2-19: Magdalena

thirteen sophie

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I

Carly had one or two problems now they were once again travelling.

Twice the car suddenly swerved, spun round and went hell for leather in the direction whence they’d come. Then they’d stayed in some place, lights out and with absolutely no sound, for some considerable time.

They were pulled over twice but nothing came of it.

Carly took her third last sip on her tube, proud that she’d passed up the previous drink in order to have more in reserve near the end. Now she began relaxing the muscles, wiggling the toes and fingers and thinking about the next stage – France.

She heard and felt them leave a town but a kilometre later, an official posse swarmed onto the road, and demanded the vehicle stop. The driver and passenger were ordered out and Carly could hear their hands hit the roof. She had no fear that she could be quiet enough – the problem was going to be the dogs.

They’d planted an illegal quantity of booze under a blanket in the luggage compartment in the Estate, and now the dogs were snapping excitedly at the back. The driver was ordered to open the hatch and the dogs swarmed inside, sniffed around, found the booze inches from her head and the process of confiscation, protestation from the driver and passenger and the business of the fine took place.

The driver noted that once they’d been sufficiently chastened and the notice of fine had been served on them, the chief officer phoned through that if this car came through, to check if they’d bought more booze.

Carly thanked Heaven they’d thought of that ploy. There was always the chance they’d be pulled aside and the whole fabric ripped out but the booze seemed to have been a neat move – it wasn’t narcotics.

.o0o.

The press conference was radio, not television, that had been some of their disinformation – it was carried by Radio 4 back home. In fact, Carly and Hugh were nowhere near each other, it had been pre-recorded and the content merged.

The two themselves were en route to a different place.

.o0o.

It finished in a small town near the French coast or to be precise, just out of it, in a layby.

About twelve minutes later, the helicopter appeared above, a line was dropped, Hugh was attached and up he went.

The first rays of dawn told him he was near the fishing boat, yes there it was below. One of the crew indicated he was about to be lowered, he was reattached, the cable did its job, the helicopter banked and flew back in the direction of the French coast, he made his way below.

Marie came out and they embraced, sandwiches were handed to him, she held the drink.

That done, they now waited and another helicopter appeared overhead by the whire, there was someone landing and then came Genevieve and Emma below. Much embracing ensued, they were then led to a rear cabin, one of four crew quarters.

It was a tight fit in there for five people, including the armed officer and what they saw or rather who, confirmed that their mission had been successful … at least until now.

By the outer wall, trussed up in a sleeping bag which had been tied to the bunk, was a person and the face of that person, peering from the sleeping bag hood, was a scowling Thirteen – three of them would have recognized her anywhere.

‘Have you been fed?’ asked Marie in French and for that was spat at, as far as the girl was able, the spittle landing on the floor.

‘Magdalena, you’d best get used to the fact that your future life is going to be with us.’

Scowl and growl.

‘You’re to be deprogrammed and will work for good.’

More spittle came Marie’s way.

‘We wish you no harm – we’ve actually saved you from harm,’ went on Marie, oblivious. ‘Allow me to introduce Mlle. Lavacquerie and here are two people you might wish to meet for the first time – Belus,’ Emma gave a sort of a salute and a cheeky grin, ‘and Albus,’ at which a projectile of spit came his way, to fall short by half a metre.

‘How do you do,’ said Hugh, offering to shake her hand, which had her near apoplectic and shaping up for a new projectile. ‘No? Well, no matter. I want to tell you,’ he dropped into French, ‘that we are not your enemies but your friends – you’ve been lied to, Magdalena. What you know of us is false and you will see that without the need for any ‘training’ from us. Now you can spit at us again,’ she did just that on cue, ‘or you will realize, when nothing traumatic happens to you,’ Emma corrected his French here and Marie wasn’t sure they should be so categorical about the deprogramming, ‘that we, in fact, wish for your rehabilitation and a more productive life in the future.’

It was Emma who was the chief doubter – she lowered her voice and dropped into English. ‘Will your people … do things to her?’

‘Not the way you imagine. She’ll be deprogrammed step by step and part of that process is kindness. We want her working for us.’

‘And then?’ asked Geneviève.

‘She’ll be trained and educated the same way the armed forces train and educate their personnel – nothing more sinister. No one said it was easy but it won’t be what she’s had before.’

‘How do you know?’

‘Because you, Geneviève, will be her training officer.’

‘What if I don’t want to?’ asked Geneviève.

‘You will want because you’ll be in charge of a section again, just as you were with Sophie-Fleury, and her training will be your own decision, no one else’s. Do you know anyone better to deprogramme her?’

Geneviève was silent.

‘Your job will be to rescue as many people as possible and get them working for us. Perhaps you don’t wish to do that type of work any more.’

‘Is this serious, Marie?’

‘Oui.’

‘But who am I working for?’

‘A joint Anglo-French security unit, based in Britain.’

Hugh was concerned that this was being said in front of the girl who was listening intently but Marie shrugged and said it did not signify.

II

In a northern British city, Hugh and Emma were being debriefed, but not in that way.

On the second day, they were allowed to rejoin one another in a side room and they hugged. The clinical grey door of the room opened, four armed men came in, ignored the two of them and checked over, under and all ways around the room, then stood back against the wall.

After some seconds, a man with close cropped hair came in, carrying an overcoat over his arm.

‘Hugh.’

‘Prime Minister.’

‘Well, aren’t you going to introduce me, man? I don’t have all day.’

‘Ah, right. Prime Minister, allow me to introduce my soon-to-be-wife Emma.’

‘This was the brains of Section Sophie-Fleury?’ He couldn’t take his eyes off her, Hugh grinned and she blushed. ‘She’s a woman of many, many talents.’

Emma felt she could possibly handle a bit more of this sort of appraisal.

‘Madame,’ said the Prime Minister, taking her hand and kissing it. The compliment had been awkward and obvious but Emma saw that she’d disturbed the man’s composure and felt good inside. ‘Hugh, your taste in women is …’ he looked for a word, ‘… well, impeccable. All right, must be off. You’ve agreed to accept, yes?’

‘With Emma, sir, yes.’

‘Of course with Emma. Word is that she and Ms Vasseur ran the show while Ms Lavacquerie did the diplomatic part. I do take your point that you’ll have to have her with you. So long.’

Then he was gone.

Janine came through and asked if they were all right. Assured of that, she informed them, ‘We’ll take you to your accommodation now, which goes with the position, you understand. If you have any problems with it, you’ll call me. Settle in and tomorrow morning, you’ll both be collected and taken back here to your workplace.’

III

January 2008

The house was secure, a two story built-to-purpose, though in an Edwardian style, set in grounds of approximately one hundred metres all round, there were no ornate little cellar openings or any other breaks in the seal between wall and gravel driveway and no subterranean space of any kind.

A high wall surrounded the entire property, except for the gateway at the front and though there were trees at intervals around the walls, they were not dense enough to afford cover. It was a bit sparse but Emma understood the necessity for that.

All points within a mile of the property had been scanned for sniper possibilities and those positions either neutralized or staffed by their own people. That was a potential weakness, thought Hugh but they’d look at it later.

Inside, there was a mock bedroom, living area and rear bathroom on the outside, which was irregularly used by staff to give the appearance of being their rooms but the real living space was in the centre of the quite large building, behind a foot thick firewall – a modest two bedroom unit with a twenty by thirty foot garden right slap bang in the middle, from which all the other rooms led off and with a toughened glass skylight.

It had been well thought out.

Emma felt that the central garden redeemed everything, with its light opening to the sky – the whole effect was not of a prison but of a grotto, a sort of Shangri-la which looked in on itself.

She was satisfied, so he was satisfied.

The security people withdrew to the outer house, the two now had their privacy and took advantage of it. He grabbed a huge white towel from the bathroom and a cushion from the bedroom, laid them out on the lawn in the middle of the garden near the pond, went to the garden drinks cabinet, opened the bottle and poured two cognacs, set them down on the wrought iron table on the lawn, indicated the towel, she grinned, undressed and accepted the glass he now offered her.

They toasted, he disrobed, she lay on the towel, head on the cushion, he lay down between her and they began.

IV

Jean-Claude and Geneviève were installed in their apartment close to some new purpose-built waterways and the moat effect was their primary security.

A short distance from London, they were near a created tributary from the Thames, the overall colouring of the building being white, with lattice windows and elegant doorways and their apartment was part of an extensive security complex which enabled them to work from the little island they were on.

The décor had been left to her taste and she took full advantage of this from the start, recreating, as far as possible, the Lodge in Fontainebleau. A present from Carly – how they’d got it here they didn’t know – was Francine’s own coffee table and the occasional chairs she used in the summer. These were now placed in the patio conservatory.

Geneviève was satisfied and so was Jean-Claude.

They made love on the sheepskin rug by the fireplace and Geneviève felt this would do quite nicely for some time.

V

Geneviève began her work with Magdalena but the girl wasn’t her only subject.

Having said that, she was the main one because inside that young lady were the secrets to the mind of the enemy – if the PM had installed Hugh and Emma to go through every aspect of security, he’d hired Geneviève to unlock the secrets of this girl. Though he’d stopped short of putting pressure on them, nevertheless Geneviève knew the time frame.

It was conceivable that the four would not only be out of a job at any moment, their position entirely dependent on the PM’s largesse but they might conceivably be on the run again.

Even the PM himself had recognized this and had suggested they look at an escape plan, should all go pear-shaped, not on his account – have no fear of that – but on account of him not being all that secure in his position, for political reasons.

VI

In the third week, security brought an interesting piece of equipment to Hugh’s office, like a transponder but with a wide, flatron screen. Puzzled, they watched a chap called Ian Cross set up the gear and then explain it.

‘There’ll be a live feed at 19:52. Can you stay in at the house this evening?’

Black joke.

‘Press here to switch on, press here to receive, press here to respond. You must position yourselves looking directly at the screen and angle it so that it’s 90 degrees to you. You follow?’

‘Yes,’ answered Hugh. ‘How’s the resolution?’

‘Fair, so stay within a metre of the controls. Actually, it’s not too bad. The colour can streak a bit, especially the reds, so don’t wear checks, stripes or reds and don’t move too abruptly.’

‘Anything else?’

‘No, that’s about it. We’ll collect the kit tomorrow. Good luck.’

‘Hugh, what’s this all about?’

‘Haven’t you tumbled to it, Emma? Let’s wait until 19:52.’

They switched on shortly before the required time and then, on the dot, Geneviève’s face appeared and Hugh grinned from ear to ear.

Emma spoke to her, then Jean-Claude came on. He was working with the criminal records bureau right now and had other projects after that. There was considerable respect for Surete methods this side of the channel and they wanted to know about them in a practical, day-to-day sense.

The whole thing took twenty minutes and then they shut the device down. That had been a lovely gesture. Janine phoned the PM, he grinned, turned over to his wife, who’d been listening to every word. ‘Do you think they’ll work out?’ she inquired.

‘Together, I’m sure they’re unbeatable. Their operational experience is second to none – we’re lucky to be able to draw on that. Her English is weak, which makes it difficult to place her in any official capacity but she’ll be his controller in the sense that you are mine. You know I could never have gotten this far without you.’

‘Yes, darling, you say it four times a day and I never want you to cease saying it.’

‘So you’d understand.’

‘But won’t they polarize the cabinet – he has a cavalier reputation from what you’ve said.’

‘Undoubtedly he’ll do that and the sooner the better.’

‘I’m so glad I’m not in politics,’ she sighed, turned over and went to sleep.

VII

Hugh and Emma had a meeting with the PM but with them not being able to travel themselves, he had to fly up and Hugh’s office was made over to him for the morning.

10:55 saw them both at the double doors, awaiting the call, which now came. They greeted one another, then went over to the low chairs and coffee table, Janine bringing through the tray.

‘Sorry to have kept you both,’ he apologized. ‘Bad news from Europe, I’m afraid – France has refused to budge, we’ve protested, there’s been a spill of positions over there and your country, my lady, has a new Premier, it’s largely irrelevant, as you’d know.’ She didn’t. ‘Anyway, Dubois is less intransigent on Europe.’

‘You said ‘bad news’, Prime Minister.’

‘Yes, on the surface a reasonable man but we have a file on him as long as your arm. He has some extremely questionable antecedents and he’s in with shady elements in the finance. He has two offsiders and we’re keeping a close watch on them.’

‘Do we know them?’ asked Emma.

‘Oh yes, Mrs. Jensen, you know one of them very, very well. Shortly, you’ll have to deal with the new Secretary to their Foreign Office, Francois de Marchant. Name ring any bells?’

Emma’s hands gripped the armrests of her chair and Hugh looked woodenly ahead.

‘Yes, I thought it most probably might. That’s the calibre of person we’re now dealing with. The question is, Hugh, do you have the stomach for this job? Are you prepared to meet him and not to let personal antagonism interfere?’

‘One can but try, Prime Minister.’

‘And you, dear lady?’

‘He’s pond scum.’

‘Be that as it may,’ the Prime Minister smiled wrily, ‘but we can’t actually address him as such.’

‘We’ll observe the ordinary decencies, Prime Minister,’ said Hugh. ‘Some of it might even rub off on him.’

‘Hardly likely, he’s bound to be apoplectic at your very presence. It should be a lively meeting,’ he grinned, almost rubbing his hands together but then remembering himself.

‘May I ask a question, sir?’

‘Fire away.’

‘With all due respect, why are we meeting someone at his level – I mean his new official level? He’s F.O. and we’re merely security.’

‘He’s here for a meeting with his opposite number and then he’ll be flown up for some strategic advice on an expansion to their department – it’s been in the pipeline for some time. The truth is, I engineered it, I’m routing certain things through you for the once over and in this case, I need your assessment of the man.’

‘I can give you that now.’

‘No, I mean your assessment of how much he’s trusted over there, how far he’s in with Dubois and so on. Obviously we have our regular channels but we can’t rely on those – they’re fed the brown stuff. The mutual antagonism and antipathy might loosen his tongue though – watch for how much carte blanche he has to make decisions. We’ve offered him a slice of the M8P4 and they can’t afford to pass that up – you will finalize the details and for that, there can be no intermediaries – or so the story goes.

Both your salaries are proportionate to your value to me and you’re paid from my own estate. This is a private, not a governmental appointment and your role is a cross between a policeman and a distant early warning system. You have no track record in this country – you’re wildcards who happen to be very experienced wildcards in this area and I think loyal to me, if Mlle Lacour’s word is anything to go by.

I need you to work together. While Hugh is ostensibly the head, in some ways you, Mrs. Jensen, are the more important because you handle the administrative side of the office, where attempts will be made to pilfer your secrets – and also to seduce you. On paper, you’ll be the PPS to Hugh but will actually be running my defense from the reception area. You’ll be the one bribed to make representations to Hugh and you’ll be the one they’ll try to turn to their side, Hugh being an intransigent sod, it will be so that I’m surrounded by enemies who will act when the signal comes. Do you both agree to take on these roles?’

‘For my part,’ said Hugh, ‘there’s no question, can’t wait to get at it.’

‘Nor with me.’

‘Good and now if you’ll excuse me, I must run.’

VIII

Their island wasn’t anything like France but it was surely the comfort Geneviève had been craving since they’d left the farmhouse that first morning of the Flight to Egypt. It was decorated in her style, on the inside at least and they did actually have a punt at their disposal. Of course, they could only go fifty metres up their canal, two hundred metres along to the right and then back again but it was the thought that counted, wasn’t it?

Anyway, the thought of going anywhere near a boat again was not Geneviève’s first priority by any stretch of the imagination.

Jean-Claude was wont to look wistfully down at the upturned punt though. He was the one who had no genuine work, they’d made him an advisor but he knew and they knew that it was a merely created position, remunerative though it might be. There was also no great future in it. For the first time, he seriously looked at his future and where he and Geneviève were going. He could see she wasn’t overly happy with the training role she’d taken on, possibly because of the constant reminder of that which she’d prefer to have forgotten.

And yet, what else was on the horizon?

It also hadn’t helped, in that transponder visual link with Emma and Hugh, that they’d caught a glimpse of the sumptuous surroundings in the room – a room fit for royalty, which is how Genie did see herself to an extent. He did not place a great deal of store by such things but Genie liked to be … comfortable … and living in a style she’d been used to.

The sight of that room of Emma’s and Hugh’s had had her reflecting on how she had rescued Emma from oblivion all those years ago – not the other way about. If Emma had had, in Paris, a comfortable apartement in a nice street, as someone slightly more than a trusted officer, then she, Genevieve, had had a plush apartement, tres chic, tres elegante, abutting a park and worth a small fortune.

It was she with whom members of the hidden elite made contact, it was she who organized funding for their work. Emma had been given a role and had done it well, to Geneviève’s satisfaction. She gave Emma full marks for that but this now – this was insufferable. She was most displeased.

Jean-Claude gazed at the upturned nose and arched brow and realized that Geneviève was going to be a handful – she was the critical factor in how well they were going to adapt to the next few years. He was certainly not having second thoughts after chasing her all these years but he did sometimes wonder what on earth he’d actually secured.

Jean-Claude remembered the meals in Cafe Noir and how Hugh had taken to one of the serving girls – waitresses, sorry – and had thought the man should aim higher. What was higher though? Was it not he, Jean-Claude, who’d mentioned to Hugh that Mademoiselle Vasseur was a bit more domestically inclined than Mademoiselle Lavacquerie?

However, Mademoiselle Emma herself was showing signs of airs and graces which Mademoiselle Vasseur would never have developed – he knew Hugh did not like these airs and graces in a woman, did not appreciate them, and so the future of those two was going to be interesting.

IX

Hugh and Emma finally got back, went through all the procedures, deposited their things and Sally had left them a light supper, he opened a bottle of red and they went to their garden.

The moment they sat down to dine, she asked, ‘Do you think I loved Nicolette?’

Hugh stopped in mid-forkful. ‘What sort of a question is that? Of course you did.’

‘So I’m quite happy for you to keep Nikki’s personal things in that pouch, Hugh but it’s only going to cause you more grief to keep it close by, to take out her handkerchief from time to time and cover your mouth and nose with it. I do understand how awful you feel about her. I miss her too.’

‘Ah, you saw that, yes?’ She nodded. ‘Right, even Nikki wouldn’t have wanted that – I’m sorry, I’ll put it in the top of a cupboard straight after supper and leave it there.’

‘Thanks, Bebe. It also reminds me of my own losses and I’d prefer just to let them be.’

They ate for some time and then Emma said, ‘We agreed to be honest with each other but I know you want to keep your thoughts to yourself on what the Prime Minister said about our roles.’

He laid his knife and fork down and wiped his mouth. ‘I had a good look at Russian security when I was over there and Ksenia was a major factor in that. I also got to see your operation in France. You yourself commented on my analytical skills and you saw fit to use my thoughts in your own work. In other words, I’m not entirely useless or inexperienced.

You ran a Security Section of 14 girls and did it well. You were known for never being wrong, for being able to anticipate and circumvent. I don’t include the things which went wrong because they were designed from above to go wrong and Genie was a factor in that. So you are an experienced, efficient and very cool operator – just the sort of person the PM needs at that desk.

I see no problem with what he said because he also acknowledges that together, we are pretty hot. If we’re apart, jealous of one another, goading one another, acting personally triumphant, we will lose our advantage. Your take on that?’

‘I just thought you might not have been happy -’

‘I know exactly what you thought and why you asked it, Emma. I’ve answered that now. Your take on what I’ve just said though?’

‘As long as we work together …’

‘Precisely, Emma. In English, we have an expression ‘oneupmanship’. It means one of the partners considers herself [or himself] more important than the other.’

‘We have similar.’

X

It was two weeks later that they had their magical mystery trip, as Janine called it. They were advised to pack overnight bags with very warm clothing and boots and to be prepared to spend two days away.

Collected in the dead of night by helicopter, Hugh and Emma knew they were going south-east, Jean-Claude and Genevieve were taken by van and just before dawn, they found themselves on what Hugh surmised were the Broads but where exactly he didn’t know – it had never been his part of the country.

They were set down near a windmill and soon a van was seen coming down the track towards them. It pulled up, Jean-Claude and Genie got out and the embracing went on for a minute or so. Now they were called to the end of the jetty, the ladies stepped gingerly into the punt, helped by the two punters, the men stepped in and the punt headed away from the jetty, around the reeds to the left, they looked at each other and wondered.

The thought flitted through Hugh’s mind but he didn’t dare hope, Emma picked this up from his face, her heart also leapt and sure enough, around the next bend, there before them, looking quite large in this setting, was the Sophie-Fleury, in perfect nick.

.o0o.

Onboard was one of the ensigns from the sub who’d sailed her back, the water had boiled in the front cabin, they went forward and sat inside, the sandwiches were distributed, cups of tea and coffee were handed over by the girl who’d prepared them and they settled down to hear about the voyage.

John Stemmins was his name and they’d had some adventures, including being becalmed and then hit by squalls near the equator, they’d got the Sophie-Fleury home though, due in some small part to the naval ensign being flown from a jury-rigged pole at the stern, she’d been dismantled and taken overland and here she was, reconstructed.

Would they care to look over her, to see that all was ship-shape?

Would they ever! They almost tumbled out and swarmed over the craft, the ladies making a beeline for their rear-cabin ‘boudoir’, in perfect condition, with their own things in the places they’d been left and both were reduced to tears. The men poked their heads in, smiled and checked all the systems.

The sails were furled and covered by dacron covers now, the lines had been upgraded and the whole boat had been cleaned and scrubbed. She was clearly better than when they’d been taken off and onto the sub. Naturally, the weapons were nowhere to be seen.

Hugh stepped up to the Ensign and shook his hand until it almost fell off. ‘Greatest navy in the world – the boat is in far better nick than we left it for you, sorry about that – it’s perfect and I can’t thank you enough. Would you let me have your mobile number and if we can ever do something in return …’

The man was almost embarrassed but he did write it on a scrap and handed it over.

At this time of year, there were precious few boats out and a strong breeze cut across the Broads but no more than they’d encountered during their voyage. ‘A bit tame, eh?’ commented Stemmins but Hugh smiled and quietly said, ‘It’s perfect.’

The man was beaming. ‘I’ll be getting off now, sir and will be back here this time tomorrow. There’s enough food on board, you all have a change of clothes and the cooking facilities are better now.’ On that they were agreed. ‘This is a short break before you get so entrenched in your work that you can’t get away again. You’ll be safe enough.’

With that, he got into the punt and the four of them were alone. The map was in the front cabin and so it was clear, as the sun rose, that they had twenty four hours of relaxation ahead.

Jean-Claude found the crate of wine in the ama and it was a nice enough Merlot to do the job for the journey. He also found two bottles of Drambuie. Hugh told him this was going to be vital when it got a bit chilly this night.

.o0o.

They cruised the Broad which they still didn’t know the name of and though it was limited in area and though they kept to half-sail, the feel of the Sophie-Fleury underway with them sailing it, taking turns again, was quite emotional, a really fine gesture by the PM or Janine, Carly, whoever had caused it to happen.

They ate superbly, the corned beef had already been prepared and garnished – proper corned beef, all that was needed was the veg microwaved – that had been installed and fed off the power source – Geneviève heartily approved.

.o0o.

Dusk fell, they anchored and retired to their respective double sleeping bags, fore and aft, Geneviève remarked that if the Sophie-Fleury had been like this the whole of the voyage, she’d have had no compunction in asking for the voyage to be extended.

.o0o.

In the other cabin, Emma was happy. ‘This has been superb – meeting them again, speaking my language, talking about silly things, being here now with you.’

Outside, the only sound was the lapping of the water against the side of the hull and ama. ‘This is our honeymoon-to-be now, our real one, isn’t it? she added.

XI

Robert Jamieson paused and realized he had to reassure the caller. ‘Richard, Albus will suffer the decreed penalty and the woman will be delivered for your pleasure, as promised.’

‘Thank you, Robert. Walk in the light.’

Japhet rang off and turned to his companion. ‘Celeste, people like Albus are a flame. They burn brightly for some time, even for some years, then they flicker and go out. Sometimes we can even manage to blow them out before that.’

‘Be careful with that one, it does not augur well and he dwells, for now, in a protected sphere.’

‘Can it be pierced?’

‘There are ways.’

‘Then we must make that our main priority.’

XII

Marie-Ange Bisset, a fair-haired woman of forty-two whom they’d spirited out of France, looked at Magdalena and sighed inside.

The hypnosis had turned up a few surprises and the booby traps had not been all that hard to see coming. How the girl came not to be HIV infected was a mystery but still, there it was. The daunting task was to untangle the myriad threads and anticipate the self-destructs and destructs which had been built in.

One thing Mme Bisset discovered fairly early was that, as Magdalena, the girl was programmed as a service-prostitute but as Sophie, meaning ‘wisdom’, she was a normal upright citizen, as far as one ever was.

She and Geneviève had identified seventeen distinct personalities by this time but felt there were still more, each more complex and more destructive than the last. In other words, the further they got in, the trickier it got.

Geneviève visited her in her cell, which was decorated in soft pastels and adorned with modern furniture to be as close to a living room as possible. Sophie wore a slip and pantaloons and had taken to relaxing whenever she saw Genie.

There was one personality though, called Messa, who popped up from time to time and this one was a killer. Fortunately the switch was not difficult to see coming.

‘Sophie.’

‘Hello, Genie.’

‘I brought you some magazines and a Toblerone. Do you need anything else?’

‘To leave here.’

‘And you will too, as soon as we’ve identified the last of the personalities they put into you.’

‘You’d like that, bitch, wouldn’t you?’

She launched herself at Geneviève and tried to bite deep into her neck but Genie held her away long enough for the orderlies to rush in. The obscenities being hurled thickened the air and the bestial body language was grotesque.

Geneviève was not at all sure she could continue with this.

.o0o.

Later that evening, she explained to Jean-Claude that they were having great difficulty latching onto the last few personalities, which would come near the surface then seemingly hide behind some other personality until the interrogation had ended. Certain sedatives had a more pronounced effect than others in drawing these last personalities to the fore.

He listened and then said, ‘It may be that the last personalities have been reserved for a ritual killing she is to perform.’

‘On whom?’

‘On Albus and Belus?’

‘Do you believe all that, Jean-Claude?’

‘Perhaps. Perhaps not. I do know it’s been very useful for us to date.’

That put an idea into Geneviève’s head.

XIII

Emma lay in his arms on the rug in their garden, which they’d come to prefer to the bedroom itself and wondered why he’d gone quiet.

‘Just thinking about things, about what’s coming. There are things in my character, things in yours and while we’re not under pressure, like now, all is well. Yet our work is only going to increase in pressure – that’s logical – and as we have success, so our enemies will multiply and their aim will be to separate us. And it can be done.’

‘How?’

‘Pretty girl working on me, good looking man of the Michel type working on you – the slow drip, drip of poison. We might be at odds over something and she’ll give me a sympathetic look when you leave the room or he will when I get engrossed in a problem – I don’t know, there are many scenarios. We’re on our guard but I’m sure that’s how they’ll do it.’

‘You’re saying I’m susceptible to other men, aren’t you?’

‘Everyone is susceptible to his or her own type. They’d work on me with an Emma, they’d work on you with a Michel – we’d be having pleasant conversation, a bit of repartee but slowly we’d be separating. Remember that this agent only ever shows a pleasant face, a sympathetic voice, a willing ear.

I saw it once with someone trying to wreck my circle of close friends, it was online. He went to her site, while I was too busy to be there enough, he’d be there the whole time, complimenting her, slowly it got to emails, then the telephone. She’d speak of her frustrations with me, his response would be innocuous but inevitably, he worked out ways of exploiting them.

So now it was, ‘Well yes, he’s sometimes like that,’ and I think you can see where this went. Slowly, the poison dripped in – drip, drip, drip – she stopped visiting as often, finally she gave me away, making excuses. And he did it to every single one of them, working on their frustrations, until I had only two people left. One of them warned me about it.’

‘That’s terrible.’

‘We have to be eternally vigilant that anyone who would support me in thoughts against you or you in thoughts against me – we must refuse to listen but talk it out that evening, not the next evening. The worst thing we can do is keep it inside, nurture it, let it grow into resentment.’

XIV

March 2008

The meeting with de Marchant was only two weeks away and Hugh quizzed the PM on what chance there was that such a beast, who’d spent inordinate amounts of time and money blighting so many human lives, would now try to finish the job on them.

‘That’s your responsibility, Hugh, to see that such a situation never arises, that’s what I’m paying you for.’

‘Understood.’

‘Also, consider, Hugh, that he might be just as fearful of your retribution for his alleged atrocities – if I were de Marchant, I would approach this meeting with some trepidation.’

‘I see. All right, Prime Minister, leave it with us.’

The PM rose, Hugh rose and departed, Janine came through, to be asked, ‘Well, what do you have on their operation?’

‘They’ve already built the Section up out of nothing, sir, in a very short space of time. The requisite money’s there now and they know it dries up later. They’ve done their shopping lists and presented them, the training hall has been fitted out, programmes are in place -’

‘I’m told he’s nepotic.’

‘You know that already, sir. Family ties are preferred in advertised positions, as long as the talent warrants it. There’s a distant-early-warning. The whole technological framework was overhauled by a young boffin, Paul Waley, and the new communicative device, the ‘telescan’, has been issued to section officers they jointly appointed.

The Section, which some of the staff have nicknamed the Citadel, is divided into levels, each with its own security procedures and they’ve had some early successes. Mrs. Jensen doesn’t let much get by her but there hasn’t been a decent hit on them yet. It would be good to see them under pressure.’

‘Yes but can they ferret out the bad ’uns?’

‘Look at this, sir.’

She handed him a one page summary, he skimmed down it and whistled. ‘Wondered what happened to Sutcliffe. Haines too. All right, Janine, keep your eye on them. It’s still early days.’

XV

April 2008

‘Come in, Secretary,’ cooed Emma, in French.

The man peered at her, a supercilious smile played on his lips but he was shocked to discover that a smile was also playing on the corner of hers.

‘So, we both appear to be untouchable for the present,’ he oiled and the remaining conversation was in French.

‘Oh, I wouldn’t say that, Ver, I think you’ll find you’re quite touchable today.’

‘Ah,’ he breathed. ‘It’s like that, is it?’

‘Albus awaits you within.’

‘You appreciate, don’t you, that if the least untoward incident should occur, it would be the diplomatic end for both of you? My government might already interpret this meeting as somewhat hostile.’

‘Your government, Francois de Marchant? Your government? Ah, humour is always appreciated. But we’re more than delighted to finally have you here with us, more than delighted, you can be sure.’

At that, the door from the corridor opened and four very stocky, uniformed men came through, arms folded, Emma repeated that which Sophie-Fleury had reported to them all, ‘Leave him breathing,’ at which she snapped her fingers, de Marchant was well aware of the reference and blanched, he shrank back as they advanced and struggled violently as they shunted him, vociferously protesting, into the side room, where he was strip searched and a recording device removed from his person.

When he re-emerged, he was apoplectic.

‘This is intimidation. You’re both finished. Finished, you hear!’ He turned on his heel and strode towards the outer door, to be bodily thrown back by two of the beefies.

‘A recording device at such a meeting?’ Emma tut-tutted, in her sweetest voice. ‘Oh dear, who did you say was finished? These men here, Ver, were once known as the Lestrigons – you’ve heard of them, I see – but now they’re called Section Sophie-Fleury, after a colleague of ours who was disfigured and left to die in le Place de la Concorde,’ her voice became more shrill, ‘on the orders of a piece of human effluent, a piece of pond scum.’ She virtually spat that last bit out. ‘Interestingly, I believe there were four men involved in her disfigurement as well – quite a co-incidence, wouldn’t you say, that we also have four here today?’ The man was now quite unnerved. ‘Let’s commemorate that event today – Albus awaits you within.’

De Marchant’s throat was dry and he was gulping for air. Jensen had a reputation for madness and the next few minutes were likely to be torrid. He was literally picked up by four of the detail and bodily thrown into the large room, landing on the rug. The double doors slammed behind him, he was alone and he ventured to peer around the room.

One by one, the four sides of beef filed in from the far end, dressed in dark cassocks and cawls, finger tips pressed together – Hugh had worried it might have been just a bit OTT but decided to go for it anyway and damn the expense – the four closed the blinds, plunging the room into semi darkness, then silently took positions at four points of the room and from under their cawls took out four candles and lit them.

By now, de Marchant believed Hugh and Emma had truly gone off the deep end and when Hugh entered, dressed head to foot in white robes, the man’s face was ashen.

In the middle of the room, the coffee table had been removed and a papier-mache imitation of a stone block had now been put in its place – a highly incongruous object in a mahogany drawing room. It was flecked with what appeared to be dried blood.

‘You’re truly mad,’ de Marchant’s voice was hoarse.

‘I’m so sorry I was delayed,’ Hugh made a mock bow but did not extend his hand. ‘Belus has just informed me about the grandparents of a girl I was to marry. They lived in a farmhouse in Châtelet-en-Brie. Do you remember anything of them or of a man named Pierre le Roux?’

These two would pay in full once he had found safety. If he ever did.

‘Kneel,’ commanded Hugh.

‘I’ll do nothing of the sort.’

Hugh sighed, clicked his fingers and two of the bruisers came over, forced de Marchant’s knees askew on the floor and his head to the block. ‘Ver, you know very well that in our world, position does not protect. When we disappear, when instruments inserted in our chest tickle our heart and cause exquisite pain, when all you seek is death but it does not come, when your entrails are also slowly removed and burned before your eyes, when your heart is finally torn from your body, which is then found washed up on one shore while your head is found on the other side of La Manche, people never seem to get to the bottom of the story … do they?’

Hugh gave the same guttural laugh he’d used on Opinicus and de Marchant was faint.

One of the sides of beef came forward and a large scimitar was brought out from under his cloke – it was quite apparent that actual blood was encrusted on the sharp side, courtesy of a supermarket visit earlier, de Marchant’s eyes couldn’t leave the blade, he was unable to either speak or think straight. He found enough to struggle but was held firmly in place. Emma came through ritually, also in robes, bearing a salver with two goblets and set them down to one side of the stone.

‘Ah, Belus,’ Albus intoned, reverently.

Belus lifted her foot, placed the stiletto carefully on de Marchant’s neck and held it there.

‘Choose!’ Hugh commanded him.

De Marchant indicated one of the drinks with his head and Hugh whispered, ‘A 50-50 chance, Ver, which is more than you gave Sophie-Fleury and Nicolette’s grandparents.’ He promptly took the other goblet, emptied it in one gulp and threw it aside, inviting de Marchant to take the other.

One of the beefy boys released an arm, de Marchant reached tentatively for the other goblet, raised it to his lips, drank down the contents, let it clatter to the floor and noticing no evil consequences, found his voice, in cracked French, ‘I have never before witnessed such an outrage. There will be severe repercussions arising from this day.’

‘You can be sure, Ver, that there will. Quite sure.

They thought it time to introduce the gobbledegook to see how far de Marchant was into it.

‘Are you aware, Ver, that Belus and I have consummated the union and she is with child?’ It was clear that de Marchant was not sufficiently high in the organization to feel that one deeply. ‘Goodbye, Ver. See you one day on the other side.’

As Hugh and Emma both left the room and the instruments were brought out, de Marchant screamed.

.o0o.

Hugh Jensen, head of a security section, came through, dressed in a suit.

Emma came through, also well-dressed, removed the goblets and various bits and pieces and went out, the sides of beef pulled the blinds back, the stone was removed, all was set back in order. The first brought the coffee table back, set it down and arranged things on it, Emma came through with two coffees and accompaniments.

De Marchant was still held to the floor by two sides of beef who now released him, he leapt up, to be handed a coffee by Hugh who was careful to keep between the little man and the double doors. The Secretary was shaking with rage, considering whether to fling the coffee down in the grand gesture.

Hugh looked at him with contempt and said, ‘This might have been a show just now, Ver but when your people – the real ones I mean, the ones behind you – hear of this day, you will be too great a risk to be kept alive. There are penalties – you know that in your heart, don’t you? I’m afraid it’s over for you.’

A group of press photographers were now allowed entry through the double doors, Hugh swiftly stepped up to de Marchant and quietly hissed, in French, ‘Out of your mother emanated sewage, vidange, little man. You are pond scum, as were your parents -’ at which de Marchant finally lost control and went for the throat, coffee cup clattering to the floor, along with Hugh’s tray of coffee, cream and sugar.

The cameras caught it all for distribution to the networks, de Marchant, shaking with rage, stormed past Hugh, out of the reception area, out of the building, out of the country and out of any sort of public life.

Chapter 2-18 hereChapter 2-20 here

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