2-17: Lord Howe

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I

Dusk was approaching, so the beachgoers gathered the bags and returned to the shop, just thirty minutes before the woman closed. When she saw the number of bags they’d brought and the chance of a fair killing, she asked them to take their time. Hell, she wasn’t going to shut up shop on this lot.

.o0o.

It took so long to struggle back with all the bags, especially downhill but no one complained in the least, not if they could have even half these supplies onboard. From a primus light to torches to feminine necessities, it was going to look almost homely now.

.o0o.

Everything now set up to their satisfaction, they tucked into half the roast chicken, burger and all the chips, the chicken wouldn’t go off in the jars in the water.

.o0o.

Time to talk and Jean-Claude opened. ‘Perhaps we have to start trusting people at some point, otherwise we’ll find ourselves completely unprotected. Maybe this could be the start of our fightback tonight, maybe we can get people supporting us again. I’m not a religious man but this does seem to have been meant, this was the place to land because there is no automatic sending of our details to the enemy. But we do need to tell our hosts – and tell them soon – everything about us.’

Emma concurred. ‘Let’s go up and tell them.’

They took some chocolates and biscuits and a bottle of wine and the shock on the faces of Steve and Michelle was a sight to behold.

She quickly recovered and put the kettle on, Steve pulled out some beers and offered them and the men took them. Jean-Claude leant forward, hands on knees and said, ‘We have to tell you what’s happening, who we really are, we have to tell you all of it, because we need help.’

‘Ah, I felt there was something, John. Let me check on the kids and then we’ll talk.’

.o0o.

When he returned, they began with their actions in Europe, Geneviève apologized for lying, so did the other two, Steve nodded and appreciated that they’d come clean – he knew there’d be more.

Geneviève now showed her security pass, Jean-Claude showed his police badge and Emma showed her pass. Hugh could only produce his university pass.

‘So youse are on some kind of mission?’ Steve was in awe.

They looked to Hugh. ‘Steve, these people are a security section in Paris, an anti-corruption squad. They save women and girls who are taken into prostitution and other things, they work undercover. Do you have the internet here?’

‘The island doesn’t as a whole, there’s no cellular but there is satellite. As we’re deputizing for the government here, we have internet but it’s limited usage. Enough for anything you want to show us though but do realize it will be logged what we search for.’

He switched it on and after it warmed up, Hugh typed in Sophie-Fleury. Up came a German internet report on them, he knew it and felt it gave the fairest summation to date. Steve read to Michelle from the screen.

At the end, he was in awe. ‘I’d heard of you guys before but never in a million years did I ever think I’d meet you – I’m really sorry about the Rainbow Warrior crack now. Geez, that’s you guys?’

Jean-Claude nodded. ‘Now here’s the other side, Steve.’ He clicked on the official EU report on them. Steve read this out as well, then said, ‘If I hadn’t read the first one, I’d have thought you were going to kill us in our beds tonight.’

‘We do have weapons and not much ammunition in the boat, plastic wrapped and locked in the ama, the float,’ Hugh continued. ‘We want you to know the lot. It got so hot in Europe with these clowns above that we were forced out of there. Do you know they hit our safehouses with missiles, killed Genie’s husband and Jean-Claude’s wife, plus my wife, together with an entire family? Wiped them out. In that family, Steve, Michelle, was a girl, Francesca, nearly eighteen and she was originally to be married to a police officer, Jean-Claude’s subordinate. They killed her. Killed him too.’

‘But that’s so … so … I don’t know what to say. You poor people.’

‘We went to an island near Fiji and built this boat. We tried to make New Zealand but were caught in a storm, we saw a line of boats and thought they might have been waiting for us. We’re on the run, Steve and have no friends. Look at these pages.’ Hugh clicked on two more and Steve read them out.

‘But these say you guys are heroes. Why are they trying to kill you?’

‘Steven, Michelle,’ said Genevieve in that official type voice she did so well, despite the slightly broken English, ‘the people are not trying to kill us, the people protect us. It is the new authorities who have taken over – they are the ones killing us, because we expose them. We name names of the people at the highest level who are corrupt and they have sworn to eliminate us. They control governments, they are not the government itself – your Prime Minister might be of them but might not, he might be under their control. And your government has no other information on us but the official report from Europe – it is the only information coming out, apart from the internet.’

‘Geez, you guys are crazy. You’re on a hiding to nothing doing this – why would you do it?’

‘May I tell them, Genevieve?’ asked Jean-Claude. She nodded. ‘Geneviève and one of the dead women was raped repeatedly by these people in their orgies. That dead woman was Hugh’s wife and they killed her some months back.’

‘Sheesh,’ said Michelle.

‘There’s a girl they’re holding now and we’re going back to rescue her.’ They hadn’t actually discussed this yet but it didn’t matter at this point. ‘They take teenage girls and violate them and we will not rest until we expose them.’

‘Yeah but how?’

‘Across Europe, people give us shelter and comfort, they hide us and get us away. The power of the state is a sledgehammer, cracking the little nut, which is us. They kill our families and then put on the evening news that known terrorists were executed today in a precision military operation.’

Months, years of frustration were boiling over now in his words. ‘There were no terrorists, Steven. Our friends were murdered in cold blood – these people are murdering the common people, the common people know this and they support us.’

‘Not all of them though,’ said Hugh. ‘They offer big rewards and in this economic climate, many people prefer the money. There are those who would turn us in.’

‘This is pure Ned Kelly.’

‘Ned Kelly?’ Jean-Claude looked puzzled but Hugh said he’d tell him about Ned later.

He pointed Steve to another page about them, an Australian site. He read it. ‘Your sergeant might be on the level, Steve, he might be a good guy, but he’s also under orders from above. He’d have no choice but to turn us over. In Sydney or wherever, other people would take us over and we’d be extradited right into the hands of their agents. They’d walk in one night and that would be that. We wouldn’t just be shot. We’d be tortured with electricity and other things like that.’

‘You can claim asylum.’

‘How? The people who run the governments are the ones killing us. The ordinary people – you, me – we have no say, no rights. Bureaucracy can work two ways – if they approve of you, then it’s in the system and even anomalies are ignored because that little mark on the screen says it’s all right. On the other hand, with us, it only takes one civil servant to type in some code and a black mark and that’s that person damned forever. This is the tyranny of bureaucracy.’

‘You could call it the evil of bureaucracy,’ added Emma.

Michelle had been silent but now she spoke. ‘We’ll get you on your way, guys and we’ll sort out Don Richards. Once he knows it all, he’ll be onside, whatever his orders – he’s not the greatest fan of Sydney … or Canberra. I don’t know what we can do but we’ll do it. Now, guys, are you going to let your women stay here tonight or not? Aren’t you going to let them have a shower and a nice bed?’

The men knew the lie of the land and rose, Steve added, ‘You got enough to see you through tonight? Food, anything?’

‘We went to the shop twice,’ said Emma.

‘Yeah, I know, Wendy told me – said you bought half the shop. Can’t say you don’t contribute to the local economy.’ He laughed at that one too.

The two men wandered back down to the boat, feeling the right thing had been done.

.o0o.

Next morning, early, Steve hollered to them from the shore.

Both came out and waved back. They waded to shore and shook his hand, then went back up to his cabin. The girls were playing with both kids and Michelle was now more satisfied.

‘John, I have to ask you one thing – in Frankfurt, did you kill anyone?’

‘Yes. Three special forces agents who were sent to kill me.’

‘That’s not the information Don has – his file says you murdered three men in cold blood.’

‘Michelle, Steven, I had been brought into Germany under the seat of a car, I was left in an old house, a derelict house no one lived in. Three armed people, in uniform, came into that house with submachine guns to kill me – I killed them. Then I was hidden in a café by local people, these people knew exactly what had happened, they also know I was a police officer and I have the mind of a police officer – do I kill people at random? Ask yourself this. The lies come to your sergeant via the system and he has no other story to compare it to.’

‘This,’ said Emma, ‘is the bureaucracy I was speaking of, how it makes you into something and it is just not true!’ Her voice had gone up and Michelle nodded on.

‘Well, I can’t go past what I read last night and you don’t seem a killer. You’re a police sergeant yourself, you say.’

‘Inspector,’ Hugh corrected. ‘You want to know how Jean-Claude came into this? He was investigating an attempt on my life – they tried to kill me – he was doing a normal, bog standard investigation, saw what was going on and joined us. This thing is like a spider’s web, Steve. Jean-Claude, in France, was a standard officer like your Don Richards.’

Steve phoned Don Richards and told him the lot, in fine detail, every word which had been spoken and it went on some fifteen minutes back and forth.

‘OK, guys,’ said Steve, closing the phone, ‘Don doesn’t want to meet you because he’d have to file a report, he trusts me on this so here’s the go – we’ll make sure you have basic things on your boat, you need a radio for a start, flares and a few things. If you haven’t got the readies now -’

‘We have,’ said Jean-Claude quietly. ‘We just didn’t have access to the equipment earlier.’

‘You were damned lucky, you know. Right, so we’ll do that today and tomorrow, let the storm blow over and then you’ll be away – the ladies will stay with us and you two will stay with the boat. I’ll write the report after you’ve gone and pass it to Don, but I’ll phone him and ask him to do it one week from now.

Tonight you’d best get the boat half up the beach – I’ll send six of the boys down to help, you’ll drive some pegs into the sand and tie her down. The sand isn’t deep and there’s clay under that – it’s about all we can do for now. So let’s go down and enjoy the beach before the storm hits.’

Hugh looked across at their ladies. ‘Genie, Emma, we’re sorry we haven’t made things more comfortable for you,’ Jean-Claude nodded on, ‘especially me. I was worried we had to keep moving, that everyone was our enemy, I should have known it was no way to expect you to live.’

Michelle had been nodding with approval but Emma spoke up. ‘If I’d thought you were mistreating us, I would have said so straight away – you know me. I do not think anyone was to blame but the comforts are nice too,’ she smiled.

Genevieve knew she was expected to concur but she did blame Hugh for the discomfort and her tardiness now in commenting was noted by all. ‘Well,’ she concluded, ‘all’s well which ends well. We’ll be a floating palace when we depart.’ She laughed to defuse the way the remarks had come across and they all hurriedly moved on to the next topic.

.o0o.

The storm came, buffeting the boat something awful and then it passed, all on the same day. There was another one likely to generate early the following week but that gave them a window of opportunity to get away.

.o0o.

Michelle had been down to look at the accommodation and was horrified what the women had had to put up with. She went to Thompson’s and bought vinyl covered camp mattresses and sleeping bags for them, the men could do as they liked.

A couple of men brought down some dowel, some ply and two-by-one and put up a couple of shelves inside. The cabin roof was repaired and reinforced, the hull itself was acknowledged as fine. The sails were looked at and were still in good nick. Besides, it was too late to have Dacron sails made up and anyway, those rushes were great – they let through wind in the gusts but did enough as a general rule.

So the time was spent going over all the systems and getting supplies in, to last a month at a pinch.

II

The day of the relaunch came and not many people knew of it. Much had been stored on Steve’s computer which would come in handy later, he was virtually trustee for them now should anything happen and the two of them were rapt to be so busy and so needed.

Geneviève insisted they buy a present – she’d seen a crystal fruit bowl which would fit the bill and that was given, over much protest. In the end, it was probably their manner which had won people over – that and the crazy mission they appeared to be on.

It was decided they’d sail after dusk and Steve would guide them clear of the island in his own boat, as he knew the waters like the back of his hand. Therefore, they had their last lazy day of sunbathing and swimming for a while and a slap up supper back at the cabin.

.o0o.

It was time.

Michelle stayed with the kids and Steve and a few of the boys went down to help launch. Just before they did, he asked the two men what ammo they used and Hugh said 9 mil parabellum and 45s. He handed over two boxes and told them to stay shtum. ‘There’s no 9 mil but the 45s are OK.’

‘How much do we -’ Steve brushed the question aside.

At the Sophie-Fleury, he said his farewell, they all shook hands. They got the Sophie-Fleury into sufficient water, the ladies were lifted onboard and in proper wet weather gear at last, they felt a million dollars.

Hugh and Jean-Claude hoisted the sails, retracted the anchor and checked the drogue back into its place, this had been left overboard until now to prevent movement of the aft half which had remained in the water. The rudder had had the missing chunk filled and epoxied two days ago and it was also ready.

The boat turned, the sails filled and they were away on the next leg of their return.

Steve’s motorboat led the way slowly and they followed. He took them clear of the last set of rocks strewn out into the sea and then blasted his horn. They had no horn to reply with so, in the light of the port-o-lamp, they waved.

Then they went to led nav lights, the girls went below and Hugh went to the forward cabin to drowse. Jean-Claude was at the helm with the new luminous compass in front of him. Inside the aft cabin was now a pencil light over a chart table, the correct chart for these waters on that table.

.o0o.

Morning saw the usual routine and they gathered, breakfast over with, Genie at the helm, about 10:20 it was. The wind was coming from the south-west as they turned northish and the flat reach had them heeling at a fair angle, the ama deep in the water and everything secured.

Sophie-Fleury must have been making about twelve knots at this point, shooting off crests ahead, descending into troughs and climbing the next crest rapidly, not the most pleasant for the people below so Emma asked what the rush was.

‘That’s fair,’ said Jean-Claude, Hugh heard it and came to help reef to half sail. With the speed dowsed, the boat tended to ride the crest and stay there, much more comfortable for the cabin dwellers. ‘It saves the gear anyway,’ Jean-Claude concluded.

.o0o.

Dolphins appeared again and seagulls followed the boat too, hoping for scraps, which sadly, they did not receive.

.o0o.

The last gull gave them away a few kilometres further on and flew back home, wherever that was.

.o0o.

The dolphin’s honour guard also broke off a bit further on and now they were on their own.

.o0o.

The plan was audacious.

They would sail to Tenerife, where Steve’s business partner had a waterfront villa. From there, they’d contact Carly on Jean-Claude’s transponder and ask her to fly to meet them. The carrot would be the transponder codes and the technology which they’d guarded to that point.

The reason to bring her in to it was that she had the best strategic brain they knew and that was going to be necessary to spring Thirteen from the Seven, which they’d more or less agreed was their plan. Section Sophie-Fleury had had the audacity but they’d lacked a sense of the double and triple cross which was going to be needed here.

Geneviève was sure Carly would come in on it, not only for the gain to her section or even to see them again but because of the humanitarian nature of the task.

The public had become jaded by the constant stream of names of grey men who’d been corrupt and were now exposed. What the public was always ready for was an audacious rescue mission, with lots of human compassion thrown in – this would get the press in who hadn’t already been nobbled. Certainly the internet would be abuzz.

The little matter of actually getting the boat there did not seem to worry them any, except maybe Hugh but he kept it to himself. A double wedding at Fontainebleau was spoken of and the good ship Sophie-Fleury sailed on in the fresh breeze, perhaps six weeks at sea ahead of her.

.o0o.

How to convey the sense of aloneness but never loneliness of that boat, of isolation, of the sea, the sky, of the occasional wildlife to break the monotony, then the sea and the sky again? It settled over them, that atmosphere. Hugh had been scribbling for some time on the notepad he’d bought at Lord Howe Island and now he came out with the result.

‘Timetable for our new watches, everyone.’

‘For our what?’ asked Emma.

‘Our watches – when we need to be on duty – there’s a lot to take into account.’

‘Why do we need new watches?’ Geneviève wanted to know. ‘The old ones were fine.’

‘For that situation, yes, they worked well. But the sailing gets harder, Genie, the wind is in front of us more often, the seas are big and the boat goes up and down more, with waves crashing over us – this is wearing. We’re going to be very tired.

The diet we’re on is good but by then it might become monotonous, the fact that we can’t get off this boat, the way we’ll get on each other’s nerves – even simple disagreements over minor matters can become mountains. Every long distance crew knows of these things.

Then we start to make mistakes and any mistake on a boat can be death, especially when tired. I’m not saying that to frighten you but a firm timetable which maximises time off makes sure we get enough rest, it protects your rest and that’s going to become increasingly important. We can always blame the timetable – it stops us blaming each other.’

‘All right, so explain what’s on the paper.’

I’ve divided the watches into three hour periods, with the roles of all four people described for each slot. There are four states we can be in at any one time – on duty, on standby, on emergency call if needed and the last one – off duty.

It’s vital that the person off duty is never called on duty, it’s a fundamental. If we fail to respect this single rule, none of us will ever get any real rest, for fear someone will call us out.

Here it is – the letters are us, the first in the row is on duty, the second on standby, the third off duty but can be called out, the fourth completely off duty, not even having to make the coffees or anything:

G: Geneviève
J: Jean-Claude
F: Emma
H: Hugh

1st Night

21:00-24:00 HF…JG
00:00-03:00 FH…GJ
03:00-06:00 JG…HF
06:00-09:00 GJ…FH

1st Day

09:00-12:00 HF…JG
12:00-15:00 FJ…GH
15:00-18:00 JG…HF
18:00-21:00 GH…FJ

2nd Night

21:00-24:00 JG…HF
00:00-03:00 GJ…FH
03:00-06:00 HF…JG
06:00-09:00 FH…GJ

2nd day

09:00-12:00 JG…FH
12:00-15:00 GF…HJ
15:00-18:00 FH…JG
18:00-21:00 HJ…GF

3rd Night

21:00-24:00 GF…JH
00:00-03:00 FG…HJ
03:00-06:00 JH…GF
06:00-09:00 HJ…FG

3rd day

09:00-12:00 GF…HJ
12:00-15:00 FH…JG
15:00-18:00 HJ…GF
18:00-21:00 JG…FH

Then it repeats. The two on duty should do everything possible not to call out N3 and really must not call out N4 unless the boats going down.’

‘I’d agree with that,’ said Jean-Claude, ‘especially N4 completely off.’

‘Me too,’ from Emma.

‘Well, I’m all for a guaranteed rest time,’ conceded Geneviève.

Hugh took up the baton again. ‘If you look at the 3rd Night, I imagine Jean-Claude and Hugh won’t sleep together but I’d assume the girls will, given the configuration of our berths. Also, everyone gets time with everyone else during the day at some point. Hope you like it.’

‘I’d like to look at it in detail,’ said Jean-Claude, ‘but it seems to cover it fine at first glance. The six hours off duty at night is nice but six hours on is hard.’

‘Ah – the people on duty are free to arrange that as they wish, taking it in turns as they see fit. For example, one might need the toilet, another will go and make tea. You might even do thirty minutes on, thirty off – whatever is most comfortable for that pair at that time. Don’t forget, we sail with reduced sail at night and it’s easier.’

‘What if there’s a storm again?’ asked Emma.

‘Two people should be able to do the work but if it’s absolutely necessary, N3 will come on deck for short periods, just to take care of some job which needs three. Please observe one rule though – anytime you leave the cockpit, always tie on the safety line, even for a little thing like stepping a metre or two to pick something up – it’s a pain and the temptation is to ‘just’ go over and do this, pick that up.

No, no, no – many a sailor has died from just doing that. At night, wear it in the cockpit too – it sounds pedantic but experienced crews all do it. And think about the rest of the crew if you don’t. Even if you just fall overboard, that is an enormous strain on the others.’

‘This talk of dying,’ sighed Emma.

‘I’m sorry, love, but better to know the dangers and be prepared – I appeal to the Emma of Paris.’ She looked at him use the word love for the first time in a very long time and she felt she had him back. Except she knew she didn’t. That trust had gone and he was dissembling.

‘When do we start?’ asked Geneviève.

‘Tonight at 21:00.’

‘Do I have to sleep with Mademoiselle during my sleep time? asked Emma.

‘Oui,’ Hugh replied, but with a smile.

‘What if she doesn’t want to?’ she retorted.

‘She does. Thanks, Hugh.’

‘Cup of coffee, anyone?’ was Jean-Claude’s contribution.

III

They’d made their way around Cape York and were now travelling across the top of Australia, through the Timor Sea. The boat was currently on the first reef of the sail, in a wind of maybe fifteen knots over their starboard quarter and with a chop of about one metre.

Hugh couldn’t help but wonder how far Don Richards’ little entry on the computer was now assisting their free passage. Jean-Claude had found himself a place, propped up in bed, with the new pillows behind him and the hatch open, Geneviève was at the helm, Hugh went below and there she was on her bed, crying.

He did not go, as he usually did now, to his own bunk and lie down, silently, but went over and sat on the edge of hers, with one hand on her shoulder, which she did not shrug off. She stopped crying and sat up, he cuddled her but she felt the coldness all the same, started shaking her head, broke free, scrambled to her feet and ran up the steps to the deck. He returned to his bunk.

.o0o.

It was five minutes later, a bit less, that she slowly came down the steps and went over to his bunk, he moved over, she lay down with him, an arm around him, his around her.

‘It must be clear to you,’ she almost whispered into the pillow, voice breaking, ‘that it’s bigger than you and me, bigger than either of us, something I can’t face.’

‘Obviously so.’ He sighed. ‘There is a slip of paper in my organizer – may I get it?’

She reached back behind her, under the bunk, grabbed his pack and handed it to him. He fished about and found the paper, handing it to her. Her eyes opened wide, she gasped and ran across to her bunk. ‘Why do you have this in your organizer?’

‘I saw it in a magazine after one person in Russia betrayed me,’ he said quietly, ‘I cut it out and kept it. I’d forgotten about it until just now. ‘It takes years to build trust, seconds to destroy it, an eternity to regain it.’ This is the reason I could leave Genie so easily. Nikki knew it, she also lost faith in Genie, this is why we were so cold, Nikki and I, in the days before the last safehouse, why we acted as we did. To Nikki, trust was absolutely everything. I agree with her.’

‘Have you lost trust in me then?’

‘No, not yet. But I’m not going to be your man if you continue this, whatever the reason. It’s not the end of the world, Emma, I respect your right not to say something, not to share it – but not as my woman, I’ve been hurt too much in the past.’ He now spoke in a kindly voice. ‘I would understand and wish you well, I would always remain your friend, do not think I’d be cold, but not as your man any more. We’re going ashore soon, somewhere, there are good men there, better than me, who know nothing about you, you can start again and find happiness. Me? I’d be heartbroken, I’d weep most nights, I might never find anyone again quite like you again … but I cannot continue without trust. As you say, there is something major stopping you, or something which is driving you to do these things and that’s OK – if you choose that over me, then all I can say is fine … and I love you still. I’ve nothing more to add.’

She sat and stared and stared, she looked down, she began to weep and stopped. The water whooshed by outside, slapping the hull.

‘All right Hugh, Bebe, all right. I’m caught in a trap. You see, my actions have killed your love for me but your coldness has killed mine. Even if we come back together again, that would always be there as a memory, these horrible days and nights now, how I acted, how you acted. And yet you have not forced me to tell you, you have given me a way out, you say you would still love me and that always gives a person hope.

But to keep you, I must tell you about myself, about the things from the past that not even I can face and if I do that, it would kill your love stone dead, right there – so it’s the same result if I tell you or don’t.

If I don’t, I lose you as my man but you never know what time might do. If I do tell you, you turn away now in disgust and not only do I lose you, but you then know and will always know until eternity and what will haunt you then is not these horrible days and nights now – they are nothing – but what I’ve told you. You see my dilemma, you see why I have been in hell since it happened and just when I needed your arms most, they’ve been taken away from me.

I could invent something, I really could, you have no way of checking it, but I have to live with you looking into my eyes, mine into yours and I couldn’t mentally do that, I could not be a spy, I would hate what it would do to my soul. I’ve done great wrong but I have not lost my soul yet, I’m still capable of love. You speak of trust – to tell you in order to keep you is the most complete trust, that you would never say, ever, even if we parted and you were with your next woman. That is trust.’

‘This then is my statement,’ he said. ‘Not a promise, not an oath, because I do not trust those things – this is my integrity on the line. Because I believe in the faith underlying the culture we grew up in, because I believe I would go to Dante’s last ring if I betrayed you, I say that unless I was under torture, when who can say what they’d say, I would never, for any reason – power, position, starvation – tell a living soul what you told me.’

She stared and stared again, Jean-Claude poked his head in now and Hugh said, ‘This is vital now, Jean-Claude, we will do your duty time later if you give us time now, will you give us time? He nodded and departed, they could hear the two talking up there and it seemed all right.

Emma still looked at him, he did not look at her. She came over, almost in a daze, and lay down with him, she pulled bed clothes over them both and proceeded to tell her tale.

.o0o.

By the end, she was not the mess she fully expected to be and he’d stunned her by not being nauseated. Her shrewdness told her that in each of his body responses which she’d monitored all the way through, he could only have done some pretty terrible things himself. One day he might tell her.

She was holding him too tightly, breathing too rapidly and it took a good ten minutes to calm her enough, to loosen her grip enough, for him to respond.

‘Humans are capable of anything, Fayette, they can’t help character either. No, I’m not turning away in disgust or turning you away, but I am disgusted, yes. Can I make love to you again? Of course I can because you’d already told me much before and I’d put two and two together anyway. All of us are damaged goods, Fayette, all of us – some go further than others, there’s always a reason or a few reasons behind any action, things cascade. Genie said to me, when we discussed you, that you are what I had taken on … and I have. Whatever you are, whatever you’ve done, however much you’re still caught up in these cycles, you’re still mine.’

‘I can’t believe I’m hearing this.’ She was weeping badly. ‘How could you just … accept me back like that?’

‘Because I told you I would.’

‘What do we do now?’

‘We go onto a double duty out there – are you capable?’

‘Yes. Can I ask you – will you bring this up with me again, use it against me? I’m not trying to wash it away, I just can’t drown in it every day.’

‘What did I tell you just now, just before? One day I’ll tell you some of mine but I’d need to know you better, we’d need to be as one for some time, you’d have to be sure I had done as I said I’d do.’

She kissed him with tenderness. ‘Let’s go on duty.’

IV

‘We’re getting reports of them sailing a boat near Australia. It tallies with what we’d expect of them and the boat’s headed our way,’ reported Peter Jambres.

‘A sailboat?’ asked Freischutz.

‘A little boat they apparently built with native help, it’s definitely their motif.’

‘Where are they hoping to reach?’

‘That’s anyone’s guess. We have a fix on their position and we’ll monitor it. Now, the CPC pipeline and the port facilities – Turkey is being difficult.’

‘Why would that be a problem? Sarkozy has eased on their entry to the union, they could bend on this.’

‘We could take out this boat.’

‘No, we have a little welcome for them, we need them in custody. Let them battle high seas and deprivations for now – they’ll walk into our hands at the other end.’

V

Sarah Retton knocked on Carly’s office door and was bidden entry.

‘Sarah?’

‘Our source has picked up that Roget received a report that Sophie-Fleury have been tracked and they’re passing through the Timor Sea close to Australia … in a little boat.’

‘If you hadn’t told me the last part, I’d not have credited it. Our last report had them on an island in the South Pacific. A boat, yes. Now here’s a chance to shine, Sarah. Where are they going?’

‘To Europe.’

‘We know that. At least they think that’s where they’re going. The little matter of being monitored by every coast guard they come near, their vulnerability to pirates – they’d need a miracle to get through. Keep your ear out for any communication.’

VI

South of Madagascar, they started to hit the head winds and big seas, which blotted out the late afternoon sun and had everyone apprehensive, most of all Hugh.

He took over some watches which weren’t his own, at least for the bulk of the time and when he was off duty, he hovered around, either in the cabin or in the ama until it became impossible with the pounding. Tales of the journey below Africa were folklore in yachting circles and he didn’t tell them the half of it.

There was little conversation.

.o0o.

It must have been about 02:00 when the thump on the front deck came, the cabin roof cracked and water started to spray in. The boat also started to veer wildly. Hug had been asleep so Geneviève poked her head out to see if Jean-Claude was all right and Emma woke Hugh.

Geneviève rushed back in. ‘Jean-Claude’s not there!’

Hugh stumbled into the wet gear, helped by Emma and got out within a minute. Outside, he clipped on. The tiller was yawing wildly and there was no sign of Jean-Claude but over the din, he could hear the man calling, saw the line as taut as a drum over the stern. Hugh called for Geneviève to come out, clip on and help.

Between them they managed to get Jean-Claude back on board, his own arms and feet helping at the last.

Hugh poked his head into the cabin and asked Emma to dress, rug up and get out onto the tiller. Then he took the tiller until she got there, Geneviève and Hugh then got Jean-Claude below, removed the soaking gear and got him, in his underwear, into the zippable sleeping bag. Geneviève climbed in with him and Hugh went out to Emma.

‘Can you make a hot drink for Jean-Claude?’ he shouted near her ear.

She nodded, as another wave crashed on the bow, knocking it to port. Emma went to the galley, re-emerging with a cognac too and welcome it was. She made as if to stay but Hugh wouldn’t have it, she went back in, made some soup from the dried ingredients and brought him some.

It went on into the night.

.o0o.

The dawn came, with Jean-Claude on his second shift since he’d recovered and Geneviève ready to relieve him. If anything, the seas were bigger now but the light of day made them much easier to bear.

Hugh came out and suggested they complete Geneviève’s shift and then go back, at 09:00, to their regular times. As it was Day 1 again, this meant that Emma and he would be on. Jean-Claude poked a head out to see how it was all going. ‘We’ve done an inventory of food stocks – there’s some good news and some bad news.’

‘What’s the bad?’

‘We’ve been eating too much. During the night, we never stopped eating.’

‘And the good news?’

‘It still leaves us ahead of schedule but not by as much as before.’

‘That’s all good news. We were always going to eat a lot during the stressful section.’

‘Don’t forget we have the transponder still, I could call Marie from near Cape Town but that gives away our position.’

‘We’ll need an executive meeting for that. We assume that Carly is benign, that she will get behind our idea, that she is onside – how do we know that? She might lift us by air from Tenerife, saying we would not be safe the rest of the way by boat and that might be true.

But when we get to London, we are ‘debriefed’ for what we can give. There are no niceties to observe, no protocol here. When I went to her from Russia, I was representing a Russian security section, in Paris we were in a semi-official position. Here, now, we’re renegades whom nobody acknowledges.’

‘Oui, the rules have changed. We might not be a vital part of the machine for her any more, none of us. So, can we trust her?’

‘The big question. For a start, she’s only going to act out of self-interest. My feeling last time was that she was accommodating the enemy, on the say so of someone above her, yet she doesn’t trust them though and they would not altogether trust her.’

‘Do you think she’s one of them?’

‘Oh of course, she has to be, I just don’t think she’d give us up to them. I also don’t think she’d allow a full interrogation because she may well have an agenda for us herself inside Europe, later.’

Hugh and Jean-Claude composed the message in the cabin, hoping for the best. They now ran it past each of the ladies and received the approval.

Jean-Claude pressed ‘send’.

.o0o.

The reply came some seven minutes later. ‘Good to hear all well. Cape Town not safe, head for Rio, collected South Atlantic. Carly.’

Predictable really. Jean-Claude looked at Hugh. ‘How will they do it?’

‘I imagine an ELF from Northwich, returning vessel, maybe a sub which will surface. It might need a plane overhead to detect us, maybe from Tristan, message to London, relayed from there. I imagine it will be a sub anyway, it will surface and we’ll be ferried over.’

VII

Within two hours of the Cape, they were sailing in seas around two to three metres only and the wind had already come round some twenty degrees. The boat settled down, good spirits returned and Hugh gave thanks … so far.

.o0o.

By afternoon tea time, they were in a groove on a port tack, the boat’s happier side, the wind had dropped some more, the sea was behaving and Emma was at the helm, with another hour and ten minutes on duty. Jean-Claude was snoozing in the aft cabin and Hugh went forward to help Genie prepare the meal.

‘First real conversation since before Lord Howe Island, Hugh. You’ve resolved it with Emma.’

‘Yes, for now. She told me things from her childhood, let’s just see what happens.’

Geneviève knew not to ask but did ask if they affected the four of them. No, they didn’t. If they ever did, he would contact her.

.o0o.

They were now pretty well around Africa and as their direction changed northwards, so the weather seemed to become kindlier.

Actually, they’d ceased beating to windward and were on a flat reach on half sail, angled into the waves and traversing the crests over a longer time frame – the whole thing became more stable, even though the seas were not a great deal lower.

.o0o.

Next morning, with the easterly breeze behind them, the fine weather continued until about 09:00. Then an elongated ring of fiery colours began to form round the sun. The atmosphere became sultry and a long mass of threatening clouds could be seen on the horizon behind.

.o0o.

The cloud mass overtook them in the next few hours, covering the sky, coloured a sickly yellow and there was a thickness to the atmosphere, a dull, oppressive stillness which everyone noted. The swell had increased, water occasionally breaking on the stern and the wind had picked up.

It was at this point that Geneviève spotted a boat behind them on the horizon.

Too small for a ship, not making ground on them but seemingly keeping up all the same, the obvious question was whether it had anything to do with them. A sense of uneasiness began to descend and mouths were dry.

They looked at one another, with the same thoughts running through their minds.

Jean-Claude articulated it. ‘It might be the end of the journey, my friends. This is not the boat Carly mentioned, so we can only speculate about its mission. It appears to be a patrol boat, a long, long way from home.’

It was obvious that blowing the Sophie-Fleury out of the water was not on the agenda, they could have done that by now, which of course raised the question – what was on the agenda?

The good ship Sophie-Fleury was well up to fifteen knots, a hell of a rate in these seas and one quite difficult for a patrol boat to keep up with, so those people were hardly likely to close the gap – at least, not at this stage. They estimated they had about four hours, which would put them very close to dusk before the patrol boat could make appreciable gains unless, of course, the wind and waves dropped.

Hugh turned away from watching the boat a long way astern but now the sea was indeed quietening down, which meant they might be in dead trouble. The weapons would have to come out.

.o0o.

They saw it at the same time. Like a leviathan from the deep, something was surfacing about half a kilometre off their port bow and it was causing all sorts of turbulence.

They hoped against hope and then it became clear what it was. Within just a few seconds the patrol boat had been taken out by what presumably was a stinger but Hugh’s reaction was frenetic, which had them all nervous. He looked about him wildly, suddenly begged Emma for her red skirt and then asked if anyone had a French flag.

Jean-Claude tumbled to it, Emma supplied the skirt and now Hugh asked for safety pins or pins of any kind. Genevieve supplied these, intrigued. Jean-Claude rummaged in his pack and pulled out a small flag rolled round a stick and Hugh asked him to tie it to the rudder for now. Now he asked Genevieve to help quickly.

Hugh raced up top a minute and a half later with Emma’s skirt and a concoction of cut up handkerchiefs as a union jack in one corner. He indicated that as the French flag would fly from the stern, the Red Ensign would fly from the mainmast. They dropped the main and hoisted the flag in its place.

A rubber dinghy had already been launched from the sub, with three sailors aboard.

.o0o.

Once he’d rounded up, the officer on the dinghy called, through a loud hailer: ‘Captain Jensen, we’re going to throw you two lines. Attach them bow and stern – we’ll do the rest.’

.o0o.

This was done by Hugh and Jean-Claude, the three sailors came on board and saluted and Hugh wasn’t sure of the protocol here. They introduced themselves and it was clear they would take over the sailing of the Sophie-Fleury. ‘Nice craft,’ admired one of them. ‘By the way,’ he grinned, ‘the Captain will appreciate the courtesy flag.’

The ladies were helped into the dinghy with their bags, the men followed and the man on the outboard was ready for the sailors to cast them adrift.

.o0o.

Jean-Claude went through the hatchway in the side of the conning tower first, Geneviève second, then Emma, with Hugh the last through.

The CPO greeted him with a salute and introduced himself, their belongings were left to one side, he then took them forward to the Captain, who saluted Hugh and introduced himself as Alan Paulson. Hugh murmured that it might be an idea if they all stood in some sort of a line, which caused them to look at him incredulously, before falling slowly into a semblance of a line, he introduced them one by one and hands were shaken.

The ladies would kip in with the Captain, Hugh and Jean-Claude would join the other officers.

The Captain grinned, ‘Well, you must be a little weary after that voyage. You’ll be met at the other end and taken to London but in the meantime, relax and try to keep your distance from the operations going on at any time. It’s a small internal space for us all to move about in. We eat in two hours.’

Hugh wondered whether he was meant to salute, so he did. The Captain laughed. ‘That was a courtesy when you came on board. There’ll be no need, unless you’re in uniform.’ He should have remembered.

.o0o.

With the Captain gone, Emma had something to ask. ‘What’s this Captain Jensen business?’

‘Courtesy. British boat. If it had been the SS Jehanne-Pucelle, Geneviève or Emma would have been addressed, maybe Jean-Claude.’

‘Ah,’ murmured Jean-Claude, ‘you’re aware of Jeanne la Pucelle.’

‘Right ladies, you probably have things to do. Jean-Claude, I’m for a snooze.’

‘We all are,’ murmured Genevieve. ‘This has been the strangest experience in a long while. You coming, Emma?’

One door away, the Captain, back to the wall, nodded his satisfaction – they seemed a reasonable bunch, he thought, things looked as if they’d be fine – anyway, the two ladies definitely graced his ship with their presence.

Chapter 2-16 hereChapter 2-18 here

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