2-22: Nicolette

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I

It was the early morning hush.

Other than those two, Sally was the only extra in this bunker and she now cleared the breakfast dishes. It might have been a concrete wasteland down here but it was a well served concrete wasteland.

The PM opened. ‘How would you rate it?’

‘Not happy to lose ‘me’ at all – I’d spoken with him for some time and he was a nice chap. They’ll use him to bargain for the other two.’

‘They can’t. Different levels. Not a direct swap. I’m afraid it might be nasty for your alter-ego, Hugh.’ The look on Hugh’s face showed he understood only too well. ‘Do you want to bargain for him?’

Hugh’s face was chagrined. ‘Can’t – he knew the danger. Terrible about your double as well.’

‘Yes, I made the error of getting too close to him – he’ll be sorely missed but there was no family. Thought we might have protected him on the roof. However.’ He moved on. ‘Excellent work on the part of your girl at the loo – they weren’t expecting that and I don’t think we were either. The one you call Jannes – that was a great coup too, a set piece and one wonders at how easy it was.’

‘I did too but he certainly checks out and is a mainstay in the Seven.’

‘Our regulars will examine him but I suspect we’ll not get much out of that one, except as a bargaining chip.’

‘Bargaining chip for what, may I ask?’

‘You may well ask.’ And that’s all he was saying.

‘Ah … right, sir. Your own little negotiations.’

‘As you say, Hugh, my own little negotiations. All right – from what I’m seeing here, we lost a few in the control room, a few on the roof, lost one ‘Hugh’, switched me at the right time – well done on keeping Patty out of it for those split seconds – and made our major gains in the moles being outed – hell of a lot of them. Lost ‘me’ though – not good. Overall, I’d say very well done.’

He sipped on his coffee, Hugh relaxed a little and he continued, ‘Your Sophie came through with flying colours but it was hardly a fair test. With her secreted in that room, Sophie had no real choice. So you’re no further along with her?’

‘Yes and no. She was quite onside last night and I’ll go into that after you’ve finished.’

‘I myself am shot and critically near death at this moment, hourly reports are put out and it’s blamed on my enemies, with strenuous denials that Robert Jamieson was in any way connected with it, my wife is distraught and answering only one or two reporters, enough for the story. Now I need you to sit down and prepare yourself -’

‘If you mean Emma, sir, I already know.’

‘How?’

‘My own notions,confirmation from Sophie.’

He whistled. ‘I see. Hugh, you say you know about Emma but make it clear what you mean by that.’

‘I mean she scarpered, sir, went back to them. I saw it unfolding.’

‘That much is true but it’s not all of it.’

‘N-o-o-o, tell me it’s not so. She wasn’t on that helicopter?’

‘Afraid so.’ He got up and poured two whiskies, handing Hugh one, then sat again, leaning forward. ‘I’m so very sorry but your reaction surprises me – you’re desperately upset by your lights.’

‘No idea in the world about her being on that helicopter, not expecting that part at all. I’ll weep later.’

‘Very strange reaction, Hugh. Tell me about it if you can.’

‘As you’re probably aware sir, as I monitor you monitoring me,’ the PM felt it best to suppress the smile, ‘I’ve known sir, for a long time and you were the one who gave it away.’

‘Me?’

‘Things you would say in front of her, things you wouldn’t, things you would and wouldn’t say to me. That put me onto you knowing of it but it was no confirmation. The confirmation came from Sophie and before you remind me that this is an enemy we’ve turned and she could be riddled with triggers, we know all that. But look at her psyche file – intense loyalty to whomever she perceives as her mother duck, so to speak, but quite poor on disingenuity.’

‘Go on.’

‘Sophie came to our place, we also met her at the Citadel, she, Sophie, herself, was not yet right but recognized patterns. Someone on that canalboat was making things go wrong, I decided to talk to Sophie and met her at the house while Emma was training people at the Citadel. Sally will confirm the meeting. Once Sophie was sure it was OK to open up, open up she did. She laid down chapter and verse.

There’s a lot of interpersonal muddying in this, sir. Do you wish to hear this?’

‘Leave nothing out. Can I top you up there?’

‘Thank you. Emma had been making plays for me since my earliest time in France – quite puzzling as, with the greatest respect to myself, I know whom I can attract and whom I cannot, I know women’s types they like. There were sound reasons for Nikki and I which we listed to each other – she was my natural mate, so to speak, she had form with unpredictable but solid mavericks like me but there really was no reason, beyond my own lust, for Emma to go for me so hard, seriously. All the way through, her sudden moves were strange and she always explained them away through this lust motif. Very flattering for a male but deep down, I didn’t buy it.’

‘You and this Nicolette had quite some reputation.’

‘She’s a different kettle of fish. Was. I adored her, sir.’ He went silent and the PM realized he was choked. When he got it back together, he went on. ‘We did have a reputation but one thing I can tell you, sir – Nikki was as straight as a die, she’d have been a huge asset to you in this work – did you check out her work in Paris?’

‘Yes, she was the mainstay, the power behind the throne.’

‘Very true. As many people know full well, that didn’t just happen from that first afternoon – we’d been stalking one another for three years. It was a natural affinity, not affected, uncannily so and it took us by surprise – a man strikes quickly when he sees that. Emma never saw that because she didn’t think in terms of two minds and two souls but she saw, in working for you sir, that she had to – however, she gave herself away so often it was astounding. I’d have been astounded if you’d not picked up on it.’

‘Go on.’

Geneviève certainly knew part of it but never communicated it exactly that way to me, it was more that something in general was wrong, possibly she was keeping her own counsel. On the boat, she did some things, Emma, which set her and me apart and she took weeks to find a way back – she had to confess all sorts to me and they were gruesome things from Paris – no one else knows of them and even in her death, as there are no current implications, and as I promised her, then for my own integrity, I prefer to keep those to myself sir. But yes, I pretty well knew then.’

‘And you brought her in for my protection.’

‘Yes but that was also Carly – there’s a lot of quid pro quo going on, sir.’

‘You’re telling me?’ The Prime Minister smiled.

Hugh went on. ‘She was doing a lot of good work all the same, real work, especially in recruiting and training, it was monitored and minuted – even she knew she could not work directly for them, it was more that she had to ensure that new directions weren’t taken, that sort of thing. And there was one thing muddying her own firmament – she did start to love me after I took her back. Women are women sir.’

He sipped on his own drink. ‘Janine alerted me to this and we put it down initially to your general paranoia. But Janine was of the opinion there was something else. No one has been as scrutinized as you yourself, Hugh and we feel Jannes gave a bit away on Emma. He did not on you, although they do seem to admire you.’

‘Not enough to stop the electro-trauma.’

‘Well of course not. By the way, it was not just Jannes we captured, nor the companion. You tell me who else we have.’

He thought it through, even though it was so hard to concentrate, plus the PM was observing. ‘There were the right number in that helicopter, Emma did not alter the count.’ He thought some more seconds. ‘You have Jambres, sir. How?’

‘This is going to amaze you. Sophie tripped him over, literally tripped him over.’ He was creasing himself laughing. ‘Promise me you won’t take it out on her, she’s been sworn not to say a word and I haven’t so far.’

‘She left her post.’

‘No, she called Doug in to mind the fort, rushed out and must have seen what she thought was Jambres. The boys were onto him in a flash once he hit the deck.’

‘Astounding.’

‘You’re going to punish her?’

‘What, for a moment’s initiative? When I’d been training everyone to do just that within limits?’

‘I’m glad to hear that. I feel more secure with you having said that but your reaction to Emma still puzzles me. I mean, how you could make love to that woman and … and … live with her, knowing she was doing that.’

‘Humans are complex, sir. It was deeply intimate between us, even soft, so many times – there was a human being underneath the rest of it. Damaged goods, yes, but a human being nonetheless. I need to check because I know your people have been through the house – they need to be a bit more careful,’ the PM did now smile, ‘but have we confirmed that she betrayed us? The communications went pear-shaped in many ways, I was about to shut down anyway after the canal.’

‘There was no mistake, there was solid evidence – yes, we did go through your home a few times, professionally, boys I keep for my own small, discrete jobs but I’d appreciate your assessment of their performance another time. I was going to dismiss the pair of you on the general pretext of lack of progress and you are aware, I think, of the nature of this project of mine, its use-by date, even though you’re a main player … but your own monitoring of me and of Emma stayed my hand, plus there is Janine’s opinion, an astute lady, plus we found nothing on you except a history of susceptibility to the female.’

‘Ah, yes. Jambres though is a very heavy bargaining chip – it must be massive what you wanted.’

‘There’s a shopping list – it would have taken a Jambres and one other. You will continue as you always have, Hugh, we’ll maintain this Citadel for now, will you have Sophie as your Citadel partner for now or is it too early with her? You need someone there for three weeks and then the whole arrangement changes. Can’t tell you what just now, you’ll have to wait, but we do have something in the wind and I think it may interest you, I’m going to put some proposals to you in three weeks time. And Hugh, don’t get emotionally involved with Sophie just yet. There may come a time for that but watch your emotional attachments with women just now.’

‘That had crossed my mind too, sir.’

‘Good. Two hours till lunch and I’m peckish already.’ He buzzed for Janine.

III

Marie-Ange stood with Hugh in the garden, Sally had brought drinks.

‘When did you hear about Emma, Marie-Ange?’

‘While you were in with the PM, Janine came up to me, thanked me, gave me a bonus, and then she told me. I’m devastated, you must be close to suicidal.’

‘Truth is, I’d already accepted it for some time, I’d already gone through all the anger, the betrayal, I do believe she knew in her heart that it was over, her having been discovered. It must have been killing her too and I think, in those last moments – I think it may just have tipped her hand. I simply wasn’t expecting it to end quite like that. That’s where the grief is – in the way it ended. At least it was quick.’

‘Yes, but not nice though.’

‘I see tears in your own eyes, Marie-Ange. Why?’

‘Will you hold me for now so I can tell you?’

He reached out, she came into his arms and leant her head against his chest.

‘I can’t say I suspected but I did find some of the things Emma said strange. She was not completely positive towards you, you do know that. She was fixated on the Masque and I put it down to that but looking back, I’d say she was annoyed about your unpredictable changes to the plans.’

‘It fits.’

‘If you go through it all, that evening she was never in a position to have you taken, which I think was one of the main purposes they had – I think you’d ensured that and she may have been suspicious of you because of that. Once she felt that inside, I’m quite sure the only thing in her mind was just to get away. That secret exit was going to be for that purpose – she put that in. Sophie could have stopped Emma leaving you know.’

‘Sophie comes here later today. I’ve been given three days off by the PM to reorganize my staff.’

‘Mr. Jensen, sir. Hugh?’ She found it difficult to speak. ‘I may have made a huge mistake, costing Emma her life. I’d checked the roof earlier – that weapon, it was a one-off nitro – I’d wondered about something that big and asked the soldier but when we all came up to the roof with the PM’s double, I saw the soldier wasn’t there but the weapon was – on the ground. I picked it up and looked at it, it even had a plate on the side saying how to do this and that, what to make sure of, what to beware of, it was very simple.

Then I looked over and saw the party getting into the helicopter but one person was not right – the gait, the way of walking was familiar -’

‘Because you’d been her double and had studied mannerisms, plus you had vague suspicions as well.’

‘Yes. First thought was it was one of her ruses, second was she was being kidnapped but no one was near her, pushing her, so I concluded she was getting on by herself and still I thought it might be something you had organized but then the firing started from the helicopter once it had lifted off and I knew it was wrong, all of it. My thought was that if I could bring it down straight away, people wouldn’t die, I thought it would drop to the roof – I know, I know now it would have exploded but that was my hope and then it swung away and I knew I had to bring it down. May God forgive me. It was easy to aim and fire.’

He held her close.

‘Now,’ said Hugh, slowly, ‘may we put all that behind us, I don’t want to think about it any more, that’s for when I’m in bed, let’s get onto the next thing. I’m going to tell you something the PM told me next morning and I fear you might take this the wrong way but I’m hoping you won’t. He told me not to become emotionally involved for three weeks because things are going to change.’

‘Please don’t think I was angling for that.’

‘I know you weren’t, you needed a pair of arms, but I do need to put something to you and by holding each other now, you can easily tell from my body language what my true intentions are – you can tell it much more easily from body language than words. You see, I want you to work for me permanently.’

He felt all the emotions go through her and the last one was relief. ‘I’d be … honoured. Would you allow me this?’ She looked up and kissed him on the cheek.

‘With a male who operates like me and with a female close to me, it must be crystal clear the exact nature of the relationship – you must feel secure that I’ll stay within our agreed bounds. I need you to be my PA, my aide, to handle the business side but you won’t be the only female. Sophie is coming in an hour and I want her as my security officer. But you get first choice – are you happy with the personal aide role or do you want the security role?’

‘Want? I want whatever you offer me – I love it here, I feel I can contribute. But to answer you – I’d prefer the PA role as I get to deal with things I know I can do. You know I was one in France, don’t you?’

‘Yes.’

‘Hugh, why two French women?’

‘Sophie’s Swiss. There’s a more relaxed attitude – I’ll try to explain. Do you know the Poirot series with Miss Lemon? I can give you a DVD.’

‘I know it.’

‘I like her but she is too prim and proper. I would never try anything but I still need to feel more relaxed – do you know the expression ‘treading on eggshells’?’

‘We have that. You mean that while you would not try to bed me, you still want to feel we are close without me being frightened.’

‘Précisément.’

‘I know you already – why do you think I want this job?’

‘Marie-Ange, one last thing. Thank you so much for all you did – you were fantastic, including the helicopter, the PM was most impressed too, everyone was. You kissed my cheek – would you permit me to kiss yours?’

‘I would be worried if you did not.’

.o0o.

‘Sophie,’ he acknowledged.

‘Mr. Jensen.’

He indicated she should sit, Sally came to ask what she’d like to drink. A coke.

‘A little different, Sophie, from on that boat, yes?’

‘Please don’t remind me of that.’

‘No, of course, sorry. Speak to me about Emma, I’m fine about it, it’s all been said now.’

‘I knew she was wrong in so many ways, as I told you. The first thought was when you both came to me in those Albus and Belus costumes, during the rehab. They’re not lovers, unless they’re homosexual ones – they’re both men. She knew that, plus she knew some other things, some triggers from my world. Perhaps Mlle Lavacquerie told her but I doubt it.’

‘I doubt it too. You never considered warning me?’

‘First, how could I trust that you weren’t working together? And you had been with her for so long, you had been through things together. Then I wasn’t right in the head myself, I’m still not completely sure. Then I saw that secret exit and knew I had to tell you.’

‘Sophie, you were fantastic, we couldn’t have done all that without you, I mean that. The PM told me about you tripping up Jambres.’ She gasped, fear showed in her eyes. ‘The PM asked if I was going to punish you and I said – what, for showing initiative?’ He smiled.

She was pleased and her smile was delightful when she was relaxed. ‘Sophie, I want you to work for me.’

She gasped again. ‘Doing what?’

‘There’s a saying about wives – that they’re a whole lot of jobs rolled into one. To replace a wife, you have to employ three or four people to do all the jobs. I’ve already asked Marie-Ange to work for me as PA, as aide doing the clerical work – I need you though for my personal security and that of the new Citadel, I need you to watch my back, to discern and circumvent threats.’

‘Me? Someone who might still have a killer inside, someone who spat at you?’

‘Yes if you please. I really need this, Sophie, I want only you, no one else. Salary would naturally match the position.’

‘You need to think this through very carefully, Mr. Jensen. First of all, yes, of course I want. But as we’re talking security, you really must look at the threat I am.’

‘I have. There will be three men about and they’re armed.’

‘I see.’

‘Plus one other thing. I don’t know what the PM has in mind but things are apparently going to change around here in three weeks, he won’t say what it is. And for his own reasons, he knows I want Marie-Ange and you and he’s given me three days to get organized.’

‘I’m really honoured … sir.’

‘Good, shall we shake hands?’ She grinned, they did and both knew there was a hell of a lot going on in that handshake, a lot. He explained about the west wing – anything she needed immediately would be brought for now if she’d tell them, then she herself would go back in a few days, under guard, to collect the rest of it.

‘It’s two hours to dinner and I need to get down to details but I need Marie-Ange here as well to discuss who does what and you will both have your say. I want both of you crystal clear about your roles and your roles do not cross, though you both will. Obviously it would help if you like one another.’

‘We already do – we worked together, remember. M. Jensen – why? Why me?’

‘Because I trust you and have feelings for you – handshakes don’t lie – but it must be professional and all reports say you one of the most professional people around.’

‘I’m really honoured.’

‘And Sophie, the Prime Minister told me to my face not to get emotionally involved with you … but I already have, as you know from the handshake. Yet he says not to, not for three weeks anyway.

‘Of course. And Mr. Jensen … I am not offended or worried about that in the least.’

IV

January, 2009

The Prime Minister woke from his sleep and stared at the ceiling, his wife woke, as if on cue and looked across at him.

‘I’ve betrayed them, you know.’

‘Who?’

‘Them – the ones who put me here and they know it. Their interest now is whether I can be turned back, dissuaded from my course.’

‘And can you?’

‘I think not.’

She looked at him, then lay back and stared at the ceiling. ‘I see.’

V

February 2009

Hugh looked down at the transcripts and then at Sophie. ‘So, what do you think?

‘I don’t know what to say, there seems no doubt about it.’

‘The question is whether he half suspected it himself and has been waiting for us to tumble to it.’

‘Will you tell him?’

‘I must, no matter what it costs me personally. Section Sophie-Fleury was all about that and that’s the only thing I have left to cling on to. He must be told.’ He caught her enquiring look. ‘Yes, at tomorrow’s meeting.’

VI

The Prime Minister eventually looked up at Hugh. ‘A right bloody Walsingham, aren’t you?’ Then he mellowed. ‘I apologize for that – Walsingham did right, although it didn’t endear him to the Queen but you needn’t fear on that score.’

‘If there’d been any other way …’

‘I know, I know, you may have saved me from something grisly.’ He sat up straight, then leant back and put his hands behind his head, his eyes moist. ‘I did know, one recent night I became aware it was so. She came to me all those years ago as one of them, we married on that basis – those were the days of the unprincipled politician. I’d hoped that all these years might have … well, no matter. We live and learn in this game and what I had on the drawing board had to be reported to them. Things are going to get hot around here now, Hugh. Jamieson will come storming back with insufferable self-righteousness.’

‘He’ll go public on your plans?’

‘Not in the least – he knows that I was only correcting that which they had done in the first place – they’ll not want it splashed across the tabloids. No, he’ll come back hard because he knows Europe will back him – doesn’t pay to strike a blow for your own country, Hugh.’

‘Yes it does, sir. In the end, it does.’

‘In the end. Yes. There’s a disconnect between any Prime Minister and the people. It’s in the very nature of Westminster, from the preselection to the appointment to Cabinet. If he wants to be a man of the people, he has to remember what it was like to be of the people but he only remembers his version of it. In my world, especially in Europe, there are no moral absolutes, nothing cannot be negotiated or revised – it’s all to do with the maintenance of power in the ‘right’ hands.

If you aid and abet that, you are promoted and feted, with high sounding rhetoric. If you genuinely aid the people, it is the end. You will have to do some serious thinking now -’

‘You know the answer to that already, sir.’

‘Good man. Leave me now, we’ll do the review next Tuesday.’

VII

March 2009

‘It’s longer than the three weeks I said to wait, Hugh but I’m ready to return Jambres and do our deal. He hasn’t been touched, I’m hoping that buys us much over there. Things are about to start moving.’

‘Already have, sir. Mr. Jamieson has been most active, plus the one they call Celeste over there.’

‘And I understand your two offsiders have hit it off as well. Lucky break for you, Hugh, my experience of two women close to you in an office is it’s slightly competitive.’

‘Early days. I have the report here, sir.’

‘Deliver.’

.o0o.

After that was done, instead of dismissing him as usual, the Prime Minister ordered in coffee and turned into a more relaxed sitting position.

‘Request here from your colleagues, Hugh. Seems they wish to return to Paris for some time. So, shall I approve it?’

‘Protection?’

‘M. Guiscard apparently has that in hand – very little we can do from this end. De Marchant must still rankle with Paris though.’

‘It might work to our advantage.’

‘Our?’

‘I was given to understand, sir, that their work has been useful.’

‘Ah yes, quite. I want them over there when certain things hit the fan over here.’

‘The news of Emma hit them hard, hit Genie hard in particular, even though she knew in her heart.’

‘Yes, well it would, wouldn’t it? You’re having two days off work too at that time, I need you on call. We’ve made a deal with the enemy but so did Hitler and Chamberlain. It will be all hands on deck.’

Hugh nodded, the PM continued. ‘I may have someone to help sort out Emma’s Citadel files, two people actually. All that will come to pass after we get these two days done with. How’s your health? When did you last have a checkup?’

‘After the canalboat – you have me curious now, sir.’

‘Patience, man.’

VII

Paris didn’t look much different to Jean-Claude and Geneviève, it hadn’t been blighted by war or anything, the roads were still full, the airport perhaps not as crowded as formerly, the shops were still open in many places although there were an increasing number of boarded up properties and many For Sale signs. There did seem to be many more migrants though, but that had been building for some time.

The giveaway was in the people’s faces. Parisiennes had never been noted anyway for frivolity in the commuter lines or in cafes but now the people seemed … quiet … not willing to divulge too much. Geneviève, on the other hand, in her delight to be back, was gushing with questions and anecdotes, reminiscences and reflections.

Her friends sat silently, politely and sipped on their coffees.

She was now in her own living room, a room in the hands of a worried woman who’d thought Geneviève had come to reclaim her property, the title of which had been signed into this woman’s name so she needn’t have worried anyway. When Jean-Claude had explained on the telephone that they were resident in Great Britain, that they were only here for a few days, that it had been Geneviève’s dearest wish to see the apartment one last time, the woman had thawed and had invited them round.

Geneviève glanced at the window sill where her African Violets had stood. They weren’t there but that wasn’t to say the place had gone to rack and ruin.

In fact, in a way, this was worse because the apartment had been redecorated and redecorated well, in the lady’s style. There were plants on the sill but not her own, there was a hall stand for hats and umbrellas but not her old one. The place was kept immaculately, even better than she, a working woman, had been able to maintain, especially after the beginnings of the troubles and now Geneviève saw that this apartment, this city even, were no longer hers.

Time for Barbizon.

.o0o.

The owner, if that’s what he could have been called, for the title had simply been signed over to him, was not at all keen that they should see the place and it had taken a lot of persuasion from Jean-Claude.

He’d warned his wife – straight in, view it, no comment, no turned-up nose or anything of that nature, all reactions afterwards. She’d agreed and now here they were – not in the carport, where she saw there was space but on the road, as a stranger would have done.

The man was not home and so they went back to the car and waited.

He turned up some twelve minutes later, acknowledged them and let them into Francine’s half of the house.

It was a pigsty – dirty dishes piled up in the sink, the dirt was ground into the carpet, along with the cigarette burns, the fridge was making all sorts of noises and she asked quickly if she could see the other half, the part where she had stayed.

The man had to force the key to open the lock, it opened grudgingly and then the same happened with the other building – the sight made Geneviève burst into tears, not from nostalgia but from the state of it, from the neglect. It was mouldy, she could see the shower cubicle from where she stood, dirt and grease covered all surfaces but worst of all was that the original bedding was still on the bed, just as when she and Hugh …

She realized, of course, that Francine would have washed it all many times over before the Flight into Egypt and if that bedding was there now, it was because it had been the turn of that bedding, in rotation, to be there. Nevertheless, it was an appalling sight, she whispered, ‘Merci,’ and Jean-Claude knew it was time to get her out quickly.

He said the right things to the man, left him with a small gift which he turned over in his hand, quite unappreciatively, then they were gone.

They sat in the back, Genie bolt upright and he held her hand.

.o0o.

Next stop was the English Chapel.

The Vicar was still there, they’d arranged to have a cup of tea with him and there were hearty greetings, which was one thing this day, at least. They spoke of many things, from the tragedy of Ksenia’s wedding that hadn’t been to the current political situation, at which point, the man clammed up.

Whispering low, he informed them, ‘The walls have ears.’

So, it had come to this, thought Jean-Claude. He’d known one such time but never as bad as it was now. Hugh had once opined that the fish rotted at the head and this is just what seemed to have happened to modern France. It wasn’t even wartime but then again – it was. This was an internal war, where people died quietly behind the scenes, where they were spirited away in the night, as in Soviet Russia – his old colleagues had been saying this although they themselves were relatively untouchable.

They asked if they might view the grounds again and the Vicar agreed, shaking their hand and thanking them for coming.

Geneviève went first to Ksenia’s plaque and gazed at it for some time – being a plaque of that nature, it at least had not deteriorated. Now they went round to the carpark and memories came back – she’d describe all this to Hugh when they got back.

She looked out over the carpark for the tree in the distance where the man had apparently been perched – it had been cut down.

There was nothing left here. There was just Chatelet-en-Brie and on the way back to Paris – Melun.

.o0o.

The Farmhouse was no more, of course, the rubble was still there, fragments of timber lay about and in places, corner pillars still stood. A section of Nikki’s old room remained and in the ultimate horror, one of her soft bears lay almost buried, half the face visible, flecked with mud. Jean-Claude pulled it out, put it in the plastic bag they’d brought for just such a discovery, she then asked leave to go for a short walk by herself.

He looked about and then, when she returned, a little bleary-eyed, he took her hand and they were driven up to Melun, taking in all the views along the way, possibly for one last time.

The shock in Melun was that the dental surgery was still just that, with a new man ensconced – well, people still needed teeth attending to, no matter what else happened. They hadn’t asked to go inside, they could see the surgery from the door, she knew Thierry was looking on, it was enough.

‘Can we change our flight, Jean-Claude, bring it forward?’

‘I reserved a time later today, I had a feeling it might be as this.’

On the way through Paris, they took a detour and had a quick look at her office and his family home from the car, then Cafe Noir from the distance.

That was the end of it.

VIII

Hugh was poring over reports, endless reports in the extender chair in the garden, sipping coffee. It was 19:52 when Sally asked from behind, ‘Mr. Jensen, sir?’

‘Yes, Sally?’ he said without looking up.

‘I think you’d best see this, sir.’

He put the papers on the table, got up to look, passed out and Sally ran forward to make sure his head did not hit the grass, soft though it was.

.o0o.

When he came to, cushion under his head, leaning over him was a form, a woman’s form, one arm across him.

He passed out again.

.o0o.

When he came to the second time, his breathing was very short, he kept looking away, then back at her, then away, then back at her. Then he grasped at her arm but she quickly pulled it away. Instead, she planted a kiss on his lips.

He looked down at her arm and it was limp at her side. The other arm seemed fine.

‘Nikki.’

He passed out again.

.o0o.

When he awoke this time, she’d been weeping but smiling too. ‘Yes, it is. It’s no illusion, it is me.’

He was seriously bereft of speech. She saw that and asked if she could speak first. ‘Do you want to hear this now or would you rather wait until you’re yourself again?’

‘Now.’ Then, ‘That’s if you can, if it’s possible. Is this thing possible?’

‘It’s possible, Bebe, it’s real, it’s no illusion.’ He went to get up but she gently kept him there.

Sally came around and he asked for cognac.

‘It took me clean out of the building, Bebe, and to the ground outside, the wind that is, not the thing itself. Unfortunately, my arm caught the wall and stayed behind – this was the error you all made.’

‘Both made. Paul is dead.’

Her turn to be mortified. Sally handed her the cognac and she clutched it with her good hand. She took a swig. ‘Yes, of course, I thought it must have been so.’ She polished it off but refused another – still she clutched the glass.

‘I was unconscious and found out later one rib was broken – it hit a stone.’

‘But your arm now, Nikki, your arm.’

‘I’m coming to that. If you put two and two together, Bebe, you will be able to tell me instead what happened.’

‘That takes micro-surgery, how much feeling do you have back? 50%? 60%?’

‘About 60%. The hospital was good, the rehab was good.’ She began to weep and he looked everywhere for a cloth, she took out a handkerchief and gave it to him, he dabbed her eyes and handed the handkerchief back – typical of the two of them.

‘I know what happened. The enemy took you. Tell me what you can but not if it distresses you.’

‘They did nothing bad to me. It was you and Emma they wanted, it was Mademoiselle. It was the one time I was glad to just be Nicolette who goes here, does that. I was their bargaining chip. You see, Hugh, you’ll have to debrief me, I’ll have to go in for interrogation.’

‘It won’t be like that, it won’t be traumatic. Before that happened, I would elope with you.’

‘You’d give all this up and go on the run with someone when you have no idea what they implanted, what they want, what damage I am here to do?’

‘Yes.’

‘I suspected you might and so did they. They wanted me to lure you. But then one day, some days ago, they suddenly came to my room and said get dressed, get packed. They’d kept me in good condition, except in my soul and there was some sort of deal going on. Are you now with Emma? Where is she?’

‘One moment. Sally?’ The lady came through. ‘Some sort of snack please, two coffees – the Colombian, Nikki likes Colombian.’ He turned to her and she was smiling.

‘Please, Nikki, I can’t lie here like this – may we both sit in the chairs?’

Sally came through with the makings.

.o0o.

‘I saw your hand and wrist, Nikki, I concluded you’d died, Emma and I ran for the skip, taking our two bags each, she was helped over, I climbed down, we had some moments with the enemy on the way, we made it to Pieter’s and did that same washing you and I did but I did not cut her hair. Shall I go on?’

‘Don’t stop. I’m hoping you will answer my question sometime today.’

He told her the lot – about the forest, the train, the flight, the cellar, about Emma’s baby and she cried at this, about the island, about Genie and Jean-Claude, about the huts, the boat, the sailing, about the Lord Howe incidents – she was curious about that – then the submarine, the danger still at Portsmouth, about Carly, Janine, the Prime Minister.

He told her about the PM’s warning not to get emotionally involved with any of his new staff now.

‘Hold on, ’ said Nicolette. ‘Where’s Emma? She lives here, right? You two are married, right?’

Now it was his turn to almost blubber and she was chagrined. ‘Oh no, the nightmare never ends. I need another cognac before you tell me anything.’

He did the pouring. ‘Before I tell you about Emma, I want you to meet someone and don’t get ideas, she is not my girlfriend, nor is she my wife, she is my security officer. We rescued her as we did Sophie-Fleury. She’s right behind you now.’

Nicolette turned and then swooned, he leapt up to catch her.

Sophie came around to Nicolette’s chair, making her scared – she’d recognized Thirteen immediately – but Sophie bent over, put her arms around Nikki and held her, even kissed her on the cheek, Nicolette didn’t know whether she was coming or going. The only thing she could think of was to take another huge swig of brandy, then hold out the glass for more, which Sophie now poured.

‘The world’s gone crazy,’ said Nikki.

‘Sophie, get a chair and sit with us please, you’ll need to tell your tale – the parts you can.’

.o0o.

The tales now all told, the story of Emma’s demise also told, Nikki did not hold that against Sophie, she knew where this thing was, she knew what she would have done too.

‘How many more shocks can you take?’ he asked.

‘One, two, no more, I’ll need to sleep a little bit after that.’

‘There’s only one more. Sophie, will you go and get her?’

Sophie was initially nonplussed but then tumbled to it and went to get Marie-Ange. When they returned, Marie-Ange came round into Nicolette’s line of view and Nikki almost swooned again.

‘This isn’t Emma,’ said Hugh, ‘this is Marie-Ange.’

The three women then launched into a torrent of rapid French, Nikki started to understand and was happy again. Now Sophie immediately dropped into English and said that she and Marie-Ange were going off to watch some TV. Nikki actually made a move to go too but then realized what this was about.

After they’d gone, he said to her, ‘They’re the best, I’m so lucky to have them working as my eyes and ears.’

‘What about you and me then? Are we still married?’

‘We married, didn’t we, it was legal, we’re both alive, end of story.’

‘Mademoiselle and Jean-Claude?’

He told all he knew but had had no real news of the last few days – things had been happening. No, they didn’t work together, not directly now, with them being in London and him up here. They were going to be visiting here when they got back.

‘Nikki, will you let me go now to speak with Sophie and Marie-Ange? I must speak with them to reassure them. Will you let them remain in my employ?’

‘Me allow it?’

‘As my wife, you have rights.’

‘Of course I’m happy with them in those jobs, call me arrogant.’

‘While I do that, Sally will get you settled – will you sleep in our bed tonight?’

Her smile was one of deep relief, as if she’d come home.

.o0o.

‘She is actually my wife, ladies, genuinely, we were married before it happened. I need to know if you feel you can carry on in exactly the roles you’re in. Nikki wants you to and I must have you here, I need you very much.’

They were relieved.

.o0o.

In bed, it was surreal. There were distinct differences, for example none of the frenetic lovemaking of the past … not yet … and they were still wary, it was all so new. He had to be careful now how he held her, they had to make adjustments this way. She was battle worn but so was he.

‘We never had to ask before,’ he said, ‘but we’re in changed circumstances now. What’s your thinking on our lovemaking now? Has it changed?’

‘Changed? I was wondering when we would get to this – I’m fine down there but I’m physically weaker just now, maybe I will get stronger in some weeks. We always worked with each other, let’s do that now and see how it gets better.’

IX

The reunion with the other two was less dramatic than it might have been. Someone had already told Geneviève and Jean-Claude, Sally now appeared with the two of them, Nikki was still in the bedroom.

Introductions were made to Marie-Ange, Geneviève commented on how good Sophie seemed, and now came the princess out of the boudoir and the quirk of the house was that she was at a higher level and had to go down steps to reach them in the garden.

Geneviève could not contain a smile and was the first to [gently] hug her, then Jean-Claude.

They all conversed in French, Hugh got up and helped Sally.

He began to think of next morning, he needed to fly to London for his meeting, these four could amuse themselves for the day, Marie-Ange would come with him though.

X

Hugh and Marie-Ange returned in the evening, Nikki and Sophie had had a grand day apparently, covering much territory.

People now went to bed and her first question was, ‘Tell me about Marie-Ange and you today.’

He lay back. ‘Nikki, I’m one of the most watched people around, that’s why you will hear about everything I do, that’s why someone told you Marie-Ange and I hugged, which they would have called ‘intimate’. But did they also tell you the kiss was on the cheek?

She and I stood in the garden in each other’s arms and I told her the PM had told me not to get emotionally involved with any women because he had a surprise in three weeks – you as it turned out. Same with Sophie – I did not hold her but we shook hands – you will remember that from our first afternoon and it was not the same with her. She also knows what the PM said and is happy to keep it as it is. So am I.’

‘Sophie feels a great deal for you. I also get the idea that she feels something for me too and that’s a surprise. I’m not sure it’s a worry but it’s a surprise – and she turned against Emma?’

‘Sophie feels great loyalty to her rescuers – you actually weren’t her rescuer but you’re with me and so she feels protective towards both of us – yes, it’s her job but it’s also what she wants to do. My job, if I wish to keep these two women here, is to make sure you see it never goes beyond appropriate – I’m not letting you go again and nothing will stand in the way of that. They know that you only need speak to me -’

‘Thank you, Bebe. I see it works with you and them, you feel more comfortable with women like that around but you also know how dangerously you’re living. We never stay the same, things change – there are dynamics with us, Bebe. And there’s something else – both of them are young, of childbearing age – they will not stay with you, I won’t be telling them to go or even hinting at it but one day it will have to come. I just hope you understand that.’

‘I do.’

‘Good, now am I taking over Emma’s role – if not, then what will I be doing? I can’t believe I was exchanged just to make you feel happy.’

‘We’ll be meeting the PM soon enough. Will you do this work?’

‘What else was I born for?’

Chapter 2-21 hereChapter 2-23 here

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