Pierre le Roux turned to the girl in his bed and stubbed his cigarette out on her shoulder, bored with it all.
‘Ay-ee. What you do that for?’ She jumped up and rushed for the bathroom.
His mobile went. ‘Oui? Vraiment? Quand? Noel? How do you know? She phoned you? Merci.’ He snapped the mobile shut and came close to a smile. Good – he could bring it forward and hoped that didn’t inconvenience anyone.
The girl came back and immediately started to dress.
‘Where do you think you’re going?’
‘Tu es un bete!’
‘So? Get back into bed.’
‘Non, non. I’m going.’
‘Oui – where to, ma cherie?’
She stopped. She hadn’t thought of that. Most fifteen year olds wouldn’t have.
Nikki’s departure was uneventful, taking Nadine’s car which Nadine had left downstairs – amazing how the girls swapped cars as they would clothing – Geneviève and he decided to spend some time touching a few bases and Emma was today’s driver.
First stop was the hospital and Francine. The swelling had gone down in many places, both her eyes were operational and though she was far from well, she was alive and improving – a woman of that age and metabolism always would. Better than that, she was speaking.
‘You’re at home, Mademoiselle?’ A pointed question. ‘How’s Elaine?’ she now asked. The question was like a bolt from the blue. ‘Did I say something wrong?’
‘Francine,’ Geneviève began, then stopped. Francine covered her face with her hands and Geneviève quickly added, ‘It was quick. You suffered far more.’
Francine lay there and her breathing became raspy, Geneviève went for the nurse, who came over, checked the pulse and was about to administer a sedative when who should appear but Hugh with Emma.
Geneviève took Francine’s hand and said, ‘We’ll come back tomorrow, with better news,’ but Emma now took her hand and said, ‘Give them fifteen minutes.’ She turned to the nurse and said, ‘Fifteen minutes.’
Hugh drew up a chair, took Francine’s hand and looked into her eyes with unconcealed love – this shocked Geneviève completely, Emma urged her to come to the car and wait. The last deep impression Geneviève had was that the trauma, the rapid breathing, all of it, was ebbing away.
‘Bebe, you came.’ She sighed.
‘You’ll be a week here, I’ll try to visit each day but we have to be realistic – there is much happening as you know – it’s more likely to be a phone call.’ He kissed the bit above her eyes, then her hand. The nurse was not sure she needed the sedative now.
Hugh departed quickly.
In the car, Geneviève did not ask and no one seemed to want to discuss it, so she left it for now. Emma had said nothing special at all, she’d just shrugged.
The next stop was Café Noir – Melanie was working but would come off duty in the next half hour and would wait with her car at the end of the mall. Outside the double doors, Hugh supported Geneviève’s arm and asked, ‘You sure you want to go through with this?’
‘I must find out if I’m strong enough. If I’m not, I may have to hand over to Nikki. If I start to wilt, Hugh, get me out of there, would you? He – he has a way. Don’t try anything physical – you’re in no condition and the man trains four times a week.’
They went inside Café Noir and Geneviève swept straight up to le Roux’s table which was laden with entrecote and trimmings, staring into his eyes, confronting him.
Hugh hobbled up behind.
Le Roux smiled back at her and observed, ‘Brought the cripple today, did you, Anasu?’ The man completely ignored Hugh and started mouthing some dialect under his breath, which had Geneviève swaying, Hugh shuffled up to him, leaned his elbows on the table, looked into his eyes, smiled and spoke in a low voice, ‘I haven’t started on you yet, le Roux because I’m still a little incapacitated, as you so kindly pointed out. It’s really a question, I suppose, of who gets to you first – your masters or me.’
Le Roux started violently at Hugh to see him flinch but Hugh slowly leaned even further forward. For le Roux, it was going to be either a case of assault and being barred from this café forever or of controlling himself.
Hugh kept his voice quiet and looked the man in the eye. ‘Pierre, if you touch any of these women again, I’ll take you out. Do you understand what that means?’
‘You?’ He grinned and it was not an endearing grin.
‘You’re a fool, Pierre, of limited intellect – if you’ve already had me checked out, you’ll know you’d not be the first, you would know of previous victims of mine. You’d also know you’d never see me coming. You think I plan a fair fight? Good day, enjoy your entrecote.’
Hugh turned to Genie and helped her away, under le Roux’s gaze, the man’s mockery vying with rage but halfway to the door, Hugh turned, noticed the steak knife he might have to use, Le Roux saw him eyeing it, he called over the top of the few diners in the café, ‘Oh, Pierre?’
Le Roux watched evenly as Hugh grinned and touched his cheek with his finger, then made that beckoning gesture, inviting le Roux to attack, which caused the man to jump up from the table, then exert all the self-control he could muster and sit down again. Hugh stuck his middle finger up, grinned again and helped Geneviève from the cafe.
He tried to walk her over to Chez Louis, across the rain-spattered mall but she was almost impossible to move, he had to use strength to get her though the door of Chez Louis. They sat and he ordered for them, the waitress, surprise, surprise, was Melanie. Colour began to return to Geneviève’s cheeks, the brandy helped and it wasn’t long before she could say, ‘I’m OK, Hugh. Time for lunch.’
They had soup and salad, with a house Chablis, Melanie now went off duty.
The meal revived her some. ‘Not good,’ she smiled weakly.
‘Only for now, Genie, only for now.’
Le Roux was problematic, no doubt of that. Even the way the prawn remains were left littered over the table bore testimony to his style and he had to concede the man had great physical strength, incrementally more as a result of his complete lack of restraint – he would have had only a split second to knife Le Roux in the stomach if attacked. A nasty customer all right.
Also, Geneviève had shown herself to be a total loss in le Roux’s presence – incantations were somehow involved. ‘You need deprogramming.’
‘They’re legion, Hugh, part of a vast network, funded by so much money.’
‘If we employ vigilance, mobility, firepower, public sympathy and a bit of prayer, we can make it difficult for them.’
‘The public know nothing of us.’
‘They will soon enough, as the situation deteriorates. It will start with losses to us, it already has but gradually, little victories will come our way. It’s always been like this, each and every time.’
‘You’re full of laughs today, Hugh.’
‘Aren’t I just? But still, let’s prepare, Genie.’
‘What did you say to Pierre?’
He told her and she was mortified. ‘He’ll kill us, he’s insane.’
‘So am I. I’ll get to him first – you’re too familiar with me, Genie, you forget my past. He’s planning to anyway.’
She sighed at this Alpha chest thumping on both their parts. ‘How? How will you do that, Hugh?’
‘Find out his boss and feed him disinformation. The boss will do the rest.’
‘Good luck with that but don’t tell me. I am still suspect, I’m still under his control.’
He called for the bill, paid up and they strolled around the mall a little – Melanie would not be there yet.
They entered the latest filial of Un Dimanche a Venise and Geneviève poked around while Hugh looked through a brochure.
Then they strolled out along the nouveau cobbled walkway to the end of the mall. There was Melanie ahead, sitting up in the car. Hugh opened the rear door and Geneviève climbed in, passing comment but there was no reply.
Puzzled, she tried again, ‘Er -Melanie? Bonjour? Anyone home? Heh!’
She poked the girl in her back and the head fell forward over the steering wheel, lying in a grotesque position, a puppet cast to one side, no longer wanted.
Geneviève couldn’t scream, she wanted to retch but couldn’t do that either. She shrank back against the seat, as if that offered her some comfort, Hugh flung open the front passenger door and looked in, sniffed, checked the seat, checked the girl’s seat.
‘Your mobile please, Genie. Genie!’
Huffing, he had to back out from the gap between the two doors and hobble around to her, where he fished in her bag and removed the mobile, interested to note she had no security code, found the Inspector’s number easily – it was at the top of the list – Number One.
‘Send brandy as well,’ Hugh finished the call.
Senior-Sergeant Fournier arrived first, took in the situation and phoned on the secure channel. The heavy boys needed to be in on this. Meanwhile, Hugh sat in the back, bringing Geneviève around, rubbing her wrists, trying to get the blood moving, speaking with her.
Guiscard stroked his chin thoughtfully on hearing the rest of the story back at the flat.
‘I really don’t think it was wise to provoke him to that extent, he’ll be planning a grisly fate for us all, no doubt, I know the type. As for the triggers, it’s not the first instance.’
‘Meaning that the same motif was present with Mlle Bonnet, Mlle Cabrel and Mlle Aubertin.’
‘I’m not with you.’
‘They all died of brain aneurisms.’
‘But with Elaine, it was listed as ‘overdose of cocaine’.’
At that moment, her mobile went off in her bag in the bedroom. They heard her answer, then there was a commotion and they were just in time to stop her leaping through the glass window. She fought tooth and nail but eventually she was subdued.
Guiscard caught his breath and asked, ‘What now?’
‘Who knows? I’ll stay in here with her and if two officers could be spared to rotate through the night, in the other room preferably,’ Hugh smiled, ‘maybe we’ll get through this night. Seems to me though that le Roux was having a trial run today, just to flex his muscles and let certain people see what they’re up against.’
‘You mean us.’
‘You for example, Nikki, me.’
‘Why Mlle Vasseur?’
‘She left Paris and all hell broke loose.’
‘You’re an untrusting sort, aren’t you, M. Jensen? You’d make a good officer.’ It was time to wind it up for the night. Guiscard had some words with the officers, then departed.
Hugh shuffled to the bedroom. ‘Hello, Genie.’
‘Hugh.’ She was kneeling on the bed in one of his big navy shirts and nothing else, knees apart. Why did women always steal his clothes? He huffed and puffed and climbed in beside her, laying the crutch by the bed, just in case.
‘Genie, are you aware that you tried to jump out of the window?’
‘Vaguely. I tore my nail and couldn’t remember why. Then I remember being held by the men.’
‘Do you remember what triggered it?’
She became uneasy. ‘Oui. Oui. The mobile.’
‘Do you remember anything?’
‘I start to and then something bad is there, deep down and it says not to remember.’
‘I can’t give it a name. We mustn’t ever give these things their names.’
‘They’re signs, all of them.’
‘Now, your attire – I have no objection to the shirt but why no knickers?’
‘She looked down, as if for the first time, and was shocked, now jumping out of bed and searching for her knickers everywhere, with no success.
‘Wear my new ones – they’re still in their wrapper in the third drawer.’ She found them and they needed to stretch to go around the hips.
He was ashamed to admit he wanted her, her sexual defences had been lowered and that must be part of their process, one of their motifs. Ten minutes she’d now waited in that same position, but for what? Now, he observed, it was like a balloon deflating – she fell sideways and went to sleep.
Thank goodness for that. He pulled the bedclothes up over her, looked down and murmured, ‘Whatever happens, Genie, je t’aimerais continuellement et pour toujours.’
Suddenly she sprang awake and was all over him, biting into his neck, hands squeezing the life out of him. ‘Genie, stop it, stop it! Genie!’ He tried one last thing. ‘Papillon!’
She subsided, he repeated it over and over but she really had hurt his neck – torn out a small chunk in fact.
‘Hugh?’ She looked at him, looked around the room and got her bearings. ‘I don’t feel well. There’s something happening inside me.’
‘Can you sleep do you think?’
She took some time to answer. ‘I think so.’
She did eventually drop off, the officers looked at each other in the next room and felt they could finally relax. It was 02:37.
The Inspector arrived about 09:10. The men departed, eyes raised to the ceiling and once they’d gone, Geneviève came out of the bedroom and curled up in the armchair facing the window – she loved that chair, which he decided, less than originally, to call ‘the Geneviève Chair’.
Guiscard raised a quizzical eyebrow, indicating Geneviève, but Hugh was happy to speak in her presence.
The Inspector sat down in the Moineau Chair and spoke. ‘No new information, except to confirm yesterday’s conclusions.’ He now told them about Melanie, Geneviève immediately saying, ‘I have to see her.’
The Inspector had anticipated her. ‘Then dress, Mademoiselle.’
So far Emma had lived a charmed life and no one had seemed to want it any differently. Every so often, something or other would happen and she’d have a lucky escape but she was highly suspicious of these ‘escapes’ because they were amateurish.
There’d been the day of her visit to the clinic to check on the baby. Her regular, Dr. Dubois, was not in attendance but the appointment had been with her and her alone and when she, Emma had been asked if she minded seeing a Dr. Green, it was so OTT that she’d declined and had called Michel to collect her.
They’d avoided a crazy driver two streets away and that was the pattern of these ‘attacks’ – always well telegraphed, always possible to avoid. She really did wonder but she also wondered about many other things – why she’d not been on hand when all the disasters had happened – the real ones, that was.
It was almost that if she was in place A, the attack would be in place B. She’d thought it through many times and had always come to the same conclusion but it was a conclusion she’d always rejected – that it had been Mademoiselle who’d sent her to the places where nothing was happening when the attack was taking place elsewhere.
And Elaine had been able to convince the girls that things had gone downhill once Hugh had come onto the scene but that wasn’t true. She’d thought it through and realized that they always happened around the time Mademoiselle was due to go away for some time.
Emma found it hard to accept what her logic told her and yet she was held to be able to deal with such matters.
Late in the evening, Nicolette prepared for bed. Thierry was coming upstairs from the surgery, supper was ready, he fell on it with gusto.
He was puzzled why he couldn’t get Nikki to settle – perhaps the role of stepmother did not suit although he was sure she loved the children. Maybe it was too claustrophobic, his life monotonous – the surgery, the drives over to Sivry on the weekend, where they’d do nothing much at all except enjoy the fresh air.
Nicolette finished up in the bathroom and came to bed, while he went to check on Olivier and on Francesca who’d been out with friends earlier. He did what was necessary, went to the kitchen, poured two liqueurs and brought them through.
Wordlessly, Nikki took hers and they wound down. Resting one broad hand on her shoulder, he let the back of his hand pass down her small cleavage to her tummy. Her stomach contracted slightly and he knew it was not on for this evening, he knew Nikki and her body movements, her moods, even her monthly phases.
She was currently on edge.
Thierry was a patient man. Nikki had helped him through his wife’s death from skin cancer and had made all the difference to the children, never once trying to be what she was not. He’d always had a thing about Nikki, from his schooldays.
She lay back and knew it had to end, at least the sexual part. He covered her with romantic pragmatism, as a player in life, smooth mannered, quiet, a great father in the eyes of his two, with none of the at-you sharpness of Hugh who was always so passionate about things in that dull way and his susceptibility to the female was a worry.
Thierry was not without taste and he offered her a life free from worry, a restricted life maybe, but a life where money would never be a problem, the company was often large and the laughter went on into the night. He would never cheat on her.
He was also French and understood her Frenchness – there was something about one’s own countrymen, in the end.
She didn’t know. Would she become irritable and horrible to Hugh, finding fault, making his life hell, never explaining? If she remained with Thierry, she feared she’d become an Emma Bouverie to his humdrum, prosaic Charles. Would Hugh become her Leon? Or would it be the other way round? A child would come, one of her own for a change, but whose would the child be?
Nikki made a decision – she was going to tell Thierry – tomorrow.
Or the next day.
When the time was right.
Meanwhile, she had to phone Hugh right now, just to hear his voice. She got out of bed, went to the kitchen, closed the kitchen door and phoned, while he lay back in bed and wondered, knowing he was probably losing her to the foreigner but what could he do?
The landline went in his living room and when Hugh picked it up and heard her voice, he was almost breathless. ‘Nikki.’
‘You remember me, Bebe.’
‘Hell I miss you.’
‘I have to stay here, you know that.’
‘I know, I know.’
‘I’m unsettled too, Hugh – I need you badly.’
Hugh turned to Geneviève, who’d just returned from the bathroom and he asked, ‘How much can I tell her?’
Geneviève answered, ‘You can tell her everything.’
Nicolette heard that and asked quickly, ‘What’s happened?’ She caught her breath at the other end as he related Geneviève’s attempt on the window and her sexual frenzy. ‘Er- how did it start?’
‘She was dropping off to sleep and I was looking down at her and I said,’ here he cupped the phone and whispered, ‘Je t’aimerais continuellement et pour toujours,’ and she -’
‘What! Those words, Hugh, in that particular sequence, they’re a known trigger which I used on you, to test you. If I’d any idea you’d be saying them to Mademoiselle -’
‘I kept saying Papillon to her.’
‘Bon, bon, and then she calmed down?’
‘Just as she’s doing now.’
Nicolette said quietly, ‘This is quite serious – I mean when she gets to this point … look, if I can get away, I’ll come, OK? Can you put her on the line?’
‘Here, Genie.’ He handed over the receiver and hobbled off to the kitchen to fix some coffee. Then he heard Geneviève call him back and he took it back.
‘I’ll try to get away tomorrow for some time – in the late morning if I can, just before lunch. Will you be there?’
‘No, I’ll be skiing at Valmorel.’
‘Hugh, be serious. Mademoiselle will be going with the Inspector again tomorrow morning – to her office, to walk in the park, to fill in some time. Do you object to that?’
‘Bon, bon. See you tomorrow.’
She rang off and returned to Thierry, explaining what had happened.
Emma threw back the ruffled duvet and climbed a little uncertainly out of bed onto her arched feet with their rounded toes.
Michel had already left for work and she now pondered last night’s doings, as Nikki had described them. Emma’s brief was the security of the Section, she took it seriously and she felt that last night fell within her brief. Their rules were that she must try not to be with either of the principals for longer than two hours and never on a scheduled basis, she knew that Mademoiselle would be gone from M. Jensen’s flat this morning and that Nikki might be there late morning.
She’d just go round and let herself in, hoping to catch Hugh and have a talk to him about things.
Geneviève went on her excursion with Jean-Claude and Emma arrived about 09:15. Frankly, he was delighted and she noted that as she went to make him coffee, returning with the tray, placing it on a foldable table by the recliner, bringing a chair over for herself.
An absolute honey was Emma Laurent, with that mop of hair and small, curvacious body, with her cheeky smile but he also knew she was just that bit too efficient for comfort, she knew her own charm better than anyone, plus she was taken.
‘Hugh, there are things which have been worrying me and I’d like to discuss them.’
‘If it would help, go ahead.’
She poured and served the coffee, handing him a pastry too, then started on the main thing on her mind – well all right, the second thing – about the attacks always being elsewhere, about how they seemed to get her out of the way first and so on.
The problem was that she’d seen he was in his robe, nothing wrong with that but it hadn’t closed in all places and she realized that’s all he had on and part of it had risen – which touched on the main reason she was here, a reason she could not admit to herself. As she continued on about it, she stood, leant over and gently pulled the halves of the robe aside, then sat back, looking at it.
‘You’ve been hard since I walked in … haven’t you, Hugh?’
‘You were looking?’
‘Of course I was looking. Did I cause that?’
It took him a good five seconds. ‘Yes. Just the thought of you did it and that’s so wrong – you’re married.’
‘Has it crossed your mind that I did not have to be here at all today?’
‘Yes, yes it did. I suspect you’re having problems too.’
She leant over, pulled down on his jewels with one hand, then lowered her lips and took the end inside. Then she stopped and looked into his eyes. ‘For goodness sake, stop me, tell me to go, pull away from me, do something. You must, so that we don’t commit adultery.’
‘How can I stop?’ She now lowered her lips right to the end and now he pushed his hips away. ‘Stop, Emma, go now.’
She looked at him, said, ‘I’ll tell Nikki what I did, that you told me to go.’ And she went.
He’d been alone the rest of the day but now there was a call from Nadine – 18:30 by the clock. She’d shopped and would bring the evening supplies.
She let herself in, removed her coat and boots, put on slippers and went to the kitchen to put the goods away. This was so uncannily like the coming of Nicolette, he couldn’t help but suspect that Nikki might have had a hand in it and that Nadine would report all later.
When she returned to the living room, he commented, ‘You’re Nikki’s lifeline right now, Nadine. Tell me a bit about yourself.’
‘From my childhood onwards?’ she smiled.
‘I come from the Dauphine area, in the south-east.’
‘It’s an ancient name?’
She laughed. ‘Yes, it’s quite old.’ Damned hard going, he thought. Nadine now spied something under his recliner – pomada. She retrieved it and held it up before his eyes. ‘This is Emma’s.’
She now saw the stains on the edge of his robe and sniffed. ‘I see,’ she said.
‘Phone Emma, she’ll explain.’ Nadine took out her mobile and did just that. She wandered into the hall and then the bedroom.
Nadine came back and handed him the mobile – it was Nicolette.
‘I’m leaving you. Do you know what for?’
‘Correct, don’t try to find me, I won’t be here, give Nadine back her phone.’ He did and they spoke, then Nadine hung up.
‘Was she at Thierry’s?’ asked Hugh.
‘How should -’
‘Don’t give me that, Nadine, you know exactly where she is.’
‘She’s at a farmhouse.’
‘I need the address,’ he shuffled over to the phone.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Calling a taxi.’
‘That’s madness, you know how much that will cost, especially as I can take you.’
‘I have to, Nadine, I have to see her.’
‘You’re insane, you’re not capable of going anywhere.’
‘In a cab I am.’
‘All right, I’ll call for you, you can’t pronounce it, you can’t give directions in French.’
‘Do it quickly and then please help me dress.’
He made his way to his bedroom and could hear her ordering the cab. First thing he loaded into his full length overcoat was his wallet, he took cash from the top drawer, the gyps wasn’t going to let him wear trousers nor shirt nor jumper – the coat would cover most of it, his winter hat and one boot would do the rest, he couldn’t find his new mobile anywhere, it wasn’t in the living room, he remembered that, he’d have to go without it.
Nadine came back, helped him into the coat and did the buttons up at the front, he grabbed his own keys and was off. ‘Mind the fort, Nadine, have whatever you want.’
He unlocked the doors, went out and pressed the button. The lift came, he went down, went outside onto the kerb and waited for the taxi.
He waited downstairs by the road … and waited … and waited.
A few minutes later, a car arrived but not his cab. The door was flung open and out stepped Nikki, she strode over and fetched him a stinging blow across his face, he lost his balance and went over. She went up to him on the ground, bent down and kissed him furiously, jumped back in the car and the car sped off.
Well OK, the kiss he’d settle for but the taxi was still coming, he’d best get up.
Twenty minutes was getting a bit long for that taxi, he didn’t have his mobile, best go upstairs and call them again.
He took the lift, went to open the door but Nadine had closed the bolt inside. Damn … but understandable. He rang a few times and no response. The realization started to dawn that he was stuck out here.
This was not good but it was a damned good overcoat all the same, looked like he was here for the night. Someone sometime through the night might wake up that he was out here and if he sat on the concrete some distance from the door, perhaps Nadine would look out through the peephole.
He awoke and heard the lift coming up. Ah.
Someone got out on a lower floor. It was getting cold.
Suddenly he heard noise inside the flat, the third door was being opened, then the second, now someone was looking through the peephole.
Now the outer door was being opened.
‘Hugh?’ It was Nadine, she came over and helped him up, he was shivering something awful by now, she couldn’t run a bath with the gyps but she could get him to bed, he made for the recliner but she redirected him to the bedroom, he shuffled through, she removed his coat and boot, the hat was already off, she pulled the bedding back and he collapsed onto the bed, she pulled the covers over, the shivering took some time to stop.
The mobile went in the other room and though it was in French, he understood much of it. Nadine had told someone he was back inside and he heard her say frissonnant de froid, then ne pas possible, then demain matin. At that point, he went out like a light.
He awoke in darkness, looked over at the clock radio and it said 04:27, not long till dawn and he was not alone. His heart jumped – Nikki?
Whoever it was was lying on his good side in pyjamas, she jumped out and drew the curtains back, rather than turn on the light and there was a weak glow by which he could see her return, climb back in and cuddle up again to keep him warm.
‘I told Nikki not to phone,’ said Nadine, the phone is off, I’ll phone her at 08:00. We still have some hours.’
‘I was stupid going out without my mobile.’
‘No you weren’t, I took it.’ He looked across. ‘I had to, Nikki had to see if you would make any effort, they were circling in the car -’
‘But the taxi.’
‘There was no taxi, I was calling Nikki and ordering a taxi from her – she was stunned you were going to the farmhouse. When you went downstairs, I phoned her and the car pulled up as you know. She was shocked she hit you so hard and tried to make up for it by kissing you but she had to go – this is an operational thing, she’s in charge of the Section for now and could not be anywhere near you, nor Mademoiselle Geneviève. Mademoiselle Geneviève is with the Inspector.’
‘Is she just?’ He smiled. ‘Well, well.’ Then gloom settled again. ‘She’s left me, Nadine, she doesn’t want me anymore. What a fool – I’m a total idiot. It took me so long to tell Emma to go.’
‘She’s not happy with you, that’s for sure. But Hugh, she can’t leave you, as she’s not actually ‘with’ you yet.’
‘Well not officially -’
‘No, Hugh, stop. Stop and think. You’re currently saying your farewells, both of you – she’s in Melun with Thierry, you’re here alone and you’re happy Mademoiselle is with the Inspector. That is scoring you many points. When she told you she was leaving you, you never once questioned that, you just took it that she really was leaving you … and that told her all she needed to know. But she still had to punish you for Emma.’
‘Yes, Emma. Utter madness.’
‘No, that wasn’t it at all. You told Emma to go and though you two must have done … some things … you still told her to go. That’s a big plus for you. The minus was that you let Emma fight your battle for you, you let her stand between the two of you – no woman would put up with that.’
‘Your English is very good.’
‘Thank you, from you I appreciate that. I learnt it formally.’
‘Nikki is my woman. Helping Genie though – that’s going to be a major task -’
‘Especially if you’ve left her.’
‘Yes, I know. How do you see it?’
‘I can’t advise you. The one who would recover best would be Nikki but then again, she’s the one you should be with – you’re both mad. We plan to get Mademoiselle to Thierry’s place and Nikki would stay here with Emma if you’ll let them. You and I will be in the country – at that farmhouse you tried to get to last evening. Keep in mind that there are operational factors in all this.
Let’s sleep for now, you might have to be ready to leave around midday and Hugh – I’m not sure you’ll be coming back here for some time, things are happening out there, so you’ll need to take everything important with you in a large bag or two. We have people who will come around after we’ve gone and take care of the place – don’t worry about those things.’
They lay in silence, snuggled up, then she said, ‘Hugh?’
‘It doesn’t seem strange to you at all, does it, that a girl you don’t really know should be lying here with you, in your bed, and your arm is around her?’
‘Ah … perhaps … yes … I hadn’t thought about it. You seem very nice, are you uncomfortable with me holding you? I can go to the recliner.’
‘Have I seemed uncomfortable these past seven hours?’
‘I was just mentioning it. It never occurs to you that I’m not your girl, does it?’
‘You’re probably right … I like holding you because you’re cuddly and you seem to like me doing it.’
She shook her head and laughed. ‘I’ll be your ‘cuddly’ bear for now. You haven’t tried to kiss me yet.’
‘Sorry, sorry.’ He made to do so but she kept her lips just out of range.
‘You’re amazing the way you think. Here.’ She put her lips within range and they kissed lightly. ‘Do you want to make love to me?’
‘Yes but I can’t, you know that, you know why.’
Nadine just laughed. ‘I’ll make breakfast in an hour, a proper breakfast, do not fear. Just hold me for awhile and if you need to kiss me, that’s OK too. They seem to be the two things you’re ‘allowed’ to do.’
Le Roux was bored and it wasn’t even breakfast.
The girl he’d just thrown out had been pathetic, just lying there like a store dummy, he needed a break in the sun – maybe Majorca, maybe the Maldives.
He’d get the business done first, neutralize the Section, deal with the policeman and hand over the lovers for extended treatment – then he could deal with Lavacquerie.
The buzzer on his desk went. ‘Oui?’
Suddenly he snapped to attention, walked around to his black leather swivel armchair and sat down, setting his glass down on the old leather coaster and picking up his mobile.
He listened impassively for a minute or two. ‘Must it be then?’
He listened to the explanation, nodding from time to time. ‘Understood. I’d thought maybe earlier, while she’s still in Melun. Right, right, I see that. Public. Right sir. Naturally.’
He closed his mobile, a thoughtful look on his face. That was a tall order. Why did he ask for the near-impossible? Because the man couldn’t do it himself? He was getting tired of this role, anyway – always the villain. He wanted promotion – the philanthropist’s life – the wheeling and dealing. He needed recognition, dammit!
He’d been offered the managership of the ALL4U chain but that was too much like hard work. Ach, it was all too much.
The buzzer went again.
‘Who? Sophie-Fleury – little one, of course you can, delighted.’ He pressed the buzzer and let her in the lower door, he could hear the lift going down.
There’d been a change of plan – Hugh was to hold the fort and await Nicolette’s call, a girl called Emmeline was to remain with him and her car would go into the garage below. Nadine herself had to go out.
That breakfast had been scrumptious, he now stole another kiss with the chunky cuddly and thanked her, his own bags were packed, he took the opportunity to call Francine, she was delighted but was both horrified and even more delighted as he told her the lot, what had happened – all of it, including Emmeline about to arrive.’
‘I knew most of it but you weren’t joking, were you, about being busy. Don’t worry about not phoning till now, it’s been worth it. Will you phone again?’
‘Depends on all our movements – you know it from the other girls. You know I’ll try.’
Emmeline arrived and was introduced, Nadine departed, noting he wasn’t sure about this new one.
For the first time he was with a Section member whom he couldn’t get through to, who saw him as someone too old to put up with. Most offputting. About 167cm, hair tied back severely, her hands were large but her arms were skinny like the rest of her – she had to be around 20 years old. Dressed a la mode to appear more childlike than she really was, she was made up darkly, and the steady gaze from the eyes betrayed something other than innocence.
She went to the kitchen, made coffee and threw some biscuits in a bowl, then brought it through, setting it down on the coffee table before flopping down in the Moineau Chair – Hugh said nothing.
‘M. Jensen, relax – there’ve been some changes in plans.’
‘You like being part of the team now?’ he asked.
She replied in English. ‘It’s – different. Yes, I like it.’ Friendlier voice than Nadine’s but still ‘skritaya’.
Emmeline settled back in the Moineau Chair and it was unnerving having this strange female on edge a metre from him, just staring at the opposite wall. ‘Emmeline, dear, why don’t you find something to read over there? I don’t have television but there are some films you could watch on the computer.’
She flashed a smile and declined. Another call came, this time on the landline beside his recliner. ‘Moineau, it’s you.’
‘Yes it’s me and yes I’ve technically taken you back, just for now, pending an ultimatum later, now listen very carefully, Bebe.’ Her voice was low, slow and deliberate. ‘Follow my lead in this conversation, OK?’
‘Fine. Now miss me like crazy and ask how Mademoiselle is.’
‘Moineau, I’ve been so worried, Emmeline had to tell me to relax.’ He smiled in the girl’s direction. ‘How’s Genie?’
‘Actually, she’s fine, Hugh, unlike your current situation. Now, whatever I tell you next, don’t react, that’s if you want to live. You ready? We’ve made the most terrible mistake but we think we might have discovered it in time. Don’t react. Do you understand? We think that Alana and Emmeline are working for them. We think Emmeline is going to try to kill you soon.’
‘Of course, of course,’ he replied in his most reasonable voice, ‘I can’t wait to see you, Nikki.’
She chuckled at the other end of the line. ‘For now, keep your mind on the job. Right, we’ve already dealt with Alana, which leaves just this one. Listen carefully. Nadine’s going to come back to your flat in about 35 minutes, using my keys.
She’ll have a weapon with her which fires a dart – we use it in our work – the girl will collapse on the floor but she won’t be dead, just knocked out. Nadine will also have a pistol in her bag, but don’t be too worried about that either. Make sure the door’s unbolted. You need to tell her Alana’s coming back to stay with her. Do it now.’
‘Who, Alana?’ Emmeline’s ears picked up. ‘Oh, that’s nice, two girls all to myself, all my Noels have come at once.’ The girl was quite definitely smiling to herself.
‘That’s fine, Hugh. Nadine’s on the way. Now, you just have to keep this one happy for 30 minutes or so. When your landline rings, you’ll need to create a disturbance, to distract her from the door. Do you understand?’
‘Non,’ he replied.
She sighed at the other end. ‘Look, Hugh, it’s very simple – any call in the next 30 minutes won’t be Nadine, so answer it as you ordinarily would. Any call after 30 minutes, create a disturbance to take the girl’s attention away. You understand now?’
‘All right, we’ll make contact again after it’s over. Good luck, Bebe.’ She clicked her mobile off at the other end.
The girl was watching him. He saw her check her watch.
The minutes ticked away and Hugh went into the state of drowsiness he’d need to feign to carry out his subterfuge.
The girl’s eyes were definitely upon him now and there were about eight minutes left, by Hugh’s estimate. He fell into a drowsiness.
The minutes continued to tick down – seven – six – five – then, on four, the phone went, he woke with a start and crashed onto the floor, holding his plastered left arm with his right and howling with pain.
‘Ai-eee! Emmeline, help me up, back to the recliner – no the other arm, girl.’
She huffed and puffed, helping him, then suddenly he felt all the life go out of her body as she sagged and collapsed in a heap on the floor. Hugh turned to see the deadly, unsmiling face of Nadine, her weapon pointing directly at him.
‘Am I next?’ he asked, only half jokingly.
She placed the weapon on the coffee table and started going through Emmeline’s things. ‘Michel and Stefan are here to take her away and all her things. May I let them in?’
It was the work of about seven minutes to get Emmeline and all her paraphernalia out, it was the first time Hugh had seen Emma’s hubby – big boy, strong.
Nadine finally looked at Hugh and breathed, ‘Coffee?’