The French press had a field day before they were muzzled, de Marchant coming across as seriously unbalanced, confirmed by the attack on Hugh and by his gibberish about Lestrigons, Ver, Albus and Belus.
The internet buzzed but the silence of the French government was eloquent. Hugh granted the French press a conference later in the day and answered a few enquiries, without actually lying.
‘Were you, in fact, dressed as an occult angel at your meeting and did you call the Interior Minister ‘sewage, vidange’?
Hugh’s face was pained.
‘Gentlemen, you’ve already seen the images of that meeting. You’ll have to draw your own conclusions. I myself am not going to add fuel to what is clearly a stressful time for your eminent Secretary and I suggest he will be perfectly well enough to resume normal duties in the not too distant future.
Also, I’m pleased to be able to report that Her Majesty’s Government has no intention of pressing charges over the alleged physical assault on my person nor of taking the matter any further at this time. Merci, gentlemen.’
There was a great clamour and numerous questions shouted at Hugh but he smiled benignly at the members of the French press, shook a few key hands and departed.
There was a message for him to call the PM the moment he got in. He got on the telescan.
‘Impressive conference, Hugh. You’ll make a statesman yet. Oh and Hugh? I understand your motives but please don’t pull anything of that nature again.’
The line went dead.
He breathed out, relieved – a mild rap over the knuckles for him but a severe check to the arrogance of the people who’d sent de Marchant who’d now lost his position, yet that was the least of the man’s worries. By releasing arcane knowledge into the public sphere, there were statutory penalties under their perverted law, which de Marchant was perfectly well aware of and which Hugh had alluded to.
Emma now broached the de Marchant issue with him. ‘You went too far, referring that way to his mother who was probably a long suffering woman.’
‘Yes, that’s been on my mind as well – I do sincerely regret what I said about his mother, I genuinely do.’
The PM was in closed session with certain members of his cabinet who had presented him with a dossier on Hugh Jensen.
Robert Jamieson was the spokesman and put to the PM that though they admired his cleverness in co-opting the talents of the Jensens, the de Marchant episode simply illustrated that Jensen was a loose cannon and the woman – well, she was Gallic in temperament.
The PM sat side on to his desk, flipped through the dossier, then turned to Jamieson.
‘Robert, have no fear, I’m keeping an eagle eye on ‘the Meteor’, as he’s become known, but at this moment I see no grounds for serious misgivings. This is not to say that things won’t change and I thank you for bringing it to my attention. Now, if you’ll excuse me.’
He stood, Jamieson and entourage rose and departed through the far door. The PM buzzed and Hugh entered through the side door.
‘You heard it, Hugh. They’ll have your guts for garters.’
‘Jamieson is part of the trouble himself, Prime Minister, but I’m sure you’re already aware of that.’
‘You’re with me, the two of you, not just on account of your talents but on account of your unquestioned loyalty. And yet there are charges of empire building, of nepotism, of excessive secrecy. I don’t want a J. Edgar Hoover on my hands.’
‘Prime Minister, with one stroke of your pen, our custodial role ceases. We seek no higher office, we seek no advisory role in your political world. We are certainly nepotic – in the security world, it’s whom you can trust. As for my unbalanced mind and Emma’s wildness, they’re useful tools in our game, as you well know. Empire? What Empire?’
‘You almost convince me, Hugh. Almost, but we’ll see. Thanks for dropping by today and we’ll meet next Tuesday, if you don’t mind, after I return from Scotland.’
Hugh departed and the PM’s secretary came through with the appointments. ‘How do you read the mood in his section, Janine?’
‘Word is that they’re fiercely loyal, Prime Minister and that he brooks no criticism of you, at least publicly.’
‘Certain sections of Cabinet are vehemently against him.’
‘No doubt, sir, no doubt. He’s a thorn in the side of at least five people we can name. I think you need Mr. Jensen, sir. He’s a good man.’
‘He’s certainly quite useful at present and what’s more, I like his spirit. His wife is efficient too. All right, Janine, what else do you have for me?’
In almost a carbon copy of the last meeting with the PM, Hugh was ushered in and took the proferred seat.
‘First things first, you’ve had some success with the girl, I hear.’
‘Geneviève and Marie-Ange have.’
‘Oh, a little bird told me of the role you two also took on, the lightning visit no one knows anything about, the dressing up as those two characters,’ he chuckled. ‘How are things at your end up there?’
Hugh handed him a list. ‘These are the people you need to worry about, in descending order. The highest is the most problematic for you.’
The PM scanned down the list and nodded at one or two names, put back his head, thought about it a minute, then turned to page two.
‘Those are people we feel you can count on, sir.’
‘Any particular reason why the Cabinet Secretary is on the front page and not the second?’
‘He’s been compromised – Marie gave us that one. He’s a conduit for elements on the continent. We have the tapes for when you need them.’
‘I see.’ He looked at both lists again. ‘Hugh, let me ask you – do you know of a James Methuen?’
‘Had to sack him, sir. He kicked up a lot of trouble and was caught stealing documents.’
‘I see. The timing’s important on this now. When did he do this?’
‘The day before we came down for the last business with the girl Sophie.’
‘Making it the 16th. Would it interest you to know that the day before that, the 15th, he filed a report with Robert Jamieson, alleging your highhandedness with staff, that you were drunk on the job and that you told one girl who had failed to report for duty, on account of your sexual harassment, and I quote, ‘Come in. Now listen, I’m God here and I can do as I bloody well like!’
Hugh didn’t bat an eyelid. ‘May we take those one by one, sir?’
‘The girl first. I suggest you speak with Emma and Rosa about her.’
‘I have. By phone.’
‘Good. Now let’s look at Methuen. The folder he took, he had no authorization to access – it was the specs to the telescans. They weren’t really the specs – we leave decoys all over the place. The only person with the key to that room was Joselyn Gates.’
‘The girl who alleges sexual harassment. All right, how about being drunk on the job.’
‘I’d had the Beloruss security head in the office. Do you know of him, sir?’
‘Not personally. He likes a vodka, I assume?’
‘An Eastern European will not trust you unless you look at him eyeball to eyeball, shake his hand firmly, laugh at his jokes and drink one too many tipples with him. He only trusts fellow lushes.’
The PM smiled. ‘Hugh, I actually know all this but you need to be aware of the pressure I’m under. They know you have the names and tapes and are speaking with me. It’s taken them a long time to move people into place and they’re moving hell and high water to nail you and Emma. Some people, not cabinet, have her down as a girl who’ll sleep with anyone for a bit of promotion.’
‘Politics is rough, Hugh. They need to divide and rule, start whispering campaigns and they know the only thing they need do is convince me of your unsuitability and our relationship will become strained. If they come up with revelations every few days and maintain the pressure, eventually they hope I may feel the game with you is not worth the candle.
Then they can pick you off and with me unprotected, they can also pick me off. If they can’t shake my faith in you both, then they will dispense with me. That’s the lie of the land – I’d like you to have a long talk to Emma and explain. I’ll tell you now, they’re praising her to me in glowing terms, asking me to appoint her over you. They feel your ego won’t take that.’
‘Emma and I have already discussed this. We agreed on the way you put it last time, sir.’
‘Hugh, I’m building the dossier I need to justify a Night of the Long Knives around this place. You keep plugging away, watch your behaviour and write everything down, note the time, day and date of any incident whatever which could be construed as negative or unusual.
Speak with the staff you can trust and let them in on what has gone on between us today. You’re authorized to use your discretion in this. The bottom line is, I need protection and I need it now but if you’re fighting your own battles up there, then you haven’t time for mine down here.’
‘I hear you loud and clear, Prime Minister.’
‘Good, good. Call Janine on Tuesday.’
When he got up north again, he found Emma in the garden and joined her for a drink.
‘Do you know a Julia Hayes?’ she asked.
‘You mean the lady who wanted to sell us double trigger mechanisms?’
‘That’s the one.’
‘Let me answer the question before you ask it. Yes, I did go to Moran’s with her. She was charming, interesting.’
‘Not enough. I was feeling cooped up, you’d gone back home and Moran’s is still within limits.’
‘So you didn’t take her to the Grange Hotel in Lightfoot Street?’
‘Lightfoot Street? No. Why? Is she saying I did?’
‘There’s a booking in both your names and a matchbox from the hotel in your coat pocket.’
‘And the management confirms this?’
‘Two chambermaids do but the manager doesn’t recall you in the least.’
‘I went to Moran’s. That was all.’
‘She claims you badgered her for eighteen minutes on the phone.’
‘I had no call with that woman which went for eighteen minutes. There’ve been two calls from her altogether, about five minutes apiece.’
‘Five and six, actually.’
‘Well, if you know all this, why are you quizzing me?’
‘To show you the case against you. They slipped up on that one small point. If they hadn’t, then even if you’d denied it, I might have started to have had doubts inside. They know my hatred of infidelity – obviously they’ve checked with Paris. They know your weak points too. Hugh?’
‘I don’t think I’m up to this job. We’re both amateurs and we’re not cruel enough, not callous enough. You say you don’t trust people but you trusted that woman Hayes.’
‘Yes, you’re right. We have to be ultra-careful with anyone who approaches us, no matter how personable.’
‘They’ll always send the personable ones. We have to trust each other enough to confide anything possibly compromising. We’re both seeing people all the time so we can’t know what is and what isn’t going to be compromising but there are some things – meetings in hotels and so on – we just can’t do them.’
‘Yes Emma, agreed.’ He now went on to debrief her on all that had happened with the PM – a remarkably similar story.
She nodded her understanding of how things were. ‘I don’t like it, Bebe.’
The call came about 00:15 and Emma sat bolt upright in bed.
It took a moment or two for the haziness to clear and for her to realize that the telescan was buzzing.
‘Janine here, Mrs. Jensen, I’m terribly sorry it’s so late. Did you see the news this evening?’
‘If you mean the Night of the Long Knives, yes. How did they react?’
‘Predictably. The Prime Minister wants you to know that new security passes are in operation but it will take me till the day after tomorrow to get yours up to you. I have to hand them to you myself. In the meantime, you won’t go into your office and won’t answer to anyone not showing the new pass him or herself, including me.
I can’t show it or even describe it on the telescan but there’ll be a verification procedure when I arrive. Don’t either of you be drawn into going outside for any reason or opening the door until you’ve seen me, even if that person was someone you thought you knew and trusted. Sorry to have disturbed you.’
She rang off and Emma looked down at him. He’d slept through the entire conversation.
Hugh was in the garden with Emma when the buzzer went, he checked his robe and went out to the door.
It was Neil Joseph. ‘Mr. Jensen, new passes for you, sir.’
‘Janine not with you?’
‘She had to stay down south.’
‘Right, Neil, one moment. You know the locks are centrally controlled – I’ll go and release the master.’
Hugh immediately buzzed Janine, who turned out to be in Birmingham. ‘Janine, why is Neil Joseph at the front door with new passes?’
‘Neil Joseph? Don’t open that door, Hugh.’ She’d dropped all formality. ‘Take the telescan to the door and ask Neil to come close, to talk to me. See what that does.’
He did as he was asked and the man looked through the hardened glass at the telescan, with Hugh indicating he was to speak with Janine, he made a rapid excuse to get away, promising to return later with Janine.
She’d heard the gist of it anyway and now told him there was some danger. They couldn’t penetrate the complex without substantial weaponry but what they could do was lay siege. ‘Same thing that I told your wife last night – only open up to me.’
Hugh went back to Emma but in a more subdued mood. ‘We’ve just had our first problem. Neil Joseph.’
‘Neil, yes. What did he want?’
‘To give us our new passes.’
‘But Janine -’
‘Precisely. I just had Janine on the line – he made his excuses and left quickly.’
‘Oh, Hugh, I don’t like any of it. This country is unsettled when the Prime Minister has to fire half his cabinet and half of Whitehall with it. Things are very wrong.’
‘The people are behind him, of course. He was quite explicit in the broadcast but now he has a minority government and he’s on the way out. That puts us in grave danger too. My feeling is that he’ll get back with a new team and score a resounding victory.’
Sophie was as right as they were going to get her. They felt they’d got all the personalities but Geneviève wasn’t sure there wasn’t a quite cunning one hiding in there – anyway, all they could do was keep her away from Hugh and Emma and try to get some sort of life going for her.
One of the Whitehall boys on Hugh’s ‘good’ list, Dan Bergman, had taken a shine to Sophie and they now briefed him on Sophie. In fairness, it didn’t dissuade him.
They’d got her employed in a clerical section – reasonable money and enough to cover costs in a very expensive country – that was about as far as their brief went. Every so often she’d come in for a check-up and they’d take it from there.
Hugh eventually went down to London to present his report and to show his plan for some modest development and the beefing up of their premises.
‘The only thing which concerns me,’ added Hugh, ‘is that Mr. Jamieson and a couple of others are still in there, doing their worst. They might not be in positions of influence any more but they can still pull strings.’
‘I can’t get rid of him – it was made clear to me and he’s even being spoken of, in some circles, as my replacement – I myself have another candidate in mind and we’re gathering the numbers on that now. It’s looking positive as Jamieson’s ambition is naked and many in the party, even those not enamoured of me, would like to put a spanner in his works.’
‘Am I permitted to ask whom you have in mind?’
‘You’re permitted to ask,’ the PM chuckled, ‘but whether I can tell you is another matter. I’ll tell you one thing – his security is now your issue. I’ll write his name.’
He scribbled a name, spun the paper round and Hugh whistled.
‘Surprise packet, yes?’ said the PM. ‘No baggage, liked immensely, the other side think of him as one of theirs anyway, a few boxes not ticked but who’s perfect?’
‘But you’re staying on for some time, no?’
‘Oh, I have no intention of relinquishing the reins just yet – there are a few pet projects.’ He went over to his filing cabinet, rummaged through and came up with a single sheet, which he dropped in front of Hugh in passing, then sat down again.
Hugh looked through it quickly, then looked over at the PM. ‘This isn’t going to make you popular, sir.’
‘The country needs it though, Hugh, do you disagree with that?’
‘From the security angle, sir, it makes my job doubly difficult. You’ll have Europe gunning for you on this.’
‘Should have been done years ago.’
‘Well, it’s your business, but you’re in a shaky enough position, as it is.’
‘The thing is, can you arrange the security?’
‘I’ll get onto it. Need to know. Anyone off the list?’
‘You can work that out, I think.’
Jean-Claude turned to Geneviève and indicated the white floral linen, the turned wood furniture, the elegance of the room which she’d worked so hard on. ‘It’s divine, Genie – you certainly have an eye for these things.’
An experienced campaigner, she smelt a rat. ‘But?’
‘Is this where you wish to remain with me?’
She turned over to look at him. ‘Are you not comfortable?’
‘It’s wonderful but it’s not home and I’m not working at a proper job, a job I’m trained for.’
‘Jean-Claude, there is the little matter of being out of police work for so long now, the little matter of our personal security, the little matter that we’re that much older now. Sorry to break that to you.’
‘I know all that, Genie, I know we can’t return unless it’s virtually a military operation, I know France has fallen, I’ve lost so many friends – you remember Jules Colbert?’
‘Among others, Genie. So oui, je connais, it’s all very clear and yet this work is killing me – ‘advising’ a police force who don’t wish to be advised and something more – these are not police I recognize. These are not eager young officers about to go through the process which will see them out on the beat, fully equipped.
These, Genie, are thugs, I’ve seen it in so many of their eyes. These are defenders of the state, rather than defenders of the people, these are the riot police and they’re joining in increasing numbers – intransigent, uncommunicative, nothing like the officers I once knew, for example – Jacques. Genie, this isn’t police work any more.’
She stroked his hair. ‘What do you suggest?’
He lay back on the bed and thought. ‘I don’t know. The point has now come and before that point, there was still a facade of civility, of society, of things going along normally. After that point, there is, dare I say it, a police state. It will get worse. When the police are used for political purposes – used openly – then the society is on the way out. I think we might have to depart.’
‘Oui, to where?’
There was a call from Janine on the telescan. ‘Pardon? I didn’t catch it. TV, right.’ He indicated for Emma to switch it on. They were crossing live to Kitzbuhel.
He’d been skiing for years, the commentary went on, this had been a milk run for the Prime Minister, a blue of all things, a standard traverse, the edge of the piste, that was it.
They were stunned. They kept looking at the TV screen, taking in the enormity.
Janine called him back to attention. ‘Jamieson still won’t have his way, Hugh. I can tell you now the way the numbers lie. You’ll have to stay put and await the summons but the PM’s successor will use the same security set up to begin with. What’s that? Pardon?’
‘I was saying what the hell was he doing skiing openly like that?’
‘It wasn’t your job – he had his Praetorian in Europe. Yes, you’d vetted them but this was a European thing.’
‘Be brave, Janine. We’ll pray for you. Be in touch.’
They looked at each other, appalled. Suddenly the notion of being on the road again hit home. ‘We have each other, Emma. That and the Lord above. That’s all we have and all we’ll ever have.’
‘Children also, Hugh. We need one, even two. We need to perpetuate.’
‘Yes, well we’ve been working on that, haven’t we? We’re both fertile, so it’s just a question of time.’
Eventually, he was summoned to London.
He was kept waiting some forty minutes but to be fair – the new PM opened with sincere apologies for that. This was an altogether different specimen. Astute, a game-player, a number cruncher, a wily fox with a goatee beard and wild hair but Hugh felt there was a streak of the humanitarian fighting for space inside that head.
‘So, Hugh,’ he obviously intended to get straight down to business, ‘I’ve gone over the notes and I wouldn’t have sent you up there to the north but what’s done is done. It’s a secure complex you have.
I’m creating a Praetorian of my own people but they’ll be subject to your vetting. The old guard are welcome to apply but you’ll be thorough, you understand. We’ll see what’s unearthed and whether we continue with the arrangement. I’m more like an old broom retrieved from the cupboard than a new broom but still, let’s see how it goes. Any questions?’
‘The ex-PM’s demise. The press called it an accident, a soft piece of earth which gave way …’
‘Yes, yes, they did say that.’
In the outer world, the recession had gone global, the EU was a danger to all its inhabitants, America had gone pear-shaped with its new messiah, the rest was not wonderful. Immense damage had been done to the fabric of society, which would take generations to repair and people were groaning under the plethora of new laws, which showed no sign of abating.
They urgently needed a holiday, as did the other two down south. Geneviève was chafing at the bit, so Emma said. Dilyara Jnr was just over five years old now and Geneviève couldn’t see why they couldn’t go over to Prague where it wasn’t quite as bad as the other places.
Emma had set her straight on some realities.
There was another factor and that was that Marc had sent a message to Emma via a circuitous route, explaining that Geneviève would just draw heat now if she tried to make contact. Marc was sorry but they were living a charmed life whilst they had no contact whatsoever with anyone in his past.
Emma understood completely but didn’t know how to break it to Geneviève. She thought she’d break it to Jean-Claude instead, which she’d now done, he’d understood and had decided not to pass on Marc’s particular snippet.
For the first time, Emma felt hemmed in in this golden cage. They switched off the weather on the TV, she turned and said, ‘We’re stuck here, aren’t we? I mean I’m sorry because it’s your home but … well, I think you know what I mean. This is the bad part of you being English and me being French.’
‘Yes it’s my land but if I’m forced to stay here and can’t roam around even a little bit, then I take the same view as you. Tell you what, perhaps we could find Sophie-Fleury, the boat and go for a little cruise.’
‘We’d never get away with it now, that boat was distinctive, Hugh. Perhaps if we disguised ourselves – easier for me, harder for you …’
They went back out to the wrought iron chairs and thought out how it could be done. They both had ideas at the same time. Laughing, he said, ‘Ladies first.’
‘We need doubles here, giving orders, phoning on our lines, having conference calls, showing we’re at home.’
‘Vanessa Waverley – a good girl and one who will move up in this Section. She’s very thorough and if she’s putting on an act and fooling me, I shouldn’t be in this game any more, Bebe.’
‘What about the Hugh look alike?’
‘Tell me you won’t be upset when I tell you,’ she grinned.
He looked up at the ceiling. ‘Go on. Her father, I suppose.’
‘Clever. Are you clever enough to think where we can have this holiday?’
He mentioned one idea he’d had, it was something outside of her experience but he explained the sort of holiday in detail, she agreed to go along with it, they ran it past Janine who got back to them with an affirmative and so they began preparations.
‘There has to be a better way than this, Emma,’ he whispered.
‘Are you saying I’m heavy?’
‘No, no. Not a bit of it. My backside’s in one footwell, my feet are in the other and you’re lying on top of me – I’m delirious with happiness.’
‘Moan, moan,’ she chuckled quietly, having picked that expression up from somewhere, the rug covering them both and with about fifteen miles to go. The car swung into another lane but they were well enough wedged in not to worry.
A woman turned from the passenger seat on one of the bumpy bits and asked if they were OK.
‘We’re loving it,’ responded Emma and she sounded as if she really was. That was nice, thought Hugh, it augured well.
The car was on a left curve when it pulled up, the woman told them this was it, they got out, he took both bags from the boot, they reached the bank of a canal and there was a boat moored in the dark, a door opened and first Emma, then Hugh, ducked down and went inside.
Emma saw where they were to be seated, Hugh followed and another lady onboard handed Hugh a whisky and Emma a cognac. They could feel the boat slipping away from the bank and to Hugh’s raised eyebrows in that murky light, Janine said quietly, ‘Just us four.’
They heard the fourth person come through and there were no prizes for guessing who.
‘Like old times for me,’ he chuckled quietly and conspiratorially. ‘I’ll be departing a bit before Foulridge – do you know the canal, Hugh?’
‘Only the stretch near Bingley. I know the five rise.’ Emma was sure they knew what they were talking about, sipped on her drink and decided not to ask but did venture, ‘You’re taking a risk, Prime Minister.’
‘No more than on any other trip and this one was easier to organize. I’m supposed to be laid up with a sore back apparently, seeing no one in London. It’s a relief to get away, I can tell you and I love this stretch – did it in my 30s. I think you’ll both love it too – there’s some stunning scenery. You’ll go through to Burnley, of course.’
He went into a bit of the history of what would be coming up on the morrow and knew his stuff. ‘We’ll moor a bit further on for the night and douse the light – there are locks galore tomorrow morning, we can’t take them tonight.’
The PM was quite something, taking them well into the night with his tales and they had a fair idea how he’d got where he’d got. Eventually it was time to grab some sleep.
There was precious little privacy so the men turned the other way and Emma made ready behind them. When she was ready, she and Hugh bid the PM good night and sank into the beds which had already been made up for them. The PM and Janine spoke in low voices long after sleeping noises came from the other end of the boat.
When they awoke, Hugh went the length of the sixty foot boat and realized the two of them were completely alone, the starboard gunwhale was resting against the bank, which was what they’d been told to expect and the relief of finding themselves on a boat on a waterway, with nothing but rest for some days was quite a filip. Emma was humming at the cooker and her whole body language spoke of good things ahead.
She did her version of an English breakfast – scrambled egg and salmon hashed up, with a couple of slices of thick buttered toast and a bowl of French coffee – she had to have her coffee and it had to be in those bowls. Interesting habit that, he thought.
He made to tidy and wash up but she told him to start the boat, which turned out to be pretty straightforward. They’d replaced the old engine with an Isuzu and it ticked over fine – he opened the throttle slightly, closed the pressure relief valve, turned the key to On and checked for voltage, ignition lights and so on, turned the key to preheat for around half a minute, then turned it further against the spring to run the starter. When it started, he left it a few seconds, then returned the throttle to idle.
Now came the fun part. There was practically no crosswind and no current and Emma was showering – he jumped onto the bank and cast off, jumped back on board at the tiller, moved the throttle forward until he felt the gearbox engage, then moved it back until it was ‘glugging’ nicely.
He’d been told to stand dead centre and use the front of the boat like a sighting along the canal. Well, it seemed to be doing all right but now Emma got in the way and he called out to her, arms waving her aside, she looked bow-wards, realized immediately and moved to one side.
She came down through the boat now, through his door and immediately jumped up on him, locking her legs around him and planting her lips over his face as he tried to steer the narrowboat in a reasonably straight line. ‘Emma, enough. Here, you have a go – you know how to use a tiller and this is a straight section, just don’t touch the throttle though, Fayette.’
‘This thing – le commande de puissance.’
‘Ah,’ she smiled back with her sweetest smile.
‘You’ll be all right for a while?’
She nodded and he went forward.
The instant he was out of range, she opened the throttle and the boat leapt forward, he fell against the cupboard and half shouted, ‘Emma!’ She pulled the throttle back just as he poked his head through the door, saw her ‘butter wouldn’t melt look’, shook his head, came out and kissed her, went in again and took a shower.
Just this side of Holme Bridge, they’d been told to look out for a couple and there was certainly a couple on the bridge but they might have just been passers-by.
Hugh took the helm and she went inside.
The ‘passers-by’ dropped a drink bottle over the side, it scraped alongside the narrowboat, Hugh scooped it up with a plastic-handled colander and stood, one leg either side of the tiller, reading the note inside, just as they passed under the bridge.
He handed the letter to Emma near the door, immediately throttled back and the next thing, to the left, the two were half-sliding down the embankment and immediately on to the bow – one, two, then through the boat, nodding to Emma who nodded back to Hugh and they were at the lock.
Hugh went inside to join her and the two newcomers did the lock work.
He now put together a lunch for four, of greens with prosciutto, melon, cassis vinaigrette and bread, with a sauvignon blanc to wash it down. They put the boat to the side of the canal and trusted it wouldn’t drift further, having already drifted to that side anyway and tackled the lunch followed by a snooze together – the other two went up to the bow and puffed on cigarettes – they weren’t due to start again until late afternoon.
When they started again, around 16:15, the first bridge was a pretty, white-arched thing called Ray Bridge and this was where Emma began to appreciate the beauty of England.
Lock followed lock, each involving cranking, the slow drift in, the water rise, cranking again, the drift out, cranking again and so on.
Eventually they reached Priest Holme Aqueduct and Hugh got her to look out at no countryside at all – they were flying through the air or so it seemed. She had her eyes glued to the view, then turned and grinned at him.
The greenery was lush and when they got to Bank Newton locks, there were other narrowboats moored by the starboard bank, the whole process taking a good two hours to negotiate. Beyond the locks, the canal began to wind, following the contours of the land and even did a 180 degree at Trenet Laithe.
This is where they pulled into the bank again and tied up. Though there didn’t seem to be any paths or roads whatsoever, the other two said their goodbyes and took off across a field, Hugh and Emma looked at one another, ensured that the boat was secure, jumped onto the embankment themselves and strolled a bit across the field, hand in hand. It was a bit soggy and Emma was wearing only plimsolls so they really needed to stop before they became too mud-caked.
‘Do you like the break, Fayette?’
She kissed him by way of answer and he was happy.
The rule for the night was no light and thus all the eating had to be completed, the washing up and their toilet done before the dusk fell.
When it did fall, they went out and sat on the cabin roof, side by side on the blanket they’d brought out and watched the stars, identifying constellations, seeing what looked like a shooting star, watching the slow passage of the new[ish] moon. It was fairly dark all around, pure countryside but there was a dull suggestion of light in the distance.
Approaching Williamson Bridge next morning, the forest came right down to the banks either side and Hugh thought it a fine place to hide. This is precisely what someone else felt too, as a couple appeared from nowhere, jumped on at the stern, exchanged the requisite codes, the man then took the tiller and the woman went up to the bow. If the last pair had been barely communicative, this pair said ne’er a word but more than that, the man seemed a tad surly.
No matter, thought Hugh but Emma had picked up on it too.
Now they went through some truly lush countryside after the double arch, the most beautiful being around Greenberfield and the creamy stone dwellings were visible from where they passed. A gaily painted red and green boat was moored to the right bank.
As they began to come into a more built up area, passing towns and approaching Foulridge Hall, the day ticked away and by the time they reached the mile long tunnel, it was getting on for late afternoon.
Hugh was holding on to a paddle, Emma strolled up to the bow and looked back at him, now at the stern door – they both nodded, Emma went straight at the woman, knocking her into the canal, at precisely the moment Hugh shoved the paddle blade under the man’s chin, forcing him up and then, with a shove, he was off the boat as well. Hugh seized the tiller, opened the throttle and they could feel the woman thrashing and bashing along the port side of the boat, desperately trying to get a handhold and swearing like a trooper.
Hugh looked back to see why the man was silent but he was swimming towards the bank, not a peep out of him. Emma came running back and took the tiller, they’d rehearsed this, Hugh’s transponder found range, they latched onto Doug Baines and explained all, there were people ten minutes away, the holiday was over and the mile tunnel was the most immediate danger – was the enemy inside there, waiting?
This was their official tunnel entry window now, it had gone green and they had to go through. The question was whether to commit to the tunnel or tie up by the bank but to do that, they were at the mercy of the two they’d thrown off the boat. There was a helicopter coming, according to Doug but it was going to be about twenty-five minutes and by then they might be hit.
It was going to take about that same time to pass through the tunnel but the cell phone of the man in the canal – that now was the issue. Why had he not reappeared and was he making contact? What was intended in the tunnel? Perhaps nothing, perhaps it was all up to others at the other end. Perhaps the couple were sacrificial lambs – they’d certainly seemed innocent but their codes had not checked out and so the action taken was what had been laid down before the trip.
Hugh contacted Baines again who said the couple were kocher, two of their own, most likely now thinking Hugh and Emma were the villains and not wishing to re-engage. Therefore the codes were wrong, had been changed, whatever. Therefore those two wouldn’t have contacted the other side yet might have done so inadvertently.
Baines got onto the PM’s aide, Sam Foulkes, Janine took the transponder, internalized all the data quickly, saw who the bad link was most likely to be, thought ahead, Doug now came back on and advised Hugh which people were almost at the towpath now, gave the new code, advised that there were two of the foe at the other end of the tunnel – they’d be taken care of but anyone encountered inside the tunnel would be dealt with by Hugh and Emma – could he see anyone before they entered it?
He could and described them. Kocher, said Doug – check the docs. The two had dropped to the towpath and were running towards the boat. At the stern, they jumped on, exchanged docs, all seemed kocher, Hugh handed the transponder to the sharper looking one and he spoke with Baines, then handed the transponder back.
‘As far as we know, Hugh, these two are ours. We still haven’t sorted it out, we’re running it through now – Paul is running it through – the thing is, we can’t trust the chopper so don’t deal with it. You’re still within your window for the tunnel so get in there now and everything then comes down to the other end.’
Hugh turned the device off and joined Emma in the centre of the boat, seated on the floor, back to back, weapons trained on either end of the boat, the man on the tiller covering the roof, the other at the bow, lying on the deck.
The good thing was that the tunnel was almost straight, which meant you could see light at the other end but the down side was that dusk was approaching.
Scarcely rippling the water, the narrowboat made its way along, nothing and no one else appeared to be in there with them, unless they were going to secretly appear from a gap in the stonework.
Still they moved steadily forward.
Now it was a case of the other end, apparently less built up and more open to attack. Anyone obvious would have been taken out but it would be sniper points and the fact that Hugh did not know all the players as a result of the double-cross that lay heavily on his mind.
‘Someone called Wayne Sutton will drop to the roof and run to the stern as we come through,’ he whispered back to Emma.
He felt her nodding and the movement of her small back against his was more than pleasant.
The bow emerged, amidships emerged, they heard the thump above and the running, a man appeared at the stern, the man on the tiller checked his papers and nodded to Hugh who’d skewed round to observe, he came through and presented his papers a second time, Hugh nodded, the weapons were put to one side and they sat at the table.
‘It makes no sense. The Rowlings, the ones you turfed into the drink, they were kosher, sir. So why the false code? To get you suspicious and to provoke what happened, therefore telling someone watching something about you. With you now on the alert, there’d be no end of the tunnel to worry about – whoever was there has now melted away. We saw no one. By the way, the Rowlings bear no grudge – they know what happened now and are just as puzzled. They didn’t like it but agree you had no other choice.’
‘What do our people think?’
‘I’m not up with all that. We were just to see you through Barrowford locks.’
Hugh turned on the transponder again and called Doug Baines.
‘They only have until Burnley but Janine feels, politically, that the idea is not so much to kill you but to compromise you in the eyes of the Prime Minister. They might force you to sign something which would damage him, you’d lose all kudos, even though we all know what really happened, the Citadel would be bypassed and Robert Jamieson would be inside. You’d be mopped up later.
We’ve looked at the ordnance map and the ideal place for them is at the aqueduct. They could drop someone to the roof there – actually, they could drop someone anywhere but that’s the most unlikely and therefore the most likely. We think they might stall you there and a helicopter might be involved. It might even be a straight kidnapping.
They’d know our people will be on either bank but along the aqueduct, despite it being strategically too open for them, it’s also a blind spot for us until our other people take over at the far end.’
‘So, we’re to slip off the boat just prior to that.’
‘Actually, no. You’ll come off under the old Colne Road bridge, near the M65, just before Lock 49. It will be a swim, I’m afraid, back to a blue cross we’ll paint on the embankment tonight, climb out and we’ll take you back to the Citadel by road. The boat will go on with the two crew.’
‘They could just gun us down tonight while we’re moored.’
‘No, they’ll assume we have you guarded.’
Lunch was a prosciutto snack once more, a little less wine was consumed this time round and thus they reached the old Colne bridge.
On the left was some considerable foliage, Emma and Hugh went quickly out to the stern and slipped into the water, Hugh bunked her up at the blue cross, she helped him in turn, they went straight up the hillock and into the waiting car, into the rear footwell and away they went.
They heard the passenger, a woman, speak to someone at the other end, ‘Yeah,’ and ‘’No, not at all,’ Hugh expecting the transponder to be handed to him to speak with Janine or whoever but no.
The road noise was sufficient to cover him placing his lips over Emma’s ear and whispering, ‘When-the-car-slows-almost-to-a-stop-use-your-scarf-as-a-garotte-on-the-woman-and-I’ll-deal-with-the-man.’ She nodded and showed no surprise, obviously having picked up on the front seat conversation as well. If it had been an error of protocol by the two in the front, it was going to be a costly error.
Emma had been in tight situations in Paris and across Europe but had not actually killed anyone yet. There’d been no close encounters with the enemy such as those Nikki and he had had. Perhaps he was forgetting that and she was mulling over whether to tell him she couldn’t do this but she knew 1. they had to, in order to stay alive and 2. she couldn’t show any weakness, not just for him but in terms of her position in the Citadel.
The only question was whether they’d read it correctly. She went over and over it, imagining scenarios where the woman in the front might have acted like that but in the current heated situation, there was no way Janine and/or Doug would have not communicated, especially given what had happened. It was a terrible thing deciding life or death for two people – turning on a matter of judgment but the time was coming up and coming up soon.
The car eventually slowed, Hugh got off Emma onto the back seat, she got up and stretched, the two in the front began noises of, ‘No, it’s too early, get down, sir, get down,’ but Emma’s arms were around her target and Hugh’s round his, the thrashing of arms of the man and the woman was violent, he was desperately trying to reach back for Hugh but Hugh tightened the grip all the more and eventually the two in the front fell limp.
The car had been in the process of taking the slip road to the M65 and now slid into the ditch on the side, the jolt knocking the two of them about – Hugh bumped his head on the roof.
He frisked the man and Emma the woman, taking the mobiles and other bits and pieces, throwing them into their bags. Carrying the bags, they put in 7 km cross country, keeping to hedgerows and other greenery, then contacted Janine.