2-21: Masquerade

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I

The Prime Minister tugged at his chin and looked alternatively worried, then bemused, then worried again. ‘Any comment?’

‘There’s someone inside.’

‘It certainly looks that way. You identified two of them but they were small fry. Who would be the highest placed with the motive, access and knowledge?’

‘Janine, Doug and Carly know how the transponders operate … and yourself, sir. I haven’t eliminated you – you could well have been running an exercise.’ The PM smiled. ‘Other than that, Vanessa and/or father, a man named Bryan Lucas – Level 3, then we come to the smaller fry.’

‘Lucas has been taken.’

‘Then, with respect, sir, I suggest you look at your Praetorian.’

‘No, Hugh – you are to look at my Praetorian and do a thorough and unorthodox backgrounding of your own, not delegating it, not communicating it, not even to Emma here. You’ll report directly to me next Tuesday – I shall want you down here.’

‘Right.’

‘And Emma – you’re to clear your database, reinstall and start the whole Citadel from scratch. You’ll not be effective for two weeks or so – I’ll try to survive that long. Trusted only, Emma. Don’t communicate any of the data to Hugh but do run the names of the inductees by him and the two of you work on new people. And Emma – I do mean you work with Hugh, not parallel to him. Clear?’

‘Yes, Prime Minister,’ said Emma. She was aware of the allusion.

‘By the way, well done, both of you, for scraping out of that one. Did you hear what happened?’

Hugh grinned. ‘Saw it on the tele – but why blast the far end of Swinden Aqueduct though?’

‘You tell me.’

‘They love drama. Where they could send in a sniper, they send in a missile, where they could hold up the boat at the far end, they blast an aqueduct and have a boat fall to Colne Water below. Gung-ho boys’ games – we’re meant to be impressed.’

‘Not far off. Never use a nutcracker when a sledgehammer will do. There are continentals after your scalps as you well know, the power – these ones seemed from this island. There’s one we can both imagine detests you enough to make an exhibit of you – the fall from grace reprised. That was an assassination of both of you, not a kidnapping and extortion.

This is in no way a threat, Hugh and Emma but you are on your last chance, not because I don’t value your services any more but because the prime directive was my safety whilst I’m in office. You need to redesign from the bottom up, you have my permission – run the plans by me – and you have a modest budget, supplemented by myself. I need you one jump ahead, not playing catch-up the whole time. I need to see ruthlessness, Hugh and Emma, of the type we saw in the car – are you on board or not?’

‘We begin the instant we go north again.’

The Prime Minister looked across at Emma. She looked back into his eyes and was bolder, ‘May I co-opt Janine from time to time?’

‘Of course. All right, I think we understand each other.’

http://www.penninewaterways.co.uk/ll/ll42.htm

II

September 2008

Emma arranged for Sophie to join the team as a Level 1 and was impressed how she took to it. On the 18th, while she was training Sophie, Hugh had his regular meeting in London and the PM wasted no time.

‘’How would you characterize your relative strengths, Emma and yourself?’

‘Emma’s great at detail – she can sniff out an anomaly almost before it arises. As things arise, as things come in, she keeps the show on the road. She’s thorough, she’s set up the training well and the first ‘graduates’ are coming through now. Me? I tend to anticipate more, see anomalies in the present which might impact in the future. I look to future possibilities of enemy action.’

‘So, you have a high opinion of what you’re achieving?’

‘That’s loaded, sir. I never assume I’m right – too many times it’s come back on me if I let myself think that for a second. Everything is run past Emma but still, there comes a time when you have to back yourself, your experience. You asked for an honest assessment.’

The Prime Minister took in his personal security man and asked, ‘All right, Hugh. What dangers would you anticipate are coming up?’

‘Long term – if Mr. Jamieson is still in a position of influence this time in two years, I suspect you will be out, sir, one way or the other. He’s a bad ’un and no mistake. His loyalty is twofold – to his European masters and to himself. He’s one of the illumined.’

‘And you know of those things?’

‘Yes. I know you’ve also been touched by that but you’re more like a JFK – you’ve some of your own ideas to implement and they’re not on as safe a wicket with you as they would be with Mr. Jamieson. He needs to go, sir.’

‘What would you suggest – snuff him out?’

‘I would, yes, I can arrange that today. The one who rises to take his place will take time to become comfortable and frankly, he’d also have the diabolical cunning but slight lack of overall brainpower of Mr. Jamieson. It’s an unfortunate combination in him.’

‘And in the short term – what do you anticipate?’

‘I don’t like the Masque. For a start, Gli Vecchi is a well known term and to use it for the Anglo-Italian Fellowship is just a little too emboldened. The EU is the reason for this and because of the diplomatic immunity involved, too many of the hidden power will be here. This also means that my counterpart in those countries will also be present.

So it’s not only you in danger, it’s Emma and I as well – they have long memories. I would imagine they’d try a bold move and take all of us, placing one of your doubles as PM and no one would ever bring that out into the open. Fait accompli.’

‘I’m committed to the Masque.’

‘Why, if I might ask? I mean, who committed you, sir?’

‘All right, Hugh, yes, it was him. What are the odds of circumventing them?’

‘You have, as far as I can ascertain, two others who double for you, which is not bad going because your looks are idiosyncratic. Could we be doubled as well?’

‘Have to negotiate two of each of you in future? Seriously though, is it necessary?’

‘Put the cost of that against the cost to you, sir, if it doesn’t come off. Are you planning on attending?’

‘You know I can’t tell you that. Not until closer to the time. I want you on this one now, we have a couple of months and I wish to see your plans well before then.’

‘On to it now.’

III

Robert Jamieson stretched back on his reclining office chair and listened to the woman at the other end of the secure line. Yes, I’ve read it but I’ve also read some other accounts from locals. Seems to me they don’t have the backup any more, don’t have the team.’

He listened to the voice at the other end. ‘I appreciate that and no, I’m not underestimating them.’ He gazed outside the window at the ageing elm and wondered how long until the first leaves began to fall. It had been later last year. ‘No she can’t, not in any way – she has to play a straight game here – it can’t be sheeted home to her, just over a Masquerade ball.’

He listened some more. ‘I concede he’s a noise but all he does is vet the Praetorian – we’ve already slipped one past them, though she picked up on Marwick. All right, Celeste. More on Friday.’

IV

They adored their garden and the bedroom opened onto it, the irregular spa/bath was actually part of that area, although there was no firm division between house and garden – just as they’d wanted it.

The nagging doubts about the enemy dividing them had not diminished and he’d insisted they must never be drawn into the agenda of others, into someone bringing a problem which needed to encroach on the time they should be devoting elsewhere – it was time to plan the Masque.

Sally took the tray and left them to it, Emma got up and took the notes from the top drawer, he brought over the large clipboards and they began the brainstorming. ‘You’ve the more Macchiavellian mind, Fayette. How would you kidnap the PM, his key protectors and us?’

‘It will all be in the doubles. The weakest point is the free form of the event – not like a banquet where everything can be covered in advance. That and the Praetorian being in the same place as us. Demarcation problem. Also, Hansen, Bond and Gillies resent us as – what did you call it – jumped up nonentities. They see themselves as the professionals and us as the usurpers.’

‘Which we are, of course. The PM sees this as striking a balance, keeping both sections on their toes but he can’t see that it weakens his protection. I’m going to ask Guy to see the PM with me and I’ll concede to the Praetorian if it comes to it. There must be one section running security and all other parties have to knuckle down to that. Also, he’s privy to inner secrets about the Praetorian and knows who is and isn’t loyal, despite what we’ve been able to come up with.’

‘The Prime Minister has released more to us of his personal life, his mindset than to Guy. Don’t sell yourself short. Our brief is his protection.’

‘No one but the two of us shall know anything – not Doug, not Rosa, not Penny, we have to make the arrangements from home. This is not showing great trust in the Citadel but we can’t afford anyone else in on this. Let’s bring Janine right into it, plus Guy and that’s all – not even the PM, because walls have ears – I’ll talk to Guy in two days.’

V

October, 2008

‘Well, gentlemen?’ said the Prime Minister.

Guy Fairchild looked at Hugh and Hugh spoke. ‘If we both came to see you, sir, then we’re obviously deeply concerned. From a security point of view, neither of us like you being there, I’m perfectly happy for Guy to run the show and for us to hold up our part of the deal. You may see it differently.’

‘Guy is to be in charge of security for the event, you are in charge of mine. Obviously the two of you must coordinate but there are things I’ll divulge to each of you, separately and ne’er the twain must meet.’

Hugh saw Guy about to speak, he waited, the man did not and so Hugh said it for them. ‘Forgive the impertinence, sir but divide and rule is not going to protect you in a fluid situation like that ball. That’s unless you have your own agenda, of course, which we know nothing about.’

‘I repeat, gentlemen, there are things to be divulged to each of you separately, I’m well aware of your concern but I can assure you there is no divide and rule in this. It’s merely a need to know. I am not a free agent myself and it must needs be this way. Was there any other matter?’

Obviously not in front of the other so both shook their heads and the interview concluded.

.o0o.

Outside, they passed Janine who gave each of them a thick envelope and smiled, Guy suggested they repair to the bar for a quick one.

Both were whisky men, they looked at one another, toasted to the event and got down to details, well aware the bar was not a secure area. A largish man, Fairchild spoke in a whisper which was not quite a whisper and various names were passed on.

In turn, Hugh mentioned a few names as quietly as he could and then, looking about to see that no one but the barman was in range, mentioned Robert Jamieson. Guy touched the side of his nose, knocked back his whisky, stood up, shook hands with Hugh and departed. Hugh sat down again, sipping at his remaining whisky and smiling to himself.

.o0o.

Hugh went back to the anteroom and shortly after, Janine let him through.

The Prime Minister grinned. ‘Well?’

‘You are you.’ He wrote the reasons why down on a sheet of notepaper he took from the blotter and handed it to the PM.

‘Ah, I wasn’t aware of that – that will be attended to. And Guy?’

‘Of course it wasn’t, sir.’

‘I thought it was.’

‘Timbre of the voice.’

‘It was his.’

‘Staged. Reticent to speak, set phrases, did the eyebrows a bit too much.’

‘It was actually him, Hugh.’

Hugh took a sheet of paper from his inside pocket and handed it to the PM who took it and laughed. ‘Fishing, were you? Good enough for me but it’s going to be the very devil of a business, all the same.’

.o0o.

The flight back was uneventful and when he’d gone through the convoluted procedure to enter the outer and then inner building, there was Emma, sitting with a cocktail in the garden.

He sidled up behind her and slipped his hands onto her shoulders, she touched his hand and he said, ‘Wrong hand.’

Going round to face her, he sat down on his garden chair, Sally brought through a whisky for him and Emma followed from behind – the real Emma. She took another chair.

‘Not bad at all. From behind it fooled me because of the mark on the shoulder and the curve’s not dissimilar. The hair covered much, of course but Emma’s usually hangs looser by this stage of the evening – the feet are still wrong but if they’re in shoes, they should be fine. In the next few weeks, the real Emma needs to start adopting some of your own mannerisms as well … er …’

‘Marie-Ange,’ she supplied.

‘Ah, the voice is excellent, even to the slight fall at the end of sentence. Height’s right, body shape has obvious differences – the dress will be critical. We can’t afford too much coverup and the breasts point a bit differently. It’s good though, very good – you’ve had enough to eat, Marie-Ange?’

‘Fine, thank you.’

‘’Side of the mouth needs adjusting. So you’ll stay a couple of nights and understudy Emma, eh? Now, who exactly are you?’

‘Cousin, Hugh,’ answered the real Emma. ‘Actual cousin, Marcel fetched her and they came back as a couple. It’s been a lovely day but as you can see, we’ve only just started on her.’

VI

November, 2008

Janine walked in the park with Hugh and the burgundy of her coat blended well with the pink hue of the trees and leaves. He told her so.

She smiled and moved to business. ‘He’s worried, of course – three of the Praetorian have pretty well gone over and they’ll be decommissioned just before the show. Any others to report?’

‘No, the others test out, as of now, that might change – a bribe in the next week, a megabribe, is awfully hard to counter and they’re not without over there. Take these possibles,’ he handed a slip to her. ‘This thing is far too fluid, Janine, he’s not going to do anything silly and heroic, is he?’

‘He’ll do as we ask on almost all scores but he does have one payback in mind. Three things he wants to do but only one is a payback.’

He groaned. ‘As if it’s not difficult enough. Can we factor it in?’

‘If you’re the bribe.’

‘Ah. One of these?’ He stopped, took a pad and pen and jotted for half a minute.

She took it, looked at what was scrawled and commented, ‘If you know that, then you’ll know there is actually danger.’

‘Yes, Janine, this is their big chance. So you see, we have a personal stake in this. We’re going to need a lot of official documentation – it’s an awful lot of cooperation we’re asking and by even asking it, we’re alerting suspicion.’

‘We’re ahead of you on that one. The official arms aren’t involved and their engine rooms will be otherwise occupied just prior to the Masque. We think we can slip it under the radar, if it comes from himself.’

‘And Jamieson?’

‘He wouldn’t be present anyway, if what we think is going to happen happens. He’ll be in Canada.’

‘Remote control – still, we’re through that barrier already.’

‘That wasn’t within your brief.’

‘Someone had to.’

‘Hugh, there are … political implications, considerations here.’ She paused in mid step and turned to him, even resting a hand on his forearm. ‘We don’t doubt your earnestness but he cannot afford to give Jamieson the fuel. If he did, then the agenda is simply brought forward a year and a half – and yes, it’s as you think, everyone makes mistakes on the way up. Have some political sensitivity too – can you do that?’

‘Our position depends on it.’

‘Thanks – he’ll be relieved to know that.’

‘You care for him, don’t you, Janine? I mean, beyond the call of duty.’

‘Yes and I see you do too.’

‘I have to admire the person I work for, no matter what the position.’

‘I thought as much. I told him so … in those searching moments.’

‘I believe in him, Janine, I’d vote for him and I think he’s the only chance this country has at this moment. I’m dedicated to bringing down his foes.’

‘And if his policy changed? If expediency demanded it?’

‘Only certain aspects would, as presented to the punters. He has core beliefs and mine happen to align with them. Janine?’

‘Yes.’

‘The … er … other chief execs … they’re going to have to be bloody good. One of them will be in the glare. What chance I can look them over?’

‘They don’t exist, Hugh … not even for you.’

‘Understood. Then our lives are in your hands.’

‘I shan’t let you down.’

VII

December, 2008

Celeste Iduna spoke to the man on the other side of the low, glass-topped coffee table. He might have been just another businessman in his dark suit, until you looked again and a number of features stood out.

One was his perfectly polished, soft leather shoes. The next was the cut of the suit – clearly tailored to his specifications. The last was the cruelty in the eyes. ‘I hear what you say but you always say these things – something is not in configuration with this or something else is not in the seventh house. You never say, ‘They’re ripe for the taking.’ In the end, we just have to go with our own preparations and trust that all links in the chain hold up.’

‘You are an expert within your own field, Jean Jannes – allow me mine in turn. This does not augur well and we might lose more than we gain.’

‘Thank you, Celeste – I’ll bear that in mind when we take the old goat.’

‘Don’t say you weren’t told.’

‘Another?’ he asked, indicating her glass.

VIII

‘Anything interesting?’ asked Emma, wandering inside and seeing him pouring over maps and blueprints in the dining room.

‘They’ve reactivated RAF Holt, the PM’s confirmed it’s in support of Cromer.’

‘Cromer?’

‘It’s a resort, weather station, well known spot right on the coast in Norfolk, within light plane range of the continent.’

‘You mean Europe.’

‘Yes. They’ve also beefed up the Royal Golf Course and then there’s the conference complex known as Loire, built in the French style. It’s a few kilometres in from Cromer, in what was once a fallow area.’

‘Ah, the Masquerade. Have you been to this Cromer?’

‘No, I’m going on what I’ve read and what’s been told to me. I think we need to either get down there or to send someone. It seems to be the EU port of call for strategic meetings – discreet, out of London and away from the whole continental travel route, easy to zip back to Europe. Holt’s not a big airport, it was a World War II base – I’d imagine only helicopters or light planes, so charter flights are the way.

The Loire is something else again. Only on two levels, spread out over an acre, shopping, boutiques, pools, theatre, ballroom, accommodation and so on and so on – plenty of room for aides and officials. I’ve just been looking at the security aspects, excellent for that – CCTV, alarm around the complex. The VIP helicopter pads are on the roof.’

‘Meaning they could get the PM away easily or do you mean us?’

‘Us of course – we’re destined for Bavaria, have been for a long while. The PM – only need to replace him with one of the doubles and kill the real one.’

‘Maybe he was expected to act in certain matters and didn’t do as they wished. Then they’d want to take him back, as they do us.’

‘Could be. You’d agree that they’re as dependent as we are on getting it right about who’s genuine and who the doubles are – we need Sophie in on this, if we can trust her, that is – but that’s putting her in grave danger too. I say we at least put it to her – we need her to identify any of the Seven who might be present.’

‘For what purpose?’

‘Squeezing power. With one or even two of them taken, we can put a little shopping list to them again, including things the PM wants – we’ll put it to Janine. The flights are under our auspices, we vet them, the default, if it all goes wrong, is that we are still on our own territory and with the Praetorian to help us – they’re the ones doing all the planning.’

‘I don’t like it, Hugh. They know you’re cavalier enough to risk all, we had one victory in such a battle of wits – I’m not sure they haven’t learned their lesson this time.’

IX

The presence of strategically placed Level 2s at various points of the building was not lost on Sophie, as she finally stepped through to the garden in the centre of the complex. It was also not lost on her that she’d been allowed to view the inside, given that she was still not fully trusted on Albus and Belus and that she might well use what she knew against them.

Hugh came forward and ushered her, dressed in white robe and sandals, to a garden chair, Sally came through and asked what she’d like to drink, there were smiles on both Hugh’s and Emma’s faces.

He began immediately. ‘I am not Albus – this person does not exist, nor is Emma Belus. It was useful for us at times because they believe in it – the Seven.’ Sophie winced but said nothing. ‘Sophie, you might still have a personality inside you which needs to kill us and we know that Sophie herself might not be able to stop this person. We’ve invited Sophie here this evening, not this other person.’

‘Why?’

‘We need your help very much.’ Almost imperceptibly, one eyebrow was raised. He began to explain about the Masquerade ball, about the Loire, about the notion that there might well be an attempt to kidnap not only them but the PM as well.

She never asked why they were divulging all this to her, she knew they were taking one enormous risk in trusting her and frankly, she was enormously flattered – they must really want her help. But how, she asked.

‘We think there might be members of the Seven present and the only person who knows them is you.’

‘Their faces were always hidden.’

‘I appreciate that but everyone has mannerisms, idiosyncrasies. You’re not a fool and you would have noticed much. We wish to take one or two of them to put pressure on the power to allow our PM to remain in office and to hold off Mr. Jamieson who is one of them. It’s vital because the PM has plans to free up the society and put in place programmes the people have been asking for over a long period, I know that’s not your issue -’

‘It is my issue. You helped me out of all of that, the PM seems a good man, unlike some and I owe you much, I don’t know how much I can help.’

‘All it needs is recognition. Perhaps you won’t be able to. Perhaps you’ll see it as your ticket home – you do know the state of that home, don’t you?’

‘I can imagine.’

‘Perhaps that personality wants to rejoin them, I don’t know. What I do know is that if you can make an identification, we can act swiftly and that will be worth everything. We’ve had reports back from the Section and they say you’re intelligent, almost fearless and insist on professionalism. How could we ask for more than that, except maybe one day … your friendship?’

She was most definitely taken aback by this. She looked over at Emma who’d been looking down during the explanation but now she looked at the girl and nodded her agreement. As for Sophie, she saw her chance to get away, back to them – a sort of security in a way, in a very twisted way but then she saw this life, where she was a person of value, a person they were begging to help them, instead of making her do things, awful things which gave her headaches and nightmares.

She certainly wanted to help all she could. Whether there was someone else lurking in her though, someone who would take over at the critical juncture – that much she couldn’t know. As her own article of good faith with them, she now explained all this, suggesting that they have people watch her carefully on the night, to judge whether she was Sophie or … that other person.

She explained that she was so long away from them now that the headaches and nightmares had all but gone, though she was aware of a personality which spoke when Genevieve’s back was turned – she’d been able to suppress that and it hadn’t reappeared.

Hugh nodded and poured another wine all round. ‘We want you in gainful employment, we want you feeling good about yourself and if some beau were to come along, that would be even better. We can’t make your life for you but we can make some things happen to allow you to get where you want to be.’

‘Why?’

‘Because we have a simple choice these days – we either support building, creating, and assisting or else we go the other way and support destruction, treachery and misery. Emma and I have had a difficult few years now, we’ve both lost people who were special to us and you were one of the people making it difficult. We love each other and we’ve found a way out of the horror – that’s why. That’s all we really want to do now.’

‘I – I really want to help, if I can … um … M. et Mme. Jensen.’

Emma got down to business. ‘All right, Sophie, we’ll take you through to the room where it’s all set out and go through it with you, you’ll need to stay here overnight and you’ll be taken back tomorrow. You’ll need to act in the same way you have been doing, doing the same work. Let’s go through.’

X

Four days to go. Janine was in earnest conversation with Hugh in a garden attached to Little Stenthorpe Church and she was running over the programme. He was asking question after question, in fine detail, about the exact movements of all major parties.

Then he ran through the potential weaknesses. The day before, he’d made a deal with two known but unconvicted heisters to spend two days, for a certain remuneration, at their home – they’d come in naked, they’d been clothed, the most trusted Level 3s had been detailed as security, they were being fed and watered and allowed to view the whole mock-up.

Each was to hypothesize how they’d do the kidnappings, tonight they’d need to be given immunity before they coughed up, would Janine authorize that?

She couldn’t but she walked away for some minutes, came back and said the papers would be at his home by 20:00. She also passed on that his double was already causing consternation by running through personnel documents on Richard Jamieson and other known moles for Europe – the double had had a good run and so far had seemed to pass muster.

.o0o.

The two men were satisfied with the papers, they’d not consulted and now, standing around the mock-up of the Loire, the top floor able to be removed and various ground floor segments also able to be lifted out, revealing plumbing and lots of little defects reported by employees over the past month – they went through their plan of how to go about it.

One was elaborate and as he outlined the planning, the build up, the personnel required, the obstacles, the security and so on, it became obvious that split second timing would be required – this was a game requiring immediate projection of an image only long enough to enable the move to be made. He stressed that the control of the CCTV, the secondary target system using tags electronically embedded in the back hems of clothing during the security procedure shakedowns, the stream of disinformation, the alarm due to a furphy – all of that was important, as well as control of the key spaces above the ballroom and below.

He’d paid particular attention to the possible access points in the walls and floors of the building. He asked if the builders had been interviewed and was gratified that they had. He pointed out one weak spot and Hugh confirmed that that had been confirmed by one of the bricklayers. He mentioned the airconditioning system and the net access – all key points needed to recover from takeover. They needed to be unsecurable by a hostile team.

Hugh confirmed that they’d already done a touch of sabotage in that direction, which of course made it easier for the enemy to take those places in the first instance. The man asked him to assume that the other side had also bought much of this information. ‘They’re bankrolled far better than you are.’

The second had listened to all this and agreed on the key points in the building. His method was far more cavalier and also involved image projection but also momentary tricks of the light. All the foregoing about meticulous preparation went without saying. Had anyone shown any great interest in these matters, either through the architects, builders or local planning authorities?

Yes, Hugh answered – they had a list of those interested who’d be at the Loire on Saturday evening. He mentioned the ships which had left port in Europe and Ireland in the last days – the power of the state here had helped immensely. The man grilled Hugh mercilessly for thirty more minutes and then concluded, ‘You’d be taken.’

The other concurred. Hugh wiped his brow, another round of refreshments was brought, Emma went to take care of nature, returned and then the two were asked to explain.

They hadn’t taken Europe into account – the SRP harmonization of intranet, the closed net systems which effectively gave power to some little man in the Hague to pull the plug on the communications or to jam them for a limited time until the auxilliary could kick in. Every government with officials there and many of the shadowy figures were going to demand a slice of the pie, the right to run over the systems.

They already had, Hugh said.

Some of their boffins were the best in Europe – they could take in a system within a second or two and know how to run code which would make the communications do surprising things. Mr. and Mrs. Jensen might have been gifted amateurs but they couldn’t, in themselves, circumvent everything at once. And what of a number of agendas being played out at the same time?

So, what was the solution, Hugh wanted to know?

Ideally, both men agreed, trusted deputies – and that was the whole issue – with enough autonomy to follow the game plan but to alter it quickly, in response to changed circumstances. A hive mentality.

Hugh thanked them both and they were shown to their quarters – they knew they were bugged.

.o0o.

In bed, Emma asked if he was going to follow their advice.

‘To a point,’ he murmured. ‘There was some sound advice in there.’ Then he whispered in her ear.

‘No,’ she grinned. ‘You won’t get away with that.’

‘Time will tell.’

XI

The day of the Masque.

Despite none of the dignitaries having arrived by 11:00, Hugh was still covered by armed Praetorians in his once over of the complex, every nook and cranny was noted and had someone looking after it.

This part was basic ops, with backup in case it went pearshaped, with a failure to signal in particular ways being a sign of attack.

There were many such routines, with a staff of 28 looking after it within the complex. Access and egress had a team of 212 at various locations, including from every dignitary’s embarkation point.

Guy thought it too few on the ground at Loire but Hugh took the point of view that the trouble could be better nipped at the source, with the exception of the helicopters on the roof.

This was all the more reason, he felt, that they’d try it on. The real action was to be on the roof.

16:00 – A few of the things which might have gone wrong had already gone wrong and it was gratifying that news had come through. This, Hugh felt, was just a feeler, a tester – the real scam would come later.

He made adjustments.

.o0o.

Sophie had been in place for some time in the second control room, not the main centre – in fact this was the one they were using. She now asked to see him, Emma was rechecking all personnel and was due back in fifteen minutes. He sent his double to Sophie’s TV room with Doug and two others.

The man came back two minutes later with a flea in his ear. Sophie wanted the real Hugh.

‘What went wrong?’

‘Failed to answer some questions about the boat.’

‘Damn. Yes.’ He filled him in. I’ll go.’

He took Doug and the other two again, went into the room, two guarded the door, Doug went around to the secret exit, flush with the wall, it was out of TV range.

‘Ask.’

‘No, I want to see the mark.’

Hugh grinned. ‘You’re good.’ He undid the belt and let her check.

Now she grinned. ‘Check mine.’

He sighed and obliged.

‘Is there any way this room is bugged?’

‘We went over it four times, eight men.’

‘Who ordered it?’

‘All right, make your point on paper, Sophie and I’ll take it away.’

‘Just watch this.’ She headed for the secret exit, it involved going between two monitors. Impatiently, he waited for her to come back through but she didn’t.

He called Doug. ‘Sophie come past?’

‘No sir. Hang on, Frank’s calling on the other. Uh huh. Really? Yes, let her.’

Sophie came back in via the main entrance. ‘You see.’ He felt sick. ‘Sit down, sir. There was no way you could have known that.’

He wrote: ‘Call the whole thing off?’

She took the paper and wrote: ‘I don’t think so. As you know now, you can adjust who gets to handle what. You are relying on me being for you though … aren’t you?’

His throat went dry and wrote in turn: ‘Yes. Yes we are.’

She scrawled for some time, he supplied fresh paper. ‘I believe Marie-Ange is on the level, sir. I believe, looking at the whole thing, that you’ll possibly get three of them – I’ve been watching the roof. Your issue is going to be the Prime Minister, isn’t it? You don’t need him making any moves. I think it’s starting now.’

The Citadel net connection [not the intra but the one used for the public] had seen sockpuppet sites springing up in the last days and they contained much personal info on high-ups, including Hugh and Emma – quite scurrilous, using material which had only come the way of the enemy by turned, so-called former friends.

The bottom line was that though this was nasty and no one wishes to see his private life spread across the net publicly, there wasn’t anything particularly illegal or nefarious in their former private lives and so this could only have a limited run. In fact it was useful because it now outed various parties.

.o0o.

19:00 – Emma returned, all had been accounted for and were either in their hotels, still on the way or were known-knowns in their inability to attend.

19:14 – First report through from neighbours near the farmhouse where one of Hugh’s two clones was stationed. Scenes of the farmhouse being stormed and a standoff with the two opposed forces.

This was mortifying because two groups, both dressed in the uniform of special services for the same country were now opposed – there were, effectively, two governments now giving orders through commanders.

There was the question of how they’d known ‘he’ was there in that location but more unclear was if the enemy were aware he was the clone, whether they were just taking precautions or whether they wished to neutralize all the Hughs.

19:17 – First attempt at takeover of the main control room of the complex, images revealed gunfire but seemingly silenced, control room camera out – so that one was now down to the plan for the recovery, just prior to the Masque. Almost simultaneously, report of enemy taken out in the carpark and that in loyalist hands for the moment.

19:21 – Marie-Ange entering the foyer – or ante-room under different circumstances – and the camera in her mask would feedback every costume and person under it through Sophie to Guy and Hugh. First picture showing Paul Rainsford by the foot of the great staircase on Guy’s side, meaning Guy was now taken, part of the agenda – the PM’s own countermove, one of three.

Hugh breathed more easily.

19:34 – Here come the guests. Though the theme is Commedia dell’Arte, there’s a sprinkling of other costumes as well.

First through is Ambassador from the Netherlands in a Bauta, roughly of his nation’s colours and his wife in a Moretta – the oval mask layered with black velvet – neither one particular character or the other.

They compliment Marie-Ange’s Columbina and hope to see Arlecchino and her on the dance floor later. Marie-Ange doing the registration. Signal now from her confirming it’s still her. CCTV seems to have her gait correct.

Coming in thick and fast now, Marie-Ange and helpers have their work cut out registering guests. Various Harlequins, Pantelones, Pierrots, Columbinas, Scaramouche, a few Capitanos and one Volpina.

19:37 – From Sophie, keep an eye on the Volto Larva and the Arlecchino with the red blemish on the forehead, just above the diamond pattern of red, green, and blue – the one with the slightly turned-in right foot. Can’t be sure but might be Jannes. Female she wouldn’t know. Hugh thinks, ‘Celeste?’

19:39 – From Sophie again, watch the Scaramuccia in the black velvet mask with the thin, pointed and disproportionately extended nose and partner, a Dottore Peste with the hooked beak, long, trailing, black robes with white collar, floppy hat in one hand – they seem a gay couple and as a Dottore is an aristocrat in the Commedia, this could well be one of the Seven – from his deportment, Sophie suspects Jambres.

19:41 – Guests milling in the ballroom, around the edges, early music playing by l’Arpeggiata – all in keeping, now come Pulcinella and a Gatto, the former in loose-fitting white overalls and beak mask, the latter in feline costume and even accompanying it with noises and gestures – a playful one, Sophie doesn’t recognize either.

19:43 – 210 guests so far according to Marie-Ange, another 23 to go, many are stragglers but she’ll stay there, with support coordinated by Paul Rainsford, whom everyone concedes is the security honcho – a display of respect by the PM, festivities about to begin, bar doing a roaring trade, they’ve five people in there, all reporting back at this stage. Sophie views bar footage and confirms Jannes.

20:01 – Orchestra strikes up, meanwhile main control room hit by friendly forces.

20:04 – CCTV back on, they detected other tapes inserted, this one is messy, some bodies hauled into the back room, too much noise in the great hall to overly worry, Paul orders Marie-Ange’s support to remain for the 17 still on the way, Marie-Ange [really Emma] to go upstairs to the ante-room to meet up with Hugh.

21:02 – That was a quiet hour, all units reporting in, time for the first roving check of those units. PM’s lot monitoring who’s speaking with whom, who’s dallying with whom, for diplomatic purposes. First time Hugh doubts he can pull this off – too many agendas coinciding, though he has people looking out for each.

21:07 – First systems anomaly, unit reporting in but it was enemy, all codes to second phase, all change, all units reported in, except the janitor’s, janitor’s about to be hit. Demonstration dances about to begin as per programme, then the VIPs take to the floor.

21:08 – Late report from real Marie-Ange. Had to neutralize the ‘Hugh’, wasn’t right, will be examined in one of the siderooms, doesn’t seem ours at all. Hugh has Paul detail someone to watch Marie-Ange. Too much trust needed in Paul, no choice at this stage. PM and wife taking Jannes and partner for drink – is that his move, the sly old dog?

21:10 – Message to Marie-Ange, look for Jambres, as described by Sophie, seems to have gone AWOL.

21:15 – Time for [clone] Hugh’s dance with Marie-Ange, Jambres can’t be found by any units, nor his partner, Hugh dances too well, damn it, Marie-Ange [actually Emma] superb, great applause, they go backstage, Marie-Ange [Emma] stops, according to CCTV but ‘Hugh’ goes on as planned, Paul – get someone there now.

21:17 – Jannes not with PM, quick scan to bar – empty, quick scan to ‘friendly’ medical room – yep, out like a light, one good thing at least, Jambres a worry, ‘Hugh’ has not reappeared anywhere, real Hugh to Paul – deal with it please.

21:18 – First from the road, key man of PM’s taken en route behind the Swiss party earlier, report from backstage – no ‘Hugh’, check roof, nothing, no helicopters, no one came that way this evening, had to have been got out or else is somewhere on premises – simple logic, find him.

21:19 – Report that the Swiss are leaving, let them depart and note any other departures or any other moves in the building, car to be stopped five km down the road. Trouble is the guests in their break time, swarming into the bar, all eyes on all guests from control room please, as yet no move to retake room, one camera loaded with false disk, now fixed, empty but might have been missed action.

21:53 – Jambres and partner reappear in great hall -’twould be nice to have him too – he found a place the friendlies were not able to penetrate – someone was shielding him, someone’s lying about not finding him. Real Hugh thinks he knows.

22:00 – An hour until the unmasking and the whole thing is going swimmingly as an event, sudden opportunity – Jambres’ partner going to loo, Marie-Ange coming out of hers, dart and partner slumps to floor, friendlies swoop and take to friendly medical room, making out he’s drunk.

22:12 – Jambres worried on main floor, speaking with the Germans but nervous gestures he thinks he’s concealing. Assuming he’s communicating in that mask, check all points and report in.

Chapter 2-20 hereChapter 2-22 here

Reports now of movement in the corridors – all arrested over next few minutes bar two who are now at Sophie’s room, CCTV shows splintering gunfire through door, no great noise, seems to have ceased, Sophie coming out from under counter, she nods at message received and makes OK gesture to camera.

22:44 – Jambres calls people to him in great hall and they make to depart – many gestures of apology to the PM, man won’t be impeded, their things brought upstairs, they enter lift to roof, helicopter arrives, can’t be stopped, they depart.

22:45 – Too long a delay from Paul – one too many in Jambre’s party, ‘Hugh’ might be one of them. Paul onto it but he is one of the Austrians. Damn, already happened – the Austrians were correct numbers about 17 minutes ago. Austrians eh?

Evening’s events might now be over but still on alert.

23:00 – The big unmasking for those still present, lower orders, Sophie scanning intensely, no one she recognizes at all, not the woman Idune nor anyone else, Paul does though and has made some moves on the top floor with some costumed women with Columbinas in their hands, targetted guests resisting, playing it down, some now going – keep an eye on that.

Supper now coming out, handed around, waitresses mingling, PM and wife taking their leave, now the critical part occurs, he goes through and there – there the switch is made, we did it – excellent, ‘PM’ continues to lift and up to the roof.

23:07 – Pitched battle on roof, ‘PM’ shot from the helicopter, how to explain this one away, mayhem in silent motion through cameras, helicopter swinging up and away, helicopter downed, fire and ambulance into the carpark where it came down. Wild grief from [real] wife now rushing from lower left of camera, falls at ‘PM’s’ side on her knees.

23:11 – Great hall almost empty now, all procedures begin, all reporting in, the slow shutdown commences.

XII

In the middle of the night, a fine night with a chill in the atmosphere and a clear view of the stars, were you out there, the far door in the rendered cement wall opened and a goatee-bearded figure strode through, still in costume.

‘Hugh.’

‘Prime Minister.’

‘All right, let’s kip down now and we’ll talk in the morning. 05:00 too early for you?’

Hugh smiled – he knew the PM’s penchant for early starts and had caught a few hours just after 16:00.

All was in order, the PM went into his room and did his things, Hugh turned in as well, the light was doused and that was that.

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