Gauging the adversary

 

Chapter 1

In the cold and fresh morning air, the breathing of the three people descending the steps towards the sleek black limousine could be seen very clearly. The chauffeur shuffled his feet and removed his hands from his pockets to get ready to assist the woman into the car. The woman, a good-looking brunette in her early thirties, answered his greeting with a polite smile and got into the car. She was followed by the two men, who were decidedly security types with moustaches and broad shoulders.

Arriving at their destination with impeccable timing as always, at least an hour early to avoid attention, they got out of the car. There was nothing remarkable near the back entrance where the car had pulled up. A few parked cars, that was all. Any journalists would be at the front. They would not expect her to show up for a brunch at nine o'clock.

Suddenly shots rang out and Anna was the only one standing. Around her the men had fallen. All of them. The shock froze her to the spot. Her brain was incapable of thinking and her limbs refused to move. Someone is shooting! She could only stand still and stare in terrified shock at the bodies on the ground, with a voice somewhere in her head urging her to do something. Before she could do anything, a black-clad figure in a balaclava appeared from nowhere and threw her roughly over his shoulder. There was no resisting it -- she tried, but he did not put her down or slow his pace. After a short run she was thrust into the back of a van, and other hands took over. They pulled her inside and the door was banged shut. There were no windows and it was dark there, but she knew she was not alone. The people that had pulled her in were there, somewhere. She could hear breathing nearby. It was no use trying to get to the door, because she felt the van take off. She was not crazy enough to jump out of a moving vehicle, if she would even get the chance to reach the door. Dazed and stunned she sat in silence, unconscious tears trickling down her face. What are they going to do with me? What do they want me for? What is happening?


After what seemed like a few hours, during which she asked herself the same questions over and over again, the van slowed down and came to a halt. Outside, Anna could hear voices and shouted commands, but she could not hear what was being said. Apparently someone was giving out orders. She expected the door to be opened any minute, but it took another five minutes before that happened. The sudden glare of the sun made her blink and for the first few seconds she saw nothing. Before she had fully regained her sight, she felt herself being dragged out again, by someone else this time. He was also wearing a balaclava, but he did not wear the nice after-shave the first one had been wearing. Her eyes had adjusted to the light and she tried to observe the surroundings. She had only time to see that they were in a graveled drive which was surrounded by high hedges and that she had come here in a white van, before she was carried into the house, where her eyes had to adjust to the dark again. She felt herself being carried down a flight of stairs and she was put down in a room at the end of a corridor. Here the masked men left her and they locked the door. Not a word had passed. She had been too terrified to speak, and they had probably been under orders not to say anything.

Knowing it was probably useless, she tried the door anyway and she was not surprised to find it locked. Leaning against it, she looked around the room. It did not look like it was being lived in, because it was too tidy, but neither did it look like an impersonal hotel room. The shelves of the bookcase actually contained books and there were a few videos beside the video recorder. For the rest it looked like a bed-sit, with a door leading off to a small bathroom. The windows were all high up in the wall and pretty small, which made her think she was in some kind of cellar. She certainly would not be able to climb through them, unless she lost a lot of weight. The only thing missing from the room seemed to be a telephone. There was a strange thing in one corner of the room. It looked like a dumbwaiter or a goods lift. There were buttons beside it and when she pushed them, the panel slid open and revealed a small lift. This was not big enough for her to fit into either. She wondered what it would be used for. Probably to send her food down, since there was no kitchen down here. As there was a television set, they -- whoever they were -- were probably not planning on starving her. This brought her back to her first question. What do they want me for? Who are they?

Suddenly the dumbwaiter went up again and she drew back with a start. Mesmerised she waited if it would return, which it did a minute later. It contained a tea tray, but tea was the last thing on her mind at the moment. She wanted to send it back up again, but when her finger was about to touch the button, she noticed a folded sheet of paper under the teapot. With a trembling hand Anna reached out and took out the tea tray. She lifted the teapot and read the note. It was neatly typewritten, probably printed.

Welcome, Your Majesty. You will find that the room is fitted out for your convenience. If, despite our care, you should be in need of anything, do not hesitate to send up a note and we shall try to accommodate your wishes.

Anna read it several times, but she could not make sense of it. It sounded as if they would give her anything she wanted, except her freedom. It was not mentioned in the note, but it was clear that she was not going to be let out of here. Why had they not stated their purpose in holding her here, though? Would that be explained in a later note, or it would it not be explained at all? The fact that they had not killed her must mean that they were holding her hostage. She did not know what else it could be. It could be because they did not like her, but somehow that seemed a bit far-fetched. She had never become popular after King Alexander II, her father, died. Quiet and reserved, she was still very much a stranger to the people, and her reluctance to take on more than the minimum number of public engagements did not do very much to change that. Perhaps only the bodyguards, of which she had three alternating teams, knew that the public opinion with regard to her extreme stiffness was in the wrong.

No, it must be something else and to have a Queen was certainly a powerful negotiating instrument. One could put a lot of pressure on a country. It could not be for money. There were easier targets with almost as much money, whose kidnappers would not be as relentlessly pursued as a Queen's must be. Would this crime be high treason? She had always realised that anyone could harm her, despite the protection, but she had always relied on the hope that nobody was crazy enough to attempt it. Apparently she had been wrong. There had at least four people been crazy enough, maybe even more. There had to have been some that had done the shooting. Anna swallowed when she thought of the shooting. Were they all dead?

Oddly enough the kidnappers did not seem to care if she stayed informed about the outside world. She turned on the television set and found a reporter standing in front of her own palace, nervously rambling along but not saying anything that helped her find out more. He only repeated that she had been abducted by a group of men in black clothing, where and when it happened, and that this was all that everybody seemed to know so far. "Yes, I know all that," she said in irritation. "But who did it?" Her gracious kidnappers had even thought of getting her a TV with teletext, but there was nothing interesting there either. The Prime Minister called it an outrage and begged for calmness, the troups were standing by and the police was questioning everyone in the capital. She watched a few more interviews but they only served to make her more frustrated than better informed, so she switched to another channel. Amazingly enough there were still a few channels that had not abandoned their planned programming in favour of extra news bulletins. She felt as if she had been running for a few hours and she needed something to take her mind off things and to calm down. It had got darker outside and Anna switched on the light, even if it was only late afternoon. If she was not still nervous, she would be able to sleep very well, not having slept much the night before, but now she would continuously worry about them coming down. It seemed as if they were going to stay out of the way, but what if they came down to do something to her? Once more she checked teletext and the news, but there was as yet no information about the kidnappers or their motives. Not knowing what else to do, she stretched herself out on the bed.


"We did it, Seton," said one of the men, taking off his balaclava.

"Yes," said Seton, running a hand through his hair that had been smoothed down by the balaclava. "Quite easily, too." It seemed like only a few hours ago that he had driven away from his flat, after having checked all his things had looked in order. He had not needed to check the instructions again -- he had those memorised.

"It's quite a nice room down there, by the way. The department certainly doesn't spare any costs."

"Well, it's a matter of great importance, Hegge," Seton answered. "I'm going to contact T." He left for the room with the safe phone.

His team stayed, and changed from their black clothing into normal wear. "Did you send that note down, Gris?" asked Hegge. "It was in my instructions to remind you of it."

"Yes, with the tea tray."

"I hope our next instructions will be that we can go home," said the fourth member of the small group, Raine.

"I hope so too. Sitting all that time in the back of a dark van wasn't really comfortable."

Seton returned with a puzzled expression on his face. "We've got to stay here," he announced in a disbelieving voice. "They aren't coming."

"What?" cried Hegge. "You're kidding!"

"Until further orders are given, you will stay in place," Seton repeated his orders.

"Oh, come on!" said Raine. "They can't do that to us. Why? Did he say why?"

"No."

"Excuse me," Gris spoke up. "We were to return as soon as they had got here and ascertained that we'd done our work okay. I suppose they would have taken care of the Queen? What do we do with her?"

"I have no idea," Seton sighed. "This all sounds bloody odd to me." It had never happened before that instructions had changed so drastically on the job, and this was quite an important one, too.


"Unit 9?" the metallic voice asked stiffly.

"Speaking."

"Your mission has been cancelled due to our national crisis. Have the team on stand by," said the voice, and rang off.


"Unit 14?" the metallic voice asked.

"Yes."

"Prepare your team. You must have heard the news. You have carte blanche. Get her back."

"Yes, sir."


Seton went downstairs to apologise for the delay, a little apprehensive because he had no idea what the Queen would say. He unlocked the door, wondering why it had to be locked in the first place. Surely it had not been necessary to carry things this far? He switched on the light when he found the room in darkness. The Queen looked at him with obvious hostility and fear when he stepped into the room. Her whole attitude puzzled him so much that he stood still just inside the room to observe her. She was huddled up on the bed defensively. This was not at all the way it was supposed to be. He knew she did not have a reputation for being the most sociable creature on earth, but this was strange. She ought to be at ease, commenting perhaps on the way they had done it. Instead, she said, "why? What do you want with me?"

He could even understand her being angry because it took so long before anyone came to see her, but fear was something he could not explain. "I beg your pardon, Madam?"

She seemed not to understand him now. "What do you mean?"

"Why do you want to know why? You're supposed to know why."

"I must be missing something, because I don't!" she snapped.

"You don't?" he stared at her.

"No! Should I?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"I thought you had been briefed beforehand."

"Before I was kidnapped?" she raised her eyebrows sarcastically.

"You were supposed to have been briefed beforehand," Seton frowned, wondering why that had not happened. He began to feel uneasy.

"That doesn't make sense," the Queen cried. "You'll be kidnapped, so get ready?" You can't be serious! What makes you think a sane person would actually allow himself to be abducted if he knows it's going to happen?"

"Are you testing me, Madam?" he asked tentatively. Perhaps she had received orders to question him. This was supposed to be as realistic as possible and he did not want to fail. "Off the record."

"Off the record?" she exclaimed. "Can't you just answer my question? What am I doing here?"

She really had no idea. There was no reason to assume that she had liked it so much that she acted her part with great zeal. Seton's uncomfortable feeling increased. He slowly sat down opposite her as he realised the consequences of her ignorance. She would not have known what had been happening to her when he had suddenly thrown her over his shoulder this morning. "I am sorry if people neglected to inform you about the exercise. You must have been pretty scared."

"Exercise? This was an exercise?" She was silent for a while until something struck her. "But...how do you account for all the commotion on television? Have you not seen the news?"

"No," he said carefully, trying to guess what had been on it.

"I suggest you have a look," she said ominously.

 

Chapter 2

She had been angry at first, very angry at not being informed of something as crucial as this, but then she had remembered that the whole country was now under the assumption that she had really been abducted. Where could they possibly have got that idea? The man turned on the TV and she watched his facial expression change from curiosity to incredulity mixed with incomprehension. Either he was a very good actor or he really did not know what was going on out there. She wished he was a good actor, because then at least she would know where she stood.

He muttered something. "I don't know anything about this. I don't -- I don't understand what is happening. This is supposed to be an exercise, testing your safety. My team was told you were co-operating voluntarily."

Anna's face betrayed her unfamiliarity with the scheme. "I assume that you work for some kind of...government service."

"In a way," he replied. "You will not have heard of the division, I think. Look, I must contact my superior about this. We contacted him when we got here, but he did not say -- somehow I don't think the exercise was supposed to go this far. Maybe something leaked out and the press got wind of it."

Anna still did not know if she could believe him. He looked trustworthy enough and judging by his accent he came from a good family, but the whole story sounded incredibly odd. Also, he seemed to have forgotten whom he was addressing. His initial politeness had disappeared when he had perceived there was a problem. But she did not know what that was a sign of.

"Come," he said abruptly. "We'll go upstairs."

Surprised that she was allowed out of her prison, she followed him, a little more inclined to believe him. He went into a small room, containing all sorts of communication equipment. A blonde man sat there, reading a newspaper. He looked at her respectfully and nodded in greeting. The man who had come downstairs sat down and dialed a number on the safe phone.

"Is anything wrong, Seton?" the other man asked when he saw his worried expression.

"A lot," Seton answered, his jaws clenched. "I want to know what the hell is happening." The number he had dialed seemed to be wrong and he tried again. "Why doesn't this number work anymore?" he cried.

"What?" asked the other man.

"T's number doesn't work anymore."

Anna wondered who T was, but she dared not ask. Perhaps he was something like M. It was curious that all of those bosses were only known by an initial. And so the one who brought me here is called Seton, she thought as she observed the tall, brown-haired man try again.

"Are you sure you had the right number?"

"Didn't I call him when we got here? You dial, Hegge, just to be sure."

Hegge tried with the same result. "Is this phone broken?" He tried the normal phone, but it did not work there either. "Did he unplug his phone? Or cut us off?"

"Were you lying?" Anna asked Seton with growing anxiety. She tried to sound as confident as possible.

Hegge looked puzzled and Seton turned on the TV for him. "Have a look at that. See what you make of the whole mess. Gris? Raine?" he called. Two more men appeared, a dark-haired one and a bald one. Like the two others, they were well built and gave the impression of being very fit. "Look at that and tell us if you think we're in deep trouble or in very deep trouble. We cannot reach T anymore. He cut the line. The bloody fool cocked up and seems to be leaving us to drown," he said angrily.

"Won't he tell anyone?" Hegge asked hopefully. "He can't be the only one who knows about it."

"And lose his face as well as his job?" Seton asked cynically.

"Meanwhile," said Gris in a serious voice. "The whole country is set to find us and we've done nothing wrong. What if they find us? I don't think T will back us up."

"I don't like this," said Seton decidedly. He turned to Anna. "You must leave here as soon as possible. It's the only option."

"Why didn't T suggest that?" asked Hegge. "Surely he could have realised that as well! Instead, he tells us to stay put. He usually knows very well how to save his hide."

"Do you think he is using us?" Raine asked. "For some obscure purpose of his own?"

"Hmm...I can't think for what, though I wouldn't put it past him. I think you're right. He should have told us to let the Queen go as soon as possible so she could turn up somewhere unharmed, not knowing anything. There are a hundred ways he could twist the story into something acceptable."

There was one thing Anna had to get off her chest. "Assuming you're all speaking the truth and you're all innocent, why did you kill my bodyguards?" That was something that did not fit in with their story.

Four puzzled faces turned towards her. "We didn't, Madam," said Gris. "I fired blanks. They were in on the secret. As soon as they heard shots, they were to drop to the ground. They weren't dead."

She looked at him doubtfully. He had spoken with conviction, but she had read on teletext that the men were dead. "Check teletext. It says they were killed."

Gris read the news. "Geez," he cried incredulously. "I was shooting blanks but I didn't even aim at them! I swear it wasn't me."

"We were in the van," said Raine. "It wasn't me or Hegge and we didn't see Seton do it either."

"I fired three times," said Gris. "There were only three shots. How on earth could your bodyguards have been killed by blanks? You're welcome to check my gun, Madam. You'll see that it doesn't contain any real bullets and that I fired three shots."

"Unless they were killed later," Seton said slowly. "It sounds as if we are in big trouble and I don't understand one bit of it, except that I feel we are being used in some sordid game. We've got to get out of here. T knows exactly where we are. I don't particularly like to be framed for murdering some bodyguards."

The men nodded their assent. "I'm going to get my stuff together so we can get out of here," said one, and the three of them left the room.

Anna looked at Seton. He was lost in thought. "What about me?" she asked. "What will happen to me?"

"I don't know what they want with you," he said. "But there's a good chance that you'll find out when you stay." He got to his feet.

"I might not want to," she protested quietly.

Seton turned around and raised an eyebrow. "Don't you want to go home?"

"I don't particularly want to find out if somebody has something planned for me."

"I daresay it will be civilised, Madam."

"If it's the same person who planned this abduction, I don't know if it will be very civilised," she said sharply.

"You can take a train home before anyone gets here," he suggested. "You don't actually have to stay on the premises."

"Seton?" someone called from the hall. "Are you ready?"

"Are you leaving me behind?" Her voice rose in panic. Anna had no idea how to get anywhere from here.

Suddenly he seemed to recall whom he was speaking to. "Your Majesty," he began hurriedly. "You must forgive us --"

"-- For having such a small car," Hegge interjected. He appeared behind Seton. "You'll have to share the back seat with two of us."

"What?" Seton asked, perplexed.

"She is coming, isn't she?"

"Er..."

"Seton!" Hegge said in a voice not low enough not to be overheard. "We can't leave her here! She's the Queen, for Pete's sake."


Anna sat in the back with the two shortest of the men, Gris and Hegge. She thought they were too afraid to address her, because they kept looking straight ahead or to the other side. Raine drove and Seton sat next to him. Seton twisted his upper body so that he could look at her, despite the darkness. "We need money. I don't suppose you've got your bank card with you?"

She saw Gris and Hegge stare in shock at this audacity, or perhaps they were shocked that she would have a bankcard. "I do."

"Drive to the nearest cash-point," Seton said to Raine. "They know we have been here anyway. If we take another cash-point, they'll know where we've gone."

His curt and abrupt manner made Anna wonder if he saw her as a nuisance. He probably did. The fact that she had to get money for them did not help her to trust them more. She was still wary of their intentions.

There was a bank in the village and luckily it was situated on a side street, where they could not be overseen by too many people. Raine turned off his lights when Anna and Seton got out of the car, to be more inconspicuous. Anna's fingers trembled when she operated the machine and she wondered if she remembered her code. It did not help that Seton was standing beside her, but if she would have paid attention to him, she would have noticed that he was more intent on keeping an eye on his surroundings than on how her fingers missed the buttons. His face was hidden in his dark blue and white sailor's coat and only his eyes peered over the collar. "How much?" she ventured when she had to choose an amount.

"Maximum amount."

"How much is that?"

"Try something." He did not turn around, but kept a watchful eye on the cars that drove by through the main street. A couple with a dog came down the street and he casually leant against the cash-point, one hand in his pocket. The couple with the dog passed on and he cast a look aside. He had been hearing her press the buttons, accompanied with occasional sighs, and the pressing had become increasingly violent, to the point of ramming. "Got it yet?"

"No. I started really high and I'm lowering it, but it keeps telling me no. How would I know what the maximum amount is?" she asked in annoyance

"You of all people should know that."

"Look, I don't work for a bank! Yes! Got it," she said triumphantly and waited for the money to come out.

"You hang on to it," he said when she wanted to give it to him. "It's your money."

"Don't tell me I can trust you," she said sarcastically.

He did not answer, but opened the car door for her, looking around himself again. It was not likely that anyone would see him in the dark. The light from the nearest street light was blocked by a tree and the houses were either dark or the inhabitants had their curtains closed.

"Where do we go?" asked Raine, after he had started the engine and driven off.

"Not too far away," said Seton. "Take that road to the right. Once they find out we are gone, they'll expect us to have left the country, or that we'll do so in the next few hours, so they might set up a tight border control for a day or two, and then when they don't catch anything, they'll assume we've slipped out before they had the chance to check. It's no use going to our Wessingen safe house, because T knows about that, or he can find out. Malling set up a super-secret safe house once, in case something happened that made it necessary to go someplace absolutely secret. Only I forgot where it is, exactly. I wish Malling hadn't gone on holiday right now. But then, this might exactly be happening because he's gone on holiday."

Malling was their direct superior, and a far more competent person than T. If he had been around, Seton was sure none of this would have happened, but as it was, Malling had been coaxed into taking a well-needed and long-overdue holiday, far away and unreachable. A fact that suddenly became suspicious, in the light of recent events. He was silent for a few minutes. "Who is this car registered to?"

"Harry Feldmann." Raine answered with a grin.

"Who's he?"

"Me. I forgot to unregister with Peter."

"Does Peter know?"

"Peter only knows I've still got a company car. He just fiddles with the registers and forgets who took which package of number plates with matching papers. Great chap." He switched on the radio, seeing that it was almost time for the hourly news bulletin. "But in any case, I don't think it would be wise to get ourselves stopped by the police -- not with the undoubtedly huge amount of money we're carrying. I know Seton always likes to have enough cash to buy at least three BMW's."

The atmosphere in the car became tangibly less tense as Seton and Raine began arguing about how many previous owners those BMW's would have had.


T looked at his unplugged phone. He had pulled a few strings to have his number changed, in case they should try to call him. Which he did not expect they would. He expected them to stay in place, as he had told them to. Initiative was the last thing he expected them to show. So far everything was still going according to plan. He was still in control of his side of things.

 

Chapter 3

In a government building in the capital, several important state figures and several unknown, but powerful men were assembled to discuss the crisis.

"This is a very serious situation, Prime Minister," said the leader of the opposition, a thickset man in his fifties. Besides his natural concern for his Queen, he also recognised an opportunity to attack the leading party when it was presented to him. And this one was presented to him on a silver platter. "I cannot help but feel that the current government has shown a lack of concern for Her Majesty's safety. There are some areas in which cuts ought not have been made."

The current government had made itself extremely unpopular by cutting in almost all possible budgets, including the one reserved for expenses on the Royal Family. Not all of that had reached the press, however. The main thing that had been made public was that the Queen was no longer allowed to choose a car without regard to price, but that there was now an upper limit, above which she would have to pay for it from her own pocket. A fierce discussion had ensued in the media about whether this was justified or not, and whether she ought not to pay for any cars herself, considering that the Royal Family was the richest family in the country.

The Prime Minister tried to defend himself, saying that the Queen still had sufficient protection from the most capable men in the country, and he passed the question to the general in charge of that protection. He, of course, could not but emphasise that the men his service were more than adequately trained, but that his budget did not allow him to provide the Queen with more than two bodyguards at a time.

They spent several hours thus shifting the blame and getting no further in solving the national crisis.

"Our country is being made to look foolish," said the leader of the opposition. "What will other countries think of us when we cannot even keep our Queen safe?"

"It was time we got rid of the monarchy anyway," remarked somebody else. "Have the terrorists made any demands yet, Prime Minister?"

The Prime Minister denied. "We have not yet been contacted."

"Will we comply with their eventual demands? Territorial demands? Liberating prisoners? Money?"

The PM looked at the chairman of the national bank. "Of course we will consider paying, but I assume that our forces will have caught the terrorists before any ransom is paid."

"How much is she worth?" asked the republican. "I vote for the Royal Family paying the ransom. They have more money that the State anyway."

Seeing it was time to break up, the PM coughed. "Gentlemen, when I have more news, I shall call another meeting. Meanwhile, you may rest assured that we are doing everything in our power to bring this to a satisfying end."


Right after the meeting and leaving his spokesman to deal with the press conference, the PM hurried to another room where there were a few other gentlemen assembled. Some had already been present at the previous meeting, and some had not. The ones that had not, would never be recognised by the public. Their functions in life were rather obscure and vague.

"Any news, Mr. Thalen?" the PM asked.

"We should be receiving a demand from the kidnappers soon," answered Thalen. "Possibly in the next few hours."

"Not in time to make the headlines of the evening papers?"

Thalen hesitated. "Maybe not, but it will certainly make the evening news."

The PM nodded. "Very good. It will be a long night for me, then. I shall be wanted to express my thoughts on the matter. Patrick?"

"Popularity is at its lowest, but I expect it will soon be rising once you present the government as strong and unyielding to the kidnappers. Her Majesty's popularity has gone up by two percent. Once we broadcast the tapes I daresay it will a double-digit increase."

"How has the international world reacted?" the PM asked.

"Shocked, but what else could we expect? I have been contacted by foreign colleagues, naturally," said Thalen. "They were not entirely happy with our potential instability. I managed to put them off for the time being."

"Good," said the PM. "Because we don't need foreign agents meddling in our state affairs."


"It was somewhere near the centre," said Seton as the car drove through the empty, dark streets of the second-largest town in the country. "It was an alley leading off a shopping street."

"Alright," said Raine. "We'll park here and find it on foot." He saw a space and parked, knowing that it was impossible to get onto a shopping street by car.

Seton led the way with Raine, and much the same as they had been seating in the car, Anna followed with the two other men. Her heels clicked loudly on the wet cobblestones and she felt as if everybody could hear her walk, especially when the two men ahead of her exchanged a few soft words and then looked over their shoulders at her shoes. She tried to walk less audibly and studied the men walking in front of her. They were walking quite fast and she with her shorter legs and relatively tight skirt was having a hard time keeping up with them without running, something that would even have been impossible with the kind of shoes she was wearing. "Umm," she ventured. The two in front did not turn back. "Umm," she said to either Gris or Hegge, she was not entirely sure who was who yet. "Don't you think we're attracting too much attention, marching like this? Shouldn't we be walking more at our leisure?"

Gris, or Hegge, nodded. "A bit slower," he called and the men in front did indeed slow down their pace somewhat.

At a certain point, Seton and Raine, who had been conferring quietly for most of the time, turned into a dark alley. Anna, Gris and Hegge followed them and one of the men looked back into the street. "No one," he commented.

Anna found it a rather scary alley. This was the place people in films always went into, despite the fact that she always told them not to, knowing that there was always something threatening waiting halfway down the alley. There were no street lights in this alley and it also smelt very disgusting. For some reason, the men all walked close to the undoubtedly dirty walls of the buildings. She stepped a little away from them to walk more in the middle where she would not stumble over litter.

A hand pulled her back to the wall. "No, Madam. Walk close to the sides."

"I don't see why you like climbing over litter," she replied tersely, but seeing why all the same. Anyone looking into the alley would perhaps see one or two people, but not all of them if they walked behind one another.

"It is because --"

"I know," she said hastily. "You don't have to tell me." It was amazing that there seemed to be people who lived in such an alley, but she passed a few doors with numbers, bells and name plates beside them. Suddenly she bumped into someone.

He had halted all of a sudden. "It's here."

Anna steadied herself with his assistance and was glad for the darkness. How embarrassing that she should stumble. One of the men started to fiddle with the lock. After a while, she realised that they were picking the lock. If they had had a key, they would have been inside by now.

"Got it," she heard one say and the door was opened. Three of them went inside swiftly and quietly, but when she wanted to follow them, the fourth one pulled her back. "No, Madam," said Hegge. "Stand against the wall so we can't be seen," he ordered. "Wait until they say all is safe." He kept looking up and down the alley to see if anything was moving. Suddenly he gripped her arm tightly to signify that she ought to keep still. At the other end of the alley she could see two figures pausing and looking in. "Don't move," he breathed.

Anna was much to frightened to even consider moving. She could not even breathe.

The two figures moved away and Hegge's grip on her arm relaxed. He remained watchful, however. "They could still be peering around the corner," he explained. "But I think they were just policemen doing their round."

"All safe," Raine said from the door opening. "Come on up."

Anna followed him up the narrow stairs. It was not a nice house. By the light that shone down from upstairs, she could see that the wallpaper was torn in places and where it was not torn, it was ugly. At the top of the stairs there was a small landing with four doors leading off it. Raine led her into the one that was open the widest. It was sparsely furnished and the wallpaper looked only slightly better than that on the stairs. A dining table and four chairs, two two-seaters and a low table, and a small cabinet with a television set were almost all the room contained. There was nothing on the walls and there was but one pathetic-looking cactus gracing the windowsill. It did not look as if anyone lived here permanently. There did seem to be enough to drink, however, because Gris was busy at the kitchen side of the room, preparing something. Seton was nowhere to be seen and Raine and Hegge turned on the television for the latest football scores and the news.

Anna wandered out into the hall, hanging up her coat and kicking off her uncomfortable shoes. She was tired and wanted to find out if there was not a bed somewhere that she could lie down on. She discovered the bathroom, and then a small bedroom with two single beds. The other door led to an equally small bedroom, also with two beds. Seton was standing in the middle of it, frowning. "We'll take turns sleeping," he said. "You should take the other room." He did not specify why.

"Oh, sorry," she answered, walking backwards from the room again as if she had entered the wrong one by accident. She went to 'her' room and looked around and gazed out of the window for a while. There was nothing to see except a brick wall and chimneys on roofs, but she did not mind. For a moment she contemplated going to bed, but then she realised that she did not have any pyjamas, toiletries, or anything. I could tell them, but what could they do? They don't have magical powers. They would only see my discomfort if they told me they couldn't do anything about it.

They all looked up when she entered the living room again, suddenly silent. It made her think they had just been talking about her, something that did not really make her feel at ease.

"Move over, Raine," said Hegge. "Make room for our guest."

Raine obediently moved aside and Anna stiffly sat down on the two-seater with him and Hegge, her eyes fixed on the TV screen. She was glad it was on, because she had no idea what she would have looked at otherwise. They were reporting on her again. She caught Seton staring at her, but he looked away when her eyes met his. He was probably studying her to see how she coped with being talked about.

"...tapes were delivered this afternoon. No further information about these tapes has been released, but it is generally assumed that they contain a message from Her Majesty, considering the secrecy in which they have been clouded."

They all looked at her again.

"Don't look at me! You're the ones who should have -- the kidnappers always have them made," she said defensively when they kept looking at her for far too long.

"But we are the only kidnappers and we are not even real kidnappers," said Hegge. "There is nobody else who could have made any tapes, is there? Well, not today, because we have you."

If only problems could go away if you crawled into a hole and cried. She had no hole, but she had a bed, and she would be alone in her room. "I don't want to think about it anymore," Anna said tiredly. "I'm going to bed." She stood up.

"Oh, and that's one more thing we'll need to work out," Seton addressed the others. "There are only two beds, so we'll need to take turns sleeping."

"I saw four," said Raine.

"And that leaves two for us, doesn't it?" Seton answered. "I'm not tired. I'll stay up or try to sleep on this sofa."

Anna left the room before they could force a roommate on her. She went to the bedroom that Seton had allotted to her and decided to sleep fully dressed. Undoubtedly her clothes would be wrinkled in the morning, but anything was better than having to get dressed decently enough to step out of her room in an emergency.


In the middle of the night she woke from hunger. She had been too nervous to feel that she had missed two meals earlier, but she certainly felt it now. After half an hour of trying to ignore the gnawing feeling, she got out of bed and walked to the living room. It was dark and she had no idea if there would be any food there, but it was the likeliest place. She gave a little shriek when a flashlight shone on her during her search. She blinked against the light, which seemed to come from one of the sofas. The light was switched off and she heard someone move towards her. "Where are you?" she asked when it took longer than she expected.

"Right here," it sounded right beside her and she jumped.

"Don't frighten me so!"

"What are you looking for, Madam?" he whispered. "Can I help you with anything?

"I'm hungry."

"Not surprising. You went to bed before we got that takeaway," the voice remarked.

"Which one are you?" She could not tell whispers apart.

"What do you mean?"

"Which one of the four are you?"

"The one who drove. Would you like some Chinese takeaway, Madam? Our kind boss insisted that we leave some for you. He also instructed me to ask you for the blankets of your spare bed, if you should wake during the night. You had gone to bed before it occurred to him to ask you and he didn't want to disturb you. He also took some of your money from your coat."

"Oh," said Anna. "Yes, I'd like some Chinese and you may have the blankets." She wondered why their kind boss was not up to ask her these questions herself.

Raine placed something in the microwave. For such a shabby flat it was well-equipped. "I'll get the blankets now." He returned a minute later and threw the blankets on the sofa.

"Who is your boss and where is he now?" Anna asked as she tried to open the microwave. She had never been good with domestic appliances.

He helped her and handed her a fork and spoon. "Seton, and he is out."

"Out?" she repeated. "Why would he go out in the middle of the night?"

"He had to make a few phone calls."

"Oh. I suppose you must all be concerned for your wives and children."

Raine laughed softly. "We don't have them. Do you?"

"No."

They heard footsteps on the stairs. "That will be our boss," said Raine, his voice slightly raised. "I'd better warn you, Madam, as he has the habit of creeping up on people." He lowered his voice again. "I hadn't thought you had a husband, although I do not follow that sort of news."

Anna spooned up some more rice and swallowed it. "No, why should you?" she agreed. "I don't understand the people who do. There is nothing to follow. I lead the most boring life imaginable -- when it comes to romance," she added hastily. "This is different."

"I'm back," sounded a voice from the door.

Raine briefly flashed his light at him to check if it was really Seton. "Everything alright, mate?"

"Yes and no," he answered, approaching cautiously because he could not see anything in the dark. "I smell that food again. Don't tell me one of you is eating it at this hour. Give me some light." Raine obeyed and Seton began to unload his coat. "I saw a shop-o-mat and bought some things." He shoved something towards Anna and then placed a bottle on the table. "Shampoo for general use. I didn't think we needed five bottles. Breakfast," he concluded and waved a roll of biscuits.

"Not for me," said Anna, who identified his gift as a toothbrush. It was nice of him to have thought of getting her a toothbrush, although she was a little embarrassed, but she was not going to eat biscuits for breakfast.

"After that rice I don't think you'll be wanting any breakfast," Seton replied readily. He pushed against Raine's hand holding the flashlight to make it shine on Anna and he studied her wrinkled blouse and skirt. "We'll go shopping for clothes when I wake up. They can't have mobilised all forces yet. It might still be safe."

She could see why he was the boss and not one of the others. He seemed to see and foresee more, somehow. After all, he had realised she would need a toothbrush. Also, he could put her in her place with one comment. Of course she would not want any breakfast. Breakfast was in a few hours. She would still be too full from the rice to be hungry. It was a bit stupid not to have thought of that. I'd better keep my mouth shut or he'll think I'm a total imbecile and he'll decide it's not worth the trouble to keep me safe.

"I made some phone calls but I'm no wiser." He left them and they could hear him busy with blankets and clothes.

"Who is we?" Anna asked Raine uncertainly. "And clothes for whom?"

"I think you and he will go and buy clothes for you. Oh, by the way, Seton, you had better not address her as Your Majesty when you go."

"Thanks Raine, I hadn't thought of that yet," Seton answered dryly. "I'll sleep on it."

"Oh, now he'll come up with something horrible," Raine warned her.

Anna doubted that. It seemed to her that Seton had so far been doing very well in avoiding to address her by any name or title. It was not illogical to assume that he would just continue to do so.

 

Chapter 4

The night before, when Anna had already been in bed, the news had shown a tape that had been sent by the kidnappers. It had been a very unclear film of a woman on a chair reading out a message. Basically it could have been anyone, since her features were indistinct.

This is a message to the people and the government. We are being treated respectably. They have assured us that no harm shall befall us if the government complies with the following demands: One, the government will deliver a sum of money in cash, the exact amount to specified later. Two, the government is to release all those currently imprisoned for acts of terrorism. We beg the government to consider these demands very carefully and to consider that our life, the symbol of our nation, indeed our whole nation, is in their hands. Our private funds are at the government's disposal. Thank you.

"It's not her," said Raine. "We've seen her up close now, so we can't be fooled, but many people will believe it."

"Why does she keep saying we all the time?" Gris asked.

"It's pluralis maiestatis. Queens are plural."

"The demands are odd," said Seton and the rest nodded. He doubted that there were very many people imprisoned for acts of terrorism. There was hardly any terrorism in the country.

"And that woman is very generous with our Anna's money," Hegge said indignantly. "Should we tell her?"

"No," said Seton. "I don't think so. I need her relaxed and unworried tomorrow morning." The discussed it for another hour, but they could not make sense of it.


And so he had not told her. Despite that, Anna had not been very relaxed at all. She had felt as if everybody recognised her and had walked with her eyes on the ground so she would not have to face people. Seton had felt more confident now that he knew nobody would expect Anna to be walking the streets, and not because he liked to, but rather because she would otherwise collide with people, he had pulled her arm through his to guide her somewhat.

Gradually Anna's confidence had picked up. Being dragged from shop to shop by Seton, who said very little, except the occasional grumble about disliking shopping, was not as bad as it sounded. He could be counted on to give his honest opinion quickly and directly if she asked for it and he did not confuse her by suggesting other options. She had tried to be as sensible as possible, because he evidently liked that.

However, Seton's confidence had evolved in exactly the opposite direction as a direct result. Anna had begun by choosing the upper layers of clothing and she worked her way inwards. It was impossible that he should stand too far away from her when she was looking at such articles, but it embarrassed him no end, especially since they had agreed that he would do the paying. He sighed in relief when they finally came to a chemist -- she could not go beyond that. One more suffering and then they could go home.


"Hello happy shoppers," said Hegge mockingly. "Did you see us?" He and Gris had followed at a discreet distance, to spot any suspicious characters.

"Yes," Seton answered. His mind was elsewhere. On whether to tell Anna about the tape, to be precise. He did not know her well enough to be certain that she would not do something rash out of anger. Telling her would be a gamble.

"They did very well," said Hegge to Raine, who had been out buying food. "Excellent body language. It was amusing to watch."

Seton did not hear it, or pretended not to, but Anna looked at Hegge in wonder.

"First he had to drag you into the shops, but in the end you were dragging him."

"Oh, maybe that's because he was carrying the bags," Anna guessed modestly.

Hegge roared with laughter. Seton looked at him with a disturbed expression and left the room.

"Is he upset?" Anna asked in alarm.

"No, Madam."

"Could you stop calling me Madam?" she asked.

"Yes, Madam. But what should we call you?"

"Anna."

They looked surprised, but pleased. "What did you buy? Can you put it on for us?"

"Of course." Anna jumped up and took the bags to her room. She placed the bags on her bed and changed. When she was finished, she hesitated. Maybe Seton was upset with her for some reason. Maybe she had been too curt with him while they were out. But when she was preoccupied with other things, she had little inclination for small-talk. It was nothing he had done.

As she had guessed, he was in the other bedroom, lying on one of the beds. "I had never been shopping with a man before," Anna said nervously, not knowing what to say or what to do with her hands. She clasped them in front of her and guessed she looked rather awkward. "Most don't like it."

"I am not too fond of shopping with women," he answered.

"Me neither."

He raised his eyebrows but said nothing.

"Are you always this quiet or do I have that effect on you?" she asked timidly.

Seton looked at her with a startled expression. Her words reached his brain with a certain delay. He had not really been listening very attentively because he had been gauging how violent her reaction to the news about the tape would be, and he had been paying more attention to her attitude and the tone of her voice. "The past events have that effect on me."

"What? The shopping or the situation in general?"

There was a flash of humour in his eyes. "Not the shopping, though I can think of more pleasant things than having to take women's underclothes to the cash desk. No, it's worse. Try to imagine yourself in my position."

"I've never had to take men's underclothes to a cash desk," she said solemnly. "But I feel your pain."

"Add the knowledge that your mates have seen it and will tease you about it because they're still in their twenties."

"Oh! I assume you are not?"

He smiled. "I'm two years older than you are."

He was nice when he smiled. "That's the first time I see you smile."

"I had other things on my mind. Sit down," he gestured and she sat down at the foot of the bed. "Unless we are up against a genius, we do stand a chance. The key is careful thinking. Very careful thinking." He hoped she did not think he was over-confident, even if he said all this lying on his back with his hands behind his head. "Try to get into the adversaries' heads and try to follow their line of reasoning. So far, they have already made one crucial mistake."

"They didn't think you'd flee?"

"Exactly! They underestimated us."

"But they'll have adjusted their opinion of you now," Anna pointed out. "They know you don't obey commands. Are you still at an advantage? They did this, and you did that before they could get you, and now you're here and they're there." Her hands made a few rapid movements. "The only advantage you have now is that they don't know where you are and that makes them move blindly. Once they know where you are, you're done for if you stay in one place."

"I can't argue with that. I have to decide on our next move now and I have absolutely no idea what it will be. We might as well make it a group meeting." He whistled for the others and waited until they had chosen their places. "We saw the kidnappers' tape on last night's news." He kept his eyes on Anna's face as he spoke, but she said nothing. "It contained a message from the Queen."

"How?"

"There was a woman reading a message."

"Not me."

"No, not you."

"But they said she was me?" Anna asked. "What did she say?"

They acquainted her with the rough contents of the speech and she frowned. "Something is not right. But I don't know where the problem is."

"It's a fake," said Raine. "That's what the problem is."


The men of Unit 14 co-operated with the swiftness and order of a well-trained team. Within five minutes of their arrival at the address they had received, they were inside and had to establish that the house was deserted.


"Umm..." said Seton when he passed Anna in the hall. "There is one thing you and I should discuss. How much do you value the monarchy? How badly do you want to retain your position? Because I think it needs a different approach if we all want to hang on to our jobs. The choice is between defend and attack. For ourselves, we chose attack, because we are not dependent on our jobs. But you... -- I thought it was better to ask you than to let me decide. I'm no passionate monarchist. I'm not even a monarchist at all."

Anna breathed in and out. "Oh."

"Do you hate me now?"

"No. Do you hate me?"

"Why should I? I didn't say I was an anti-monarchist. I'm somewhere in the indifferent middle."

It was a little disappointing that he did not have the same opinion she did. Any rational being should think like she did. "Well, I'm not," she said defiantly. She was not at all indifferent towards the monarchy.

"Yes. That's what I assumed." He shrugged and went into the bathroom.

"I didn't even give you an answer, you fool!" she spat after him, frustrated that he should have assumed wrongly and misunderstood her. "Why do people always assume they know what my opinion is?" Anna glared at the surprised Hegge, who was just coming out of the living room.

"What is wrong?" he asked.

"Argh! I don't like assumptions! Don't assume -- ask!"

"What?"

"Go away!" She went into her room and slammed the door.

Hegge was baffled. He turned to Gris, who had come to see what the commotion was about. "She's upset."

"With you?"

"No, not with me. With Seton, I guess. I have nothing to do with it." He knocked on the bathroom door. "Yo!"

Seton opened it and peered around the door. "What do you want? I'm about to take a shower."

"What did you say to her?"

"Nothing."

"She's angry now."

"Tell me why I should care."

"She called you a fool."

"Oh really? I didn't hear that," said Seton, wrapping a towel around his waist and opening the door farther. "Why?"

"I don't know. I missed that part of your argument," said Hegge regretfully. "What were you talking about?"

"We have some irreconcilable differences," Seton said curtly and closed the door on Hegge. He assumed that his indifference to the monarchy did not go down well with Anna and told the shower head exactly what he thought of that. Although he did not see why he should care that an unworldly, arrogant twit held a different opinion from himself. She had not really been unworldly or arrogant yet, up to now, but perhaps that had been a coincidence.

"Oh boy," said Gris to Hegge. He was the quiet one and never said much, but that did not mean he did not see everything that happened and he had observed that some people had shown some very interesting behaviour.

"Anna?" Hegge knocked on her door.

"Go away."

"But I'm not Seton!"

Anna opened the door. "Well, sorry! But I'm not in the mood to be friendly! Forgive me. I can see that you think I'm being unreasonable and you're probably right, but I love being unreasonable! I'm just upset!"

"Ahh," said Hegge. "Let me guess. The reason is about 1.95m and he wears a towel around his waist?"

"Huh?" Anna stared at him. "A towel around his waist?" Seton had been fully dressed, but he was about 1.95, so she assumed Hegge was talking about him.

"Oh G-G-G..." said Hegge in horror. "I apologise for his behaviour, Madam -- er, Anna."

And now someone else was assuming things as well as calling her Madam again! It was utterly vexing. "He did not do anything wrong! Argh!" Anna cried and slammed the door once more. She knew she was being totally unreasonable, but she really needed it.

Hegge and Gris shrugged helplessly. "Women are strange," Hegge remarked.


"There is nobody here," the leader of Unit 14 reported.

"Nobody?" T asked if he did not know that he had knowingly sent them to the wrong place.

"No, sir."

"Find them. Get on their trail."

"Yes, sir."

He would let them wander a bit for another little while before he would give them the correct address. There were other things that had to be handled first, such as the government's reaction to the kidnappers' demands.


Seton walked into the living room after his shower. "What was that noise all about?" he asked. "Has Madam High and Mighty recovered from her indignation yet?"

"She is completely irrational. While I have always been told women would become irrational creatures if they saw you in a half-undressed state," said Hegge. "I always assumed that it would originate in fancy and not in indignation."

Raine nodded as if he had tales of that as well and Seton stared at them uncomprehendingly. "I beg your pardon?"

"She is not approachable," said Gris. "Completely unreasonable."

"Why are you talking about me in a half-undressed state?"

"Well, weren't you just wearing a towel?" Hegge asked. "We all agreed that you shouldn't have appeared in front of our sovereign like that, even if --"

"No!" Seton exclaimed. "I talked to her and then I went into the bathroom to change."

"Then it was something you said. And it must have been pretty bad. Why else would she react so strongly? She's such a..." Hegge wondered if he would be allowed to say it. "...dear."

"She's upset that I said that I'm not a loyal supporter of the monarchy," Seton said coolly.

Hegge and Raine considered that thought in silence.

"Bull!" said Gris with conviction. He did not believe that for a second.

"Bull?" the other three asked in surprise.

"Yeah. That's not it."

"Well, you wouldn't be able to imagine her being upset, since you've all been Madamming her properly, and she's always been nice to you for that," said Seton, unconvinced. "Look, I don't know what is going on. I asked her if she hated me because of my opinion and she said no."

"Oh well," said Raine optimistically. "Women always change their minds very quickly. It'll pass."


The Prime Minister had been in a long meeting with the rest of the Cabinet, discussing the kidnappers' demands, and he had already given a press conference this morning. The government would not bow to the demands.


"Ridiculous," said a female journalist. "Absolutely ridiculous. Do they think it's cool to be so unyielding? This is not the right time to be heroic."

"Well, they can't say they'll pay up right away," said a male colleague and friend she was having a drink with after the press conference. "That would be a sign of weakness."

"It doesn't make any sense, Michael," his friend shook her head.

 

Chapter 5

After an hour Anna's feelings of anger and frustration abated, or rather they were channeled into a different kind of energy. "I don't like being used," she said vehemently to the ceiling. "Don't mess with me or I'll...I'll..." She was a little ashamed that she had taken it out on them, when she was really only upset with whoever was behind this. I feel like a roaring mouse. Who is going to take me seriously? I have no strength, no bite. I'm just a push-over. She was determined to be less of a push-over and to have more fighting spirit.

With renewed courage she got off her bed and walked to the living room, where the men were all sitting. All this passivity was not going to get them out of this situation, Anna realised, but she refrained from commenting, because she did not know if they perhaps waited for something. They looked at her warily. What? Oh, yes. I was a bit catty earlier on. She decided to ignore that episode. If there was anything she disliked, it was explaining things she could not explain.

Seton sat scribbling something on his notepad. He had looked up when she had entered, but he had quickly concentrated on his notes again. They had the right to watch day-time television, of course, since there was not much else to do, but he was not sure if it would be of any assistance whatsoever. But in any case it was a whole lot better than having the three -- or four, as he did not know about Anna -- interfering with his thinking. He glanced at Anna. She looked different. Before, she had been scared and she would have cringed if anyone had attacked her, just like she had not made any attempts to defend herself when he had thrown her over his shoulder. He had not realised it at the time, because he had not expected her to defend herself, but it struck him now. Right now, however, she looked as if she would hit back, and not just a little. But he needed to ask her a few things about the day before, even if she appeared to be in the mood to be contrary. "Anna?"

"Yes?"

"Could you come here for a second?"

Anna rose reluctantly and walked towards him. She wondered what he needed her for. If he wanted her to explain herself, he could forget it.

"You had better sit down. This might take a while."

She took a seat and waited patiently.

"I was trying to see if there were any things I had overlooked and I so I put everything down on paper, but there are certain things that I do not know and which are important. You should know them. Read this." He handed her the sheet he had been writing on.

If q's appointments were cancelled, who did it? What were they? Who would give T orders to plan exercise? Who is informing the media? Could T trace our bank card and cell phone usage without raising suspicion? Has T tried to contact us since yesterday?

"Am I that small q?" Anna asked.

"I'll make you a big Q," Seton sighed in annoyance and altered it on the paper. He did not see why it should matter, a capital or no capital. "I'd like to know if you had any more appointments yesterday. If this had really been an exercise, you ought not to have had any appointments, or maybe just in the evening."

"I had the brunch from ten to eleven or twelve and at one o'clock I was to meet the PM. Then between tea and dinner I usually don't have any appointments. I was to have dinner with my cousins."

Seton tapped his fingers on the table as he thought. "Was that an oversight on T's part? Or on the part of whoever planned the exercise? Or wasn't it an exercise? Would the PM have been notified about your disappearance before he was supposed to see you? There were four hours between your abduction and your appointment."

"I suppose so. It is an event of national importance, it seems."

"Raine? Can you find in any of those newspapers you've got there at what time the abduction was discovered? I skipped over that part."

"Shortly after nine," Raine read out. "A special security team discovered blah blah."

"Shortly after nine?" Seton asked incredulously. "They missed us by minutes or even seconds? And what was a special security team doing there so early?"

"Cleaning up after us?" Raine suggested. "Something had to be done about those bodyguards and the chauffeur."

"Alright, I think we can safely assume that this special security team was not an accident. They were sent there on purpose. Now onto the brunch. I don't recall the papers specifying anything about the brunch. We were told that you would arrive behind the community centre at nine, as if you had an appointment. What sort of brunch was it?"

"Ahh..." Anna shrugged. "Women in politics or something."

He wondered if she was always so interested in her engagements. "Is there any mention of anyone who attended that brunch? It might even have been cancelled."

"It says here that it was cancelled. Apparently someone called everybody to say that they didn't have to come. You were apparently so early that they hadn't even begun setting the table yet," Raine said to Anna. "Some journalist peered in through the windows."

"Who called the guests?" Seton asked. "Someone with a guest list? The person who cancelled everybody must have been in the building to have known anything and yet when we got there, we did a thorough check of the surroundings. Nobody arrived between eight and nine, and nobody was there before eight unless he had arrived on foot and kept himself hidden. We peered through the windows as well."

"Are you suggesting there was no brunch?" Anna leant forward with huge eyes. "Are you saying I was being driven there with the sole purpose of being thrown into a van?"

"Yes. It would seem that way."

"But...doesn't that imply that my personal secretary..." her voice faded. "What kind of conspiracy is this? How could your superior have power over my secretary?"

"I don't know. What kind of person is he or she? T could have told some convincing tale, promising a better job..."

Anna sighed. "I don't know if she would fall for that, but I suppose it's possible. But I honestly can't believe that she would know what was going to happen. She would not have co-operated."

"Here's the film again, Anna," Hegge interrupted when the news came on and Anna turned her attention to the television.

She watched attentively and clenched her fists in anger. "What a blurry film! It could be anyone. What a monstrosity of a speech! How could anyone take that seriously? Would people really think I'd speak like that? Symbol of our nation? I'd never call myself that. They're using me for something and I don't like it at all." She looked a little frightened as she thought of something. "How could they do this? Are they counting on me to keep quiet about this afterwards? How can they be sure I won't say that it wasn't me? Either they think that I'll be willing to keep quiet for appearances' sake, or they think I'll be too dead to reveal anything."

A silence followed her words.

"Tell me it isn't so," she begged.

"We don't know," said Seton quietly. "But...somehow I don't think it's their intention to kill you. They could have ordered us to do that right away. Also, there was no need to keep you alive to make a film of you, because they faked the film and didn't need you for that. It seems as if they do plan to return you safely."

"They're using me."

"Yes."

"What for?"

"We'll find out," Hegge said confidently. "We always bring our jobs to a good end."

She bit her lip. "Attack, right?"

Seton studied her carefully. "Have you changed your mind?"

"No, I've not changed my mind." At first she had cared more about surviving than about her position, but now she realised that she could use her position to apply pressure. It was not unthinkable that people would be susceptible to it. "But I suggest we fight them with their own weapons."

"How?" he inquired.

"What would happen if I sent a note to T? Am I correct in thinking that he wouldn't advertise the fact? I could threaten him. You know, threatening to surface in a neighbouring country and then deny all knowledge of being kidnapped and leave him with a mess. Why didn't it occur to me to go abroad in the first place?" she wondered.

"Great," said Hegge enthusiastically. "I say go for it."

"Wait," said Seton cautiously. "How would you explain getting there?"

"Uhh...I don't know. The kidnappers would have released me?"

"But you just said you'd deny all knowledge of being kidnapped."

"She could say that the kidnapping was being claimed by another group who wanted attention," Hegge suggested. "It happens with bombings."

"But they haven't revealed their name so far," said Seton. "It would make no sense."

"Could I say I escaped?"

"Then you'd have to tell them where you were being held and how you escaped and so on. Look," he said when he saw her face. "I'm not out to reject all your suggestions, but I don't see how they could work."

"Then what can I do?"

"I'm not saying you cannot do all that, but I'm only saying you'd have to prepare yourself for some difficult questions if you do. You're more than welcome to walk out the door to turn yourself in at the nearest police station."

Anna studied her fingers and thought of what would happen if she did. "I would be taken back home...there would be a great fuss...I'd have to tell everyone what happened -- are you sure I would be taken home?"

"Yes. They can't all be in on it."

"It seems so easy. Why didn't I go right away?"

"Because you were afraid of what might happen to you," Seton reminded her. He wondered how she felt about it now. If she was genuinely devoted, she would want to leave as soon as possible, and she had said she had not changed her mind about her feelings towards the monarchy.

"Oh, right..." She thought about going home. "I still am. It seems like a leap in the dark when I don't know what is going on. I'd never be able to go anywhere again without being scared... Every time I should get out of a car..." She lifted her hand and glanced at them in turn. "What will you do if I leave you?"

"We resign," said Gris bravely, although he was not certain that they would get the opportunity.

"Eventually," Seton agreed. "We might want to get this sorted out first, although I have the feeling that that won't be appreciated."

"This person T knows who you are," Anna said quietly. "Will he do something with the knowledge?"

"I don't know. The way things stand, we are in the wrong. It was we who disobeyed our orders. Unless we get to the bottom of that tape business, we have no way of proving that our hunch was correct," Seton said in resignation. "We have appearances against us. In this profession you don't receive written orders, so no matter how hard we'd cry that we were instructed to kidnap you, T could always deny it and say we did it of our own accord. Come to think of it, he could probably deny that we worked for him as well."

"What a rotten job," Anna remarked.

"It's alright, unless you've got rotten superiors. We've got to nail T and his companions."

"He's got companions?" Hegge asked.

"Undoubtedly. I can't see what he stands to gain from it all."

"Well, the kidnappers asked for money," said Anna.

"Which he as an individual would not be able to spend without raising suspicion. And releasing terrorists would only make life harder for him professionally. Unless he feels we don't have enough to do?"

Again they were silent. "What will you do?" Hegge asked Anna after a few minutes. "Will you go?"

"No," she answered in a steady voice.

 

© 1999, 2000 Copyright held by the author.

 

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