Fehlbetrag?’

‘400 new notes.’

He nodded to Nikki who reached into the sidepouch and extracted 500 notes. She handed them to him and the man was seriously torn. Of course he’d take them. ‘I swear I will not tell anyone about this journey now.’

‘You can certainly tell your family all you want but only after our time here is over – two weeks. Can you keep it quiet for two weeks?’

‘I swear to this.’ He went to get up and wasn’t stopped, he realized the shotgun stayed there. ‘I will take you behind this house, high on the hill. My friend has a house and a shed. You will stay here on the trailer until I return and you will stay in that shed. I know that this means trust – I could claim a reward from the authorities.’

‘And then?’

‘Then I will be known as a collaborator and my fate and that of my family will not be pleasant – sooner or later, my friends and colleagues will get me. This is why we never accept the bribes. This you have given me is a loan and one day I shall repay, at least that will be my intention.’

At the time you know you must appear behind the house, use the holes in the wall to see who is around. You will slowly come down towards the house and observe. My friends, I know this house, it belongs to our friends but I did not know they’d arranged this. I know who you are and no one says anything to anyone, we quietly rejoice. Now I will retie the straps, I do not need the weapon – unload and put it in its box while I am away.’

‘Of course.’

.o0o.

‘22:00, Bebe and we must be here until 14:00 tomorrow – it’s a long time.’

They expected drama of course, they expected treachery and there might still be some, plus they didn’t like that they would be so long in the shed but this time the food was good and it was varied – there was even a soft pack of white wine, the type with the nozzle.

.o0o.

About midnight, she wanted him to have the first sleep because his sleep meant work to her. They found sacks and laid them on the benchtop for her to sleep but then realized the sleeping person would have to remain in the folding chair. It was OK.

.o0o.

They had no light in there but Nikki looked through one of the gaps and could see lights in the house, someone at the kitchen window, normal family business it seemed.

.o0o.

She’d let him sleep until 04:00 and he’d appreciated that, now it was a case of her getting some shut-eye. He kissed her and squeezed her hand.

.o0o.

He filled in the next four hours and would have let her have a fifth but the sun came up and was bright, she awoke, took it all in, he smiled a good morning, sleepy head, handing her water and two small portions of chicken breast with the assorted greens.

She looked at him. ‘I’m frightened.’

‘So am I, this has a nasty feel to it but we’re prepared -’

‘For machine guns out there?’

‘Nikki, most people said, ‘You were lucky,’ others say, ‘Luck had nothing to do with it,’ and look up at the sky.’

‘Yes – I am starting to believe in these things.’ She rested a hand on his forearm. ‘Yes, it’s the best way to think about things.’

.o0o.

Lunchtime after midday saw them finishing the last ratty bits of chicken and now they really were in trouble if they couldn’t get to that house but she kicked in with:

‘There are people out there, like Georg, like that driver, they know our situation, they may even be around out there. We don’t know. I was thinking it was a little like Anne Frank but it’s not really, there’s no pressing danger right now – if we’d stayed in that shed there would have been.’

.o0o.

For some variety, they stood and kissed for awhile, he whispered some sweet nothings which she returned and that bought them some time.

Suddenly, a voice outside said, ‘Hugh, Nikki, do not come out until 20 hours, do not come out until 20 hours.’ It had been Georg.

Nikki skipped over to the crack in the wall and watched him go up to the house, the door opened and he went inside.

She looked across at Hugh and he at her. Maybe it was going to be all right after all.

.o0o.

The N1 issue now was sheer boredom and they had their routines – the wiggling toes, going over the weapons and ammunition, checking the packs, moving about a bit, not a lot.

They knew to shut down as much of their internal system as possible, to breathe evenly, to remain calm – they’d trained for this eventuality.

She said, ‘It’s very good practice, Bebe.’

They’d used a corner of the shed with a grate or grill for ablutions and Nikki needed that now, he covered her with his gun. He’d go later.

.o0o.

The light was showing signs of fading, at least for those in the shed – two hours to go.

.o0o.

Time.

Packs on their backs, they went through their procedures, covering one another, the owners had switched off the rear house light and there also seemed an issue with the street lighting out there, they seemed to have friends.

It was pretty dark as they made their way down the hill as a hitchhiking couple, they saw two people further down about 20 metres away watching their safehouse. They were armed, these two.

Hugh swung around and looked up the hill and could have sworn he’d seen two people, he moved Nikki over to a strange concrete edifice, about waist height – maybe it was an electricity thingy, who knew why these things were there, and they stood beside, not above or below. Now he was certain there were two dark clad figures above them up the hill and those figures were coming straight at them.

‘Hugh, Nikki, don’t fire, don’t do anything,’ the voice was soft. ‘Walk down towards those two people, they are ours. One is Reinhart, your driver, use his name. We will stay here.

.o0o.

Reinart urged them to get down and whispered that there were two people in a clump of bushes over to their right, at 45 degrees. They could not be seen except vaguely, so he described them.

The girl sounded like Emma, the male they could not tell – Hugh assumed Paul, not Thierry, Jean nor Jacques. It was never going to be Jean-Claude, that had been agreed.

.o0o.

It was mid-evening now, very dark and they had no choice but to wait for that back door of the house to open and for the signal to be given.

And there it was – a woman came out and laid a footmat down, then a second one on top of that.

The woman below came from behind the trees but because there was no light from the house, it was difficult to make out but she seemed pregnant. The man followed and they both disappeared inside the house.

‘Go, go, we have you covered.’

Hugh shook his hand profusely and down they went to the door, not too fast but straight inside.

.o0o.

‘Emma, Paul.’

‘Nikki, Hugh.’

‘Emma, you’re parturient,’ observed Nikki.

Emma smiled and dropped her head. ‘We could not let it out of the bag, not with an enemy among us. The father is Michel.’ She stood, swaying, Hugh moved forward but Paul caught her. Good.

‘We’re starved,’ said Nikki.

‘We’ve eaten, I’ll cook for you two – go and do the procedures, then get cleaned up.’

.o0o.

Nikki and Hugh came back and Nikki said not to put the living room light on for any reason, just the kitchen, the one lamp – they were to stay in semi-darkness, they’d see why in the morning. Everyone was to stay in their bedrooms through the rest of the night, no lights on, take turns watching. Emma’s and Paul’s room was at the far end, theirs was nearer the kitchen – don’t walk, crawl along the carpet.

Nikki suggested that while their gear could be in that far bedroom, they could actually sleep in this one when off duty, as she and Hugh would be on duty.

Hugh shook Paul’s hand and asked how he saw it.

‘Seems OK so far,’ said Paul, ‘I can actually see the problem from here – that long panorama window and the lights from the other hill over there.’

‘Agreed. This bedroom it is. Plus the kitchen.’

IV

Geneviève could finally relax. The signal had come from the final house now, from Paul, and she could get some sleep.

She was back with the brood in this last house, it was better this way, she needed time near the communicators too, without interruption.

Everyone was settled in. For now. June had just ticked over into July.

V

July, 2007

Breakfast in the kitchen.

‘So Emma,’ said Nikki, ‘are you going to tell us when, how?’

‘I haven’t seen you for months – it had to have been before … well …’

‘Don’t speak of it, Em. Yes, are you managing? Paul seems nice to you.’

‘A rock, he’s been terrific.’

They looked at one another and Emma said, out of the blue, ‘I don’t like this house, not for our purposes. To get to our bedroom, we must crawl along that living room wall, we’re a sitting target – whoever thought this place up?’

‘On the other hand,’ said Paul, ‘they’d have to fire from a long way, with sufficient power to pierce walls. Who’s going to risk that in this cosy town? Seems to me more likely to be a ground assault from down below. Our hosts can’t watch us 24/7.’

‘I don’t like it,’ said Nikki and all agreed.

They went through the escape routes now – the two separate directions the pairs would go. Emma’s and Paul’s ended up back in France and Nikki was … well … well, she understood that she and Hugh couldn’t say.

The good side was that they could get to Nikki’s and Hugh’s room without going into the living room – if only there were an intervening door between the two bedrooms. ‘We could make one,’ suggested Hugh.

The ladies did not see the humour in that so he raised his hands in apology.

.o0o.

Hugh felt it was time to get to know Paul a little better, while he still could. After all, the man had been instrumental in dealing with the traitors and Genie spoke highly of him.

He’d had quite a prestigious past. Born in Mont-de-Marsan, in the department of Landes, he was educated at the Lycée Victor-Duruy and went onto the ESIEE in Paris, in computer science and electronics and that explained a lot. That’s how Genie had hacked into Nadine’s little scheme and the true value of Paul in the Section was coming through.

Hugh intimated as much and actually apologized for not having got to know the younger man earlier. ‘We didn’t do a lot to make you welcome, Paul but that’s because there were other things on our mind, dangers and we had interrelationships already. Don’t forget that I also came to Paris cold and had no one at the start, though I’d met two of the Section in Russia previously.’

Paul nodded, as Hugh topped up his glass and continued, ‘Tell me about your field of work.’

‘Well, I developed the One2One, as you probably know –’

‘No, I didn’t. I knew it was someone on the support staff, I’m sorry.’

‘It was relatively simple, just a variation on a circuit I’d been thinking about at the school but it seems to block interference and it’s not atmosphere-susceptible.’

‘Let me ask you about Thirteen then. How do you think they did that?’

He dismissed it with a wave. ‘Simplest technology – no magic. Nadine was good and she listened to me explain -’

‘I bet she did.’

‘- she found how to channel the One2Ones. She stole the code from Mademoiselle for that day and so they not only had the ability to broadcast to us but they also knew the codes and were privy to Section changeovers. No names or locations were ever used in the changeovers so they had to second guess that bit and not even Nadine knew until she was actually in a Safehouse, so that didn’t get them too far. They sent Nadine the images that same day and she fed them in.’

‘Could she have got away with it? Could she have fooled you for long?’

‘It always worried her about me but she did have a good brain, much better than she let anyone think, her English language is … was … supposed to be very good –’

‘It was exceptional.’

‘Well, she was like that in engineering as well. I think I would have woken up to the trick but I might have been killed before that, as she’d learned all she was going to. It was Mademoiselle who woke up first that it was Nadine.’

‘How much of what you were doing did anyone else know?’

‘Mademoiselle was the only one who knew what I really was, apart from Nadine and then Michel, of course.’

.o0o.

Emma and Nikki were in the latter’s bed – they weren’t going back to their room, as per arrangement. The requisite cuddling and kissing had been done, the conversation now turned to the baby.

‘Em, you do know that if anything ever happened, I want it to be you with Hugh … just not while I’m here.’

Emma grinned. ‘I’m your N1 worry, aren’t I?’

‘Actually, Franka is because she and Hugh have history now but you’re more his type.’

‘You need have no worries on that score, Nikki.’

‘Hugh said that that would be your attitude.’

‘Did he?’ She was pensive. ‘I see no future, Nikki. I see Paul all right, that will go for as long as it goes -’

‘No, Em, that must go on forever. You will do the right thing by him and you will make him a good wife. You owe that much to Mademoiselle … and to me.’

‘I see. Yes, I’ll make him a good wife.’

.o0o.

Paul and Nikki were on duty, Nikki had insisted and it was a show of faith, Emma and Hugh went to bed quickly to speak for an hour and sleep for three.

‘Here we are again, Em,’ said Hugh. ‘Remember the last time?’

‘You ask me that question?’ And now an amazing thing happened – tears came to her eyes. He moved over, took out the clean handkerchief from the bedside drawer and dabbed her eyes. Unlike Nikki when he did that, she did not take the handkerchief from him.

She was all right and handed it back. ‘You know about the Albus and Belus, don’t you?’

‘The myth.’

‘You’re sure it’s a myth?’

‘They might be brother and sister.’

‘No, they’re lovers, they have a child.’

‘No, Emma, I won’t accept this now.’

‘I know you won’t. There’s been much talk about the intensity between you two and if anything, it’s got stronger. I don’t want either of you hurt. We’re in a dangerous game, a dangerous place now and we’re all wanted, they don’t intend to play nice. I see a need for a more stoical look at things.’

‘I’m not disagreeing with that. Does Paul make love to you?’

It was an outrageous question but he knew he could get away with it with Emma. ‘We both know each other, don’t we, Hugh, we know how far we can go. I know what you’re thinking and you know what I’m thinking. Yes, he has tried but the mouth is the only place it can be.’

‘I was thinking that about Sophie-Fleury [the woman]. Jean-Claude sees either an intercourse life or a bachelor life, nothing in between -’

‘He has a different set of sexual variations to … to us, Hugh.’ She quickly added, ‘To Nikki and you.’

He looked at that mouth of hers now, she knew all of it and they were getting imperceptibly closer. He placed the kiss but that was all.

Emma was frozen, she looked up at his eyes sadly.

‘I should have taken you back at the start, long before Nikki. Everyone but you knew Mademoiselle was playing that game, it infuriated me, it infuriated Nikki too. I’m not saying she was deliberately doing it – I think she saw it as an easy way to keep the peace but also to get the best of both lovers.

I was the very first to put my hat in the ring in that forest – sorry, Hugh, but I was there before Nikki. You are against divorce but I was already going down that path and Michel was so unfaithful, even with Nikki.’

‘I know about that episode, I know there was sex.’

‘That was the last straw for me, that was the end, I almost broke up with Nikki – I was thinking of it.’

Nicolette was mortified just behind the door and Emma was well aware she was there, listening.

‘Hugh, understand – I would not have come after you in revenge, in fact if I’d broken with Nikki, I’d hae stayed away from you. Those things we did – that I did -’

‘That we did, Emma, that we did.’

‘Thank you. Those things – they had nothing to do with revenge or anger with Michel, you must understand that. They were because I wanted you. I knew Nikki fellated you all the way and that’s why I did the same in your flat. Nikki thinks it was just, you know, the start of it and I want to tell her now what I did, I hate this lie.’

‘Yes but we did nothing else, Emma, that was your only act, ever.’

‘More’s the pity and you were the one who paid for it, Hugh, I got away with it. That’s wrong.’

There was silence and then she went on.

‘Nikki is so obviously N1 in your heart but I can tell you it’s the other way too – I just want to say that I am not in the business of breaking up something good like that, although she always suspects me. But Hugh, keep in the back of your mind that you were N1 in my heart from a long, long time ago.’

‘I need you to accept that it cannot be, Emma, under these circumstances. I cannot let myself fall in love with you, though you know very well I love you like mad, because you’re the kind who would consume me, like Nikki has. My mind cannot cope with that, I can only cope with one woman in my soul.’

‘I know that. That is exactly why.’

Outside the door, a metre the kitchen side of it, Nikki could finally breathe out, she slipped back into the kitchen, Paul in the communications room, she poured herself a cognac and knocked it back. It was reassurance, that, reassurance was how she would take that.

.o0o.

And so it was Nikki and Hugh’s time for bed.

‘Bebe, I listened to you and Emma, you couldn’t expect anything else from a girl like me.’

‘I think we both knew. Nikki, Il n’y a qu’un bonheur dans la vie, c’est d’aimer et d’être aimé’

‘Georges Sand,’ she smiled. ‘If you really feel that, then let’s marry in two days.’

He tried to speak but she’d stunned him again. ‘Er, sure?’

‘Yes, my grandmother said I must, at your age and in my situation.’

‘At my age?’

‘She said that, I didn’t. I want. I’m ready. My questions have been answered for a long time. And you?’

‘Of course I’m ready but we haven’t had the chance, away from danger.’

‘Don’t you understand that you and I are never going to be away from danger … never. That’s why we should do this now if you want.’

‘Of course I want. Please marry me.’

‘I might … yes of course I will. Anyway, I’ve been thinking – if I said you could either have sex with me twice a week this next month but not sleep the night with me … or else you could sleep every night with me but no sex for that month, which would you choose?’

‘Hypothetically?’

‘No, for real. Choose.’

‘Easy – I can last a month without sex. I take the latter.’

‘I don’t believe you.’

‘You said it was for real. So I’ve chosen.’

She just stared at him, then nearly squeezed the life out of him again. ‘You knew I was joking, didn’t you?’

‘Not really, I thought you might have been testing me – I don’t consider that punishment. Nikki, I need to go to that next stage – the stage I think Ksusha and I got to.’

‘I want to hear about the night before Ksenia and you got married,’ he did not correct her and she mentally noted that, ‘if you can.’

He thought about which bits to talk about. ‘Right, we’d had a lovely evening, food, wine and conversation – Genie, Francine, Jean and the two of us – Ksenia had to lie down in her room, Genie went in, lay with her and they talked. Then Genie came out, I said goodnight and went in. Ksenia said to me: ‘You’re unsure about all this, Hugh?’

‘Not any more. You?’

‘Honestly, Hugh, 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.’ That’s what she said.’

Nicolette fought back tears. ‘And next morning? I want to know what it was like.’

‘She’d made a scarf for me, knitted it and I don’t think she’d knitted anything in her life.’

‘Was it good?’

‘Well, it was … OK. No, it was wonderful because she’d made it and I said to her, ‘It’s perfect, Ksusha. Thank you.’ I had a little present for her, a classic doll, dressed in the old style. I’m sorry, Nikki, I don’t have anything for you this time.’

‘How could you? I’ve only just hit you with it. Go on.’

‘I want to take you shopping, it’s something normal we haven’t done, we were lucky enough to get a third of our funds the last time we were together, we have plenty.

OK, so Genie had made breakfast of croissants with honey, but also eggs, the English way. In the early days, everyone had been against Ksusha and I getting married but now people were supporting us. That’s all I want to say, just to remember the nice part.’

She was already doing that thing she always did – her body moving the whole time beside him, then against him and now it simply erupted into sex, then she suddenly stopped and said, ‘If you want our baby, I’m ready. If you don’t, I can wait.’

She always flabbergasted him. He considered it. ‘We’ll have a child, no question if you wish to have mine – these are not just words – but we can’t do that until we’re secure in our next place, the one we planned, you know that, Moineau. We’ve got those billets for a couple of months as you know, our accounts are accessible, we’ll do it but we must give ourselves some security first. I’m looking at three months to start trying for the child – do you accept that?’

She was onto the next part. ‘We know you can -’

‘Could, that was some time ago and various factors come into it. Let’s not go down this path, you can too, it will happen when it’s meant to happen.’

‘A mother is going to think about those things, Bebe.’

‘Yes.’

There was a tap on the door and it was Emma. ‘Paul’s on a project,’ they knew that meant he’d be hours, so they told her to get into bed. She stood and thought, not about whether she should but that those two were naked in there.

‘Clothes off, Emma, in our bed.’ said Nikki. ‘We said the same to Franka.’

‘She did this too?’ They both nodded. She disrobed before them and went to get in but of course it was more difficult for her. He got out and she climbed into the middle. ‘We’re mad people,’ said Nikki, we do things like this.’

She now cuddled up to Emma, he caught on and did likewise from the other side of her. ‘Ah, yes … right …’ was all Emma could think to say, but secretly, she was over the moon – human warmth, oh human warmth.

‘I like Paul but going back into France and you two … that’s going to be tough for me.’

‘We have a reunion system as you know – after a year, we’ll activate that. But until then, he deserves that chance, Emma. We’re worried for him actually.’

‘I know. Don’t be, I’ll do everything and will love him.’

.o0o.

The plans were pretty well finalized in the morning.

Tomorrow, once the wedding was done, Pieter would arrive and take them, in two separate pairs, Paul and Emma first, through the cellar with the skip. There was a way Emma would be lowered, the ropes were in place.

Communication had to then stop until they got to their respective billets or, in the event of an emergency, after the procedures had kicked in and they were en route to the northern outpost which Genevieve would tell them about en route.

Then the One2Ones would cease functioning, so the enemy could not use them. Paul had built that in.

It was all pretty clear.

.o0o.

Early afternoon, Paul received a message from a Georg, via open telephone. Paul had acted non-committal, following Georg’s lead, he checked with Hugh who had nodded.

.o0o.

Ten minutes later, Georg was inside via the skip and was welcomed. They stood inside the kitchen or just outside.

‘Herr Jensen, there is a military base outside the town and my friends observe now and then. They saw a warhead arrive yesterday. That’s it. It could mean anything but I just thought I would tell you. I did not wish to say it on the telephone.

‘What you really came for was a kiss from my wife.’

Nikki stepped forward and gave him a thirty second special but then the two men puckered up for their kiss with him – Georg ran for the skip, clambered down and was away.

.o0o.

The night before the wedding, almost surreal, no one could sleep.

Emma inclined her head towards Paul, about all she could do, and wondered about him. ‘Where would we live, Paul?’

‘Interesting time to ask, Emma, so late in the piece. What are your thoughts on it?’

‘Paul, that’s your usual trick. What do you have in mind? You’re my man.’

He was thrilled. ‘There are about eight possibilities which would be safe enough, mainly in hilly areas and some connect to family and friends over the years. We’d have to meet them and make our minds up one by one until we found one which seemed to suit.

The beauty of my business is that it needs no geographical location, I can run things from anywhere -’

‘But the money is geographically based.’

‘Yes and no. There is a silent system many of us use and as any money system is based on trust and honouring agreements, we all use it now. We haven’t given it a name but it might be called Freed Up Cash.

It’s a system of credit which works only within the country the people are in because it does depend on suppliers of goods and services agreeing to it and the only way they would do that is having seen it work. When the state currency breaks down, which is happening right now, this type of currency starts to work well. I’m one of the main organisers, so naturally the state would like to shut me down.’

‘So we’re never going to be out of danger.’

‘I’m afraid not. As things break down, we become strong, even rich … but also in danger as you say. We never starve, we wear good clothes but we are in danger. But in no more danger than now, Emma.’

‘I was hoping we could just go away and forget all of this.’

‘Get real. Come on, you were one of the brightest sparks in SSF – you know exactly what we’re in. We can stay safe enough for some time but then things must change in our favour.’

‘How?’

‘When society breaks down irretrievably, the ability to send people after us also stops. Roads break up, rail lines are disrupted, there is no fuel for aircraft. We come close to a barter economy and that’s when the astute do best, no artificial constraints any more.’

‘So you’re saying I’m with the right man,’ she smiled.

‘I said nothing.’

.o0o.

Nikki was deep in thought as usual, he’d just lie beside her, watching those cogs turn and a few times in the past she’d taken him to task on it. ‘It puts me off, Bebe.’

‘Impinges on the thought processes, yes?’ She’d slap him for that but then she’d think – if it gives him pleasure to watch someone thinking, then why not?

She eventually broke the silence. ‘We should have disbanded before Opinicus. It was a great thing to achieve if we were continuing but we were never going to continue, so we should have saved that money and organized for all of us to follow our escape routes around the world. Now they might make it very difficult to get away.’

‘Probably but it also bought us something – people more inclined to help, especially on the internet – they’ve taken up our cause. The problem is that most people still rely on official channels for information. The only way we could get our story out was via staged events like that. It always staggers me that people would just take the truth dished out to them by those with agendas.’

‘Does it help to be mad?’

‘I really do think so – mad means not being overly-worried about it all, that we’ll somehow get through with help from Above, the fact that we can live frugally really does help. You’re the practical one too and that was a major factor in me going for you.’

‘Is there such a thing as being too mad?’

‘Oh yes – I’ve made a study of this. The English call it eccentricity and it can be quite useful – it means that through strange humour or … well … madness … you can face up to things others would collapse under. If you’re also a believer in a Maker who can help those in need, then the two together are good safety valves.’

‘But it would be hard to live with such a person.’

‘Unless the other one had his or her own madness.’

‘Like us.’

‘As I say, I’ve looked at the topic – the rates for suicide, for health conditions and so on. The man or woman with a project is also in this category – often his and her health is robust. But it goes further than that – a certain amount of applied aggression also helps.’

‘I don’t like aggression.’

‘Says the girl who clapped a pistol to a transport driver’s head. Says a girl who -’

‘Do not mention Prague. I did not say I wouldn’t do it, I just said I don’t like it.’

‘And that’s why I used the word ‘applied’. We put on an act to a point. Not sure if I’ve mentioned this before but in Russia, there was one road intersection where everyone coming to it was unsure, was watching everyone else. I decided to come at it aggressively, balnoi or crazy in Russian, always ready to pull back but the moment they saw that coming, they all pulled back and I got through.’

‘May I completely change the topic?’ she asked, he nodded. ‘Why did you never settle, never really settle I mean?’

She’d done it again and now she watched his guppy impression with interest.

‘Ah … um … maybe it was like this … I was always a bit … different … not unlike you … idiosyncratic … plus I give out a vibe of being sweet and articulate, kind … but there is also a demon in there and a very angry man, one who will kill … and the two do not go together. Those who like me soft hate the other thing, those who like me cavalier think I’m wet when I get like this. I think that’s it. Plus I’m not everyone’s cup of tea to look at. But to some, it’s what they want.

‘It is with me. You know they think I’m strange too, always have.’

‘Yes, darling, I know.’

‘It’s nice when you call me darling.’ She was away thinking again. ‘Should we wait until after the ceremony to make love, you know – like a renewed virgin – or should we make love now because we won’t have time tomorrow morning because we’re leaving after it, we’ll need our strength and we’d have to clean up?’

‘You just answered your own question.’

‘Have you noticed how it’s changed since we first did it?’

‘We’ve evolved. Now we flow into one another, it’s smoother.’

‘Let’s do some flowing.’

Chapter 2-11 hereChapter 2-13 here

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