A London girl cop. A political crisis in Paris. A spark to fire the passion of love. One moment of courage to catch the destiny of history.
When single mother Sergeant Sophia Castellana stumbles into a terrorist shooting, things are not as they seem. The love of a far younger man and the infatuation of a charismatic French woman seduce her into a blur of inappropriate love and infinite danger. Power and celebrity beckon, betrayal and violence threaten every move as events unfold in the city of Paris. Her brute courage and loving woman’s heart confront ruthless enemies who offer no second chances. She knows the streets, she knows her power as a lover. Can she, dare she seize the prizes before her? Will a world offer her the choice?
Love Bleeds Blue, another stand-alone story in the Passion Patrol series of suspense romance novels. Steamy Emma Calin holds nothing back to bring you her juicy mix of cops crime and passion, with a large side order of French satire sauce.
Targeted Age Group:: 18-118
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I love France and live there for much of the year and for a long time I've wanted to write a thriller-romance that takes in a Chateau near where I stay. It's called the 'Sleeping Beauty' castle as it was left abandoned for a hundred years. Luckily a wealthy sugar-magnate bought it in the early 1900s and restored it. It's an ideal hideaway – for fugitives, would be lovers, or for an elite team planning to take over Paris. With the the recent upheavals in European and world politics I've been toying with a number of 'what ifs' and this story was the result.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Sophia Castellana is a London cop – she's brave and sassy but life has been tough for her – both in her job and personal life. My partner is an ex-Met Police and Interpol detective and he provides me with my inspiration for my cop characters, police anecdotes and procedures. Sophia's daughter Izzy is based almost entirely on my own daughter who is the same age and going through similar life-experiences. Much of her character and preoccupations are lifted directly from what I see between her and her friends. Equally, Charles Gonin apparently a young boyband star, is a similar age to my oldest son – but age is about all they have in common. Other characters in the book – well there are quite a few rather extreme political figures, the likes of which you could see in the news today. All names have been changed and of course bear no resemblance to persons living or dead. I had a lot of fun creating these larger-than-life public figures and playing with ideas of how the future develop if they got out of control.
An Excerpt from
Love Bleeds Blue
A Passion Patrol Novel
LOVE BLEEDS BLUE
PASSION PATROL SERIES
First published 2017
By Gallo-Romano Media
copyright © 2017 Emma Calin
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without prior written permission of the author. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
All characters in this compilation are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
The first bullet hit an officer seated behind her in the personnel carrier. Something wet splashed her cheek and the exposed skin of her neck. The windscreen crazed into an opaque spider’s web. She wound down the driver’s door glass, and pushed her head out into the cold London night. She slammed down the throttle, aiming the vehicle for the end of the street. Metropolitan Police radios were yelling, “Urgent assistance—live fire.” She’d fucking well assessed that one already. Everything else was a complete bloody mystery.
The engine screeched and jammed. A bullet whined close by in the darkness. Twenty minutes earlier Sergeant Sophia Castellana had been working an overtime shift on routine crowd control at a football game between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur. The lives of her crew now depended on her judgment. Perhaps one or more were already dead. Just why the hell had she brought them here? They’d been on the way back to Streatham police station when she’d taken the call to a burglary in progress at some posh place in Dulwich. There was a frantic whimpering behind her mixed with a sound of machine gun fire further away.
“What’s the score back there?” she yelled.
“Simon’s lost half his head,” came the response.
“Right—leave him and bail out. Keep low, spread out and use the parked cars as cover. We’re all dead if we stay here.”
“We could be dead out there,” said a young female voice.
Sophia had never spoken to the kid but knew her as a new graduate entry straight out of the box.
“Do as you’re fucking well told ’cos we won’t be coming back to drag your corpse out of the bus. We’ll try to regroup round the corner on the road ahead of us. Go now!”
The doors opened and twelve unarmed regular London bobbies scattered, diving into the shadows of parked vehicles. Bullets slammed into the stricken personnel carrier, shaking it on its springs. Sophia barged open the driver’s door and rolled across the street to the gutter. At least now they weren’t just one big white target in the night. The merciful shelter of an SUV gave her time to think. Just what the hell was happening?
She crawled out enough to look back down the street. The buildings were exclusive townhouses with railings and maybe basements. Her radio wasn’t set to the area frequency but she guessed local units were also around her in the shadows. About fifty yards away on the other side of the street the front door of a house was open. The interior was lit by an opulent chandelier. Outside was a light-colored BMW, engine running. A wave of realization that PC Simon Westcott, community cop and father of three kids, was dead in the back of the bus almost choked her. Think Sophia—get a grip and think. Some bastard had fired on them and the odds were that they were still at that house with the open door. If the BMW was the getaway car, the wreck of her bus was blocking the escape.
To Sophia’s eyes the weapon in the hand of the hooded guy in the doorway was straight out of the BBC news. It might have been Paris, Brussels, Syria or some piece of sand with pick-up trucks, flags, and bandannas. He was yelling at a figure on the ground in the hallway of the house. She made her way along the far side of the parked cars, focusing on the gun with the curved horn-like shape hanging underneath. She had no firearms training but this had to be the machine gunner. The gunman turned his back to her. The same curved horn projected from the rear pocket of his jeans. She watched him calmly push his foot onto the neck of the guy on the floor as he reached behind. He flipped the other device from the gun. She got it. He was reloading and about to perform at least his second kill of the day.
She measured the distance. It was a straight 35-yard dash to the door. If she could hit the gunman at full speed with her 127 pounds before he could re-load there was a chance—just this one chance. About ten yards from impact she remembered she had set the timer for a curry in her oven. Well, what the fuck? She lived alone.
She heard the click of the magazine as she smashed into his back. He crashed forward into the base of a long case grandfather clock. She had no idea what to do next. She was sprawled partly on the legs of the gunman and partly on top of the guy on the floor. God, he was young, almost half her age, twenty-five at most. He scrambled up and looked at her.
“Jump on him—kick his fucking balls in,” she screamed.
She swung her boot into the gunman’s face as he tried to wriggle the gun from under his body. He was white, clean-shaven, about thirty and built like a commando. She stamped on his hands and wrists in a frenzy of fear and anger. The young man knelt on the killer’s shoulders and held him by his gingery curly hair.
For a second their eyes met as he looked up into her face. Probably he was as afraid as her but he had a calmness almost as if he had already accepted death.
“What’s your name?” he said.
“What’s my name? Bloody ’ell….”
The banality and weirdness of the question stunned her as much as everything that had happened. What was all this?
“Tell me—please. I may not get the chance to find out.”
The gunman was writhing under their weight. She could see that his face was swelling in the classic sign of a fractured jaw, the gun still trapped beneath him.
“Sophia. Sergeant Sophia Castellana.”
The young man almost smiled. His eyes were dark, his skin slightly olive and smooth. She wondered if he’d ever shaved.
The muzzle of a Police Diplomatic Protection Group issue Glock 17 weapon stopped a few inches from the gunman’s head. The hall had filled with cops.
“Put your hands behind your back,” said a hard voice tinged with military steel. It was the kind of voice that didn’t ask questions.
She looked around. A dozen weapons were trained on the back of the felled gunman. She heard the ratchet and snap of handcuffs. There was a smell of adrenalin-pumping fear which she knew as her own. She was fighting to hold back tears. Plain clothes Protection Squad type officers surrounded the young man as they ushered him away. He was tall enough to look over and catch her eyes one last time. He nodded calmly at her.
“I won’t forget you. I’ll never forget,” he said.
A hand was on her arm. There was a kind male voice.
“Sergeant, there’s a lot to sort out here. You can relax now and come with me.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m Chief Inspector Mel Kendrick.”
She studied him. This guy was either gay or had a wife with the best coordinated fashion sense in the Met’ Police. He had an air of urbane nonchalance like his expensive cologne and his Posh and Dandy cream silk tie. His thinning hair was impeccably cut and too long for a gutter monkey detective.
“There’s statements to write and I’ve left a dead friend out there in the bus. Dead mates deserve a page or two, Guv’nor.”
She was fighting to hold it together now. Christ! What bloody nightmare had she wandered into? She’d never thrown up outside of drunkenness or food poisoning. Nothing eighteen years in the police had shown her had caused her to vomit.
“I know. I know,” he said. “Everything’s in good hands. We need to clean you up and approach it in an organized way.”
Clean up. Sure, she could feel dried blood cracking on her cheek. She put her hand to her white police shirt collar. There was soft tissue and blood between the fabric and her skin. She looked at it on her fingers. She knew what it was.
She let him lead her outside. The BMW she’d seen was now slewed across the road. She noted the bullet holes and the pale face of death on the driver. There must have been a shootout while she’d been inside. She had had no sense of time or reality. She flashed back to a childhood day going into the cinema in the sun and coming out in the rain. She felt ashamed of the thought. A driver opened the rear door of a maroon Range Rover and set off at once. The late November evening was cold and the vehicle was warm and luxurious. Nothing like cold death. They were heading north, away from her home territory.
“What? We goin’ up west to see the Christmas lights?” she asked.
If she could just keep her tough shiny edge she would be able to cut through these next few days and hours.
“Somewhere up that way,” said the Chief Inspector from the seat beside her.
She snapped back into sharp focus.
“Where’s my crew? Did they make it?”
“Yes, except the officer in the personnel carrier.”
She slumped forward. Christ she’d known the man for eight years.
“I should be telling his missus,” she said.
“There’s a team already on the job, Sophia,” said the smooth senior detective.
“You checked out my shoulder number?”
She watched him nod. He was some weird kind of cop—somewhere between Jeeves and James Bond.
“I think you ought to know I’ve got a curry on fire in my oven, Guv.”
“We’re on top of it.”
“You’ve called the fire brigade or what?”
“You need to check out your front door lock, Sophia,” he replied with a raised eyebrow.
“Look, sir: none of this is making sense. Who’s in my flat?”
Chief Inspector Mel Kendrick took a deep breath.
“You deserve an answer. You’re one hell of a brave woman from a bus out of hell. Of all the jobs in all the world why did you have to walk into mine?”
“Are you on the level, mister? Show me a warrant card or I’ll lock you up for impersonating a cop.” she said, letting her voice convey real edge. An officer was dead and this lounge lizard was quoting lines from movies for Christ’s sake.
He reached into his jacket pocket, giving her a glimpse of a police royalty protection issue Glock 26. He handed her his ID. It showed a regular Metropolitan Police photo and metal badge.
“Look, I took a call to a burglary. I had a couple of probationers on board and I thought it would get their blood pumping.”
“You did the right thing. You did a fantastic thing,” he replied.
“So what kind of burglary was that?”
He looked her in the eye and nodded slowly.
“I’m afraid you’re not going to know much more than what you know now. It was a routine burglary except that the villain had a gun. A hero cop was shot.”
She let out a long sigh. This stank of some stitch-up.
The Range Rover had stopped in a private car park behind a small red-brick block of flats. An armed cop was in the lobby nursing his Heckler and Koch MP5 assault rifle. She’d caught a street sign telling her it was Ebury Street SW1. Buckingham Palace was just about two blocks away.
“So what’s here?” she asked.
“You can change and clean up. It’s a job place.”
“Why can’t we go to a police station?”
“Because we need to keep you away from unwanted eyes,” he said. “Follow me and don’t even think of being difficult.”
She heard the Range Rover driver close behind her. The armed cop stepped out of the door as they approached. It wasn’t like she felt threatened—just that she knew for sure not to be difficult.
They climbed plain concrete steps to the first floor. The Chief Inspector opened the dated 70s style pale yellow door with a heavy deadlock key. She heard serious metal bolts operate. The inside of the door was a single steel sheet. There was a smell of coffee and the sound of a Nespresso machine. A matronly woman in police civilian uniform was in a small kitchen.
“Jean will take you for a shower,” he said.
“What about forensics? There’s evidence of both those guys all over me and that’s without police blood and brain tissue,” she snapped.
“You’re a real pro, Sophia, but I’m the senior detective officer here,” he said with a cat’s tail tweak of the eyebrow.
“So don’t be difficult,” she said.
“Jean will look after you.” He nodded at the woman. “Milk, sugar?” he asked.
“Whisky,” she said.
He smiled slowly.
“You got it.”
Jean wasn’t big on conversation. She had a black plastic sack, a white bath towel, and a white paper body suit.
“Give me your clothes,” she said once the bathroom door was closed.
“You going to watch me?”
The woman shrugged.
“There’s everything you need in the shower.”
She was losing the will to resist. She should have parked up the bus and been at home with a curry. Her night shift as patrol sergeant in the south London area of Streatham started at ten o’clock. Simon Westcott was dead. She’d fought some lunatic with a machine gun and to round off a perfect day, she’d been kidnapped by the police.
She threw off her clothes and stepped into the shower. Her dark bobbed hair was stiff with blood. She watched the stained water circle the plughole. A growing bruise on her left breast hurt as she applied the soap. She didn’t care anymore. The water took away her tears.
A TV was on in the small lounge. Mel Kendrick handed her a generous scotch with ice. Even though she was there more or less without consent she smiled with a nod of gratitude. His eyes were pale with a flicker of kindness, still not completely burned out. She sat down on a brown leather armchair.
“You’re in time for the news,” he said.
The American president Ronald Grump was making a trip to Europe. The French president Martine La Plume was shaking his hand. Next up were the routine wars and riots. The bottom band was showing breaking news: “London police officer shot … police hunting suspect.”
She did a double take. The Chief Inspector was watching her. The news crew had found a witness. The face of a young shaven-headed guy filled the screen.
“I was riding my bike. The gunman must have seen the police van coming. He had a gun and fired straight at ’em—bang, bang.”
Sophia watched in amazement. She hadn’t seen this guy.
“Did you see the gun?”
“Yeah. It was … like a real gun.”
“What sort of gun?” demanded a reporter.
“Ya know—like a handgun—like a James Bond gun.”
Sophia leaned forward shaking her head.
“What? Where did they find this idiot?”
“He’s one of ours, Sophia.”
“What? W.T.F., Chief Inspector?”
Her heart was racing. She took a gulp of the scotch. Dressed in only a one-piece paper body suit with no bra or underwear she felt exposed and ridiculous. Her hair was wet and turning to a ball of tangled frizz. The witness was telling his story.
“The killer ran off towards Pimlico and a couple of coppers ran after him but they were miles behind,” he said.
“This is fantasy,” she said.
“Absolutely, but it is the official story. And Sophia, that’s the way we want you to tell it. The other officers on your crew didn’t see anyone. All the other cops were on my squad.”
“There was a dead man in the BMW. The personnel bus was shot full of holes.”
“Did you see those vehicles on TV?
“No, and where’s the stiff? And Christ, where’s the machine gunner and the young bloke who was on the floor in the house?”
“What stiff? What machine gunner? What young bloke? What house? You acted alone Sergeant. You decided not to lead your crew to safety. You drove into a dangerous situation without a proper risk assessment. A discipline panel could lose you your rank or even your job.”
She fixed her eyes on his, trying to read his mind. She was out of her depth and his suave pleasantness was ruthless.
“Health and safety politically correct bollocks,” he said firmly.
“OK. I’m a straight simple cop. There’s going to be an inquest and an autopsy on a dead bobby. The system needs paper and I’ve got to make up a notebook and write a statement. If what I say is a lie and I get caught, I go to jail for perjury.”
“You’ll get crown immunity and you won’t get caught.”
Her mind was beginning to clear. She’d stumbled into something bigger than her little life. She was a divorced woman of thirty-eight years. She had a daughter who’d just started at university. If she wasn’t a cop she’d be working the till at a gas station which is where she’d come from.
“So where do I write my statement? You got any blank forms?” she asked.
“It will be typed and delivered.”
“What’s this: Law and Order Deliveroo?” she said.
“You’ve got balls,” he added.
“Glad I haven’t, wearing this bloody thing, and what about my night shift?”
“It’s covered,” he began. “And Sophia, you don’t work there any more, Inspector.”
“Inspector? I’ve not even done the promotion exam.”
“Did you ever hear me say we worked to the rules? I guess you won’t mind a pay raise. It’ll make up for the medal and Commissioner’s commendation you deserve but you’re not going to receive.”
“So who do I work for and where?”
“You’ll be working at Scotland Yard. That’ll be after a short holiday,” he said.
“How have you fixed all this up?”
“It’s called power, Inspector.”
“Like the bloody queen,” she said.
Chief Inspector Mel Kendrick smiled and nodded. His look was appraising her.
“You’re sharp and tough, Sophia. Just be honest and tell me what you make of me.”
“You’re gay and you’re in some different league of cop to me.”
“I was a Detective Sergeant at Streatham a few years ago. It’s a long story but well, life’s about who you meet and how the world turns. And yes, I’m gay.”
“I shouldn’t have said that, should I?”
“I’m glad you did. Otherwise you’d be an attractive woman trapped here wondering if I could resist.”
She leaned back and laughed. The whisky had hit her brain. What sort of woman was she? A cop had died and the police were in on a cover-up. The TV news was in on it. She was in on it—with a glass of scotch smoother than anything she’d ever tasted in her hand. And she had to admit she didn’t mind at all being told she was attractive. She’d forgotten that little novelty.
He refilled her glass and took a shot himself.
“Bottom line, we’ve had to clear up a mess. You shouldn’t have been there, none of it should have happened. A lot of it didn’t happen. We could have done without a dead cop, but the job needs heroes if only for PR so we’ll take that one as an accidental positive.”
She stared at him.
“You’re fucking sick,” she said.
He fixed her eyes in an equally hard stare.
“Watch that TV for a minute. A dozen or so died in riots in Germany last night. Shit happens and sometimes the stakes are higher than you can imagine. Now pin your ears back and listen. I’m going to tell you all you are ever going to know and it’s far more than you should know. Relax and be grateful you’re here.”
His tone was cold and his face like granite. She was listening. Oh yes, he had her attention.
“Fact number one. There was an officer in that lobby who failed in his duty to kill you. Since I didn’t have the balls you’re here enjoying my scotch.”
She blinked and nodded.
“Fact number two. Since you’re alive we’ve got to take care of you. You will avoid your old mates and colleagues. You will have suffered a breakdown that will prevent you ever going over old memories.”
“Why didn’t you kill me?”
He took a deep breath.
“Respect for your courage, and—I shouldn’t say this—it was your face, or maybe I’m just not a murderer.”
“Yes. Yes, I’m a sucker for that aquiline nose noble look,” he said.
“Fact number three. You’re going to sign an additional copy of the official secrets act and your witness statement and this matter will be over.”
“There’ll be a funeral and an inquest,” she said.
“Your statement will be served as uncontested evidence. You won’t be at the funeral.”
“Any more facts?”
“Number four. Sophia, I’m really sorry you landed in this shit particularly since we’re going to be neighbors.”
“Yeah, you’re on the floor above this flat.”
“Look. You’re taking over my life, turning me into a liar, making me turn my back on my friends.”
“That’s a pretty neat summary but you can only truly lie if you truly know the whole truth. When you took your oath to the queen did you think you were getting an office job with Amazon?”
She slumped back and glanced at the TV. She half watched some coppers in riot gear battling migrants pouring off a French ferry in Dover. Well, at least she was having an easier evening than those guys.
“Answer me one question and you’ve got a deal,” she said.
“What’s the question?”
“Who was the young man with the dark hair?”
He stood up, walked to the window and tapped it with his knuckle. The sound was dead and flat.
“Bullet proof,” he commented. “And if you don’t want to spend the rest of your life behind it I’d advise never telling people about someone who doesn’t exist. People will think you’re hearing voices. No one’s offering you a deal, Inspector. No one.”
She read the neat forms in front of her.
“Answer me a second question,” she said.
He smiled and affected a weary sigh.
“How many bedrooms in that flat?”
“Two. One for you and one for Izzy,” he replied.
The shock of hearing her daughter’s name in a stranger’s mouth froze her for a moment. These bastards were like burglars turning over her drawers.
He glanced up from a folder.
“I’ve been reading while you were going through your paperwork.”
She signed and pushed the crisp official documents away to the far side of the low coffee table and threw down the black Biro as if it were Macbeth’s knife. She didn’t want to touch or see them again. She’d lied away a couple of dead bodies, an armed criminal who’d been taken away by police, a machine gun and some other young man who could have been a saint or the devil for all she knew. If they were as good as their word, it was over. And Izzy would have her own room in posh Belgravia when she came back from university for Christmas in December. At last she would have put something impressive in her life.
“So much for girl power,” she said.
“Sophia, you don’t mean that cliché shit. I saw what you did and you’re a ruthless courageous woman. You wanted pure angry revenge for what that bastard had done. Fuck virtue. You can’t eat it or spend it. Girl power is for college politics. If you’d been some hairy-arse ugly copper I’d have just blown your brains out and called the cleaners. You’ve got that look a straight guy would die to hold in his hands and a gay guy would die to wear on his face,” he said.
The scotch was getting low. This was an intoxicating world where the gloves were off but lay like warm silk on the groin of her soul. The heat of blood and the noble sorrow of death played drunken music in her heart and filled her with terrifying shame and joy. She could never tell anyone how she felt at this moment. She would never admit to her craving for that jazzed up fix of lust and power that was pulsing in her gut. She’d lied. She’d signed. It was over.
Jean appeared to be her jailer for the night. Sophia took the pill she offered and fell into a dreamless yet draining sleep. She awoke in a room with neither clock nor her phone. Clear winter light crept in around heavy soulless curtains. She was completely naked under a good quality Siberian goose duvet. Sections of her life started to slide-show across her mind. Somewhere in the flicker of consciousness there was a headache, sounds in other rooms and something being dragged across the floor in what must be the flat above. She needed the bathroom.
Jean was seated in the corner. She stood up and pulled the curtains. A stampeding herd of light particles trampled her head back to the pillow.
“This is for you,” said Jean tossing her a new wrapped Adidas track suit.
“Don’t you guys use underwear?”
“We don’t get personal that’s all,” Jean replied with a shrug. “I’ll leave you to get up and fix some coffee.”
She dragged herself into the baggy black and white clothes and swung out her feet to find a new pair of trainers and sports socks. They must have thought she was the sporty type. The good news was she hadn’t been sick but she wouldn’t be cleaning her back teeth just yet. She stood in the kitchen with a mug of black coffee.
“There’s only me here. You may not see Mel for a while,” said Jean.
Sophia’s thoughts were spinning in collisions. Simon Westcott was dead. It must be Sunday since she’d been at the Crystal Palace football match yesterday. There were no sounds from outside but she remembered all the windows were bulletproof.
“So what happens to me now?”
Jean smiled at her with a sudden warmth.
“Look, everyone’s on your side Sophia,” she began.
The kindness in the woman’s face and voice ripped her open. She could fight an enemy but a friend was a harder battle.
“Where’s my life, my home, my future?” she asked as tears soaked her cheeks.
“I’m only a civilian assistant so I don’t know all the answers. They’ve had to react quickly to the situation. No one was expecting you, Sophia.”
“None of this was on my star chart in the Daily Mail either,” she began. “What if I just walk away? Walk out this room now?”
“Did you see a cop downstairs?” said Jean.
“They’re always there. This is a high security block for police use.”
“Why do I need to be here?”
“You don’t need to be here but the bosses need to know how you are. You’re lucky no one in that incident knows your identity.”
She spluttered into her coffee. But someone did know exactly who she was. Just before the Chief Inspector arrived, the young guy had asked her for her name. An alarm bell was ringing in her head. It looked like she knew something they didn’t know. For the first time she’d gained a little bit of the high ground a copper always wants. It was time to change the subject.
“So, you’re a police civilian jailer, or what?” she asked.
“Something like that. They recruited me and gave me a Mickey Mouse uniform, a pay check, and a pension. Slowly they’ve brought me in. Once upon a time I was a soldier.”
“Like the SAS or something?”
“I trained with them. Some prick tried to rape me so I played sexy and asked him to kiss me. When he went for his slobber I bit his lips off. Pity he didn’t ask for a blow job. They said I was too extreme.”
Sophia’s eyes widened as she took in this stocky woman of about fifty years. Any thought of escape evaporated.
“You’re not going to give me any information are you?” said Sophia.
“The first idea in my head is ‘No’ … but try me.”
“What’s this all about? Why do I have to be isolated and lie about what happened?”
The older woman studied her face.
“OK, they can’t expect you not to ask those questions. I don’t know any details. It’s part of an operation that is beyond top secret. Something is going down that must not become known. And believe me, that is all I know except that the squad are authorized to do more or less anything they have to do to keep the lid on.”
“Is it legal?”
“Was it legal to kill Bin Laden? Was it legal for Pinupskin to march into Ukraine? Was it legal for Martine La Plume to seize power and deport half a million migrants from France? Was it legal for President McNichol to seize the oil rigs, to issue Scottish passports and close the border?” Jean replied.
“I really don’t take any notice of politics,” said Sophia with a weary shake of her head.
“Me neither. I just live in this world. You street cops are so close to the shit end that you don’t see anyone swallowing the dinner.”
Sophia smiled. The woman was right. Her work and her daughter were her life. She didn’t watch TV news or study the papers. She had no news apps and all the hate stuff on Facebook was worse than the trash talk on the streets. A night shift with thugs on the streets of South London was nothing compared to a few minutes with brainy people on Twitter.
“Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of stuff going on I suppose, but none of that has got anything to do with me being here.”
“No, because the story behind you being here hasn’t happened yet. Look, Sophia. Respect to you ’cos you’re a bloody hero. They don’t tell me anything, I’m not even supposed to know it’s called Operation Spaniel. Do as they tell you and you’ll go back to your old life soon enough. I’m saying this to you as a woman looking out for a sister.”
“I’m worried about my daughter. I’ve no idea where my phone is.”
“I can give you a phone if I assess you’re cool and we’re singing off the same sheet.”
“I’m OK. Nothing unusual’s going on. I’ve got the chance to move to a better flat.”
“Yup, but the news is pumping out the dead cop story so your daughter will find out about it. Did she know him?”
Her mind went into action. God … yes, of course she knew him. She babysat his kids. Izzy would be frantic and calling her if she’d seen the news. Color drained from her face.
“How can I lie to my own child about it? Where’s my phone? She’s bound to be calling me.”
“She hasn’t called yet. She was at a jazz bar last night and she’s not touched her phone or laptop yet.”
“What the fuck? How do you know that?”
“We needed to know in case you’d called her. Sometimes we have to join up dots if we don’t have time for a portrait, Sophia.”
“So, you’ll give me my phone,” she said.
“Look, I don’t want to be a jailer. I want you to have it and get back to your life. I shouldn’t say this but I like you. Mel likes you and that’s why you’re still alive.”
“You’re a well-informed kind of civilian police assistant.”
Jean laughed with a wry nod.
“I’m fifty-one years old. I was never a looker. Old Ronald Grump would never have had me on his groping list. I’m a plain middle-aged woman so no one sees me. Try being invisible if you want to see things.”
“I like you too,” said Sophia, suddenly finding something of her default personality.
Jean went out and came back with an iPhone.
“That’s not my phone.”
“It is now. When would you normally call her?”
“I’m supposed to be on nights so around teatime.”
Sophia looked at the time on the screen. It was three o’clock in the afternoon. The pill and the whisky had knocked her out.
“Call her now. She’ll think it strange if you don’t tell her about Simon. Tell her you washed your phone and had to change the SIM,” ordered Jean.
Sophia didn’t even bother to ask if she could be left alone.
“Mum. Hi! Oh my God! I didn’t wake up and I’ve got an essay on French pre-modern neo-functionalist literature to get in.”
“Better get writing sweetie. Look I’ve got some news,” she began.
“Yeah … Mum, yeah….”
“Simon Westcott got shot yesterday. He’s dead.”
“Fuck! What happened?”
“Some punk burglar had a gun. Simon showed up at the wrong time.”
“Have they got him?” said Izzy.
Sophia could hear tears in her daughter’s voice.
“No, he made off and there’s no description.”
“Were you there, Mum? Are you OK?”
“I was nearby but I didn’t see anything. Yeah, I’m fine. That’s the really bad news. I’ve got a bit of good news too.”
Sophia watched Jean’s face. She was nodding with a half smile.
“I’ve been offered another police flat in Belgravia of all places. It’s got two bedrooms. I feel such a bitch for being made up with my own life when Simon’s dead.”
“The little one’s only three,” sobbed Izzy.
Now Sophia had started she couldn’t stop. Thank God she wasn’t doing a video call. She took a deep breath.
“We can’t change things and the job will look after the family, you know that.”
“He was a cool, kind guy,” said her daughter.
“Yeah, he was the best. Sweetie, it’s sad, but it can happen in this job. I want you to get on and do that essay. I’ll get you on Whatsapp later to see how you’re getting on.”
“You’re so strong, Mum. How can you just carry on?”
“Give me a list of other choices, sweet pea,” said Sophia. Sometimes she wondered when her daughter would be ready for this world.
“Love you, Mum.”
“Love you…. Oh, this is my new number. I washed the phone.”
“Mum! You’re losing the plot….”
“I’ll lose the plot if you don’t get on with your essay!”
She laid the phone down on the kitchen work surface and stared at it. She’d told her daughter a lie that she’d have to sustain for the rest of her life or be exposed as a woman unfit to be her mother.
“That really fucking hurt me and you’re there smiling at me,” she shouted at Jean.
The older woman nodded.
“I was smiling for me, not you. It looks like I can trust you and even if I can’t, you’ve dug yourself so far into the shit that you’re going to have to mix exclusively with people who smell the same.”
There was an awful brutality in the way Jean had answered. Twenty-four hours ago Sophia had been chatting to Simon Westcott about the presents he was getting his kids for Christmas. Now she was promoted to Inspector and lived in a posh flat in Belgravia. She was dirty with lies and guilty of perjury before the law. Simon was in the drawer of a mortuary freezer, probably identified only by fingerprints on account of his head injury.
“So what the fuck department do you people work for?”
“SO1649,” replied Jean at once.
“Never heard of it.”
“Go up and see your new flat. I won’t stand over you.”
Sophia remembered the sounds of scraping furniture from the floor above. There must be bare boards. Jean came with her to the door.
“Take a look inside. They tell me it’s done.”
Sophia stepped in. She was struck by the smell of new carpet. Looking down she saw a thick-pile autumn-gold luxury covering which spread through the whole place except the bathroom and kitchen where there were still floorboards. It looked like they were decorating the whole place. She walked through to the lounge. Something was wrong about this place. Very wrong. There was a bookcase and on it was a birthday card from her daughter from the week before. There were photos and books from her own flat in Streatham. There was a vase she’d inherited from an aunt.
“We brought over a few things to make you feel at home. I know you’re worried about underwear,” said Jean.
“You’ve been to my flat and gone through everything?”
“We’re taking care of you,” said Jean. “Relax and bed yourself in.”
Sophia watched her go. The door closed heavily. The bulletproof glass and the thick carpet deadened all sound. It was good to be alone but she also felt afraid. It was useless to resist at least for now. She idled into the bathroom. There was soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste, all new and set out. Without thinking she decided to clean her teeth and carelessly dropped the brush on the bare floor. Her coordination was way off. She bent down to retrieve it. Pipes came up from below to feed the wash basin. In the deathly silence of the flat she could just hear the sound of a voice from the lower floor. She lay down flat to twist her ear to the openings where the plumbing was a loose fit. The voice was Jean’s.
“Lieutenant Colonel Jean Bailey. Yup. You got it. OK, she’s cool so far. Monitor all her outlets and her daughter’s. We’ve got her old phone. For GCHQ the trigger words are SO1649 and Operation Spaniel. I just made them up to see if she leaks.”
Sophia flopped back on the bed. So, jailer Jean was a special-forces officer. She wasn’t that surprised after all that had happened. If she ran she had nowhere to go and Izzy was on their radar. She had no choice but to lie back and think of England.
A huge flat-screen TV filled half the lounge wall. From what Jean was saying she needed to catch up on world affairs. Sky News was covering a big story from New York. The CEO of Sackman-Platinum Bank had been hit in a terrorist attack. Grainy mobile-phone footage showed guys in ski masks with machine guns like she’d seen only a few hours ago in London. So these were the famous AK-47 death machines. Manhattan was locked down and President Grump had condemned the attack. Migrants were rioting in Calais because the British authorities had flooded the tunnel to Dover. Jesus—why did people depress themselves with this stuff?
The death of Simon Westcott was well down the bulletin after some footage of armed Scottish border guards in kilts stopping trucks to check passports and collect taxes. It sure seemed that the last few months had boiled up a bit. Her own life had been getting Izzy off to university and getting used to being alone. And now what, or who, did she have? She’d been divorced for ten years and her handsome ex lived in Australia with a woman child of twenty-three who had hair extensions and a guitar. She’d never met her but Izzy had shown her the YouTube channel where she strummed to her own poetry and talked about her emotional counseling and eyebrow issues. Tens of thousands ticked her box and loved her.
A lot of the world had changed while she had just had her head down to her work on the streets, the processing of prisoners, browsing the catalogue of disappointment which added up to most people’s lives from what she saw of it. Without warning she flashed back to the washing machine wet slop sound of the bullet hitting Simon’s head. She wanted to panic. She held on. You’re OK, Sophia. You’re going to be OK.
An unfamiliar ringtone on her new mobile snapped her back to the moment.
“Sophia?” said a slightly accented female voice.
“Yes. Who’s this?”
“My name’s Anna, Anna La Salle.”
Sophia’s brain flipped into sheepdog mode, rounding up all the stray thoughts. She’d heard this name, somewhere she’d heard this name.
“Are you a cop?” Sophia asked.
“Yeah, almost. Assistant Director National Crime Agency,” said the voice.
Sophia had seen her on TV talking about global slavery. She was about her own age, dark hair, voluptuous, and every serious criminal’s pin-up girl.
“Have you got the right number?”
“I hope you’re OK and being looked after. Do you need anything?”
“There’s been an underwear drought, but it’s raining knickers now.”
The woman laughed.
“Only great cops make that sort of remark when they’re in a fix like yours,”
“Fix?” echoed Sophia.
“For now yes. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
“I haven’t got a thing to wear.”
“Come as you are. A car will collect you at ten. Jean will give you a pill to help you sleep, Make sure you take it. Sophia, we’re all so sorry and normally you’d be getting far more support. One day maybe you’ll see what’s at stake here. Now is there anything?”
“I had a lovely curry in my oven at home.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” said Anna La Salle.
The mean day measured out self-pity onto the grey drizzling streets of London. Sophia settled into the black Jaguar XJF limousine. A plain-clothed guy sat in the front next to the uniformed driver. She still felt heavy from the effect of the sleeping medication. She had no makeup and looked a mess in the track suit.
“American prisoners get orange suits,” she said.
The detective type looked her over.
“Not your color ma’am,” he replied.
Ma’am indeed. The term shocked her. Of course she was an inspector now. She looked and felt like a dispossessed vagrant. She was tense, not least because she couldn’t reach her daughter Izzy. She’d tried the phone, SMS, email and Whatsapp. Bloody students had no idea there was a life beyond booze and some ridiculous essay. For sure her phone would be out of charge, switched off or dropped in a bar. She sighed and glanced up at the view. No one had said she was going to Scotland Yard but she’d assumed it. She knew she wasn’t thinking properly. Her mind had retreated to some low level inner core like a little creature hibernating in the Arctic. Watch and survive, Sophia, just watch, listen, and survive. To her left was Hyde Park and to her right, Mayfair. It looked like they were heading west. Sure enough they were on the Edgware Road and swinging left onto Westway. This route would take them out of London and at the speed they were doing they’d soon be in the countryside. She fought back a sense of panic. She’d never felt so alone. If she spoke she would seem nervous and edgy. The car took a slip road. A motorcycle cop was holding traffic at a roundabout. She glanced behind. There was a police outrider. She felt numb and helpless. Just what the fuck was going on? She knew better than to ask.
There was a blur of a soldier, a barrier, and the realization that she was on an airfield. She got it. This was RAF Northholt, made famous when the body of Princess Diana was flown back to England from Paris. Sophia remembered the TV coverage when she’d been just a teenager and dreaming a very secret dream of being a cop. She just had to break her silence but not look like she was trouble.
“Someone’s got to tell me something,” she said.
Her anonymous companion nodded.
“Sophia, we don’t do all the ranks and title stuff now. You’re going to see Anna La Salle, you know that. She’s not in the UK. We couldn’t risk you giving anyone any idea of your movements or even existence.”
“I can’t reach my daughter,” she said, realizing her voice was raised and strained.
“There’s a reason for that and there’s nothing to worry about.”
“Now you’re going to add that I can trust you, I suppose.”
“Trust me for sure, but I don’t expect you to accept that at face value.”
“My whole life’s disappeared, my daughter’s disappeared. I’m being bundled out of the country looking like a drug test failure deported from the Olympic Games.”
The enigmatic escort half smiled.
“I’m Bastian Wolf I’ll be flying with you. We’re heading for France.”
They boarded a BAe 146 jet. Sophia noted the badges of 32 Squadron, the Queen’s Flight. The plane was taxiing the minute the door closed. The engines screamed to full power and within seconds they were bursting into sunlight above the London clouds. They banked left and lost the sun pouring through the window. Sure looked like they were heading south.
A young RAF soldier poured her a coffee. Bastian Wolf motioned for her to sit opposite him on a cream leather armchair where he had his own coffee on a beautiful dark wooden table. The luxury and effortlessness that surrounded this level of power crushed her into a sense of helplessness.
“OK, this has been incredibly tough for you, Sophia. We’ve all been so impressed by the way you’ve done your duty. Anna’s going to give you a briefing and you’ll soon know a lot more. Once you do know, your life can never be the same. The truth is you barged into a situation that had already gone wrong. You arrived like a hurricane hitting an earthquake.”
She didn’t interrupt him. He was assured, calm, and coldly polite. She guessed he was about forty-two. His English was perfect but flavored with something like German. His eyes were a pale blue, his blonde hair cropped. Maybe he was a cop, but she had her doubts. She had checked out his police issue Glock 26 tailored into his Savile Row suit. A sudden thought bubbled out of her.
“I haven’t got my passport,” she said.
He reached down into a briefcase and handed her a new style dark blue English passport endorsed “Diplomatic.” She flipped through the pages. There was a visa for France and other places she’d never been. The photo was the same as her police warrant card.
“You guys can just do anything can’t you?” she said.
“If only that were true. Maybe we can, and everyone had better hope so.”
His eyes were cold and suspicious. His manner towards her was androgynous, rather more earthworm than Bowie.
A calm professional female voice came over the speaker system.
“This is Captain Melody Salerno. Final approach into La Rochelle. Usual troubles with wind in this bloody place. On the deck in ten.”
“Where the fuck is La Rochelle?” she said.
“Halfway down France on the Atlantic coast,” said Bastian.
Sophia shrugged. When she got the chance, Google Maps would have to make up for all her missed geography classes. They walked to a silver Citroen C4 Grand Picasso parked on the tarmac. Two heavily armed paratroopers saluted.
“The local Gendarmerie are on our side,” Bastian began. “The picture is patchy and not all police units support the Patriotic Front.”
The French driver wore the uniform of a brigadier de gendarmerie and spoke good English. Bastian switched seamlessly in and out of French, chatting as if they were good friends. She knew they were only letting her hear what they chose.
“Welcome to beautiful France, Inspector,” said the driver.
“I tried to come up with a chic little fashion number to show respect,” she said.
The driver’s eyes caught hers in the mirror and stayed there longer than was good for road safety. He glanced ahead and then back to her.
“It all looks like a chic model to me,” he said with a smile in warm eyes.
She couldn’t help but smile in return. She was still a woman.
“Hervé, au travail. Elle ne cherche pas des histoires d’amour,” said Bastian.
The driver smiled and shrugged raising his eyes once more to the mirror. She didn’t speak French but she’d caught the drift.
“Merde!” exclaimed the driver.
Ahead of them on the auto route there were burning tires, tractors and big trucks. To their right was a slip road. The Citroen braked hard and swerved across the inside lane. They hurtled off the fast smooth strip and onto gravel-strewn country roads.
“It’s nothing,” said the driver. “There’s a road block.”
“What for?” she asked.
“Bread and circuses,” said Bastian.
Small towns and villages flashed past in the deepening gloom of the afternoon. Here and there she saw armed police and even groups of rural type civilians with shotguns. French flags hung from most buildings. Time after time she called Izzy.
“I still can’t reach my daughter.”
“Another ten minutes and you’ll get a signal,” said the mysterious yet clearly powerful Bastian Wolf. She had no option but to trust him.
She’d heard the word château. Now its meaning defined itself against the twilight sky in a silhouette of brutal yet noble strength. English time, it was four o’clock and night was gathering up the last twigs of day to light the hearth of winter night. The powerful Citroen raced through high stone pillars with opened iron-railed gates. They had pulled off a road onto a wooded drive that led to something that looked like a Disney castle. Armed soldiers waved them through. Sophia watched from the window as if it were a film and somehow she were its star. Above the turrets and towers a chopper was lifting off into the night, its strobing colored navigation lights forcing its contemptuous counterpoint onto the music and canvas of history.
“Where are we?” she asked, careless that her voice betrayed her sense of awe.
“It’s the Château of Roche Courbon. Everything about what is happening is bonded into every stone and every hand or soul that has touched this place. Sophia, you’re part of this story. Both the past and the future are reaching out to all of us here. You’ve shown courage enough for us to let you live so far,” said Bastian.
The night perfume of woodsmoke caught her senses as she stepped from the vehicle. Around her was the sound of voices and casual chatter of human life. Movie set lamps and microphones were mounted on high masts, and a circus of caravans seemed to constrain a world of vibrant showbiz.
She followed the men to a thick wooden door at the base of a tower. She noted that Hervé kept his hand on his sidearm pistol. The door opened as they arrived. Behind it was a saluting French gendarme. Dressed in a baggy and increasingly disgusting track suit Sophia doubted the worth of any acknowledgement. Odds were they thought she was a prisoner.
They entered a dark lounge lit by corner lamps and the flicker of a roaring log fire. A beautiful elegant woman was seated on a sofa. Her long hair was raven black and her skin a gorgeous rich cream. She stood and smiled.
“Sophia. God, you’re far more than they told me. Please sit down.”
Sophia slumped down on a brocade hunting-scene-pattern armchair, trying to hide what she saw as her plain unworthiness to be in such surroundings. She knew this woman as the famous smooth Anna La Salle.
“I can’t reach my daughter,” said Sophia, tears starting to burn in her eyes.
Anna got up and strode across the room. She spoke quickly in French to a figure in the shadows of the room. Then she knelt by Sophia’s chair and took her hand.
“When you’re a mother, are you weaker or stronger?” asked Anna
Sophia looked into her eyes. This woman knew the weight of her question.
“You’re weaker because you’re afraid and you’re stronger because you’re more afraid for someone outside yourself. The weaker one has thoughts. The stronger one has instincts and they hold hands,” said Sophia.
A door opened at the far end of the room. A bewildered young woman blinked in the somber light.
“Izzy!” screamed Sophia.
She held her child, standing in the center of the fabulous high-ceilinged room. Izzy had only been away from home nine weeks but already she felt different and a little unfamiliar. She also seemed about ten years older. Her skirt was far too short for winter and even modesty.
“They came for me in a helicopter. It was the Queen’s Flight and landed on the rugby field.”
“Sophia, we couldn’t risk her as a possible loose cannon. She’ll be with you until this thing is over,” said Anna.
Sophia was somewhere between ecstasy and terror.
“Did you get that essay done?” she asked, stroking Izzy’s long deep brown hair and assessing her look. She knew the question was dumb but it was an island in a deep sea.
“I did it but they scooped me on the way to my tutor.”
Sophia turned to Anna.
“You can’t just take her out of her education. What about her degree?”
“Look. She’ll get whatever degree she needs believe me. She’s doing French and that’s a real bonus. Anyway, here she is in France. We’ve had a chat and her French is pretty good—far better than mine at her age.”
Izzy smiled back at Anna with a genuine warmth. Sophia felt of stab of jealousy. These sophisticated people could steal her child, body and soul.
“It’ll be cool, Mum. I’m fine.”
Sophia sat down. She could tell her daughter was stressed but calm, and with all the innocent bravado of youth, she was up for the adventure, whatever it was. So far no one had had their head blown off in her presence.
“Everyone on this team has been hand-picked with deep, deep background checks,” Anna began. “You guys selected yourselves and we’ve had to run with it. Everyone here is checking out everyone else all the time. No one outside of the team knows what’s in hand, except for the kind folks who let us use their planes,” she said with half a smile.
Sophia glanced at Izzy. The planes belonged to the British Crown, like the royal family of England. She could tell that Anna was letting her words sink in.
“There is no higher authority. All or any of us are completely dispensable,” Anna finished.
Sophia stared silently into the fire.
“They’re making a film, Mum,” said Izzy. “I think I saw some old film star dressed up like a cavalier.”
Sophia shook her head. As far as she knew she had no underwear once again. She was still dressed in the ill-fitting track suit and above all, despite everything that had happened, she was hungry.
“You’ve got him on DVD, Mum, old time Rom-Com stuff. He’s got that floppy kinda posh look.”
“Grant Hughes,” said Sophia.
“Wow! You must be a film fan,” said Anna.
“I’ve only got three DVDs and he’s on two of them. I’m not quite dressed for Hollywood.”
Anna stood up and spoke in French to a young soldier guarding the door. He nodded and spoke to Izzy.
“Veuillez me suivre s’il vous plaît, mesdames,” he said with a slight bow.
Sophia glanced at her daughter who was beaming at the young guy who obviously liked her attention.
“He wants us to go with him.”
“You sure he wants old Mum as well?” she asked with a note of sarcasm. She felt like a torn sack. She knew nothing of the world, politics, or history. She sure didn’t speak French. At least maybe she’d have some common ground with Grant Hughes. She doubted very much she was there to meet him.
They entered a large hallway with a beautiful tiled floor and followed the young officer up a magnificent wide curved marble stairway. He opened a door into a bedroom set with two double beds. A French window at the far end of the room led onto an outer balcony. The lieutenant went to draw the floor-to-ceiling deep blue curtains. Sophia put her hand to his arm to stop him. He stood back and smiled at her daughter. There were young guys and cops everywhere. Being a mother to this girl could be a nightmare. She looked out into the night. There were lights and small fires in old oil drums made into braziers. Groups of soldiers stood warming their hands while others patrolled among geometrically manicured trees and shrubs. She pulled the curtains and turned back to the room.
“Je vous laisse, mesdames. Il y a tout-ce qu’il faut. On vous appellera pour manger. A bientôt,” he said.
“On a combien de temps?” said Izzy.
“Quarante minutes,” he said.
Izzy dived fearlessly onto the bed.
“We’ve got forty minutes before dinner. Wow, Mum. This is like so cool.”
“Aren’t you frightened? Don’t you see this is dangerous shit? I don’t know what the fuck’s going on and I don’t know what we’re ever going to know.”
“Where did you get that track suit?”
“They gave it to me in London. I’m sick of it.”
“Looks like it’s sick of you too. Come on. Anna’s shown me the stuff we can wear,” said this confident wild child. This was not the kid she’d sent off to study at the University of Warwick. How could she tell her how Simon Westcott had died and what an AK-47 did to human flesh? How could she tell her that the mother she’d always known was a blood-soaked stranger? How could she tell her that all the smiling young men and beautiful people around her might kill her at the drop of the wrong word?
Izzy skipped to one of the enormous heavy oak French-style wardrobes. Every type of dress she could imagine was there and appeared to be her size. A series of drawers to one side contained packets of new underwear. The brand was French and unfamiliar. On the wardrobe floor was a rail of shoes. Izzy pulled out a black dress and an elegant cream bolero style cardigan.
“Anna said dinner’s going to be pretty much everyday so it’s not a big dress-up,” she assured her mother. “That woman is just so cool. She’s married to a millionaire business guy with a Champagne vineyard. He used to be a world champion boxer and he’s like fit, like really sexy fit.”
“Did she tell you that?”
“Nah. One of the French detectives told me.”
“Anna La Salle is one of Britain’s top cops. She’s always on TV and meets up with the prime minister.”
“She just told me she was a cop. She speaks French you know like perfect.”
“Izzy, listen, aren’t you wondering what’s going on here?”
It seemed at last that Izzy had caught her mood. The girl just seemed over-excited and flippant.
“Mum, I simply feel it’ll be OK. The world has gone out of control and there’s all kinds of shit going down.”
“Seems like the same old world shit to me.”
“Mum, you really should watch a news show or check out a newspaper. The global liberal consensus around center ground elitism has crashed. There’s a hole in the middle of politics and every saint or sinner is trying to fill it.”
“What? Where did you get all that stuff?”
“We get lectures, Mum. The world was controlled by money and corporate business. Politicians kept pumping out the blah-blah words to keep everyone calm and hopeful. It started with Jeffrey Corbett, the socialist guy. The rank and file dumped all the toadies and went for someone who stood for something. People saw the elite power as a sham.”
“He’s the beardy with the old jacket?”
“Yeah. That led on to Brexit, Farouche, and Grump. In France we’ve got Martine La Plume. Everywhere races and religions are slogging it out. All the rest are waving flags and guns. And no one’s getting a grip. Like no one, Mum. That’s the scary shit.”
“Do you think these guys are something to do with that?”
“What can a load of cops do? They’re playing a spy game against some terrorists, that’s all. We’ll be fine if we stay cool. Everyone’ll get bored with revolutions when Facebook and Instagram go down. Anna told me you’d seen something really secret and you’re here for your own protection. She told me not to bother you ’cos you’d signed the official secrets stuff.”
Sophia took a deep breath. Obviously they had reassured her and she’d swallowed it whole. She herself had lied to her about Simon’s death and for now there was no easy way back to the truth.
“Let’s get dressed for dinner. Do they really eat snails and rabbits?”
“Yeah. There’s a big ears double shell burger at McDonald’s. If you go large you get the bunny’s tail as well.” said Izzy with a giggle.
“I love you, Izzy.”
“Love you too, Mum,” she called back from the ensuite shower.
Sophia slid into a deep bath. The soaps and shampoos were luxurious and smooth. She took a razor to her legs. Her body and her being, warmed to the pulse of life. How much she wanted to live and grab the joys of this short span of time and even shorter span of youth. If she made it out of this she would never just tick off the days, waiting for the weekend, waiting for payday, waiting for another failed Internet date. Waiting, just waiting.
“Mum, these guys aren’t politically correct metro sexual men. If you go out of the room like that there’s going to be some too serious self-relief issues.”
Sophia stared open-mouthed at her daughter’s words.
“What? When did you start saying stuff like that?”
“So when did that stop being the truth? You’re a complete stunner. I’ve never seen you dressed like that. You never make anything of yourself. You’re so cool and aristo and so, well, sexy.”
Sophia glanced down at herself. The black dress was simple with a lace yoke. She’d found a silver pendant and some matching earrings on the bedside table. The cream bolero cardigan buttoned beneath her full breasts. The black half-heel shoes were light and elegant. She turned her eyes to her daughter. She had chosen a black leather short skirt, a red frilled long-sleeved blouse and pointed high-heel booties. Her full lips were a crimson red almost glowing like an ember against her flawless deep ivory skin. She just didn’t know what she had! Or maybe she did.
“You can talk my dear child. That soldier boy was dribbling.”
“He’s just so want-able,” said Izzy, adding the last touches to her mother’s makeup. They were prepared for the knock on the door.
The dining room was elegant and decorated with old paintings and wooden panels. Another huge fireplace roared out heat while flames leapt up into a broad chimney. Away from its direct blast it was cold. A chandelier lit the room, its light sprinkling sharp reflections on the polished wine glasses. Several carafes of red and white wine invited Sophia’s attention. She sure could do with a drink. A smiling guy in an apron motioned them to sit, and offered wine. Both women took a red and saluted each other. They both downed it and poured another.
“Local stuff. Vin de Pays de Saintonge,” said Mel Kendrick striding in and pouring himself a white. “Normally we do a posh aperitif, but hell, things aren’t that normal. Salut!”
He had changed into a pink, long-sleeved shirt with old-fashioned, gold cufflinks. He wore black velvet trousers and a flamboyant broad pink and blue scarf around his neck.
Izzy was attacking a plate of sliced sausage and a bowl of stuffed olives.
Mel stepped forward and introduced himself by kissing Izzy on either cheek. The child seemed to expect it. He did the same to Sophia.
“I didn’t know you would be here,” she said.
“I choppered in just as you were arriving. I’m guessing you’re a Catholic.”
“We’re an Anglo-Italian family. Is it important?”
“The bastards got the Pope. Suicide bomber dressed as a cardinal,” said Mel.
Sophia looked at her daughter. She was equally stunned.
“Who was it?” asked Sophia.
“Does it matter? Pro-abortionists, Hindu fundamentalists, Islamists, Scottish nationalists, International Communist League, KKK, PKK, IRA—it’s like an Amazon warehouse. Everything you can think of and instant delivery.”
“The old bastard is dead, whatever. The main point is that the backlash could spark a world religious war,” said cold-eyed Bastian as he wandered in. He didn’t step forward with kisses. Sophia was relieved. Every woman vibe was joining up with every cop vibe in Sophia’s soul to batter alarm bells about Bastian.
Hervé, the brigadier gendarme, entered quietly, still in his uniform. He shook hands around the table, yet kissed Sophia on both cheeks. She felt the slight pressure of his hand on her arm. There was a man smell to him.
“You are very beautiful,” he said.
Anna La Salle was the last to appear. She looked a little tired, but fabulously elegant in a Max Mara grey pinstripe pantsuit.
“We’ve covered the news so far. His body double is already performing mass. My guess is we’ve bought no more than a couple of days,” she said.
She did the round of handshakes and kisses. France was a strange place. There were armed mobs on the streets, but you still had to shake hands and serve the correct wine.
“And what are all us heroic tough guys going to do with those two days?” asked Bastian.
Anna poured a glass of wine with deliberate slowness and let a silence erode his pointed question. He didn’t blink.
“We’re going to make a fucking movie. That’s what we’re going to do, Bastian. What we’re not going to do is launch air strikes on tower blocks in Paris or start public executions,” said Anna.
“It’d better be a blockbuster movie,” he retorted.
Sophia glanced across at her daughter. They met each other’s eyes acknowledging the tension. She could see that the tone and the news had shaken the girl’s tinsel bravado.
“You look so lovely, Sophia,” said Anna.
“Thank you,” she replied, uncertain of what to call her.
Hervé spoke to Anna in French. Sophia flicked her eyes to Izzy. Thank God she could understand. What kind of cops chatted about air strikes?
“I rather like your red wine of Saint John,” said Sophia. She knew that wasn’t the name of it but she was sure some French gentleman would love to puff out his chest and correct her. Hervé fell happily into the role. She was a bit drunk, but all women can play silly maiden. Why didn’t guys ever see it?
“Oh yes. It is humble, but firm like the cutting arm of a peasant or the honest kiss of a good wife. The proper word is Saintonge—Sahn-tonje, comme ça,” he said.
“Do you get honest kisses?” laughed Anna.
“First I need a good wife.”
Sophia smiled inwardly. She had changed the mood.
Anna reached out and touched her hand.
“You are here by chance, but all of us here feel it was a lucky one.”
Although she was bursting with questions, Sophia held her tongue. They would tell her what it was good for her to know. She was a little drunk and tired. She stuck to the red wine. The mood was buoyant and becoming more open. Dishes came and went, quite possibly rabbit. Hervé couldn’t lift his eyes from her face. She was certain she had wiles enough to find out everything he knew. He was about her own rank, so perhaps that wouldn’t be a lot.
“To Sophia,” he said suddenly standing up and proposing a toast.
Everyone joined in.
“To Sophia,” echoed the room.
A second later there was a sound of a struggle at the door. Sophia was getting used to the snap and click of machine guns. She froze in fear. Everyone but she and Izzy drew weapons. Hervé went to the door.
“Quoi?” he said.
A muffled reply in French seemed to reassure him.
The door opened slowly. Sophia’s eyes shot to the face of a handsome young dark-haired man being held back by servants and soldiers. She knew that face.
“So who the hell are you?” she asked.
“I’m the king of France. I heard your name Sophia and I told you I’d never forget.”
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