Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Jerusalem 4 - Dismissed



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I

It was Christmas Eve, they’d had enough kourabiedes and melomakarona cookies to last a year and at the beach, as usual, it was too cold to swim so the women had gone across the road to shop.

The days had been, until yesterday, warmish and sunny, with the occasional threatening clouds and spots of rain but now that rain had set in.  Emma noticed that Ron Davidson gave more than passing glances at clumps of bushes, hidden gateways and the like as they made their way about Limmasol.

During the late morning and for much of the afternoon, they usually walked down to the little village to buy supplies and try out their Greek, much to the locals’ amusement; they bought knick knacks they didn’t even need and rambled around the shopping area, before returning to the condo for late lunch and siesta. 

Emma had not adequately answered his questions about Jones, she didn't seem to understand the gravity of those people killed at the airfield.  She seemed to be on some mission where he was excluded and he didn't like it.  The glummer he became, the worse she felt and yet she was determined not to tell him.

This Christmas Eve, as dusk approached, she was on the balcony and saw Hugh and Sophie cross the hillside road, entering one of the little shops together. She knew her situation, she knew she was breaking the agreement that they share everything, yet the PM had entrusted her with this task and Hugh was doggedly turning it into a marital conflict.  And now this Sophie - she could see how he felt and how this might well go. 

The further she clammed up, the further she withdrew, the more he withdrew and he had to have some outlet.

She didn't want the outlet being that girl.  She had no one to speak to - all three thought her guilty of causing the trouble and her husband was hurting - she could see it and that made him unapproachable.  She could see no way out by herself.  Perhaps she should just leave in the middle of the night and make a new life.

.o0o.

When the two of them returned from the shops, she didn't even ask about it.  When Ron returned with some champagne some forty minutes after that, it began to dawn on her.

He and Sophie tried to lighten the mood with a little dancing and drinking but the gloom of the Jensens killed it somewhat.  They drank some more, spoke pleasantries to each other and then made for an early night.  It was most significant that Sophie and her man made love next door but Hugh had already dropped off to sleep.

.o0o.

When he awoke, she was still fast asleep.  He crept over to his drawer and took the little parcel out, came back and laid it on the pillow on the side she was facing. 

She eventually came to, saw the little parcel, turned over, saw him smile, heard him say Joyeux Noel, realized she had nothing for him and burst into tears.  He moved across swiftly and cradled her in his arms.  'I need nothing.  Don't forget that I had nothing for Nikki either, many times.  C'est fait rien.'

She looked into his eyes and stroked his cheek but still could find no words.

'Well, open it,' he grinned and she did just that.  It was an emerald ring he'd seen her lingering over in that shop he and Sophie had gone in.

She burst into tears again and nothing he did could console her.  He tried to hold her but she broke away and rushed for the toilet, locking herself inside until Ron got up and asked if she'd be long.

She came out and went back to the bedroom.  Hugh was on the balcony, staring out over the vista.  She came up behind him and put her arms around him, kissing his shoulder.  'Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.  I'm so unhappy, so unhappy.  I want to tell you but I'm bound not to, not yet.  The moment I see the Prime Minister, I can be released to tell you.  Can you accept that for now and not continue this horrible coldness?'

He took her hands and squeezed them.  It was something and yet both knew it was not enough.

II

It was New Year’s Day, which the Greeks spend either furthering the festivities or sleeping.

At the beach, no one else was doing anything but walking with light tops on, the women were paddling and the men had a bit of time.

‘You saw the Saab, sir … er … Hugh?’

‘Think it’s significant?’

‘Oh yeah, that guy wasn’t out for a Sunday drive.’

‘Should we check our car?’ thought Hugh out loud.

‘I’ll do it. You stay here - keep an eye on the girls.’

He returned some minutes later with a metal device in his hand.  Hugh recognized it, groaned and ran his hand over his pate. ‘But it’s at the beach.  It's crazy, in public.  Why not wait until we got back to the condo?  Where was it?’

‘Under the engine.’

‘It's over, Ron.  It's over.  You take the car back and get what you can, monetarily.  I’ll take the ladies, book us into the Holiday Inn for the night and get tickets for tomorrow. Don’t say a word to either of them about the device, of course.’

‘Right sir.’  Hugh didn’t correct him this time. He was too preoccupied.

When the women came back up the beach, he mentioned the change of arrangements and that Ron had taken the car back.  They'd get one of Constantine's cars back to the condo for their things.  All would be explained.

.o0o.

At the Holiday Inn there were two rooms off the one corridor, many guests having departed that day and while the women brought the gear through and upstairs, such as they had, Hugh got onto the phone at the desk about flights.  He had to go through home again to pull some weight but it was hardly a case of weight – it was a case of cancellations. 

The tickets were eventually bought for later that night.

Ron brought some of their gear through, Hugh went out for more, the driver was paid and departed, it all went upstairs, Hugh went downstairs to the desk but as the bell of the lift dinged on the ground floor and he came out, he saw Rosa and Jim checking in, backtracked before the door closed, the lift went up, he walked into his room and told Emma to be ready to leave with only one case, went down the hall and knocked on the others’ door, Ron opened the door a fraction and nodded when he heard they had to be ready to leave in five minutes, only one case each.  He heard Sophie swearing in the background.

Hugh checked with the desk by phone that the others had gone upstairs by lift, they waited ten minutes and checked straight out, paid the extra day, caught a street taxi and drove straight to Larnaka, luggage severely curtailed. 

.o0o.

Landing in Rome about 05:30, they hit the sack, each door sporting a ‘do not disturb’ sign, with reception notified to follow the instructions to the letter.

He’d said not one word about Rosa and Jim and even later, over the continental breakfast, he still didn’t refer to it. He gave the ladies an hour to shop in the hotel for requisites and called a conference for 10:00, in Emma’s and his room.

.o0o.

At the set time, Hugh opened. ‘I was in touch with the PM today by secure line.  If you doubt that what I say now comes from him and remembering he's currently in the U.S., then get in touch with Janine in daylight hours and she'll confirm it.  Basically, he said he wishes for this thing to be finished by the time he gets back in two days, by which time we are to be back in London and to make ourselves available. All right so far?

OK, the reason for this meeting.  Ron, will you please tell us what you found, where you found it and show us the photograph you took of it.'

He told the women about the bomb, where it had been found and showed the shot of it on his phone.  Sophie was shocked but Emma was distraught, just staring at the photo in utter disbelief.

Hugh went on.  'I confirm that that's what happened, we kept it from you two because we wanted to see what happened.  Someone has been continuing to communicate with Jones and it has to be one of us.  Rosa and Jim checked in, in Cyprus.  How?  Why?  Why now? 

So, we're now going to pair off.  Ron and Sophie will go in to the bathroom first and do a body orifice.  Then we'll go in.  After that, the four of us will search your room, you two and then ours -'

'No need,' said Emma, still staring in shock. 'No need.  Let me go to Hugh's bag.'  She got up and went over to the pack, took out the toilet bag, unzipped it and removed the shaving brush.  'This is it.'

What the -' began Ron Hughes.

'It's a transmitter,' said Hugh.

'You, M. Jensen?'

'No,’ said Emma. 'It wasn't Hugh.'  She kept staring at Lt. Hughes's phone. 'He tried to kill us.  Tried to kill me!'

'Excusing me, sir - who, what?'

'Sophie, Ron, would you please leave us for some time, take your things.  We'll be in touch in an hour.'

The two of them looked at one another, repacked and picked up their gear and left the room.  Hugh lay on his single bed and looked at her.

There was utter silence for maybe three minutes and then she spoke.  'I don't know where to start.'

'At the beginning.  I'll make the coffee while you do.'  He jumped up and went about doing  just that.

'He had a hold on me.  Not just the way he was but he could actually blackmail me.  I changed some codes for him - at the Citadel - in exchange for information but if you'd found that out, it would have been the end of everything, as it is now.  I'm relieved in a way that it's over.  I think the CEC fed this to the Prime Minister.  I think the Prime Minister knew it but knew you didn't know.  I asked him to give me this assignment, to track Chr - Jones and what he was up to and he agreed.

Each time we went somewhere else, I had to send ... Jones ... where we were and in Limmasol, I told him we were at the beach each day.'

'And what did you think he was going to do with that information?'

'Not this.  Not try to kill us.'

'So what exactly did a rational human being, an experienced Section strategist from Paris think he was going to do with that information, given that he was trying to kill all of us at the aerodrome?  Including you, Emma.  Including you.' 

She didn't respond.  'As I thought.  Do you see any difference between wiping everyone out at the aerodrome, which might have strategic validity and specifically killing us in our own car, via this detonator?' 

He waited for a reply but when one was not forthcoming, he continued.  'You were going to allow me, your husband, to die, as long as you were saved.'

'No,' she said, feebly.  'I didn't know about the aerodrome being hit.  That came out afterwards and I thought it had to be a mistake.  I thought it couldn't have been Chris, that something was wrong in that report.  I thought it was not possible because I would have died and he would never hurt me.'

'Can you hear yourself?  Can you hear what you were prepared to let happen to innocent people?  As long as you were safe?'

'No, it wasn't like that.  If I'd thought he had anything like that in mind, I would never have taken your brush and told him.'

'You gave him key codes, key data, you falsified data, you placed the whole Citadel and every person, every girl, every man in a fatal position.  You did this, Emma.  And for what?  You thought he was beautiful and he flattered you.  You knew he was false deep down - you told me that yourself - but you refused to believe it in your heart.  Oh no, not Chris - he'd never do that.'

She bit her lip and prepared to ride this out.

'The Prime Minister knows not only that this has been going on with Jones but that you were keeping me in the dark, breaking the one fundamental agreement we had with the man - that we work together for his protection.  And where are we today?  In effing Rome, instead of giving him his protection.  We're costing him money and for what?  And the whole time he can see that we are amateurs, that we are useless as his protectors any more.  And why?  Because your beloved Chris keeps hunting us down and sending me out of my head.  And why does he keep doing that?'

'Stop!  Stop!  Don't you think I know that?  Call me a traitre.'

'What else should I call your behaviour?  Patriotism?'  She had nothing to say.  'I tell you what I will call it - stupidity of the worst kind.  Emma, what do you think the Section in Paris would have said about your judgement if they could have seen it?  What would Genie, Nikki, Jean-Claude, Thierry and Francine have said, love?'

'I beg you to stop.  I want to die now.  I don't want to go on.'

He calmed down and spoke in more measured tones.  'The PM is a practical man, a pragmatist.  He's seen a lot of dirty things over the years and he knows when something or someone is useful to him.  He knew we had ceased functioning as his protectors but the Loire and the capture of Celeste still counted heavily with him.  He wanted an end to this matter and it is now ended. 

You were always acting from honourable motives - you loved me, you felt you were protecting me, even though you were incapable of it, even at the end you acted to protect me by not letting them accuse me for what you had done.  I'm well aware of that and it counts for everything in my book.   I think he would understand all of this.  I think he'll still wish to use us, having had this terrible shock, even having lost so many lives at the aerodrome, which were not worth it just for a lesson.

All he's wanted in this whole matter was for us to work together again and perhaps we still can again one day.  Before that though, heads must roll.  Either you, me or both of us will be dismissed, that is as sure as night follows day.' 

She looked up at him through her bleary eyes.

'Emma, the Prime Minister is in real trouble, he told me some of it and he needs us as much as he did back at the start.  He's the last European leader still to believe in the freedom of the people and we need to accept what's coming, ride it through and then start again.'

'I won't hurt him.'

He went very quiet, in that menacing way she'd only seen twice before and it was more than a little frightening.  His voice dropped to just above a whisper.  'Do you mean you won't hurt the PM?  Or do you mean someone else?'  She bit her lip.  'I see.'

'What will you do with him?'

'Not my department.  Don't want to know.'

'I do.'

'Even now?  Goodbye, Emma.'  He got up and started to pack his bag.

'Where are you going?'

'Back to London, as I've been asked to.  Reporting for duty without you, completing the last formalities of my employment ... and our marriage.  I'll not put up with this any more.   You have your beloved Chris, you’re welcome, I'll make my new life, starting today.'

He continued to pack his bag and she just watched in total shock.  He did the last strap up, untelescoped the carry handle and started for the door.  She knew this was no bluff.

'No ... don't go.  Don't walk out of this room ... Please.'  She went up and laid a hand on his arm.  'Please, Hugh.  Don't walk out.'  She knew she'd have to do better than that. 'Give me some days.  It's only ever been you - you know this to be true.  Give me some days to come to terms with this, then leave me if you're still not satisfied.'

'He'll have a fair hearing, if that's what's worrying you, which is more than he gave his victims.'

'Yes, yes, I know you'll be fair.'

He came back to the bed, perching on the end.  'That's not the only problem.'  She curled up on the bed and began a low moaning.  'Emma,' he said, 'get yourself together because we do have another problem, not this one and I need to tell you so we can meet it.  First I'm going to their room to tell them we're staying here for some time.  I need rest and you might too.  I'll be back in a minute or so.'

At that, she uncurled and he left the room.

When he got back, he went straight to the bathroom and checked the brush with the little failsafes he'd strewn about.  She hadn't accessed it.

He came through, went to his pack, pulled out a clean handkerchief, knelt where she was sitting and dabbed her eyes.  She took the handkerchief and continued it herself.  'Tell me.  I'm listening.'

'For all that Chris Jones has done, for all the deaths he's caused, I don't believe he is the principal.  I see him being much like your Michel - a macho man who thought he was more important than he was.  He was not the mastermind.' She looked at him. 'The mastermind is someone else, someone way above Nadine in station and ability.

The obvious person is Rosa who keeps turning up but seriously, that is way too obvious.  Why couldn't it be fuddy-duddy Jim?  Why couldn't it be Janine?  It's a person in a key role and with access.  It could be the Prime Minister himself - if he really is the PM, that is - and if so, then we might as well give up now.  Let's proceed as if it isn't him.

Rosa is so openly the villain, so fragrantly breaking the rules and following us that I suspect she has a different purpose.  Yes, I see you understand.   She's following us and reporting back to someone.  She's following us to protect us perhaps, to protect someone - maybe one of us but not the other.  That still makes one of us a possible villain.'

She began the low moaning again.  'No, Hugh, not again - I can't stand it any more.  Don't you understand I don't want any more?  If killing myself is the only way left, I'm going to think about it - I really mean it.'

'You can't do that because you'd go straight to hell.  The reason I mention the villain is that we still need to have our eyes wide open and we also need to have a clear head.  Can you do that?  Can we work together, at least this far, to save ourselves from this person?'

'I'll try.'

'Let's rejoin the others.'

III

The following day, they finally ventured out on the grand tour of Rome and wound up in the Sistine Chapel, Davidson lying on the floor, gazing up, the rest spread about the chamber; a tour group came in at the far end.

The tour guide woman was speaking in poor but voluble English about the great Michelangelo and his relationship with the Pope, when Hugh suddenly took leave of his senses, strode over to the 10 or 12 gawking tourists, took the arm of one lady and marched her, protesting, towards the door.

Emma saw the whole thing.  Hugh shunted the woman through the door and then turned angrily on her. ‘What’s the idea, Rosa?’

‘You’ve a traitor in your midst, Chief,’ she calmly replied.

‘I know that.  You don’t propose to tell me the identity of that person, right?’

But Rosa was now gazing over his shoulder.

‘Hello, Rosa,’ greeted Emma. ‘Fancy meeting you here. Where’s Jim?’

‘Jim had to return; we had these tickets already paid for and it seemed such a shame to waste them -’

‘How did you know where we were, Rosa?’

‘I thought maybe you’d tell Hugh that yourself.’

‘You first, Rosa,’ Hugh requested.

‘Someone has to watch your backs. My brief is from the PM.’ She took out a document, a series of numerical codes.

Hugh made a decision. ‘We’re going back to our hotel, all of us.’

.o0o.

In the Informatica Room at the hotel, the codes pretty soon converted to precisely what Rosa had claimed. She had the PM’s instructions to watch Hugh’s back but that did not accord with what Janine had told him yesterday.

IV

'And that's as much as I know, sir.' 

Hugh had been speaking for twenty minutes, occasionally punctuated by short questions, Emma was in the outer room, waiting.

The Prime Minister looked at him and stroked his chin.  'Took you long enough.'

'Bit difficult suspecting your wife.'

'You did get there in the end and I think the very fact that I'm bothering with you at all today should tell you something.  Is she back on board?'

'I believe so.'

'Good.'  He handed a piece of paper across the desk.  'I'm accepting your resignation as my protector and Emma will be your replacement.  Sign please.'  Hugh looked at him evenly, took up a pen and scrawled his signature across the foot of the page. 'Thank you.  Now, you'll be needing this - it's the documentation on benefits accrued and that sort of thing.  Thank you for your service and perhaps we'll be meeting one another some day in the future.'

He stood, came round the desk and as Hugh also stood, offered his hand.  He buzzed Janine and asked her to send in Mme Jensen de la Mere.  Hugh walked out in a daze and made his way out of the office.  Janine came out, quickly went to the corridor and called for Hugh to stop.

'Sorry, Hugh but I was meant to ask you - you need to look through the file in reception and ask me if there is anything in the provisions you do not understand.  If you'll come back with me now please.'

'Salt in the wound, Janine?'

'Hugh, Mr. Jensen, I'm terribly sorry but you understand -'

'Yes, you’re just following orders.  All right if I read it over here?'

'Fine.'

'He sat down heavily and undid the file.  Leafing through the first three pages, it was about pension entitlements and all the other guff but on page 4, it changed its tone dramatically.

Janine brought him some coffee and sweetmeats on a tray, along with a soft pouch.  He nodded to her and redoubled his concentration.

At the end of the sheet, he signed it, wound the string back again, stood, handed the bundle to her, thanked her and left the building.

V

February, 2010

Sitting on a bar stool at Moran’s, Hugh felt that a touch of Hollywood was required.  He was on his third whisky and quite frankly, didn’t want any more, not being a drinking man ... well, not to that extent. How people could continue to drink after they'd had sufficient was beyond him. 

He finished his steak sandwich and salad, zipped up the jacket and went out to the car. The night was bitingly cold but he scarcely noticed.

The custom built Pilgrim which he’d kept locked up in his garage these four years, was again on the road and had carried him here. It was good to point that long bonnet down the highway, the graceful running boards and flapping soft top accentuating the feeling of escape.

He’d drive for a hundred miles, turn around and come back again, far more slowly, stopping in at a Granada or Carlton, alone, unrecognized, unneeded.

The PM’s point was valid, of course and he was in for a long layoff. 

He would paint. Yes, he could do that. He enjoyed embossing plates and bowls and sometimes it even brought in a quid or two. He could write books on his laptop.  The Pilgrim was his, the flat was his but the house would return to the government. 

He could lecture a little.  Even discredited, his name still counted for something and people would come to hear him speak. 

The thing that terrified him, above all else, was if she contacted him and offered him a job in the department, out of the kindness of her heart. That he wouldn’t be able to take.  There were limits, weren’t there?

Mr. Jensen put the car into gear, drove home, parked in the garage, walked back to the flat and began his new life.

.o0o.

Emma walked into Moran’s but he’d gone and she’d never known the whereabouts of the musty flat they’d never used before. 

She'd left the PM’s office that morning with one thing on her mind – to find Hugh.  It wasn’t possible to bring in operatives for this, she had to do it herself.

After checking his usual haunts, she had to confess herself at a loss. Then a brainwave hit her. He always attended the ballet and his favourite Nutcracker was playing at the Metropol. It meant turning up five nights in a row but that seemed a small price to pay.

.o0o.

She struck lucky on the second night.

‘Hello, Hugh.’

‘Shhh.’ He indicated the spare seat beside him. She sat down and offered him a Dixie Cup ice cream, his favourite.

He mechanically thanked her and started on the ice cream. 

The curtain went up. As performances went, it was passable. Slightly under-rehearsed, nevertheless the troupe wasn’t too bad.

.o0o.

As the interval approached, he did his usual trick of going for supplies before the ‘elephant stampede’, taking her order. 

He never returned for the second half.

Emma sat halfway through the second half and was then driven home by Doug.  She cried until one o’clock but remembering she had a heavy meeting next morning at 09:00, postponed the rest of the crying until the following evening.

.o0o.

Rosa had greater success, finding him in Moran’s two days later and slipping onto the barstool beside him.

‘Bearing up?’ she asked, mechanically.

‘How’s life at the office?’ he replied. ‘Is she a good Chief?’

The question definitely took the wind out of Rosa’s sails.  She looked at his unshaven chin for one minute, silently got up and went out.

He ordered another whisky.

.o0o.

Emma did finally corner him in the supermarket and begged him to grant her a few minutes.

‘For what it’s worth, OK.’

They went to Moran’s, unusual for either of them in the evening. An unshaven Hugh opened. ‘How’s work?’

‘Don’t. Hugh, there are reasons.’

‘Yes, I can see that.’

‘No, you see nothing. If you could only open your eyes to what’s really going on. It’s tearing my heart out to see what’s happening but what can I do?’  He remained silent, sipping on his whisky.  ‘What are you doing to yourself?  How many whiskies have you had today?’

‘This is the fifth.’

‘You’re my husband.’

‘Chris Jones’ lover, you mean and the new golden girl.’  Her mouth opened and closed a few times; choked to the soul, she turned on her heel and left.

Ordering another whisky, the barman refused him.

Instead of arguing, he stumbled out to the Pilgrim and there was Emma, sitting in the driver’s seat, not difficult as the car had no door locks and no security of any form. He never even considered arguing but went to the other side, handing her the keys.

The engine sprang to life and the deep throaty roar was satisfying. She put the car in gear and it jerked onto the road.  ‘Watch it here. You have to drive round corners in this car, not turn it like a proper car. Take it onto the open road until you get the feel. It’s nice in this seat for a change.’

She was quietly surprised and delighted with the thoroughbred performance. At 870kg and with a two litre extracted engine, the performance was lively. They made it onto the M road and the car itself seemed delighted – it adored the longer runs.

They chewed up the miles, with a snarl of the engine they effortlessly slipped out to overtake a truck and now in cruise mode again, the Pilgrim simply purred; Emma felt for the first time she could learn to love a piece of machinery. 

He picked up on this.

‘Drives well, doesn’t she?  She likes you, Emma; she understands who’s at the controls.  Whoa, keep it under seventy – the running boards are like air scoops – it’s a 30s design, don’t forget.’

‘Seventy?’

‘Miles per hour.  About 120 kph.’

They pulled into a layby and once the engine had been shut down, the silence enveloped them. She turned to his indistinct form in the dim light. Words were the medium this time.  ‘Listen to me, husband, you’ve gone through a lot for me now, as I went through a lot for you. The roles are now reversed –’

‘No complaints. Your star is rising, I have a new Bohemian life.’

‘Rubbish, rubbish. I’m not coping and everyone can see it.  I’m short tempered and snap at people.  I need you there, Hugh - please don’t abandon me.’

She laid her hand over his and he didn’t pull away. He replied, ‘I’m painting and selling the paintings too. I can’t write memoirs but I can do interviews.  I’m writing this book too, in three parts.’

‘No you’re not. Don’t make it difficult for the PM.’

‘All right, I’m getting in shape again with all the walking in the park. The evening’s are great too - solitaire’s a nice game.’

‘Hugh, don’t you see it’s killing me too? Your wife needs you and she needs you now. Will you turn your back on me?  Do I mean nothing to you now?’

‘That rather depends on how far you're prepared to trample on my grave with Jones and your new life style.  Let’s drive back.’

She turned on the engine, put the car into gear and drove back, in silence, to where she’d left her own car.   Pulling up two or three cars behind hers, she put on the brake and he asked, ‘What, specifically, do you want from me, Emma?’

‘Come home with me.’

‘No.  Not under these conditions.  This thing is not right.’

‘Let me come to your place, then, just to tuck you into bed tonight.’

‘No.’

‘Not ever?’

‘Not yet.’

‘Don’t be too long ... husband.’ She kissed him on the forehead, slipped out of the driver’s seat and went over to her car.  His eyes followed her and then it struck him in an instant.

Rocketing out of the door, he bellowed to her, ‘Emma, don’t open that door – Emma!’

Bewildered at the sudden commotion, she propped long enough for him to rugby tackle her to the ground behind a Renault, just as her own car exploded, shattering Moran’s windows and spraying shards of glass and metal in all directions.

Emma’s head was gashed; Hugh had lacerations down his cheek.  He held her close and covered her gash with his handkerchief.

.o0o.

It was a condo belonging to one of his friends, in a swish part of town, down by the river, complete with little pathways, landing stages for small motorcraft and the type of architecture which delights avant-garde slum clearers - soulless and expensive - but at least the bed linen was fluffy, soft and warm, necessary in this soulless February chill.

Hugh turned to her and asked, ‘Whatever happened to Jim Carrington, anyway?’

‘He left Rosa.  He’s overseas somewhere.’

'She's certainly gone very quiet on him.'

VI

Early March 2010

Invited back to the Citadel for the first time since the exodus, Hugh noted the changes.  The state room was full of Level 1 to 4 operatives working on this and that but Emma still operated from reception. 

Hugh went across to Moran’s for lunch while she was in conference and who should materialize from behind the bar but Sophie. She asked if she could sit with him and he indicated the chair.  She saw that the gentleman in him had taken a vacation somewhere but she sat down.

There’d been a cheque in a cashbox when she’d gone for petty cash and it was made out to the Praetorian slush fund, from a well known business identity. Nothing untoward in this itself but more interesting was how that very cheque had turned up in a Level 2 petty cash box at the Citadel.

Anyway, there seemed no logical connection.  Sophie had put the cheque back in the correct box and had drawn the petty cash she’d needed. Later, she’d returned the change to the box but the cheque had gone again.  She was certain of that.

Now she was taking the unusual step of reporting this direct to Hugh, in person, at Moran’s.

‘A list of those with authority to access petty cash was drawn up by Mme Jensen. The list includes Rosa and your wife, by definition, William Boyer [Level 2 treasurer] Paulina Harrison [counter-ops co-ordinator] and the two of us.

No one’s admitted withdrawing the cheque and as the keys are encrypted, this suggests that at least one of these people is lying, which doesn’t help. You had access to the box but not to the building, William Boyer was out of town, Paulina Harrison was the one who deposited the cheque, given to her by Si Travers, of the Praetorian.  The cheque can’t be cashed and can’t be deposited without a record of the depositor.’

‘Thanks, Sophie.’

He went to the building society to see if it had yet been presented, was met by Albert Collins, sub-manager of Forsythe Cooperative and was ushered into a plush waiting room, near the manager’s office.

Albert Collins was gone about 10 minutes and when he returned, he was puzzled. ‘We’re going to view the search results, Mr. Jensen,’ he said, turning the monitor round so Hugh could see it.  ‘Keep your eye on the box at the lower right. First, the bank where the cheque was presented.’ 

Hugh read the name, ‘Bank Credite-Agricole, in Paris’. This meant that the presenter must have had an account there.

‘Now, Mr. Jensen, the name of the account.’

He swung around in his revolving chair and stared at the ceiling.

Hugh glanced at the screen:  ‘Emma de la Mere.’

.o0o.

In reception, Emma looked at a slip of paper on which Hugh had written the bank details.

Her lips were dry.  ‘What did I tell you?  It’s a set up. I had no access to that bank.  I haven’t travelled.  Check the travel stubs.’

‘Who’s in charge of travel?’

‘Still Penny James, Level Three.’

‘Is she here?’

‘We’ll get her up here.’  Emma called her and they all waited, he sat on the couch and she remained behind the reception desk.  There was a buzz and she nodded, Hugh got up and walked out to the corridor to speak with a middle aged, bespectacled lady of seeming propriety.

‘Hello, Penny -’

‘Hello, sir.’  She seemed pleased to see him again.

‘Penny, did Mrs. Jensen travel in the last three days?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Yes?’

‘Yes, sir. Here is a list of her reimbursed destinations.’

Hugh glanced at them. They were all within the country. Emma had been home each evening, anyway, at the regular times.  She was cleared and he breathed a sigh of relief. 

.o0o.

Over dinner later, he mused, aloud, ‘It’s a puzzle. The stubs clear you, I had no access. How do you read it?’

‘Why do you say I’m clear?’

‘Reimbursed travel record.’

‘No, that’s where your procedures fall down – I did actually go to Paris and deposit that cheque.’

‘What!’

‘The PM sent me. You’ll have noted that I opened the account and presented on the same day.’

‘No, I’m slipping, I didn’t check that.  And the mode of transport?’

‘Private plane to Orly.’

‘French or the PM’s?’

‘French – the deal was with the French.’

‘I see.  Why the denial in the office today?  Because it was hush hush?’

‘No - the ears of the enemy were in that room with us at the time. When it was asked, I had to deny it.’

'Next move?’

‘We close the Citadel.’

VII

Late March, 2010

The demise of the Citadel, the selling off of all their stock, the relocation of all personnel to other departments, the destruction of all codes coincided with the spring thaw and was completed with maximum speed.

All assassination attempts, all aggravation, all of it stopped with the disbanding of the Citadel.  If you’d been one of the enemy within the Praetorian, you wouldn’t have been fooled by this move.  In fact, you’d have been alarmed because former Citadel operatives were now operating directly within the Praetorian itself, freelance, not least of whom was Sophie.

.o0o.

There was a call one evening from Sophie, something had happened and she was close to their house.   He went to let her in, Emma got the coffee and brandy. 

Sophie plunged into the story.  ‘It was fine the first two weeks. Roland, the section chief –’

‘Which section?’ asked Emma.

‘Encryption. Well, it was fine, as I say. Then one day I was encrypting a memo from the Defence Minister to the PM and it was unusual. It lacked the prefixes and the system wouldn’t accept it, so I took it to Roland; he took one look, laughed and said, ‘Oh, don’t worry about that, Sophie, it hasn’t been prepared properly. I’ll send it back and they’ll resubmit it.’

Now why would he do that? Head of Section doesn’t deal with those messages himself. And who misprepared it in the first place?

I waited two days and it didn’t reappear so I went to him and asked if it had come through on my day off. He snapped at me and asked me why I wanted to know. I apologized and left it at that.

Later, he came over to my encrypter where I was and apologized for snapping at me. He said that it was just a sensitive document and should never have been sent for encryption. But that’s not right because all documents to the PM are encrypted.’

‘Tell me Sophie,’ asked Hugh, ‘would the documents be read by the PM himself?’

‘Usually, but he was in the north the day it first came in and he didn’t return till the next day.’

‘So who would have perused the message first, in his absence?’

‘The new Chancellor of the Exchequer - Robert Jamieson.’

‘And then?’

‘Two days later, Roland came to me and complained about some other encryption I’d done. Said it was wrong.’

‘And was it?’

‘Well, if it was, it was the first wrong one since I’d been there. He’d never complained before.’

‘And then the mistakes you made multiplied, yes?’

‘That’s how it was. And finally, today, he relieved me of my duties and gave me severance pay.’

‘Roland and Jamieson, eh?’

‘What can I do? I have bills to pay, I’m not qualified for anything else, as you know.   The Citadel was my first job, after you both ... well ...’

‘Join the club, Sophie. It may or may not have escaped your attention that we’re also out of a job.’

‘Oh, I know you see the PM.  Everyone knows that.’

Emma stepped in.  ‘You did the right thing. We’ll cover the bills until you’re employed again.’

‘You don’t understand – I’m in debt.’

‘How much for?’ asked Hugh.

‘It’s the credit card.’

‘How much for?’

‘£4,800.’

Hugh commented, ‘So?  You’d only have to find £150 or £160 a month to pay that.’

‘No, the building society has called it in – they want it all back by the end of the month and I can’t.’   Her face was drawn.

Emma asked, ‘Sophie, it’s none of our business but don’t you have ... Ron?’

‘I live alone, as you know.’  They didn’t know.  ‘Oui, there’s Ron but he can’t help me ... financially, I mean.’

Hugh said, ‘OK, we’ll cover it for now.'    He stood, she took the hint and they watched her walk down the pathway from the block of flats.

As they turned to go to bed, a noise which could only be described in print as ‘p-tung, p-tung’ had them both leaping for the window. Sophie was sprawled on the path and her packet had dislodged its contents all over the pathway.

A young man now passing saw her and ran over.

Hugh bounded for the door.

‘No, Hugh,’ shouted Emma, ‘they could still be out there.’


But he’d gone.


Chapter 3 hereChapter 5 here

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