1 Kidnapped

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I

‘This is not the way to Gretna.’

Fen glanced across at the driver with alarm, he did not acknowledge even one word but kept pressing on in a direction which could only have put them onto the A75 west, the last place he should have been going.

‘Tom, we keep to the low roads here, you know that, then the A75 east, drop me and you do the rest.’

He wasn’t listening in the least, eyes fixed ahead, it wasn’t yet dark, he was definitely heading for the Stranraer ferry as far as she could make out.

‘Stop! Tom, stop this car now!!’

Nothing, grim determination.

II

‘Let’s look at it again, Cam,’ they went by single syllable names – Fen had been Fenella Mackie, from the town of Kirkcowan, it was her country … this ‘Tom’ had arrived at the ferry as per the papers, his own papers had passed muster, the car had collected him and dropped him near their barn this side of Mill Glen Road, Stranraer, where ‘Lee’ and she had done the usual processing and early training, then it had been time for the next stop near Gretna.

‘It’s cramped in this van,’ Jeanne complained, the Ford was bigger in the storage part behind but Cam had insisted on this as the vehicle in better condition, less well known either on any watcher’s records.

‘Uh huh.’

‘We need to get this Lee down here, give him the once over … well the girls can anyway … and don’t say uh huh again.’

‘No sir. Any more orders, sir?’

‘Asks the boss. May we eat, boss?’

‘Uh huh.’

II

The concert was set for 7.30 p.m. at Wigmore Hall, formerly the alabaster and marble Bechstein Hall, in London’s West End … L’Arpeggiata was to be the early chamber music ensemble.

Lee had signed in under his real surname Hayward, had dropped his things and was headed downstairs to the Londoner lounge, the meeting was set down for 4:30, presumably before things got frenetic. It was already filling up, he bought a glass of house red and mixed nibbles … and settled down to wait.

Strange call it had been from … well he didn’t really know who she’d been but she’d used the coded intro and the place to be it seemed was this bar. Sounded reasonable to him, a short drive, a succession of trains, tube and now walking had got him from Stranraer to here, 7 hours 10 mins to the city, another hour to his accommodation, not bad going for one day.

A female voice behind him now spoke quietly: ‘Excuse me sir, would you mind changing tables for a few minutes? You’re in the line of fire of a shooting about to take place.’

He got up, grinning, not a bad line at all and as he turned, he was hit by the full force of this lady who smiled and said, ‘Come with me … the stairs.’ He followed her and they’d just started up the stairs when they could hear the commotion behind them.

‘Quickly please.’

They went through to the corridor , a door opened … another dark haired fatale appeared … she said, ‘Come.’ He looked at N1, who nodded and through he went, N1 did not follow.

‘Ok,’ he said, ‘no doubt you’ll explain over coffee, yes?’

‘Relax, Lee, you got here in good time. They’re currently looking for our other guy downstairs … he’s on his way to Ireland.’

‘Pardon?’

‘You were set up, weren’t you, downstairs? The hit was on you, you must have uncovered something in Stranraer, we need to debrief, every little detail, I’ve a clipboard of questions our masters want answering.’ She switched the kettle on and opened two 3-in-1 sachets taken from her tweed jacket pocket. ‘You know you’ll not be at the concert, a proxy will. And Lee, nothing must cost us anything please, no electronic trail, we’ve pre-paid the room.’

‘ID please.’

.o0o.

The four stage process completed, besides, he’d seen this one before, not the other though … she was ready to get down to details. He asked, ‘My holdall?’

‘In the cupboard, you need something from it?’

‘Just to see it.’ He got up and wandered over. It was as she’d said. Presumably it was hers beside it, keeping it company. ‘And I’m addressing … whom?’

‘Call me Cait, short for Caitlin, means ‘true, faithful’.

‘And the lady I just left?’

‘Jeanne, French spelling … and yes, she is named after Joan of Arc … vision, resistance and all that. More to the point, she was given that moniker owing to the crusading mission she embarked on when the ‘authorities’ disappeared her cousin one September night two years ago. We became suspicious of Stranraer as you must have realised, you’d both cleared this Tom through, you know the rest. Gruesome. We’ve viewed the footage, we’ve heard the wire on Fen, we’ve been over and over it. Thing was, it’s not happened to us before, as a unit I mean, not quite like this, so the question was which lot were onto us, and also what about this Tom? We know the Tom you were meant to get, was this Tom the same person in the car with her? I have to ask a clipboard of questions from our cellmaster,’ she showed him. ‘You tell me when you’re ready.’

‘May I lie on my bed? I take it this one’s mine.’

‘I’ll lie on mine too.’

.o0o.

It had been gruelling, moreso for her as it was all handwritten on dead tree, she was as exhausted as he was by the end.

‘Phew,’ she said, packing the notes away in her pack. ‘And now we entertain ourselves, eat, keep eyes and ears open.’

.o0o.

There was a knock some eight minutes later. A series of q and a through the door, backchecking.

She waited, then opened the door nonchalantly and stepped out, acknowledging someone to the left. then at the other end. She picked up the tray and came back in. ‘You like Chinese of course.’

‘Of course you’d know that. Crispy duck?’

‘Of course. I’m famished.’

.o0o.

They hadn’t died from it, the note under the tray cover had explained the next steps, she’d nodded. ‘Not rushing you, Lee, but we need to put the tray out. Then we go live again. There is extant danger, we need to flee sooner or later this evening.’

‘Staff lift?’

‘Yep.’ She showed the plastic key. ‘That’s why London. That and ease of egress, losing ourselves.’

‘Do you think you’re any furtherer with Stranraer?’

‘Yes. The suspicion was obviously about a switcheroo, or implant and turning. You know there’s an MRI coming up this evening, it seems universal across all cells. Just a question of when to make our move from here. I like your professionalism, Lee, you didn’t even ask if we had anything else planned after the scan. What are you suspicious of?’

‘You tell me.’

‘You suspect the support boys.’

‘And girls.’

She sighed. ‘It’s all horrible, truly. The really sick things, from eating bugs to drag shows … the whole nightmare. It’s always trust or don’t trust. I lost my brother through trusting. Jeanne lost her sister, you lost those two.’

‘The constant treachery … that’s how they wear us down.’

“If you left this room, Lee, went to the loo … the thought would be in your mind that the pleasant person you thought was your friend would pick up that phone and that would be that …’

‘The logic of distrust.’

‘There’s all sorts of dark logic in this end game. Do you think there’s a God?’

‘Interventions in human affairs suggest there just might be.’

‘I hope so.’

‘You’re my new partner … aren’t you?’

‘I’d like to be, I’ll be honest, if you can trust that word. But there’s another you must meet first. You see, we really did a number on you … and not just for official reasons. We’re looking at partnerships as well … not just working partnerships … I’ll tell you that one for free.’

‘Ah. She was pregnant you know, Fen was.’

‘Yes, we know. Tragic.’

‘Wasn’t me.’

‘Oh?’

‘Never happened.’

‘Not what we heard.’

‘Precisely.’

There was quite a pause. ‘I see. That does lead in new directions. We need to go, Lee. You almost ready?’

III

Cait had been through her MRI, only head and shoulders, he’d been in the booth, now their positions were reversed and his was going to be gruelling … full body, 90 minutes. Damned noisy things they were too.

.o0o.

He should have known she’d not be there after he’d come out, a new girl he’d not seen before was there, indeterminate age, might have been 30 even, maybe less, some features vaguely familiar, he was going to think that one through later. He was famished again.

Then she spoke and immediately, from him: ‘Oh my goodness … Faye on the phone.’

‘I’ll tell you all but we have to go to our haven for the night, we can’t stay here.’ He was dubious, so she explained in detail, even down to the registration and driver. ‘I’m new to the role but I’ve been trained all the same.’

This one was a pretty-pretty, very soft voice, he could imagine her being shrill if angered though. Cait was harder, might be useful in a fight or flight situation, this one was all brain. Big, watchful eyes, small frame.

.o0o.

They were in digs, a B&B out of London, semi-clad in their respective beds and talking, she’d risked the semi-risque nightdress before him. He felt the long boxers were the way to go.

‘You’re used to this, aren’t you?’ said Faye. ‘No awkwardness and yet you don’t bother coming on. You give the impression of actually liking the three of us. What do you think all this is about?’

‘Cait told me. It’s not just testing for the cell.’

‘That’s right. Jeanne will speak with us tomorrow, explain it all.’

‘You’re on the tech side.’

The breath was slowly released. ‘All right,’ she said, ‘I’ll ask it …’

‘From our conversation enroute, from your concerns with the two chaps, from various nuances.’

‘I was hoping for this level of thinking. You seemed not bad in what you were doing in Stranraer, there was the question of whether you’d bedded Fen, I wasn’t sure you had. Would you bed me?’

‘If we were an item, if we’d gone through the long, drawn out process two people used to in the old days, if most things rang true, if it did not break up your little triad, if I loved you and you loved me, if we’d married. Tell me what happened in the Londoner Bar.’

‘I know of it, I wasn’t inside. Essentially, there were two, with the one on the desk being part of them. Straight kidnap job it was to be, right where you were. No one had told you to sit there, Jeanne had kittens seeing you do that. We think we know the section, nasty people, you’d not want to go with them.’

‘But they never tried to go upstairs.’

‘Well actually they did – they were put to sleep and removed but we still felt there was a girl involved, could not pin that down. Our purpose as a cell? Help the arrested escape, warn people ahead of time, we’re not above a kill but it’s always counterproductive, comes down upon any locals in the vicinity, support dries up as a result. We don’t do the revenge bit, that’s another lot, we assist escapees. Sometimes it involves eyes and ears. Well, most times it does.’

‘It just goes on like this … forever?’

‘Who knows? On the political front, there are enough triads in the country, across Europe, cellular, we know of others but we don’t know them as people, we know no details, not even our boys know about our own, all except for Jeanne whose guy is one of the crew, so in fact, Cait and I are interviewing you at the moment and you, in turn, are interviewing us, partly with an eye to the future.

You see, Lee, to answer your earlier question, ground reports say that the enemy was slowly losing, that is they had not busted us, but that’s when it gets dangerous for people like us. France 1944/45 all over again, right. We knew they’d try it on but at source? As in Stranraer? That puts us up to another level. We need another type of eyes and ears now, we also need to live as close to sane as we can, especially the nastier it gets … and it’s about to get quite nasty. We need to have some fun, conviviality, not burn out. We have someone else in mind as well, not from outside, it’s one of the current crew, we need you as well as us to vet him for the new role … once you know the new role first of course. In short, it’s a cell within a cell … six people, three male, three female. You do see the implications.’

‘You asked if I liked you. Read my body language and my voice, Faye. I’ve read yours. You know most things about me, I know nothing about you two, there are big questions, minor questions as well to be asked.’

‘Of course there are. We did our homework on you, you need to grill us within an inch of our lives. If you can’t, then what’s the point you being here?’

‘The expression ‘all my birthdays’ does spring to mind.’

‘Look, Lee, in a more normal society before these bastards started on the ordinary people, we might not have crossed each other’s paths, we might have continued on this destructive path. We were no way slutty party girls like the Finland Prime Minister but we were serial monogamists, let’s say, as you were, looking for that one and only, wondering how to hold onto him.

Then we saw that the issue was within us ourselves, we saw by your profile, plus the things you’d said to Fen, by many things … you were thinking along our lines. Cait looked at me, I looked at her and thought … there might be a God after all. At least it was worth a try. Nothing would have happened as I say but times changed, these animals and their stasi started coming after us, anyone on social media … and then that tragedy near Stranraer. The accident in the ditch I’m sure was Fen trying to grab the wheel. The horror was what someone did to her afterwards. That Tom was quite dead but nothing had been done. At that point, we wanted you down here … fast. You’ll see the photos tomorrow.’

‘I’m without words, Faye. This other guy you have in mind and you two … we have to make some life decisions eh?’

’As long as it takes … yes. We need a life again, as close to normal as we can get. But you’d also understand the security issues.’

There was a beep, she pulled outthe micropad, read it, put it away. ‘Come, we must go.’

To his surprise, but not shock, she jumped out and dressed rapidly, he too, she grabbed her holdall from the cupboard, he too, she dowsed the light, opened the window, stepped out gingerly, careful with her footing, it was less well lit on this side, she pulled out her line, said, ‘Yours is in your pack,’ there was a heavy device on the end, he watched, he’d examine it later, just under a foot long, the solid bit, thinner line connected to it, the end was like jaws with levers, she pushed hers onto where the guttering met the down pipe, it snapped on and grabbed the guttering, she looked to see that he understood, she then let herself down over the edge, two floors down, looped around her waist.

She released the jaws via the second line, holding her main line taut while doing it, the whole kaboodle crashed below where she’d leapt out of the way. Uh huh, he followed her lead.

Down he went, at the bottom she said to keep the main line taut, she then juggled his other line, it released and the whole thing clattered down, both units were now stowed in packs, they ducked under some shrubs, through the fence at its rotted point, they were off.

The van was two streets away.

IV

‘Well?’ asked Faye in the back of the white van where they’d pass the rest of the night, it had been about two and a half hours and the van had pulled into a layby. They heard the driver get out and seemingly head away from them, there was someone else getting out too, passenger side, a light step, a knock, Faye released the bar, in scrambled Cait.

‘Well?’ asked Cait.

Said Faye, ‘I was just about to say … you do realise, Lee, that technically, we’ve kidnapped you?’ She now revealed her holster under her long blouson jacket.

‘Any chance you can keep me captive for awhile?’

‘That deserves one of these,’ responded Cait. She kissed one cheek, Faye the other. ‘Now, in all seriousness, at the changeover, Faye must go, she’ll need to slip away and I’ll be with you for some time. The other guy, who’s Jeanne’s husband, is not far away. Any plod, any issue, he comes back and drives off with us. Either way he must drive off within this hour, we’ll go to another road, another layby, we’ll need to change vehicles, Faye will go, you’ll get three hours sleep, another burst later in the morning. Can you stand all this?’

‘About another decade of it, maybe two.’

‘Down, boy,’ she grinned. ‘Trouble is, Lee, this life may be semi-permanent. Things have heated up … that lot have begun their mission on society. Plus we as people do stress out and we need you to be a rock. I’m sure you’ve understood our agenda by now. We want you in this team, providing you remain what you are.’

‘I think I get your drift. Look, Stranraer was nice, I was never that close to Fen, she was betrothed, as I answered Cait the first evening, someone in Kirkcowan, she kept it quiet but she told me.’

‘Lee, has Faye told you what we’re really looking for, each of us?’ She glanced at Faye, who nodded. ‘It’s going to be awkward if you don’t like either of us and frankly, upping the ante, you do know there’s a price on your head now as well.’

‘Understood. You really don’t need to explain that to me, have no fear. Could you stand a male’s protective instinct?’

‘We’re depending on it … but not the proprietorial instinct. We create our own boundaries between ourselves, within old-fashioned values. Faye insists on those. I do agree.’

’So do I.’

She pulled out the lunchbox, then the juices. ‘Sorry, should have given them to you earlier.’ He started tucking in, Fay was nibbling, Cait took one of the sandwiches. They could hear the guy … or someone … making for the van, he got in the front and started up.

.o0o.

They’d already changed over in the next layby, Faye had gone, he’d slept for three hours, then awoke to find Cait had put a blanket over him. She was seated on the van floor beside him, one arm across.

‘Morning,’ said she. ‘We’ll be washing and changing soon, there’s a friendly place, we know the couple. But every stop is danger, the chance of them being watched is high, which is why we approach … unusually.’

He glanced near the back of the van … it had been stacked quite high. She nodded. ‘Yes, we need to deliver it. Then we wash and change clothes after that. Any laundry we usually bundle and have someone go to the laundromat. Ours.’

The van pulled out.

V

The delivery involved subterfuge, three coordinated vans, twelve people, including control, the delivery itself maybe eight minutes, the subterfuge an hour and a half, planned to the tee, each crew needing to react within parameters … their attitude was that they’d got away with this one, not that it was any kind of triumph.

.o0o.

So here they were, in the back of a home-heating engineer’s van … the fourth had the moniker Sven, could take care of himself, this one … plus there was Jeanne, plus the driver. Highest risk they’d taken so far.

Getting straight to the point, Jeanne opened:

‘Cam is driving, we’re married, he’s one of the honchos running this cell. I’m afraid it’s interim decision time, boys and girls … the girls explained the get-out clause, which must be now, before we divulge any further operational matters? Good, we’re having no unmarried couples in this cell, call it a reaction to the Sodom and Gomorrah out there now, the lawlessness, but it’s marry one of us or leave now. We did our homework on you boys, the girls answered your questions – do you feel they were answered or do you need to ask other questions now? Feel free.’ They heard the approach of another vehicle, neither had questions. ‘Now we must separate again, the other van just pulled up.’

.o0o.

Sven and Cait were dropped at a place just out of Lower Slaughter … great name … while the other two had gone with the second van … they were near Six Mile Bottom … a B&B approached from a laneway.

They went through and the lady was waiting, pleasantries, straight upstairs, yes, they’d take breakfast, thanks, unless there was an emergency. She already knew about their sorts of emergencies.

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