3-5: Ambush

merrilee rush sketch

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I

After trudging for hours, Hugh and Julia eventually came to the kiosk – set in an indentation in the terrain, a brook in springtime, it had a parking area.

Hugh told her to stay out of sight, he was going to reconnoitre.

‘No,’ she countermanded. ‘If there’s a police bulletin out, they’ll be after you, not me. You stay hidden.’

She emerged from behind the stone wall and entered the kiosk. There was a news bulletin on the wall-mounted TV about the abductor but that girl had apparently been found safe and well, so that was one pressure less.

She watched the bulletin for a while, sipping a coffee at a table. The programme was full of the wild weather, the economic situation and then the crime report. An earnest looking officer on the box, spick and span in his blue uniform, was citing the day’s crimes, complete with mugshots. Hugh and she didn’t feature in any, which puzzled her.

The lady came over to clear up the coffee things. ‘Where you headed, love?’

‘Fell Beck.’

The woman seemed dubious. ‘That’s forty minutes from here on foot. Have you come far?’

‘Only from the weighbridge. It’s a bit complex. I had a fight with my sister about her boyfriend – she says I was trying to take him but I didn’t do anything. She was still going on about it this morning so I walked out and phoned him to come and get me but -’

‘Right, love, you don’t need to explain to me.’

‘No, it’s all right with you. A stranger’s … well … a stranger’s different somehow.’

‘I know what you mean. How old are you, dear?’

‘Twenty three.’

‘You look younger.’

‘Thank you.’

‘You’re not from around here, are you?’ said the woman. ‘You needn’t explain. He’s not open this time of year up’t Fell Foss – we usually have the coastal trade this time of year – maybe you should take a few things with you.’

‘Yes, of course. To answer your question – I’m from down south, Guildford, but my parents emigrated here.’

She ordered a range of delicacies and pleased the woman no end by choosing the very cakes she’d home-baked that morning.

‘There you go, love – I just hope he turns up. Tell you what, here’s our phone number,’ she was scribbling on the back of an order docket, ‘and if you get into any bother, my Tom could come and fetch you like.’

‘Oh, I wouldn’t want to –’

‘Nonsense, here’s the number – you obviously have your cell phone on you. By the way, what’s your name, if it’s not a rude question?’

‘Christine,’ she replied and took her leave, with many thanks.

.o0o.

About a kilometre along the path she stopped by a wooden bench and waited. Hugh was to have doubled back over the top in an arc, giving the kiosk a wide berth. He now dropped down via the path bench and off they went, with her reporting the conversation along the way.

The next step was to reach that kiosk, as they had to phone after a reasonable time had elapsed and she might be asked questions about the place.

.o0o.

It really had been a good forty minutes walk away and when they arrived, they stayed out of sight, watching.

There were some cars there which would come down the slip road, the drivers would observe that the kiosk was shut, then turn and go back, sometimes they’d stay for ten minutes, get out, check out the view, then get back in. There were two cars down her now.

Hugh asked her to memorize the registration of the most likely one, she already had. Obviously she couldn’t phone on her own mobile but a girl got out of this nearest car, urging him to come and see the view. Julia approached them, showing her mobile, saying her battery was flat.

The girl understood but it was her boyfriend who now handed his across with some remarks about her being out alone, to which she said that she was being picked up soon.

She made the call, said all was well and the two talking in the background added verisimilitude. She gave the mobile back and thanked them both, heading back down to the walkway. The young man had it in mind to follow her but the girlfriend had other ideas and they were arguing, he did then follow Julia for a short distance but then seemed to give it away. Hugh had gone some distance on then doubled back slowly, so he might pass for the one Julia was to meet.

Now they faced the difficult task of putting in half a day in the local area because a cursory glance at the ‘closed for winter’ kiosk had shown her it was the ideal accommodation for that night. The only thing against it was that it might also be a haven for local derelicts – they’d check that later.

.o0o.

A short way down the track, they laid out their little picnic on a bench and ate heartily. One portion each was left for the evening and one each for next morning. The kiosk apparently had an external tap.

Sitting on a grassy glade below the pathway, shielded by a clump of bushes from the path above, Hugh lay back and fell asleep. She was to shake him if he broke into snoring.

She shook him often.

II

With about seven minutes left of the time the girls had given themselves at the pizzeria, three men came through the door, Sophie saw the scenario instantly, threw herself at Nikki but it was too late – they were aiming at another table but one stray bullet ripped into Nikki’s leg and one into Rory’s left arm, Sophie took the three out rapidly, most likely because they’d never in a million years been expecting armed customers but that hardly helped the four at the table next to them slumped in grotesque poses and quite, quite dead, the owner rushed from the back room, took in the scene and started barking instructions in Italian to the waitresses who were getting up from the floor behind the counter and they ran out to do whatever.

The man came over to Nikki swiftly, nodded and though she probably shouldn’t have been moved, lifted her under her arms and dragged her into the kitchen. She was breathing but the leg was a mess.

Sophie was attending to Rory’s arm in the kitchen and he now told both that he’d take Nikki to a man he knew, a retired doctor – these wounds needed the bullets removing and R&R, nothing much more he suspected.

Sophie was to make it to Janine, he now gave her some privileged information, which only he could have known, to tell Janine, Nikki gave her a code on top of that, Sophie looked for a minute, kissed Nikki’s cheek and escaped through the back door.

Two Italians came through to the kitchen from the yard carrying a door, of all things, an interior door which was wet and rotting, probably having been left out in the weather. They spoke rapidly, looked at Nikki, then at the door and the owner, nodded and lifted her on, tipped it to get through the doorway, they moved quickly to the back gate, thence into the back of a beige delivery van.

On the way, Rory sat with her in the back and could do almost nothing but he gave what reassurance he could and it seemed Nikki understood some of the Italian being spoken in front, her eyes started to close and he knew he had to keep talking to her, to keep her awake.

The blood was oozing over her jeans, not gushing but it needed attention.

.o0o.

The drive went on and on until eventually they pulled into a driveway and ran the car down to the end, near the garage. A man came out and swiftly took a look at the leg.

‘She’s not critical, she’s safe here – you too. Let’s get her inside.’

.o0o.

The only place they could have stayed was in the attic – this house being of the high A frame roof style, it had plenty of room. The issue was hygiene and cold but as the warmth from below rose to the ceiling, this was perhaps the best option all round.

Getting Nikki up there was quite a job, what with Rory’s arm and with the man being 74 years of age.

Two makeshift beds were opened up and she was laid on one.

III

Evening fell with a particularly sickening thud on the Cleveland Way and the general atmosphere was damp and unpleasant. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, security-wise.

A few more cars did come down the slip road but none remained long. More than one female voice was heard to whine that they should just go back to the pub, presumably an all-nighter with a videoscreen.

They waited another hour, now quite cold, then went round the back and looked at the padlock, the way it was positioned. Julia soon had it open, they went inside and it had indeed been sealed up for the winter – no sustenance of any kind visible.

In the back room was a single rickety sofa with an old blanket over it but it was of that slide out type, making it about a three-quarter.

In a wood-veneer cupboard, its door half hanging off, they found old curtains which supposedly the owner had had plans to put up but had not got round to. They had food and shelter, the kiosk was by no means cold, though it was a trifle musty.

There was only the counter itself and that was too highly visible from outside. She was about to mock him, ‘It’s your lucky day again, isn’t it?’ when she saw he was most uneasy and said instead, ‘You use the loo first, Hugh.’

.o0o.

She returned from her little session.

They’d use the curtains which at least were not dusty, unlike the blanket and now she added, ‘We need to join our clothing as blankets, I have those pegs and we need to do it quickly – it’s cold. And Hugh, I want your clothes off this time, including your boots and socks, I want the heat from your feet warming mine.’

He looked at her – this was precisely how the logical, sane scenario was being used to cover a crime against fidelity.

They got to work, slightly shivering, had the bed ready pretty quickly, they disrobed by themselves, clothes at the read on the wooden chair, she wanted a spooning position, his arm around her from behind, he got in, then her and immediately, the heat of his thing burnt between her bottom cheeks, she completed the blanket business and they were already warm.

‘This is not right,’ he repeated.

‘Hugh, stop it, all right, stop this rationalizing, it’s neither the time nor the place.’ She slightly lifted her haunches, positioned him and it was in. ‘Now hold me close, talk first, then we can get going.’

He couldn’t think what to say, so he asked, ‘Tell me about this Christine thing.’

‘Christine? That’s the nickname my parents called me. They thought of naming me Kristina, you see and well …’

He didn’t speak and she was anxious, she looked over her shoulder. ‘You don’t like that name?’

‘Tvoya’ imya – ochen krasiva, Yulia. Ti takzhe ochyen krasiva, Milaya.’

She started, ‘You know Russian?’

‘Nimnoshka.’

‘That’s lovely.’ Then, ‘All right Hugh, maybe we’ll talk later.’

It was actually the position which brought it on fastest and it happened quickly. He sighed and realized he’d have to explain about this all over again, he sighed once more and told her how things generally went with him.

‘I’m flattered. You probably think I have lovers -’

‘I don’t, that’s why you’re called Miss Ice.’

‘Exactly. I’m trying to compliment you -’

‘I know.’

‘I did have boyfriends back here in England, I want to tell you you’re safe. I want to tell you that this is all right as far as I’m concerned but I do know your dilemma. We can stop and I’ll take the blame … but I’d prefer you didn’t stop.’

‘You know I can’t do either. All the same, this will have to be it because it’s not comfortable on this divan and I do need to think tomorrow … about many things.’

‘Yes.’ She gasped as she felt it again and soon the divan was creaking, but not overly so.

.o0o.

That one took fifteen minutes, she took some and dabbed it over her face. ‘Supposed to be good for the complexion.’ She now yawned. ‘Sorry, that was quite some walk, I do agree – shall we sleep some?’

‘Are you all right sleeping with like this. You want to clean up?’

‘I’m one of the most fastidious people around but no – we can do that in the morning. Just hold me. Nigh nigh, Hugh. And sweetie … thank you.’

She placed a hand over his and squeezed, he leant over her shoulder and kissed her cheek.

IV

In Biriatou, it was another fine day outside when they were awakened by the buzzer, Jean-Claude glanced from the bedroom window at the patio and recognized the man immediately, one of his colleagues from the surete in bygone days but more importantly, one of those he’d been told to expect.

There appeared to be just him.

He donned his robe, went downstairs, switched on the coffee machine and went to the door. Now, anyone could have broken in, the door was so thin so the point of the code exchange was more in the nature of mutual reassurance than anything else, he undid the locks and Nicolas came through, they embraced and went to the bar stools.

Nicolas began the narrative of the situation in Paris, no more grim than they’d expected and no less either. He had no idea about places such as Fontainebleau but they’d better be resigned to the fact that any place formerly owned or frequented by Section members had been well turned over and was staked out, pending a possible return of the wanderers.

Jean-Claude nodded but he was still dismayed, dismayed at the finality of the report. Nicolas added though, ‘That’s not to say we couldn’t plan to distract them while you two slipped in for a brief time but the whole thing would be fraught.’

Geneviève appeared, dressed and poured herself some coffee, offering to top up Nicolas’s; Jean-Claude did the introductions and Genie realized she’d not met this one before. There was silence until she asked, ‘Well?’

By way of reply, Jean-Claude asked Nicolas, ‘What are the realistic chances of going to Fontainebleau?’

‘Possible but quite difficult.’

‘And Paris?’

‘Out of the question.’

Geneviève hardly dared hope. ‘How could we travel incognito?’

‘There are checkpoints everywhere, on every toll road, on most minor roads, at the entrance to all towns – there are guard boxes at the city limits of each village. If you were both rivetted into place under the tray so you could breathe, that would get you to a changeover point where we’d have to take you out with difficulty and then put you in a second vehicle, a van but all this would cost.’ Jean-Claude waved that away. ‘You can dismiss this, Jean-Claude but all assets of the terrorists have been seized and you would have trouble coming up with the remuneration.’

‘I still have two friends who look after the bulk of my funds.’

‘If you mean Marcel Lefebvre, he is head of le Ministère de l’Agriculture et de la Pêche in the current administration although some hold that he is no natural friend of the president. He would have had to give up any assets he held on your behalf and that of any other enemies of the state.’

‘Enemies of the state – mon Dieu!’

‘Look, it can be done but you must realize the new situation. You might have some friends left and your funds may be safe in some hands but you still must access them, make contact. These men and women who will help you are not doing it for the country – this is a private matter for you and your wife.’

They both saw that.

V

In the morning, in the kiosk, they didn’t say much, they washed each other at the tap, the water was cold on the cloth.

They dressed, folded and put everything away, sat down and had the last portions of the still reasonable food, packed the remains in the brown packet to ditch, leaving only the packet and tinned foods for the day, plus a little for the following morning.

She re-locked the door behind them and they stepped down to the clifftop pathway.

.o0o.

Now they pushed the pace but it was actually unnecessary because their pick-up was at a designated time near the coast next morning and they were only twenty-five miles from there now.

She took his arm and stopped him, in fact stood in front of him.

‘You’re going too fast.’ She placed her hands on his shoulders. I once thought you were many things, Hugh Jensen, even arrogant, that’s why I was hostile, I also feared how you would be with me … but I really wasn’t expecting … tenderness.’ She looked into his eyes. ‘I was hoping like crazy it would be you because I can only deal with someone like you. And the PM. When you walked into that cafe and not Sophie, I was over the moon, Hugh. You do know all that talk at the beginning was just bull, don’t you?’ He smiled weakly. ‘If you’d wanted a frozen companion, Hugh, if you’d really wanted Miss Ice, then you should have acted a right bastard. But you didn’t and I’m only human. Last night was beautiful, let’s just enjoy each other today and we’ll deal with tomorrow tomorrow, OK?’

He sighed. ‘I’ve been fighting myself with you.’

‘I know you have, I know your operational suspicion of me too and there’s no way to show you I’m not guilty but I also know there’s someone here taking care of me for now and that transcends everything in my book.’

‘Of course.’ He smiled a nice smile. ‘Of course, let’s just enjoy this.’

The path now moved left, out to the edge of the cliff, they stopped and looked out over the North Sea, the angry greyness down there.

.o0o.

As the afternoon wore on, the question of the night’s lodgings was playing on his mind and she was showing signs of tiring, tough cookie though she was. He was aching and creaking something awful – a weariness was creeping into his lower legs and feet.

They were now well within range of the pickup point and they had to rest and eat soon – but where? Another B&B? Another kiosk? Risk sleeping rough? It had to be near to this path. The dusk wasn’t far off, the dampness was appearing and it didn’t look a palatable prospect at all.

They walked past a section of wall on the other side of which was a shed, an old wooden shed, quite a large one. He lifted himself up a moment and took a look, then they moved on.

‘That could be our digs tonight. Not great but it will keep most of the weather out for a few hours. Let’s walk on a bit further and see if there’s anything better.’

.o0o.

There wasn’t so they went back, got over the fence, the lock was a doddle for her, it was basically just tools inside, not even hay but there was hessian piled up under a bench – it would see them through to the morning.

She went back to the door and looked, thought about it, rummaged in her pack for the pencil light torch, went to the other end of the barn and her eyes looked over the small window. She beckoned him over to give her a lift up and through she scrambled, he had an idea what she was doing.

A minute later, she was back and got through herself this time, locking the window behind her. ‘I jammed one of the rods in the lock – it won’t open. It gives us time. Do you think you can get through here when we have to go?’

‘In an emergency, I can get through anywhere. The broken lock’s enough.’

‘I don’t think anyone’s going to come here at this hour, nor when we leave. So,’ she looked at him, ‘my rules tonight.’

They opened some minipacks and ate, putting the rubbish in a plastic bag in his pack, she used the sump with the grill at the end of the hut to ablute, most primitive. Then it was his turn.

They didn’t bother with the clothes pegs blankets this time because they’d seen a few horse blankets, including two newish ones – they took their clothes off and climbed under the new blankets.

Suddenly she asked how much time they had.

‘We’re collected at 05:00, two miles obliquely downhill, over fields and walls. Different pick-up point to earlier but still one of ours. We’ll have to stick to the sides of fields and go separately. I’ll tell you exactly where and how just before we go.’

‘Three hours of love then, three hours of sleep. For these six hours I am yours, to do as you wish with – make me happy and I’ll do everything I can to make you happy.’

.o0o.

After she felt him convulse the third time, she waited until what she judged was the last drop, lay beside him and it became dangerously loving, there were only the sounds of their kissing and of the night creatures outside.

.o0o.

Close to the time they really had to sleep, she started crying. ‘Hugh, everything is so wrong, everything is so out of line in this universe, when beautiful things are so wrong and ugly things are everywhere. When things must end.’

Now he was worried, she caught that and placed her hand on his cheek. ‘Not from me, never from me, I could not hurt you if I tried. You sleep now, you’re completely safe with me here looking after you, this I swear to you faithfully. I’ll wake you at the right time.’

VI

The awkwardness of the position Jean-Claude and Geneviève found themselves in, wedged in, rivetted in like that, was as nothing compared to the thirst which gripped after the first four hours, with the van showing no signs of doing anything more than slowing down for towns, stopping at checkpoints, pulling on to the main road again.

Fontainebleau was coming at a price and Geneviève reflected that she might just be getting too old for this sort of thing after all. She’d cast her eyes around the forest, take in the Lodge, touch something and then leave it forever, satisfied. Yes, that’s how she’d do it and she’d not trouble Jean-Claude again on the matter. She’d allow herself to fall into him now and that would be that.

The van now slowed and pulled over, they felt the nearside wheels go into something softer, the handbrake went on and someone got out on the passenger side. They thought they could make out conversation in the distance – that might have been right on schedule, it might not have been. It probably was. Soon there’d be a clammering and the rivets would be drilled out, they’d stretch and change vehicles. Yes, here it was.

Two people had jumped up into the tray and Marcel called to them, ‘Geneviève, Jean-Claude, ca va?’

‘There’ve been better days,’ he answered. ‘Where are we?’

‘Brinon-sur-Sauldre.’

‘That close?’ Geneviève was overjoyed.

‘Geneviève,’ said Marcel, ‘all is not well. We can get you not far from la Chapelle-la-Reine, your friend Nicolette’s home but we can’t get you all the way. For a start, the farm has disintegrated and secondly, there are troops in place both near the property and at some distance, even on the hill we’d take you to. The best we can do is take you to Jacqueville, you’d be able to see over the general area in the distance, if the haze is not too bad.’

‘Could you rivet us back in and then just drive close to the Lodge and tell us later where exactly we’d gone?’

Marcel sighed. ‘We could, Geneviève but the risk is too great for both of you and you’d not know when you were there.’

‘I’d know.’

Jean-Claude asked, ‘Could this utility we’re in go through?’

‘Non, it’s from the south – why would it go to Fontainebleau? There’d be enough suspicion to stop you and they would be thorough. They found a son and daughter three weeks ago trying to re-establish contact and no one’s heard of them since. The only real choice is to get out now, change vehicles, go through the rivets again at Jacqueville and at least you’d have seen the area.’

They all heard Geneviève sobbing. ‘It’s iniquitous. I just want to see my home. It’s all right, Marcel, I don’t mean you.’

‘Genie.’

‘I’m fine, Jean-Claude. All right, let it be so.’ She soaked up as much of the atmosphere as she could, then turned and nodded.

The bolting in began again, Geneviève first. The noise was appalling because it was accompanied by the vibration of the whole frame but soon enough it was over. The van hit the B road and it was less than smooth below.

VII

Hugh awoke first, she picked up on his body movement, awoke, looked across in the pale light and kissed him. ‘I beg you, just this last time but very slowly, very softly, I’m going to sing.’

That stunned him.

‘There’ll be no strings to bind your hands
Not if my love can’t bind your heart
And there’s no need to take a stand
For it was I who chose to start
I see no need to take me home
I’m old enough to face the dawn

Just call me angel of the morning, (angel)
Just touch my cheek before you leave me, baby
Just call me angel of the morning, (angel)
Then slowly turn away … from me

Maybe the sun’s light will be dim
And it won’t matter anyhow
If morning’s echo says we’ve sinned
Well, it was what I wanted now
And if we’re victims of the night
I won’t be blinded by the light

Just call me angel of the morning, (angel)
Just touch my cheek before you leave me, baby
Just call me angel of the morning, (angel)
Then slowly turn away
I won’t beg you to stay
With me
Through the tears of the day
Of the years
Baby, baby, baby.’

Her voice was so like Merrilee Rush’s that he had to ask.

‘You like Merrilee’s version?’

‘I’m staggered, this is the exact version for this moment.’

‘I know that. You now have my signed photo and this song for you forever. I’ve given you my body and also my heart. But you’re still so frightened of me – you’re not frightened of me as one of the enemy in the least, you’re frightened of your love for me, you’re so upset with yourself for loving me. And you really do love me.’

‘Yes I do. Very much.’

.o0o.

They ate their last portions in bed, it being chilly, then they had to get up and get ready.

He told her where, when and how to get there best, they’d rejoin at the helicopter. She sang once again:

‘Just call me angel of the morning, (angel)
Then slowly turn away
I won’t beg you to stay … with me
Just call me angel of the morning, Hugh.’

‘Angel of the morning,’ he said to her, placed his palm on her cheek, then kissed her lips.

‘Now slowly turn away and keep going, Hugh, out of that window, down to the helicopter. And Hugh? Do you know who else is also called angel of the morning?’

That one didn’t register with him, she saw that, she blew him a kiss and he climbed through the window.

.o0o.

He only saw her as she emerged from the trees on the other side of the clearing, the chopper was hovering just above ground level, the fifteen minutes wait was over and he saw her running hell for leather towards it.

She scrambled on board quickly, helped by the two crew members, he was a tad slower, a hail of gunfire rang out from the bushes, silenced in the same second by fire from the copter but Hugh was on the ground, not responding to their calls to get on board.

They peered down, swore, took the stretcher from the wall, jumped down, rolled him onto it and huffed and puffed until he was onboard, hauled themselves up, the door closed and the helicopter lifted off.

She was on her knees beside him, calling his name.

VIII

The group at the long table in the new PM’s office was elated. Robert Jamieson was holding forth.

‘And you know, the woman wasn’t even our doing. Some gangland war and the target was at the next table. What luck, eh?’

‘But she’s dead?’ asked the unidentified woman.

‘Alas, dear lady, no. Jensen must be though – the report said he didn’t look too well. We can only hope.’

‘We’re in touch with all the hospitals,’ added D, ‘but they’d be crazy to take her to one of them. It’s possible they’ll have her out of the country by now but I suspect she may still be within our borders. We’re being vigilant.’

IX

Sophie and Janine did the last leg back to the island via proa, a native sailing craft, they climbed the steps of the Big House and went straight through to the Prime Minister.

Brandies were handed to them, they sat in the armchairs, the PM on the couch and they shared all they knew.

‘Not the greatest operation,’ said Janine.

‘Why do you say that, Janine? You planned it, we achieved our objectives.’

‘Doug and Frank?’

‘Bad but we now know why, it’s made Round 2 possible, Rory and Nikki, Hugh and Julia are alive – I suspect Julia was the one – she’ll find it tough to live with herself now.

X

The last few kilometres were by helicopter for Hugh and Julia, both being dropped directly at the hospital, lowered in fact, orderlies came from everywhere and the room had been prepared.

.o0o.

The senior medico went over to Julia, Sophie and the PM. ‘He’ll live all right but there seems damage to the nerves and various other less vital complications. This is going to be a case of good care, a long convalescence and lots of support. I’ve seen people come out of these things before and I’ve seen them … not.

Don’t be upset if he doesn’t recognize anyone – he’ll judge by what he’s seeing and feeling at the time. I think you should prepare for the worst case scenario, which is that he’ll remain more or less like this for the foreseeable future. The best scenario is that he’ll make a full physical recovery but mentally? That’s anyone’s guess at this point.’

.o0o.

Back at the Big House, the PM asked if Julia would like a brandy.

‘You know, I think I’d really love that,’ and she watched him scurrying over to pour it.

‘You too Sophie?’ Sophie nodded yes please.

The liquid went down fine and they got down to details.

XI

Two weeks in an attic. Nikki thought she might write a book about that. Two weeks in an attic with Rory, after what Sophie had said in that room, after what Hugh had said, after her denials – prescient, but Nikki belonged to Hugh, Rory was going to have to accept that.

The removal of the bullet had been painful but was now in the past. They’d had to use a pan each for that business and the man collected it in the mornings. They hadn’t washed but when the bullets were removed, the nurse had washed them.

Now there was a shift – Rory found he could move all right and started looking after her a bit.

They were eating basically what the man had downstairs in the cupboard plus a slight increase he’d brought in. Gradually, she suggested a few other things he could buy in, insisting he take the money and the road to recovery was underway.

Two things were always going to happen and had happened. She was in some pain and when she needed the loo, he brought it over and propped her body up while she did it, then cleaned herself.

That did have an effect on both of them.

Later in the day, getting ready for a snooze, he had turned away to undress and had got to the shirt but was struggling with his button, she told him to come over and she undid it, she took the shirt off him and his thing went up, she reached out and took it through the cloth, then suddenly pulled away.

.o0o.

That night, they were lying on their beds and the memory of the afternoon was still there. ‘You need the pan again, Nikki?’

She thought she’d look back at this moment later and realize it was the turning point. She didn’t actually need it. ‘Yes please.’

He held her in place like earlier but this time, when she went to wipe herself, he took the paper and did it himself, his fingers were awfully close. She knew she had to pull away. She didn’t.

He stopped and looked hard at her, then at the bed.

‘It will take the weight of two if we don’t move too much,’ she heard her voice saying.

He laid her down again, as per earlier, only this time he played with her, carefully got onto the bed and there it was but a sudden pain shot through her and she pushed at him, he pulled out.

‘Sorry, sorry, I just can’t.’

He went back to his bed.

XIII

Sophie dropped in on Hugh late evening for the umpteenth time these two weeks and was surprised to again find Julia there.

What surprised her even more was that the girl had her hand over his hand and was speaking under her breath although, in his coma, he couldn’t hear anything she was saying. To Sophie, it sounded like terms of endearment and remorse at what they’d done. No doubt some enterprising medico had got close enough to hear what was being said but they’d hardly tell her, Sophie.

The girl seemed to be working herself into a lather and that couldn’t be good from anyone’s point of view, least of all for her own wellbeing. Once Nikki returned, the girl would be cut off, abandoned from her object of reverence. Then there was the question of Hugh himself – if he ever came out of it.

Sophie could take a set against the girl, warn her, rationalize, whatever, but she read her as a determined miss. By far the better plan was to take Julia back to her, Sophie’s hut and talk, find out how it lay between Hugh and her, make decisions based on that.

Yes, that was the better way.

‘Julia.’ She turned around sharply and looked at Sophie, who continued, ‘Fancy meeting you here again. Any changes?’ Julia shook her head. ‘Come back with me tonight. You’re alone, I’m alone and I’d really like your company.’

‘I …’ she thought about it. ‘All right.’

.o0o.

Julia was many things but she wasn’t that way inclined, she didn’t share the continental lack of complexes over women and women. To Sophie, it was par for the course to spend the night with Julia. To Julia, this was not what she was about.

She was trapped though. Now in Sophie’s hut, she’d thought they were going to sit and talk but when Sophie had done her toilet and come back to bed, the penny had dropped. Julia stood on the rush matting, not knowing what to do.

‘It’s talk, Julia, just talk.’

Gingerly, she sat on the edge of the bed, then allowed herself to lie down. Sophie threw the light cover over her and asked, ‘Tell me about what happened. Not the things you told us all in the Big Room – the other things. How far did it go with Hugh? Don’t worry, I’m my own person, I’m not Hugh’s spy, nor am I Nikki’s, nor the PM’s – of that you can be sure.’

Julia obviously wanted to get it off her chest and as Sophie did seem neutral in the matter, she talked about how he’d looked after her, the night in the kiosk, the final night but Sophie wasn’t quite satisfied.

‘The feeling you were showing in the hospital room was not for a man who just looked after you. I don’t want you hurt once Nikki returns.’

‘It was … intimate … but he was trying to be good.’

‘There was still physical though.’

‘He was a gentleman.’

‘A gentleman with a young operative he’d been sent to rescue.’

‘That’s horrible. It wasn’t like that at all. I played him.’

‘And?’

‘We became close.’

‘You made love over and over. Do you love him?’

‘Yes.’

‘Julia, what happens when Nikki comes back?’

‘I suppose I just go back to normal duties.’

‘Can you?’

She sighed. ‘I don’t know, Sophie, I don’t know. Look, I know why you’re asking – everyone calls you his guardian angel and I want to tell you it’s OK – that’s fine, your concern, and I think you really are concerned for me too. That’s why I told you those things. What are your own feelings?’

‘Complicated but I can keep to the straight path.’

‘Don’t you want someone of your own?’

‘Yes but not yet. I’m still not in any sort of condition for that – I’ll just keep doing this for some time and then, when I feel up to it, I’ll look around.’

‘What if Nikki doesn’t want you near him?’

‘I won’t be near him. Nikki knows I’ll be on the same island though. I told Hugh it was all wrong, all twisted round.’

XIII

Nikki looked up at Rory and stroked his hair, then ran her hand over his face.

They’d had a second attempt and the pain had shot through her again, she couldn’t do it. Only now did the remorse set in. She knew she’d never stay with him because he’d do to the next girl what they had just done, she knew there was no love involved. If she hadn’t been married … but she was … and what was more, it wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference … Rory lacked compassion, he didn’t care for her.

He went back to his own bed and frankly, he was relieved, his own back was killing him, he pulled the bedclothes up, said goodnight and fell asleep.

Nikki just stared into space at the far wall.

XIV

‘We’ve had a message through,’ the Prime Minister told Sophie next morning. ‘Rory and Nikki are recovering and should be here within eight days. Rory’s used the place before – he knows the people.’

He looked across at Sophie. ‘I’d like to ask you, Mademoiselle, if you would come up to the Big House for some time. I know of your independence but a lady in this society, on this island, does not remain alone in a hut. If you insist, then I’ll accede but I confess I could do with the company. And there’s one other thing.’

‘Yes?’

‘I’d like Julia up here too. If we could distract her a little, keep her company, she might spend just a little less time at the hospital. As you know, there are three large rooms up here. The nearest is mine and the other two would belong to both of you.

There is a lounge through the fourth door, where you can sit and talk if you like – the rooms are better furnished in this house than in the huts. I confess I’d like the company of two ladies, also just to know someone else was in the house at night.’

‘You haven’t mentioned Marie-Ange, Prime Minister. What happened?’

‘Does this go any further than this room?’

‘You know me, if I say no, I mean no. No it doesn’t go any further, ever.’

‘I made love to her in her room, not even good love as far as I can tell. She is on Jujun for a short time, then she and I will meet again.’

‘And do you plan to make love to me?’

‘No, that would be even worse, as I’ve told you about Marie-Ange now. But what makes it doubly worse is that I have someone. She’s not mine yet but I have my eye on her – she’s in London, she was working quite close to where you were for some time, she’s seen you, she’s more my age. And no, I cannot say how but I’m trying to find a way to bring her here.’

‘And Marie-Ange? Does she love you? Do you love her?’

‘I do, yes. I think she does.’

‘Am I permitted to talk to her?’

‘I was half-hoping.’

.o0o.

Sophie found her on Jujun and called her down to the river – they sat on the sand.

‘He told me about the lovemaking, he’s concerned. Do you love him?’

‘That’s it, Sophie, I don’t know. I made it happen but -’

‘But now you know, you don’t need to know any more?’

‘Maybe. I’d been close to him for so long.’

‘You’ve made no moves over here, on this island?’

‘I want to be back in the Big House, doing my job. I like my job and the lovemaking has now got in the way.’

‘You both care very much and it’s stupid you two being apart. He uses a single bed in there, there’s a double next door and two singles in the third. We take one of those singles into his room and you both have your own beds. If it ever arises again, he comes to your bed.

You see, there are practical arrangements, Marie-Ange – I am now in your old room, Julia will be next door to me and Nikki goes into the fourth room when she gets back – that’s many women in one place, almost his harem – his cup will run over but a happy boss is an efficient boss. Come back now with me. Get your things and we’ll paddle over.

———————————

Chapter 3-4 hereChapter 3-6 here

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