‘I’m going to ask you again, Rosa, where have you been?
‘Quiet, Jim, everything’s fine.’
‘No, it damn well isn’t fine, not in the Sheraton Hotel and not in the situation we’re in now. What’s come over you?’
‘All right,’ she snapped back, ‘I was restless, I couldn’t sleep, your damned snoring was making it impossible to think.’
‘So why didn’t you wake me?’
‘Rosa, creeping around like that in the middle of the night. And what if you had found something untoward, eh? What then?’
‘This is not on. Desist, leave off, don’t do it, whatever words in English you might understand but just – don’t – do – it – OK?’
‘All right, all right,’ and she soothed his brow and held him close. ‘All right, Jim. Come to bed.’
‘For an hour?’
Hugh awoke and lay back in the bed, thinking about things. Nikki had been driven to a different hotel by Doug Baines and two security men.
He got up and did what was necessary, then went downstairs for breakfast.
Breakfast done, just as he was wheeling his luggage through the reception area to the circular door, the manager approached him. ‘Mr. Mason, phone call, sir.’
He went back to reception and that’s when he saw Rosa and Jim go into the dining area for breakfast, a flagrant breach of rules.
He went out to the cab and it was cold. Trees around the hotel had already shed their leaves and the only thing which upped the temperature were the hordes of people – Christmas was coming.
The driver dropped him at the address on the slip of paper, he went through to reception, saw it wasn’t right and asked to be able to call a room.
The man handed over the phone, ‘Press 9 first,’ he did and she answered. ‘You need to get out, it’s as we suspected, I’ll send Doug, see you at the other address.’
He waited 40 minutes in the pub but eventually in she walked, came over and sat down. Her tipple was waiting on the table.
‘Jamieson’s thugs, Rosa’s part of them,’ he opened.
‘Well we knew that – question is how high up she is.’
‘Let’s finish these – it’s a bit rough on Doug out there.’ The weather was not nice and they could talk in the car.
‘Haven’t seen the countryside for months, have we, Moineau?’ he said, just as a fresh downpour engulfed the car.
She allowed a tight smile as Doug turned sharp left and proceeded down a narrow laneway, past a farmhouse.
The deluge ceased but the lane was throwing sheets of spray sideways from the puddles and when they came out onto an open field, it was like a quagmire. The car pulled up by a Piper Cherokee, Doug transferred their bags and Hugh handed him a bottle of Glenfiddich. Doug was grinning.
They climbed aboard and the man indicated their seat belts. He put the little plane into forward and despite some anxious moments, some minutes later they were banking over enclosed fields and ascending through the low, dark grey cloud.
The flight was fairly uneventful, with only mild turbulence and had it not been for the necessity of the trip, it might otherwise have been viewed as a reasonably pleasant interlude in their lives. She had no idea where they were headed and didn’t really care until she saw below that they were now over water. ‘When do we reach New York?’
He just smiled. They had coffee from the thermos the pilot had provided and gazed through the windows at the steadily clearing murk outside.
‘Seriously, Hugh, how much further?’
‘Thirty five minutes, my love.’
The landing was uneventful, the air drier and warmer a bit further south here and as they taxied along what was a cleared field, with one narrow strip down the centre, flattened and smoothed, Nikki could make out some lights in the distance.
It looked like a farmhouse but not like the ones in England. The plane taxied up to the double doors, the pilot stepped down and opened the doors, returned to the craft and taxied inside. They got out and went through one of the low doors.
They came into a sort of small living room, with quite plush furniture for a barn and with a thick rug in the centre, thrown over the seagrass matting floor. Nikki looked at him but he just indicated they should sit and wait.
Some minutes later, three men in dark combat uniforms came through and began a search of all spaces coming off it.
Seemingly satisfied, they took up vantage points in different parts of the room.
A few minutes later, a young chap in a well cut suit popped his head through and was answered with a nod by the senior of the combat uniforms.
The suited man stepped aside and in came an unmistakable figure, in dark suit, light topcoat and carrying a pair of kid leather gloves.
‘Hello Hugh,’ he said. ‘Nicolette, would you allow Hugh and me a short tete-a-tete? Ten minutes, then you’ll join us. Would you mind?’
Before she could mind, the PM’s aide had generously ushered her to the door and she was swept through into an adjoining room.
‘Mrs. Jensen, if there’s anything you should need – tea, coffee, rug, reading matter, Sergeant Travers will be only too happy to get it for you. He’ll be at the door.’
When Hugh eventually appeared in her room, she asked, ‘So where’s the PM?’
‘Had to get back. He tells me that Jones is currently quite active in his search for you, he’s made enquiries. This was why he wished to see me alone, to see if I could throw some light on it. He seems to be armed and the worst of it is – he has a telescan.
‘But he can’t – only I could have given him one and I didn’t. I don’t like this. I could try to say Rosa gave it to him but I was the only one with the code. Did the Prime Minister say Jones had used it?’
‘No, just that he had one.’
‘This is exactly what we were talking about once they start. Is this what happened with you and Emma?’
‘Yes, only the problem there is that she was actually soft on him. I know you’re not. She constantly called him Chris, you call him Jones. That means a lot to me. I can sense you too, Nikki, I can’t sense every woman but with you it comes through.’
‘Jones ordered a hit on this air base forty minutes ago, we’re getting ready to leave, we’re still packed so it will be easy.’
‘So let’s go, what are we sitting here for?’
In the corridor, a commando came through so fast that Hugh had no time to think but still immediately recognized him.
He pressed a Para-Ordnance 1911 into Hugh’s hand and they all ran to the outer end of the corridor, which gave out onto the asphalt area from where the danger seemed to have come.
The sound of gunfire from the hangar seemed to confirm this. The commando swung around and explained, ‘There’ll be cars, Mr. Jensen – shoot the drivers of the odd numbered cars, numbered from the front one, I’ll shoot the even. When the last one’s down, we hit the tyres, except for the second last, Mrs. Jensen will run for the second last car and get down in the rear footwell. If I don’t get there, Mr. Jensen, drive anywhere until this signal comes through on our band,’ he passed Hugh a slip of paper. ‘Follow what they say. Ready sir? You’ll have to aim quickly.’
It was less spectacular than it might have been.
It was clear that the enemy, whoever they were, were having a difficult time breaking into the living complex and this provided the breathing space. The first three drivers were taken out before the fourth had the big tourer in gear but he now went down too, Nikki ran like a gazelle and flopped into the second last car, Hugh made it and piled in, their commando pulled the dead man to the asphalt and swung into the driver’s seat.
They’d put two kilometres between themselves and the base before anyone spoke.
‘Was the gatekeeper one of theirs?’
‘I know the man, his face was puzzled too.’
The big Rover was loping along quite well, given the state of the road.
‘I’ve seen you before, haven’t I? How do you read it … er …?’
‘Lieutenant Davidson, sir. Well, seems to me it’s not our hit – if you ask me, it was a maverick job.’
‘Your reasoning, Lieutenant?’
‘Well firstly, sir, I’m here with you. If it had come from higher echelons, you wouldn’t have seen the light of day, begging your pardon. Secondly, lack of firepower, only standard issue. Thirdly, no air or ground support. It was a job which had to be done with minimum fuss.’
‘You need that code back?’
‘No. Would you mind taking over the driving for a while?’ He slid the big tourer to a stop by a grassy verge. Hugh made sure that it was the commando who got out and went around, as he himself slid across the front seat.
The evening sky was quite clear, the roadside verges were dry enough.
On the move again, the commando adjusted the strange mobile contraption he’d pulled out and twisted the dial. A disembodied voice leapt out of the tiny device. It was all numbers, which Lt. Davidson carefully wrote down on the slip of paper he’d taken from his left breast pocket.
After he’d switched it off and put it away, Nikki made her move. She handed across sandwiches.
‘Wonderful,’ grinned Hugh and offered the commando one first.
‘Quite right, sir.’ He took a bite out of one sandwich, waited and handed it to Hugh, then took the other for himself.
Mouth not entirely empty, Hugh asked, ‘Well?’
‘As we thought, other points were hit too, still low key though. Someone doesn’t want someone to know. That was one of ours now and he seems to have got control back. There were other digits slipped into the messages which only he and I know. Doesn’t seem efficient, sir, this attack. Maybe it was meant as a warning. Beg pardon but if we’d done it, well -’
Nikki shuddered at the thought. Then she leant forward and offered more sandwiches and a bottle of mineral water they’d found. Lieutenant Davidson blocked the water with his arm. ‘Sorry, not that one. Take this,’ and proffered his own flask.
Hugh had been reflecting for some time. ‘That means they haven’t blanketed the area.’
‘That makes it considerably easier for us, then.’
‘So where now?’
‘No idea, for now. Sit tight and enjoy the ride. We’ll have to change vehicles soon.’
‘When the call comes, sir, through the long wave.’
‘You mean through a radio station?’
‘You know the frequency?’
‘Yes, it’s already tuned in. This is one of our own cars we’re in. It’s a section vehicle.’
Hugh gazed out of the window and the tourer just loped along the single-laned road through the forest they’d just entered.
The radio sprang to life. Again, just numbers. Again, the Lieutenant was active.
‘Good news, sir. There’s a car waiting for us.’
‘How? You never signalled them.’
The Lieutenant smiled. ‘Exactly sir, I didn’t switch bands at the cued moment. It’s a primitive ploy. I think you should realize that there’s a remote chance that this was all a set up. As we get close, we’ll take precautions but they also know we’d do that. So we’ll have to break with procedure a little.’
‘The way I see it, Lieutenant,’ chimed in Nikki, who’d been listening to all this, ‘we’re going to either who knows where or else we’re going to our deaths, organized by you. The forest, another car, your weapons – ’
‘And begging your pardon, Ma’am but one of you three could also be doing that with me. One of you might know considerably more about these codes than you’re letting on. Isn’t that right, sir?’
‘I’m not commenting, Lieutenant,’ replied Hugh.
They ditched the car, went on foot overland some distance, the Lieutenant and Nikki this time reconnoitred, they called him up to them, they met the new car and driver and made their way in the Toyota Camry to the third airport, some eighty kilometres further on, booked and paid for the passage on a commercial flight, Davidson having changed out of his garb, and two hours later they’d negotiated the airline procedures, minus weapons, minus metal objects and minus trouble.
At 32 000 feet, they were contemplating the pleasant prospect of an indefinite stay in Cyprus, a little inland from Limmasol. It had needed help from home to get the tickets, the flight was packed and they felt like sardines. Of all the times to travel, Christmas was not the one.
The choice was fish or chicken and the white was palatable. For the first time, they unwound a little and chatted about this and that.
It was a smooth landing at Larnaka and the Mediterranean mildness thawed them a little as they emerged from the terminal building to the taxi rank.
The condo they’d booked from the travel desk at the airport was a white walled, slightly crumbling, two storey affair, set into a cliff and it looked pleasant enough. They climbed the seven steps and went inside, while the Lieutenant accompanied the driver into Limmasol itself to rent a car for a week. Hugh had given him carte blanche in his choice.
The condo was delightful, by coincidence owned by one of Hugh’s old associates, Constantine, with a lot of property around the Limmasol area. The air was fresh, as it was bound to be halfway up a mountain in December and if only they could be free of trouble for just a while, it looked to be the most delightful break.
Nikki went out onto the second floor balcony, pulled up an old faded deck chair and lay in the sun, actual sun, gazing down the narrow, winding broken road which led up into the hills. He now joined her.
They saw the car as a speck in the distance and then, as it worked its way tortuously up the road, they saw it was a burgundy Megane Cabriolet. A bit cramped but a nice car, free spirited and carefree.
Davidson had picked up some milk, bread, eggs, ham, tomatoes, cucumbers, mineral water and beer. Hugh went down to help him, to reimburse him and to broach the subject of calling him by his first name, on the grounds that it would attract less suspicion – the man clearly felt honoured by the confidence.
‘On the way up, sir –’
‘Er … Hugh … I saw a nice little cluster of stores and there’s a café in amongst them – small one. Maybe we could pop down there later.’
‘Let’s just potter around here for now – I know Nikki wants a few hours rest and I do too.’ Actually, they all needed time to recharge the batteries and it was early evening before they’d scrubbed up and headed down to the café for some local cuisine.
It was Christmas Eve, they’d had enough kourabiedes and melomakarona cookies to last a year and at the beach, as usual, it was too cold to swim so the women had gone across the road to shop.
The days had been, until yesterday, warmish and sunny, with the occasional threatening clouds and spots of rain but now that rain had set in. Nikki noticed that Ron Davidson [for that was his name] gave more than passing glances at clumps of bushes, hidden gateways and the like as they made their way about Limmasol.
During the late mornings and for much of the afternoons, they usually walked down to the little village to buy supplies and try out their Greek, much to the locals’ amusement, they bought knick knacks they didn’t even need and rambled around the shopping area, before returning to the condo for late lunch and siesta.
This Christmas morning they got up, wished each other felicitations and each had bought something for the others.
Hugh had bought her the tiny sapphire ring he’d seen her lingering over in that jewellery shop and she’d bought him a ring too, white gold and what’s more, she knew his ring size.
They’d bought Ron a belt and shirt, he’d bought them a Limmasol tea-shirt each. Well all right, it was fine and they thanked him profusely.
They’d potter around this day and go to the cafe again in the evening.
New Year’s Day, 2010
The days had passed quickly, they’d gone for some drives into the hills, they’d shopped a bit – the Greeks generally spent the day either extending the festivities or sleeping.
At the beach, no one was doing anything but walking or eating al fresco, and then Nikki saw it from a shop, stopping the other two immediately. Fortunately they were behind Rosa, she was sitting at a table, sipping a drink and scanning the beach, no sign of Jim.
They backtracked through the store to the carpark, went and collected their things and drove straight to Larnaka airport.
Landing in Rome about 05:30, they took a cab to a hotel Hugh knew, and hit the sack almost immediately.
They awoke in their respective rooms, did the doings and went down for breakfast as prearranged.
Hugh said, ‘I called the PM this morning encrypted, still night time there in the U.S., he said he wishes this thing to be finished by the time he gets back in two days.’
The other two nodded and munched.
The following day, they finally ventured out on the grand tour of Rome and wound up in the Sistine Chapel, Davidson lying on the floor, gazing up, the rest spread about the chamber; a tour group came in at the far end.
The tour guide woman was speaking in poor but voluble English about the great Michelangelo and his relationship with the Pope, when Hugh suddenly took leave of his senses, strode over to the 10 or 12 gawking tourists, took the arm of one lady and marched her, protesting, towards the door.
Nikki saw the whole thing. Hugh shunted the woman through the door and then turned angrily on her. ‘What’s the idea, Rosa?’
‘You’ve a traitor in your midst, Chief,’ she calmly replied.
‘I know that. You don’t propose to tell me the identity of that person, right?’
But Rosa was now gazing over his shoulder.
‘Hello, Rosa,’ greeted Nikki. ‘Fancy meeting you here. Where’s Jim?’
‘Jim had to return, we had these tickets already paid for and it seemed such a shame to waste them -’
‘How did you know where we were Rosa?’
‘I thought maybe you’d tell Hugh that yourself.’
‘You first, Rosa,’ Hugh requested.
‘Someone has to watch your backs. My brief is from the PM.’ She took out a document, a series of numerical codes.
Hugh made a decision. ‘We’re going back to our hotel, all of us.’
In the Informatica Room at the hotel, the codes pretty soon converted to precisely what Rosa had claimed. She had the PM’s instructions to watch Hugh’s back but that did not accord with what Janine had told him yesterday.
It was the following Tuesday.
‘And that’s as much as I know, sir,’ concluded Hugh to the Prime Minister. He’d been speaking for twenty minutes, occasionally punctuated by short questions.
The Prime Minister looked at him and stroked his chin. ‘Took you long enough but you did get there in the end.’
He handed two pieces of paper across the desk. Hugh nodded at the first tiny slip and ate it. He glanced at the second.
‘I’m accepting your resignation as my protector and Nicolette will be your replacement. Sign please.’
Hugh looked at him evenly, took up a pen and scrawled his signature across the foot of the page.
‘Thank you. Now, you’ll be needing this – it’s the documentation on benefits accrued and that sort of thing. Thank you for your service and perhaps we’ll meet again in the future.’
He buzzed Janine and asked her to send in Mme Jensen. Hugh walked out in a daze and made his way out of the office. Janine came out to stop him.
‘Sorry, Hugh but there’s a second document you’ll need in the future. If you’ll come back with me now.’
‘Salt in the wound, Janine?’
‘Mr. Jensen, I’m terribly sorry but you understand -’
‘You were just following orders, understood.’
Sitting on a bar stool at Moran’s, Hugh felt that a touch of Hollywood was required. He was on his third whisky and quite frankly, didn’t want any more, not being a drinking man … well, not to that extent. How people could continue to drink after they’d had sufficient was beyond him.
He finished his steak sandwich and salad, zipped up the jacket and went out to the car. The night was bitingly cold but he scarcely noticed.
The custom built Pilgrim which he’d kept locked up in his garage these four years, was again on the road and had carried him here. It was good to point that long bonnet down the highway, the graceful running boards and flapping soft top accentuating the feeling of escape.
He’d drive for a hundred miles, turn around and come back again, far more slowly, stopping in at a services, alone, unrecognized, unneeded.
The PM’s point was valid, of course and he was in for a long layoff.
He would paint. Yes, he could do that. He enjoyed embossing plates and bowls and sometimes it even brought in a quid or two. He could write books on his laptop. The Pilgrim was his, the flat was his but the house would return to the government.
He could lecture a little. Even discredited, his name still counted for something and people would come to hear him speak.
The thing that terrified him, above all else, was if she contacted him and offered him a job in the department, out of the kindness of her heart. That he wouldn’t be able to take. There were limits, weren’t there?
Mr. Jensen put the car into gear, drove home, parked in the garage, walked back to the flat and began his new life.
Nikki walked into Moran’s but he’d gone and she’d never known the whereabouts of the musty flat they’d never used before.
She’d left the PM’s office that morning with one thing on her mind – to find Hugh. It wasn’t possible to bring in operatives for this, she had to do it herself.
After checking his usual haunts, she had to confess herself at a loss. Then a brainwave hit her. He always attended the ballet and his favourite Nutcracker was playing at the Metropol. It meant turning up five nights in a row but that seemed a small price to pay.
She struck lucky on the second night.
‘Shhh.’ He indicated the spare seat beside him. She sat down and offered him a Dixie Cup ice cream, his favourite.
He mechanically thanked her and started on the ice cream.
The curtain went up. As performances went, it was passable. Slightly under-rehearsed, nevertheless the troupe wasn’t too bad.
As the interval approached, he did his usual trick of going for supplies before the ‘elephant stampede’, taking her order.
He never returned for the second half.
Nikki sat halfway through the second half and was then driven home by Doug. She cried until one o’clock but remembering she had a heavy meeting next morning at 09:00, postponed the crying until the following evening.
Rosa had greater success, finding him in Moran’s two days later and slipping onto the barstool beside him.
‘Bearing up?’ she asked, mechanically.
‘How’s life at the office?’ he replied. ‘Is she a good Chief?’
The question definitely took the wind out of Rosa’s sails. She looked at his unshaven chin for one minute, silently got up and went out.
He ordered another whisky.
Nikki did finally corner him in the supermarket and begged him to grant her a few minutes.
‘For what it’s worth, OK.’
They went to Moran’s, unusual for either of them in the evening. An unshaven Hugh opened. ‘How’s work?’
‘Don’t, Hugh, there are reasons.’
‘Yes, I can see that.’
‘No, you see nothing. It’s tearing my heart out to see what’s happening but what can I do?’ He remained silent, sipping on his whisky. ‘What are you doing to yourself? How many whiskies have you had today?’
‘This is the fifth.’
‘You’re my husband.’
‘The new golden girl you mean.’ Her mouth opened and closed a few times, choked to the soul, she turned on her heel and left.
Ordering another whisky, the barman refused him.
Instead of arguing, he stumbled out to the Pilgrim and there she was, sitting in the driver’s seat, not difficult as the car had no door locks and no security of any form. He never even considered arguing but went to the other side, handing her the keys.
The engine sprang to life and the deep throaty roar was satisfying. She put the car into gear and it jerked onto the road. ‘Watch it here. You have to drive round corners in this car, not turn it like a proper car. Take it onto the open road until you get the feel. It’s nice in this seat for a change.’
She was quietly surprised and delighted with the thoroughbred performance. At 870kg and with a two litre extracted engine, the performance was lively. They made it onto the M road and the car itself seemed delighted – it adored the longer runs.
They chewed up the miles and with a snarl of the engine, they effortlessly slipped out to overtake a truck and now in cruise mode again, the Pilgrim simply purred, Nikki felt for the first time she could learn to love a piece of machinery.
He picked up on this.
‘Drives well, doesn’t she? She likes you, Nikki, she understands who’s at the controls. Whoa, keep it under seventy – the running boards are like air scoops – it’s a 30s design, don’t forget.’
‘Miles per hour. About 120 kph.’
The things they’d mentally checked off as well along the way were there support cars who’d pulled out, two which had the wrong crew but as they were being followed by all the other cars from the start of the journey, they soon woke up and turned off onto other roads.
The Pilgrim pulled into a layby and once the engine had shut down, they dropped all pretence and kissed like there was no tomorrow. A ring of cars were out at discreet distances before and after the layby.
‘Hugh, take this.’ She reached into her bag and gave him an envelope. He did the same from his inside jacket pocket.
‘Not long now, Moineau. Want to take you to the flat but it would be a disaster. You OK at the Citadel?’
‘Soon it’s going to change.’
‘I know. We have almost all of them.’
‘Good. If anyone can find out, you can. I adore you.’
She burst out crying and kissed him like smithereens again.
‘Darling heart, we’re at odds, remember, I’m supposed to be resentful and morose.’
You drive back, I want to look at you.’
Hugh turned up at the office and had to go through the ignominy of regular security vetting. Finally he got to the top floor and Rosa was at the desk.
‘I’ll tell her you’re here.’ She buzzed.
Nicolette came out, power-dressed as he’d never seen her before and he knew she liked it. ‘Hugh,’ she acknowledged.
‘So, what do you want me doing?’
‘Right, I’ll get onto it.’ He turned to Rosa. ‘How’s Jim?’
‘He’s fine, Hugh.’
Early March 2010
Hugh went across to Moran’s for lunch while Nikki was in conference and who should materialize from behind the bar but Sophie. She asked if she could sit with him and he indicated the chair. She saw that the gentleman in him had taken a vacation but she sat down.
There’d been a cheque in a cashbox when she’d gone for petty cash and it was made out to the Praetorian slush fund, from a well known business identity. Nothing untoward in this itself but more interesting was how that very cheque had turned up in a Level 2 petty cash box at the Citadel.
There seemed no logical connection. Sophie had put the cheque back in the correct box and had drawn the petty cash she’d needed. Later, she’d returned the change to the box but the cheque had gone again. She was certain of that.
Now she was taking the unusual step of reporting this direct to Hugh, in person, at Moran’s. There were ears about.
‘A list of those with authority to access petty cash was drawn up by Mme Jensen. The list includes Rosa and your wife, by definition, William Boyer [Level 2 treasurer] Pauline Harrison [counter-ops co-ordinator] and the two of us.
No one’s admitted withdrawing the cheque and as the keys are encrypted, this suggests that at least one of these people is lying, which doesn’t help. You had access to the box but not to the building, William Boyer was out of town, Paulina Harrison was the one who deposited the cheque, given to her by Si Travers, of the Praetorian. The cheque can’t be cashed and can’t be deposited without a record of the depositor.’
He went to the building society to see if it had yet been presented, was met by Albert Collins, sub-manager of Forsythe Cooperative and was ushered into a plush waiting room, near the manager’s office.
Albert Collins was gone about 10 minutes and when he returned, he was puzzled. ‘We’re going to view the search results, Mr. Jensen,’ he said, turning the monitor round so Hugh could see it. ‘Keep your eye on the box at the lower right. First, the bank where the cheque was presented.’
Hugh read the name, ‘Bank Credite-Agricole, in Paris’. This meant that the presenter must have had an account there.
‘Now, Mr. Jensen, the name of the account.’
He swung around in his revolving chair and stared at the ceiling.
Hugh glanced at the screen: ‘Nicolette Jensen.’
In reception, Nikki looked at a slip of paper on which Hugh had written the bank details.
Her lips were dry. ‘What did I tell you? It’s a set up. I had no access to that bank. I haven’t travelled. Check the travel stubs.’
‘Who’s in charge of travel?’
‘Still Penny James, Level Three.’
‘Is she here?’
‘We’ll get her up here.’ Nikki called her and they all waited, he sat on the couch and she remained leaning against the reception desk, Rosa behind it, watching proceedings with feigned disinterest. Nikki looked a picture and he wanted her and as she knew everything emanating from him, she felt it and appreciated it.
There was a buzz and she nodded, Hugh got up and walked out to the corridor to speak with a middle aged, bespectacled lady of seeming propriety.
‘Hello, Penny -’
‘Hello, sir.’ She seemed pleased to see him again.
‘Penny, did Mrs. Jensen travel in the last three days?’
‘Yes, sir. Here is a list of her reimbursed destinations.’
Hugh glanced at them. They were all within the country. Nikki had been home each evening, anyway, at the regular times. She was cleared and he breathed a sigh of relief.
He went back in and apologized to Nikki, she nodded and went back inside the stateroom. A smile curled the outside of Rosa’s lips.
Hugh was in Moran’s when Nikki walked in about 19:00, she sat down and leaned forward.
He spoke softly. ‘It’s a puzzle. The stubs clear you, I had no access. How do you read it?’
‘Why do you say I’m clear?’
‘Reimbursed travel record.’
‘No, Bebe, that’s where our procedures fall down – I did actually go to Paris and deposit that cheque.’
‘The PM sent me to test what happened.’
‘Nikki, you’re not to enter party politics.’
‘It wasn’t, it was personal on his behalf, there’s a lady he has his eye on and no, I can’t tell you. I opened the account and presented on the same day.’
‘Mode of transport?’
‘Private plane to Orly.’
‘I see. Rosa, yes?’
‘She was right there, Bebe, behind the desk. Next move?’
‘We close the Citadel as we always planned to. We now know who, how and why, we have the lot now – Rosa interfered, tried to gild the lily.’
Ides of March, 2010
They’d both appeared at a little bar Janine had rung each of them about, now from the kitchen came the chef and he beckoned them through – all the way through – to a small room off the side, beside the staffroom.
Sitting at the table were the Prime Minister and Janine. The newcomers were asked to sit and refreshments were just brought, no ordering. The PM questioned them intensely for twenty minutes and they held nothing back.
‘Good,’ he concluded. ‘You two need a break, far away from here, the tickets have been reserved, the first leg being from our charter aerodrome. Janine will give you what you need when it’s time. ‘You’ve both been of wonderful service but could you stand any more after this?
If I remain PM, it will be life-threatening for you and if I’m pushed in a putsch, which I’m expecting, it will also be life-threatening for you. I can’t reasonably expect you both to do it.’
‘You know the answer already, don’t you sir?’ Nikki smiled.
The PM slapped Hugh’s shoulder but took Nikki’s hand, apologized to Hugh and kissed the back of it. ‘Janine has agreed to stay on too. So have Sophie and Marie-Ange. Too many wimmin eh, Hugh?’
‘I’m saying nothing, it might be life-threatening.’
‘We still have Doug too,’ he smiled. ‘All right, it’s a set menu I’m afraid – time constraints – is that all right with you both?’
The soup was already being set down.
‘Sir,’ asked Hugh, ‘what of Celeste?’
‘New life now, she was on their list, she’s gone to where our most loyal have ended up, seaside location, nice life, incommunicado, perimeter guarded. That, I’m afraid, is her future life – way too complicated otherwise.’
‘And the loyalty of those guards?’
The Prime Minister did not answer at first. Then: ‘Yes, you make a valid point, I’m terribly sorry but we’re all under the hammer now – she has a chance there, she had no chance in the open, she would have gone to sure death in Germany.’
Halfway through, the Prime Minister paused and nodded to Janine, she produced an envelope out of her briefcase, she took out a sheet of paper and handed it to them. ‘You need to know one of the reasons why.’
‘Phew,’ was Hugh’s only reaction. Nikki whistled that whistle. ‘Silver.’
The PM nodded.
‘Are you aware,’ Hugh asked, ‘what your predecessor was planning before his … er … accident? Are you aware of the historical precedent here?’
‘So just how did you plan to get away with this?’
‘That’s my little secret,’ he replied. ‘You do see though that it’s not merely for the preservation of a decrepit old man that you were and are risking your lives. At the very least, I owe you that.’
‘You’re in mortal danger,’ said Hugh. ‘The network out there is interlocked, as you know and they don’t take kindly to redeemable currency.’
‘Ach,’ the PM replied. ‘They’re only the front people.’
‘You haven’t a chance in hell, sir. Why bother?’
‘Because I’ve started to believe my own rhetoric. Because I’m an old man, starting to go a bit soft in the head. Because someone has to try. Because someone has to shake them up a bit. Why not the PM? Conceived in iniquity, he bites the hand that feeds him.’
‘You have no chance, sir, none.’
‘You mean you’ll now remove yourself from my employ, Hugh?’
‘You know the answer to that, don’t you? Are you sure we – you – got all of them?’
‘On paper, yes, it will happen while you’re away. Never would have worked if we hadn’t pulled this stunt. I feel you might have gone a bit overboard with those theatricals at your local but then again – politics is theatre is it not?’
‘I don’t think you have all of them.’
‘I know when you close things off so quickly.’
The Prime Minister’s eyes narrowed but a smile was playing around the corner of his lips. ‘I can’t divulge that, there are a couple of personal scores in there. Incidentally, at what point did you feel you were in the greatest personal danger, Hugh?’
‘As Mr. Mason at the Sheraton, during my night rambles.’
‘Quite right. And did you spot your guardian angel?’
‘Yes, she would have slit their throats before they’d come out of the box room.’
‘You two enjoy yourselves – you do need this break and I need you both fresh later. Sophie and Marie-Ange will also go separately and at a distance from you – you’ll have the mobile numbers issued to you at the hotel. Again, enjoy it.’
He stood and that was that.