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The Southlander Game: An Agent Honore Beauvoir Story

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“I can’t keep this up much longer, ja?”

The man across from Ray seemed to be strangling one hand with the other, his eyes darting around. The younger man sighed a little; there was no way that anyone looking at the two of them would fail to notice that Sakyovich was intensely nervous.

“I understand, my friend.” His hands reached out to cover the Russian’s; now someone looking will think we’re a couple. “I’ve advised the consulate—“

“They’re already suspicious. In Odessa, and maybe Kharkov as well, I don’t know. If you can’t get me out before July, I have to stop, begrijp jij?.”

“You and I both know you’re in too deep for that now.”

“You’d turn me over to them?!” Sakyovich’s voice sounded like a soft scream.

“No, but they won’t forgive you either way, and you can’t hide forever.” Ray’s hand passed over the bundle of receipts that the other man had passed to him five minutes ago, tucked into his jacket pocket. “I’m doing the best I can, you know that.”

“I…it’s just…this is a lot.”

“I know.” Ray reached as far back as he could into his memories, channeling his grandfather’s calm and compassion in his voice, and could see Sakyovich relax. “I’m in too deep to lose you now either, Sasha.”

“I…I just hope I can settle down. I’m glad I don’t have a family. Yet.”

Ray nodded. The man before him had lived his life in service to some of the worse criminals in Ukraine, and he couldn’t blame him for wanting out at all.

But I’m not done with you yet.

“If they don’t get back to me by the end of this week, I’ll step up the pressure, I assure you.” He’d sent the immigration authorities all the documents he had on Sakyovich, who probably qualified for asylum regardless—but the process was long, too long for a man trying to hide something from the Ukrainian mafia. “My boss will as well.”

“I…I understand. I need to go now, they want me back in Nieuwpoort by ten.”

“The shipment?”

“The one for New York.”

Ray nodded. This one wouldn’t be intercepted directly—the Americans knew it was coming, but had agreed to follow the goods inland and seize them there, allowing Sakyovich’s bosses to think that the line hadn’t been compromised. They were starting to have trouble moving product into the port of Montreal, and the risk of them either killing Sakyovich or moving the lines was too high.

The two men parted company on the plaza in front of the central church, Ray smiling briefly as he turned to find his car. The drive back to Bruxelles would be long in this traffic, but he didn’t dare meet Sakyovich near where he lived. Malines was far away enough to avoid attention.

His phone buzzed with a text as he opened the car door.  Not now. Ray carried one phone for work, one for his personal life, and it had been the second one that went off. He wanted to be out of Malines before relaxing.

The traffic around the city itself wasn’t bad, and he managed to get onto the carriageway in a few minutes, flipping on the radio. Traffic jams around Antwerp, flooding on the Maas—again—the usual mix. 

Ray’s thoughts drifted to his family momentarily. His grandparents were due to visit his cousins in Paris next month, and he was still waiting to hear back about the confirmation for his leave request. Grandpere will understand if I can’t make it, but it’s been too long. Much too long. Florence was engaged, and Zora would be coming as well, her classes at Edinburgh having wrapped up for the summer.

We all took different paths, I guess.

 

He checked his phone as he left his car in the garage by the Cinquantenaire, and cursed softly. Zora had told him to call me now.

Oh no.

Striding onto the grass of the Parc du Cinquantenaire, he dialled her, his hand clenching the lapel of his coat. If this is about Grandpere or Memere—

“Ray?”

She picked up on the first ring. He could hear noise behind her, probably one of her roommates.

“Zora, what’s happened?” He turned to stare down the length of the Parc, his eyes settling on the giant arch at the middle. It was unusually still in what was usually one of the windiest locations in the city.

“It’s—oh god, I’m sorry, no one’s been hurt. Everyone’s fine in the family.”

“Good. Why me, though?” 

“I’m sorry?”

Pourquoi as-tu m’appelle?” He was close to his cousins, but knew Flor much better.

“It’s…Ray, it’s one of my roommate’s friends.”

“Go on.”

“He needs to talk to someone in your…in your job.”

He stopped dead in his tracks.

Most of the Gamache family knew, or had an idea of, what Ray did. When the son and grandson of two of the Surete du Quebec’s top officers went into the diplomatic service, in a vaguely defined “policy advisor” role, the writing on the wall was clear. He knew Grandpere knew full well, and his own parents definitely did. 

But no one had ever asked him about it before.

“Tell me what’s happened.” Another phrase from Grandpere.

“He’s…this friend’s from somewhere in Holland, and his brother’s been sucked into a gang.”

“A criminal gang?”

“Uh…no. Ray, I don’t know what it is, but he said that he’s filed a report with something called the Marechaussee, and they didn’t get back to him. I looked it up—“

The Dutch military police.

“I know them, yes. Should I try to prod them a little?” With this information, he could get the embassy staff in the Hague to lean on the Marechaussee, or send one of his counterparts to have a look.

“It’s…Ray, the brother’s moved to Antwerp.”

“Okay. Zora, I’m going to give you my work number. Dont give this friend my personal information, okay?” He could hear her writing something down on a notepad as he listed off the digits. “And not my name, either, if he doesn’t already know it.”

“I…I won’t, don’t worry.”

“And Zora?”

“Yes?”

“Dont let yourself get involved in this any further. I’m serious.”

He could hear her gulp a little. “Okay.”

“Good. He can call me whenever.”

“Okay. I…I have to go for now.”

“Keep yourself safe. Okay. Bye.” Hanging up, he looked across the park again as he walked back towards his apartment. 

So much for a quiet evening. He suspected that he'd have to turn this over to the Belgian police. Unless they've already been told. He couldn't understand why the Marechaussee would have ignored or played down something like this.

Ray made it into his apartment before his work phone began to ring. Picking it up, he saw that the number began with the 00 31 of a Dutch phone.

That was quick.

Ja, hallo?”

“This is Zora’s cousin?”

“It is.” Sitting down at the little kitchen table, he took out a notepad and pencil. 

“She told you why I call, yes?”

“Your brother.”

The man at the other end of the line sighed heavily. “I’m…I’m afraid that I’m losing him.”

“To what?”

“He…he was active in a political party here, the VNP, since he was in school, but he left them a few months ago.”

“Why?”

“Thought they were too soft on immigration, yes?”

Ray’s eyebrows rose. The VNP—Vrije Nederlandse Partij, Free Dutch Party—were unable to form alliances or enter coalitions in the Netherlands, precisely because of their harsh stance on immigration. And removing Dutch citizenship to anyone whose grandparents weren’t born there, too. 

“And since he left?”

“I…he joined something new, yes, but I dont know their name. I met a couple of the members, at his apartment before he moved. They were talking about armed struggle.”

How did the Marechaussee not listen to this man? “And now he’s here?”

“He moved, yes, naar Antwerpen. I don’t know why, he had a good job in Arnhem.”

“Why did you contact me?”

“Pardon?”

“You chose to call me after Zora gave me the phone number. Why?”

“I want to help him before it’s too late. If you could talk to him—“

“She told you who I work for?”

“The Canadian intelligence people.”

Guess that's out of the bag.

“Yes. I can’t do what you’re describing. Talk to him. I'm not an official here." And the embassy will have my head if I'm caught in something like that.

"I can find someone in the police here who can, do you want me to do that?”

“I…if you think it’ll help.”

“It should.”

“Okay…okay.” The man began to cry softly. He’s been under a lot of stress, I can tell.

“I’ll do my best, mynheer, I really will.”

“I…I understand. I have to…I have to go, my girlfriend’s waiting—“

“I need his name.”

“My brother?”

“Yes.”

He heard the man take a deep breath in. This is the point of no return for you, isnt it?

Markus de Groot, 18 Stevelsteenweg, Antwerpen 5.”

“And yours?”

“Pieter. Pieter de Groot.”

Peter the Great? Grandpere would have a laugh out of that. 

After finishing up the call, Ray strode over to his window, staring out at the twinkling streetlights of Etterbeek.

Give me the strength to do whatever I have to do now.

If he closed his eyes, he could see a tall man, his hair gone white, with his right hand on Ray's shoulder. Could hear the deep, rumbling voice.

I was wrong.

I 'm sorry.

I don't know.

I need help.

He had the feeling that he was about to need all four.