Gauging the adversary
After Charles-Louis' small party, John invited Anna to his flat for dinner. He looked into his refrigerator, which was understandably empty after a few days away. There was nothing in there to impress a woman with. The instant pasta in his cupboards was not really an option either. He would have to buy something. "Will you stay all weekend?" he asked, as casually as possible. He would have to buy more if she stayed. He would love that. And she seemed to have taken enough clothes to stay for a month, so it could not be all for one night.
"Would you mind?" Anna tried to be just as casual, instead of saying that she would love to.
"Would I ask if I minded?"
"I took enough clothes..."
He smiled and took her to the supermarket. "You cook and I pay," was Anna's idea of arranging things.
"But I need soap as well," he protested.
"Don't be absurd." How much extra could soap be? Did he not know she had money?
"But I really need it."
"And I can really pay for it."
"And you're my guest," John ended the discussion. His guests should not have to pay for their own dinner. He was far from being a pauper, though compared to the richest woman in the country he certainly did not have much.
It was dark already and they were not recognised. There were so many others like them, shopping for intimate dinners on Friday night and the staff would perhaps sooner recognise the King of Morocco, judging by their name-tags. They only people who knew they were here were the security men outside in their car. John had not really known what to do with them. He only had one room and he was not prepared to have them join him and Anna in it. Anna was surprisingly cold about the security men, saying that she had not asked for protection and if they froze in their car it was their own fault, but she was afraid that he would ask them up. She would rather not have them sleep on the couch either, because the couch was only a few metres away from the bed.
John finally understood why Anna had insisted that he buy tea lights when she put them in coloured glasses. "Not that you'd notice, but I like it," she said, arranging them throughout the room as he was busy frying something.
"I'd notice that we were in the dark. I'm glad that's diverting the attention from the food. I can't cook very well."
"I can't cook at all. It need only be edible. I'm here for you, not for the food," Anna reassured him, causing a lengthy delay in the preparations to prove her point.
"Where are we going to live?" Anna asked not long after they had begun dinner. "Or aren't we going to live anywhere?" They had to talk about it some time and she felt enough at home here to bring it up. She was not going to spoil the evening by talking about having the ex-PM killed, although they had to talk about that some time as well.
"You're still bound to the Palace."
"But you can't live there."
"Why not?" Did she not want him to? He was a little anxious. Perhaps it would be forbidden.
"Because it clashes with your personality."
John looked surprised and frowned. It was an odd way of putting it, but she might well be right. "I guess so. What if you weren't bound?" Would she come to live here?
"I could move in with you. If you liked." Anna looked at him hesitantly. "Maybe it's too soon, though." Perhaps they would start fighting over futilities.
"Too much of you at once, you mean?" he smiled. "You're not that bad. I think I'd survive not being able to get away from you except by locking myself into the bathroom. Am I too much for you?" There was a little anxiety in his voice. Perhaps she needed more time alone.
"No, but..." Anna got a piece of paper and a pen.
"Do you think we could manage this arrangement?" she asked, pushing the paper towards him. "Sunday, Monday and Tuesday alone?"
John looked at it and swallowed. He thought so. "Yes."
"We'd only be away from our homes for two nights."
"This is not forever, is it?" Did she not want to see him every day at the moment or was it simply not convenient or possible? Would it ever become more possible?
"You may increase the number of A's in your column."
But it would be more difficult to increase the number of J's in hers, he understood. He could have known that she could not go and live with somebody. "That would be an excellent thing to say to anyone who asked what I'm doing at the Palace. Increasing my A's." He looked at her with a more serious expression and closed his hand over hers. "What about your nightmares?"
"I don't have them at home."
That was good then. "What if I miss you terribly on Monday night?"
"Do we have to make an extra column for those three days?" Anna teased. "Sunday on neutral ground, Monday you, Tuesday me."
"Sunday me, Monday neutral, Tuesday you," John suggested. "It works out better with the rest of the days."
"I wonder how long we can keep this up," Anna said. She might be missing him terribly on Monday night. Their schedule might only work one week, maybe not even that.
"Until you quit. If you're going to." He was not as certain about that as he had been before. She kept changing her mind and putting it off.
"I am. Hmm. I think we should plan the wedding on the same day or a day later, so nobody will expect it."
That was a relief. So she was definitely going to abdicate. He smiled. "In three weeks."
"Or in three days -- the expensive way."
"That can't be stopping you."
Anna got her diary and looked over her engagements. "I don't want to hurry the ceremony because I'm due at something. Besides, I need a few days to find a dress." That meant it could not possibly take place in three days from now. Between now and the wedding there would have to be at least three free shopping days, so no Sundays, but most of her days were filled by at least one engagement.
"A few days? I'd get married to a woman in a tracksuit, no problem. You don't need a dress."
"I want a dress and I don't like shopping." And she wanted him in a nice suit if she was in a dress.
"How about a mail order catalogue or through the internet?" John suggested.
"Oh, good!" Anna brightened up. "And nobody could see what I ordered. I suppose they put it in a box."
"Well, only those who wrap it would see it. But send it to me. That's less conspicuous."
After eating, John checked the internet and they found a site they could order from. "I like this. No other people. Just you and me," Anna purred, sitting in his lap.
"Mmm," he kissed her neck. "But you can't try anything on. Do you know your size?"
"Yes, but it says you can send it back if it doesn't fit." Anna saw a dress she liked and John liked it as well, so they filled in the online order form. "What's your address? I don't even know what address I'm at," she giggled.
"Do you know my name?" John asked, just in case.
"I could always call you darling if I forget." She copied his address into her diary while he typed it. "It's good to have it so I can order baby books. It's a bit awkward to go to a bookshop."
"Books for me?" he frowned.
"Or me. But your address is more convenient." Anna thought for a while. "I need a book. The difference between making a baby and raising a baby is that you have a mouth and a baby does not."
"You mean that I can talk and a baby cannot," John said in amusement. "Because I think that babies do have mouths."
"I believe you're right. I'm seeing a very nice comparison in my head, but I can't seem to voice it well," she sighed. "You know what I mean. About seriousness and feedback."
"Yes, I know what you mean."
"But I've got to see a doctor first," Anna returned her attention to her diary. "To see if everything's alright."
"That doctor will be surprised."
"Medical secret. Do you think I'd have to go through my normal doctor? I'll ask my mother. I can go next Tuesday. I have a thing on Monday and it's pretty far away. What are you doing next week?"
"Practise. Talk to people."
"Sponsors. Bank. Press. Lawyer. Family." Five hours on court were beginning to take their toll and John could only manage short replies. He stood up and dropped onto his bed.
Somewhere close to eight, much too early, they were woken by loud thumping on the door. John opened one eye to glance at the alarm clock, but it was on the floor on Anna's side of the bed. He contemplated hanging upside down on his side to look under the bed to the other side or perhaps crush Anna and hang over her, but in both instances he would wake up so he decided against it. He tried to ignore the thumping, but it would not stop. He opened both eyes this time and muttered something not very nice, wondering what had happened to his clothes. It was still dark and he did not see them. He could not walk to the door without clothes and he could not take the bedclothes, because then Anna would freeze and she was still asleep, so he could not shout either. He sank back into his pillow and hoped the visitor would go away. It was probably one of his brothers.
The door needed to be opened with a key from the outside and suddenly a key was turned in the lock. Patrick peered in, but he saw nothing in the darkness. He turned on the light. "Ahh, you're there! Why didn't you open the door?"
"Because I'm not wearing anything."
"As if I care."
"As if I knew it was you. What do you want?"
"Eight o'clock on a Saturday. Yes, what could I possibly want? You've probably got Anna there, somewhere --" Patrick saw that the shape under the covers was unusually bulky.
"Yes," Anna called from somewhere under the covers. She had attempted to look out, but the air was cold on her face and she preferred to keep her cheek against John's chest. That was much warmer. He touched her with a cold hand when he heard she was awake and she gave a little yelp.
"-- But you had a prior engagement with me and James."
"Yes. Oh. What did you say?" John peered under the covers.
Anna shrieked. "That's cold." She pulled the covers down. "Don't you have any heating?"
"Patrick's my maid. He's come to turn on the heating." He got out of bed and pulled some clean clothes from his cupboard. "I'll be right down," he said to Patrick and then disappeared into the bathroom.
Anna showed her face. "Where are you taking him?"
"Across the street. We've got a court from eight till twelve."
"And me?" she inquired.
"Well, I didn't know you'd be here. I don't know."
For someone who earned his bread by physical exertion it was vital to keep exercising even during the weekend. Anna understood perfectly. She would just have to amuse herself for four hours and she would go home for a swim. There was not much she could do here all by herself. "Could you hand me John's bathrobe or something?" she asked. "Or you could wait downstairs."
"I'll wait downstairs." Patrick closed the door behind him and Anna got out of bed, tiptoeing across the cold floor and gathering everything that was on it up into her arms. She would sort that out later and she dropped it on the bathroom floor, shivering.
John stepped out from under the shower and pushed her under it. "We're so efficient," he grinned.
Anna went to the stadium just after twelve and looked around herself. She was not really dressed to be seen, because instead of her blouse she was wearing one of John's sweaters that was far too big and nearly hid her skirt. Her long woollen coat was unbuttoned, to make it worse. Some of the people sitting in the restaurant were studying her. They must have recognised her or perhaps they were looking at her sweater. She fixed her eyes on John who was ordering something and followed him with her eyes all the way from the buffet to a table. He was just very attractive to watch -- his clothes looked good on him, his head looked good on him, his hair was nice, he moved well, he carried the tray well. Anna sighed and walked towards him. She was a lovesick idiot. "Who are you meeting?" she asked timidly when she noticed he had two cups and two sandwiches.
"You," he smiled.
She sat down opposite him.
"What did you do?" he asked. He hoped that she had amused herself. It had not been very nice of him to leave her, but he did not know if he should cancel his own appointments to suit hers.
"I went swimming."
"For four hours?" he asked incredulously.
"No, for three. I had to drive home and back." She knew he was meeting someone here at 12:15. "Who are you meeting?"
"Someone who wants to sponsor me. It's good that you're here. You can tell him how far I can go."
"Sponsoring is post-constitutional." She did not want to tell him what to do. What did she know about it?
John looked puzzled. "Meaning?"
"That there's no precedent. I don't see why you couldn't be sponsored with the right contract. As long as it doesn't involve me." Anna grimaced questioningly, to signify that she really had no idea. "Parliament is responsible for me, but as long as I don't openly support a commercial brand, I don't suppose they care what you do."
"Oh. Why did you go swimming for three hours?" It was a wonder that she did not look shrivelled. She merely looked tired.
"Why do you play tennis for four?" Anna shrugged.
"I think it becomes painfully clear that I don't have much of a life anymore now that I quit my part-time job," he said wryly. "Except tennis. Are you upset about that?" He took hold of her hand across the table. It did not feel shrivelled. It felt cold and he rubbed it.
"No. It's work for you, isn't it? I've left you alone because I had to do some work, haven't I? I accept things the way they come." She took his other hand and shook her head with a small smile. He had enough time for her.
"I should think of something, but I don't know what I want to do."
Anna walked around the table and pressed his head against her chest when she heard his dejected tone. "Don't say that," she whispered in an uncertain voice. Her existence was unsteady in itself without him saying such things. They could not both be insecure. "You're the one who's supposed to know." If she comforted him, he would regain his composure, she hoped. "Because if you don't know, then who does?"
He said nothing. It was turning more difficult than he had assumed to blend two lives smoothly into one. They did not start from scratch. He could not avoid hurting her by having previously made appointments. And he really did not know what to do. He had to think of her now, too, although he did not want to owe any job to her position.
"You'll think of something," she reassured him. "Should we be defeated by something as simple as life?" She gave his back a last rub. "Our coffee is getting cold. I'd think it very strange if you didn't have other things to do. You'd be a social disaster like me."
"Anna..." he looked up. "I am."
"Oh, last night -- have you got any idea how torturing that was for me?" she asked with a twinkling of her eyes. He had suddenly thrown himself on his bed and lain there and she had not known if she should join him or if he was sleepy. It had been torture last night, but now their lack of confidence was amusing to her.
"Less so for you than for me, apparently," John said stiffly. She had not given any indication of not knowing what to do. She had calmly gone about brushing her teeth as if she knew exactly what to do. But she had not known, evidently. He had not meant to torture her and he winced. But did she think he had not felt extremely uncomfortable himself?
Anna smiled sweetly. "You could have opened your mouth." She knew how difficult that was for herself, but he should have less trouble with that than she. She would not have bitten him.
"Why not?" He could not be just like her.
"I just couldn't."
"Instead you waited for me to take the initiative." Anna looked at him. He was looking very uncomfortable again. She had thought he was exhausted last night, but when she had given him a goodnight kiss that was a bit too warm he had seemed to revive miraculously. "Just like you waited for me to take the initiative in just about everything," she realised and laughed incredulously. "Me!"
"Doesn't it give you more confidence?" he asked, trying to see a positive thing in it.
It was sweet of him to think that and she brushed his hair back from his face. It curled slightly at the ends. She liked that and she liked its colour -- brown with no grey hairs yet. Some people did, at his age. Or her age, for that matter. "I don't think that was your intention. Was it?" Because if he had the insight for that, he would have known he was torturing her.
"Do you have this with women in general or just with queens?" Anna asked. It could make a difference, even though he seemed not too impressed by her title. Maybe subconsciously. She would understand, but she would tell him it was completely unnecessary. "Not that I really want to know about other women," she said hastily.
John's eyes began to twinkle and his mouth twisted in a self-deprecating smile. "Actually, I have it less with queens."
"Which of my colleagues have you had?" Anna asked suspiciously, but she rejoiced at his words and the thought that she was special. "They're all old and married!"
He laughed. "Don't worry, darling. None. But I suppose I'm just shy. Sorry. It's just less with you, because you're shy yourself. You're not likely to get annoyed or think I'm unfeeling, because you can understand."
Anna thought it was wonderful, although she had never really noticed that he was. But it explained some of his graceless remarks and why he had been patient with her shyness. Did he mean other people got annoyed with him then? "And your previous girlfriends weren't?"
Anna was still standing beside John's chair with her hands on his shoulders and his arm around her waist when she noticed that most of the people sitting in the restaurant were very interested in what transpired between them. Perhaps it was true that she had not moved for a little while, because she had been imagining what kind of girlfriends John would have had. Very bold girls, obviously, and probably after him for his money. Perhaps they had been female versions of the Casanovas that had managed to kiss her a few times.
"Don't mind them," said John, when he noticed that she was looking back at the other people. He knew all of them at least by sight. They were parents waiting for their children who were taking tennis lessons. "They know me." Sometimes they asked him things or he chatted to them, although he always took care to avoid the most fanatical ones who wished to know if their untalented child was going to make it.
"What from?" she asked stupidly.
"I practically live here," he said in amusement.
"And they know me."
So they should. "That's very likely. Did you think the barman of the VIP lounge didn't tell everyone that you're a nice girl?"
"What did he do?" Anna sounded a little alarmed.
"I don't know what you did, but you made a big impression on him."
"I made a bit of a fool of myself right in front of the bar, don't you remember? I didn't know he would go around telling people."
John gently pulled her head down and kissed her. She should not be worried. He had heard some favourable things. Maybe she should sit down before his appointment showed up. What had she done to him? He could not put his finger on it, but it had helped. He kissed her again -- his initiative, did she notice? "My coffee is getting cold."
Anna smiled. He could do it. Perhaps she just always happened to beat him to it. "My coffee! That's what I said five minutes ago." She sat down again and curled her fingers around the cup. "However, if you're feeling like me, you won't even taste the coffee. Would it seem colder to someone who's blushing?" she asked with perfect seriousness.
He loved it that she could actually wonder about such things. "I don't know. I'll try it," John replied and sipped his coffee. "It's just right. Do I look red?" He certainly felt red.
"Charmingly so." Anna started on her sandwich. She looked surprised when a girl of about ten approached John and the two began whispering, evidently about her.
"Would you write in my book?" the girl asked fearfully after having been assured that Anna was nice.
"May I have a look?" Anna asked. She looked into the book and saw that what she had to answer was nothing bad. It was a sort of book you could let your friends do a page in and then have a reminder of them for the rest of your life. She could do that and all the more so because all Setons had preceded her, along with a few other tennis players and some people she did not know, but who might be well known. Keeping John's page open for reference, she filled in the first of the questions. On the space for her photo, she wrote glue coin here.
Date: 5 Sep 1999
Name: John Seton
Date of Birth: 21 Dec 1965
Place of Birth: at home
Hair: dark blonde
Date: 15 January 2000
Date of Birth: 23 November 1967
Place of Birth: Pius X Hospital
So far, so good. But the next questions were more troublesome. She stopped to think about them for a minute. Which parents should she list? No names. And consequently no names for her sisters either. Should she say she was in love with John? He had put a little dash, but that had been in September. Would he still put a dash now? She would not, she decided. Not after the girl had seen them kiss. She was not a liar. He obviously did not want to give his address or his phone number, but he had no problems with his email address? She had no problems with giving her home address -- they knew it. And the phone number she would give would be the Information Service and not her personal extension, just like her email address was not her primary one.
Parents:Thomas & Rina
Siblings: Patrick & James
Currently in love with: -
Address: Mail: PO Box 1267, c/o J.S.
Currently in love with: John
Address: Royal Palace
Phone: 2501000 (Gov Inf Serv)
While Anna was answering the questions, a man approached John and shook his hand. John introduced her as Anna and he and the man began to talk. She continued writing, although she also tried to follow the conversation.
Class: Ranking: too low
School: Occupation: queen
John seemed to misunderstand deliberately why he would be a good object. Or perhaps he really did not know. "Because you're attractive," Anna said.
"I didn't suddenly become attractive," he protested stubbornly. He disliked commercial talk. But he did not know she had been listening. He had seen her turn pages and write things.
"But nobody knew you," said the sponsor remarked politely. "You've got more exposure now. I understand that your previous clothing sponsor terminated their contract three year ago."
"Yes, they did."
"Why did they?" Anna asked. She did not like people who abandoned John.
"Because I had a five-year contract that ended and I wasn't good enough to continue with -- injured."
"What have you been wearing in the meantime? It must have cost you some money," said the sponsor.
"Three-year old stuff," John shrugged. He was not someone who threw away good clothes after wearing them once. Good clothes lasted a few years. "I have more than enough of it. What will I be required to do in return?"
"Perhaps a commercial or a campaign."
John nearly gagged. "Oh, absolutely not."
Anna chuckled. "Impossible." He would never consent to doing a commercial, unless there was some very good reason.
The sponsor was confused by the contrast between her calm but determined comment and the amused chuckle that had preceded it. She must not have been chuckling at the fact that it would be impossible, but at any rate she would not allow Seton to appear in commercials. Her word was law, he supposed, although he would not have guessed so at first. She was writing in a Friendship Booklet, he noticed. "Is that forbidden?" he asked.
"It wouldn't be appropriate." Appropriateness was vague and undefined, but Anna knew this would definitely be inappropriate. "For my husband."
"I'm sorry," the man looked flustered. "I wasn't aware --"
He was obviously baffled and Anna smiled benignly. She said nothing -- he did not say what he had been aware of either.
"I'm not going to do -- I'll wear the clothes and that's it," said John. "I won't do extra promotion." His breath had caught in his throat when Anna had said husband. She could be a little devil if she was given the opportunity.
They negotiated for another while and when he left, the man promised to send John a draft contract. Anna had experience in reading convoluted texts and she considered offering her assistance in reading the contract, but she did not want to insult John. He was quite capable of reading the small print himself. From the conversation she had gathered that he would not be fooled and he had not needed any advice from his manager. She realised she still had the girl's booklet and she could see the girl and her parents waiting for it. It was best to continue.
Most beautiful man/woman:I don't know. Might as well be patriotic and say the queen
Anna re-read that line a few times with raised eyebrows. She showed it to John and he looked amazed. "I honestly don't recall writing that."
"Did you mean it?"
"No, but I do now," he grinned at her and at the strange coincidence. He had not meant a word of it. He had barely known what she looked like.
Anna continued her work. She decided to tease him a little.
Most beautiful man/woman:Might as well return the favour and say John Seton (though actually it's Patrick)
In 20 years' time I'll be: 53
That was what John had originally written. Anna wondered how they could both be 53 in twenty years' time if they were two years apart in age, until she realised that it mattered when they had written it down. He still had been 33 and she was going to be 33 this year. But he had added something in parentheses.
(in case sweet, lovely, intelligent, honest women exist, I'll have one of those and 4 children if possible)
She wanted to ask if such women existed, but it would be fishing for compliments. What would she be in twenty years? One never knew anything with certainty, but it would be too pessimistic to assume that she would not be the mother of at least one child.
In 20 years' time I'll be:a tennis mum, I'm afraid
It had to be, with John's pram tennis set. And one of the four he wanted had to turn out a tennis player. It would be too hard on him if they did not.
"We got an invitation," John told her when she closed the book. He pulled the book towards him and gave her an envelope with her full address on it. She looked into it while he went over her answers. He wished he had not, because he had only just got rid of that dratted hot feeling on his cheeks and now it returned again in full force. He returned the book to the girl and then sat back down, wondering how it would come across that he had given back the book when some of Anna's answers had concerned him. Hopefully they would not think it strange. The girl had looked thrilled and he was appalled that he had not been able to come up with her name instantly, but only after checking it on the first page of the book.
"It's just for me," Anna said about the invitation.
"I got one too," he showed her. "Separately. Sunday night. I don't know any of these people or organisations. What do they want with us?" He was very suspicious of such an invitation. It was their name they wanted, not their personalities.
"See if we're together?" she guessed. "Why don't they just ask?" She looked a little angry. "Instead of inviting us as the main attraction to their party."
He was glad she saw it too. "I hate parties."
"Me too. So we don't go?"
"Or we could go and be annoyingly antisocial. Nobody's ever going to invite us after that," Anna suggested excitedly. "I can fake antisocial behaviour fabulously and there will be two of us, so it'll be much easier."
Eliane thought weekends tedious and they had only become more tedious of late. Her daughters were all out -- Alexandra had been granted permission for once -- and in her boredom she had gone swimming, where surprisingly enough she had encountered Anna, but she did not swim as often as her daughter and she was now stretched out on her bed feeling extremely fatigued. Eduard was playing golf, but she would not have been a lively companion now anyway. It was actually not a bad thing that everyone was away. She could now reflect upon what had happened and what was going to happen.
She was most definitely in love. One of these days this would leak out to the Council of the Witches and there would be an uproar. However, two of the Witches were Eduard's sisters. It was unclear what their reaction would be. Marie-Celeste did not know yet and Alexandra had questioned her, very guardedly, which she had not understood until Anna had told her that Alex had grilled her quite frankly about subjects that did not concern her. Alex must have felt that she had put a foot wrong. But Alex had been mainly concerned with the fear that she would have a stepfather to monitor her as well, feeling that she had three mothers already, not to mention the Witches. Eliane did not know about that. Eduard was used to living alone. He would perhaps prefer to continue that, although it would be dreadfully lonely to grow old alone. She at least had the entire Palace to keep her company superficially. Maybe she could copy Anna's arrangement, though she seriously wondered how long Anna and John could keep it up. She foresaw the same kind of problems next week, but then for Marie-Celeste. Patrick was going to South America next week and he would stay away an entire month and a half. She wished Marie-Celeste would miss him -- Patrick was a darling -- but she had already announced that she would not.
"That woman I saw you with," began the Mayor as he walked over the golf course with Eduard. They always played together on Saturdays.
"You didn't see me with a woman."
His companion did not understand why Eduard could not own up to it. It was as if he desperately tried to preserve a status of celibacy, ashamed of every time he failed. The Mayor wondered why he so decidedly denied having been with a woman. He had dismissed conversations about his occasional friends in the past as if they meant nothing to him, the last time of which was several years ago already, but he had never denied it like this. No, it was not even a denial. It was a downright prohibition to mention the woman. He did not accept such nonsense from a friend. "I just wanted to know if it was the Queen." In fact, he was pretty sure that the Queen was involved, because he had seen a car with Royal number plates drive through the village later that day, with two women in it. She had not necessarily been the lady at the baker's, because that one had been older, although he had never seen the Queen up close. Perhaps she looked older than her years and she used lots of make-up in public.
Eduard did not reply.
"What else would the Queen have been doing here? Because I saw her. She had to have been with you. You're part of the family." He gave Eduard the opportunity to say it had merely been a family visit. It puzzled him, though, because he had always thought Eduard was a little fond of Queen Anna and yet the woman he had been with had seemed a little too old to be the Queen. "And you're always talking about Anna."
Eudard looked alarmed. Was he always talking about Anna? He was not aware of that. "Really?"
"One would almost think you were fond of her. I don't blame you, but I'd have thought she looked younger."
"Marc!" He was appalled at being suspected of having warm feelings for his own daughter and yet he could not blame Marc, because he did not know.
"I knew that would get you."
"It wasn't Anna and what do you mean I'm always talking about her?"
"Well, you try not to, obviously, but you've reached a point where your friends are anxious to hear about women in your life and the one you happen to mention most is the one you work for. I know a good working relationship is vital, but...well, and you had two women over on Thursday morning, didn't you?"
"Maybe." Eduard wondered how he knew.
"The stunner at the baker's was not Anna, you say. It was another of your female relatives who looks like her," the Mayor guessed.
"Why are you interested?" Eduard asked suspiciously. Marc was married. He had no business calling Eliane a stunner.
"I wouldn't be interested if I regularly saw you with women who weren't queens."
"Queens are ordinary women. I descend from the same forefathers. Would you say I'm an ordinary man?"
"Well..." the Mayor teased. "But seriously, did you switch your preference from Anna to another woman? And why would you have both of them over for breakfast?"
Eduard was a little shocked by this train of thought. "Anna is...like a daughter to me."
"Oh," said his friend, pondering that thought. "Good. She's a bit young anyway, isn't she? But she was there, wasn't she? I saw two women in a car."
"And the other was that more mature woman you were at the baker's with?" The Mayor remembered mesmerising brown eyes and dark hair, but he also remembered seeing some lines near the eyes.
"Yes, they had breakfast with me as you already concluded."
"Eduard -- don't be so damn evasive. Have you got something to hide? She looked like both the Queen and the Queen Mother, but she was too old to be one and too young to be the other."
"My companion was fifty-three," Eduard said calmly.
The Mayor whistled. "Well-preserved!"
He wished Marc would not see her as an object, although part of him was flattered. "Anna had been staying with me for a few days to hide out and her mother came to collect her. Why didn't you recognise her? She's been the Queen for about fifteen years!"
It looked as if Eliane had done more than just collect her daughter -- odd that she would hide out at Eduard's place -- she had definitely given the impression of being Eduard's new lover, the Mayor thought. This was suspicious. "I didn't expect her and she looks different in person. I don't know -- more smiles? Less severe? Warmer? Don't they have any bodyguards, by the way?"
"You don't always see them." And in this case there had not been any. Eduard looked worried. Was everything about to come to light? He was more concerned about Eliane than about Anna, who could not be blamed for her parents' actions. But Eliane would suffer everyone's disapproval, with her looks especially. It would be so easy to say she tempted men, but she had been a naive twenty-year old who had barely known what a man was. Eliane was good. It had not been her fault. Nor had it been his, he hoped, but it was too easy to find excuses for himself. Again he felt the agonies that had become less, the regrets and the longing that had plagued him over the years. But this time he would not give her up. The family's reputation could be shot to hell, for all he cared. No, that was too crude. He cared about the family, or else he would not have this job. However, he knew where his priorities lay.
The Mayor looked properly shocked when he remembered another thing. He knew the girl at the pharmacy. There was something fishy going on in the Royal Family, what with Eduard receiving covert amorous glances from Eliane and his buying a pregnancy test. No wonder he had been asking questions about marriage procedures. He looked at his friend with respect. Who would have thought it?
Marie-Celeste and her grandmother had been to a brunch, but she had left her grandmother at the house of one of her friends together with a lady in waiting and she had gone to visit Charles-Louis. He appreciated the visit, although he knew that Marie-Celeste was not fond of babies. Wisely he did not ask her if she wanted to hold the baby. There was no need to embarrass her unnecessarily.
"Do you really think Patrick is more attractive?" John asked Anna. They lay on the couch together in their pyjamas, doing nothing. Her answer still bothered him. She probably had been teasing, but he wanted to be sure.
"Don't be silly," she answered lazily. She liked to have done all the necessary things already so they had the rest of the afternoon, evening and night to do whatever they liked. Perhaps she would get sick of him by seven tonight, but somehow she did not think so. And she did not think Patrick more attractive.
"But what if you had met him first. Would you have liked him better?"
"I told you not to be silly. He's not you." Anna wriggled herself in such a position as to command his full attention. "I told the Minister that I wouldn't mind if someone eliminated Keller."
His hand slid off her back in amazement. "You said that?"
"I would mind if you did it, so don't. I was just worried what he might do to our baby."
John frowned. He replaced his hand as if to protect her. "Are you afraid he'll do something?" He had not considered that yet.
"He's crazy. I don't want to take the risk."
Neither would he, actually, and his frown deepened. What could he do? Anna did not want him to be involved personally. Even if she had not said it, he would have known that. "I'll give Malling a ring."
"The Minister said she'd do that."
"But would she?" He reached for the phone and dialled Malling's number. "It's Seton. Yes, fine. No, I had nothing to do with getting her back. About the source of our troubles...umm...how do I say it? Let's say the target family will be expanding. Expanding. From two to three. Is that clear? Yes. It takes months, but we're worried. I think you should find out where he's gone after all." If he was gone at all, John thought silently. That had not been proved yet. He put down the phone and stared into space.
I think you should find out where he's gone after all.
Seton was such a helpful lad, Malling sighed. He could have got up on his high horse and told Seton that he was in no position to accept orders, but he did not think it would have any effect.
The whole cryptic bit about the expansion could only mean one thing: Anna was pregnant. He had nearly sworn when he had heard that. It was not the most fortunate time to be procreating, especially since it created another target. Nothing had happened since the article, but it was only a matter of time.
Eliane woke up after a short nap and found that a maid was cleaning her sitting room. Alexandra had not returned yet. She was out with the daughters of the Baroness. Eduard appeared miraculously after the maid left and her heart twitched pleasantly. "Did anybody see you?" she asked in concern. For Eduard to be seen entering her rooms on a Saturday when he was not working would raise of lot of questions.
"You can do as you please," he answered, stepping forward. He still could not believe that he was kissing her, the most beautiful woman he knew. "I don't care what they say." That was bold. Perhaps too bold.
Eliane held onto him. She had missed that. "If you say so," she murmured. This felt so right, but why could she not stop worrying?
"Oh! Uhh...Ma..." Marie-Celeste's voice faltered as she stared with large eyes at the more than friendly embrace when she came into the room.
"Cel." Eliane saw her middle daughter was shocked, curious and embarrassed.
"Don't tell me this is not what I think," Marie-Celeste said in shock. She could not be seeing this wrongly.
"This is exactly what you think," Eliane said in a calm voice. She wished she did not always give people the appearance of being calm. Inwardly she was shaking and it took a lot of effort to control her voice.
"My mother!" Marie-Celeste sat down and stood up, to better look her mother in the eyes. "You're fifty-three."
"And not dead." Eliane had moved apart from Eduard and she was facing her daughter.
"Don't go!" Marie-Celeste snapped when Eduard walked towards the door because he thought he had better leave them to their discussion.
"Marie-Celeste!" Eliane snapped back. A fierce argument in French ensued. Eliane even went so far as to raise her voice to inform Marie-Celeste that she decided what happened in her own life and that she did not need her daughter to do that for her.
Eduard stood listening to it all, as much as he could follow of it. Why could women never take the news sensibly? He did feel sorry for Marie-Celeste and he was gracious enough not to take the insults she uttered unwittingly very personally. She had every reason to be shocked and perhaps she would come to regret that she had said that the only positive thing was that at least he came from a good family, as if this was all that mattered.
Marie-Celeste's shock finally subsided and she burst into tears for seeing the family ruining itself and for being the only respectable family member.
Eliane's hands trembled and Eduard steadied them. "Do they all know now?" he asked.
She nodded. "Be glad that you don't have any --" But he did have a child and she broke off.
Marie-Celeste dried her tears after a while. "I won't say any more about it, but why is everyone out to create such scandals?"
"Excuse me, Marie-Celeste. What is so very scandalous about having a mother and a sister who are in love?" Eliane asked coolly. Again she was shaking inwardly. Why could her daughter not accept it and be happy for her? Why was she talking nonsense about scandals? Anna had received a much greater shock and she had been much more flexible about it.
"Mothers are too old for that sort of thing."
Eduard wanted to deny that. Eliane was not too old. But he thought it best not to interfere.
"I was a mother of two at your age," Eliane said. "Doesn't that mean you're past the age yourself?"
Marie-Celeste glared at her. Alright, she did not say very clever things, but there was no need to point that out.
Although Unit 6 only consisted of only three men now, it had to function normally. They were given the task of finding out where Keller had gone to that Wednesday. "Why didn't he order to have this checked on Wednesday instead of now?" Hegge complained while he was checking the passport number of every Keller he encountered on the passenger lists against the passport number the right Keller was supposed to have. "Are we really so inexperienced that we have to do this?" It was a rather mindless job that every new recruit could have pulled off. There was very little thinking required and very few skills. He had thought that they were too good for this kind of work.
Gris grunted. He did not like it very much either. The endless lists were beginning to swim before his eyes.
"There are some flights you don't have to check," said Raine. "Domestic and EU ones." He was tracking down all private flights that had departed that day and their passengers, if possible, and he had to use the phone to call overseas airports in some cases, inventing some official reason and making notes of uncooperative places.
"We'd better check them anyway. You never know." Keller might have taken one of those to fool people and travelled to another continent from there, Hegge thought in resignation.
After spending all Saturday on it, they had not found anything. Numbed by the tediousness of the exercise and eager for input, they decided to pay a visit to their former colleague. To their amazement, they found the way to the door suddenly blocked by two security officers, or two people who looked like them. "I'm afraid you can't ring the bell," said one.
"And why not?" Hegge asked, one hand in his pocket in case they belonged to the wrong side and they were after Seton. He wondered who these two were. "We've got a friend living there."
"That's not my problem."
"What is your problem?"
"Please remove your hand from your pocket, sir," the security officer warned him.
"We're in the majority. Do let us through. What are you doing outside Seton's house anyway? We're not going to like it if you're after him. In fact, you're going to wish you weren't." Hegge kept his hand in his pocket provocatively.
"There are more of us."
"That's what they all say. Tip 33 from the Handbook, isn't it?" They looked military, perhaps belonging to the police. "I'll give you a tip. You ring the bell and tell Seton we're here. Unit 6. He'll know." Hegge took a few steps backwards and crossed his arms. "If you don't, I'll shout and he'll open a window."
Unit 6 sounded pretty official and the two security guards conferred.
"Do you think Anna is here or something?" Raine suggested in a whisper.
"Oooh," Hegge pursed his lips. That would explain why they were not allowed to enter. "Yeah...that might be it. Hey," he called to the two guards who were still conferring. "Are you with Anna?"
They did not flinch. "Who, sir?"
"Our friend's friend, who needs to be protected...is she here? Or were you assigned to guard Seton?" It was possible, now that he was becoming a member of the family, but Hegge hoped for his sake that it was not the case. Seton would hate that with a passion, perhaps an even greater one than the passion he loved Anna with, assuming they were passionately in love, something Hegge was not entirely sure about. However, if she was here they were obviously a little more than sedately in love.
"We can't tell you that." It would be dangerous to inform people who were not aware of her presence yet. Suppose they had something bad in mind.
"Oh God," Hegge groaned. "We need to talk to Seton. Do you want to see my credentials?" He moved his hand to his back trouser pocket. "I have a nice little card that you might be interested in."
One pointed his gun at him unobtrusively. "No wrong moves," he warned.
Hegge extracted a card from his wallet and threw it on the ground before them. He watched as one picked it up and studied it. "Ever seen it before?"
"Yes, sir." The security officer handed it back.
"They have one too," Hegge nodded at Gris and Raine. "And he used to have one too," he nodded at the house. "I shouldn't be too worried about your charge if she's with him. Are we cleared?"
"Thank you." Hegge pocketed his wallet again and he rang the bell when the two men stepped aside. "Remember our faces. I don't want to go through this every time we want to see Seton and he happens to be amusing himself with his lady love." He positioned himself in front of the little eye in the door, so Seton would be able to see who it was from the inside. They heard loud thumping inside. "Good grief. What is he throwing down the stairs?" Hegge wondered. "Oh, himself," he said as John opened the door.
"Pyjamas?" Hegge raised his eyebrows. "Are we allowed in or...?"
"Yes, come in," John opened the door wide. He glanced at the two other men curiously. This was a new shift -- different men from earlier that day. They were looking at him to see if he really knew Hegge, Gris and Raine. He nodded at them and they retired back into invisibility.
"Thank you. You're not going to believe the trouble we got when we tried to ring the bell," Hegge told him as they all climbed the stairs. "One would think you've got the crown jewels here."
"I had to show them my card or they wouldn't let us pass. Isn't that a bit ridiculous? How do they let her walk outside? Do they put her in a bullet-proof glass cage?"
"I think it's because they're outside and they can't see what we're up to in here."
"And you're probably glad that they can't," Hegge chuckled.
Anna looked pleased to see them and she kissed them all. She was in the process of letting something burn quite seriously, judging by the smell. John turned off the gas, inspecting the damage. "Anna is cooking," he clarified.
"Oh dear. Shall we ring for a pizza?" Raine suggested with a grin. "Better not. It wouldn't get past the door. Those guys would fear it was a pizza bomb and they would eat it first to see if it was okay."
Anna looked a little displeased with her effort. She had been doing fine until the bell was rung. After that she had got a little distracted and she had forgotten to pay close attention to the pan. John was frowning at the pan so much that she feared it had become completely inedible. She wondered whom one could ring for a pizza and who came to deliver it. There was no restaurant downstairs, was there?
"Are you all staying for dinner?" John asked, stirring the rice. Only the bottom layer had burnt. "Because then we'd better ring for a pizza after all."
"Well..." said Hegge. He would never turn down a pizza.
"If you don't mind," said Gris. He was hungry, but if they were in pyjamas, they were perhaps planning a quiet evening alone. But then Seton would not have asked them. He would have tried to get rid of them.
"We needed to talk to you anyway," Raine added. It seemed an excellent idea to him.
"Alright. Ring for your own pizzas then," John said. He salvaged the unburned part of the rice and put it into a bowl. The sauce was not ready yet. One could not expect an inexperienced cook to time it so that everything was ready at the same time. He could not even do that himself, but he saw that Anna looked a little out of sorts. "There'll be another time."
She grimaced and feeling a little undressed in her pyjamas, went into the bathroom to put some clothes on.
"What did you want to talk to me about?" John asked, putting some glasses and bottles on the table. They could help themselves.
"We were at the airport trying to track down the PM and we couldn't find where he's gone," Raine reported. Hegge was on the phone, ordering four pizzas.
"I was afraid of that," John remarked. He glanced at the bathroom, but Anna was still inside. "He might not have left." They stared at him. "What if he tried to fool everyone?"
"It would be very easy to find out where Anna is," Gris said slowly. "Those guys out there are not exactly subtle about it. He knows you and he only needs to drive past your house once to see that she's here. Assuming he's after her."
"I don't know if he is."
"He should be arrested. He will be arrested and tried if he's caught. I'd think he'd flee to a country that won't extradite him," said Raine. "There are enough of those. And he's got the money to buy himself a way to safety. He embezzled party funds."
That was news that worried John. He was not aware that Keller could dispose of large sums of money. People with money were dangerous. "Has he got the money to hire thugs?"
"Certainly. Unless he spent it all. It was a fair sum. Millions. I think he's been saving over the years. He was treasurer for a while. Who knows what bribes he got?"
"So he could hire people to..." he grimaced. They could do everything imaginable.
"So far he's been relatively harmless, but he could become a serious threat if he wanted, then." John changed quickly from his pyjamas into trousers and shirt, with Anna looking at him strangely when she reappeared, but she had to stir the sauce. "Did Malling say anything about eliminating him?" John asked, fastening his belt.
"Not to us."
Anna walked over to them and gestured with her wooden spoon. "I don't want John to do it, but I don't mind if you do. I'd even refund the costs." She placed the wooden spoon on the table and shook her head. "Men," she muttered. "Could nobody tell him?"
"Tell who what?" Hegge asked with a puzzled expression.
Anna pulled John's shirt from his trousers. "This!" she said, but none of the men seemed to catch her meaning.
"Sorry," said Hegge. "What's wrong with it? Wrong colour?" It was light blue. That seemed perfectly alright to him, perhaps a little preppy, but then Anna was supposed to like preppy with her background. He would have serious doubts about the future of their relationship if John had worn football shirts and heavy gold necklaces.
She gave him a dismayed look and began to unbutton it.
"Oh, you like the summer look," Hegge realised. "Open shirts. Except that he shouldn't be wearing a T-shirt under it. Unless he doesn't have impressive chest hair."
Anna gave him another dismayed look. "I don't think I want to encounter you in the summer, Hegge. I'll walk right past you and deny that I know you if you go around displaying your impressive chest hair like that. Ick."
"What are you doing then?" John finally opened his mouth. He had no idea. And he wondered how Anna could know if Hegge had impressive chest hair or not. He did not really know that himself and he had known Hegge for longer.
"Putting the right button in the right hole," she said sweetly. "You may tuck it back into your trousers yourself. I have to stir the sauce." She grabbed the spoon and quickly returned to her pan, not wanting to ruin any food she touched. Something had to turn out right, if only for her self-esteem.
"Who cares about buttons?" John sighed, tucking his shirt back in. "If Hegge is not in the habit of stripping for me, then how could he have stripped for you, Anna? I've known him longer."
Hegge was still chuckling over Anna's remark and now he burst out laughing. The others joined him. Seton had been so different before all this had begun. Never before Anna would he have gone shopping hand in hand with a woman he did not know and things had only gone downhill from there, culminating in this.
"Men," Anna said again and turned off the gas. The sauce looked ready and she returned to where they were sitting. They would wait with dinner until the pizzas were there, wherever one could get pizzas from out of the blue. "John..." she paused and thought. "You stripped for me and you knew Hegge for longer. Stop being an idiot."
He supposed she was right and he had been exaggerating a little. He was probably be unreasonably jealous and she probably had not seen Hegge at all. "Alright. What were you saying, my dear, before we got side-tracked?"
"That I don't want you to be involved in any elimination."
"But it's alright if we do it?" Gris asked.
"I won't have to live with your guilt, remorse or regret," Anna answered. "Only you do and only you can decide whether you can live with it. It's selfish of me, undoubtedly, but I do have to -- want to -- live with John. I'm not ordering you. I wouldn't dare. I suggested the possibility to the Vice Prime Minister and she would take it up with Malling. They decide. I don't want anyone to take risks for my sake, but perhaps it's also a national threat." She felt very cold inside. Unfeeling. Ruthless. Cruel. Would she really be able to live with the idea? She did not know. She had been taunted and provoked and one could not undergo that without wanting to react.
John remembered how he had felt when he had held the photographer over the edge of the bridge. He would have dropped Keller. No question about that. He understood Anna's merciless words, even though he had not known that she could be so hard. There was a steely core somewhere, or perhaps a steel shield that she could pull up if her family was in danger. He wondered if she could keep it up. He did not think so. Words and actions were two different things.
"Did he really do something to warrant it?" Gris asked. He did not know if any of them was tough enough to do it if it was not in self-defence.
"Do you want to wait for him to do something that's bad enough to warrant it?" she asked. "I'd rather not. I'm pregnant and I'm ruthless. Pow!"
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