Nicolette came back through with the wine, glasses and a tray of munchies, she’d heard the phone call, she quietly put the tray down on the side table and now repeated the careful disrobing, folding and placing of the clothes on the chair.
She turned, pulled back the bedding, pulled down his boxers as he lifted his body, he awaited her lips, instead she stepped onto the bed, one knee either side of him, pausing for him to object, she lifted it into place, still watching and then slowly lowered herself, observing him the whole time – the feeling made his eyes close, the heat – her heat.
‘Mademoiselle is not going to answer your call this evening. I know exactly where she is and what she’s doing, I’m angry beyond words. Emma begged me not to do this but she knew the agreement was over.’
‘Nikki, wait. I get the idea Genie is with him now.’ She said nothing. ‘OK, we have the right but is this the right way for us to start?’
‘I think we’ve already started, my darling,’ she grinned. He had to own that that was so. ‘Listen, Bebe,’ she continued, ‘I’m in this for far higher stakes than anger and revenge, far higher stakes than just sex but I see before me un homme ambivalent. I am not playing a game with you, Hugh, so please don’t play a game with me. It’s a simple enough question – do you want me and me alone as your woman? Yes or no?’
‘Of course I do but for the Section to go on, she must have her say, as agreed. I’m not going to tell her it’s over just yet -’
‘That’s what I asked you to do but in your head and heart, is your direction towards me?’
‘You know it is, you know that I know there can be no games with us, otherwise we lose the other – neither of us is all that forgiving.’
She gazed down at him. ‘All right, Bebe, what follows now is my response to your words.’
She started sliding up and down, it became bouncing, hard at the hilt but very careful near the top, she was consummate in everything she did – he went over the top within a minute.
She nodded her approval and lay beside him. ‘Good. Tell me if you like this next one, be very patient. Rest your hand on my head when I do it.’
She curled up across the bed, facing away, laying her head across his abdomen, she took it all in her mouth, not moving, not working him. He placed his hand on her head and after some one and a half minutes or so, somewhere there, a mighty long time, she did start working him furiously with tongue and lips – the result welled up and she also felt the tremor through the hand on her head.
Still she did not withdraw, she just kept it there another two minutes and he could feel it dripping onto his skin.
She did finally withdraw and lay beside him again, silent for some twenty seconds, having the decency not to kiss him with his residue but still it dripped onto his chest.
‘I could have kept you in there for hours … for hours and hours, I was comfortable … maybe I’d need to speak or cough or get us something to eat but you know what I mean. Does that tell you anything?’
He was lost for words. ‘Nikki, that was almost … pornographic. I know you haven’t done porn, you don’t watch it – I asked Francine – do all those ideas just come into your head?’
‘I swear they do but girls also talk, don’t we, we discuss things. Ask Emma. I needed to know if you could take that or not, that’s why I’m doing all this now. Because if you can take my ways, then I can relax and you’re all I want.’
He just looked at her, silently delighted. ‘Oh yes,’ she went on, ‘people have such strange ideas. You’re not big, you’re medium, you’re not fast, you’re medium but what makes you so good is that you listen to me, learn from me, you do what is necessary, you read my signals, you do what it takes at that moment. And now tell me who else was like that with you?’
Gobsmacked again. She added, ‘Ksenia?’
‘How could you know that?’
‘Tell me about it.’
He explained the scene in the dacha over those days, how she’d husbanded him, managed him.
Said Nikki, ‘To answer your question – I knew that, I met her, she was a clever one, she cared, though she put on that act. I do this thing you call husbanding too.’
‘I know, I know.’
‘I also know that during this thing you call missionary, your back is straining – I don’t want that. I like it for myself, it would be nice to look at you and see it disappearing and reappearing but I’m not going to get your full power that way with you in gyps. Better is both of us lying on our sides, then you can put all your energy into one place and I can push back against you. We get an hour out of that, only 30 minutes out of the other. Now tell me why I like to start it each time?’
‘Confirmation that things are fine and ready to go, you also like this husbanding idea.’
‘Exactly. See how we learn from each other? Now why would I want to lose that? It’s not logical.’
He couldn’t think how to reply, so he kissed her instead.
After her next outrage involving some heavy work on his part which exhausted him, she lay beside him and spoke again.
‘There are so many things to ask – may I?’ He smiled. ‘I know now how often you can go, you know I’m happy with this, now let me get onto non-sexual things. You think I’m trying to make your apartement my own and to a point, yes, I’d like my presence to be here – you said it was one thing you loved. My own apartement- we discussed this, Bebe – it is not suitable as it’s the first refuge for the girls, it would not be good for us to be there. I don’t want to change everything in your life, I want you as you are but some things make life better – do you mind my ideas?’
‘Mind? With your taste, how could I refuse? People pay money for such advice.’
She let her breath out and relaxed. ‘I do want Mademoiselle to see my presence here, I confess that – that’s just girls’ business. But there are some things I’d like to suggest. I should have done it before we started, I just forgot, I didn’t get around to it.’
She jumped off and went to her bag, rummaged round and brought out two packs – they were both a pair of boxers. One set was navy, monogrammed, clearly for special occasions and the other was fairly ordinary, almost disposable.
‘The lesser ones – take one pair out.’
He did and there was an open, wrap-over fly. ‘Ah.’ He’d tumbled to it.
‘You see, I must clean this bedding each time and as I’m the one who knows what I’m going to do with you, then this makes it easier for me, plus there’s something else.’
She went over to the bag again and extracted a pack of four light acrylic covers. ‘May we put one on now because I’m just about to do something to you which will require this.’
He just grinned and shuffled off the bed, watching her fold the duvet, unwrap the cover and throw it over. He just adored her, she picked up on that, now smiling that little girl smile when she was pleased, a smile he wanted to see produced over and over and over again.
‘Are you really all right with me telling you to do this and that?’
‘Nikki, you only do something when it needs doing – every other time you ask me before. I am in your hands, I’ll just play my part – I’ll even lead when it’s time for that.’
‘Now that you’re standing, can you stay up?’ He nodded and she dropped to her knees.
About 00:15 according to the clock radio, he was pretty well spent, her body, lips, fingers, soul had worked him over to exhaustion and she seemed a bit puffed as well.
‘I can’t keep up this level all the time, Bebe, you understand this was a special occasion, I had to know how long you could go for with your body – in gyps too,’ she chuckled. ‘Now it’s time for you to ask me any questions you have. Do you have some?’
He thought. ‘Not for now. If I think of some, I’ll store them up.’
‘The serious business, darling man, is about to begin. I’m phoning Mademoiselle now, this has to be done, please let me do it.’ As if he’d even dare try to prevent her.
She stretched out her hand for her mobile, called Geneviève, lay back, waited for the answer machine beep and said, ‘Sorry, Mademoiselle – Francine saw you on rue St. Germaine … with Philippe!’ she almost screamed. ‘Hugh was waiting for you to come back and he left you a message, which you did not reply to. So, while you are making love to Philippe tonight, I shall be taking care of Hugh.’
She closed the mobile, laid it on the sidetable and asked, ‘Shall we get some sleep? You want?’
Elaine arrived at midnight at the door of a room on the fourth floor of a cheap hotel in the 19ème arrondissement. She’d taken all the necessary precautions, backtracked, changed transportation, the usual rigmarole, and now she knocked on the door and a voice bade her come in.
The man was tall and handsome, aware of his immense power, especially over a broken piece of baggage like this. Today he looked out of character in his rugby top – still, it was a designer top. His jeans and his shoes spoke of a world far away from a dive such as this. His face was suave and craggy – quite personable, except for the cruel intensity of the eyes, eyes which spoke of a soul long sold, and of the inevitable, weary, sanitized, high-toned bestiality of his existence.
The girl before him was an object – a delectable object and yet – an object. She’d come to him – sooner or later Geneviève would come to him.
After he’d dressed and gone, Elaine collected her things and went straight to Emma’s apartment in the middle of the night, calling from outside her apartment door, buzzing wildly and waking the neighbours.
The moment Emma answered, yawning and in her nightdress, Elaine went through to the bathroom to put disinfectant on her wounds, Emma put through a call to Geneviève, most upset.
Next morning, with Philippe having departed, Geneviève listened to the three messages on her answer machine.
The first was from Hugh: ‘Genie, I think you’d better get here now – there are serious issues at stake about you and me, immediate issues, urgent. At a minimum, call me.’ Damn, damn. All right, she’d have to go to him and possibly tell him the truth.
The second was from Nikki, at 00:27 – did the girl never sleep? ‘Sorry, Mademoiselle – Francine saw you on rue St. Germaine … with Philippe! Hugh was waiting for you to come back and left you a message, which you did not reply to. So, while you are making love to Philippe tonight, I shall be taking care of Hugh.’
Just that. She held her head in her hands, utterly devastated, she had to get to him quickly, particularly as she now, at last, saw her way forward.
The third message was from Emma, distraught, something she almost never was. ‘Come immediately, Mademoiselle, Elaine’s been with him.’
Hugh or Elaine first? There really was no choice. She hurriedly made ready and rushed to Emma’s apartment, got there around 10:00 and took Elaine with her, by taxi, back to her own apartment.
Geneviève stood in her living room, gazing out of her panelled window onto the avenue below – the row of green bins, the cobblestoned road and wet grey footpaths, the line of bare elms, each set in its little square of earth, the row of parked cars, mainly Citroens, Peugeots and Renaults.
The square she could see fifty metres up on the right, with its brasserie, glass phoneboxes and green port-a-loos – all this she’d looked out on for years.
Even the greying walls and ornate architecture had burnt into her brain – it was her Paris, right here. To the left, towards the road down to the Seine, was the little Parc de Heroes, with its low, wrought iron fence and hedge and modest plaque of remembrance, where she’d never walked a baby carriage nor sat on the curved planking bench a moment to breathe and take in life a little.
Elaine was observing her, carefully. She wanted to love – if only Mademoiselle knew just how much and yet that particular emotion had been brutalized out of her long ago.
‘Elaine, don’t make me do it. Chaton, do you honestly believe he cares? Look at yourself.’
‘You don’t understand, Madem –’
‘Ho-hum, the eternal line, Elaine – arcane knowledge, not granted to ordinary mortals – you forget he was my lover, as well.’
‘Non, Mademoiselle, I have not forgotten.’
‘If I go to him, if you make me do this, Elaine, he’ll destroy me and then discard you. Then you’ll finally know, but it will be too late. You want to destroy me, do you?’ Elaine was silent, choked.
‘All right, tell him I’ll come.’
The burly frame of Senior-Sergeant Fournier entered the brown-doored office on the third floor of the ramshackle building they were pleased to call their workplace. ‘Solid’ was an apt description for Fournier, compared to the gaunt frame of the Inspector.
In those few seconds, observing Guiscard dictating a report, Jacques reflected on the Inspector. His wife of fifteen years, Francesca, originally from Genoa, had contracted breast cancer and died two years ago – Guiscard had never recovered from that blow -they’d been unable to have children.
It was unfair to say that the Inspector was a shadow of his former self and yet, Jacques concluded, the man could have done with a woman in his life. The whole section would benefit by that, not just Guiscard himself. Plus, he was getting on – the late-forties was no time for complacency in an unattached man.
That thought had crossed the mind of Guiscard as well. As an archetypal Frenchman, which custodians of the nation’s security tended to be, he held similar views on womanhood to Hugh Jensen and also had the same unfortunate habit of placing women on a pedestal. Basically, they were both modest men in terms of their achievements but Jean-Claude was French and that gave him an advantage over Hugh in his view, especially where French women were involved.
He’d like to explore the motivation of M. Jensen a little further – maybe he could befriend him, the man clearly needed male, as well as female company. To surround yourself with women, too many women – well, eventually you become a woman yourself.
As far as he could see, the only male acquaintances Hugh Jensen knew were at the fitness club on rue de Charenton he’d frequented up to the road crash, where his Sergeant also trained, preferring the anonymity of a pay club to the police facilities. With Jacques Fournier, Jean-Claude suspected the female element played a key role as well.
The Inspector saw him at the door. ‘Any progress, Jacques?’
‘Mlle Vasseur is with M. Jensen, Mlle Lavacquerie has Mlle Cabrel with her at her own flat. The latter was with le Roux last night.’
‘Eric’s in place?’
‘He’s the perfect head waiter, sir, nothing’s too good for M. le Roux when he graces Café Noir with his presence. Eric’s attention is assiduous – to a fault.’
Guiscard smiled. The thing about Jacques was that he had initiative, he didn’t need to wait to be told if he saw something needed doing. Regrettably, with that level of talent, he’d be moving on sooner or later and he, Jean-Claude, would do everything in his power to further the man’s career.
Reflecting on le Roux, it was interesting that he’d chosen a comparatively down market little café to conduct business from, dominating that raised mezzanine at the rear.
Maybe he enjoyed the particular ambience, maybe the cuisine. Could the attraction possibly include the waitresses? The waitresses, now – that was a point worth following up, maybe one of them was the key. M. Jensen frequented that café too and according to Eric, had something going with one of the waitresses – a plain girl by all accounts but she adored her M. Jensen.
He’d need to speak with Jules Colbert, Café Noir just one of his numerous establishments. Jules and he went back a long way, both men connoisseurs of fine things, especially of old clocks as it happened. Yes, a little word with Jules, face to face, was indicated, over a late lunch would be best.
He made some calls and departed.
An interesting scene presented itself once Guiscard was relieved of his coat and seated at the second best table in Café Noir. Eric’s attention was one thing but when Jules Colbert himself emerged from the kitchen and seated himself at his customer’s table, engaging in earnest bonhomie over the coming repast, Pierre le Roux was more than bemused, he was quite definitely intrigued.
Clearly, here was a man of substance, someone of quite eminent importance but who the hell was he? To le Roux, he seemed a glorified policeman, a lean, hungry dog, and yet the man’s attire belied that notion – his tie, his shoes, le Roux recognized them. He’d have to monitor the wine selection – that would tell much.
‘What’s your special today, Jules?’ The man was using the restaurateur’s prenom.
‘Will you leave it in my hands?’
It was a different Nicolette who got off the mobile from Francine at 10:42. Francine hadn’t divulged a lot but she hadn’t needed to, Nikki was more than capable of putting two and two together.
‘What is it?’ asked Hugh, as she gnawed her lower lip and paced about.
‘It’s Elaine. Mademoiselle is going to do something stupid and I can’t stop her – I can find her, oui, I can take her away, oui. Then she’ll escape and do it all over again.’
‘Do what? Is Geneviève in danger?’
‘Very great danger.’
‘And you can do nothing to help?’
‘No one can.’ Nicolette paused and felt further explanation was necessary. ‘Both of them, Mademoiselle and Elaine, had things done to them long ago.’
‘And you didn’t?’
‘Not that, something else happened with me.’
‘Too enigmatic, Nikki – when will you open up?’
‘When I have permission.’
‘Will they kill her?’
‘He, not they … he. Only from within, slowly, he’s going to empty her of her soul.’
‘But that’s outrageous. We go and take him now.’ He went to get up but, in his gyps, it was no difficult matter for her to use her weight to prevent him. ‘Nikki, no matter how devastating these people seem, no matter how invincible, there’s a simple truth – if they’re human, there must be a weakness, we just need to find it.’
She was silent.
‘You just said it, Hugh. ‘If they’re human.’ We can’t go to her. For a start, we don’t know where she is – she’s shut off her mobile and the answer machine is on at her flat. Mademoiselle will eventually phone us and there’s absolutely nothing either of us can do until she does.’
‘Maybe the Inspector would know, let’s phone him.’
He reached out, took the receiver and made the call.
‘Oui? M. Jensen? Oui, we’re searching for her now. We have some ideas … I understand that but you’d accept, I think, that le Sûreté knows the streets of Paris a little better than you perhaps? … Oui, as soon as we know anything.’
Nicolette looked at him enquiringly. ‘That’s all that can be done for now.’
The response was cold, mocking. ‘Hello, Geneviève, ma petite.’
‘Pierre, I’d like you to know that when you touch me now or if you continue to abuse Elaine, there are people out there awaiting the outcome of our little meeting or are you too stupid to see that?’
Le Roux ignored it, turned on Elaine and said. ‘Get out.’
‘Pierre –’ began Elaine.
Elaine turned on her heel and walked out in a daze, Le Roux turned his eyes back on Geneviève.
‘All right, Pierre, let’s begin.’
Slowly, she started to undress, feeling nauseated, hoping she could keep the bile down. Unclothed, she stepped across to him and knelt on the floor, in the manner of an ancient slave, he went to his briefcase and extracted a sort of swish. Stepping behind her, he struck her across the back, diagonally, uttering some ancient inanity.
She let out a gasp but no more.
He raised his hand and the swish came down again, the other way, this time drawing blood. He was repeating the inanities at her now, and yet she understood and responded with the appropriate responses. She was regressing, no longer able to assert her own will.
The next blow was crueller than the others and she let out a cry of agony. The mumbling continued. He came round to the front, raised her chin with one hand, forced one eyelid open with the fingers of the other and saw tears of pain welled up in there.
He was satisfied. Then he collapsed in a crumpled heap on the floor, not unlike a large bean bag.
Elaine stood there, horrified at what she’d just done.
Geneviève got up, put on her frock, went to the drinks cache and took out two brandy miniatures, undid the tops, knocked one back herself and gave the other to the girl, who was standing stock still. She put it to Elaine’s mouth, her face turned away but holding the girl’s cheek and pushing her head back, she put the neck of the bottle between her lips, causing her to choke on the liquid but still feel its roar all the way down to her belly.
Geneviève called the section paramedics and then collapsed. They found the two of them forty minutes later; she recovered consciousness in the ambulance and called Nadine, not Nicolette.
Nicolette had things on her mind. ‘Let us state our feelings first, these are mine – je t’aimais et je t’aimerais continuellement et pour toujours. Tu me comprends?’
‘Vraiment?’ He was startled.
He knew he had to reciprocate. ‘Nikki, you know I love you like crazy, you know this already.’
‘You were always number two to Philippe but you’ve known that for a long time. It’s not good enough, you allowed that to happen. You are not number two in my eyes, M. Jensen – you are number one. I’m not saying you would not one day have become number one with Mademoiselle but with me, since the day we met, you have been number one.
Not only that – I’m better for you than her and I think you know it. You’re also better for me than for her – what you need, what she needs – they’re two different things.’
‘I know that but my being here, everything – it’s all due to her. That can’t be dismissed -’
‘Stop. A person is grateful for favours, a person can love the other but to marry, Hugh, to marry – that should never be done for favours.’ She waited for him to disagree, nodded to herself again, sighed and murmured, ‘I’m tired now, Bebe. May we sleep?’
Fifty minutes after the call, the sharp, diminutive Nadine with her fair, tumbling locks and signature green coat appeared at the ward. Twenty-three years old, nevertheless she had a thirty three year old head on her shoulders.
Mademoiselle was lying face down, swathed in bandages, and was conscious. Elaine was nowhere to be seen.
‘Mademoiselle,’ she cried, crouching down beside the trolley bed, eyes at Geneviève’s level.
‘Don’t phone Nicolette or Francine, don’t phone Hugh.’
‘But M. Jensen will be frantic.’
‘He won’t be frantic because he won’t know, I don’t want either of them to know, not yet. Let me get a little strength back first.’
‘But what am I going to tell them?’
She thought. ‘Phone Nikki now and go through the 317 with her – she’ll accept that for 24 hours if it comes from you – you remember your code?’
‘Oui, Mademoiselle but neither Nikki nor Francine will ever forgive you for this, nor M. Jensen.’
Geneviève dropped her face to the pillow. ‘Nadine, I don’t have the strength, please do as I ask. Nicolette knows to phone me exactly one hour later, on my mobile, she’ll know the hospital, so the story is that I’m looking after you – that you had an accident. Will you stay here and be the patient? I can stay awake if you stay.’
‘Of course, Mademoiselle.’
She made the call and when Nicolette heard the 317, just about to climb into bed, she immediately began procedures – check, cross check, false questions, specialized questions and when finally convinced, she rang off.
‘Good,’ said Geneviève, ‘now get onto Emma and tell her to move mountains to find Elaine.’
Nadine did as she’d been asked and so the waiting began. Geneviève wanted to drop off to sleep and asked the other to keep asking her questions.
Eventually, Nicolette’s call came and she answered her mobile. After they’d gone through the procedures, she turned to Nadine, handing her the mobile. ‘She wants to verify you.’
Nadine confirmed with a voice just short of pathos. That done, she handed the phone back to Geneviève. Nicolette put Hugh on the line.
‘Tell me if you’re OK,’ he asked.
‘I’m fine, Hugh, I’ll call tomorrow. Can you give me Nikki one last time?’
The call finished, Geneviève collapsed from the exertion and Nadine stayed through the night.
Nikki turned to Hugh. ‘Nadine’s been attacked, she’s in hospital and Mademoiselle is with her, Elaine is in safekeeping, all are fine. There’s a 24 hour shutdown now on all communication, you agree it was Mademoiselle’s voice?’
‘I’m not allowed to accept that – I had to verify it with codes. It’s her. So, we have 24 hours. Tomorrow morning, at 10:00, Francine will come here, is that all right with you?’
‘Let’s go to sleep, we have a big day tomorrow, both of us.’
Fifteen minutes later, she awoke and turned face downwards, resting on her elbows.
‘You know,’ she reflected, ‘it’s strange about Nadine. Why her? Why was she injured? Did she find them and try to defend Mademoiselle?’ She thought some more. ‘Well, we can’t know for now. I’d call Francine if I could but we can’t phone and she knows to come at 10:00. I have to think whether to tell her about Nadine and then there’s Emma.
Trouble is, I also have to do this with you tomorrow morning with Francine – you’ll see why, you must know some facts about me and Francine is bringing them in documentary form – don’t ask me about it now please.’
Jean Claude Guiscard visited Geneviève in hospital and Nadine departed.
‘Your – er – back – it’s been attended to?’
‘He didn’t do as much damage as I’d expected.’
‘And you’re sure he’s washed up?’
Yes but it’s a losing game, Inspector, as you’d know, a hydra – you chop off one head, another takes its place. The job’s never done and slowly, slowly, we lose the war.’
He nodded. ‘And meanwhile, we stay apart, fighting alone, both of us.’
Geneviève was quick. ‘Inspector, I’d marry you tomorrow.’ He was shocked. ‘Yes I would, except for one thing – you and I are both too mortal, you know very well that either of us could be snuffed out in the blink of an eye. Besides, you’re the one who’d have to give up his job – any father of my child needs to stay alive. I’m not going into childbirth and housewifery without a secure, solid man to come home to, however personable he is.’
‘I see. And if he moved to ‘other duties’?’
‘You’re the golden boy – the results-getter. Are you going to take a 70% drop in salary, just to accommodate me?’
‘I know you mean it, Jean-Claude, but I don’t want such sacrifices from my man, I want to join my man, not take him away from what he does best. You’re the one for the scent, you get your teeth into something and away you go, I can admire that but I don’t want that daily fear. It’s selfish but it’s as simple as that.’
‘And if I am in another, equally remunerative position, without the danger?’
‘Then you’d lose half your attraction for me.’
‘Geneviève, don’t close the door, yet.’
‘No sensible girl does that, Jean-Claude. You’ll always know where to find me.’
So, thought Geneviève, she could do no more, if she could just get Elaine to stand up on her own two feet, she could deal with the other pressing matters … one of those pressing matters was how to explain her scars to Hugh. When they’d make love, even before that, he’d have to see the scars and would need to know why and she wanted there to be no lies between Hugh and herself – not in their coming life together.
She’d now cleared the final obstacles and would go home to him next evening, just short of the end of the curfew.
Both of them woke up about the same time, around eight, Nicolette already in thinking mode.
‘I’ll tell Francine after it,’ said Nikki, ‘about Nadine and so on, I’ll take her to a cafe, we can do that, we just can’t phone at this moment. If I tell her while she’s here, she’ll think I’m terrible not caring about Nadine – I’d go to Nadine now but I can’t, Francine is coming here and there it is.’
‘You said after ‘it’. What’s ‘it’?’
‘Bebe, please just wait, let’s speak of other things for now. What would make you leave me?’
He just looked at her, amazed, then answered. ‘Infidelity. Loss of trust. Fear.’
‘I remember what the girls said – that you’re capricious and you tire of things. That does worry me – that you’ll wake up one morning, look across, see me and decide to move on.’
‘No, it won’t be like that, I’ve already had those moments with you. Oh yes, I did – I looked over and it went through my mind – you were snoring, you were not … elegant. When I still decided yes, then I knew what to do. My work – how does that affect you?’
‘I don’t like it but it’s a situation I’ve inherited which I know I have to accept – it goes with the territory. I think you’ll always know where to draw the line.’
About 10:00, the bell rang, Nikki admitted Francine who gave him a strange look.
‘I’ll get the coffee, ladies –’
‘You’ll sit down now,’ commanded Nicolette, ‘and entertain my friend, I’ll get the coffee.’ Hugh subsided into the recliner, now a chair, and Francine looked straight into his eyes, he looked into hers. There was utter silence, so much so that Nicolette came through and saw them just looking at one another, she sighed and felt it better to be in the kitchen.
Said Franka now, ‘We planned Anaïs to take you away, not once did I think I would be the one after her, not once did I think you and I would end, Bebe, not once did I think Nikki would do this … but I should have known … all that information she was gathering through me, through Anaïs, through Emma … all that information you were gathering too. Were you always planning to leave me for Nikki?’
Nicolette had just come through, heard this and slipped back behind the door.
‘I swear I didn’t at hat time. I was certainly curious about why she and I were kept apart. And I didn’t leave you, Franka, I made you decide. I know it came to the same thing in the end but it was tearing you apart, I couldn’t stand seeing you like that. You know I was not moving onto another Anaïs or even a Nikki, I was going back to Genie at that time. Don’t you understand how much I really loved you, how much I still do?’
‘Yes, I do, and I think you know how I feel. Where am I on your list now?’
‘There is no list, Franka, that’s cruel. I would never leave Nikki now this has happened but if she left me, I’d find out where she was and ask her one more time, I’m proud. I confess that if she said no, I would try to find you.
Francine sighed. ‘I should have chosen differently, another bad choice on my part – he’s with her again now. I don’t want either of you hurt, you or Nikki and it’s not just because she is volatile, it’s that you’re going to be desperately hurt a few minutes from now. Nikki knows I’ll take you back and that puts great pressure on her. I’m not doing my own cause a favour when I tell you she’s being very brave.’
Nicolette now came through with the makings, set them down and went straight to him, expecting to be cradled in his arms and that genuinely shocked Francine, it really did – she’d never seen that between Mademoiselle and him, though she had with herself and him of course.
She saw how he held Nikki, the very real tenderness in it, the easy way she knew where and how to lie and it hurt. He knew exactly which way to hold her best, as if they’d been doing this for years.
Still looking into his eyes, she reached into her bag and took out a disk. ‘This is our work, Bebe.’
Nikki said, ‘You must see this before we can go any further. I want no lies between us. You might leave me after this but hold me close for now.’
His mouth went dry but he did hold her quite close, asking, ‘Must Franka watch too? Nothing against you, Franka.’
‘She’s my partner – she filmed it.’ She nodded to Francine and watched her life drawn into the player by a spring-loaded mechanism. He could feel her heart pumping, her acute embarrassment and her slender fingers gripped his forearm like a vice.
Most of it was froth and bubble, coquettish responses to quite obnoxious male lust and as it became apparent that it was never going to progress to the real stuff, he visibly relaxed – she could feel every nuance, every muscle and she herself relaxed a little. Apart from the way they dropped like sacks at the end, it wasn’t overly bad but he had the distinct feeling she still had more surprises up her sleeve.
‘If it doesn’t get any worse, Franka, turn it off.’ She took the disk out and he went to let go of Nicolette.
‘Non!’ Her voice was hard. ‘Closer, closer. There’s more. It’s not finished yet.’
Without a word, Francine pulled a second disk from her bag and went to the player, waited for the nod and in it went. She went over to the window and discreetly looked down on the garden below.
After she’d listened to the third ‘Je t’aime’ from Nicolette as she writhed around, Francine went over, ejected it and stated, ‘I did not make that one – it was posted later, by them.’
Hugh’s grip loosened and he went numb. Francine was acutely embarrassed and diffused the situation by saying directly to Nicolette, ‘I want to talk to Hugh now, in private, for ten minutes, in the other room and I want to hear you in the kitchen and not listening at our door, plus I’m going to hold and kiss him while we do that.’
She strode for the bedroom on those long legs and he hobbled his way there after her.
‘Right,’ she said.
‘Francine, it just suddenly happened and there were no limits, none, I’m crazy for her, I love her so much and I think she really loves me.’
‘Oui, she does. Mon Dieu, my own partner. With my own man.’ He nodded. ‘So now we have a huge problem, don’t we?’
He quite liked how other Section members considered that ‘they’ had a problem, it was almost like a commune. Francine now said to him, ‘Bebe, Nikki might be 2IC but she is the one who really runs the show – I’m not sure you completely understand that you’ve caught the biggest fish of all here, almost a shark at times – she can eat you up just like that.’
‘Yes but I can too, Francine. Have you seen my file?’
‘I adore Nicolette and want to make my life with her. I have no conflict over it with any woman except you.’
‘Even after the disks?’
‘Especially after the disks.’
‘Does Mademoiselle not at least get a chance to speak with you, to put her case?’
‘Oh, she’ll have that chance all right, the moment she stops having sex with Philippe and comes back.’
‘One moment.’ He went to a drawer in the sidetable and took out a largish envelope. ‘It’s all explained in here, I wrote it in French so excuse me if it’s not good. If you can do this, then thank you, if you feel you cannot, because of us, then just return the envelope. Don’t lose it because there is money in there. This will seem cruel to you, Franka darling but I don’t trust anyone else.’
Intrigued, she took it and placed it in her handbag.
They came back out, Francine still numb. ‘I still can’t get this into my head, seriously, Nikki, you of all people! You eat men as a rule. You’re a deep one.’ She turned to him. ‘You don’t know how haughty this little one can be, Hugh, you’ve really caught the most dangerous fish of all here, she’s powerful. My goodness – my own partner. And Nikki – this was my own man until now.’
Then she smiled at Nicolette and that meant everything.
‘May I go out with Francine for a while? I just want to talk about things, girl’s talk, you know. I need to.’
‘You don’t need permission from me, I know it’s important.’
‘We’ll be at Jean-Jaures, here’s the number if you need it but phone the mobile first.’ She pulled out a scrap of paper and wrote the numbers. ‘See you early evening.’
Everything she had was now poured into her farewell kiss and the way she held him, running her hands over his back, was watched with disbelief by Francine, he almost wilted under the barrage.
Then they were gone.
Geneviève reached the apartment about 19:00.
Soon sitting in her favourite armchair, facing the window, eating croissants and enjoying the coffee – he did the serving for once – she half-sat and had a speech to make.
‘Hugh, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. I haven’t been with you in person, I’ve been quite busy but my thoughts have continually been with you.’
Something was clearly wrong with him, so she tried, ‘Do you remember the Lodge and the things we said?’
‘Every word, Genie, every word.’
‘Good.’ She relaxed a little. ‘Hugh, I’m going to hurt you now. I had to test out my remaining feelings for Philippe and I … um … stayed with Philippe, that’s why you couldn’t reach me but I could never have moved forward otherwise.’
Then she said more rapidly, ‘I wanted you to give me time and you gave me that time.’
Still he didn’t answer, nor was there any sort of expression on his face. She asked, ‘Well aren’t you going to say something?’
‘I’m going to say a great many things.’
Her mouth went dry, she needed to know how bad the situation was, she thought of blustering, thought of standing on her queenliness but somehow knew none of that was going to wash this time round. There was nothing for it but to brace herself and hear him out.
He began quietly. ‘Let’s get some things out of the way – I love you and I would never hurt the Section but some things have changed for me in the past few days.’
‘Oh?’ she parried.
‘Would you say I’ve been loyal to you, faithful, for nearly three years, with the exception of course of Anaïs and Franka? Um … Emma too?’
‘Y-e-e-s-s,’ she said warily.
‘I came into your life with Ksenia, she’s no longer here but you were wonderful to me and you also accepted me here and made things happen, always on the understanding that you already had a man, Philippe and I could try but there were no guarantees. Would you agree with that?’
‘Yes but what are you getting at?’
‘You said to me on that first day at the Lodge, ‘If you really came to Paris to make me yours, then you would be patient, you would be serious about this relationship and you’d respect my wishes … let me find my own way to you.’ Right so far?’
‘And I replied, ‘I can’t expect to just walk in and things to happen.’ You said, ‘Much has happened already.’ But then the critical part came – you asked, ‘What if it takes me a long time to decide – too long?’ And I replied, ‘Then, as long as something hasn’t happened in the meantime, that’s the way it must be.’ We’re now coming up to three years and still I’m not yours.’
‘Ah,’ she said, ‘Nikki?’
‘Yes. You kept promising about Philippe but then things started to change. First was their trick of sending Anaïs and Franka’s provocation of you, then Anaïs became serious, then she left, as you knew she would, then came Franka and she had to return to Jean, as you knew she would.
And then you sent Nikki whom you feared.
And now, Genie, my love, we come to la pire conjonction de circonstances it would be possible to have. At the very moment that Nikki became a threat, you had a call in the morning from Philippe and you went to him. Now please listen to this – the most upsetting thing for me is not you sleeping with him – I always thought that that might happen again – but your dishonesty in the morning, after I insisted we speak that evening.’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘Dishonesty, Genie. When you left here that morning, you wouldn’t look me in the eye and you also tried to fool me with that light manner. I knew you weren’t being straight with me but still I might have been all right, except for the second piece of bad luck … someone saw you with Philippe in a car and she was more than furious.’
‘Yes and she phoned Emma, and Nikki was watching Emma pretend that there was nothing happening.’ Geneviève buried her head in her hands – she didn’t need the fine detail, she saw it all.
‘Geneviève, my love,’ he spoke low and in earnest, ‘you really must understand what’s been happening and you don’t seem to. The business with Philippe is nothing, truly, in my eyes, believe me. The Section though feels you’ve not been straight with them, that you broke your faith with them … and with me.’
‘Ask them, Genie. Phone Emma right now and determine if I am lying or exaggerating. Phone Emma.’ She shook her head.
He took a sip and went on. ‘When you sent Nikki to me that afternoon and that evening, you were sending someone you’d kept away from me for a very good reason. Why would you do that? Als, why would you send her and then immediately go off with Philippe? Genie, perhaps it is not so, perhaps it’s all just unfortunate but that looks very much to me like arrogance, dismissing the threat you knew Nikki was, dismissing me.’
‘What was it then?’
She couldn’t find anything to say. ‘I don’t know.’
‘That was why I phoned you the first time and also the second and left those messages. I told you it was most important.’
‘Hugh, you know there were too many things happening right then, the question of Nikki was not -’
‘Important compared to those other things?’
‘Well, yes. There are constant priorities I am having to make.’
‘You still don’t get it, do you? You had a crisis on your hands, you failed to deal with it, you failed to involve your main people … and you failed to involve your partner.’
‘I had an issue with Elaine, she was going to do something stupid.’
‘Yes but Elaine is always going to do something stupid. You had to tell her, firmly, threaten her if necessary, that threatening my life and that of the Inspector was not going to be tolerated, no matter what past dealings you had with her. You had to tell her that your main people and your partner came first, then you would deal with her issue.’
‘No. I couldn’t.’
‘So let me get this clear – Nikki’s threat to me was not your first priority, it was down the list.’
‘I didn’t mean that. You’re twisting my words.’
‘Nikki doesn’t think I’m twisting your words. She had many things to say about it.’
Geneviève groaned – she knew exactly what that meant with Nikki. He went on.
‘I’m going to phone Nikki now and ask her permission to tell you all of it, the lot.’
‘Phone Nikki? What do you need permission from her for?’
‘One moment.’ He reached over for his mobile and phoned her mobile. ‘Nikki? I can’t hear you, can you … that’s better. All right, Genie is here, I’ve told her she was dishonest with us and that you agree. Yes, precisely, as you say. No, I won’t use words like that, I’ll tell her my way.’ Geneviève was horrified. ‘I want to tell Genie all of it, including the first night, no more secrets. Yes, that’s right. No, not about when Emma came because I don’t have her permission. You’ll get her permission? All right, then I’ll begin. Bye.’
Geneviève was braced for it. ‘Go on, tell me all.’
‘Nikki and I kissed that first night – that part you already know. She then fellated me, all the way.’
‘What!’ she almost shouted.
‘She fellated me and I could not bring myself to stop her.’
‘N-n-n-o-o-o! It is not so, this is my Nikki. This is so wrong, what are you doing?’
‘That’s only part of it. Shall I tell you the rest or shall I stop?’ She didn’t reply, couldn’t reply, so he was about to go on when there was a call on the mobile. ‘Oui? Emma? Yes. Thank you, you’re very brave. Till later.’
He turned to her.