The officers walked either side of Sophie and just before the hospital entrance, she suddenly said, ‘Give me five minutes please.’ To Andrews, she said, ‘It really was a pleasure meeting you, Lieutenant.’
‘Stephen. When I’m over on the island, I’ll make sure I’ll look you up.’ In her sweetest voice, she finished, ‘I’ve actually a tactical matter to discuss with the Major just now, if you don’t mind.’
He took the hint, saluted and headed for the proas at the river, one which would take him back over to his barracks. Sophie didn’t even glance at the Major but went in to Hugh. Ignoring the chair, she knelt on the floor and touched his hand, placing hers inside it. She kissed his lips quite full on really but if it had registered inside him, he’d not indicated.
She got up and went out to the Major. ‘Are you going back to the island yourself, Major?’
‘What’s with this ma’am? You don’t need to speak to me like that, I’m not in the army you know.’
‘How would you like me to speak to you?’ he smiled.
‘Call me Sophie and I’ll call you James, I’m not attached.’
‘Er … Sophie … let me stop you right there -’
‘No, let me stop you right there. What you have to say to me, say it on the beach please, not here.’
He gazed at her, turned down the path and walked beside her, noticing those long legs and panther feet padding along silently – feline Sophie. When they reached the beach, she spread out the matting, doubling as a picnic rug, took out some nibbles and a drink each.
‘Er … Sophie, at what point will you allow me to speak?’
‘Right now, James. Speak to me.’
‘I’m married. You were meant to fall for the Lieutenant – I was only there on business.’
‘You think I’m not aware of that? But as for you being married,’ she sighed, ‘you’re telling me a lie. I know who you have over there and I’m thinking you’re fair game from what I hear. You’re quite a hot shot over there, so word gets over here to damsels in distress who are unattached.’
He just looked at her, took the proferred wine and they toasted to happy resolutions. ‘Do I please you?’ she added.
‘Yes, and that’s why I’m not coming any closer without thinking this one through. And I’m thinking it through over there.’
‘A man of ability I see, I like that.’
‘Stop it,’ he smiled.
She got up and slipped her sari from her shoulders, letting it hit the sand. She had her most modest pair of knickers on but that was all. ‘I don’t swim in these in the evening,’ she said. ‘They’d only get wet. Will you join me in the evening, right here, 19:30?’
He was about to reply when she added. ‘Don’t say yes or no, go away and think about me, about you, about what you see your path as being. I’m swimming here at 19:30, I’ll supply the wine.’
There was no point denying that her breasts, uncovered and glistening in that weak sun, were captivating , she saw him go hard and remained demure.
‘I … I have to go, Sophie. I’m on duty in half an hour. Thank you for the picnic.’
On the way back to the Big House, she dropped in on Hugh once again and there was Nikki, sitting on the chair beside the bed, holding Hugh’s hand. Sophie knelt down beside her kissed her on the lips and took her other hand.
‘Sophie, I’m confused enough already.’
‘Then you’re going to be even more confused, even angry. I kissed Hugh on the lips earlier and I shouldn’t have because there is someone I’m meeting this evening at 19:30 and that’s a chance for me.’
Nikki was in two minds of course. ‘That was wrong, but you’ve been honest, plus I wish you success this evening. Please don’t kiss Hugh again unless you have intentions towards him.’
‘I can promise you that. Now, I want you to come with me this evening to the beach.’
‘Pardon? Sophie, have you never heard that three’s a crowd?’
‘Please say you will, there’s a very important reason for you to be there and it has to do with my happiness, my future, I need your help. I’ll explain then.’
‘This is against my better judgment but I’ll come. I’ll also walk away if you’re playing some game.’
‘This is no game, Nikki, I can assure you of that, and no harm will befall anyone, I promise. You will go back whenever you wish. I need your help.’
With supper at the Big House done the plates and bowls cleared away, nothing was said, Sophie had squared it with R and R had had sever misgivings. Sophie took wine and nibbles in the hamper, plus the rug and off she went.
She’d agreed to look in on Hugh.
At the water’s edge, at 19:20, she laid the rug down and the makings on that, dropped her robe, she unclad and shaven, Nikki still not there.
She waded slowly, silently, barely a ripple, into the water and stood with the water to the top of her thighs, her naked top making her appear as one of those river nymphs. Her fair hair cascaded down her back, hair she’d spent all afternoon getting ready.
It was 19:25 and she wasn’t worried.
At around 19:30, from behind a tree in the darkness, a man appeared, clad in trunks and he slipped into the water, but she put a hand out. ‘You can’t swim here in a bathing costume, it makes me self-conscious. After all, just look at me.’
Hard as a rock, it’s exactly what he’d been doing, he waded back to the rug, dropped his trunks, then waded out again, she now saw the size of that thing and where it was about to go.
When he reached her, it was instant, both were summary people who did not like preliminaries when they served no purpose, he was inside, he was like a raging bull, thrusting upwards, almost lifting her out of the water and after twelve minutes or so, he went over the top, eventually pulling out.
She took him by the hand and led him to the shore. ‘James, this is Nikki.’
To say he was shocked was an understatement but that was nothing to Nikki, who’d been asked to arrive at this moment and who’d seen the last part out there.
What was worse, Nikki had been silly enough to be stark naked as well, as per request, her clothes a short distance away in the grass, Sophie having assured her she’d arranged with R that no one would disturb them during festivities, that this was all about finding a new partner for her, Sophie.
Nikki saw it all immediately and took a step back, shaking her head slowly but that hard thing between the man’s legs had her unable to turn and run and the worst thing was that he did not advance on her, he was just as nonplussed as she was, confused and Nikki wanted him.
‘Um, evening, Miss.’ He came forward to shake her hand, a clumsy gesture but he could think of nothing else.
Sophie suddenly said, ‘Not very gentlemanly, James, at least you could kiss Nikki on the cheek.’
He stepped further forward to do just that and she knew she had to run, but couldn’t. She said over and over to herself, ‘I’m not Emma,’ and yet she could not run away. She allowed the kiss to the cheek but when he moved up to insert his thing and in fact had already got the end almost inside, she snapped out of it, said, ‘No thanks, nice to meet you,’ turned, picked up her crutch and went for her clothes.
That saved her on that island.
She had no way, at that moment, in that place, of knowing just how but that had saved her, provided she did not succumb later. Truth was, there were eyes everywhere on both islands, many staring through binoculars, there were also both the PM and R, plus various natives.
And her ‘no thanks’ had been quite loud, quite summary and … it had just saved her. There was one other thing – it had got quite chilly. She hobbled back to her hut, distressed.
At this moment, a woman appeared from the undergrowth closer to the proas, she stormed up, slapped him across the face, turned to Sophie and said, ‘You whore, you dirty, disgusting fucking whore,’ turned around to him and said, ‘You can forget about me forever, you bastard,’ then stormed off to the proas.
‘Well, that went well,’ smiled Sophie. ‘Another fuck, James?’
He just looked, grabbed his boxers and ran. Sophie put on her robe, sat down on the rug and began on the nibbles, pouring herself a wine, plus two more wines, awaiting the inevitable company.
The Prime Minister and R came down to the sand, were invited to sit down and handed a glass of wine each.
‘Now,’ said the PM, ‘suppose you tell me, exactly, what the hell that was meant to be about.’
‘I had to find out, had to know, sir.’
‘You’re a free agent, Sophie, but Nicolette is technically married. You turned her into a tart this evening and worse – an adulteress. You made her break her vows.’
‘Begging your pardon, sir, I did not. Forgive my impertinence, as I’ve heard you say to someone before, but if you stop and think it through – I’m sure R has now – all objectives were achieved this evening.
I induced both of you to come down near here and observe, the other islands now know what happened, Nikki’s ‘no thanks’ rang out all over this island and now her dubious reputation has been replaced by pity for her situation. The way she ran on that single crutch would have excited pity in even the coldest heart.
It’s going to be apparent to everyone tomorrow that I cajoled her into coming here, tricked her into being naked and the only negative was that that man did make lip contact with her, he was too quick for me, I was about to step in between them and say, ‘This looks like two-timing, James.’ I knew that his woman was there.
What happened between Rory and her was only partial, a brief lapse. If we put the word about, subtly, that she was in no condition to have sex, plus her refusal this evening under great pressure – well, that is only going to label her the unsullied maiden of these islands.’
R had been taking it in and now said, ‘That’s true as far as Nicolette goes – no one’s going to take any notice of her nakedness in this situation tonight, except to count her a very beautiful woman, they will also be impressed by her two ‘escapes’, provided of course that she continues as the unsullied maiden until Hugh comes out of it and that’s our job to ensure, not yours Sophie.
You are now our main concern, as I’m sure you’re bursting to tell us. Let me tell you instead and where I go wrong, you correct me.’
‘On the surface, it did you no good at all, that’s true but in fact it did do you good.
Firstly, it exposed the Major and I’ve been hearing things about him – there are those who feel he needed bringing down a peg or two the way he’d been treating that poor woman and you did just that this evening, in the most humiliating way possible.
It also showed her what she needed to know to make that break from him and not to be so besotted, as she apparently was. And as you were the agent of this thing this evening, you would be roundly cheered over there for that. May I continue?’
Sophie smiled, ‘Be my guest. No argument so far.’
‘Dozens of people also saw your magnificent body,’ Sophie actually blushed but it could not be seen in that light, ‘and they are also now well aware you’re not to be messed with, so you did yourself a great favour this evening. Your past is known, that tragedy and how you’ve recovered, so that is only going to induce sympathy, not disrespect, any looseness from you is a known-known in their eyes and not to be held against you. Only the right sort of person would try to get close to you now -’
‘That part I’m not so sure about, I think I may have frightened everyone off.’
‘Oh no, not the intrepid, Sophie, not the right sort of man. I’d say more positives came out of this tonight than negatives and as we observed in our little porn show this evening, you certainly got a right working over, which must also make you feel more calm and relaxed, physically.’
‘All I can say,’ said Sophie, ‘is that the Prime Minister chose well in you, he was most anxious you’d accept him.’
‘Bravo!’ was the PM’s first comment. ‘We men cannot intrigue like you women,’ the women felt it wise not to demur, ‘I was wrong and you, Sophie, and you, R, have brought off the very thing we’ve been racking our brains trying to bring about. But you’ve done more, Sophie. You’ve convinced me that you are our resident diplomat and I’m going to use this in the service of the country. I’m well aware you’re not quite back together, it’s a risk but so are a lot of other risks. Am I not surrounded by people of class?’
‘Yes.’ All eyes turned and it was Nicolette, standing behind in the grass, having heard all.
‘Sophie,’ asked the PM, ‘did you know she was there?’
Sophie smiled. ‘Nikki can drink out of my glass, there’s another bottle.’
Nikki stepped forward and showed she’d brought a glass, plus new nibbles.
Sophie then said to the gathering, ‘I’m sure you’ve now tumbled to it, sir and R, ‘that for Nikki to actually come back here, rather than lie curled up in her hut feeling sorry for herself – that speaks even further about her character.’
‘It does indeed,’ he agreed.
‘Do we all want to make love with the Prime Minister now?’ was the quite unnecessary next comment from her.
‘Sophie, you’re the cow [excuse me] who gives good milk and then, at the last minute, kicks the bucket over.’
‘And don’t you realize, my Prime Minister,’ said R, not Sophie, ‘that she is providing us with our cue to withdraw? Unorthodox but effective, our Sophie.’
‘Ah, yes. Goodnight ladies, thanks for the wine and nibbles.’
‘So, Nikki, have you come to tear strips off me?’
‘I was going to but then I thought why? You’re rough at times, Sophie, quite direct, but you did promise me no one would be hurt and I had to work out how. I came to the same conclusions as R, I heard R’s explanation now. And you know very well the reason I came was I couldn’t bear not to know what everyone was saying. I saw the PM and R walking towards the beach and I had to know.’
Sophie grinned. ‘I was counting on that but didn’t hear you at first. You call me feline – I think you are too. But the main thing is you’re once again in control of yourself, Nikki, publicly in control. It’s not a bad result.’
‘Agreed and I thank you.’
‘Now, Nikki,’ Sophie lowered her voice, ‘sit close to me here because I haven’t finished.’ Nicolette did. ‘The Major was inside you, wasn’t he?’
‘Enough for me to be pregnant, yes – don’t worry, I won’t be – and I felt it all right but then you know the rest.’
‘Nikki, that one doesn’t count, it really doesn’t. Rory counts, yes, but not this one – you were caught by surprise.’
‘Thank you, let’s have some wine and then go for a paddle in the river. You want?’
‘Of course, I’m too high on all those compliments to go to bed. In that river, there’s just enough light for us to be seen from here, will you hold me close and allow me to kiss you, just a bit? I want that message to go out too – that we are something quite different, each in our own way.’
‘As long as that’s all it will be, I’m still in shock.’
‘I promise that’s all it will be. I’m assuming you can get out there without that crutch.’
They disrobed and went out for their paddle. There were eyes about who thought they were the two most delectable females they’d ever laid eyes on … but also untouchable, protected.
The evening before New Year’s Eve, 2010
They brought Hugh out of it, he was functioning and yet he wasn’t functioning.
As he opened his eyes and adjusted to the light, he looked around, saw Nikki sitting there, his hand in hers, he smiled what appeared to be a smile of recognition and welcome, even delight, then stared into space, the hand lost its feel, its human vibrancy.
The medics rushed over and here was the first difficulty with the island hospital. The PM had done a grand job spiriting out the cream of the staff from his own private hospital in Hampshire plus much of their equipment, at enormous cost but there were limits. Their electricity was generated by engine and fed two places – the Big House and the hospital – that part was all right.
What wasn’t all right – there were no little embellishments – specialists in neural damage, for example. There were only so many medical staff one could bring to an island home like this. Though many had training in neurology, as army doctors would be expected to have, they weren’t neurologists per se. So the diagnosis was going to be sound as far as it went, but not conclusive.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how one saw it, it now slowly became clear what had happened with him – at least retrograde amnesia and who knew yet if it might not also involve anterograde as well.
There was a round table discussion on whether to induce the coma again but it was felt that he was physically fine and readouts indicated he was mentally operating normally, except for this one issue. They couldn’t know the duration of the relapse and had now to decide.
They went for leaving him out of it, reasoning that back in it, they had no way of knowing when to bring him out again but out of it, they could monitor it better and run tests to narrow and better define the exact condition.
Nicolette was gutted – just for that fleeting moment she’d recognized and had been recognized with joy – that much was wonderful, but now, here he was again … well … like a zombie … not understanding, not recognizing, functioning fine in other ways according to them but not in this one crucial way.
It was not easy.
She visited again in the late afternoon and took his hand again, he turned to look at her, saw a smiling face and smiled back, she said, ‘Hello Hugh, welcome back.’ To his puzzled but largely unconcerned nod, she added, ‘I’m Nikki.’ And for good measure, ‘Your wife.’
‘My wife? Ah, I know you. I saw you and knew you. Memory’s still a bit rusty.’
‘Speeee … ch is OK.’
‘Hugh, don’t look at me that way.’
‘I’m sorry, I was forgetting my mannnnn … ers. My wife, eh? I obviously have good taste – has anyone ever told me that?’
The tears were welling in her eyes. ‘Many people, on many occasions,’ she smiled.
‘Forgive me but your name … it’s temporarily -’
‘Nicolette. Nikki to you.’
Sudden recognition, then it was gone. ‘I do know you, I’m sure of that and I know we were close. I know this for myself, I mean – not just because you’re holding my hand and you’ve told me you were my wife. Um … are my wife.’
The medics who’d been standing to one side were relieved – they’d give her another five minutes.
‘How do you feel, Bebe? I mean, it’s a silly question because you’ve lost your memory and we have a lot of work to do but in general – how do you feel?’
He did an internal check with his mind. ‘Seems fine. Nothing broken, nothing in pain. ‘Nikki?’ he rolled the word around and liked the sound of it, ‘I can strategize a lot, I can work things out. I know I’m in a hospital, have some sort of amnesia, was probably unconscious, it’s mild outside, given the wall clock’s date, so we’re in a warmer country – it’s not like our heat and how I know what is our heat I just don’t know, you’re at my bedside so you obviously care for me and that means I must care for you because you seem the type to care for me if I care for you. So it appears I care … and you do too.’
Tears welled again as she stroked his hand. ‘However, I get the impression that not everything was good with us and you’re being very brave. Perhaps that’s to save me from being stressed in this first conversation. Perhaps it’s better that way. I’m a little tired but not too bad – I see they’re making moves to come forward so they obviously wish you to go but I don’t want you to go. I get this feeling that you were my life but I know you have to go for now. Perhaps I can sleep for a while, if that’s part of their plan.’ He indicated the medics. ‘Were they good?’ he asked, in a low voice.
‘The best. They were the best.’
He smiled. ‘That’s good. Would you come back to see me soon? I’m quite hungry for your company … or is that the wrong thing to say?’
She squeezed his hand more than she should have, he winced, she said sorry, he then said, ‘I like your touch – you really are the most delectable woman, you know that? And I really married you?’ He chuckled, to which she nodded her head. ‘Well, at least I get some things right. Do you regret being married to me?’
She burst into tears, he reached for a handkerchief but of course, there was none. ‘I’m so sorry, that’s just me – blurting out whatever comes into my mind.’
‘No Bebe, I don’t regret the husband I will have with me now, I’ve never regretted the one I had the majority of the time before.’
She stood, leaned over and kissed him on the lips. It was as if they’d kissed before which, naturally, he knew they must have done. But it was time for her to go.
It was late in the day in Nikki’s room in the Big House – she was temporarily there again – and it was time to wander down and see Hugh.
He didn’t broach it immediately and they got a fair bit of conversation out of the way but then he asked, ‘Tell me about this Sophie who also visits.’
‘Ah, Sophie. Right. Tell me what you know about her first.’
‘She came in, waltzed in really, came straight over and said, ‘Hello, Hugh, I’m Sophie … your friend.’ Then she kissed me on the cheek.
‘Yes, she’s your … friend. I’d like to talk about the trouble you detected earlier – it was between you and me and only really erupted in the last few days – so it’s quite new. We’ve always had issues from time to time, almost always about other women and men, we were a team, you and I.’
He was listening intently, so she carried on. She told him about the Citadel, about their roles, about how they were on a mission and had had to separate when he went north to rescue an agent – she didn’t specify who and he didn’t ask – she told him about Section Sophie-Fleury and then she mentioned the last day and their wedding in that safehouse. He liked that one.’
‘Well who exactly is this Sophie then?’
She told him about Thirteen, about her kidnapping and rehabilitation, about how Sophie now cared for them both, she made no mention of Emma whatever.
‘OK, got that. Thing is, Nikki, I can reason all right, I can remember anything in the last day or two, I can even vaguely remember some things before. I’m sure I can function, I can speak and remember the language, even some of yours – you’re French, aren’t you?’ Nikki smiled. ‘So this is a serious question, as I think I might be in love with you and would love to actually have you as my wife but there is an obstacle.’
‘See, you became my wife under a previous set of circumstances. I was obviously happy with those circumstances before – I mean you were my wife and I was happy with that, otherwise you would not be here, acting like this. Fine, but I also want you as my wife now, if you see what I mean, the new me, the new you. That might be a different story altogether. Something happened and I know you haven’t told me very much about it but I suspect I acted terribly towards you -’
‘And me towards you -’
‘So, the question is, ‘do you see yourself as my wife in this second incarnation and if so, why? If not, then what must we do to get to that point again?’ She was almost crying, she knelt on the floor beside his bed, placed her lips on his and said, ‘Yes I do want but only once we talk it all out and you understand what we both did and then talk about what we can do to stop it happening again.’
‘Yes of course we will. Give me some more background in general.’
‘We were in Britain, working to protect the Prime Minister – she still did not mention Emma, that would happen one day, she promised herself – and people were trying to pull us apart. It was their job to do that because we were dangerous to them, as a team. But things became bad in the country and we left for this island. The point was, Hugh, you and I were not just a husband and wife, we were a husband and wife team, we really were something special. Then there was your shooting at the end of our mission … but there was mine too. I too was shot.’
‘Ah, I see from the way you walk, yes, but didn’t want to ask. So sorry – are you … um … all right?’
‘Yes, I am now. Those were the risks we took, Bebe. Now, this is so difficult for me to say and I have to know you are well enough to hear it. Tell me if you are well enough.’
‘Yes, I’m ready, I’m braced, I’ll not swoon or anything. Go on.’
‘Both of us, you understand, both of us had a situation just before we were each shot and those situations were part of the mission rules, where we were at the time – you had to go north, I had to find a certain place to be and wait.
What I’m getting at is that I was weeks in the company of a man who is now dead – also shot – and I broke my vow to you near the end, twice, at least I told me twice but it was actually three times but because I was in such pain from the shooting, it was a brief time each time. Now, from what we can understand, you had a full on with this young girl you went to rescue -’
‘I sound terrible.’
Tears came again. ‘What happens,’ she gulped, ‘is that when you do it, you try to form relationships with them, whereas I,’ she gulped again, ‘do want to but it’s actually the lovemaking and I have to say that both ways are destructive. We’re fairly certain you must have loved her, she certainly loved you because she was distraught, really broken up by your shooting and I do mean unable to control herself, weeping.’
‘See, that’s why it is so wrong. She was a real mess over you because of course she could not have you. You were mine but I was,’ this took her a long time to say, ‘unworthy. The operative I made love with was Rory.’
‘I seem to recall the name. Did you love him? Did he love you?’
‘I could have loved him, he did not love me. This was our crime.’
‘And he’s dead?’ She nodded. ‘Who shot him?’
He lay back and thought it through. ‘All right, some huge mistakes – this Julia was not my wife, you were. All right, but are we together now?’
‘No, Hugh. You see, it may be too early but some of your old self answered that just then – let’s both get past it, put the nasty things behind us but you’ve done that before and I have too and we never resolved it. We have to stop this now or I’m not continuing.’
He thought about that. ‘Right, yes, that must be done. Probably not today because we’ve done a lot this time but I take the point – we’re on hold until this is all spoken and talked through, yes?’
‘Yes. I do love you but we’re going to make this second time right – do you want that?’
The Prime Minister, who’d been very naughty, was in the senior medico’s room, he’d heard everything, he nodded, smiled, gave the thumbs up and now slipped away through their outer door.
‘The difficult thing,’ Hugh explained to the Prime Minister when the latter visited, Nikki sitting on another chair, ‘is that having lost one’s memory in specific areas, people tend to have deep sympathy, in the sense that one is now an imbecile. For example, I don’t remember you, sir but I have heard much, I know we worked for you and that you deemed it of sufficient value to be having this conversation with me now. Those sorts of strategies go on the whole time.’
‘Yet the gaps must be annoying, perhaps even dispiriting.’
‘Not knowing is unnerving at times, but only in the sense that it gets in the way. I might have had a fight with someone, you see and then, if I meet him or her, I can’t work out how I’ve offended.’
‘You were very lucky, you know.’
‘So I’ve been told. I’m very grateful. I haven’t forgotten everything – scenes from my childhood still appear, even later, even some people in Russia, but I can’t put a complete time frame on them.’
‘Happens as we get older too. Anyway Hugh, we’re here to collect you now. You up to it?
‘Now’s as good a time as any. Where are we going?’
‘Big House for awhile, we’ll keep an eye on you. Then you’ll decide after that.’
As he struggled to piece it all together, using every clue, every nuance, every facial expression, this did not always endear him to Nikki but he was up with her nuances of expression too and knew when to back off. He’d apologize but then press on, as eager new learners do.
‘Nikki, are you ready now to discuss what happened, what we must do?’
‘Do you want?’
‘Yes, please start.’
‘We didn’t meet for three years, we were kept away from each other but then we met and understood we were well suited. Until then, sexually, I’d tried getting three men interested but that’s another discussion – it did not go far, except for one man I visited three times a year for two weeks each.’
‘And that was your love life.’
‘Yes. It was also my morality – some people would say it was not a good morality and then there was my work.’ She gulped and told him about that. ‘So it does not look good but I was actually true to this man in that I didn’t do things with the monsters. See, I was one of the two chiefs of that Section and everything was fairly controlled, I made my own decisions. I was not unhappy with my morality, though I felt empty.
Then we met and it was a whirlwind, it was sex from the start and really wild sex – I don’t know if you goaded me or I goaded you, probably both. Now I see you think all your birthdays have come at once but wait for it. What started to happen was that other women around me started doing things with you and there was always a reason, an excuse, it was impossible to pin you down on it because then I would do something and it cancelled it out in a way.’
‘No it didn’t, they were two wrongs and that doesn’t change.’
‘I’m so glad to hear you say that because I agree but I did believe that for sometime and this was the problem – my morals changed. I’m not saying you led me astray because I was a fully grown woman but I did start to go astray, just once back when we began to flee across Europe and you were always getting away with a kiss or a hug with some woman, nothing bad, then there was sexual activity with one or two of them and it slowly became like that.’
‘I really do sound bad.’
‘We were in a heavily sexed relationship and that is so hard to control, to keep to one person if others see it and start to come into it. But nothing was as bad as the last few days now. Even though yours was physically worse, went on for longer with her, mine was just as bad in my mind – I wanted him badly. So you see, Bebe, I’m not starting with you again unless all that stops and you demand good behaviour from me, plus show it yourself. I’m not sure you can do that – you see, you adored me and still you did it.’
‘My goodness – how can you stand to be with me?’
‘Firstly, I became as bad as you, secondly, something else happened to me – but that’s not for today, involving Germany – and I knew you and I were one. But even if we are, I will not put up with any more of what we did to each other. I don’t want it.’
‘That’s understood but I still can’t get through my head why you stayed with me, even if you did … er … fall away now and then.’
‘It has something to do with all the good things – you really were very good for me and I was good for you. I went a bit astray when you went away.’
‘But why would I?’
‘Mission, some woman, we were in different houses – there were many reasons, plus people were trying to pull us apart. See, I was always very independent and so were you but when you and I were apart, maybe I’d given up some independence with you but so had you – all people do – but I didn’t cope as well. Nor did you. And yet it would have been unhealthy to be in each other’s arms night and day. What I’m saying is that I should have been able to resist things but I struggled. I need a strong lead from you, Hugh but you need someone to lead you too, Bebe.’
‘We must sort this out, Nikki.’
‘I obviously stay with you for now – I wouldn’t spend this time and effort if I didn’t want that – but I have to see signs from you that you really do understand what I’ve said.’
‘That’s fair, Nikki.’
‘How close were you and I?’ asked Hugh of Sophie some days later.
He was physically fine, Sophie had come into the Big Room where he and Nikki were dealing with some correspondence, he looked at Nikki and asked, ‘How would you feel about Sophie and I going for a walk?’
‘I can go for the walk and leave you two.’
‘No, I’ve heard about this river and would like to see it. Would you come down in fifteen minutes or so?’
Sophie shrugged, Nikki said, ‘OK, off you go,’ Sophie went and got the eternal rug.
She extended that lithe body on the rug and said, ‘Shoot.’
‘How close was I to you and what is there between you and me? What is there really?’
‘I don’t want to talk about that, it causes me pain inside. I was grateful to you, I care for you a lot but you are her husband. Some people would find it strange that you would go with me to find out about yourself … and her.’
‘I wouldn’t if I knew my past – I’m trying to piece this together and you seem a rational person, one who would understand that mission.’
She mellowed. ‘Yes, I have deep feelings for you, Hugh but I’m also a person who knows what’s right and wrong.’
‘Sophie, the truth – have you and I ever made love, I know we’ve kissed, I somehow feel it inside.’
‘Why don’t you ask Nikki?’
‘Because it would hurt her or she doesn’t know.’
She breathed out slowly. ‘No, Hugh, we have not done that.’
She suddenly turned over to him and kissed his lips fervently, then lay back again. ‘I just broke my promise. Here comes Nikki.’
‘Here you are. You spoke?’
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I needed to know about Sophie and didn’t know what was private and what was not.’
Preparations had been made which the Prime Minister had passed off as regular exercises but many on the island must have known it was an exodus.
True, they’d been doing things such as making sure the submarine pods were in working order, overhauling the armaments and so on the whole time they’d been on the island but there was a feeling now, a certain something.
Hugh was walking up to the Big House when he heard footsteps running behind him, he waited and the PM’s boy appeared from the river direction, breathless. ‘Go Lock-up A now. Men dead.’
‘Go straight through and explain.’ The boy ran up the steps and through to tell the Prime Minister.
A quick decision was taken. ‘Sophie, take Hugh with you, fill him in on the situation, the layout of the island, put all the factors to him and between you take the initial action you both need to. Collect Rankin and Jarvis on the way.’
The boy spoke. ‘No Rankin sir, he dead.’
‘So, it’s started,’ muttered the Prime Minister. He walked over to the desk, extracted his old service revolver and made calls.
Sophie walked out briskly and collected Hugh.
The chopper landed on the open area in front of the Big House and there were already five on board. It swung away, across to Jujun, hovered over Building A, dropped the charge, it went straight through the matted roof, they assumed the gas had spread and dropped the second a little further along, above the officers’ mess.
The pilot gave it another three minutes, landed, the troops alighted and began their routine, the copter lifted off and hovered, the sergeant came out and signalled, the copter landed again, the sergeant bobbed down, came over and stuck his head inside.
‘They’re out like a light. There are bodies too, gunshots.’
The hostages were in one room, the hostage-takers were in another but according to what was being said, some of the hostages were collaborating. They’d find out.
From what everyone said, Vine was the main agitator and Patterson was clearly the henchman but the principals were not the killers.
Hugh had his eye on one of the speakers, a Chloe. He had no proof, he had only a hunch and now he took two outside and grilled them about this Chloe, the two then departed for the base camp.
Back inside, the PM wanted to know about Collins and Dammery. Corporal Chloe David spoke quickly. ‘I really can’t be sure about Damerie. Collins is innocent though.’
‘I overheard Collins and David deciding whether to go over to Building B.’
Ms David swung around on Private Parkes. ‘You fucking liar – you’re the one who was talking to Collins.’
Parkes didn’t bat an eyelid. ‘I repeat what I just said. It was those two. I don’t know what they’d planned over there but I did hear them agree to it.’
‘You bastard –’
Hugh stepped in. ‘I have two men due to return in five minutes. I’ve been watching the Corporal since this talk began.’
It had been a bizarre seven minutes, during which the five officers had gone through and at gunpoint, had extracted two soldiers who were now back in the room with them.
Lt. Knowles now came back came through the outer door and spoke to Hugh, Sophie listening too, Hugh ordered the inner door opened, nodded to the five officers who cocked their weapons, went through and it was over in seconds.
Back in the Big Room, the Prime Minister did not beat around the bush.
‘We leave tomorrow morning. We’ve lost all contact with the old country now but the head man will be here shortly – he always knew this day would come to pass. We load ourselves into pods, keep under water and head for one of three islands.
These islands would not automatically suggest themselves to the current UK government, which is still ensconcing itself by last reports – but that was some time ago now. Eventually, whoever is clawing his way to the top will turn his attention to us. The insurrection presages action from them but they still can’t outright attack because of international attention to these islands. It will be done as a natural disaster, tsunami most like.
I’m not going to raise your hopes – one day they will get us but if we diverge like this, some might survive to continue the species. Here are the groups as I’ve listed them. Naturally, if there is severe dissent, we’ll rearrange them.
The drawing paper on the board said:
Group 1: Western Tearoa
1 Prime Minister S deG 
2 R 
3 Major Ron Tarpley 
4 Janine Falworth 
5 Captain Michel Green 
6 Marie-Ange Foubert 
7 Sergeant Jason Francis 
8 WNCO Louisa Francis 
9 Sergeant Jacob Dayan 
10 WNCO Rachel Dayan 
11 Sergeant Peter Graves 
12 WNCO Patricia Graves 
Group 2: Gran Antides Island
1 Hugh Jensen 
2 Nicolette Jensen-Vasseur 
3 Captain Laurence Sanders 
4 Sophie Magdalena 
5 Lieutenant Adam Brothers 
6 WNCO Lisa Benson 
7 Sergeant Sam Hoddle 
8 WNCO Rachel Bailey 
9 Sergeant Nicholas Davidson 
10 WNCO Mandy Davis 
11 Sergeant Raymond Booth 
12 WNCO Susannah Hennessy 
Group 3: Santa Cordova
1 Major-General Walter Hamilton 
2 Elizabeth Hamilton 
3 Major Walter Stretton 
4 Lieutenant Gillian Prentice 
5 Captain Cameron Lockett 
6 Mary Lockett 
7 Sergeant Paul Franco 
8 WNCO Susan Hodges 
9 Sergeant Ronald Davis 
10 WNCO Pamela Davis 
11 Sergeant Mark Jackson 
12 WNCO Susan Jackson 
‘Hamilton?’ asked Hugh, when the PM came back over to rejoin them, topping up the glasses.
‘He’s on one of our outlying islands at this time. It was wise to not to list the two of them on the rolls because he’s a wanted man in the UK, far more so than the rest of us. And no, I can’t go into it.
The natives will be taken care of in the form of a ‘Grand Trek’ across the ocean to also take place tomorrow, provisions having been stowed on board their proas already. We can’t realistically take these people with us.
Now the ORs. They’re being flown in batches to friendly countries, the carrot being the gift of weaponry carried on board, we’ve a veritable arsenal here, plus they have expertise. They’ll be assimilated and then they run the gamut of the local nation’s politics. Any further comments or questions at this point?’
‘Corporal David?’ asked Hugh.
‘Innocent, finally cleared. Loud and coarse but that was all.’
‘Janine?’ asked Sophie.
‘Back tomorrow morning. She’s been our roving ambassador, so to speak.’
‘Those who wish to marry, we’ll marry them on the beach tomorrow morning. It won’t be pretty because we’ll have just the things we’re departing in, the supplies and the equipment. There’ll be four pods per group, three people in each pod.’
‘That’s going to split couples,’ said Hugh.
‘In some cases and only temporarily. I’ll be very sad to see the loss of two thirds of my staff but I’ll do my regretting once we get there. What else?’
‘Medicines, medical help? asked Sophie.
‘There are medicines and natural remedies as well, plus a myriad food seeds – heirloom, not hybrids, a rooster and chicken in each pod whom we know are … um … capable. Fishing will supplement it initially. There’s a copy of each text on medicine, First Aid, etc. etc. in one of the pods in each group. You’ll need to take lessons and at least one medical practitioner is in each group. His or her job is to teach the others as soon as possible.’
‘Laurence Sanders?’ asked Sophie. ‘I ask just for interest’s sake.’
‘He’s a senior officer over on Jujun and unattached at this time. He’ll be patient enough and caring enough but of course, it’s up to you what happens once you get to your island.’
‘What if I want someone else.’
‘I’ve just said, Sophie –’
‘No, I mean someone altogether different?’
‘Be my guest. You can go across to Waina tonight and pick one, if he’ll agree to go with you. We can rearrange the group tomorrow morning.’
‘You’re not giving us any time.’
‘We don’t have any time. Believe me, if there had been time and there had not been the need for absolute secrecy, it would not have been done this way. I’ve waited now for you to come out with a name but you haven’t.’
She went quiet on that. To her credit, she started thinking about another person who seemed to have become separated – Marie-Ange. ‘We were four and Marie-Ange was one of us, she’s French and the two French women are with Hugh’s group. What does she have to say about it?’
‘Marie-Ange,’ said the Prime Minister, ‘has an understanding with an officer who has been my aide-de-camp for some time now – he will take over most duties I once undertook and will allow me, I hope, a dignified semi-retirement.’
‘Where he goes, I go,’ added Marie-Ange. ‘Did you not notice, Sophie, his first name?’
Most things had been packed and taken to the pods, there was just furniture and the books which were being left behind. It all looked quite temporary and bare now.
The rest of the traitors had come forward, having seen the summary executions but pardons for those confessing … and they’d named names. It was decided to airlift them to Waina, with supplies for a month and tools to build a boat – that was all they were going to get. That would be done this evening. They’d be warned at the last moment about the tsunami so their work would be cut out.
They drank each other’s health this last evening, Hugh and Nikki would spend the night in what had been their hut, Sophie had gone back to hers, Janine would remain up at the Big House.