When they pulled into Portsmouth, there were some necessary formalities, they were now well and truly ‘outed’ and anyone who cared to know their whereabouts would know.
In the small office where they were waiting, a phone call was patched through to them from Carly, supposedly in London. ‘Well, well, ‘Captain’ Jensen, how was the trip back?’
‘It was getting a little hot until we were rescued by a passing submarine.’
‘Ah yes, we’ll go into that when we meet.’
‘When is that, Marie?’
‘No major delays, possibly tomorrow evening. There’s a car going back soon so be ready for it. You’ll all stay with me for a few days, if that accords with your plans.’
Hugh laughed. ‘We were wondering about accommodation – do you charge like the Ritz?’
‘That depends, Hugh,’ she replied enigmatically.
‘Well, on the assumption that yours is a friendly voice, Marie, it’s lovely to speak with you again and give my love to Sarah.’
He heard her chuckle at the other end. ‘Oh, I’ll make a point of doing that. You’ll be met there in an hour and a half by a Jonathan Yates and two naval personnel – Yates is ours but not naval – check your transponder for confirmation. See you tomorrow evening then.’ She rang off.
The others looked at him and he thought for a moment. ‘Well, they’re obviously going to be interested in certain things with us, much of what we know is out of date though. I think she’d already be aware of our purpose in Europe.’
Two ears in the corridor outside found that information interesting.
Jean-Claude checked the transponder and there was a message from Carly. ‘There’s no Jonathan Yates, he doesn’t exist – we invented him. There’s a lady named Janine and she’ll show you this code.’ Jean-Claude memorized the numbers and letters which followed. ‘Anyone named Yates will need to be got rid of.’
Two cars arrived at the originally designated time, an orderly came to get them, they took their packs and followed. Just outside, on the asphalt, a young man with a pleasant voice stepped forward and introduced himself as Jonathan Yates and showed his credentials, a section pass which seemed in order.
He turned to lead them to the cars but Hugh and Jean-Claude didn’t move, the latter whispering to the women to run back to the door. At that same moment, Yates spun round to see what was going on, four uniformed men ran from the door, weapons in hand, Yates ran for his car, dived in the back and the driver sped off.
One of the officers got on his walkie-talkie to the gate and then nodded to Hugh to come back inside. Inside the door, the walkie-talkie buzzed, the officer answered and grimaced. ‘I see.’ As he made no attempt to inform them about it, they decided best not to ask.
Soon they were down the corridor, back in the original room again and people seemed quietly flustered.
Twenty minutes later, a naval officer entered the room, accompanied by a power-dressed lady, about 170cm, auburn hair, maybe mid-thirties, pretty but not beautiful, seemed conservative, dressed in dark maroon skirt and jacket, with white blouse and scarf.
She showed Hugh her credentials, then pulled a paper from her bag with numbers on it and handed it to him. He handed it across to Jean-Claude who nodded, switched on the transponder, checked the numbers and there was another message from Carly.
‘Ask Janine whom she recruited two days ago. It’s Julia.’
Jean-Claude showed the message to Hugh, who asked the question. Janine smiled and answered, ‘Julia.’ Jean-Claude wrote back, signing off.
‘Ready?’ asked Janine and this time they left without drama.
The question of where they were staying that night was answered when they pulled into a standard B&B on the main road out of Portsmouth and took three rooms – two for them and one for Janine and the driver.
Hugh wondered about those two but nobody else could care less. They put the things in their rooms and went to ask about food. Janine was downstairs and she’d already ordered in Chinese. Would that be all right with them?
Perfect. They went back up to their room.
The driver returned with six servings of Peking duck and accompaniments, chow mein, spring rolls and rice – they were distributed.
‘Tea is in your room. We’ll depart at 08:30 tomorrow. Good night.’
‘Well,’ Hugh remarked to Emma, ‘she’s nothing if not efficient, our Janine.’
Emma now showed another side to herself – the ravening wolf. She attacked her half of the foodstuffs with gusto and washed it down with coffee, most un-Gallic, Hugh couldn’t help but think.
She looked over at him. ‘Mange, Bebe, mange.’
Just under an hour later, curled up in each other’s arms, she asked him how he saw things.
‘You saw the patrol boat. There’s trouble but this Janine seems on the level.’
‘Maybe they see us as the enemy.’
‘Carly knows there is enemy among us but the word ‘enemy’ is a fluid term in politics. Let’s just say we’re currently aligned in the right direction according to her.’
‘Bonne nuit, Bebe.’
‘Bonne nuit, Fayette.’
Jean-Claude had just asked Geneviève the same question – how she read the situation.
‘I know Carly well. She’s capable, she’s ruthless, she’ll outwit us and leave us holding nothing but I don’t believe she’d sit back and allow us to be harmed, even in the name of information. She’s too much of a game player, she likes the sport. I could be wrong but I think we can sleep easy tonight.’
Jean-Claude relaxed, took her hand and kissed every finger in turn. As she didn’t appear to have any violent objection to that, he continued on up her arm.
Eventually he reached her lips.
Janine turned to the driver and asked him how he saw things.
‘Present well, don’t they?’
‘Well anyone like that, any operative worth his salt, is going to be personable. All the same, they do impress, I only hope Carly can use their talents.’
‘PM speaking of the Praetorian again?’
‘He might be, he tells me things on a need to know basis.’
‘Janine Falworth, ever the diplomat.’
‘Doug Baines, so-called driver.’
They’d breakfasted, the packs were in the spacewagon and now they piled in too.
The road from Plymouth was not bad but slow until they reached the main drag to London, after which it was relatively plain sailing. They found a comfortable position each and gazed out of the window at the passing fields.
Twice they stopped off for a stretch, once for fuel and eventually the lights of London appeared in the distance. Then came the long crawl down sundry connecting roads, back and forth across bridges, through New Cross, through Blackheath, onto the M25 and off at the required exit.
Five miles further on, they pulled into a lay-by and a car was waiting. The driver got out, came over to them with four strips of material, Hugh explained to the other three and they allowed themselves to have their eyes covered.
Doug then drove on and soon Hugh remembered the gravel driveway, the opening garage door and the reception committee. He explained to the others what happened next.
Eventually they came through to the house proper, put their clothes back on and sat on the divan or in the armchairs.
They didn’t have long to wait.
Looking as resplendent as ever in black frock and scarf, Carly came through, smiled a welcome to all, kissed Hugh, to Emma’s astonishment but not to Geneviève’s, did the same with Geneviève and gave the traditional Gallic welcome to the other two.
From the side room came Sarah, drinks tray in hand but this time clothed a bit more modestly. She also kissed Hugh, Jean-Claude decided this was a good British tradition and availed himself, the ladies passed on this one.
Early supper was ready and they went through.
Carly asked them all not to talk shop this evening but to relax. What she was aware they had come back for could wait until the morning.
The wines were right, the courses relaxed and Jean-Claude felt he was back home in a way, even though he clearly wasn’t. Carly noted his discomfort ebbing away but Geneviève was one partner she did not wish to offend. Emma was another matter. She thought she might push Emma a little with Hugh to see how this pretty one reacted or indeed, Hugh himself.
Hugh was awake to her and asked if there were only two bedrooms this time. Emma found that a strange question but Carly only smiled at him. ‘Well, you know, Hugh, there’s the room Marc took and that sleeps one, there’s my room and as you know, there is another bed in the alcove, then there is the divan in the living room. Who’ll sleep where?’
She was on a roll and he sighed. He turned to Emma. ‘It’s all part of the ritual, darling heart.’ Emma looked at him strangely at that, picked up of course by Carly.
The others became quite interested too at this point and considered Hugh’s solution. ‘Jean-Claude will have the single room, Geneviève and Emma will sleep with you and I’ll take the divan.’
‘With Sarah. Yes, that sounds the best way -’
‘No, Marie, by myself. Sarah’s bed is in the side room.’
By now, Emma wanted to know what the hell was going on here although Geneviève knew all of it from what Marc and Ksenia had told her. ‘I’ll explain later, Emma, it’s just Marie having her fun.’
Emma wasn’t all that sure she liked this lady now. She put her own solution. ‘Hugh will sleep in the alcove, as you call it, Jean-Claude in the other room, Mademoiselle will be with you and I’ll be on the divan, with or without Sarah.’
Carly nodded. So the little one cares for him and he for her and yet wasn’t it Geneviève who’d been the focus of Hugh Jensen’s attention not so long ago? Well, we live and learn.
Jean-Claude protested. ‘Non, Emma, that is not comfortable for you.’ Carly was adoring all this. ‘The single room is Geneviève’s, Emma will sleep with Carly and Hugh can sleep in the alcove. I shall be on the divan.’
‘With Sarah,’ Carly mischievously added.
Geneviève sighed – Carly had never changed. ‘Look, either Jean-Claude or Hugh sleeps with you, Marie, Emma has the single room and I’m on the divan with Sarah.’
Carly replied, ‘Now Geneviève, you’re awake to me again. I have to say it’s so nice to see you after so long, to have you as a guest in this house is a pleasure.’ She paused and a tear came to her eye. ‘And I really do mean that, as you’ll discover tomorrow. I have a question for you ladies – do you trust your men?’
‘No, Marie,’ answered Geneviève. ‘Sorry, not that. You want to put our men to the test but we’re not playing.’
‘Geneviève, forgive me,’ Carly responded quietly. ‘You’ve had a gruelling journey and you don’t need this. The second room has another bed in there now – it’s a twin room and that’s for Jean-Claude and you. If Emma is willing, she can sleep with me and Hugh can please himself – either in the alcove or on the divan, without Sarah. And now it’s time to retire for the night. Use the kitchen freely, as you need. I wish you all bonne nuit.’
At 01:20, Hugh was shaken awake by Marie who was carrying a box. She put a finger to her lips and beckoned him, he got up, she opened the box and pressed one of the buttons, adjusting the volume to suit, lifted up the bedding at the pillow end and pointed to something, he nodded, she replaced the bedding and beckoned him again, this time to her room, there was Emma asleep – fast asleep and even snoring in her own way, Marie’s and her glasses on the side tables and a box also on her side table, with her heavy breathing and occasional coughs coming out from it, she indicated the alcove and they got into bed.
In a low voice, she asked if all that was clear and so as not to waste time on unnecessary questions, she said that Sarah was out until maybe 05:00, as were the others, all who had toasted with her to their next few months in Britain – all were out like a light, she’d just spent ten minutes ascertaining that, support staff would arrive at 05:00, they had a few hours now. The voice was to be kept at this modulation, it was the only place in the house not monitored, apart from the coffee table area of the living room, which he knew about from last time but that this bed could drop through the floor should be press the button at her bedhead. Clearly, as she was here with him, that would not happen. He saw now how hopeless it was to try to outthink these people.
‘All right, describe the Club.’
‘Ah. OK, there’s a club of people loosely bound by similar allegiances, there is an agenda and when someone inconveniences that club, Europe being the hub, its sympathetic members in Britain, which is a hub within the hub, apart from Bavaria – they act on its behalf.’
‘They operate at different levels, there are different strata. ‘At the level the Section was operating at in Paris, it was minor to mid echelons being exposed and those echelons wanted revenge. The bigger fish were attempted in SSF, but accorded respect all the same.’
‘Which they duly noted,’ murmured Marie. ‘It confused them at first and was appreciated later. By accident, you picked on one of the Seven who was on his way to being squeezed out, so his concessions didn’t buy you much and only for a short time. Full marks though for trying.’
‘The higher you go, the more insane they are. Living for so long in their world in the sky, they are open to philosophies which present them as an elite, looking after the good of the planet. Logic appeals, even when it is sick. The two ideas of right and wrong balancing each other are an example, shown in the black and white peace symbol.’
‘Yes,’ added Marie. ‘It’s presented as a force for good, it’s a closed society which you join by invitation, by being hauled up from nothingness to being a Someone. Very appealing to the human need to make a difference. If you obey, if you go along with the parts you’re not sure about, you’re rewarded, with your base instincts being met. It’s homosexual at the highest levels, though women are revered as priestesses. It’s quite arcane.’
‘There was a film,’ he said, ‘a children’s film with Nicole Kidman in it, the Golden Compass, which presented this philosophy and tried to present the bad as good and the good as misguided. They’re everywhere, at each level and they are legion. Even someone who was a friend before is now ready to betray you. Betrayal is good in their eyes, when someone is not ‘of them’.’
There was a pause, then Marie said, ‘I think you’re aware, Hugh, that I am one of them.’ He nodded. ‘At least, I was. Now I make the noises and attend the meetings, conduct these monitored meetings but they are highly suspicious, as people who know they are doing wrong are. This is what alerted me first – the need to be furtive. They are also bureaucratic, they gather and process information to the point of obsession – even your snoring I had to have redone in Sound Forge to make it a different night from K’s time, slightly modulated for age – they miss nothing, they have checklists of checks.
They knew you were coming, you’ve been monitored since Lord Howe Island, surprisingly not before then, they want me to take you in for debriefing and this bed in this alcove is part of that but you were too clever for me and escaped this. They want to re-establish Emma’s connection, which was broken after Le Roux. She really was no traitor whilst in the Section, Nicolette really had rehabilitated her to a point but I’m sure you’re aware the leopard does not change its spots. You will be monitoring her. Her conversation with me tonight is recorded of course.
You are now to be brought into governmental circles, plus Emma – you must insist on Emma, to appease the beast so to speak, to play fair. There are some dramas which will follow, one involving a Masquerade ball but it’s partly a … masquerade. The real deal is you and me in Europe. Firstly me – there is a triangle of power and if two arms are aligned in favouring you, you’re safe enough, if that drops to one, there is danger. I am still protected but only just and going out on a limb in Europe, with you also there, is too irresistible to them – the carrot for my protectors is that they can eliminate key rivals in the other parts of the triangle.’
‘Because you’re a nothing, a nobody and because of that, though nothing has been imparted to you but disinformation, equally you’ve picked things up through your other walks of life, your researches for example and have put two and two together. They’re intrigued about who can tumble to them outside the established barriers and how that happened – they need to know if you’re unique in this or whether there’s a new class of person they hadn’t factored in. Forget questions of revenge for SSF nosethumbing – this is what it’s about, also whether you can be turned and re-employed – they know the religious motif – your sexual history certainly does not accord with that.’
‘Albus and Belus?
‘Gobbledegook, useful gobbledegook – that put you onto Emma, didn’t it? All right, let’s go deeper – who are they really?’
‘Well asked because you’re not referring to the enlightened themselves, the priests and priestesses – you’re actually referring to the science fiction layer, yes?’
‘So you just answered your own question and confirmed it to me.’
‘I would hav said you were wasted but you won’t be now, you’ll be ‘accessed’.’
‘You’re in trouble, Marie and you need an ally. Genie is fine at her level, you need someone inside to protect you and you have found you can now put someone else inside. I want you to know that there is a base level … or rather it’s better to say ‘basic’ … at which you’re my kind of person. Nicolette was too.’ She was about to say something on the topic and realized she could not. ‘You’re an astute woman but you’ve also seen the limits of my own knowledge – I noted your reticence just now and know it’s not out of respect – so yes, you’ll find no betrayal from me and the more heads we have cooperating, the longer we can stave off them bringing us in.’
‘The thing is not the ‘bringing in’ – you’re already ‘in’ now and you quite like odds like that – but who is there when you do go ‘in’ – that is the question.’
‘I have only one thing more to say, unless you have?’
‘No, go ahead.’
He dropped into a kiss and it was taken to the limits she knew he could still justify to Emma and still maintain the high moral ground.
‘I must be the oldest woman you’ve ever made love to.’
‘Don’t be daft speaking like that – you’re magnificent and you know it.’
The next morning, around 09:00, they each had a coffee or tea, sitting around the chairs and divan in the main room.
Carly opened with the obvious observation, ‘You’ll see that no one else is here this morning, they’re all out on errands of one kind or another. What you don’t know is that this is the safest room in the house, the one with no microphones in a range from this table and about three metres in each direction, this is where we can communicate freely.
Let’s start with your situation. You’ve twice been close to being captured and taken to a place you don’t want to be – once in the Atlantic and then at the naval base. Your conclusion?’
‘That people don’t like us,’ said Geneviève.
‘That each level is infiltrated to a greater or lesser extent,’ said Hugh. ‘Whenever an arrangement is made, a secure line used, someone is listening and either passes it on or issues orders directly.’
Now they all communicated, in detail and various plans started to form. It was daring and involved conning people in key positions into doing favours which they’d later discover were misplaced. It was a game of subterfuge, of cat and mouse, with them as the mice.
There were two major projects.
Four hours later, all done and all codes organized, they relaxed – this evening, they were going out for a meal. If the enemy wanted them, the enemy could come and get them or else rue an opportunity lost.
At Hugh’s suggestion, they all went to the Travellers Arms where he’d met Ksenia all those years ago, Lisa’s and his local, in a way.
In the way people who’ve suffered loss often do, Hugh half-hoped that she would appear this night, Ksenia. His thoughts went to Lisa too – what was she doing these days? Where was she? In Brussels? In Russia? In Kentish Town?
How had he got out of touch? Well, France and then Ksenia’s death had caused that. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to come here again after all. And what of Marc and Dilyara too?
They joined tables and that’s where he installed Emma, Hugh asked what people were going to eat.
‘That’s my role tonight, Hugh,’ smiled Carly and he came back to the present.
Everyone did order and when he insisted on coming up to the counter with Carly, she wondered what he was on about. He told her straight out – she just nodded and didn’t think he was mad. She knew how much he’d loved Ksenia.
Ksenia did not appear of course and to be fair, why would she when she could see he was with another woman?
‘Marie, when things move on, when the years go by, they do not return. Sometimes I think they’re here in spirit. Do you know about Nicolette?’
‘Yes. I’m very sorry. They would have got her and paid her back for Prague, they’d also have used her to bait you.’
‘She was the love of my life.’
‘Yes, you know I’m fully aware of that, don’t let Nikki cloud your judgment – for her sake, Hugh – let’s go back to the others.’
They settled down, the meals arrived and they ate, they were good too, those steaks – gee, how long had that been? He was almost delirious with nostalgia but it seemed somehow out of place with his French … well, fiancée really.
All of this both Geneviève and Carly took in, realizing that Hugh would be kind to Emma, would work to keep her interested. At this moment, Geneviève perhaps finally conceded that Hugh was never going to be with her.
Carly was a good hostess and a good partygoer when she had to be. She had to be now because Jean-Claude was the least adaptable in this situation, in this pub, with this British ambience. She thought of the things which might appeal to him on the menu and had to concede there’d be few. The Hennessy would help a little.
Hugh needed to come out of himself and help. ‘How do you see the situation in France now, Marie?’ he asked and that sparked their interest. Now she had to do her part and respond with at least something.
‘The UMP will probably have another presidential term, now the Socialist leadership has imploded, the banlieues are bad, many British are moving to France to escape the socialist state. The EU depends on Lisbon being universally accepted and has its usual identity crisis, with the Germans being intransigent.’
Jean-Claude nodded at this. ‘Are we welcome?’ Geneviève asked outright.
‘Non, the pendulum has swung and those who supported you are now out of favour. It’s a new Paris now and your dearest hope is going to take some time.’
There were tears in Geneviève’s eyes, Hugh held Emma’s hand tightly. Understanding that this was not really an occasion for merrymaking, Carly looked at Hugh and both were resigned to calling it an evening, once the meals were finished.
Back at the house, this time with no security checks and with an open entry for the four, Carly threw off her jacket and sprawled in a chair. The others went to their rooms and wound down.
Hugh returned first and she said, ‘Tonight, I need to have Geneviève with me. You have a meeting tomorrow in Whitehall, I was asked to send only you – what I suggested I repeat – take Emma with you and insist she’s part of it. Janine will be here for you at 10:00.’
Geneviève emerged and was apprised, she went and explained to Jean-Claude, Marie then took Hugh and the now emerging Emma to Sarah’s room, knocked and when bidden, went through – it was a double. ‘Sarah will change the bed now and be on the divan, Jean-Claude will be where he is, Geneviève will be with me. Get your things – any questions? No, all right – bonne nuit.’
Geneviève caught Hugh in passing. ‘Marie’s afraid she won’t be able to pull this one off, that their all seeing eye has seen all. For you, you could stay here and be relatively safe, for us, to go back over to France, to our homes – that is now a dead land to us. We all feel strange and uneasy.’
He held her to him, surprised that she at least conceded in words that it was going to be difficult to get back to her home. ‘Do not go to bed in the alcove unless Marie is with you, do not go there alone.’
‘Now listen to me, Genie, if she keeps you in her own bed, all is well, even though it might be recorded, if she engineers you to go to the alcove though for any reason, or Emma, then come and get me from Sarah’s room. You understand?’
‘Of course. Sarah’s room?’
‘Yes. All will be explained when we can speak again.’ He kissed her goodnight and she was shocked how much love was behind that kiss.
In bed, Emma had waited for some time. He came in with two cognacs and explained, ‘Tomorrow I’m being taken to a meeting in the centre of London, where the government departments are.’
‘They’re going to make me an offer and I’d like you there beside me.’
‘But it’s for you.’
‘We’re at one in this, I need you there when the decision is made. Will you join me?
‘D’accord. This Carly – she is a very worried woman, Hugh – I’ve been thinking about tonight, for both strategic reasons and because we are human, she is human. I think you need to speak with her, one-on-one.’
‘I did, last night. You were sleeping in her bed, you were fast asleep, you were beautiful in your sleep.’
She was stunned but not really surprised with all the intrigue in this place. ‘You know the question – did you?’
‘Only up to the point where I could retain the high moral ground with you. I’ll never cheat on you because I need to be on that ground, also because I love you, also because I promised I was yours.’
She put in a bout of kissing and various other things, they relaxed for some time.
Coming up for air, he whispered in her ear, ‘Do not go to the bed in the alcove for any reason if you wish to live. Carly’s own bed is safe, anywhere else is safe, that bed in the alcove is not safe. Don’t ask, one day I’ll explain. If she should come for you while I’m asleep, remember this.’
‘You frighten me.’
‘She was good enough to warn me, obliquely, without actually warning me. I don’t think she’ll actually test it, I think she assumes I’ve warned you two, she has things to discuss with Genie.’
It did turn out that way, perhaps an act of faith in him by Marie.
Janine arrived shortly before 10:00 and buzzed, Emma was ready, as was Hugh, Sarah came over with orange juice for both and they both kissed her cheek simultaneously, which brought on a becoming smile.
They did the reverse disrobing and robing again, Doug Baines greeted them in the garage. ‘Morning sir, ma’am.’
The car pulled out, no words were said for some time but Janine, from the front passenger seat, then handed over little brunch packs, complete with toothpicks and floss.
When he could observe they’d finished, Baines broke the silence. ‘Changed much has it, sir, in your eyes? London?’
‘I see a few changes but the rest seems the same. Demographics seem a bit different these days.’
‘Ah, yes sir, we don’t usually speak of that.’
They drove on around Whitechapel, crawled along some tight connecting lanes and gradually made it as close to Whitehall as they were likely to get. ‘We walk from here, sir, ma’am.’
Some distance before Horseguards Parade, they turned down an alley and knocked on one of the wooden doors.
The door opened and Baines showed the officer his credentials. The party went down a series of corridors, up some steps, through another door, down another corridor and so on for about three minutes. Finally, they were shown through to a room, a sort of anteroom.
A lady came through and asked Hugh to fill in his details, which he did. She then called Janine who went with her.
Hugh and Emma sat there for some time, smiling at one another, with nothing really to say which had not already been said.
Janine came through and beckoned Hugh. He squeezed Emma’s hand and went with Janine, eventually finding himself standing on a thick rug, oak all about him, in a cavern of a room.
He glanced up at the exposed beams in the ceiling and then at a standing figure checking some papers. The man was of middle height, not all that thickset, still had his own hair, albeit short. He wore thin rimmed glasses.
‘Ah, Mr. Jensen, delighted.’
The Prime Minister indicated the chairs to one side and Hugh sat down. The man picked up a sheaf of papers and came over to the other chair, putting them down on the glass-topped table.
‘Right, straight to business. You’re integrally involved, in Europe, in exposing naughtiness in high places, yes?’
‘Quite. Not a profession for unsteady nerves, is it? Sailing a small boat ten thousand miles and being kidnapped by submarines is all in a day’s work, I’d imagine.’ Hugh smiled and awaited the punchline. ‘What would you describe as your main strength, vis-a-vis security matters?’
‘I can ferret out trouble ahead and plan to circumvent it but I need to have those around with eyes to feed information in.’
‘You have a little project coming up in two days, I believe?’ To Hugh’s look of concern, he added, ‘Janine and Carly know of it so far, no one else. You see, Mr. Jensen … Hugh … things have changed around the corridors of power. One’s department used to be loyal, at least in principle but now there’ve been some strange happenings – cabinet resistance at unexpected times, legislation I myself want which stalls and never sees the light of day … and so forth. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say there’s a concerted move behind it. Perhaps I’m just going senile but don’t you dare say so. This is why I’m now in this office.’
‘You’d like me to vet some people?’
‘In a way. You see, there’s a group of staff, my principal private secretary and others, who’ve been so close to me that they’re half-jokingly referred to as the Praetorian Guard. There haven’t been that many new faces and yet things have started to go askew – leaked memos, mysterious goings on which I’ve already mentioned.
I’ve no way, myself, of discovering what’s happening and I can’t rely on internal scrutiny, for the simple reason that it could be them at fault. It needs an outside man and yet one of us at the same time, someone with foreign experience in security or even in government itself.’
‘I get the point, Prime Minister. Something of that nature would be a deep honour but as you say, we have a little project coming up which we may well not return from and even if we do, who’s to say we wouldn’t have been compromised?’
‘There will be support for you on that particular project.’
‘Coming from you, sir, that’s reassuring. There’s one other problem.’
‘She’s in a room out there right now. ‘You see, Prime Minister, I have certain skills but I can’t do it alone – we feed off each other. This is not just nepotism, sir, it’s very real – I do my best work if she’s in there with me.’
‘You want Ms Laurent to be part of this?’
‘Not so much want as absolutely need – if you want of my best, this is the way to get it. I need to be interacting with this woman – she’s astute and can sniff a wrong ’un a mile off. It was her job in France – the security of the Section was her job.’
‘You’d be reasonably hard to employ with job conditions like that.’
‘Not conditions, sir – it’s just the chemistry when both of us work on a project. You see, as I say, we feed off one another, it’s quite cavalier in one way. With either her or me – and of course I’ll do it if you wish – you’d get maybe two thirds of the efficiency. With both of us, I’m pretty certain we’d get the job done and cause much grief for anyone trying to harm you.’
‘I appreciate your directness.’ Hugh was mortified he’d overstepped the mark but the PM didn’t seem to see it that way. ‘All right, that’s settled. Get back to Janine when you return.’
‘We will, Prime Minister.’
Janine reappeared, as if by telepathy, and he followed her out again.
‘How did it go?’ asked Emma.
‘How would you feel about doing security work again?’
‘On what basis?’
‘I’m not sure yet but I said I could only do it if you were with me.’
‘Really? You said that?’
He nodded and she gave him that smile again. Janine now sat with them and explained that for now they’d stay with Carly but Hugh would have to go away for a few days – nothing sinister, no debriefings, nothing like that, it would be explained when he got back. Was she, Emma, all right with that?
Emma saw he was au fait and not worried, so she nodded. Janine then excused Hugh and herself and took him into her office.
She explained that she was the go-between on this project, she outlined the schedule, the various bits and pieces, Hugh nodded and asked, ‘What chance would we have had by ourselves?’
‘Better than even – perhaps 70%. It’s taken a lot of organizing and most of that is in checking out the various parties, we can’t move until we’re sure.’
Back at Carly’s, the evening done and ready for bed, it would be Hugh and Marie in the alcove, officially though in her bed, the two boxes near the bed – yes, they’d been reprogrammed for this night, Emma in with Sarah, Jean-Claude and Geneviève in their room.
There was an atmosphere of busy-ness tonight, things to be discussed by the various parties, Marie had asked Emma to monitor Sarah and see she did not roam to her, Marie’s, room, she’d assured Emma that none of that would be going on. Then she’d kissed Emma.
In bed in the alcove, they got straight down to it. A certain amount of privileged information had to be divulged by Marie, he had to understand all the failsafes and holding points, he had to know which players were kosher and which not, by their latest information, Janine was indeed the coordinator.
Jean-Claude looked over at Geneviève and her at him.
‘Genie, we can’t dwell. We are where we are and lucky to have a roof and protection, the flat they showed us in the brochure is nice, that case of Merlot they’ve promised makes it that much more civilized. I’ll always try to find a way to go home, even briefly but it can’t be just yet. Can you be patient?’
‘If I have work, if we both do – yes. So much has happened since Paris.’
Janine looked across at the Prime Minister, it was late, the last sheet had been signed, they were relaxing with a mixed drink for her, a whisky for him. Doug was in the car downstairs in the carpark.
‘Why are you letting them go to Europe, sir?’
‘Have to, have to give Europe its shot at them, have to observe their mettle, need to know if I made an error.’
‘I think not.’
‘Well, we’ll see, won’t we? Any plans this evening?’
‘Couple of films recorded. Last year’s Strictly final. Bed.’
‘Can’t do without you, Janine.’
‘Kind of you to say so, sir. What time do you want the call?’
‘Five. Who do you see as the main problem?’
‘Mr. Jamieson, sir. You neutralize him tomorrow and it might work.’
‘My thinking exactly.’
There was to be a get-together in a little town called Nesselwang, on the other side of the hills from Oberammergau, not far from Kempten.
The Seven seemed to rotate their scheduled meetings and if word of this upcoming meeting had filtered through to SSF, no doubt SSF’s interest in the one called Thirteen had got back to the Seven as well.
SSF wouldn’t have to find her as the enemy would virtually dangle her in front of them for the taking – this was going to be a game of thoroughness, of layers. They’d be allowed to capture her but in the capture would be their own capture and if each had done its planning properly, with its people in place and if each layer were successively stripped away, whose layer would be the last one left in place, whose would finally prevail?
The Seven thrived on such things, it honed their gameplaying skills.
There was great danger in SSF descending to the same dog-eat-dog mentality of the enemy, which would ensure the victory of the latter. Rather, they had to counter them with their own strategy, based on other precepts, such as loyalty, compassion and so on.
The illusion of decoys and doubles was a new strategy for SSF but this is where Carly’s people came in. Each of the four had his/her double and even triple, travelling simultaneously but using different means of concealment – some in disguise, some travelling as another persona, some concealed under the rear seat of a car.
The actual lifting of the girl would be done by local operatives in the area, which precluded the need for escape routes. They’d slip back into the woodwork immediately after their charge had been handed over. It was going to work this way:
First one group would take her in one of their vans they used to kidnap victims, complete with chloroform, manacles and needles, made to look as if one of the enemy’s cells had done it.
Then a second van, a furniture van, unbeknowns to the first – this was the essential point – would hold up the first with maximum force but with no injuries. The crew would also believe they were spiriting her out of the country.
But a third group would snatch her from under their noses when they tried to take her through a checkpoint and this was the point here – the checkpoint officers would be pro-Section and would facilitate her papers to get her through.
She’d be manacled but given a breathing helmet and secreted in a closed container of oil. It was a hideously expensive operation and Genie had commented that, by bringing forward the demise of Section Sophie-Fleury, they were able to use the surplus funds to cover the operations.
Hugh and Carly would actually be elsewhere, coordinating in transit by transponder and at each communication, moving to another venue. The other three would be under the protection of Janine back in Britain, hidden from prying eyes who would swear they’d seen the four of them spirited away in vehicles.
Following the sting, doubles of each of the four would suddenly appear with local press in four main cities, with the scoop of what they had done. The PM and Janine had discussed Hugh and Carly appearing in Zurich or deep in Bavaria themselves but this was deemed too risky and they were to be spirited across to France before the press interviews took place.
The lifting of the girl, who’d obviously been trauma programmed, went smoothly, as both sides knew that that part must.
The next – the ambushing, the re-ambushing, the turning of some whom the enemy themselves had put there – that’s where the real battle was taking place. The bottom line was that the capture of Hugh and Carly was the main priority and the greatest effort was being expended on this.
With the lift completed, Carly’s and Hugh’s exodus had started.
Hugh, in his vehicle, felt himself ascending a winding track up into the hills and took a sip of liquid – he was allowed eight of these before the changeover. There’d been a freak storm and he could feel the squish under the tyres as the car sped along, it felt exceedingly fast but actually would have been about right according to the speedo.
An hour and a half later, Carly felt her car enter a major area, which she had to assume was a port, and they slowed to a stop.
There was lots of shouting and bustle outside, lots of discussion between her driver and the passenger. One of them went to do the documentation and was an interminable time returning.
Finally they started moving in a circular path towards something bumpy and metallic and the car ascended – seemingly up the ramp, then along a corrugated floor.
The din out there stopped and someone shouted instructions to the occupants, who grabbed certain things from above her and left the car, slamming the doors and setting the alarm with two beeps. Well, she thought, now to put in the next eight hours. She had her food, she had her tube, she had her thoughts about Hugh’s safety.
She sighed to herself and tried to drift off to sleep.
At his first vehicle changeover, Hugh felt the bolts being undone, the seat was pulled away and he could uncramp himself – it was no joke for a man even of his size.
He stretched a little, silently, then followed the beckoning hand and went over to the other car. Now sitting in the front passenger seat, soup and sandwiches were successively put into his hands and all this was topped off with a flask containing some Merlot.
Then it was handshakes all round and once again he was being bolted into his place and the next seven and a half hours began, with one embellishment.
One of the passengers was taking his golden Labrador. This could cut both ways. Even the best behaved and most uncurious dog could show interest, at the wrong time. On the other hand, it seemed a good ruse.
The whoosh of tyres on wet roads dulled his senses all the more but he knew there was a tricky border crossing coming up.
The car slowed to a halt but it seemed at a distance from the border – perhaps there was quite a queue ahead.
The slow shuffling forward began, then the pause, then the shuffling, it had a double effect both on the Labrador in the back of the universal station wagon and on himself. Both dropped off to sleep.
The next Hugh was aware, there were angry voices in German and he heard the source of the main voice now close above his own seat, the owner of the car protesting at being asked to pull his car over into quarantine for checking.
The dog was barking up a storm and the officer, for the first time, began to have doubts, he was now joined by his superior officer who clearly knew the driver and signalled for the car to go through – they had a lorry behind carrying possible contraband to take care of.
Actually the team had had suspicious drugs in the car two ahead and the lorry behind had had inadequate documents.
A junior officer snapped orders at Hugh’s driver, who nonchalantly put the vehicle in gear and with a few German oaths at the bureaucratic ninnies at the guard post, drove through.
When they eventually pulled up at the changeover and the back seat was unbolted, Hugh was a very relieved man, a view shared in the expressions of the occupants of the car.
One wiped his brow. The other shook his head.
After a soup and bread meal, the rebolting in a new car took place and they were once again under way, this time, after a kilometre or so, onto another motorway and Hugh could feel the spray yet again lashing the underside of the chassis.