2-23: Celeste

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I

Nicolette now had her own tale to tell.

‘I’m going to tell you many things now, Bebe but before I do, I need you to be clear about these women. I said it was fine and it is but I also told you Sophie is the worry because she has a mother duck syndrome, she loves us too much – it’s not an issue now, only in the future, just remember I’ve told you this, Bebe, I’m just telling you my thoughts. Now, concerning my time in Germany -’

‘Yes.’

She launched into it. ‘I was in a cell block away from other prisoners – it was a political prison, modern, brightly lit. I knew I had to have protection and I chose the least worst. He kept the others away, I was never raped.’

‘You need say no more and be very clear, Nikki – that does not count with me. Thierry, former lovers, those men in your work – it was all somewhere else, not in my head.’

She squeezed him with her good arm, kissed him and her tears fell on his face.

‘The issue,’ he said, ‘is if you still have feelings, want to see him, to continue.’

‘He was similar to you, we tend to choose similar people, he was kind for a political prison guard, he was crazy for me.’

‘You love him?’

‘Yes and no. You had gone, Hugh, I thought maybe forever but … well … have you heard of Stockholm Syndrome?

‘I’ve written on it.’

‘It was a bit that way – he was keeping me intact, alive. His name was Reinhart, five years younger than you. Balding. He kept the young men away. I think he knew he could have what he wanted by not pushing himself on me. He was that word you used – mature. Divorced twice. He proved it one day with documents.’

‘Then he doesn’t quite go in the Thierry category, as this man could still take you from me.’

‘No, he couldn’t, I am not happy with myself the way I used him -’

‘Nikki, no need, truly, I’ve moved on.’

‘All right, Bebe, now tell me why you didn’t like Emma as a person. I think I know why not.’

He sighed. ‘I’m not sure how to say it. I’ll say it but I’m not sure how.’

‘I know Emma inside out, don’t forget, I know exactly what she was like.’

He told her about Genie’s talks with him, also how there were times she, Emma, did not seem loyal – not actually unfaithful, ‘Just not taking my side at critical times. Even coming around to the flat and fellating me – she knew exactly what damage that would cause. I’m not trying to avoid blame -’

‘And I made you pay the hard way. Précisément, Bebe, you have her worked out. And you know me so well by now that I can say she’s not me. I would never have done that on that boat, never.’

‘I need to be fair to Emma. If you take out all the bad things, plus her lack of support for me, when she got into bed with me though – she was like another woman, very caring, working with me, me working with her, it was … so lovely. The Prime Minister was amazed – after it was all over I mean – that I still loved her, that I kept sleeping with her, all the time suspecting she was a traitor. You see, she did love me, Nikki, despite her agenda, I’m sure of it. When we didn’t buy her lust angle, she was really cut up – not just for her agenda, but really cut up that love had gone, that I no longer bought that there had been any.’

‘I know that, darling man and I’m not speaking against that. She was a sleeper, Bebe, like Nadine, like Emmeline and Alana, waiting to be activated, perhaps even having forgotten about it. I feel so bad for her, she had a life in front of her and yet her own nature and her deal with them gave her no future.’

‘I notice a harder edge in your voice now. Is that the trauma, being captured – are you a bit less patient now?’

‘Yes, I’m harder and I’ve been afraid you might not like that and would go a little bit cool on me after the first joy of meeting.’

‘Nikki, we are one, end of story. I prayed for you everyday.’

‘You did?’

‘And look at this. Hold on.’ He went to the top of that cupboard, took out the pouch and the bear and brought them back to her. That did it, she was weeping uncontrollably for ten minutes.

Finally she turned to him, could think of nothing to say and just kissed him to smithereens again.

Then: ‘I’m so tired. May we sleep?’

II

At the next London meeting, Janine waylaid Hugh before he got to see the PM and outlined the scheme they had for the continent.

Said Hugh: ‘But we gave Jannes and Jambres back. It split the Seven, a good result for us, so why does our boss want this now?’

‘He has to show our financial power, that we can still buy our way to them should we so desire. He has to demonstrate his reach in order to buy us all more time – if the EU backers see that we can just walk in and take whoever we want, Jamieson loses much kudos with them. And the PM likes your SSF way of just going in and getting whoever you needed. That caused enormous psychological doubt in the enemy.

And finally, Hugh, Nikki did not come [cough] cheaply.’

‘No, she didn’t, that’s very true. So all we need to do is travel by plane, be collected at the airport in the heartland of our enemies, travel to this house, admiring the scenery along the way and kidnap Celeste Iduna. That’s so insane it might even work.’

‘Have you read the Scarlet Pimpernel?’ she smiled. ‘We know she’ll be there, having returned from Bolivia and as it’s between meetings and High Days and as we shall officially be in London, in the BBC studios for an interview …’

‘Marie-Ange and Sophie? What of them?’

‘Sophie will not go, too dangerous, Celeste will eventually appear at your house – in the grey room – Sophie has to be part of that.’

‘Uh huh – in whose hands is our safety?’

‘In mine. I’m organizing it. Any issue with that?’ He smiled. ‘With one embellishment,’ added Janine, ‘you’re allowed to leave a calling card from Section Sophie-Fleury to rub it in.’

‘When’s it happen?’

‘Two days.’

‘Thanks, Janine. Why not Nicolette? She’s chafing at the bit and is used to that sort of work more than Marie-Ange.’

‘Celeste has no issue with Nicolette, she does with Emma as Belus. Besides, Nicolette is [cough] not altogether whole for this sort of thing, Hugh. Plus she has not yet been debriefed. Plus she might be recaptured and used as a bargaining chip again.’

‘I want to be at her debriefing, do not allow anything to happen to her until I’m back, all right Janine? Please?’

‘Then get back in one piece, with Celeste. You do understand now that Marie-Ange will be ‘Emma’ in Celeste’s eyes, right?’

‘Of course.’

III

Koenigstrasse, from the N8, took them to another turnoff, the Baumweg but from then on, the turnoffs led to unnamed tracks and lanes, finally arriving at two great gates and at their approach, the gates opened away from them, inwards.

If fear had been gnawing at their hearts till this point, it positively leapt into their throats now, Hugh sipped on water and she did the same.

The S400 turned right and made its way, silently, down the cobbled driveway, towards the low fence at the water and then left along the gravel, before pulling up before the grand entrance.

The driver came round to Marie-Ange’s door and ushered her out, Hugh got out. She glanced across and thought they looked a treat, the two of them but both perhaps lacked the height to make a truly grand entrance. Still, it was like a fairytale – either that or their protracted demise, depending on who had betrayed whom.

They had placed their trust in Janine and though she was fine within her own country, how good was she here, in the European heartland? Had she been doublecrossed or did the Scottish money hold good over here? He confessed to himself that though he’d brushed up against the power once or twice, he’d never fully understood the extent of it nor why two people such as Emma and himself could have been of the remotest significance to people in Iduna’s circle.

.o0o.

So, here they were, walking up the steps of the great house and gestured through, the manservant/butler/whatever knocking, opening the carved wood inner door and standing back to allow the two of them to enter.

A woman of maybe 45 was seated at the bay window which gave onto the gravel path and the lake beyond, she turned her head sharply, saw them but not did not immediately recognize them, then did so, gasped and jumped up in anger, called Frederik back, in a shrill voice, presumably to dress him down, Frederik dutifully came through and simply folded his arms.

She was around 168-170 cm, with masses of fair hair, regally swept back and tied up and interestingly, she wore a small, bejewelled bonnet. Not beautiful – yet she was striking, with high cheek bones and an imperious visage, her dark, sleeveless brocade vest was ornate, the billowing sleeves of the blouse white, she was given to gold bracelets, earrings and rings but not excessively so, her figure was fairly standard, her fingers long but not slender.

Iduna looked almost blankly at the manservant, clearly not understanding what he was up to, then her gaze swung round upon them again and they could see the fear clawing up the back of her neck.

‘Oui?’ she began, all hauteur now gone and not sure whether to use English or French, opting for her own tongue.

In English, Hugh said, quietly, ‘Sit, Celeste, please.’

The woman slowly sat back in her chair, half turning to face them. The manservant brought a chair over for ‘Emma’ and she sat in as ladylike a manner as she knew how, another chair was brought for him and he now sat as well.

‘You know who we are … don’t you?’ It was clear that she did but the whole thing was so bizarre, without any sort of warning, all failsafes having failed, that she was severely shaken. She was going to bluff it out though, until she was sure. ‘What do you want? Why are you in my home, like this? Do you understand the consequences of what you have done?’

Hugh smiled and even ‘Emma’ owned that the smile was hideous. This unnerved the woman even more, as she exerted all her willpower upon her hands to stop clutching and unclutching at her brocade dress.

He reached into his frockcoat, took out an envelope and now she was goggle-eyed – how far this had been Janine’s inner knowledge or how far her boss’s, they could not know but it was certainly having an effect on Celeste Iduna. Her cheeks went sallow as she stuttered, ‘How have I offended?’

‘How have The Seven offended all decency, all civility and how have they blighted the lives of billions, even as we speak?’

Fear filled her eyes – that document in his hand was in a form she was quite familiar with and it brought with it … finality. No, she reassured herself, she was needed, her prognostications which only she could deliver, only she had foreseen … but she had not foreseen this.

‘Was this not foretold?’ asked Albus and Celeste had to admit to herself that it had not been – not to her.

‘Japhet … allowed … this? Will it be … quick?’

‘Quite quick.’ ‘Emma’ had risen and gone outside the door, now returning with a goblet, which she offered to Celeste, whose eyes were glued on the demise before her.

‘Drink, the alternative you know well.’ Her shaking hands accepted the goblet, she looked at it, then around at all she’d had, all she had enjoyed … and knocked it back. The drug worked quickly and Iduna collapsed.

IV

February, 2009

Hugh sat with Janine in the outer office, and she explained.

‘Once we ‘confirmed’ she was pregnant by you, by this Albus, she went to pieces and gave the whole game away. She bought that they had betrayed her, realizing she was now a marked person, all powers gone, having been heinously defiled by you -’

‘Most women feel that.’ Marie-Ange looked at him sharply and felt it was in poor taste.

‘She’ll be flown up to you this evening, drugged of course, and put in the grey room.’

.o0o.

When Marie-Ange and he entered the grey room that evening, the woman shrank back against the wall, convinced it was a second rape but when he told her to sit, she was puzzled, curious.

The room, in the shape of an octagon, was empty, save for a glass coffee table and three chairs, it had a white wall at one end and that was that. The two of them sat in chairs opposite her and ‘Emma’ was eyeing her unnervingly, not once wavering in her gaze.

He spoke. ‘We’re not the evil ones, Celeste – Japhet and the Seven are – and deep down, you know very well that they are. The lie you believed for so long is that the world must first suffer, in order to then be brought out of it, and the finest and best survive the holocaust. We, Albus and Belus, are supposed to be the destroyers, the thorns in your side, undoing all your good work of destruction.

Now, ask yourself this question – what actual misery have we caused the ordinary person in Europe – have you ever once stopped and thought about that? We’re going to show you a video now, on that wall over there. It consists of actions of the Seven, followed by footage of what followed their action and short interviews with the victims or the families of the victims. You, Celeste, were part of that.’

.o0o.

When it had finished, she was in total shock. Yes, she’d known about those things from a distance, she’d even told the Seven, in each case, when was the most propitious moment to do it but now she saw and heard the victims and families, she simply couldn’t accept what her actions had caused.

There was a knock on the door, it opened and in walked Sophie on cue, tall, fair, like a panther in her step, dressed in the robes of Thirteen and looking straight at Celeste, ceremonial dagger in her hand. Iduna recognized her instantly, ran for the door and begged them not to leave her there.

Nikki and Hugh shook her off and left the room, Iduna backed against the wall. ‘Sit!’ snarled Sophie. The two outside were ready to tear in if necessary, hoping they’d get to Celeste in time.

Iduna sat. Sophie sat on the coffee table in front of her, one long leg either side of the woman, she took Celeste’s hand with the one not carrying the dagger and, speaking in French, began in a low voice. ‘What you did to me, what all of you did to me, will live in my mind forever but I will not join your circle of hate. I am beyond you now, Celeste, I have power over myself. What you did to me was doubly wrong because we are both women.’

Iduna looked away and Sophie said, ‘Look into my eyes, Celeste.’

‘I can’t.’

Sophie proceeded to tell her all of it – about all the rapes, the blood, the beatings, the torture in the chair and the woman was now in a bad way, Hugh thought it might be time to rescue her.

‘I forgive you,’ said Sophie.

‘You – you forgive me?’

‘Yes. That’s how we do it here. We are vastly better people than your colleagues.’

Iduna broke down, sobbing.

V

Just before Easter, 2009

Celeste Iduna was either on the level or biding her time. She’d basically joined the Citadel, they’d given her enough rope to hang herself and she’d not done so, she’d opened up about the Seven, how they operated, what their relative strength was, what some of their plans were for Europe.

The PM’s sources confirmed it and was delighted how Jamieson and some names not yet uncovered – new names – had surfaced. But far better was the Seven not knowing how much London knew.

As for Celeste, she knew where this thing was – they would be gruesome if they got her, these people here would keep her alive and living in some comfort. This would do for now.

V

They were all seated in the cushioned chairs in the garden. It was Marie-Ange who asked, ‘Do you think we’ve achieved anything at all?’ It was not directed at anyone in particular.

Celeste Iduna said, ‘Hugh clearly has, he’s won some battles, he has Sophie here, he has me, there is Marie-Ange, there are the security people, there is the Citadel – Nicolette is back, she did have the implant but they took that out – but I think you know the forces running the world, the forces against you, are unbeatable by you yourselves. All you can ever have is some victories.’

‘Sophie?’ asked Hugh.

‘Yes, that’s so. I still have one personality in there, you never got him, although I’m almost 100%. You have work ahead, I want to be part of that work, so does Marie-Ange, you can never rest, but if you give them even the slightest chance, they will divide you, Hugh and Nikki, they will separate you from your employer, they will never rest, by night or by day.’

Celeste nodded. ‘Take each day and get what you can from it while you still have it. That’s all I can say. It’s what I am doing. It could all be different this time next year.’

They took a sip of their wine and reflected. Celeste said, ‘When I tell you this next part, you can then never send me back.’

‘No intention of it now,’ said Hugh.

‘Good. I mean it when I say that you cannot win because it’s not just the Seven in Bavaria, it’s global – it’s the UN, every single government has people behind it, directing, controlling. They are everywhere, they are legion. You might ask why such a massive organization, what do they want?’

‘To destroy mankind,’ said Nicolette.

‘And who has the power and the resources and the insanity to want to do that?’

‘A person could get to be religious,’ said Marie-Ange.

‘You already are – you’re Catholic. They’re planning to take government here, your Prime Minister will be out by next year, Mr. Jamieson was the one I was working with. This cannot be stopped, it’s just a question of them trying to make it seem legitimate. They don’t need to but they feel better inside themselves that way.’

‘Celeste?’ asked Hugh, ‘Are you for real? Can you really foretell? Can you really see?’

‘For professional reasons, I say yes. In this company, I say sometimes. If everything seems aligned – and I don’t understand why it is half the time – yes, I can get a good idea. Much of it is my own research and some common sense. These people do not have much of that commodity. If anything, you’ll be good for my professional reputation because you are exactly the organization which has much data at hand.’

‘Then, for whatever reason, how do you expect this to play out?’ [Sophie translated that.]

‘One will come to your organization – efficient, loyal, runs a good ship, not unlike this Emma – but she is a bad person. She is not just a pawn, she is at the head of it all and she will destroy. Subtly, bit by bit. When that happens, you are all to be taken and your employer will fall. That at least is the plan.’

‘Nice.’

‘Bad times are coming for the world but you – and I hope also me – will be stronger and we will not be taken, because you also will be able to see, as I do. There are also too many women here – you need some men.’

They all smiled at that but Celeste was not joking.

VI

It was Sophie who knocked on their door next morning and said that Janine needed to speak.

He got up, threw on the robe and went to the garden, opened the transponder and called. ‘Hugh, two more of your early warners are down.’

He swore, Janine admonished him. ‘Who?’

‘Ray Lucas, George Rondell.’

‘Level 4s. It was Level 3s last time. Damn, damn and damn. Do we know how?’

‘The Prime Minister was rather hoping you’d be able to tell him. He wants you – and your Nicolette – down here by two.’

‘Nikki?’ he called as he headed for the bedroom.

VII

The Prime Minister just looked at both of them, but particularly at Nicolette.

‘Hugh, where do you manage to find them? Have you a mortgage on the beauties of the world or what?’

‘Careful, Nikki, this is an overture from a wily charmer of old.’

‘So, down to business. You’re under siege, what are you doing about it?’

‘This one wasn’t clever, it’s been attended to, there’ll be more. And that brings us to Nicolette.’

‘Indeed it does. The odds on someone from the same Section in France – well, it doesn’t bear thinking about. Point is, I understand that you were the doer, Madame, the practical one who stepped in and took over, dropped back after it, could do this and that – am I right?’

‘I’ll answer that,’ said Hugh, ‘she’s too shy.’ The PM looked at her and she nodded. ‘Yes, I’m too shy.’

‘Well, well. Three days, Hugh, that’s all you and Mme Jensen have for an utter overhaul and I want you here the third afternoon at 16:00. Now, Nicolette – you’d best get out to Janine and do all the signing up things – I take it you want -’ she smiled and he almost fell for that smile ‘- so that’s good, off you go.’

After she’d departed, he sat back, pulled out a bottle and two glasses and poured.

‘Upset?’

‘Devastated, they were two of the best, we trained them up, it was a stupid error of both to have made – procedural.’

‘Will it happen again?’

‘Not in the short term.’

‘How I see it too. Nicolette, she is stunning, quite frankly, forgive me for saying so – she is actually your wife?’

‘She is – we’ll reaffirm soon.’

‘That will be at your place, in the garden, ten guests maximum – make your list up and submit it to Janine. How is she really, this Nicolette? Operationally?’

‘She ran the Section, sir. You had it right about Genie and Emma but Nikki was always in the background, pulling strings, stepping in when needed. She also killed three men from the back of a car in Prague who tried to kidnap her.’

‘Heard about that. Feisty lady.’

‘Sir, you’re onto a winner here, she’s the real deal but you knew that – you wouldn’t have used Jambres otherwise. I owe you my life, sir. So does Nikki.’

‘Good man. Get down here again three days from now. Another?’

‘Thanks sir but no.’

VIII

When they got to the rabbit warren called their office, they realized quickly where it had gone wrong on Lucas and Rondell. Emma had done some first class work in building the personnel – Levels One to Four – appropriate training, Paul Waley the boffin in charge of encryption and other coding – he was still there and was the goods too.

All of that was fine but Emma, with her diversionary people skills and ability to look for loopholes, had built in some backdoors whereby, if naughty people [or even idiots] got in there or were invited, things could quickly go pearshaped, providing they covered themselves with some good work as well.

And in that place, there’d been four such people.

This was a common motif with the enemy – not to directly bring down but to build in fault lines under the guise of lapse of concentration, even incompetence, which would lead to others bringing the system down, while the real Macavities were by then far away. It took great patience and a certain arrogance, plus complete dissembling.

The PM’s people, plus Hugh and Nikki, had not fully addressed Emma’s treachery and this they were now painstakingly doing – where her barriers could not be cracked, Paul just deleted the lot and they built from scratch again.

Naturally, most staff were a bit nervous about this complete rebuild and that’s where Nikki, the manager, excelled – she had Emma’s social skills – the ability to placate and reassure without soft-soaping. She came over as genuine and as far as could be seen – she was.

Emma had never been a boffin herself and neither had Nikki but they’d both had the knack of gathering boffins about them. The solution was to allow Paul Waley to build in safeguards, which then shifted the focus to his own bona fides. Hugh determined to change these things every six months.

It was going to take seven weeks minimum this time around.

.o0o.

They’d gathered together a good staff – Paul Waley already there. Hard to describe his function at the Citadel – Chief Hacker, he called himself.

Actually, Jackson Carter called him Bugs Bunny, on account of his slightly protruding teeth and his habit of gnawing a pen he never used – he was always on the Servocom, programming in something or other he’d dreamed up. What a classic scenario for taking over the country. What a classic scenario for enriching himself beyond his wildest dreams. And yet his twenty-seven years had anchored to them a moral underpinning which had been sniffed out immediately by the Meteor.

His parents had been personal friends of the Meteor long ago. There were few skeletons in that family’s cupboard and the fact that there had been any skeletons at all was quietly reassuring, to tell the truth. They weren’t the perfect family – just typical, that was all. Paul couldn’t actually see the point of living a life on the run, and the squillions he’d been offered meant nothing to him.

He didn’t want to go down in history as the mole, the white ant, he wanted to go down as the formidable techno-defender of the team, the one past whom nothing ever got – the one who found out in the end.

Rosa was the first of the new lot. An auburn haired lady of thirty-eight, married for eight years but no kids. Rosa was no looker but she scrubbed up well enough and handled Operations with quiet aplomb, revelling in the lack of drama at this place.

Jackson Carter was second – he’d always had to live down his name. Thirty-five years old, with a now receding hairline, there’d always been an expectation attached to his sobriquet which produced acute disappointment in those who met him. Once he’d cared about it but it didn’t concern him now.

He was the fixer or minder who worked in with the PM’s Doug Baines as nominal drivers … but much more of course.

Also in the upper level was Celeste – but in a peripheral, all-seeing capacity, an advisor on the enemy, plus Sophie and Marie-Ange. Sophie, as had been intended from the start, took care of Hugh’s and Nicolette’s personal security and the latter took care of home matters. While Sally did the domestic side, Marie-Ange essentially ran the domestic show.

In short, it worked, the PM started to relax, Jamieson received a few bloodied noses when some item of treachery was tracked back and sheeted home to him and the quest to close up security loopholes went on.

Nicolette was beside herself in actually being waited on for once in her life – for so long the doer for others, every time she went to do something now, she was gently shooed back to her seat. Sometimes Sally used the help – Nikki did eclipse Emma in the eyes of the staff.

Hugh kept telling her though and she kept telling him back – that this thing was not going to last, it would be a grievous error to start playing Lord and Lady Muck, so let’s enjoy it while it lasts, and stay humble.

.o0o.

They thought best in the garden but when at work – in Eden.

The buildings housing the section either side of the cobblestoned Rohan Row were a sprawling, higgledy-piggledy line of afterthoughts and the main, central stateroom had been added to and extended over the years, in a haphazard manner – they were the old customs offices.

The result was that metal skyways were required between some buildings and these raised three problems – they were the perfect access points for terrorists, they were the perfect target points for snipers and they were just plain rickety and dangerous.

Money had been expended by previous occupants on rebuilding and enclosing the narrowest of these but there was one point, just beyond the end of the stateroom currently occupied by Hugh, where the building was irregular and the fabric was in a greater state of disrepair.

Rosa hit on a plan to rebuild and enclose this rickety space into a sort of terrace, maybe with a few pot plants and what not and they might take morning and afternoon tea there. It could also double [amusing, this] as a place to entertain dignitaries of a less hidebound variety. It was an area without electronic bugs.

Hugh immediately embraced the idea, Nikki two weeks ago had begun to bring it to fruition and now, constructed in hardwood planking, with cement rendered walls covering two and a half sides and with a pergola 10 feet above, it was their pride and joy.

Nikki was turning it into a veritable jungle – it wasn’t just flora she’d brought in but she encouraged fauna as well and all manner of birds chirped and chirruped, pecking at little string bags of peanuts, cavorting and splashing around the edges of the birdbath, until it had got on Rosa’s nerves.

‘The city has a bird problem, Nikki – excrement and damage costing millions each year, and here you are encouraging the little varmints.’

‘They’re blue tits, Rosa, not varmints.’

‘Whatever.’

Hugh only drew the line at pets.

Mindful of the gift Eden afforded enemies of the state – it was the perfect setup to wipe out an entire department, Hugh now negotiated for the CAS to send in their boys in a fullscale dummy hit – helicopters, cable droplines, snipers, the lot.

That was four days ago and the report had spawned a procedure which went into effect every time Eden was used.

On a default basis, minor operatives took care of the flora and fauna but others were already seconded at sniper points on rooftops and at ground level – there were even three anti-aircraft nests at strategic points around the building. These had preceded Eden.

Nikki today carried three coffees, Hugh was standing over by the railing, some peanuts in his hand, encouraging a blue tit who’d perched on his shoulder to venture down his arm for a shot at the treasure. From his puckered lips, little tch tch noises emanated.

She slipped into the wicker chair and observed one half of the PM’s distant early warning in action. He turned and smiled sheepishly back at her.

‘Say hello to Nikki, Florence.’

‘Florence?’

The door from the inside corridor slid open and Rosa stepped out onto the balcony, efficiently businesslike, Florence squawked and flew off in terror. Hugh sighed and joined them at the table, Rosa sitting and brushing away the most persistent blue tit, who flew off to join his compatriots.

They got down to business. There were two places they could speak freely – one was out here but the other was [cough] quite bizarre.

His eccentricity and penchant for lateral solutions, verging on the comically absurd, had brought in a secure communication system he called the Cones of Silence, based on the old ’70s U.S. spy comedy Get Smart.

Up to four operatives could sit under these bullet proof, sound proof perspex helmets, linked by perspex tubing, no electronics involved and yet they were surprisingly effective. Also, no one was physically in any position to copy anything down nor push any buttons, being within full view of the others.

From outside, any conversation came out garbled.

But the sight of four grown people sitting under divers’ helmets in a security section office was nothing short of surreal and Nikki had advised him not to make too much of this device in front of the PM.

IX

July, 2009

Celeste and Sophie knocked on the bedroom door and were called in. As they often did, as they were 24/7 requested to do if it were necessary, they drew chairs up to the bed, Hugh and Nicolette propped up, listening.

‘There’s an attack coming,’ said Celeste. Sophie nodded. ‘They’ll hit Citadel communications once they’ve worked on Nicolette enough.’

‘I’ll explain that, love, once Celeste has finished. Sources, ladies?’ Sophie handed over a one page summary. Not good. So it seems the first real test for you two – your loyalty – or in Sophie’s case, since the Loire – is about to befall us. Any time frame?’

‘They have to work on Ms Nicolette first.’

‘Maybe they’ve started – who’s a non-staffer who may have been seconded, sent up, whatever?’

‘Chris Jones,’ said Nikki immediately, ‘and I’ve already become friendly.’ Sophie nodded to Hugh and Nikki resented it.

‘We think sometime in August,’ added Celeste. ‘We think it must augur well before they start.’

‘Anything more, ladies?’

They shook their heads and went off for breakfast. He looked at Nikki, smiled and hugged her. ‘All right, I’m waiting for it.’

She was a bit peeved. ‘I don’t like the understanding between you two. Over me.’

‘Stay here.’ He went to the top drawer and got an A4 envelope, brought it back and handed it to her.

Nicolette began to read about all the failsafes the PM’s office had listed for each of them, that Nicolette was still on probation, that Hugh was not to shortcut any checks on anyone. ‘Same as he told me about you, Bebe.’ She read on about each of their roles and what they entailed.

‘All right, Bebe but let’s just say Sophie relished that look of yours.’

‘Will you listen to me on this?’ She nodded. He recounted the times Emma had been compromised, how he’d been asked, in London, about what he was doing about it. ‘Emma said at the time that she didn’t know how much longer she could stand all this. And this Jones was the one involved.’

‘I see that, Bebe, I know this Chris Jones is insinuating himself into me and he’s obviously the type of person I’ve known before – they’ve done their homework. But I am not Emma.’

‘There was a woman I took to Moran’s – smart, liked sailing so she said, interesting, I thought well, it couldn’t hurt just going to Moran’s, not just for a business lunch. Oh yes it did hurt – she was in, filing a complaint to Jamieson. The breakdown started the day Emma tried to solve matters on her own and didn’t tell me about it, especially about Jones.’

‘You needn’t tell me any more – I’m with you on this, I am not Emma. But I also need you to set Sophie straight though. I’m not putting up with that.’

‘I have done so already and will do so again now. She and I spoke and I said you were my one and only, that whatever feelings of gratitude I had for her, Sophie, and vice-versa, it had to stay professional. I do need her as our security as she’s fearless and uncompromising – she sees this as her mission, she’s scathing about Emma and how poorly I foresaw it. She detests the enemy. She sees it as more than just a job. I’ll speak to her again though.’

There was a knock on the door. It was Sophie.

‘I promise I wasn’t listening in, I went to my room, thought about Ms Nicolette’s reaction to my nod, I wanted to set the record straight so I came back now and I’ve just heard the last part, about professionalism. Ms Nicolette, I have much to thank Mr. Jensen for but I completely accept that you are Mr. Jensen’s wife and his only focus. I hope you can accept that I only want to do my job and do it well, because your security is involved too.’

Nikki climbed out, went over and hugged her. ‘I’m so glad this has happened now because they’re going to try to split us all.’ Nicolette now stepped back. ‘Sophie, you were so quiet you know, like a panther.’

Sophie smiled. ‘It’s been mentioned before. I’ll leave you in peace now.’

Nicolette turned to him and was clearly happier about things. Sometime in the next half hour, he suddenly came out with a question.

‘I know it might upset you but you’re really the only one on the planet I can ask this of – I know what your trauma was, and Genie’s, and Emma’s, I know most of now, but there’s always been one person I never asked, and still don’t know what her trauma was.’

‘Franka. She commented on that a few times. No mystery, same as Anaïs – bad choice of partners. Do you need the fine detail?’

‘No, just curious. I’m not sure I like being on that list.’

‘You weren’t, not in her book.’

‘How do you feel in general about men? Franka said you hated men.’

She breathed out slowly. ‘This a serious question or just making conversation?’

‘You know me, I really need to know why things work, what makes them tick, why things are what they are.’

‘Just like me. Goodness, what can I say? Do I hate your sex as such?’ She thought about it. ‘I find men on the whole kinder, nicer, more simple, I’ve known many vicious, scheming women but then there’s Jamieson, I know the vices of both sexes – men’s egos are so annoying too, the territorial way they stand in a space and occupy it, as if it’s theirs -’

‘You’re not alone in that, love.’

‘Good, good. The worst thing with men is when they approach you as if you’re going to swoon at their feet. Their logic goes – she’s pretty, I’m in love, therefore she’ll find me attractive -’

‘I know it well.’

‘It’s that, Bebe, and when it crosses the line to them touching me and thinking they have every right because they themselves are attracted – that makes me almost want to kill. It’s that type I detest, it’s that type I brought down. With you, sometimes you stop too soon because you’re frightened to upset me – that’s also not good but I’d rather that than the other. You’re not too bad that way you know,’ she smiled. ‘Anaïs said you were housetrained and that’s only half amusing. I like that you’ll listen to me, I think that’s the main thing but I also know I’m forever speaking of this and that and I accept you can’t take in everything, so sometimes you say, ‘Yes darling, yes darling,’ and I know to get off the topic.’

‘I believe we’re speaking now of the most important thing perhaps. I’ve been called an old woman or just a woman by quite a few, even women, but if it will help keep your eyes on me, then why not?’

‘Yes, you wouldn’t want to go too much more womanly and when something has to be done, you suddenly become male again, so that’s all right.’ She laughed. ‘What brought this on?’

‘I don’t know, I was just thinking.’

‘As I do most waking moments. Do I exhaust you?’

‘You take work to maintain, so do I. Jean-Claude told me, after that Constanze letter, never to stop, that I had to keep doing that with you to keep you.’

‘You do have this fear of losing me and it’s good and it’s bad. I want you to stop that fear but at the same time, not become complaisant – as long as I see at least a little bit of anxiety now and then, that you do care about losing me … you won’t. I’m sure it’s that way for you too – just that middle way. My fear is your other women because you choose only good ones to be near and a good woman is a rival, whatever you say. I put up with Sophie and Marie-Ange because I do see that they do their jobs well and they’re respectful. Just for now, mind you. I’m not so sure you’d allow some good men around me – just think that one through, darling man.’

‘I have thought it through, I do think of that and I don’t like the idea of you and male accolytes all around you, so why should I have these two? If it becomes an issue – and I think it’s my behaviour here and what I allow those two to do – then your word is final, be clear about that.’ He looked at her. ‘Yes, Nikki, I know this is a live issue.’

‘As long as you’re aware of that any time you’re near them. Now let’s get onto something more pleasant.’

.o0o.

The house staff were assembled in the garden, in the light of the current situation.

‘Every little annoyance, every little query,’ said Hugh to the assembled gathering including the two guards Ray and Dave, has to be dealt with. I know you won’t tell me many things personally because of my position, so tell someone else – tell Nikki, tell Sophie, tell someone you feel you can – and that person will help set it straight. Every person is authorized if he or she sees something strange or wrong. We rely heavily on Sally for this.’ Sally expressed her thanks.

Nicolette stepped in. ‘Nothing is offlimits and I mean this, including me, after Ms Emma. If I’m doing something I shouldn’t, then you must tell someone about it, if Hugh is – the same, if any one of you is – the same.’

‘In fact,’ added Hugh, ‘let’s make this quite clear – we are employing you specifically on the basis that you will report something, not keep it inside. If you fear for your job, then don’t fear on that basis. You can quote this meeting any time you need to.’

There were nods all around.

‘How trivial can it be?’ asked Ray.

‘If it could be a dangerous breach, come directly to Nikki or to me. If it’s a minor annoyance, choose whoever you’d want to tell. Use your discretion but do tell someone. It’s only logical, isn’t it – we all want a good working environment, maybe not bitchiness but also not covering up bad.’

X

Back from the following day in the Citadel, all things done, nightcaps had, the two of them retired for the night, she asked immediately. ‘Will they tell all?’

‘Dave will, not sure about Ray, the women all will.’

‘I agree. Celeste said you had too many women here.’

‘Have you counted them – four women, seven men.’

‘She means at our level.’

‘Women are far more deadly, they take care of details, they notice subtleties. The boys are good for the heavy stuff, for building and mechanical things, often for inventive solutions, they make good mates, good to escape to from the women now and then but you’re referring again, I think, to what we spoke of yesterday, about our two. You want me to bring men in at our level, yes?’

‘If one appears from time to time, if he would not come onto me, someone like Paul Waley for example – and I mention him because he is unlikely in my eyes – then of course I would not say no but I know you’re much more sensitive to this than I am to your two. Now for a different question – what on earth is this Citadel all about?’

‘A smokescreen, Nikki, an exercise, a way of flushing out the baddies – it ended up flushing out Emma.’

‘And this enemy within? I could tell you now who that is.’

‘Then tell me why we’re going softly softly?’

‘To find out how high this person is.’

‘Plus any connections, who comes into the Citadel to try it on, e.g. Chris Jones, all of that, plus the exercise of setting up a section in itself, to put the wind up the enemy and keep them guessing – many reasons.’

‘Will the Prime Minister keep us on afterwards?’

‘You tell me.’

‘There are people who are solid -’

‘We would call them ‘sound’ in English.’

‘Yes and those who are not sol … sound. I would like to think we were sound.’

‘Yes, we’re only as good though as the work we do and our loyalty. Janine is too, also Sophie, I’m still deciding on Marie-Ange.’

‘But not Celeste,’ she smiled, ‘because of her comment on too many women?’

‘Possibly but also because she introduced it out of context, as Emma did – I saw parallels, it did not help. Celeste needs to be employed but used sparingly – the PM and I are not 100% about her yet. How about you?’

‘I agree – she’s not completely ‘of us’ yet.’

‘And one other thing – I do understand you agreed with her comment but also consider this – if Celeste is not entirely of us and she wanted to sow some discord, how to do that? Bring in people who would disrupt the harmony. The enemy haven’t been able to break this house so far but they have the Citadel. Celeste’s ex-people would dearly love to sow discord in this house too. As I say, I take your point but there is also this factor.’

‘Noted and agreed with.’ She rested her hand on his forearm. ‘Sally?’

‘You tell me.’

‘She’s excellent.’

‘Yes she is. Dave’s good too, I trust him. Ditto with Doug. This is what it’s all about, isn’t it – trust.’

‘Let’s make love.’

Chapter 2-22 hereChapter 3-1 here

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