The Six, while maintaining close contacts with the security services in each member nation, didn’t really place much store by catching the four in transit – they never had before. No, the Achilles heel of SSF was when they were inside the safehouses, then they’d relax, they would try things.
There was plenty of time to reel them in, it would simply require patience. They knew that what was left of SSF was well out of range of Europe for now but they also knew that that very European-ness would drag them back.
Then they would be picked up.
Ten days into August, three people arrived on one of the outer islands of an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean and each settled into a hut with a local woman to keep house. The fourth was still in transit.
Tua was too far removed to be involved in the civil unrest and separatist push on the main island, a dispute fuelled by the collusion of the major powers with local warlords and it kept attention focused on the more populous areas.
The downside of this remoteness was that the island, being inhospitable to agriculture and possessing no minerals anyone wanted, was largely dependent on fishing and on the occasional boat from the next island across, Lalina, fifteen kilometres away.
It would do for now.
On the second evening of their landing, with dusk about to fall, Geneviève finally arrived and each followed his or her host through the rainforest towards a clearing.
First into the clearing was Jean-Claude, followed by Hugh from another path, he walked across swiftly and the two men embraced.
‘I heard you had a hot time in Frankfurt, Jean-Claude.’
He only got a smile in return.
Next to appear was Emma, a picture in a sort of sari, gathered at the waist. Hugh let Jean-Claude have first kiss and cuddle but when his turn came, the palm and fingers placed on her cheek and hers on his, the very serious look in their eyes, confirmed all Jean-Claude had hoped for. Now the only person possibly unsure would be Geneviève.
She appeared from yet another track, looking something like her former self, until she saw Emma unparturient, which caused her to break down and cry.
‘So,’ observed Jean-Claude eventually, ‘here we are.’
‘What’s next?’ asked Emma, herself not dry-eyed.
‘I’m sure our hosts have something in mind,’ said Geneviève.
Two plaited vine ladders now fell, each from a tree on opposite sides of the little clearing, weighed down by short logs tied to the end and natives climbed down to the ground.
‘I’m not going up there,’ said Hugh.
‘Oh yes you are,’ contradicted Emma but of course, they couldn’t yet, not until the commitments had been made. Awkward shuffling began, the beaming hosts waited, someone had to speak.
Geneviève spoke. ‘I’d like to hear how everyone feels about who goes where. Who’ll go first?’
‘You will,’ said Emma and the men concurred.
‘Then let’s sit down on the grass, everybody.’
They did so.
‘Well,’ Geneviève looked from one to the other, ‘Hugh came to Paris to secure my hand and things happened to prevent that, yet I believe he still loves me … and I still love him. Jean-Claude has never made any secret of his wish to secure my hand and I never closed that door either – in fact, that door is looking quite inviting. That’s all from me. Emma?’
Emma’s face became serious. ‘Jean-Claude, you know we all admire the way you’ve handled anything you’ve touched, I personally think you one of the most sophisticated men I’ve ever met and one of the kindest. Some days ago, Hugh and I realized that Albus and Belus were not just some ancient legend but two living people.’
Geneviève was listening to Emma make her play and hated the way she was doing it, it made her sick. Such talk, so unlike the Emma who’d been her mainstay in the Section, the one who’d held it all together, the one upon whom she could rely – and here she was, making a play for another woman’s man.
She listened with dismay as Emma finished and asked, ‘Jean-Claude?’
‘I think it’s already been said. I’ve never been in any doubt and I’ve never had to consider any other choices, no disrespect to present company. I think that’s all I need to say. Hugh?’
Geneviève looked down at her lap as he chose his words carefully.
‘We’ve all lost someone who meant the world to us and we react differently – I have not broken down yet because of everything happening. That breakdown must come and it’s not going to be good. Speaking personally, I need time to talk to each of you, to close things off, to get give some comfort and get some – I just think it would be inadvisable to make firm commitments at this stage.
I’m proposing that the two women go into this hut here until midnight, speaking with each other and whatever else they want to do, Jean-Claude and I will talk in the other.
At midnight, Genie will stay in this hut and Emma will go over to Jean-Claude. I’m well aware Jean-Claude does not want me anywhere near Genie but she is an adult with her own mind. If she comes to you, Jean-Claude, after that, then it is a decision set in rock, no one will ever question it again. But if you don’t allow this closing off time, then the question always remains because there has been no closure. Anyway, that’s my proposal. Tomorrow morning, we climb down the ladders and go to the person we’ve decided on.’
‘We might come down those ladders and not want to make any commitments,’ Jean-Claude put in, drily.
‘Very true and this night will help us come to that decision. It’s a case of conceding control now, in order to get it back more permanently afterwards. I’m willing to take the risk but you might not be – I’ll be swayed by the majority.’
Emma had been turning it over in her mind. She knew Hugh had to have that time with Mademoiselle and here was a chance she’d never had with Jean-Claude. She was curious rather than worried. ‘Yes, that’s all right with me but I’d like time with Hugh first for a few minutes before we do it. I’m sure Mademoiselle and Jean-Claude could use those few minutes too.’
‘I agree with all of that,’ said Genevieve. ‘Let’s do this softly softly.’
Jean-Claude looked evenly at all three. He understood the logic and deep down, knew it was the only real way to secure Geneviève once and for all – plus it gave him a chance to find out Emma’s thinking too, plus the feel of that body of hers but he wasn’t going to admit that. Also, was it wise to hold out against the opinion of the majority here? He saw little choice.
‘All right but I’d like those few minutes you spoke of just now.’
‘What are you really thinking, Hugh?’
‘You know what I’m thinking, Emma, it’s you of course, but there is also Nikki – she was my world and I must say goodbye properly, also to Genie.’
‘Of course you must.’
‘I have to be sure – I see myself being with you, naturally,’ a thrill went through him, ‘but I really must close this off properly. Will you allow that?’
‘No choice, have I?’
‘That, Jean-Claude, is an attitude guaranteed to lose me and Hugh can then have two women, a little harem.’
That chilled him to the core. ‘Yes of course we must do it this way.’
Each tree hut was actually three floors joined by bridges, with taut plaited vines holding them up – one ‘hut’ or floor area for sleeping in, one for eating and one for washing. The eating hut was well stocked.
There was a hell of a lot of healing going on over in the women’s hut and Hugh immediately assured Jean-Claude he had no designs on ‘his woman’. ‘But I do earnestly need to close it off for good with Genie – there’s a lot of history behind Genie and me, much of it concerning Nikki and I must find out about Emma. When Genie comes to you tomorrow morning, and I’m going to engineer it that way, it will be with no doubts of any kind.’
‘Jean-Claude, you’ve given me wise advice over the years and I’ve appreciated that. Allow me to say something now – I know Genie, she was my woman for so long. You will only secure her by letting go a bit. If she thinks she came to this decision by herself, it’s only going to be good for you, it will harden into permanence.
My eyes are on Emma – was that not obvious to everyone? I know you can’t stand me being near Genie but there is closing off to do, particularly concerning my Nikki – so that’s where I am.’
Jean-Claude nodded, yes it was so, and they got down to more general business.
At midnight, Emma and Hugh crossed in the middle of the clearing, touched each other’s hands but kept walking.
‘Well well,’ said Geneviève. ‘I never would have thought it, Hugh, never would I have thought we’d even see each other again … thank you and you’re quite right, we do need to have this long, long talk about everything.’
‘In each other’s arms,’ he added, looking into her eyes.
‘In each other’s arms. Even though you never asked me if I wanted this night with you.’
‘Do you want this night with me?’
Jean-Claude asked Emma, ‘Will you be with me, Mademoiselle or shall I make a bed in the other room?’
‘Of course I’ll be with you, Jean-Claude – I need to speak with you.’
Emma put her things on the side table and climbed in beside him – a weird feeling for him but as he was a little disappointed to discover – not something he was averse to. She was nothing if not delectable, Emma.
In bed in the other hut, Geneviève noted, ‘We’ll be quite comfortable, financially, for awhile. How long do you think we should remain on the island?’
‘How long have you arranged for?’
‘Ah well, that’s the thing, you see – we’re actually on our own now. The last few weeks were the last time, the winding up. We have no support staff any more.’
‘W-e-e-l-l-l, it was always going to happen. Anyway, we can discuss those things tomorrow.’ He slid across, took her in his arms and asked, ‘Still on the pill?’
‘Uh-huh.’ They both knew he’d have precautions somewhere too but she never could abide them on a man. ‘And what makes you think that’s on the menu anyway, M Jensen?’
‘I’m with you here all night and you’re lying in my arms, plus we have a history of grave offences against modesty.’
At the critical moment, she said, ‘Stop.’ Shocked that he did in fact stop, she added, after a few seconds, ‘You stopped so quickly.’
‘I’m in two minds, just like you. Our libido’s fine, we want each other badly, we love each other, no doubt about that and yet we can’t – even as a last time, we can’t.’
‘No, we can’t, so perhaps we have our answer early in the night. I’m glad you suggested it because it makes things – clearer. I could easily have made love to you now – in fact I want you.’
‘Genie, I’ll make love to you till the dawn, no questions asked. You give me the word and it begins.’
He moved to do just that but she said, ‘No. Stop. Stop. We can’t.’ She sighed. ‘Kiss me, hold me, let’s at least have this night together.’
Emma liked what she saw of Jean-Claude – not enough to live her life with but all bets were off this night and it might actually be the best way to ease back into the real world.
The very real, immediate problem was that she had actually taken no precautions and to rely on Jean-Claude was going to involve her broaching it with him, which would have put it on the agenda, when he might not have even been thinking about in the first place.
What was she saying – of course he’d been thinking about it.
He was looking over at her and seemed at a loss – you see, there was the lost baby, wasn’t there, plus Genie’s reaction if he did this.
Emma thought she’d best broach it. ‘Jean-Claude, I know your eyes are on Mademoiselle and mine are on Hugh but there are practical matters in case of … accidents … I have no … precautions.’
He was astounded. ‘I don’t think the focuses of our hearts might be observing the same scruples this night.’
‘We don’t know that. We don’t know that at all. Jean-Claude, you really have to stop doing this you know … or you will lose her. I mean that.’
‘You’re not the only one who’s mentioned it.’
‘Yes, and Jean-Claude – I need you to secure her if you see what I mean.’
Next morning, Emma was sitting with her back against a tree, gazing across the clearing. She saw him come through the washroom and make for the ladder, he stopped halfway and waited for Mademoiselle who now came up and they fell into quite a deep kiss, quite openly. There was a lot hand work going on in that kiss too.
Emma was dismayed but then realized that the lovemaking, such as it had been between those two, had probably been reserved for the public eye just now. She began to feel more reassured.
The two climbed down the vines to the ground and walked over. She jumped up.
Geneviève went up to her and embraced her, she looked around and asked, Where’s Jean-Claude? Emma’s heart leapt, even though she was sure it could not have been otherwise.
Jean-Claude appeared from a sidetrack, Geneviève went straight up to him, made a short speech, then flung her arms around him, to his unbridled delight, Emma and Hugh made for their hut, they climbed their ladders, then hauled them up after them.
Geneviève sat on the grass matting bed cover in their hut. Taking a box meant as a stool, Jean-Claude brought it over and sat near her. ‘This is so difficult for both of us. You’re a proud woman, with reason to be proud and you feel you have 2nd choice here -’
‘Non, Jean-Claude, you are not 2nd choice – if you were 2nd choice, I’d not be here. You are the 1st choice, I always take 1st choice, which is why Hugh and I did not make love and the only thing wrong was my former desire for the wrong man. Nothing against Hugh but his temperament is not completely right for me – he’d be the first to say it. Your temperament and everything about you is right.’
In the washroom, Emma just stood looking at him, he looked at her and asked, ‘Here we are, could you stand me holding you?’
She quickly stepped forward into his arms but had a question. ‘I have to know – did you and Mademoiselle -’
‘No, we certainly planned to and it got very, very close, Emma, I admit that, but we just couldn’t go through with it. We played a game where I said I would, she said go on and then no, don’t, we had to know if we could. I held her through the night and there was a lot of kissing, a lot of closeness. You saw our last kiss this morning – we saved the real physicality for you and Jean-Claude to see.’
‘Yes, I thought as much.’
‘It was no show though – that was really how we felt – look at our history, Emma. I’m not sure I want to know about you and Jean-Claude or even if you will be honest, given that you don’t want to lose me, as I don’t want to lose you. You tell me as much as you feel you can tell me.’
‘I can answer that quickly. We did not, for a reason you’ll find out when we make love -’
‘You don’t understand just how thrilling that is, hearing that from your beautiful lips.’
She looked at him and was happy. ‘But it was more than that – Jean-Claude had issues with Mademoiselle finding out if we did do anything. And there’s a third reason – Mademoiselle must have told him about my past -’
‘I know much of your past.’
‘Good, then that saves me a lot of anguish.’ She was out of sorts with anxiety all the same. ‘There were other reasons too, these reasons were mine. I’ve lost my baby, recent events have been traumatic and I wanted to come to you pure.’
‘We’re getting down to the heavy issues quickly – that’s very healthy indeed. If it will help, Em, I’m not interested in your past sex life but I’m quite interested in your future one. I also know many of the women think I’m into poursuite de la jupe.
That was never so, I get caught in situations, you above all people know this, where I have poor defences. Nikki and I had totally committed to each other, you understand that. But both of us were practical people and she knew I’d be with Franka or you.’
‘Franka, yes. She really said that to you, Nikki, not just in front of me?’
‘Yes. She genuinely loved me, did Nikki, she wanted what was best and naturally she planned for my future.’
‘I know. You lost a gem there, Hugh, it was impossible for someone like me to compete. Don’t take that the wrong way but we do go for what we want.’ She chose her words carefully. ‘All this has come so suddenly, all this about my past. I’ll tell you all of it in the next two days, nothing left out, but you are forgetting one thing and I do not wish to get into some competition but I’ve told you before, I told both of you – I have been plotting to have you since day one.’
‘I know this, Emma and do you think I would not have? I think the passion in the forest answers that question.’ She agreed. ‘Franka complicated the issue, she came in from the side when no one was watching,’ Emma rolled her eyes and looked upwards, then nodded, ‘and I loved her like crazy, I truly did … but it just couldn’t have been if you understand, there were too many … complications, one which I resented.’
‘I know all that, Bebe, we saw all that play out. Can we just have a drink now?’
He went and got the water and poured. ‘May we lie on the bed?’ she asked.
‘Hugh … Bebe … you’re asking me to confront things and tell them to you … I know why you’re doing it … it’s because you are already very serious about me, deadly serious and I’m delighted but I’m also very frightened. I’m not closing down any discussion with you – I want your seriousness, I don’t want your love games.
It took me years, Hugh, to free myself from love games, sex games – at least the ones other than my own. You’ve already said you won’t hold my past against me, only my future … and I’m the same with you. Be patient while I explain. Was it just what Nikki and Mademoiselle told you that worries you?’
‘Franka told me too. What puzzled me, Emma … love,’ she was pleasantly shocked again, ‘was that I once asked Geneviève if all her girls were rescuees and she said to me, ‘All of them.’ Nikki said similar but Franka made a curious comment – that you were a rescuee … but not in the same way.
Now, every girl in that Section had had some kind of trauma in her past – Genie, Nikki, Nadine, Elaine, even Francine, but I looked at you and I didn’t see a traumatized girl … so why would Genie have told me you were a rescuee? I see in front of me now a woman who’s no doubt had traumas in her life, just as I have but basically, you seem well adjusted. I think that’s all I’m trying to say.’
She opened her mouth once or twice to speak and then thought better of it. As she was struggling to speak, he said, ‘All right, Em, let’s not bother if it stresses you.’
‘No, I must talk it out – I just wasn’t expecting it so soon … but I’m glad now it’s finally here. I was always going to tell you this but I didn’t know when or how.’ She gathered herself. ‘It may be that you won’t wish to be with me after this, Hugh. If that’s so, we’ll talk to the other two tomorrow and work something out.’
‘I think it would have to be something really, really terrible and even then I can’t see it.’
‘We’ll see. I was a rescuee, that part is true but Hugh, I was never a victim.’ She licked her lips and found it immensely difficult. ‘You see, I was a perpetrator, une malfaiteuse.’
‘I had a vague feeling, not exactly like that. It alters nothing. If you want to tell me, it’s OK, if you don’t want – then don’t.’
She breathed out slowly and continued. ‘Just as everyone locked into evil is a victim, you could say I was a victim. I procured girls for le Roux and other men like him, young girls my age sometimes, and also boys. Do you need to hear this or not?’
‘I need but it doesn’t need to be tonight.’
‘Yes it does, Bebe, yes it does. I need the air to be clear between us.’ She plunged into it, weeping. ‘Pierre le Roux came to Nikki’s home and offered the two of them a ‘job’ but I was the one who’d told him about those two girls. Just as all the Section was from the Fontainebleau area, so was I. Earlier, he’d come into the same café where I was sitting with two friends and started the usual chat – he wanted to know who ‘did’ and who ‘didn’t’. I was one of those who did – it went from there. That’s the thing no one expects from me, Hugh.’
‘How old were you?’
‘Fourteen and they were sixteen. Pierre was good looking but he was cruel … but you know that. Of course I was attracted to that sort of thing and I might have even become his woman except that his cruelty showed through. When he had Elaine in there with him, Mademoiselle and Nikki tried to rescue her, I knew about it and didn’t care, I didn’t even care enough to warn him.
That’s the thing I have to confess, Hugh – I didn’t care, I was as bad as him. Some girls are bad inside, even sweet little mother’s moppets like me. You came to Paris and saw a different Emma – efficient, pretty and you loved what you saw. Even now you can’t see the sharp little prostitute I was.’
‘How were you rescued?’
‘By Mademoiselle of course – she and Nikki dealt with le Roux and then they arranged to have me kidnapped. They kept me in a farmhouse near the Belgian border for two months, under guard – Stefan and Michel. I had them both and tried to get them to let me go. Michel said he’d take me back to Paris and I thought he meant to le Roux.
He took me to his apartment instead and raped me over and over – it wasn’t really rape though because I was willing. Nikki tracked me down and it was only because Michel seemed to have fallen for me and me for him that they didn’t throw him out of the Section. Then I saw how he was, what a beast and I thought – I don’t want him like that. I tried to change him and slowly became a better person myself, which he liked and then he loved and then he was terrified of losing me. So you see, I have a black past – that will explain much for you. Franka called us damaged goods.’
She paused to get her breath and then started again.
‘You’re the first proper man I’ve had, I mean the first one who’s come to me the right way … well, you know what I mean. I’d never have told you all this if I’d thought you might leave me. I don’t think you’ll leave me.’
Then she lost a bit of her nerve. ‘Please don’t leave me.’
‘As far as I’m concerned … darling Emma,’ her heart jumped, ‘I don’t care about your past, except to be sorry for it and anyway, I’m a fine one to speak of morality with what I’ve done. I did mean what I said about your future though, mine too. You and I both know that the more we fall for someone – and I’m falling for you really badly now – the more brittle we become, the more fragile.’
‘Is that really how you feel about me?’
‘Yes. What would you like to ask me?’
‘How many women have you been with?’
There was utter silence. He coughed. ‘All right, let’s start with the kiss – I’ve kissed maybe,’ he thought it through, ‘maybe 200, maybe a few more – women and girls, including family.
‘I don’t believe you. 200?’
‘Around that – I once kissed every girl at a party, so that was about 30 in one night.’
‘It just seemed a good idea at the time. I mean, that 200 includes everyone a person’s ever kissed, even your mother when you were a child, cheek kissing too, everything remotely kissy. As far as kissing seriously – maybe thirty total. Sleeping is different and I do mean falling asleep, not sex – maybe 12, 13, 14. Penetrated? I know exactly how many – 12.’
‘You slept with about 13 women and didn’t make love to them?’
‘Girls and women – for different reasons, yes. I can do that easily – I think many can.’
‘No one would accept you didn’t penetrate them.’
‘My friend’s daughter, for example, was five and crept into my bed – so that counts in the overall number of ‘platonic’ sleeping.’
‘25, almost all of them in the early days.’
‘OK, let’s apply the rule – if women always divide by 3, men multiply by 3, that means about 75.’
‘No it doesn’t – it means 25 and almost all early. But your tally doesn’t work according to your rule – if you take Anya, Ksenia, Mademoiselle, Nikki, me, Franka, Anaïs, plus I know about the two wives – that’s not going to give you 12.’
‘I stick with that number, I know who each was, when and how. This vast majority of these are recent history – perhaps I was too young and wild earlier, I don’t know, perhaps there just wasn’t the opportunity, perhaps I was just true to one person for a long time.’
‘Hugh, you were with Mademoiselle on this bed last night.’
‘Let’s turn the palliasse over now and we’ll ask for a new one tomorrow when we see the head man.’
‘Thank you. Now what about Nikki? If you can talk about it.’
‘I haven’t broken down over Nikki yet, haven’t said my farewells – it needs to be this evening, it has to be closed off, I’m so sorry too about your child.’
That choked her up and he gazed into her eyes. ‘I was so unfair to you for so long.’
‘It was your defence, I saw and understood every one of your moves, I knew them all, I predicted them.’
‘I do love you, Emma, I truly do.’
‘As I do you. Was there a chance I still could have lost you to Mademoiselle?’
‘None. Will you now lose interest in me now, having won?’
That stopped her. ‘That’s a fair question, Bebe, I’m not going to give you une réponse facile. I think not, I would hope not. I watched as you and Nikki evolved – and you did – you grew together and I was thinking I’d like that, provided I could play my part. So I think no, I think it will grow with us.’
Geneviève looked across at Jean-Claude. ‘We need to talk everything out, Jean-Claude, my habits, your habits –’
‘I need you to take less notice of me and not make me feel uncomfortable that way, like a specimen. I know you love me and I shall love you too but Jean-Claude, be the man I met when you interviewed me at the hospital – matter of fact, on top of your game.’
‘Understood – less of the worship, you think?’
‘Well, not altogether,’ she smiled and took his hand. ‘But a bit less, yes.’
‘I’m worried,’ said Emma, ‘that Mademoiselle is going to take us out of here before we’re ready. I know we have to go but I don’t want to go back.’
He smiled. ‘The way you wear that sari thing, those grubby little feet in sandals – you love it all right.’
‘I do love it, I’m affected by my surroundings, Bebe – this forest and beach – I love it. Do you know my name, my maiden name, as you call it?’
‘De la Mere. Of the sea. I’m not completely of the real world, you know, as much as you might think I am. The Section was Mademoiselle’s and Nikki’s dream and I liked that dream. I love your dreams and visions too, so I’ll follow them as long as you love me.’
‘I’m going for a walk.’
She touched his cheek. ‘I’ll be waiting.’
He dropped the vine ladder and crossed the now cool grass in the direction of the shore. The night was still and even the wavelets barely lapped audibly as he gazed out into the near blackness, lit only by a moon which became obscured, showed itself again and then became obscured again.
Slowly, his eyes adjusted to the night and he knew it was the moment. He began, in a low voice, begging Nikki’s forgiveness for missing the 9th day, for leaving so quickly with her all in … in pieces … for not staying there and putting her back together again, the way it was always supposed to be between them.
He knelt down and lost it completely.
Then he got the impression he should no longer be here alone, doing this, it was wrong, it was as if someone was telling him to get back to his woman and look after her – he could have sworn it was Nikki telling him this.
He hurried back, scrambled up the ladder she’d just thrown down, lifted her and carried her to the bed. Then: ‘Can we wait until tomorrow evening for … well, you know.’
The Seven were again complete with the accession of Jubelo.
Richard Japhet was answering a question about how they’d failed to intercept the four on their way to their ocean haven.
‘They’re not really our concern at this moment. The woman appears to be barren and they have their own problems. They might even die of malaria. If they attempt to return, that will be the time to act.’
‘We could send someone quite easily.’
‘And make them into martyrs – it will look vindictive in the extreme. But to intercept them attempting to destabilize Europe once again, on our soil – that’s a different matter. The way Trotsky was dealt with only created a legend. No, we can afford to wait.’
They were lying on their beds in their respective huts in the evening cool.
‘Jean-Claude, where would you like to be now?’
‘Home, Geneviève, with my little routines, my cuisine, my friends, my work.’
‘Me too. I suspect that those two over there are quite happy in this tropical paradise.’
‘Don’t get me wrong, I like this too – for a while.’
‘I miss home. Perhaps we can arrange to drop back there and see it one more time. I know it takes money and organization but I have some, Hugh does too -’
‘Et moi aussi. That’s not really our first concern though – our first concern is to get back alive.’
‘Time to talk again?’ Emma asked. He nodded. ‘Ksenia. Speak of her and Anya.’
He sighed. ‘It had been bad with Anya and me before I left for Britain. At first I refused to have sex with Ksusha in that hotel room and slept on the divan, I worked out Anya had been cheating on me -’
‘One moment – you took a hotel room with Ksusha? While you were still with Anya and were planning to marry her?’
‘If you want to put it that way.’
‘Ksusha was in security as you know and was using me at that point, we went north from London and it was the only room available, I thought I could stay with her and not have to cheat on Anya.’
‘You really thought that?’
‘You’re not in the real world but I bet she was. I believe, deep down, you knew exactly what was going on. I believe you are covering up now and I want you to know you won’t get away with it with me.’
He just looked at her and the point had been made. ‘Yes … it’s true. There were just too many things with Anya and I didn’t like what she was doing, how she was doing them. I should have worked it through with her if I’d cared a bit more but much of it was her looking at other men, far too much, past the normal limit and it seemed to me I wasn’t N1 in her heart. So yes … I saw Ksenia and I just went with her.’
‘A woman with an agenda does tend to be desirable, Bebe, especially an agent. I’m glad you’ve finally been honest about that. Now about us making love.’
‘May I ask something first?’ She waited. ‘What may I call you?’
She was puzzled. ‘Emma, of course.’
‘No, I mean as a term of endearment. You call me Hugh when you’re formal but you’ve called me Bebe a few times now. Nikki called you Em, I did a few times. I want something to call you when I’m being soft.’
‘Fayette. That’s what my family used to call me – every time you use that name, it will remind me of my childhood. Call me Fayette.’
‘Oui. Em’s fine too but Fayette is special.’
Her face became serious. ‘I have something to tell you. Do you remember my ‘interview’ with you at Fontainebleau?’
‘How can I forget?’
‘That’s when I thought, if things ever changed – then having your child would be nice.’
He looked across at her with the faint light flickering on her face, his ears having just heard her beautiful voice say that. ‘Gosh,’ was all he could think of to say.
‘Are you shocked?’
‘Very. I have a question for you – shall I ask now or later?’
‘Well, Nikki was just crazy and I was too, so we got along. You seem far more mainstream, more orthodox, a normal woman in a way, can I say? I’m not sure I can meet your needs.’
‘You don’t know them yet,’ she smiled.
‘OK,’ he said but he was nervous and she was quite surprised, it was even gratifying.
‘The only real way I’m ‘orthodox’ is that I treat you as you treat me. I felt you were unfair to Nikki and I know you agree – and one of those reasons was me. I know Nikki said something similar to this but if you play games, Bebe, then I’ll play games – do you think I can’t? You act straight with me, I act straight with you.’
‘Yes. Has to be.’
‘May I take this further?’ she asked. He nodded of course, she paused and got her breath. ‘All right, Bebe, it’s like this – everyone knew you and Nikki would just do it anywhere, at any time – there didn’t need to be a reason or even a mood. It seemed to us that Nikki developed a, well … a taste for unusual sex … everyone said you encouraged her. So you see, with me not being Nikki …’
‘May I? She and I had a moment which will put all this in perspective – I was seriously wondering if I could keep up the pace with her – she seemed to want more and more and more sex, she was like a machine. I tried to bring the topic up by mentioning my age and she was shocked that I was even thinking that way. Fayette, she was going at that pace to keep up with my pace, or so she thought. She thought I wanted that. Truth was we did enjoy a fair amount of it because it was idiosyncratic, unique to her and to me and we both developed a taste for the way each other did it.
I’m going to tell you about her test at the end – she said I had a choice between sex twice a week while not sleeping with her … or sleeping with her but no sex for a month. I thought it was my punishment for Nadine.’
‘Ah, Nadine. Yes.’
‘When I chose no sex but to be in her arms, she nearly squeezed the life out of me – it was those arms I really wanted, those lips, that voice, that presence. You get the picture?’
She touched his cheek. ‘You don’t know how relieved I am.’ She reflected for a few moments. ‘As I told you, I’m affected by my surroundings – very much – and the mood is important. I don’t mean I’m capricious – I wouldn’t suddenly go into a mood and stop, I wouldn’t do that to you. But sometimes it’s really not going to happen and sometimes it simply has to happen.
There’s one more thing – I long ago lost the ability to orgasm, call it too much sex, call it whatever you like. Don’t try to force it, don’t look for it because the more you do, the further I’ll be from it. One day, one night, with the right ambience, it might happen. That’s all I wanted to say.’
‘What I’m saying, Bebe, is that I’m worried you’ll be looking for those love arts of Nikki -’
He put a palm to her face. ‘Emma, Emma, we’ve been through all that. Yet I have some worries too.’
‘My second wife and I were having what I thought was good lovemaking, then one day she suddenly asked what was wrong. Now there was nothing wrong at all. What it was was that I am sensitive sometimes in some parts of my body, not always but I don’t like being touched there in a certain way because the skin jumps – my spine for example. We call it ticklish in English. It was never an issue with any woman but her and hasn’t been since but she got it into her head to do that, I think as a sort of joke, she knew I didn’t like it, I told her I didn’t like it, she could feel I didn’t like it and she made it into a problem I had, not that she had.’
‘You’ve had some terrible women. Don’t even start to worry about that – you think me insensitive?’
‘It’s more than that. There’ll be nights I can’t come, just as you can’t orgasm. There’s no rhyme or reason to it – I never rationalize those things, I’ll never think there’s something wrong with you and please don’t think there’s something wrong with me.’
‘That’s exactly what we’ve been saying – it’s all to do with circumstances, how we are at that time. I think you’ll be very patient and I think a lot of that Nikki taught you.’ He nodded. ‘With this next question, don’t forget I’ve been able to observe already – is there ever a time it doesn’t go hard?’
‘If she’s pretty and also loving – that last part is more important than I can say – then it’s always gone up, it’s been embarrassing sometimes.’
‘I feel better already. Any more worries of yours?’
‘There’s one and it comes from Russia – not my lady but someone I observed in a cafe.’
‘There are people, male and female both, who reserve for themselves the right to act with the other sex in a way their partner does not like. I know that there is give and take but there is also one person going too far and actually knowing it deep down, then turning around and calling any criticism a problem which the critic has. I seriously do not like that, it’s dishonest, it’s playing games.
As I’m a male, naturally I see this in the female, but I’d agree of course it can be just as much the other way. People always minimize what they’re doing with the other sex – you got me to admit I did wrong to Anya just before and that was fair.
There are things which are plain wrong and everyone agrees – sleeping with someone else for example – but there’s this middle area too, this grey area where it’s not so clearcut. This woman at this cafe was with her partner and she was obviously the controller of the relationship, being the pretty one. A young man came into the area of the cafe where they were and that’s where it started. Is this boring, should I stop?’
She smiled and he went on.
‘She excused herself, got up and went over to the newcomer. Now that part’s fine, she’d done that the right way but as she started laughing with this young guy over there in a way we’d call ‘easy familiarity’, familiarité facile, as if they’d been lovers, she completely ignored her own guy and then it took a turn for the worse – she went next door, into the next room, with the newcomer – he’d been dropping hints the whole time and she was saying shshshsh -’
‘Let me guess – the official partner went out to see what they were doing.’
‘He got up to go out there but she came back through first. And you know what she said?’
‘Something about jealousy?’
‘Yep, she said he’d be jealous of a tree. Which may or may not have been so -’
‘There was no trust.’
‘Right – there was no trust. But why was there no trust? You see, that’s the question which is never asked – what caused the loss of trust?’
‘My turn to be honest – I know exactly what this is about. She was calling those males her ‘friends’ and ‘brothers’, always there was a good reason, an altruistic reason – just as you slept with Nadine to make her feel better. She did not have him as the centre of her heart, he was maybe N1 on her list of twelve. I agree with you in principle, Bebe, but it does raise the question – just what is she allowed to do within that relationship?’
‘I ask the question this way – what does she ‘want’ to do?’
‘Are you making reference to me in a roundabout way?’
‘Your plays were always open and easy to see – there were often feelings involved, you hid nothing. The example in that cafe though was of an essentially a narcissistic person where her own pleasure was the highest goal.’
‘I accept that, I hear it. All right, final question – the usual female question – am I beautiful? And yes, you can compare … but be careful how you do it, lover boy.’
‘Oh that one’s simple – Nikki and I talked about it quite a few times because she could appreciate beauty. What I loved about her body was that it wasn’t classic – she dressed in a very feminine, city way and had a pretty face, sure, so men wanted sex with her, as you know. But when they actually had that straight white body up next to them, with her idiosyncratic ways moving it, they did not wish so much to make a life with her, if you see what I mean.
But with me, that was never the issue – the whole package with her was so alluring I can’t start to describe why.’
She was listening intently as he went on. ‘You have a face and body, Emma, which any man in the world would die for – heart-shaped face, cheeky eyes, smooth body with not too much curve but quite enough, really classic lines, everything flows – breasts not too big, not too small, classic thighs. So you do worry me. Nikki, I thought, was pretty up front and men wanted her but there were defences which helped me also- her inability to secure the one and only man was a huge factor for me. With you, any man would want to have sex immediately, any man will come onto you. That has cooled my passion a bit in the past.’
‘Doesn’t that depend on whether I give them the ‘come here’ smile or not? Bebe, listen – I come into a room, if I have no partner, then I might be looking for one. So I filter the men and let them have degrees of closeness. Some get close, some get nowhere – I think most girls do that. But if I do have a partner, then everything is about whether I love him or not and how much.’
‘I accept that and thanks – that’s a perspective I haven’t looked at – but let’s take a scenario. Let’s say I behave badly for some days, even weeks, because I have issues other than you … or even you. But it’s no fun for you and you’ve just met a very sympathetic person that you can tell all your troubles to -’
‘Stop. We both know where this is going.’ She sighed. ‘All right, it’s like this – if it were just that, I would start warning you after a few days, you would know all the way how it was with me, I wouldn’t keep it inside. It would depend what it was, I might even provoke you by saying I’d met someone sympathetic and nice. If it was just an outside issue, then I’d try to help but if you shut me out, would not talk, I’d warn you. If it was another woman though, for any reason at all – well this is exactly what Nikki was talking about and we spoke of it now.’
She took a sip. ‘May we go for a walk – do you still want? Shall we take food and drink?’
They climbed down the ladders and went to the shore where he’d farewelled Nikki, then turned left – there was a small dune up there where she could lie down and look at the sea and tonight there was some light illuminating the lapping waves.
He smiled and mentioned French films in the 60s, how they always cut to crashing waves when it meant sexual intercourse – she’d seen many of those.
They laid down the rugs and put the basket of foodstuffs to one side, turned to each other and it was weird, strange. Now she asked it. ‘Why did I not make love with Jean-Claude?’
‘And how do you feel about the premium I’ve just put on our sexual relations … even our … marriage?’
‘I’m well aware, I’ve thought it through, it’s why our talking has been so serious. I’d not be here on this mat now if I’d decided no. You wouldn’t be here either.’
‘Good, we understand the awesome implications of these next few minutes, how there’s no going back.’
She nodded. ‘All of this seems too calculated but let me say this to you. I know you’re quick coming at first if I do my job right so let me start that as an overture, a bit like completing what I started long ago, then we can relax and we’ll be warmed up, ready for the real action – is that all right?’
‘Go for it, Fayette, where do you want me?’ She indicated, he lay down, she parted his robe and began with her lips. Again, comparisons are wrong but Nikki in this was wild and quite wilful, Emma was quite specific and her tongue was used to great effect, with one purpose only – for her, there was one thing only she was aiming for, at least this first time. He lasted under a minute.
‘So here we are, Bebe, after so many years. There should almost be a drum roll.’
‘Everything all right inside now, medically I mean?’
‘Everything’s just fine.’
‘Emma, I’m going to savour this first contact, going to take the first seconds very slowly, I want to remember the feel of this with you, this beach, our history leading to this. You all right with that?’
She nodded, he moved into place and she guided it in. Yet she still gasped and then it was on. Her body started writhing immediately, all those years, all that tension, it actually made it more difficult and he was having to allow for her hip motion while keeping to the rhythm, he was feverish himself, she did something with her muscles and that sent him over again, she immediately locked him in with her hands, it was clear she liked no spillage, no waste.
All her muscles relaxed and she said, ‘Don’t you dare come out but let’s try to lie side by side.’
That was their first real attempt at symbiotic motion. What followed now were all the little nothings, spoken and kissed, which go to form a new life.