Night had fallen when they heard the helicopter outside the Big House and all three residents raced out to the large verandah, Julia first, then Sophie, followed a long way back by the PM.
The dust scattered in all directions, the chopper blades made a racket, they landed, officers jumped down and offered to assist Rory but he waved them away and climbed down, then they turned to the hatch and Nicolette appeared, sat on the floor at the hatch, placed a crutch under her good arm, the end on the ground and lowered herself.
She’d wanted to do that but now her strength deserted her and she swayed back and forth. The stretcher which had been at the ready was now employed, she was carried the few paces to the steps and up into the house.
The PM indicated her room. She was set up in the bed, the PM called for Marie-Ange but she was ahead of him, she’d already arranged for the pot, Sophie and she went in and he stepped out, a few minutes elapsed, Marie-Ange took it away, they all went back in, Nikki was propped up, chairs were taken in and they were seated around the bed.
She indicated she’d already eaten and her first question was, ‘Hugh?’
The PM replied. ‘He’s sleeping. Let him sleep for now, Nikki. He’s here with us, of course … he was … hurt … in the evacuation … so he needs this sleep. Let’s get through this night and you’ll see him first thing tomorrow morning.’
Julia was wooden faced but what disturbed Sophie mightily was that Rory had adopted a seating position so close to Nicolette.
The deeply sympathetic looks told a tale and Sophie’s heart sank. In fact, a seemingly irrational annoyance began in her and it had much to do with the truth they’d tried to get her, Sophie, to rise to. And now, here was Nicolette doing precisely what they’d told Sophie was wrong.
She got up and swiftly left the room, Nicolette’s eyes followed her and immediately she knew she was in trouble. Rory didn’t seem aware, the PM might have been but said nothing, Julia had a gleam in her eye.
In the embarrassing silence, embarrassing to each for entirely different reasons, the PM said, ‘Well, perhaps we’ll all wait for the morrow and get some rest for now. Is there anything you need, Nicolette, apart from towels and so on? How will you manage through the night?’
‘Who’s next door?’
‘Julia, I’ll try not to but if I call out or bang on your wall, would you come through?’
‘Of c-o-u-r-s-e I will, Mrs. Jensen.’ She was looking straight at Nicolette and it was not a warm, welcoming look. Nicolette’s heart sank.
Sophie was sitting, brooding, on the verandah, feet on the steps. She caught Rory on the way out and asked for a minute. He sat down on the decking beside her.
‘Why, Rory? She’s married to Hugh.’
His shoulders sagged. ‘How did you -’
‘It was so damned obvious in there. You were so obvious. Nikki gave herself away immediately. I repeat – why? How many times did you fuck her? If you don’t tell me, I’ll get it out of her and she’ll go hysterical.’
‘Twice – you see, she couldn’t really but we got very close through the circumstances – the pot was one reason – and it went over the line but she was in pain. We tried a second time but it was too difficult for her.’ There was silence. Then he asked, ‘May I go now? I’m very tired.’
‘That’s entirely up to you, Rory – all your actions are entirely up to you.’
He rose, shaking his head and took his leave. After twenty seconds, the PM came out to the verandah with two brandies and with great difficulty, sat beside her on the decking. She protested that he should use a chair but he waved it away. ‘Not good, Sophie, but at least it doesn’t seem to have gone beyond that, emotionally it might be different.’
She now told him of Julia but did not betray all of it.
The PM ran his fingers through his greying hair and sighed. ‘They seem to have been lovers for sure, full on I’d say, that’s not good at all, not for any of us.’
‘Perhaps, perhaps not but all the same, there’s something wrong with that girl, sir, something seriously wrong. Julia’s grief is out of all proportion, I mean -even if they made love all night long. She’s really beside herself when she’s with him.’
‘And tomorrow, Nicolette finds out about Hugh. We’ll have to stretcher her there.’
With the daylight came a brighter mood and first in was Rory, to warn Nikki they’d been sprung.
She was chagrined. ‘You had me going,’ she said, ‘I admit that,’ as if she was guiltless, ‘but there was no love in it and that’s why I’m upset now.’
‘Must there always be love?’
‘Oh my goodness. Please go, please leave me.’
He did, only to see Sophie come through the door. Nikki asked, ‘Why doesn’t Hugh just come up to the house here? Is he all right?’
‘You’ll have to ask him that yourself, Nikki. I understand he’s not all that well.’
‘How much do you know?’
‘You had intercourse twice but the pain was too much. You were the one who suggested, with a nod towards your bed, that he sleep with you in the first place.’ Sophie was actually trying this on and when Nikki did not deny it, she was sickened, ‘and this is what you taught me was right and wrong? This is what we talked about before he went north?’
Nicolette dissolved into tears.
The orderlies came to get her.
Just inside the door of the hospital, still in the anteroom, they set up the trolley, the chief medico came through and greeted her, welcoming her back and promising she’d be wheeled through to see her husband in one moment.
He then gave the medical summary of Hugh’s injuries, and before she even had time to ask, he assured her that Mr. Jensen would not die but they were still unsure what would happen. He was currently in an induced coma and had to remain that way, in order for the healing to take place.
She was hardly able to breathe, she gasped and an orderly came through with a syringe. The doctor explained what it was and why he was worried about her state, particularly in the light of her own injuries, she consented and asked, ‘How many minutes?’
‘Five or six.’
The injection was given and she was wheeled through, the others went back up to the house.
The sight which greeted her was one she’d never wished to see, ever. It had to have been his most inelegant position, he looked all of his years, bereft as he was of his vibrancy, his sharpness, and the whole horror of how she was even here became too much and she passed out.
Jean-Claude opened their front door and stood back for Geneviève to go through. She threw down her bag, put the coffee on, he did a few things and then they took the coffee to the low table.
‘On a scale from one to ten, how satisfied were you? he asked.
‘Mmm … maybe 7 … 8. Maybe 8. Just to be so close, to see that countryside – it wasn’t just the farmhouse I knew, I knew the surrounding land too and I’ve driven through there many times. Tragedy that we couldn’t just see the rest of it, to set eyes on the Lodge. Your idea was fabulous though – someone takes a photo. That’s going to help, Jean-Claude … and one of my old apartement. That will suffice for a long time. How do you feel?’
‘Same. I’d love to have seen Paris, Café Jardin, had a meal with friends, you know the sort of thing. But it was still home.’
When Nikki awoke, it was late in the day but she couldn’t immediately know that. She looked across at her husband and he’d shifted position but was still out like a light.
Now he wasn’t such a shock to her and even looked at peace. She reached out and touched his hand, then placed her own over his. Did he smile or was that her imagination?
She repeated his name, over and over and it didn’t get her any closer to a solution.
There were so many ifs. Too easily she’d succumbed to Rory and she knew in her heart just how bad it was – there was nothing sudden, they’d discussed it before he’d gone north.
And Hugh? What if the weeks went on, then the months and then the years? What if Hugh remained like this? Was she the dutiful wife? And what of that girl Julia?
There was a rustling of the mosquito curtain and in came that very Julia.
‘How often do you come here, Julia?’
‘So I heard. Why so much?’
‘I think you know. What you did with Rory – sexual intercourse with him -’
‘Sophie told you!’ She was furious.
‘Sophie? No, I haven’t see her. You told me just now … by your reaction.’ Nikki was openmouthed. ‘I’m not judging you, Mrs. Jensen but I wouldn’t have done that to my husband.’
Nikki was about to get stuck into this girl but suddenly realized there was something going on here – just maybe she could get Julia to react. She told her about their conversation about Hugh going north to her and it was so uncannily accurate that Julia did not dispute any of it, she knew all of it. Nikki was chagrined – clearly those two had slept together and, it seemed, far more.
Julia continued, ‘Mrs. Jensen, he was so good to me, he was so kind. Perhaps that’s why I love him. You would like Rory to be yours too … wouldn’t you? Or maybe just your fuck-buddy. But please know this – if you go to Rory to get your rocks off, I shall look after Hugh forever. And if anything happens to me, Sophie will always look after him. So don’t feel too badly about your cast-off man.’
Nikki was boiling and Julia was watching every facial movement. Nikki knew full well she was being wound up, which did made it fractionally easier, as an original wind-up merchant herself.
‘He’s my husband, Julia. Did you ever hear about my capture, how in Germany I was waiting for a miracle to get to see him again?’
‘Yes, I did hear. I’m very sorry, I should not have said that just now. Doesn’t mean anything to you anymore, does it?’
‘Please ask the doctor to come in and let me sleep. Please let me sleep now.’
Julia did just that and did not leave until the hypodermic had been administered and Nikki seemed out like a light, then she went round to the other side of the bed and cradled Hugh in her arms. The staff found it ‘excessive’, but Julia was oblivious.
Sitting by herself down at the water’s edge this evening, her favourite spot, Sophie played with a long stem of grass and reflected that Rory and Nikki would just have been plain not on. Well, it wasn’t on anyway, was it? She was sure Nikki had woken up to that … but Julia … ah, that was a different matter.
At that moment, the very person came down to the water’s edge, dusk was now upon them, she sat beside Sophie and Sophie put one arm around her. ‘I’ve been thinking about you.’
‘No actually, quite the opposite. Do you know my history?’
‘I’m still not quite right but I’m getting there. Someone like me knows when someone else is not quite right either. You’re so over the top with Hugh – I can understand he was loving to you, that there was very deep lovemaking between the two of you, maybe it even had something to do with your remorse when he was shot,’ Julia looked over sharply, ‘but it’s out of all proportion and it worries me. It can’t be good for you and I’m wondering how it will be for Hugh once he comes out if it.’
‘Why should you worry?’
‘Because I do. Because I came out of horror and I want to find peace. Let’s go for a swim.’
Sophie then proceeded to take her entire outfit off and stepped into the river. Julia hesitated for maybe ten seconds and then followed suit. The issue was not the cold – they were at the end of an estuary which retained a fair amount of warmth and the weather was still bearable this far south during the day.
When she reached Sophie, she said, ‘You’re a strange person.’
‘I’m a person alone, Julia.’
They were all gathered in the Big Room, including Nicolette, including Rory, they seated themselves and the Prime Minister opened.
‘Let’s get down to business. We’ve a major hit on the drawing board but only two people are going in this time – Rory and Julia – they’re the two hardest and fastest. According to R, one of the eight from last time was almost certainly a traitor.’
‘R?’ asked Rory.
‘Our lady in the cabinet office.’
‘Yes, as you put it, flipp’n’eck. I’m not risking Janine and besides, I have other tasks for her, further afield. This is a ‘get in – do the job – get out’ affair.’
‘Two days from now.’
Rory now put some time in with Julia and they discussed everything except the hot topic of the moment. They walked up the beach, they walked back, they walked through the village, they walked back.
He was eventually satisfied and felt she’d keep up with him. ‘Now you can ask me about that other matter.’
‘Both of us had a Jensen.’
‘Yes, we’re unique, are we not? All right, Julia – what’s your line?’
‘I did that because I love Hugh. Do you love Mrs. Jensen?’
‘Look, we were thrown together, a person becomes close looking after the other.’
‘But you don’t love her.’
‘Get off it, Julia.’
Nikki was pretty well out and about now on that single crutch she’d got working well and she decided to go to the hospital.
The moment she walked in, the staff showed slight alarm, she put two and two together and without even asking, went through – there was Julia holding Hugh’s hand and deeply kissing him on the lips.
She looked up at Nikki and Julia’s expression startled her, Julia had neither jumped up in guilt nor become belligerent nor anything like that – in fact she was in tears.
‘What is it, Julia? Please explain because he’s precious to me.’
Julia now came up to Nikki and held her shoulders in her hands, then stepped forward and kissed Nikki on the lips too. ‘Look after him, Mrs. Jensen, Nikki, I hand him back to you now. Look after him.’
Then she turned and ran from the hospital.
All things packed, ready for an 08:00 airlift, Rory checked over his list and felt he was ready.
‘R’ had to be used sparingly – it had been only eight times now – and each time had been vindicated. He speculated as to who R could be, obviously someone with access to the usurper’s ear.
He dropped off to sleep.
Julia arrived at 03:30, the flight was long and boring.
They played some cards, they looked out of the tiny porthole windows at the blackness, the helicopter went down for a refuel and then came up once more. The security detail at the other end of the passenger space cleaned their weapons whilst sitting impassively on the benches along the fuselage.
Rory went through R’s intelligence, reading it aloud to Julia.
‘Britain’s too hot now. Jamieson has things far better organized than formerly and our sceptered isle is now littered with CCTV, informants, control points, all travel is now slow and broken down into sections, each requiring its own documentation.
The population has been forced back into a dark age ‘village mentality’ where access to one’s immediate area is relatively painless but anything in the nature of broader movement necessitates a visit to the ‘local authority’, as it’s termed, accompanied by some fairly intense questioning, fingerprinting and the like.
The M1 is now, apparently, almost deserted, except for military vehicles. The private car has fallen into disuse, owing to the shortage of benzene and apart from the military, the only road users are the transports who continue their task of supply.
The new PM has stopped short of declaring out-and-out military law – that’s red rag to a bull in this country – but the overall effect is not far off it. People disappear from their homes overnight, sometimes cars appear and then a family waits anxiously for news.
People avoid each other’s eyes, they’ve learnt not to say too much and spies, or ‘loyalists’ as the regime refers to them, are spread throughout the community. At lunch, a worker might make a disparaging remark, three days later he has mysteriously been replaced by a new colleague.
And yet people have all the food they could require and if they also use the ration system, they can supplement what they already have and live a not uncomfortable life, provided they’re prepared to stay in their immediate vicinity and not say boo to a goose.’
Julia looked at him. ‘I’ve been thinking about what happens if we get caught. I’m going to take the capsule.’
‘I can’t,’ said Rory.
‘Hugh’s wife, yes?’
‘What the hell are you talking about? What’s that to you when all’s said and done?’
She said, quietly, ‘Sensitive, Rory, sensitive. Things have a habit of catching up with people, Rory.’
‘And are there consequences for you too?’
‘Oh yes, Rory … tied in with yours. You just don’t know what they are yet.’
‘Can we get off this topic now?’
‘Of course, Rory. What shall we talk about?’
‘Listen, you, I’m not endangering this mission over some personal business between us which we’re both guilty of. I need to know you will be up to speed with me on this job, that nothing will get in the way of it until it’s well over and done with.’
‘I promise,’ she put her hand on her heart in a much chastened manner, ‘to put everything personal out of mind and to give you the utmost support, doing everything to keep both you and me alive throughout, to do everything to try to make this work. You need have no doubt of the fullest support during this, Rory, I solemnly promise.’
He softened. ‘Good, that’s … nice to hear. OK, what have we missed if anything do you think?’
They made their meeting point about 17:00 the following day, dug in and set in motion the contact with his two friends in Oxford he’d primed for the job during the last trip – Rory was one smart operator, he took care of details and he was loyal – the PM and Hugh both valued him highly for these things.
It would soon be known if the couriers these two had co-opted would hold up but he and Julia had their escape route at hand, should they fail. They were both sharp, ultra fit and able to think on the run.
It was going to be another day before confirmation would come through. Rory reflected on the happy coincidence whereby the new Temple had actually sprung from the seeds of its own dismantling and rebuilding.
It was no longer in Banbury Road, Oxford but down near the canal, north of the city, where the land flattened and ran down to the water. Set just back from the water, it was a massive structure, its Doric columns distinctive, imposing, its cascading steps in three stages. A most unusual design for the Masons and for Rory, a most vulnerable one.
What he had access to were two weapons fanatics, boffins they were with a grim and symbolic sense of humour, and what these ‘gentlemen’ had access to was a deconstructed tactical WW2 missile, long left to its own devices and what had struck them was that it would be quite an easy engineering feat to put it together again for such a gimme target as a Temple. It would be accurate enough for that job, with not a lot of collateral damage.
What Rory wanted was for it to penetrate through to the grand hall, on the third floor where the events would take place, perhaps disintegrating the entire upper half of the building. There were two important tasks – to wipe out the cream of the ruling class, as well as doing it spectacularly, in such a way that they could not readily and immediately cover up nor recover. The samizdat would see it got out.
One of the upsides was that their getaway, his and Julia’s, was to eventually be by water until they reached a predetermined haven where the natives were friendly. It was going to take weeks to get back to the island via this convoluted track.
It wasn’t actually necessary for either of them to be at the missile launching, as the two lads would do the job themselves from the road to the jumping off point and they had some winding up of their own affairs to do as well. They’d moved the shell to its new home already, they were organizing the propellent and that was the main difficulty without arousing suspicion. There were quislings everywhere.
As evening fell in Oxford, the half-light rationing rendered the streets gloomy and the triple tiered curfew system meant that the only ones out after dark were those who needed to be.
Plus one missile.
Sophie was most surprised when Nikki hobbled down on her crutch and sat beside her on the grass, feet buried in the sand.
‘I need him so much now, just to talk to, to make sense of it all.’
‘Can you not just be patient, for however long it takes?’
‘Seems to me, Nikki, that you did very great wrong in inviting him to your bed but I know Hugh’s story too and he allowed himself to be seduced – he even told Julia of our conversation.’
‘Yes I know.’
‘You both found yourself in circumstances and neither of you even tried to hold back, you both broke your vows but even so, there is something very strong between the two of you so I can only hope that kicks in.’
‘You know, Sophie, you’ve grown. You really are a comfort, you do well.’
‘Pleased to have been of service.’
Nikki picked up her crutch, guided herself to her feet, found her balance and said to Sophie, who had made moves to help but she’d waved that away, ‘I’m going to the hospital now. I know you sit close to him, you take his hand and I have no objection to that at all. You keep doing that, Sophie but less of the kissing on the lips.’
She bent and kissed Sophie, then made her way up the path to the hospital.
Inside the inner room, there he was and not a lot had happened. His body was definitely moving but nevertheless, he was in sleep. She wondered if he thought about things, reflected.
Rory’s confirmation came through and that meant that events had been set in motion. If they’d wished to reverse them now, to postpone them, it was far too late.
It was not particularly wet, nor particularly nice as evenings go. One couldn’t even wax lyrical and say there was a sense of foreboding – there wasn’t … anything really. It had been a non-event to this point.
People were now so far down the demoralization path, looking after N1, that even the coming conflagration might only have a marginal effect – that’s if it even got out to the general populace – the days of Sophie-Fleury press releases were well over.
The ordinary people, the servants and staff, the ORs – they were going to be elsewhere in the building, on lower floors. Unfortunately, blasts tend to be radial, also going down and up, so there was going to be some collateral. They didn’t want that but couldn’t have afforded warnings. The only way had been to strike at the moment the upper echelons would least want any staff about at that level.
This was running through the minds of all four, or rather the two separate pairs, this evening and as their train rollicked along, the two engineers went over it all again in their mind. The timer was set, it had worked in rehearsal by itself, the propellent was sufficient, the trajectory seemed right. They couldn’t see how it could be sprung at this late stage … so there it was.
About 23:20, Rory’s and Julia’s train pulled into the seaside station from where the short trek to the water now started – this was the bit requiring the stamina. Rory looked at his watch.
At 23:50, they reached their boat and signalled, they now boarded and went below but, unbeknowns to Julia, he had a different boat organized to take them off this one a short distance out.
He’d scribbled a note: ‘Tom, thanks. Keep your course the whole way, destroy this note.’ He’d taken some new notes and wrapped the note around it, then paper, binding the package with cord from the old seat they were occupying, his name written on it, leaving it wedged between the fire extinguisher and the wall.
It was time to go up on deck, the craft was now yawing and dipping in a pattern and time was short.
A fishing smack was coming straight at them and in the last few seconds, it turned broadside, the two boats clanged together, Rory and Julia both jumped and he fell on his wounded arm, biting his lip so as not to scream as she fell on top of him, the boat swaying.
The crew on Tom’s boat saw they’d gone and rushed to get the skipper. Tom found the package, chuckled, looked inside at the money, peeled off a few twenties for each of the crew and that was that.
That had always been Rory’s way.
It was apparent to Julia that if this was a fishing smack, it was a damned funny one. It was lower in the water, sleeker and though it had all the bits and pieces – dereks, nets, cranes, coachhouse etc., it was a mighty speedy vessel and it was all they could do to hang on, let alone make their way into the wheelhouse.
Make their way tthey did though, Rory renewed his acquaintance with the skipper, he was offered the wheel but declined with a grin and all seemed bouncy bonhomie on the high seas as far as Julia could see.
She was ogled by the two crew, as she always had by men and looked up at the sky, as she always had, Miss Ice. She went for a wander, exploring the boat and all its nooks and crannies, found the loo and occupied herself there for some minutes, then went outside and gathered the three liferings, placing all three near the dinghy. She made her way back to just near the wheelhouse.
She saw Rory through the window take the wheel, the skipper came out with the crew to do this and that, she now spoke to them from behind, they spun round, a pistol was pointed straight at the skipper’s head, she pointed to the life rings, for them to put them on now, she told the two crew to lower the lifeboat now, one went to protest, Julia made to shoot and the man jumped to the rope, the other man to the other rope, the lifeboat was lowered, the skipper was just watching.
‘Jump,’ she ordered quietly and they leapt over into the water, she watched until they were scrambling onto the boat, then she released both ropes from the blocks.
She went back to the wheelhouse, Rory turned to her and grinned, they’d done the deed and had made a pretty good team he thought, she aimed the FN57, shot him once through the heart and once through the head, he dropped and slewed to the floor, she took the wheel, throttled back, checked the chart to ascertain their current position, changed direction, opened the throttle again and that occupied the next twelve minutes.
The form of a woman now silently appeared in the rear doorway of the wheelhouse, there was a loud crack, blood oozed from the back of Julia’s head, she slumped onto Rory, her head hitting the wheel on the way down.
The silent woman now stepped forward, one leg either side of those two, took the wheel, throttled back, went through the chart as Julia had done, changed direction, set the speed at moderate and locked the wheel, frisked Julia, removed all incriminating devices and data, hauled her off Rory and did the same search of him, put everything into Julia’s holdall, made the sign of the cross, checked the course again, then went and made herself a cuppa.
Sophie heard the Prime Minister groan, she rushed out, took in the scene, grabbed the brandy and poured two, urged him to come to the armchair to sit, which he did, he took the glass and knocked it back, she poured him another.
Sophie stared into space, impassively. In Julia’s case, she’d had an inkling this would end in tragedy but Rory … so alive … so … vibrant … that was very hard to take. ‘We succeeded?’
The PM looked at her and wondered at her coldness but then ceased wondering when he reflected on the brutality inflicted on her in her past life. ‘For what it’s worth – yes. A brief respite, Sophie, a Pyrrhic victory in the light of these two. It seems Julia just pulled out the pistol and gunned Rory down, in the wheelhouse, in cold blood in fact, after forcing the crew to jump overboard with life rings.’
Sophie nodded and her eyes narrowed. ‘Fit of passion, clinical, any indication?’
‘Oh, decidedly coldblooded – quite professional in fact.’
‘They hadn’t turned her, you know. I’d have known that. They didn’t have her under their control.’
‘What are you driving at?’
‘I’m saying that she showed no signs when she spoke with me. She was mad, yes she was that, a girl who took things entirely the wrong way and made a big deal out of nothing, given to dramatics inside her head but Miss Ice on the surface. I believe she did betray Hugh at the helicopter point because they’d only let her go north on her promise to lure him into the ambush and she then had a cognitive meltdown, hence the behaviour in the hospital.
Julia was disgusted with Rory and Nicolette, far more than anyone else was but I can’t help thinking there was something else going on as well. I think she’d have punished him, even crippled him over that but to kill him? That one’s a puzzle.
My feeling, with no proof at all, is that she actually discovered something, Julia – maybe she went through his pack when he was asleep, maybe she saw his intended route and tumbled to it. Maybe many things. Maybe he himself suspected her – well, we all did, didn’t we? And he was about to do something to her but she got in first. Maybe he was right in what he’d found. Plus we only have the word of this R. Maybe it was the other way about and Rory was the traitor – you’d given him instructions and this didn’t look like that at all.’
‘Julia set out to seduce Hugh and he was so easy – that can be taken a few ways. Nikki though invited Rory to her bed, actually set that up and he did that with a clear head, knowing fullwell what he was doing. I’d say one of those two – Rory or Julia – was the traitor but now I’m not sure which one.’
‘Sophie, I admire you and your ability but as I’ve said already – you can be so cold, so dispassionate. All right, now to R. She’d been hiding out in the engine bay, she’d heard someone rummaging about but no one came into where she was – she was ready. The three of them were meant to meet with their contact not all that far from Stranraer.’
He sank his brandy and the afterburn helped.
‘R’s coming here, Sophie. You’re a delight to me, you really are and you’ve been exactly the right person in the right place at the right time, not forgetting Marie-Ange, but look at me – think about what this old man needs in his latter years.’
‘Oh my goodness,’ smiled Sophie, relieved for him but just quietly, also for herself. She’d have stayed with him, looked after him till the end, for the very simple reason that she felt great affection, there was nothing else she’d prefer to be doing in her current mental state, he’d needed her and she had no immediate prospects. But the wily old fox understood well and knew it could not have gone on quite like that without something a bit more … well … compromising … happening. As it already had with Marie-Ange.
There was no getting past it but R was from his past, she was obviously of his circle and Sophie didn’t begrudge him one little bit. He was also observing her closely now as well, in an oblique sort of way.
She laughed. Unfortunately, this meant her own eye would be looking in other directions and one of those directions would be the Jensens.
She went round to his chair, lowered her face and put a kiss on his lips. ‘I hope you’ll both be very, very happy.’
‘I have to win her first.’
‘Oh, I don’t think that’s going to be all that much of an issue.’
‘You say all the right things.’ He grinned. ‘You do realize, don’t you, that I’m going to have that kiss just now framed and hung up on the wall over my desk.’
‘I think R might have a say in that.’
‘Sophie … thanks.’
Nikki walked into the Big Room next morning, having spent a restless night in her hut, having vacated the fourth room.
The thing was that she was alone, utterly alone. The PM had Sophie and Marie-Ange up there at the house, those two were over in Britain, Hugh was still comatose and though she spent hours each day with him, they were one way conversations. True they kept her this side of breakdown, those ‘conversations’, but there was no one else to share her feelings with, no one to talk things out with. Except Sophie of course but that had its limitations.
‘Come in, come in,’ the Prime Minister cried, pressing the buzzer and ordering a coffee. ‘Come and rest yourself over here.’
Nikki was bemused but delighted, she did as she was bidden, her crutch leaning against the chair. The coffee came through with some sweetmeats, two brandies were poured.
When she didn’t begin the conversation, the PM did, which was probably the protocol anyway. ‘Let me ask you, Nicolette – have you thought about your plans?’
‘Plans? Just to wait for him to come out of it.’
‘Nikki, brace yourself for some very bad news, not about Hugh, not that. You tell me when you’re ready. You have your brandy.’
She’d gone white, she said, ‘I’m ready.’
‘I’m afraid I have to tell you that neither Rory nor Julia are coming back. She shot him dead and was in turn shot dead by a lady friend of mine, who is now on her way here. I’m so very sorry. I’m afraid there’s no doubt, you are one of the last to know.’
He hung his head.
She struggled to stand up, swayed and cried, ‘No! No! No! No!’ She picked up her one crutch and shoved it under her arm, tried to rise but collapsed on the floor, Marie-Ange came rushing over and between them, they got her to the fourth room.
Six hours later, Sophie, in the process of making a snack in her own hut, heard an almighty kerfuffle of someone moving fast, someone who could not move fast, and suddenly, there was Nicolette.
She went straight to Sophie’s bed, threw the crutch down and collapsed onto it. Sophie put her in properly and climbed in too.
‘Don’t say harsh things to me – please.’
‘Does this look harsh?’
‘Why did she do it? Julia I mean.’
‘I’ve been trying to work that out. Would you listen to what I told the Prime Minister or is it too soon?’
‘Tell me all you know about it.’
Sophie did, the entire conversation and it seemed so plausible that Nicolette calmed down some and just shook her head. ‘It’s all so damned stupid, all of it.’
It was approaching Christmas and R had appeared a week back.
Sophie had been right – the two were eminently well suited. She was an elegant lady, a bit reserved in some ways, more than efficient and she knew him very well from the past. There was obviously quite a history between the two and Sophie wasn’t interested in pursuing that one.
Hugh had shown signs of recovery. According to the medicos, they’d bring him out of it shortly before New Year and the rest would be decided after that. The body had taken its own time but it had repaired with a bit of help. The prognosis was that he’d be physically able, if the nerves were all in order. They appeared to be but the medicos had seen strange turns before.
It went without saying that there’d be no shocks delivered to him in the short term. Nikki found herself impatient to have him back again, Rory, curiously, having now faded from her mind.
Various governments recognized this administration as the legitimate one – admittedly Russia and China – and that had been enough to stay the hand of Jamieson at this time. It was also useful to the Russians and Chinese.
Sitting around the Prime Minister’s desk were the four ladies.
‘If you don’t mind, ladies, I’d like R to tell you her story because you’ve been asked to accept it so far in good faith. The missile took out not only the grand hall but the entire top two floors of the building. It accounted for three innocents in the process, I’m sad to say, and that can never be forgotten but it also took out Robert Jamieson and half his cabinet – the bad half, we might say.
Naturally he’ll be replaced but not for some time because he really was quite special to his masters – quite excessive and determined to root out resistance or treachery to himself … or them. This also put R in great danger. She will tell you. R?’
R took it up. ‘You see, I really was one of them at the beginning. Robert Jamieson planted me inside and everything was communicated to him.’ She took a sip of coffee. ‘To answer the obvious question, no I wasn’t awake to him for a long time. He was charming, erudite, always a gentleman with me and I never saw his other side, mainly because I was never much near him, nor allowed to be I’d say.
It changed one day when I went near his door and heard him talking to some others. It was awful and I started keeping my eyes and ears open after that. If the way he’d been talking was anything to go by, that might have been my own fate at any time. I gave him some successes and some near misses – their team arriving a fraction after you’d gone, that sort of thing. I had to give them some successes.’
‘That must have been stressful,’ commented Nikki.
‘I’m not a particularly nice person, Nikki and that certainly helped allay suspicion, not just with Jamieson but with some of the more virulent members of his staff. On balance, I hope I’ve done right.’
‘May I ask you another? You say you gave them some successes – do you mean when we were travelling around Europe as Section Sophie-Fleury?’
‘I knew of your Section. No, this was later, after you became the Citadel.’
‘Do you think they’ll hit the island?’
‘Undoubtedly. At least, the old crew would have. I believe there weren’t many left after the missile hit, as the Prime Minister has said.’
‘Why all the killing?’ asked Nikki. ‘Why the instability, people chasing other people to torture them and kill them, why does nation attack nation, why don’t people just get on with their prosperity where they are and let the rest of the world do as it wants?’
‘Scarcity of resources, grass is always greener and that other factor you know about very well – sheer malevolence and the desire to promote misery, simply for misery’s sake.’
‘Which comes back to one force in the end.’
‘I don’t profess to understand it at all but yes, it enslaves the mind. I saw Robert Jamieson go from an ambitious politician I could work for to a man who attracted the attention of forces who were willing to pay big. He was susceptible to flattery, to being someone of consequence and then, when he found himself enslaved by it, he neither wanted to nor could get out. It was his fix, his daily buzz.’
‘Do you have a name?’
‘Do you like churches, Nikki?’
‘Like them? Well, yes, to visit for the architecture.’
‘Are you intrigued by churches where the cruciform plan was never completed?’ She saw that that had gone over Nikki’s head but not Sophie’s.
‘Is that really your name?’ asked Sophie. ‘Genuinely?’
‘Has the missile crippled the state?’ asked Marie-Ange.
‘Of course not – those people were never the state. There is no state anymore. There’s a global chain of command and global money source – not rock solid, of course because all want to be the Chiefs and none wish to be the Indians and we have to fan these unhealthy rivalries if we’re to have any chance … but still.’
‘Did the Citadel have a traitor?’ enquired Sophie, Nikki looked at her, because they both knew who one of them was, she then looked at R.
‘There was one lady killed in that Temple you’d all be familiar with. She did an enormous amount of damage before she was through.’
Said Nikki, ‘Rosa Carrington.’
The PM chipped in. ‘She knew the codes, she knew the modus operandi, the weaknesses, Hugh’s and Emma’s moves, she knew how to fan the flames – in short, she knew the lot. She also knew Emma was one of them.’
Said Nikki, ‘She was working for them all along, I suppose.’
‘No,’ said R.
‘No,’ cut in the Prime Minister, ‘you knew she was high in the organization, quite high and you knew she was doing damage. What you didn’t know, not even Hugh, not me, was that all the miscreants were working for her. She had a humble position in the Citadel but she was actually a matriarch from one of the top five families in the land. They’re big on the female bloodline.
And now it’s time for me to also remind you that I was at one time one of them, I did unspeakable things before I turned away from that path. However, it never crossed my mind to ever check Mrs. Carrington’s antecedents, beyond what was officially traceable of course.’
‘Was Hugh – er – one of you?’ asked Sophie.
‘No. Never. He was indirectly approached a number of times, of course, even after he took up his position but he was deemed too unstable, too unreliable for their purposes and some of them do believe he is this Albus, it’s been most useful to us.’
‘So what now?’
‘We have contingency plans for what they’re worth and we’ll sever a few tentacles before we go. It won’t happen until they regroup, appoint new people at the top under the control of the families, and then it will happen. We have work to do.’
‘How will they attack the island if it has protected status?’ asked Nikki.
‘Islands, plural, all five of them. Tsunami or something similar,’ replied the PM, ‘cataclysmic shift in the earth’s plates – induced of course. Probably take out most of the south Asian coastline as well. They did it once, they’ll do it again.’
‘And where will we be?’ Nikki continued.
‘Hopefully far away.’ The PM changed the topic, ‘Ladies, the reason R has displaced you in the sense of becoming the ‘lady of the house’ is that we are to be married.’
Sophie looked blankly and Nikki grinned. ‘Ah, bon, bon, congratulations.’
Sophie was invited for breakfast at the Big House.
When she appeared, the table was laid, the Prime Minister was at his desk, speaking with two officers from Jujun Island, he saw her and called her over, introduced her to Major James Peters, 45, communications head honcho for the island and his offsider, Lieutenant Stephen Andrews, 29.
They were also invited for breakfast, R appeared now, quite understated and demure on this occasion and the finding out about each other began. Peters was about Sophie’s height, he obviously trained, hair was receding and greying and he had a wicked smile which caught you unawares.
He’d done this and that in his time – played sport, run with the lads, imbibed a bit too much at the pub and was well regarded by the men – judging by Lieutenant Andrews anyway.
Andrews was the catch – about 187 cm, broad-shouldered, had played rugby for his district as flanker, was unassuming and a little shy, truth be told. He had that soft smile and was looking straight at Sophie the whole time, though trying to disguise it and even that was sweet.
Sophie told her tale and made it as gruesome as she could, R looked at the ceiling and sighed, Peters grinned, Andrews was shocked.
They ate up and Sophie suggested she’d go to see Hugh. Would the officers wait for her outside? Actually, would they wait for her ten minutes now while she raced to her hut and got a few things.
She came back attired for the beach and with a matting rug under her arm, R had packed a hamper, which she now took, both officers carrying the gear – they headed down the path towards the hospital.