It was a beautifully sunny spring day, the temperature just right for walking, so Paula took the chance to slow down her speed a little as she walked down Park Crescent, sipping her coffee. Lost in her thoughts, she finished the last of her coffee and started thinking about the day ahead as she approached the building that housed the main office of the Secret Intelligence Service. As she entered the lobby, George rose from his customary guard post and nodded to her as he unlocked the door for her.
"Morning, Miss Grey,"
She smiled back. "Good morning. Everything all right?"
"Nice and quiet."
"Just the way you like it."
He smiled and she carried on up the stairs to the office she shared with Tweed and Monica.
Paula shut the office door behind her, placed her bag in her top drawer and slipped into her desk chair. She glanced around the room briefly. Tweed was already in this morning and he was thinking, staring out of the window, his pince-nez sitting unused on his desk at the moment. He looked rather calm so obviously nothing urgent had come in over night. She looked over at Monica's desk. Monica, Tweed's assistant, wasn't there but that was nothing unusual. She looked back at her desk and started quietly with her work, glancing over at Tweed again, knowing it was pointless to interrupt and try to pry anything out of Tweed before he was ready but he usually acknowledged her presence at least. She raised an eyebrow slightly when she saw the bundle of reports sitting on the edge of his desk, angled towards her and half hanging over the edge. Taking that as the hint to read them and gathering that was why he hadn’t said anything to her so far, she leaned across and grabbed them, ignoring his slight smile as she did so.
Opening them, she sifted through them and frowned. This was a complete turn around of positioning. If the intelligence was right, and given it was from one of their more reliable officers, there was no reason to doubt it wasn't, Belarus was the third country in the last seven months to re-evaluate its position on Europe, going so far as to pause the latest free trade treaty. She pulled open her middle desk drawer, going three folders down to the folder on Moldova she had recently started compiling and opened it on her desk.
Four months ago, there had been rumours that the Moldovan government were pausing in their efforts to join the European Union and progress had slowed down. Nothing substantial had been found and they were the sort of efforts any country should take when planning to sign such important treaties. At least, that was how they had seen it at the time. It was definitely time to look further into it.
She didn't have to dig any further in her drawer to find the next folder. It was on the top of the bundle as they were still monitoring all reports from Serbia. There had been no official reports, or particular rumours but progress on Serbia's candidacy to the EU had all but stopped and they were trying to find out more. Just whispers of gossip here and there, nothing concrete though they had someone across there digging for information. She frowned and laid out the pages across her desk. She sat back and looked at the bigger picture.
The timing was too close to be a coincidence but there had been nothing else at all showing up from any of their contacts or own information.
She could feel Tweed's gaze on her and she turned to face him properly.
He leaned back in his chair, put on his pince-nez and looked at her. "The reports only came in this morning."
She looked at him for a minute before nodding acceptance of his answer. "We need to find out what is really happening and if they are connected."
He nodded but stayed silent.
She knew what he was doing so she carried on. "Does the PM know?"
"Howard went to see him this morning. He wants assurances nothing untoward is happening that would destabilise Europe."
Knowing their boss Howard, it was probable he had given them, or at least sounded like he had. "We'll need to go across. When is Bob coming back?" Last she had heard, Bob was in Canada, on the trail of smugglers, using his cover of foreign correspondent to track them down.
"Wednesday at the earliest."
Five days then. "Anyone else?" She didn't have much hope: Butler and Nield were up to something in Norfolk and Marler was gathering information in Belize. Plus, Tweed had started to become hands off lately, preferring to mastermind from his office unless there was something major brewing.
Tweed shook his head. "You'll have to go alone but that will work better for cover anyway."
She took a long look at Tweed, wondering, "How long have you had this planned?" She spoke it out loud.
He looked back down at his paper, smiling slightly, "It only came in this morning."
She managed to avoid shaking her head at him and turned back to the papers to see what else she could glean. She looked up again when Monica bustled into the office a minute later.
Monica placed a bundle down on Paula's desk, "I've started correlating newspaper reports of the time around the decisions or initial hesitations and winnowing down organisations that have an interest in those countries. I should have something for you before you go."
"Thank you, Monica." She glanced across at Tweed who was staring out the window now, then back at Monica. They shared a smile before they turned back to their desks.
She picked up the phone and phoned downstairs to request a new set of documents. That done, she started taking notes of the information she would need to find out, any existing contacts and what they already had again.
Five minutes later, in the midst of looking through the Belarus section files, the basement staff phoned back and she got the name they were setting up for her, Lucy Stevens. Monica swooped in and started making the necessary booking arrangements.
After lunch, the documents arrived and she studied the packet the basement had sent up with them, detailing her cover.
Lucy Stevens, aged thirty five and based in Central London for the last ten years. Lobbyist for Golan Industries, a small electronics manufacturing company looking for a new place to expand to, preferably somewhere cheaper and out with the current EU but with the possibilities of easier trade that future membership would bring.
She smiled, it would certainly help explain why she was asking about EU membership and the related government ministers. She moved further down the pile to the documents themselves. She glanced over at Tweed when, beneath the EU passport in Lucy Stevens' name, she discovered a Belarusian commercial visit visa.
He avoided her look, looking down at his papers as she wondered again exactly how long he had been planning this for.
She shook her head, there was no point in speculating, besides she would pry it out of him when it was all over, and moved on to emailing her contacts. She sent roughly the same email to Alexander in Belarus, Carl in Moldova, and Joseph in Serbia, lacing it with their phrases to let them know it was her and setting up meetings to discuss the results of the information she asked them to gather. It was a pretty standard procedure, directing them towards what they had heard about the application process and those involved in it.
She paused momentarily as she looked over her itinerary. Her first meeting was scheduled for later that night, the next two over the next two days. Not a lot of time to gather information for anyone, especially Alexander as it was approaching 3.30pm for him. She debated delaying the trip or spreading out her stops, but the needed whatever information they could get, and she would rather set the wheels in motion, and make a return trip in the next week or so, or get a dead drop electronically. With the decision made, she added a few finishing touches to her cover, memorising it a little more then finalised the details of her trip.
She grabbed a quick cup of tea and a biscuit, knowing it would be a while before dinner, and grabbed her ready packed case that she always kept in the office, and thanked Monica for the bundle of information Monica handed her as left to make her way to Gatwick Airport to catch her flight.
She got through security at Gatwick fine, the checks on her false identity working as well as she knew they would, and queued to board. The flight was fairly full, a variety of people on board, and kept an eye out as she passed them to get to her seat at the back of the plane. Once she settled herself, she pulled out one of the files Monica had given her and opened it out in front of her, looking for all the world like a business woman. She spent the first half hour of the flight looking over the information of the foreign ministers of the three countries. Vladimir Chovsky, Belarus, 35. Dorin Cebotan, Moldova, 49. Javor Sesely, Serbia, 41. There were various different snippets about eaches family lives, past positions, know business dealings, essentially as much as Monica had access to. All things that would come in handy.
She accepted the steward's offer of tea and put the file away. Finishing the cup, she pulled out her phrase book.
Her Russian was perfectly fine so she could get by in Minsk, but she didn't speak any Belarusian at all. At least a few words that she could attempt would help maintain her cover as a travelling business woman trying to lobby the government. Tucked away in her bags were Serbian and Moldovan books as well and felt a touch of nervousness about them, Russian not being an official language of those countries. Still, she had time to learn a few words and phrases before she arrived and Russian was still spoken in both those countries enough that she should get by.
She buried herself in the book, the rest of the flight flying by with barely an interruption from anyone.
The flight landed safely and since she only had her hand luggage she didn't have to wait too long. She put her passport away, the visa passing muster after a close examination, and gave the same mental sigh she always did when she saw the empty pocket in her handbag where her Browning normally sat. She dismissed the thought from her mind and forced a smile at the guard as she walked away. The taxi rank was out front and she tapped her foot impatiently and checking her phone as she waited in the queue.
She ended up sharing the taxi with another woman, the two of them chatting away in Russian with the driver, and she slipped parts of her cover story into the conversation when asked.
They arrived in the city centre just as twilight turned the air that bit cooler and she pulled her coat around her carefully. She looked up at the sky, a couple of stars just starting to peek out through the cloud and light, and admired the sight before she stretched a little and made her way to the hotel on foot.
Checking in wasn't a problem and half an hour later saw her in her room, a fresh outfit laid out on her bed and her notes locked away. She freshened herself up and made her way down to dinner. She caught a brief glimpse of herself in the glass doors leading to the restaurant. Her shoulder length hair framed her face nicely, her skirt emphasising her longs legs and generally she was pleased with the effect. The fact her reflection was on its own caused a brief moment of wishing that Bob, or Marler, could have been able to join her. Not that she wasn't perfectly capable of doing it by herself, and the cover was better suited to one person, but she would have rather had back up closer by, rather than everyone out of the country, unavailable.
She blew out a breath and smiled at her reflection, letting the thought fade and walked into the restaurant.
Her dessert finished, she pushed the plate away from her. She felt almost full and rather pleasant, the chocolate cake had been delicious, but a quick check of her watch confirmed it was time to meet Alexander.
As she made her way to the bar around the corner that they had settled on for their meeting, she ran over what she knew of him.
Alexander Martinov, IT expert for the Belarusian government. Mother was British, father Belarusian. A patriot who only worked with them when he thought it was in both countries best interests. She was careful not to use him too much, but he was perfect for this mission. She caught sight of him as soon as she entered the bar but sat down a couple of tables away from him after buying herself a drink.
She sat quietly for a few minutes, sipping her glass of wine until he slowly caught her attention. He smiled at her and gestured to the chair across from him. She tilted her head and acted like she was considering him for a second before she nodded and joined him at his table.
They started to make small talk and he bought her another glass of wine as they exchanged idle chatter. They gradually lowered their voices, looking for all the world like a pick up in a bar, and then started talking the details.
"Down to business then?" He switched to English, which most of the bar was already using.
"Shame," He smiled flirtatiously at her and it wasn't part of his act his time.
She laughed and took another sip of her drink.
"I gather you want to know about the EU treaty decision?"
"I know the email was a little vague,"
"I got the drift." He took a sip of his drink, scotch with ice, and leaned in a little closer. "I did a little nosing about, nothing official has been said but there is a lot of talk that the committee has decided to ask for further examination."
"No one is sure but there has been a fair amount of anger in places that the decision has been delayed. Several companies in particular that have been lobbying for more relaxed trading with Europe are especially angry but no one is any wiser.
"And of course, the minister's secretary is off ill at the moment so people are having bother seeing him and it is delaying things further. There is the odd rumour that her illness is why he wanted to delay the decision."
"Oh," she leaned closer. "Does anyone think blackmail?"
Alexander shrugged. "If they do, no one is saying anything." He smiled. "I managed to insert an appointment for you to meet with Under-Minister Lysenko into his calendar though."
She raised an eyebrow but he shrugged his shoulders again.
"I didn't take any undue risks, I'm in the software all the time. Perk of the job." He smiled.
She settled back in her chair and nodded.
"Nothing else for you unfortunately but I'll try and find out a little more tomorrow. People were far too angry."
"Don't risk blowing your cover,"
"But thank you for the appointment. It might give me something concrete."
He nodded and smiled. "You're not going to throw your drink over me are you?"
He gave her puppy dog eyes and she could understand why he had such a good reputation for talking himself out of trouble.
"Wouldn't want to do anything too memorable." She grinned and stood. She gathered her things and leaned down to give him a peck on the cheek. "Just the normal way if you need to contact me" She turned and walked away, looking back over her shoulder to smile quickly at him.
Back in her room, she readied herself for bed and booted up her laptop, then connected to the wifi and sent a quick email to Tweed.
Trip is looking up and there are definite possibilities for the company. Will know more in the morning.
Next morning she got up early and after a quick breakfast spent alone reading the paper, took a taxi to the main offices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. .
She was scanned through the main gate and followed the map to the Under Minister's office, the part of new lobbyist still trying to find where she was supposed to go fairly easy to play.
Getting there in time, she knocked on the outer office door and entered. She spoke to the secretary, who looked slightly frayed around the edges. Obviously not a good morning.
"Lucy Stevens, I have the nine o'clock," She started off in Russian and carried on in it when the woman nodded. "Is he running on time?" She gave a smile as if to suggest she knew what politicians were like.
The secretary shook her head. "His meeting is running over at the minute. You can wait there," she pointed to an uncomfortable looking chair against the wall. "I will call you when he is ready." With that she sat back down in her chair and using the computer again, muttering under her breath in what Paula assumed was Belarusian.
Despite the impression it wasn't a good morning, she wasn't going to get her hopes up as to why, or chance her luck asking questions, not with the way the other woman looked, so she sat down and made a show of checking her phone, looking busier than she actually was by playing angry birds. It was quite relaxing in its own way but she was still relieved when the door opened and the secretary announced her.
"Mr Under-minister, it is a pleasure to meet you."
He listened to her halting attempts at Belarusian and switched to Russian without hesitation. "What can I help you with today? The name of your company is not one I'm familiar with." He looked straight at her, as if accusing her of wasting his time.
"We are a newly expanding manufacturing company that specialises in forestry products."
"We already have plenty of those."
"We know, we were looking to source new material for our products, and perhaps use the new trading treaties into Russia."
He looked slightly more interested at this.
"Of course, we are still at the planning stage so I was sent over to put out some feelers." She gave a smile and he looked less accusatory at the prospect of trade.
"My employers are also interested in the progress of open relations with Europe. They feel it would make negotiations with yourselves and Russia much easier."
Before she finished the sentence she could see his face start to close down.
"We are already opening negotiations but further treaties are being discussed."
She flipped out her notebook. "I had heard the committee was in favour though? That's why we choose now to start making connections."
"I fear your trip may have been in vain then. It will be some time before we make further decisions about anything."
He looked slightly annoyed for a moment as he said this so Paula pressed.
"Surely the opening of trade and better relations between the EU and Belarus would be better for everyone?"
She could see the effort it cost him to keep an even face and she could tell the strength of his feeling on the matter by how easy it was to rile him.
"But we must fully discuss a decision before we decide, I'm sure you understand." He smiled what seemed a forced smile to her and spread his arms in the universal 'nothing else we can do' gesture.
She stood, her suspicions answered and she wasn't going to get anymore answers here. She closed her notepad and replaced it in her bag.
"Well obviously I will need to refer back to my employers but I imagine they will be most disappointed."
"I am sorry, Ms Stevens," he managed to recover, "Perhaps we will have better news for you shortly. We would always want to welcome investors in our country but you know what some politicians are like," He smiled charmingly and shrugged, "we are an unpredictable bunch but I am sure they will come to their senses soon."
She smiled widely. "I certainly hope so."
He held the door open for her and she slipped past him. She heard him talk in rapid Belarusian to his secretary and they both gave her fake smiles as she walked out of the outer office into the corridor.
The few words she managed to identify made it clear that he was discussing her visit and she filed the thought away. It seemed very clear that he knew more than he was letting on.
During the taxi ride back to her hotel she checked her messages before she reported in.
There was one from Tweed,
What about some new job opportunities? followed by a couple of links to company websites.
She smiled slightly and followed the links. It was always helpful to know what there were looking for.
Back at the hotel, she packed her bag, five minutes work really mainly because she doubled checked her notes were all still there, and checked out. She sat in the same restaurant as last night as she had lunch, her small bag beside her. She read the links more thoroughly as she ate and made mental notes. There were four companies and an NGO's that operated in all three countries. Two of companies, McDonalds and Coca-Cola she mostly dismissed because they were completely global and she could see no reason why they would even bother. The NGO, European Cultures, operated throughout the whole EU and didn’t really have the resources to pull something ike this off so she pushed that to one side as well. The other two companies, Tweed had starred as being the best possibilities and she mentally agreed with him. She clicked a little more, reading through both the websites. Both Olivgie Products and Saunders Industries were growing companies with reasonably large resources. Oligvie specialised in forestry products, Saunders in electronics.
Nothing stood out on their websites, and nothing seemed familiar from the brief conversation she had overheard in the Under-ministers office. She sighed and sat back. This was all nothing more than gut instinct and possibilities at this stage. She sent another message to Tweed, trying to find out if he had heard anything more.
Great, sweetie! she couldn't help the slight smirk as she typed that, any idea who my main competition would be? Talk to you soon, L
She put her phone away and glanced at her watch, gulping down the last of her tea when she realised she would need to leave to catch her next flight.
The flight from Minsk to Moscow was quite quick, no problems and she spent her time nose deep in the Moldovan phrase book, with extra time to practise as she awaited the change over to Chisinau. Again she was relieved as she looked through the phrase book that Russian was still widely spoken and she would face less of a language barrier.
After the plane landed at Chisinau, she sailed through passport control, no visa needed and took a taxi into the city, alone this time and letting it carry on until she reached the street that housed the restaurant where she was meeting their man in the capital. As she lifted out her bag and began strolling along the street, she hoped the extra time meant her contact would have been able to glean something more the she had in Minsk.
Carl had been with them for two years now, covering Romania and Moldova, the only one of the men she was meeting that was actually one of their officers. He had a good track record and she had talked with him quite a few times in the past.
She made it to the restaurant and handed her bag and coat into the cloakroom before she headed into the main seating area.
She found herself directed to a table set for three and realised that Carl must have found someone with information. The thought buoyed her slightly as she sat down and poured herself a glass of water.
She didn't have long to wait before she spotted Carl enter and she smiled and stood up to greet him.
Carl smiled back. "Laura, this is Danya Moroz. He's in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and European Integration. I told him your company was interested in the advantages full membership of the EU could bring.
"Danya, this is the delightful Laura Stevens I've been telling you about."
She smiled and shook Danya's hand before sitting down. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
"The pleasure is all mine, especially if you are paying."
They all laughed and there was a quiet lull as they checked the menu and ordered.
Then the conversation started. "So how did you and Carl meet?"
Paula looked at him, "At a business conference last year. When we started looking over here I send a few emails, tried to remind him who I was."
Carl laughed, "As if any one could forget you,"
She smiled around a sip of wine at the compliment. Carl certainly took any chance he could get.
Starter arrived. "Carl tells me you are looking for business opportunities in Moldova."
She nodded and waited until she had finished a mouthful of melon. "Golan Industries is still a small manufacturing company but we are looking to expand, especially in those countries that are just joining the Eurozone."
"That almost seems predatory." Danya looked slightly uneasy.
"Not at all," She gave him a charming grin. "Most of the countries joining are expanding economies, with great resources. We just want to tap the market before anyone else does." She shrugged slightly, her smile smaller so as not to appear predatory.
Danya relaxed slightly. "Well I'm afraid you may have a while to wait. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, especially when you are paying for dinner but you must be aware of our Governments decision to postpone any hasty decisions about Europe. I am sure that the decision will go through eventually but it will take too long for your company's needs.
She looked disappointed and she could tell Danya was disappointed as well. He started to reassure her, trying almost desperately she thought and that showed just how he felt about the stalling, when main course arrived.
Danya didn't start to eat with them, "I'm sure the interest of a company such as yours and others would be a good incentive to my government to finalise its deliberations." He didn't look hopeful though and Carl spoke up.
"Tell her the rest."
She glanced across at Carl, and he smiled slightly, indicating this was what he wanted her to here. Danya looked dubious though.
"It's all right, Danya, she might be able to help."
She tried not to look directly at Carl, unsure exactly what he had told Danya, but he had been working with them long enough that she thought better of him to directly imply who she really worked for, but she still widened her eyes questioningly.
He looked reassuringly at her but spoke to Danya. "Perhaps Golan can put some lobbying pressure, I'm sure business contracts would have great importance."
Danya chewed on his beef for a moment, looking uneasy. She offered Carl a top up of wine, topped her own glass up so that when she offered Danya more, it didn't just look like she was trying to get him drunk.
She changed the discussion slightly. Asking more about his specific duties, pulling numbers out of the packet that had been assembled for Golan Industries, reassuring him of their assets and the benefits the would have, reassuring him without trying to be too obvious. It was working too, as he relaxed in his chair, eating more and face smiling.
She dampened down the regret at lying to him, he was obviously a good man and a hard worker who just wanted the best for his people but she reminded herself that she was here to find out what was stalling, and trying to help, no matter which of her guises was talking.
It paid off, and as the plates were cleared away ready for dessert, Danya started talking.
"I don't know if there is anything to the rumours but," he took a deep breath and a gulp of wine, "it has been whispered in the last month or so that the Minister has been bought off."
She raised an eyebrow but he waited until dessert was brought out and the waiter left before he spoke again.
"His wife suddenly became ill three months ago, and he dropped most of his outside business concerns to help with his stress levels, both shortly before he announced that we should rethink the decision to join the union."
He took a fortifying bite of his cheese and biscuits. "He softened that announcement by saying that we might not need to fully join to reap all the benefits, in fact might simply be better off with just extending the treaties and co-operations already in place. On the surface it seems like a reasonable decision, especially with the Eurozone problems but…" He shrugged as he trailed off.
"It seems awfully suspicious timing?" Paula finished.
Danya nodded. "I hate to think it was possible but in private the Minister was always very positive about membership, that's why those of us in the Ministry are," he searched for the right word, "concerned."
She nodded again and smiled what she hoped was reassuringly. "Golan is very interested in Moldova, in fact it's almost perfect for our needs so I'm sure making official business arrangements and lobbying would be very easy and probably beneficial to those who need more… positives to join." She smiled and cringed inwardly when Danya smiled and looked like a weight had been taken off his shoulders.
It was always so much easier to lie when the person she was lying to was suspected of being involved in whatever she was investigating.
"I'm sure it would." He started eating again and she changed the conversation again, to his personal life, asking all the questions that would be expected by a lobbyist wining and dining a government official. Carl spoke up as well, joining in after he had let her cautiously handle getting the information out of Danya.
They finished dessert, moving onto liqueurs, the conversation flowing easily until Danya looked at his watch and announced he had to get home to his family.
She rose and thanked him warmly for all his help, not lying about it this time. She watched him leave then asked for the bill. Carl was silent as she paid, then stood beside her as she collected her bag and coat.
Out in the fresh cool air, they started heading down the street after she indicated which direction she needed to go in and he finally spoke.
She thought for a minute, still walking as she formulated a response. "It plays into our thoughts."
"I know it's not proof, but Danya is well informed and a good guy."
Carl sounded a little anxious and she wasn't sure if he was trying to impress her or the service.
She smiled reassuringly. "I know. Do you know him well?"
Carl nodded. "Reasonably. Well as far as unofficial contacts go."
She stopped walking for a moment, readjusting her coat around her. "Can you see if you can get any information on who might be behind it, or who may be getting big contracts soon? See if the guise of Golan gets you any further."
Carl smiled again. "Should keep me out of mischief for a bit."
She let out a huff of laughter. "Everything by the normal channels," Carl cut her off with a nod and flagged down a passing taxi."
"Will do." He gave her a peck on the check before hopping in and she watched the cab drive away before starting to walk again. The night air cleared her head and afforded her time to think.
On its own the move to postpone was rather sensible, but the timing of his family becoming ill, dropping his business quietly was rather suspicious, especially when taking everything together. She sighed, nothing was concrete yet, nothing to take back, and, she lost her train of thought as the hairs on he back of her neck stood up.
She felt like she was being watched.
She didn't alter her pace or look around her. She couldn't see anything in her peripheral vision and as she adjusted the bag she was carrying and did a quick sweep of her surroundings, she still couldn't see anything. She reluctantly carried on to the hotel but didn't dismiss the feeling as it was entirely possible she was being watched by any number of people and she resolved to not let her guard down at all until she was home.
Checking in was relatively quick again and in her room she checked her arrangements for tomorrow before letting Tweed know what little she had.
Trip is going all right but nothing positive to report yet. Too much upheaval and rumour at the moment. Will see how Serbia goes tomorrow."
She went to bed and tried to relax enough to sleep.
The next morning was a repeat of the day before: early breakfast alone and then a cab, this time back to the airport.
She felt the same sensation as she was waiting in line for security and she could feel her nerves start to kick in as she boarded. It didn’t help by the fact she had to change over again, and as she boarded the flight to Belgrade from Vienna she noted wryly she was starting to clock up the air miles. Shame she couldn’t use them as they were under someone else's name.
Sitting down in her seat, she felt her hair prickling again and she pulled out her Serbian phrase book to try and keep herself calm. As the plane took off, she asked the woman seated next to her about a specific phrase.
Fortunately the other woman smiled and spent the rest of the flight helping with her pronunciation, the stewards all helping at one point or another. There was a fair bit of laughter and she felt calmer, trying to blend in a little more.
They disembarked the plane and after her passport was checked and approved for entry, no visa needed again, she took a moment to freshen up in the airport toilets. Moving further from the arrivals section, she studied the city map as she drank a cup of strong coffee in the crowded cafe. A quick walk to the departures drop off netted her a taxi and it wasn't too long a ride into the city centre.
The ride passed in silence, the gentleman she was sharing with clearly having no inclination to talk but she didn’t mind. She spent fifteen minutes trying to find the cafe she was set to meet in, slightly disorientated as it had been a while since she had been in Belgrade for anything other than passing through.
Cafe found though, she gratefully took a cup of tea and a small cake to an empty table and looked out the window. She was marginally early, despite having to find the place and took the moment to calm herself.
She hadn’t met Joseph in person before; they had only recruited him a few months ago when problems with Serbia's application had started to appear. He was a fairly low down officer in the Security Intelligence Agency, and they had their suspicions that what he had passed on so far about the progress was officially sanctioned. He had made it clear when he approached them that he was only willing to pass on information about the progress if it would benefit Serbia and so far all his intelligence had been good.
She recognised him from the picture she had seen on him and looked uninterested as he walked in and ordered a coffee. He sat behind her and pulled out his paper and they started to chat quietly in English.
"I have what you want."
She tried not to look surprised. "Really?"
He smiled, dropped his napkin on the floor and she bent down to help him. They banged heads, muttered and apology and sat up, seemingly ignoring each other again.
She could feel the flash drive in her hand.
"What exactly is on it?"
"Apart from copious amounts of homemade videos?" He smiled, "I know someone who can go digging through computer systems, don't worry, he is very good," he added when he saw the slight tightening of her mouth. "The chairman of the board received pictures of his private art collection and others," he hesitated and she thought it unlike him,
"Some of his private business interests that he had said he had given up."
She nodded comprehension and he carried on.
"There was a phone number also. We tried to trace it but it was a disposable, it's on there anyway. It definitely seems like blackmail."
He spat the last word and she had to ask, "Are you alright?"
He shook the paper out and made a show of reading it again. "Despite the problems there are many of us who believe joining the EU will be good for Serbia and this man has stopped that progress for the sake of an art collection."
"Understood. Thank you." She took a sip of her tea and they finished their drinks in silence. He was the first to leave and she finished off her cake and then left as well.
As she headed towards the bus stop to take her to her hotel, she felt the now familiar feeling of being watched. She tried not to grip her bag tighter, mindful of the flash drive in her bag and not wanting to lose it before she could transfer the data. She remained calm and stopped off a stop early when she saw an internet cafe.
She managed to get onto a computer, figuring out what she wanted by the icons and loaded the email account she was temporarily using while she inserted the drive.
First things first. She made copies of the contents, uploading them to several discrete places then emailed Tweed.
Just one more meeting, sweetie, then it's back home. Trip is definitely looking up and it looks like I'll be home successful!! L xx
He would know to look in the usual places and he would get the contents analysed to see if they were in fact proof. She would look for herself when she got back to the hotel and had the luxury of someone else having a copy.
She spent a bit more time on the computer checking a couple of gossip blogs, and opened a word document she had created last night called report notes in case any one managed to check the computer once she left. She started typing a few more notes to make it appear better, then checked an online map. She logged off and paid for the print out of the map to several shoe shops close to the government buildings.
She checked into her hotel, slightly more tedious this time as they triple checked her passport. She had her suspicions as to why but it stood up to the scrutiny and finally she dropped her bag onto the floor and sat on the edge of the bed and kicked her shoes off.
She relaxed on the bed for ten minutes or so then booted up her laptop. The flash drive loaded and she weeded her way through the files to the relevant information.
She sighed in relief when she found what would be classified as proof of blackmail, enough at least to warrant a proper investigation. It wasn't enough to outright prove tampering at a government level, or even for any of the other countries, and it didn't even provide evidence of who exactly was behind it.
She sighed again, sinking into the bed as she shut the computer down. At least tomorrow she had an appointment with one of the committee and there was a decent possibility she could pressure her way into a meeting with the minister himself, especially know she knew about his art collection and business arrangements. Buoyed by the thought, she went down to dinner, planning her movements for the next day as she ate.
She woke at the same time the following morning and breakfasted alone in the restaurant again, taking her time this morning since her meeting wasn't until ten am. Still, she got up when breakfast finished being served as the wait staff were beginning to shoot annoyed looks her way.
After a quick trip back to her room to grab her coat and double-check everything was secure, she headed outside. Belgrade was cold this morning and as she looked around her to check she wasn't being followed, she could see her breath clouding in the air.
There was no one she could spot but she still felt like she was being watched. She carried on a little further, not entirely sure if the feeling was real or she was starting to get a little too cautious. Spotting one of the shops she had printed off directions to yesterday, she slowed to look in its window, stopping completely as she pretended to admire the pair of red satin shoes displayed prominently. She didn't show her reaction as she caught sight of the quick slip away that confirmed the feeling creeping along the back of her neck.
She was being tailed, definitely this time and she could only make out a masculine figure as it vanished down into a side street.
She straightened up and made her way inside the shop, keeping one eye on the door as she spent ten minutes browsing. She bought a scarf and slowly walked out, patterned carrier bag in hand. She stopped and pretended to adjust her bag as she tried to catch sight of who had taken over. Nothing yet so she turned to head towards the government offices, only taking a step or two before she pretended to stumble.
She landed on her knees, the components of the open section of her handbag stumbling out onto the pavement. Her compact opened and in the mirror she could see a streak of movement come her way. She delved into the special compartment of her handbag that held her usual Browning, swearing under her breath when she realised she didn't have it with her. A mistake that could have gotten her killed.
She braced herself to move into a fighting position but she was saved momentarily from further action when a young woman stopped and bent down to help pick her things up. She nodded and smiled in thanks to the woman when she managed to stand. She walked a few paces further down, limping slightly before she ducked into a small café and ordered a tea.
When it arrived she took a sip then asked in her halting Serbian to use the toilet. Two minutes later she made her way out of the cafe, dropping a few coins on the counter as she passed it, the carrier bag inside out to alter its pattern and the scarf tied around her hair in the best disguise she could manage at the moment.
She managed to make her way down to the next street before she felt the sensation again. She cursed and took an alley way into a shopping centre and tried to get lost.
No luck. Whoever was tailing her was good, certainly well coordinated, and she managed to make it out of the centre before bustling into a crowd as she hit the main shopping area. She swore again when she saw more faces in the crowd that were looking directly at her, heading towards her, and she realised she was trapped. She tried not to berate herself for being far too used to working with backup, there was no time for that now, and then she felt a hand close around her wrist.
It was hard to fight effectively in the crowd but she tried anyway, twisting her wrist to loosen the grip and she managed, too easily in fact and she realised she was being herded towards another group. She made one last attempt at running but felt herself being body slammed. She heard shouts as her head connected with the cobbles but the noise faded as the pain exploded in her head. It receded slightly after the initial burst and she could hear shouts of police as people slowed down around her and stared.
She managed to make it to her knees before she felt herself being kicked and her arms buckled. Blood trickled into her eyes from where her head had hit the ground and she fell forward again, feeling a boot on her back holding her down. There was a stab in her neck and then the world started to fade to black.
Paula blinked and winced at the brief flare of light that caused. Her head ached and she was feeling groggy. Concussion again. She reached to feel the damage to her head, or at least tried to as she found her wrists bound together, her wrists aching where the restraints bit into her. The blood on her face felt dry on her skin though and after a minute she was able to open her eyes again, though she was still squinting against the light. She lay still, adjusting to wakefulness and catalogued her injuries. Aside from the cut and lump on her head, her knuckles were swollen, her palms and knees were grazed and bruises covered her torso. She winced again. Not the best position to start in but before she had had time to think her position through fully, the door opened.
She didn't immediately recognise the man who walked in as if he owned the place but he seemed familiar.
"Ah Miss Grey, glad you could join us." He smiled at her and he sounded very pleased with himself. "We've not been introduced but I gather you already know my name so," he made is if to hold out his hand to shake hers, then laughed at himself, "Edward Saunders, owner of Saunders Industries."
That answered who exactly was behind it all then. "Where exactly are we?" She looked properly around the room. It was a bedroom, bars on the windows. He saw where her gaze landed. "Don't worry, we aren't unnecessarily barbaric. Once you have proven you won't hurt yourself further, we'll release your restraints and let you have the run of your room for the duration of your stay." He ignored her question.
She asked again, trying to get an answer but he ignored her again so she tried a new question. "And how long will I be here?"
He smiled. "However long it takes Tweed to see our way of things."
So they knew who she worked for. Not the best of signs.
"What exactly is your way of things?" She could feel her voice getting hoarser and he noticed as well. He didn't speak but picked up his water glass and offered her a sip.
She didn't move and he smiled again. "I can understand your caution." He took a sip himself and after waiting for a minute to show no immediate ill effects, offered the glass to her again.
It was awkward as she was still lying down but she took a sip, big enough to wet her throat but no more. She still managed to dribble water down her chin and she shivered slightly as a drop travelled down her neck.
He said nothing again, just grabbed a paper tissue and wiped her chin, tickling her neck as he wiped it too.
She managed not to show her repulsion at him cleaning after her like this and as he moved back he answered her question. "We simply want the British to keep their noses out from things that don't concern them."
She felt as if she was missing something, the concussion must be affecting her, and she had to ask, "Why would Tweed do what you want."
He looked amused. "Because we have you here and unless he complies the only way he will see you again will be in small boxes. I must say, it was rather convenient of you to leave London, it certainly made things easier for us."
She frowned, her head still feeling fuzzy. "That won't stop him."
He smiled. "And waste all that effort he has put into grooming you as his successor, not to mention how the loss of his right hand man would affect his work? I rather think it will. We know what we are doing when it comes to this, Miss Grey. We haven't yet failed to identify the most precious item to our helpers." He fell silent again and she could feel him watch her intent as she mulled that over in her head. They obviously didn't know them as well as they thought they did. She filed that away and looked around the room instead, began to formulate a plan. She couldn't appear to just acquiesce completely; they would never believe that, especially since they thought they knew so much about her.
He continued to look at her and spoke as if sensing her thoughts. "We are not barbaric," he repeated his earlier words, "however we will take whatever measures necessary to achieve our goals." He continued to stare, as if to get him meaning across. She got it, though that wouldn't stop her from planning.
"And what are those?" She might as well confirm a few things while she was a captive, for the moment anyway, audience.
"I think you already know."
"But why exactly?"
"For the moment it is cheaper and more efficient to remain where we are and use a little blackmail to ensure the status quo than it is to uproot from three countries and start elsewhere."
"You're scared of the extra trade?"
"The competition will not affect us too badly, may even be a benefit in some cases but we could live without the extra scrutiny members of the Eurozone are required to submit to." Suspicions confirmed and a somewhat reasonable argument as to why they didn't just leave like other companies would have, they weren't quite big enough for that yet, though they were certainly big enough to blackmail on a government level and gather the intelligence needed for that.
She could feel her thoughts run away with her, blasted concussion and dropped her head back to the pillow and briefly closed her eyes.
She opened them and started to ask again where here was speak again but he ignored her this time and strode across to the door. He opened it and a young, timid looking woman walked in, carrying a basin and a cloth. "Just so you don't get any ideas, Miss Grey, she doesn't speak any of the languages you speak and there are cameras in the room so we can keep an eye on you." At this he left, clearly he had better things to do with his time, and she began to question her assumption that they didn't know as much as they thought they did, this didn't seem like an ordinary kidnapping.
The young woman started cleaning her head wound with warm water. She barely managed to stop herself from hissing at the contact and let the woman carry on. Once the cloth was away from her head, she tried to make eye contact but the Asian, she couldn't narrow her nationality down further, avoided all her efforts, staring at her hands as she cleaned the grazes on her palms. She moved onto her legs, rolling up her trouser and cleaning the grazes on her knees, all the while avoiding all eye contact. She finished up, righted Paula's clothing and wrung the cloth out, going to the door again and placing the basin, cloth draped over the side, in the corridor, and returned with a tray.
Paula could smell the chicken before she saw it and the woman placed the tray on the bedside table, within reach of her, then left again, still avoiding eye contact and shutting the door behind her this time. Paula waited a minute to see if anyone else came in before she attempted to sit up, only pausing a little as the dizziness hit. She managed to shuffle her way to the edge of the bed, enough play in the manacle attached to her ankle to enable her to reach the tray.
She was tempted not to eat anything in case it was drugged but her head spun some more as she shifted and her stomach rumbled. She paused, telling herself it was for effect in front of the cameras when really she felt sick, then slowly reached forward.
It was slightly awkward handling the cup with her wrists still in hand cuffs but she managed to bring the cup to her mouth and only spill as little as she sipped. If there was anything in the water, it was tasteless and colourless which didn't reassure her much. She felt marginally better after drinking the sip though and took another mouthful.
Thirst quenched for the moment, she managed to get the cup down on the tray again without any mishaps. She felt sick to her stomach though when she looked at the plate of food and it wasn't from the concussion. It was a chicken salad sandwich. The sandwich itself looked perfectly fine but lifting the top slice of her favourite oatmeal bread up she saw the lettuce she preferred and licking her finger, tasted the dressing she preferred as well. She felt a chill run up her spine and she knew that her assumption was wrong, that in fact they knew a great deal about her at least.
Exactly how long had they been watching her? She had never suspected a thing but the level of detail they knew was astounding and she felt her hopes drop of getting out of this situation in good form. She forced herself to take a deep breath, in, out, to stop herself from panicking and thinking the worst.
First things first. She managed to pick up the sandwich, it smelled fine and they seemed to want her alive, at least until Tweed made a move so she took the risk. She was feeling lightheaded enough from the concussion; she didn't need to add hunger to her list of maladies as well. Holding it carefully was harder than she expected wearing handcuffs but she took her time and managed to slowly eat.
Sitting still for long enough had reduced the dizziness and she felt able to look around the room as she ate, noting the position of the cameras that she could see. She suspected there were more hidden ones as well. There were bars on the windows, not that that would do her any good if she was still chained to the bed. That needed to be her first priority. She continued her look around to see what exactly she had to work with. The room was light and brightly decorated, though there wasn't much that wasn't bolted down. There was a small desk with a pile of paper and what looked to be a plastic biro from this distance, the small stool in front of it padded and connected by a short chain to the desk.
The window beside it was large but the bars prevented anyone from touching it, let alone thinking about escaping through it. There were no curtains but there looked to be shutters on the outside that could be closed at night. The only other piece of furniture in the room was the small bedside cabinet her lunch tray was sitting on. A couple of paintings decorated the walls, though she presumed they were screwed onto the wall but she couldn’t see from the angle she was sitting at.
Rather sparse in fact, and aside from the pillow on the bed and small stool there was very little soft furnishings in the room. It wasn't very comfortable either, despite what she had been told, though she supposed Edward Saunders might consider that an incentive to behave.
She finished her sandwich and resisted the urge to snort. They clearly didn't think that was going to happen, not with what they knew about her, it must just have been wishful thinking.
She finished her water and sat still on the edge of the bed trying to think. There was no sound from the corridor, or outside the window and as much as she tried to keep focusing on a plan, her attention kept drifting and felt herself fall asleep again.
When she woke, she was lying down again and she realised she had been manhandled again. It was darker outside and she muttered a curse as she realised she must have been asleep for several hours.
She managed to pull herself up again and was sitting still, the dizziness thankfully less than before, when the door opened and the young woman from earlier came in bearing another tray. She hadn't heard a sound from the corridor so either her hearing was dull from the headache forming or the walls were soundproofed. She heard the clatter of the tray down onto the bedside cabinet just fine so she suspected it was the latter.
The woman didn't look at her again and she left as soon as the tray hit the cabinet.
She sat still for another moment then performed the same shuffle to the edge of the bed and looked at the tray.
The tray was flexible plastic, the cheap kind that was hard to break without it fragmenting into a million tiny parts and the bowl the soup was in was plastic as well. Insulated plastic but plastic all the same. There was no spoon on the tray so she supposed she was to drink the soup like it was in a cup. Luckily the bowl was small enough to grip in both her hands easily. She wasn't so surprised to find it was a rich, creamy mushroom soup, another favourite of hers, but the book beside it was another matter.
The cover looked incredibly familiar and as she lifted off the post it note stuck on top with the words 'Something to keep you occupied' scrawled on it, she recognised it as the book she was currently reading before she went to bed.
Her stomach dropped even more when she opened it and her own bookmark peeked over the top, in the right place. She felt sick to her stomach and the smell of the soup curdled. Not only did they know so much about her but they had been in her house as well.
When? How hadn't they been noticed? It must have been in the last day or two because it had been sitting on her own bedside cabinet before she had left London.
She had to push the thoughts out of her head to stop herself being sick and it took a long couple of minutes and plenty of deep breathing before she could force the soup down her throat.
As soon as she finished, the young woman came back to collect the empty bowl and placed it out in the corridor again. She was surprised when she came back in though and unchained her ankle from the bed. She led her across to the door opposite the bed and opened it gesturing for her to go through it.
She slowly walked in and felt a sigh of relief cross her lips when it was merely a clean bathroom. She had certainly seen worse. The door wasn't properly closed, but then she thought it more than likely there was one camera covering most of the bathroom anyway.
She was desperate enough not to care at the moment. Finishing up took her longer with her hands still cuffed and she took stock of the room as she washed her hands.
It was a plain white suite, a shower cubicle with an acrylic door, a circular bath with a dish of what she assumed were bath salts lying on the rim - plastic again. She felt her hopes rise when she saw a mirror above the sink. It was screwed to the wall but it looked like real glass. A well placed elbow should be enough to get a shard of two to work with. She must have been pondering too long as the door opened again and she felt a hand on her elbow pull her back. There was no point resisting now, not with her head still sore and her body aching.
She was chained to the bed again then left in peace.
She sat still, looking around the room. She nearly jumped when the shutters on the window closed and she couldn't see outside. The lights dimmed slightly and she got the feeling she was being settled for the night. She slid down in bed, it was probably best to get a good night's sleep to try and recover before she attempted anything. Besides, it would give the others the chance to catch up with her so she wouldn't have to make it quite as far as she would on her own. There was no doubt in her mind that they wouldn’t come for her or be able to find her, she knew her team to well for that. She could imagine though, the teasing that would ensue from Bob for weeks after this.
She smiled slightly at the thought before she drifted off to sleep, the battering her body had taken making sleep come easier than she thought it would.
She woke next morning when the shutters clattered open. Her entire body felt stiff from being in one forced position all night, and from her injuries, which felt worse this morning. She managed to drag herself to an upright position, wincing at the stretching she had to do. Her head was a little fuzzy still but that could have been from a number of things and she tired not to jump to the conclusion she was being drugged. She looked out the window and saw light but no actual sun. Not on the East side of the building then.
She didn't have anymore time to think as the door opened again. It was someone different, an Asian man this time, but he followed the same routine of putting a tray down beside her and no eye contact. The tray was covered this time and the man pulled the cover away to reveal toast, already spread with butter and jam, and he left before she could shuffle to the edge of the bed.
She looked at the toast. Clearly she wasn't being trusted with cutlery yet. When she reached out a hand to pick up the first slice as her stomach rumbled, she noticed it was still warm. Even with the cover on, the kitchen, or toaster at least must be relatively near by. She wasn't sure yet if that information would come in handy but she filled it away anyway.
She bit into the first slice, too hungry to do otherwise, having already eaten and tried not to. She winced as she realised the jam was blackcurrant, her currant favourite, and she could swore it tasted like the brand she had in her cupboard. It shouldn't surprise her after yesterday but it was yet another reminder of how much they knew.
She shut her eyes as she ate the slice, trying for a moment to imagine she was back in her own kitchen. The shackles ruined the illusion but it made it slightly easier to swallow the food.
She sat quietly and ate the second slice and only once she had finished that did she turn her attention to the polystyrene cup of orange juice and yesterday's, at least the day after she remembered reading it last, it wouldn't surprise her if they tried to confuse her, copy of The Times. She drank the juice, hopeful the tart taste wasn't covering any nasty surprises, and shuffled back around on the bed, trying not to show too much pain as she did so.
She spread the paper across her knees and slowly began reading. There was nothing else she could do at the moment aside from reprimand her self for how rusty her defence skills had gotten. When she got home, Sarge was not going to be happy with her.
The door opened again, someone else entirely again, bearing another tray at what she had to assume was lunchtime.
The same routine as yesterday followed, an egg salad sandwich this time with a sweet pastry and an insulated cup of tea this time. Clearly they weren't worried that she was going to scald herself to create a distraction.
She ate it slowly, leaving the pastry until after she had slowly sipped her tea. There was a little too much milk in it for her liking and she found that somewhat reassuring.
The young woman from the night before came in once she had finished the pastry and was idly sitting on the bed. Her feet were unshackled from the bed and she let herself be guided towards the bathroom again. There was no point in fighting at the moment, she was still too easily disoriented and in shackles. Besides, she had been getting rather uncomfortable on the bed anyway.
It was awkward and she dearly wished she could have a shower but there was a knock on the door shortly before it opened. She barely had time to dry her hands before she was guided out back into the main room.
She tried to make eye contact at least with the woman as she was chained back to the bed but the other woman was skilful in avoiding her. She wasn't sure it she was just following orders or too scared to look.
She sighed as she watched the woman leave, hearing the thud as the key was turned in the lock. She tried to get comfortable on the bed. She hadn't even had time to stretch much which she sorely needed as she could feel cramps starting in various different muscles. She tried to stretch as best she could on the bed, slowly shuffling down the bed and contorting around her various restraints.
It took twice as long as it should have done, and god knows what she looked like to whoever was currently watching her on the cameras but oh, it felt divine and helped pass the time a little.
It also distracted her from thinking too much about Tweed and the team's reactions and what progress they had made in tracking her down. She simply focused on easing the strain in her muscles as she would need to be able to move easily if, she corrected herself, when she got out.
She took a deep breath and winced as she stretched her back fully out, slipping into yoga breathing automatically and letting her mind focus on that for a moment.
She lay still for a moment when she finished then sat up with a sigh.
She looked around the room, taking in the position of the cameras again now that her head was clearer. The food and sleep had managed to take the edge of the pain enough but the wriggle hadn't done any favours. Still it was enough to think.
Whilst she was still shackled to the bed, there was nothing she could do apart from ease the muscle cramps. They had clearly thought things through and there was nothing nearby, or that she could see at all, that would help her undo the ankle bracelet first and foremost. They had indicated that she would have more freedom if she cooperated so that was her best plan for the moment. Once she was free to move from the bed, then she could investigate the mirror in the bathroom properly. The quick look she had managed so far made it look like a proper glass mirror set into the wall. If so, breaking it and using a sharp shard was probably her best bet for some kind of weapon, or a tool for escaping with.
She needed to be more aware of when food was delivered as well, to see if she could catch a glimpse out the door of how many were guarding the room. No doubt there would be more throughout the building but she needed to know how many would rush in immediately when she started acting up.
She twisted and grabbed the book that was sitting on the bedside cabinet. It would look far better to be reading than actively planning, not that they would expect her to do otherwise but it wouldn't hurt.
She kept an ear out for the key in the lock again, half reading the pages of the book and not really taking it in as her mind ticked over. Part of her, when she gave herself the opportunity, thought it a shame for it had been shaping up into a lovely book with characters she cared about.
Still the time flew by and she shut the book when she heard the door open. She sat properly upright and looked at the door. It opened, the man from earlier this time and she caught sight of one arm before he closed the door behind him. One guard at least then.
A tray was placed down beside her again, the lid pulled away to reveal a steaming bowl of stew. She looked at him in expectation, not that she was expecting a response, but surely she wasn't expected to sip this?
He handed her a plastic spoon before the thought could go any further. She started to eat, blowing on a spoonful before trying it. It was delicious but awkward to eat with her hands still cuffed together. Still, it was doable and as she took the next spoonful, she noticed her delivery boy hadn't moved. Clearly she wasn't quite trusted with cutlery just yet.
She took her time finishing, trying not to get herself in any more of a mess than she already was. When she put the spoon back in the bowl for the last time, he quickly grabbed it and put it in a trouser pocket. From his other pocket he pulled out a television remote, placing it on the bed beside her legs, then moved to her foot. She started to formulate all sorts, relieved when he pulled a key from the chain on his belt and unchained her ankle from the bed.
He grabbed the tray and left and she caught another flash of the guard standing outside as he opened the door.
She let it lock again and then she stood up, sighing with relief as she managed a proper stretch after being on the bed for, she looked out the window and the sky was getting pinker outside, nearly twenty four hours. She paced the room a little, slowly at first, trying to avoid the tingling in her legs as her circulation came fully back.
Taking advantage of this little bit of freedom, she headed into the bathroom. It was still as awkward going to the toilet but she could take her time and after she washed her hands, she opened the small cabinet and found a towel and flannel on the top shelf.
On the bottom she found one of her own spare outfits and what looked to be the exact bar of soap from her travel bag. She wasn't surprised, after all the effort they had went to, of course they had retrieved her bag. She was suddenly glad of the precautions she had taken, and she hoped that the copies of the files she had uploaded hadn't been intercepted before they had been seen back home.
She walked back into the main room and picked up the TV remote. Still standing, she turned on the TV and started flicked through the channels. It seemed like they had given her satellite TV as there were hundreds of channels for her to look at. Eventually she gave up and tuned into a music channel, Euro pop or something like it playing, before she went into the bathroom again. She left the bathroom door open slightly, letting the music carry through, and began to run the hot tap.
Hot water came through quickly and she filled the basin, grabbing the flannel and soap out of the cabinet, then the towel on a separate trip. It was extremely awkward like everything else but she slowly managed to give herself a sponge bath and felt a hundred times better for it. She lingered with the hot flannel over her still sore muscles and relished in the heat. A hot shower would have been better, but she couldn't get her shirt off whilst handcuffed and the idea wasn't quite appealing enough to go to bed in wet clothes.
She dried herself off, rearranged her clothes and wrung the flannel out as best she could before she left it to dry over the edge of the basin.
When she came back into the room again, the shutters were closed and she couldn't help but bristle at the feeling of being put to bed like a child. She forced herself to take a deep calming breath, closing her eyes, so as to not scream or swear in frustration.
She opened her eyes, and while the urge to scream had faded, she still felt tense. Another deep breath and she decided it would be best all round if she tried some yoga. The classes she had started recently had always proved useful for that so she focused on the first pose the teacher had taught the class. She moved on through the routine they had build up but she had to skip more and more poses as the handcuffs were too much of a hindrance to her balance. She gave up with a huff, having managed to achieve frustratingly little.
Unable to settle still, she sat down on the stool now she was able to and studied the desk a little. It was mainly a plain table, nothing but a sheet of paper and a flimsy plastic biro on top, both of which she had seen from the bed.
She shifted on the stool and looked around the rest of the room to see if this perspective gave her anything more.
It didn't really, the only new thing was that she could fully see the wall behind the bed. Though, the stool was opposite the door so if she sat here tomorrow when a meal was brought in, she could see the other side of the door and get a better idea of numbers.
That settled her a little and she sat there for a little longer. As she listened to the music though, she could feel herself start to doze off so she dragged herself over to the bed. The only improvement was that now she could curl up into her comfortable position, and that made sleep so much easier to come by.
She woke to the shutters banging open, somewhat surprised she had managed to sleep all night again. Her head and muscles were better and she suspected her last meal had been drugged after all, mild sedative and painkiller at the very least. She swung her legs down, eager to get off the bed and move about after the thought left a sour taste in her mouth and a queasy feeling in her stomach. She sat on the stool, facing the room, the beginnings of the morning light on the right side of her face. Her shoulders were incredibly stiff from the forced position of her hands so she sat and rolled her shoulders, trying out any movement at all to try and ease them as she waited for breakfast to arrive.
She didn't have to wait long. An entirely different woman brought her tray in this morning, though Paula thought she saw a family resemblance as the other woman pulled the tray cover off. As the woman left, she only caught a glimpse of the one guard again and she tried not to show her surprise. Either they were drugging her more than she thought or they were confident enough that even if she attempt to escape they could contain her.
Neither option was particularly reassuring and she forced herself to go across the room and eat the toast. She hadn't felt groggy during the day yesterday so it was possible they had only drugged her dinner.
It was hard to tell though and she had to force herself to eat the toast. She sipped the tea a little, deciding it was either that or the tap water from the bathroom, and she honestly wasn't sure which was better.
The paper had been left with her tray again, and she sat back at the desk to read it.
The rest of the morning and afternoon took the same pattern as the day before and she was beginning to feel a little antsy as the sun started setting in the sky. Had she left it long enough for the team to find her? Had she waited too long? She'd always managed to get herself out of trouble by this time and waiting, biding her time she corrected herself, was starting to grate. She knew her head felt completely better now, and her bruises meant her body still felt stiff but they were going to get worse before they got better. She could feel the doubts rise even further and she shut her eyes and took a couple of deep breaths.
Her eyes sprung open when she heard the key turn in the lock again. Any plan for checking the number of guards again flew out the window when Edward Saunders walked in.
He was carrying a tray and was followed by the man who had delivered lunch bearing a small folding table and a table cloth draped over his arm. He set up the table while Edward watched, darting back outside to bring a bottle, two glasses and another chair in. He darted out again and this time she heard the door lock behind him.
She was too busy staring at Edward to say anything though. She honestly hadn't expected to see Edward again, not after he had made clear what he expected from her stay.
Edward didn’t say anything either, he simply stepped around the table and looked expectantly at her and she stood. He leant down and freed the stool, and he stood watching as she kicked it towards the table.
He waited until she had sat down at the table to move again, this time to uncuff her hands. She couldn’t help but immediately start to rub her wrists as he moved to sit down. The handcuffs hadn't been too tight but it was still a relief to get them off and properly flex her wrists and arms.
Once he was properly seated, he pulled the covers off the plates and the smell of chicken in white wine sauce greeted her. Another favourite, when it was done right anyway, and as she took a mouthful at the same time as he did, she noted it was indeed done right. After the next mouthful, he poured a glass of mineral water into a plastic cup for her after he poured himself a glass. He didn't say a word until they were half way through the meal.
"I understand your surprise at seeing me again. My people reported you were getting slightly frustrated," she stiffened at the realisation of exactly how closely they had been watching her. It wasn't a surprise but it still struck home. "We wouldn't want you getting bored now would we? Who knows what you might do to alleviate it." He smiled pointedly at her and she ate a mouthful of chicken to avoid answering.
"To be honest, Miss Grey, I was hoping you would tell me a little of Tweed."
"Why?" She had to take a sip of water, her voice hoarse for a moment as she had spent the last two days in her own company. "Surely you know so much already?"
He shrugged his shoulders ever so slightly. "We can know so much detail, but until we have personal experience with someone, we rarely know everything about them."
"Why would I?" she repeated. "So you can use it against him?"
"We already know everything we need to know to use," He smiled, teeth gleaming and reminding her of a shark. "No, he is a man I have heard a lot of great things about, and I'll admit to a grudging respect for him. He knows how to get the job done well. He also has a remarkable ability for choosing protégés."
That seemed a genuine compliment from him and she wasn't entirely sure if it was solely for the purpose of trying to flatter her. She didn't rise to the bait though and carried on eating. Remarkably he didn't push it, obviously thinking she would answer it eventually when she had been here long enough. He seemed used to getting his own way often enough that it was possible.
He took one last bite, then pushed the cutlery together as he finished. "Aren't you going to eat up?" he said when he noticed how slowly she was eating. "We wouldn't want Tweed to think we had been mistreating you." He stared at her and smiled expectantly at her until she had finished her plate.
Finally done, she pushed the plate away from her and Edward nodded and stood, seemingly done with her now that she hadn't immediately acquiesced. He approached the door, and whoever was watching must have notified the guard as it was barely a couple of seconds before she heard the door unlock and swung open. The table was taken away and Edward turned, picked something up from the corridor and threw it onto the bed before the door closed behind him.
She heard the door lock again but she sat still for a moment, relishing the fact she was now completely unrestrained. She slowly moved over to the bed and looked at the object Edward had thrown on it.
It was the crossword book that she kept on her coffee table at home. She no longer felt the rush of revulsion that they had been in her home but she recognised it for the power play that it was. She made a show of ignoring it and faced the expanse of the room. She assumed the starting position for the sun salutation now she was fully able to do it and started to move.
She came out of the last pose and sat down. The yoga had had the desired effect, not only did she feel calmer but her muscles felt better.
She went though to the bathroom, realising that now she could have a proper, hot shower and tried not to run. She turned the shower on and let the water warm up while she took the dirty clothes off, kicking them aside in her relief to get them off. Testing the water with a hand, she stepped in and rejoiced at the heat and sensation, not caring overly much at the moment about how closely she was being watched.
She stood still underneath the water spray for five minutes, letting the sweat and grime wash away, not thinking at all, the steam and heat doing wonders for the last remaining aches she had.
Slowly her mind turned to her next step as she began washing herself. She had heard the shutters close as she walked into the bathroom so night would soon be approaching. There was no use trying to escape tonight as running through the woods in the dark would more than likely do more harm than good.
So that left tomorrow. If she played the frustrated, but doing as she was told woman, they might let their guard down slightly. That still left the question of when tomorrow. She didn't want to do it straight after breakfast, running straight after a meal was never a good start, and besides if they were lacing her food, she wanted to let her body have the opportunity to metabolise what ever it was a little. Just after lunch was delivered then. A few sips of water to keep her hydrated but no touching the food would give her the best chance of light to escape. If it was a sandwich, she could always secrete it up a sleeve for if things got desperate.
The timing would also give her another chance to properly look out the window, to see the extent of the surrounding terrain, see the shape of the building if she possibly could.
The water began to run cool and she turned the shower off before the water could go completely cold. She slowly began drying herself with what turned out to be a rather soft towel, and once she was dry, it was a relief to get into the clean clothes that had been left for her in the cabinet. After a minute finger-combing her hair in front of the mirror, she headed back through into the room and sat on the bed.
Leaning back against the pillow, she could feel her damp hair stick to the back of her neck but the feeling of being clean overrode any annoyance that caused. She closed her eyes and thought a little more about tomorrow.
She should see if she could get any information while she was here. Perhaps there were some emails or memos on the intranet that she could access. She would hate to think she went through all this and got nothing out of it, though she had to admit getting out alive was her first priority.
She didn't think they would kill her straight away, they needed her for leverage at the moment but when things didn't progress their way or she grew to be too much of a bother she had no doubt she would be disposed of. Better to go in the attempt then.
She hated the morbid turn her thoughts had taken and didn't want to make herself doubt her chances, that could be just as deadly as an obstacle she could face but she felt exhaustion kicking in before she could alter her train of thought. Whether it was because of a mild sedative or the stress, she was certainly more tired than normal.
What was day three by her reckoning started the same as the previous two and she followed the same pattern until she put the paper down midmorning and began pacing the room.
She stopped in front of the window, staring longingly out of it, which really wasn't hard to feign and began cataloguing her surroundings.
There was gravel surrounding the building for at least a hundred metres before it joined the tree-line. The woods, forest she corrected herself, looked to be fairly thick and she couldn't make out the exact type of trees from this distance. She pushed the thoughts down that the gravel would be difficult to cross or the probability that there was a fence in the forest keeping out, or in her case keeping in, any visitors.
The building itself was mainly straight, at least there was very little of the walls she could see out of the window, though she could see a several protrusions from her position.
She sighed, there wasn't much she hadn’t seen before, and the flump onto the bed in discouragement she didn't have to fake at all. She picked up the crossword book in resignation, hopeful that whoever was watching would see her as discouraged from attempting anything, rather than still going ahead with it regardless of what she had seen.
She managed to get through most of a puzzle before lunch arrived and she dropped the book on the bed when a tray was placed beside her. The woman left quickly and she waited until the door was locked again before she reached towards the tray.
She took a small sip of the tea still in an insulated cup, then took a bite of the vegetable wrap. She wouldn't be able to carry it easily without bits of vegetable dropping everywhere so she reluctantly took another couple of bites as she wouldn't be able to take it with her. Another sip of tea and then she stood to go into the bathroom.
She shut the bathroom door behind her and took care of business. She washed her hands and dried them, but then, instead of putting the towel back on the rail, she wrapped it around her fist.
She looked squarely at her reflection in the mirror and took a deep breath. She checked the towel was secure around her first and before she could hesitate any further, she punched the mirror.
The mirror cracked, and her knuckles hurt despite the towel. It hadn't cracked enough for her to pull out a piece so she swung again without taking the time she didn't have to think about it. She reached out and pulled a shard, ignoring the sharp edges and sliding it up her sleeves as she heard the hall door open through the gap of the bathroom door. She kept the towel in her hand as she braced herself to fight.
The bathroom door opened fully, banging off the wall, and a guard came running in, gun swinging up to point at her. A swift kick saw he didn't manage to bring it up fully and as he tried to readjust his grip on it to try again, she rushed him and grabbed his head. Pulling, letting him take most of her weight was enough to put him off balance and she automatically shoved his head further down against the sink edge, wincing at the sickening crack his skull made. He slumped and dropped like a dead weight to the floor. She bent down, grabbing the keys on his belt and his gun and saw nothing else she could use, she stepped over him, ignoring him now and heading back into the main room.
Her heart soared when she found she didn't have to waste time finding the right key as the guard had left the door open in his haste to get to her. Another guard though, who must have been stationed further down the corridor, came rushing in and she used the advantage of his moment's surprise at seeing her still standing to punch him in the solar plexus. He bent double and she hit him on his temple with the butt of the gun.
He dropped to the floor as well and the quick glance she afforded him revealed nothing else she could use, he wasn't even fully armed. Clearly not one of her proper guards then. She started to head for the door, then thought better of it. She sprinted across to the desk and grabbed the biro off it. It might come in handy and she headed out into to corridor.
She paused for a second in the doorway, checking the corridor before stepping out. She could see no one else at the moment so she picked a direction and set off down the straight corridor. She carried on, not hearing anything in her way just yet, until she reached a corner. She stopped, leaned against the wall and pulled the mirror shard from her sleeve. Holding it just so, she could see around the corner without exposing herself too much.
Up until the doorway in the distance, the corridor looked clear so she tucked the shard back up her sleeve and ducked around the corner. She made it to the door unaccosted but had to stop when the door was locked with an electronic keypad. She avoided muttering under her breath and decided since the chance was high she had already been spotted on the cameras, she had to make an attempt to carry on. She pulled the pen from up her sleeve and used the end as a makeshift screwdriver.
It didn't work well but she managed to loosen the screws holding the top of the keypad to the box enough to use her nails for the rest of it. She tried not to worry about being pursued as she knew it would only make her struggle and her fingers shake. She managed to remove the last screw, catching the keypad in her hand to stop it dropping and attracting unnecessary attention. She looked at the jumble of wires for a second before blowing out a breath. She didn't have any other option at the moment so she took a deep breath and slipped the mirror shard from her sleeve again.
Hoping for the best, she sliced through the wire, pulling back at the crackle of electricity. She stood still for a moment, unharmed by the electricity, and tested the door. Still locked but there had been a click and pushing the door showed at least one of the locks had disengaged. She shouldered it, wincing at the pain and noise.
Some movement but not enough.
Again and again before it finally gave. She hurried through it, rubbing her shoulder with her free hand as she went down the new stretch of corridor, running as she heard boots on the carpet behind her. She ducked around a corner, pressing herself against the wall and waited until the guard, for that was undoubtedly what he was, caught up with and then over took her.
She snuck up behind him, grabbing his arm and twisting it up behind him. He buckled forwards, hitting his head off the wall as she turned him around. She let go of his arm and hit him with the gun butt on his head for added benefit. He crumpled to the floor and she bent down to pick up his gun. It wouldn't hurt to have a spare, and she checked the safety was engaged before tucking it as securely as she could manage into her waistband. She jogged along the corridor again, readjusting her grip on the gun.
She heard more footsteps behind her and they sounded like they were rapidly coming towards her. She ducked into another side corridor, slid the magazine out of the gun and checked how many bullets she had. Full. She felt a little relief at that. The gun wasn't her usual Browning so she would have to adjust to it, but the number of bullets gave her a little more breathing space. She would rather she didn't have to shoot anyone but with a deep breath she knew she would do what she had to and she had no doubt that any hesitation on her part would see her sedated again, or sent in pieces back to Tweed.
She stayed where she was, saying a brief prayer and flattening herself against the wall as much as she could. It seemed like she might have to shoot them but she almost couldn't believe it when they ran right past the end of the corridor she was in. She let the footsteps recede before she checked around the corner with her mirror. Nothing she could see so she turned into the corner slowly.
Nothing again so she ran down the corridor, still with no idea where she was heading but she knew she needed to keep moving. At this point is seemed best to hope for an office with a computer and an outside window so she could get something resembling evidence, perhaps even a site schematic that would give her some sort of clue of where the building actually was and how she could get the hell out of here.
She kept running and it seemed like she was in the main wing now as there were no actual security measures. Oh she knew there were cameras and she was more than likely being tracked as she was running but there were no more doors for her to fight her way through. She was immensely grateful until she heard the footsteps behind her in the distance.
She slipped into the first room she came across, which thankfully turned out to be an empty office. There was a lab coat hanging on the back of the door and she slipped it on. Not too big that it was obviously not hers. There were a couple of fresh locking stains on the coat but they were dry to the touch. Not long left hanging then.
The stains and lab coat suggested that this must be some sort of manufacturing or research facility so it would follow that there would be some sort of emergency exit that would be unlocked. More likely if it was a research lab, since scientists weren't ten a penny and they often grew jumpy if they heard about a bad track record when it came to their predecessors.
She noted the thought away then started to move again. The computer in the office was off and she didn’t want to waste the time turning it on so she slipped the gun she was holding into a pocket, only letting go of it long enough to twist her hair back off her face. Hopefully between that and the coat, she would have an extra couple of minutes. She gripped the gun again, keeping it in her pocket though to hide it, and looked out the small door window.
The corridor looked empty so she shut the door behind her and aimed for a normal pace down the corridor, trying not to be noticed. She glanced in the windows of the doors she passed, barely slowing at each window to see if it was anything other than occupied.
Finally she passed a room with someone on the computer and she paused for a second before opening the door quietly and slipping inside. The man turned away from his computer screen to look at her as the door clicked shut. Whatever he opened his mouth to say, she never heard as when she took the gun out of her pocket, he froze, even before she pointed it at him. A couple of quick steps forward and she hit him over the head with the butt of the gun, not giving him a chance to react. He slumped in his chair and she pulled him out of it and across the floor. There was a small cupboard, mainly occupied with coats and some assorted chemicals and she put him in, shutting the door. There was no lock but she wedged the spare chair in front, just in case he woke before she was finished. She couldn't do anything about the shouting that would inevitably happen when he regained consciousness but it would give her longer to work.
He hadn't logged himself off the intranet and she felt a sprig of hope as she sat down in the chair, trying to look as if it was her rightful place. She started checking his email account, just on the off chance, besides a direct search at this point would tip them off and give away her position. She didn't know how quickly they monitored their system so she thought it was better to be safe than sorry at the moment.
Nothing showed up in his emails; they were mainly research based, full of information she only had the vaguest idea about and conversations about ordering resources.
Trying not to feel frustrated about the waste of time, she switched to the main drive of the intranet. There we go she thought, there was an internal notice dated last month reassuring staff that they wouldn't be moving yet, not to worry negotiations were underway to stay in Serbia despite the probable change in monitoring.
Close but not close enough. She made a copy anyway, to a folder she created to upload for Tweed to see when she was finished.
She searched further, trying not to hurry but biting her lip as frustration bubbled up inside her. She came across the site schematic and printed it off, turning her attention back to the screen after she looked at it long enough to note the site was still in Serbia.
She moved on to another file, searching through the directory until she found one labelled public shareholders meetings. It seemed like a reasonable bet. She searched back to the meeting before Serbia stalled it's application and opened the minutes. A quick skim revealed there had been some concerns raised about the monitoring regulations the EU required and the urgency about having to do something but nothing about what they were actually going to do.
She had to stop herself from hitting the computer in frustration. So close but no actual proof, just more suggestion that they were behind it. This whole bloody mission had been a disaster from start to finish and. She cut off the thought, screwing her eyes up as she tried to concentrate. This was not helping at all, was in fact more likely to get her into trouble. She counted to three then opened her eyes again.
Looking back at the screen, she almost laughed when she spotted the magnifying glass icon in the corner but she managed to contain herself just in time.
Likely it would get her caught and they would probably shut the intranet down before she could get too much information out but at this stage it was her best bet. She brought up the search page and started with European Union.
The search brought up hundreds of entries and a quick glance at the preview pane for some of them showed they were relevant. She didn’t have time to search through them all so she selected everything and copied them to her folder. It seemed to take forever but she needed to do more so she started a new search, this time for the names of the Ministers involved. The network slowed slightly as it copied the files and ran the search but she carried on, trying not to get more nervous as the seconds crawled in. She really didn’t know how much longer it was going to take so she left them alone and went online to get ready for uploading the file. There was the normal SIS server that was supposed to be very secure, a handful of various other proxy sites they used and a couple of commercial hosting sites just in case. Still waiting, she opened up her email, filled in the addresses of everyone on the team, added a couple of the other links and opened up the attachment page.
She was positively shaking with nerves by this time and she nearly sobbed with relief when the file finally stopped copying. A couple of key presses later and the file was uploading and attaching to the email. Possibly the attachment was too big but she was too nervous to care by this point.
She started to watch as the upload proceeded. She really had no idea if the documents contained enough, or for a matter of fact any evidence but she knew the server at least was monitored so someone would notice quickly enough to download and start to process them. She watched as the uploads trundled along, the relief she had felt earlier starting to fade and she forced herself to take a deep breath as she wondered if staying here longer was a good idea. If they cut the connection before the upload was finished there was nothing she could do. It all depended on how closely they were monitoring the internet usage and she didn’t have much hope that they were being terribly lax.
The man in the cupboard chose that point to wake up. She strode across and opened the door a crack. He tried to stand but she waved the gun in his face again.
"Stay quiet or I shoot." She gave him her sternest expression and he quietened. She locked the door again and decided there was nothing more she could do and it was best to make her way further out before her luck run out.
She grabbed the map she had printed off from the table and picked up a folder that was sitting beside the computer, placing the map on top of the documents already inside. She worked out where she was, spent a minute she wasn't sure she had but needed to use anyway working out the best route. There was still the problem of how to get from the building to safety but she couldn't worry about that just yet.
She checked through the small window in the door again and saw no one coming.
The thought did pass through her head that it was a trap, as she had been uncaptured for longer than she had dared to hope. Perhaps they though she wouldn't get far out the building.
She tried not to think, she had at least got some information out to her team, now she just had to make things hard for them but she needed to focus first of all.
She took a deep breath and opened the door. She walked out at a normal pace, one hand in her pocket around the grip of the gun, the other holding the folder in front of her as if she was reading it, trying to appear engrossed in it. She made it slightly down the corridor before she heard footsteps behind her and she ducked around the next corner, then along until the next turn off and by her reckoning, she should be on the side of the building.
That was empty as well, and she could hear the footsteps behind her getting faster. She had to assume, given how quiet the corridors were, that the general staff had been told to stay in their offices so she would stick out like a sore thumb. She didn't have much time to ponder that though, or decide what her next move was going to be as she heard footsteps ahead of her as well as behind her.
She hugged the wall, one last glance at the map before tucking it in her pocket and dropping the rest of the folder. The gun came out and she gripped it properly in both hands as she tried to creep as quietly as she could until whoever was ahead came into sight.
The guard approaching from in front of her was quicker than the one behind her, reaching her before the footsteps behind her did. She had a second to notice he was equipped with both a gun and a taser before he reached for the taser, a small blessing as he was obviously unused to it and the movement wasn't quite as practised as it could have been.
She took advantage of that split second and shot him just below his shoulder, a single shot, followed by one in the opposite thigh to drop him to the ground. Nothing too life threatening if he was reached in time but had her desired effect as he started swearing in pain and didn't get up.
She couldn't hear the guards approaching over his shouts so she quickly moved. The office just ahead was just what she was looking for and she discovered she was indeed on the outside wall of the building when she could see the wooded surroundings out the window.
With no time to waste, she sprinted across to the window and snagged the key hanging underneath the sill to unlock it.
It was fortunate that she had been held on the ground floor; many of the offices were on the same level and she simply had to climb out of the window and drop four feet to the ground, rather than a drop from a first or even second floor window.
She managed to land fairly successfully on the gravel, not spraining anything and landing on her feet but making what seemed to be a huge amount of noise. She took a second to shut the window gently behind her to make it less obvious to anyone searching inside for her then started running along the wall towards the part of the woods that was closest to the main road.
As she neared the edge of the wall, she slipped off the lab coat, taking care to do it one handed so as not to drop the gun or accidentally fire it and give herself away.
The point when she had to leave the relative safety of the wall and venture out came quicker than she wanted but she barely slowly as she did it, she didn’t have the time to let fear take over now.
It was terrifying, running across the large open space to the woods, the gravel flying under her feet as they hit the ground. She could hear shouts behind her as people left the building but she tried to pay no attention to them, focussing on her breathing as tried to speed up. The only blessing was that she was far enough away by this point that what sounded like was their handguns were less accurate and managed to remain unscathed by the bullets.
What seemed like a heart stopping eternity later, she finally made it to the tree line. She heard bullets hit the trees behind her, the leaves rustling at the impact and she didn’t dare slow down yet.
As she made further in, the gunshots stopped as the trees became thicker around her and provided plenty of cover. She felt safe enough now to slow slightly, partially to recover from the sprint so she could keep up the pace, but she was also terrified of loosing her footing and tripping. She was grateful she was wearing flat shoes; the ground was treacherous enough with all the tree debris littering the ground.
She slowed to a halt long enough for her to glance up at the sky to see the position of the sun. She headed west, turning at right angles to her position and started running again. Hopefully she could put them off her position a little, though if they had spread out to search for her she was still in trouble.
She kept running in what she hoped was a straight line towards the main road. Despite its position and how obvious it was, it was still her best bet for managing to escape unharmed. A jolt of terror spiked through her as she heard dogs barking somewhere behind her and she had to stop, hiding behind the trunk of a rather large fir tree. She took a few deep breaths to calm herself, it would do no good to panic and she could feel the coldness of the air through her thin top as she was no longer moving.
One last calming breath and she started moving again, not as fast this time, taking extra care not to trip, or leave any clues as to where she was.
She was dimly aware of time passing as she moved, the air becoming colder despite how fast she was running and the sun was just in sight above the tops of the trees, a far cry from its earlier position.
She sobbed in relief when she saw the trees clear out ahead of her and she was still free. As she made it closer she could see a road, and the lines painted indicated it was a fairly major road and more than likely the one she was after.
She stuck to the edge of the trees though until she had a proper look at her surroundings. When she was finally satisfied that there no one was in the immediate vicinity and she moved closer to the edge of the road, still hidden hopefully but able to hear the approach of any approaching car.
She stood against the trunk of a tree, shivering from the increasing cold and waited as the sun started dipping further. She couldn't hear anyone in the area, which increased her hope that she would be free for a little longer. She started debating with herself what type of tree she was leaning against but quickly stopped when she realised she was stating to get distracted.
Instead, she slowly flexed her arms and legs, rubbing her muscles to try and keep warm. She stopped, standing perfectly still when she heard the noise of an engine in the distance. She pondered her next move.
She couldn't guarantee that it would be someone ready to rescue her, or even that it was an innocent bystander. She felt the gun in her pocket and sighed. She didn't like waving her gun around in people's faces, especially those uninvolved but the only other choice was to wait around and get captured. She pulled the gun out just in time as she saw the dipped headlights of the car start to peak through the trees.
She walked out onto the road, the sun behind her, and stood in the middle, hands out stretched with the gun pointing towards the direction of the car.
She only had to wait a minute until the car came racing round the corner and into sight. She stood her ground, feeling the terror rise within her and the only thing she could do was stiffen her body so as to not move, the grip on the gun tightening, but she had to stop herself from over tensing.
She knew the minute the driver saw her as he started blaring his horn, slowing slightly. She stood her ground though and she could tell the minute the gun registered with him as the sound of breaks squealing filled the air and the car ground to a halt. She could hear the gear change, see the driver look frantic as the car stopped about a foot in front of her and he started to reverse to go around her. She ran to the door before he could move to far though and jumped in as he crunching the gears in his desperation.
She spoke in Russian. "Drive and I won't shoot."
She had no idea if he understood her words or not but he must have gotten the general gist as he finally managed to put the car into gear properly and he started driving again. She slumped downwards in the seat slightly, facing him both to keep up the threat but also keep her face away from the window, just in case anyone came to the road and recognised her.
They drove for a couple of miles and she tried to stretch unobtrusively as she could feel the fatigue set in as the adrenaline wore off. She was going to have to drink something soon as well and she really needed the chance to cool her muscles off after that run otherwise she would be incapable of moving come morning, assuming she was still free. She forced herself to stay awake though as they drove though the countryside and a few small towns.
She kept her eyes open and as they were driving through a slightly larger town she shouted stop. She had spotted a hotel with light streaming out the windows.
He screeched to a halt, still looking completely terrified but she couldn't feel any sympathy at the moment. She managed the Serbian word for wallet and after digging into his back pocket, he handed it over without question. She opened it and pulled the cash from it, not much but enough to do her for a while, and took a credit card as well.
She threw the nearly empty wallet down onto the seat as she got out the car and she caught a glimpse of his relieved expression as she slammed the door shut. He took off without another word from her and she didn't look back as she ran into the hotel.
She approached what looked like reception, a plan forming in her mind and it took no effort at all to appear harassed and upset. She concocted a story in Russian about having an argument with her boyfriend and being stranded but when she paused for breath, she could tell the young girl had barely understand a word she said and looked rather alarmed at the state of her.
She took a deep breath and managed a weak smile before she mangled the words in Serbian for boyfriend and argument, then waved the small pile of notes she had about as she pointed at the phone and tried for food and room.
The young girl finally looked like she understood and relaxed. She took the top three notes and handed over a room key, gesturing as she did so to the phone situated at the end of the desk. Paula smiled in relief and it took no effort to appear overly gushy with her thanks.
She dialled one of their emergency numbers, the number emblazoned across her mind and managed to babble her code words in amongst the tale she had woven. She vaguely recognised the voice on the other end, a tall thin redhead she'd spoken to a couple of times in the basement of Park Crescent.
She replaced the receiver and smiled gratefully at the girl again who pointed out the restaurant and Paula eager went in that direction.
She sat close enough to the window that she could see out both it and the door, but not close enough to be seen. Hopefully anyway.
She was too relieved to care when the waiter explained in Russian that at this time of night it would only be bread and cheese and she nodded her acceptance eagerly.
She tried not to tap nervously as she waited for her food to arrive, and when it did, she barely managed stop herself scarfing it down like it was the first decent meal she had seen in days.
Technically it was, as she had been far too worried about what was in the food to enjoy it much when she had been captive. She tried to put the thought out of her head as she focused on eating though and kept an eye out for anyone approaching. When she finished, she smiled at the waiter who was obviously keen to go home and sat still for a further minute. It was very nearly dark outside now and it was hard to make out anything behind outlines for anyone who passed in the occasional car.
She felt calm enough and warm enough now that she felt incredibly grubby and sweaty. Making the decision, as she was about to be herded out of the restaurant anyway, she headed up to the room she had been given.
By some miracle, it looked out over the front of the hotel. The room itself was very basic, but it had a small sink and a towel and she couldn't bring herself to be bothered about the rest. She brought a jug of warmish water over to the table near the window. She opened it a crack so she could hear out and switched her light off after she placed the gun beside the towel and jug.
She gave herself a quick wash with the cloth, not nearly enough to get rid of the accumulated grime of the woods, or even bothering with the clothes she was wearing but simply cleaning her face and armpits, untangling her hair with her fingers and pulling it back into a quick knot made her feel a thousand times better. She used the cloth to help massage her legs, hopeful that it would help with the stiffness that was starting to creep in, then she tidied everything away and sat on the edge of the bed, gun gripped in her hands, ready to fire if need be as she waited.
She tried not to get too jumpy at every sound she could hear through the open window and it seemed like an eternity before she heard a car slow, then stop and the engine noise fade. She felt her nerves jump again but she managed to hold the gun steady as she peeked through the net curtains.
She felt relief flood through her when she recognised all three outlines and the figure walks. She glanced up at the moon and saw it had barely moved since she had last looked out. It hadn't taken them long then to find her so they must have already been close by.
She cautiously made her way back downstairs and as she hovered at the edge of the door that lead to reception, she saw Tweed standing alone talking to the same girl as she had earlier. Hopefully the story she had concocted had been passed along, and despite everything, or perhaps because of, she couldn't help but smile as she heard Tweed plead in Russian for her to find his girlfriend so he could apologise.
It wasn't often she heard Tweed plead and she wasn't sure how much she could bear to hear, tonight of all nights, so she stopped hovering and strode into reception.
Tweed noticed her immediately and grabbed her arm as he spoke in rapid Russian. He walked her out of the hotel, talking mainly nonsense as he directed her to their car and she froze for a second when she felt the presence of two others, relaxing immediately again when she remembered it was Bob and Marler.
She got into the car, Tweed beside her and Marler in the drivers seat, and finally started to relax as the engine started and Marler drove out the village. Bob passed back a wrapped sandwich and a thermos, Tweed taking that from her, and she smiled at all of them.
She dug into the sandwich, relishing the chance to eat freely now as Tweed poured her a cup of tea. She cradled the small cup once she finished the sandwich and they began to talk.
It was Bob that spoke first. "We lost touch with you three days ago, about a couple of hours before Tweed got the first package photographs."
"First?" She was awake enough to catch that.
Marler looked at her in the rear view mirror briefly, eyes flicking back to the road as he began to speak.
"Tweed was sent a video link the next morning."
He said it like the link was simply to a holiday video or something just as harmless.
Tweed took over. "From the information you sent back, and some from a couple of Bob's contacts, we managed to narrow down who had you. It took a bit longer to figure out where exactly they were holding you and we were en-route when Monica let us know a couple of hours ago about the information you sent."
She let out a sigh of relief that the upload had been successful.
"Tweed may have broken a few speed limits getting here when he found that out." Bob was smiling teasingly but Tweed simply shifted in his seat and sent her a small pleased smile.
She was about to ask exactly where here was, the quick glance at the map she had seen giving her no clue as to where she was in the grand scheme of things but they passed a direction sign for the Studenica Monastery and she gained her bearings.
South of Belgrade, roughly central Serbia.
Satisfied for now, the car settled into silence as they drove towards Belgrade and she leaned back in her seat. She could feel herself start to fall asleep and the last thing she felt before tipping over the edge was Tweed pulling the cup from her hands.
Two days later, Paula sat down at her desk in Park Crescent and unfolded the morning's paper. There was nothing on the front pages but turning to the international section, she saw the small headline was "Upheaval in EU Candidacy".
There was only a little blurb about how the progress of several countries EU membership application was now back on track after a little governmental upheaval. An EU spokesperson was quoted as saying they were doing all they could to allay whatever fears the governments had had to suspend progress in the first place. She finished the article, nothing more to be gleamed from it and sat back in her chair.
She was mostly used to very little of what they did, or the after effects of their actions anyway, making into the press but it seemed a little odd this time. Massive corruption, possibly affecting millions and it only gained a few short paragraphs. She shook her head, trying to dislodge the thought. Perhaps it was just her experience affecting her more this time.
She looked around the empty office. Tweed was meeting with the PM at the moment, and Monica was out, presumably on an errand, so she took the opportunity to get lost in her thoughts.
She remembered the mad dash to the airport, waking up as Bob parked, changing and brushing her hair properly for the first time in days in the airport toilets as they waited for their flight home to London. She had used the small bag she kept in the office for emergencies, no doubt Monica's doing, and then the slow shuffle to board the fight back to London. The three of them had barely let her out their sight; she'd had to argue them down to Marler standing guard outside the Ladies toilet, and whilst normally that would have driven her bonkers, she had been too tired, too relieved to object overly. Tweed must have realised because Bob and Marler had backed off as soon as they cleared customs at Heathrow and he'd driven her home by himself.
Her hesitation outside her flat must have been clear for Tweed had reassured her that Butler and Nield had checked her flat and replaced the locks and alarm system.
He still stayed on her couch and she had been tired enough to be honest about being grateful.
The high point was coming in long enough the next day to find out there was at least enough evidence to legally dig further into Saunders Industries.
She was shaken out of her reverie as Tweed returned. He looked as calm as he ever did and showed no inclination of sharing what had went on.
He kept her waiting even after she asked and that was just proof that everything was back to normal.
He smiled suddenly then spoke. "The EU has set up a thorough investigation, the appropriate ministers have been suspended and a lot of politicians are unduly embarrassed."
"So we're not to talk about it?"
Tweed's smile widened almost imperceptibly. "The PM did ask me to convey his thanks for uncovering the evidence though."
Paula nodded and turned back to her paper, knowing that was all she was going to get from him. She was more than surprised then, when she felt his hand on her shoulder, squeezing reassuringly.
"It's good to have you back."
She smiled at the rare showing of affection from him and, recalling some of Saunders words, decided it was the perfect time for them to have a long talk about a few things.