European Travels Ch. 03bypetervongrunigan28©
Usual Words. This story is a work of fiction; no inference with real people or events is intended. You must be 18 to read this story. If you’re not, just read it anyway. You might learn something.
This continues my first series, so watch this space over the coming months for the next instalments.
Feedback and constructive criticism would be nice. It offers a huge amount of encouragement, as well as providing useful analysis. I can’t get better at this unless you guys give me some input. The address is in the link below.
Just a quick recap of Chapter Two : ‘Parisian Nights’
Jon Carter was in Paris for diplomatic meetings, and encountered Virginie Ledoyen while giving a seminar at the Universite. After Virginie seduced him after the lecture, she joined him again in his hotel room later. In the interval, Carter was met by a MI6 agent who filled him in on more of the Government corruption.
Anyhow. Enough of me, read on into the action.
European Travels Chapter Three : A Life Uncommon
I don’t know if it is something in the air, but every time I enter Spain, I feel invigorated. The weather and the culture couldn’t be more different from London. And, on this particular occasion in Bilbao, the country was exactly as I would like it to be.
I sat on the balcony of my hotel room, looking out over the city. The quiet hubbub of the morning had all but died as the Spaniards settled down for lunch. That in itself was part of the reason I liked coming here. The pace of life was so relaxed it meant I never had to do much work.
Having arrived on Monday lunchtime, I had been involved in informal discussions for the past few days, and now I had today and tomorrow off, before returning home Friday morning.
My mobile rang. I took my feet off the railings and tried to get to my jacket, lying on a nearby chair. Pulling the phone from the inside pocket I accepted the call.
“Hello. Jon Carter.” I said.
“Jon. This is the Press Advisor.” I knew straight away that this wasn’t a friendly call. His clipped tone wasn’t a nice indication.
“The Prime Minister wants to see you at Number 10, 9.30 Monday morning.” He continued.
I was slightly worried by this point. A personal meeting with the PM is never good news, not unless you’ve requested it. I tentatively enquired.
“May I ask what it concerns?”
“Certain stories that have been reported in the last week. The Minister feels that your actions with Miss Lavigne have bought the party into disrepute.” His smooth, oily voice really got to me.
I was inwardly fuming, but refrained from showing my anger. I settled for a simple confirmation.
“Thank you for the message. I will meet with him on Monday.” I hope I kept my voice dignified.
Harry Mortimer didn’t ever bother to respond, instead just hanging up the call. I gripped the mobile in my hand, turning the development over in my mind.
It was obvious that I had been seen leaving the party with Avril, and maybe even entering her room at the hotel, but I couldn’t see why the PM was making a big deal over it. Maybe he should investigate the financial affairs of some of his close friends before choosing to fight me.
It had to be a muscle flexing exercise. We had never been close friends, and it was really only public demand that got me a cabinet job. Surely this was a measure designed to keep me in my place.
I shook my head, trying to quantify the act of throwing the feelings out of my mind. I resolved to continue with my plans for the day. After enjoying a lie in and a nice breakfast I was heading towards the Guggenheim Museum. I had never been a great fan of the arts, but I really thought I should experience what the place had to offer while I was in the city. Call it cultural enlightenment.
Throwing my jacket on the bed I stuffed my phone and wallet into my trousers. Even at this time of year, Bilbao was a pleasant 20oC, although the breeze provided a light wind chill. Not something a Londoner was used too, but I’d live with it.
I left the hotel, and walked along the narrow streets. I couldn’t help but notice the area was deserted. I glanced at my watch and saw why. It was coming towards the height of the afternoon, during which the Spanish decide they need it little rest. They even have a word for it, a siesta. We have a word for it too. Lazy.
I continued up the steps that led to the great building, pausing to sit at a bench and retie my shoelace. There was a woman sitting next to me, sketching on a large canvas. The reproduction of the multi strobed building was amazing, and I complimented her.
“Esto es muy bueno.” My broken Spanish would have to suffice.
Her reply was somewhat ironic,
“Oh, erm. I don’t speak Spanish, I’m sorry.” Accompanied by a helpless gesture with her free hand as the other supported the canvas.
I replied in my native tongue.
“That’s OK, English works for me too.” She smiled, so I continued.
“Your accent.” I stopped to give a questioning look. “Australian?”
She turned towards me and took off her sunglasses.
In that instant I recognised her. She had been at the BRIT Awards only last week. I spoke.
“Natalie Imbruglia,” in a shocked voice.
“Jon Carter.” She answered in kind
“You recognise me?” I asked
“There was a picture of you leaving the party with Avril Lavigne in the papers last Friday. It was kind of hard to miss.” She avoided my glance.
“Oh.” Well, that confirmed how my antics were known about. Just my luck to be caught by the press. I swiftly changed the subject.
“What brings you to Bilbao?”
“An inspiration trip. I’m working on a new album and coming to somewhere I love always makes writing easier.” She explained.
“So you’re painting because?” a slight humorous edge in my voice.
“Oh, I’m on lunch break.” Her reply also took a droll tone.
She smiled, and I laughed. An idea came to me.
“Look, since you’re on lunch break, would you care to accompany me inside?”
I gestured towards the museum.
“Yes. Cool. I’d like that.” She replied in her distinctive tones.
Natalie gathered her things and I slowly walked up the front steps, waiting for her to catch up with me. It suddenly came to me what I had read her name in connection with recently.
“You’re starring in Johnny English aren’t you?” I asked.
“Yeah. It’s out back home at the moment. Oh, England that is, not Australia.” She corrected herself hurriedly.
I smiled. “You consider yourself a Pom now?
She laughed. “No, not with this accent anyway. But it’s been home to me for a while now. I live in London, on the Embankment. Near the MI5 headquarters.”
“Yes, I know where you mean. I live in Westminster myself, so not too far away.” I said.
I shook my head. “This is a really odd coincidence. We live not too far apart, and then we meet in Bilbao.”
“Chalk it up to fate.” Natalie said with a smile.
I opened one of the doors, allowing Natalie to enter first, who did so with a quiet thank you for my politeness.
Once inside, Natalie continued.
“Have you seen the film?” she asked, the note of curiosity evident in her voice.
The famous MP tact was about to appear. I had seen the movie, and I hadn’t liked it really. I thought it best though, to take the safe option.
“No. I’ve got a pirate DVD copy at home though, I’ll get round to watching it soon.”
Whilst talking I had purchased the tickets, and led Natalie into the first exhibition hall.
We emerged into a glorious late afternoon sunshine, and turned towards the Nervion River. I leaned onto the railing as I watched the water meander its way through the city. For a brief second I allowed my thoughts to drift to work, but Natalie soon distracted me.
“That was cool. I enjoyed that.” She said.
I knew Natalie’s statement was genuine. She seemed to emit a radiance that was pure enthusiasm and lust for life.
“Are you into art, Natalie?” I curiously asked.
“It’s Nat, by the way. And I do like the visual arts, painting mainly, although sculpture is very expressive. Obviously I like the performing ones as well. Yourself?”
“No, not really. I mean, I like some of the top stuff, Van Gogh, Monet and that sort of artist, but I know very little about it. The modern stuff just switches me off totally, Tracy Emin and all that.”
“I know what you mean. How can an unmade bed be dressed as a masterpiece?” she said.
I gave a helpless shrug. “Exactly.”
I didn’t want to get into a debate about the Turner Prize, no sense in causing myself undue stress over a minor travesty of life. Changing the subject completely I asked,
“Can I walk you to your hotel, or anywhere?”
Natalie looked surprised at my offer. I just assumed it was one any decent guy would make.
“Just to my hotel if you like. I’ve just got to finish packing before tomorrow, then I’ll relax this evening, maybe try and do some writing.”
Natalie gestured the way with her arm, pointing towards Plaza Pio Bardja, so we headed in that direction. I was eager to learn more of her.
“Have you written much music while you’ve been here?”
“A little. The next album is still in the very early stages, I’m still promoting the last one in some places.” She added.
“Ah yes. White Lilies Island. Very nice music, if I may say so.”
“You may. Thank you.”
Already there was an easy bond between us, a relaxed atmosphere that usually only occurs when you are with someone you have known for ages. For the rest of the way to the hotel we chatted amiably about anything and everything. My job, the delights of Bilbao, the horrors of London.
I was sad when the journey was over. I knew I didn’t want it to be so I made a split second decision, something for me that was out of character.
I had taken a real liking to Natalie, and I was about to do something I hadn’t done in a long time. Ask a girl out whom I really liked.
“Erm, Nat. Do you fancy going somewhere for dinner tonight?”
I couldn’t believe I had stated it so simply. I was usually a stuttering wreck when it cam to asking women out. Something about Nat reassured me though; I knew I would get a straight answer.
The diminutive singer paused for a moment, and looked into the distance. When she returned her gaze she had a nice smile on her face.
“Yes. If you answer two questions though.”
She didn’t bother waiting for me to say yes.
“Is this a date, and, are you involved with Avril Lavigne? Cause if you are it won’t be a date.”
I tried to show I was serious, as she obviously was.
“I guess I’d like it to be a date. And no, I’m not seeing Avril. We met once, and its over.”
She obviously believed me. She had been straight with me; I would be straight with her.
“Good. Well then, I don’t know if you can suggest anywhere?” an enquiring look on her face.
In any other circumstance, “d’oh” would have been the perfect comment. I had no clue where the good restaurants in Bilbao were. I used my only suggestion.
“My hotel has a decent restaurant. Maybe we could meet there?”
“Sure. Which hotel?”
“The… Hotel Lopez de Haro. About 8 o’clock?” I couldn’t remember the name for a moment.
“Fine.” She turned away from me, and then looked back with a pause.
“I shall see you tonight.” were her final words.
We both turned in different directions. I headed along the Ibanez de Bilbao, a huge grin on my face. I had relearned another lesson. If you don’t ask, you don’t receive.
I was still on cloud nine when I reached the hotel. It had been a while since I had experienced the warm feeling inside when a woman accepts an offer of a date.
On the journey back I had made a decision. I was going to contact the Deputy Prime Minister and see what he knew of this meeting on Monday. Over the day it had begun to worry me more and more, since with Northern Ireland, Iraq and the Fire strike on his mind, surely my night with Avril was small fry to the PM.
I got to my door, and pulled out my wallet, extracting the key card. It slipped from my grasp as I tried to replace the worn leather object in my pocket. Bending down, I retrieved it, noting the pair of nice shoes a little further along the corridor.
I pulled myself upwards, making eye contact with the owner of the moccasins. For just a fraction of a second my face narrowed as I searched my mind. Where had I seen him before?
The man didn’t wait to hang around and answer the question. Turning on his heel, he ran. I immediately cursed out loud, partly due to the fact that the stairway was nearer him than me; mostly because I had recognised him. The same man who had been outside my hotel room in Paris before I met with Deighton.
I made a split second decision to follow, despite the fact I had no idea what it was going to achieve. As far as I was concerned though, his presence was no coincidence.
I wasn’t far behind him as I hit the stairs, making it to the foyer in less than half a minute. As we exited the hotel, I again cursed my luck. The streets were still empty. It would have been harder for him to get away if the pavements had been jammed with people.
It was a quick right then left out of the hotel, moving away from the river part of the city. By now we had both hit top gear, and even though I was no slouch he was still going away from me, but I still had line of sight on him. I must have looked a right pratt, running as fast as I could while supporting my phone with one hand. I almost cursed again that I’d had the bad luck to wear slacks with loose pockets.
Fortunately the Juan de Ajuriaguerra was a long, straight road, and by now I had eased into stride. The distance between us was starting to close, and the thrill of the chase meant the adrenaline was pumping. Again I surged on, taking heart from his obvious tiring.
We had been going down the road for almost a minute now, and his more and more frequent looks behind told me he was getting scared. He made an urgent left, and I attempted to follow. Unfortunately my formal footwear was not designed for running, and I slipped and stumbled on for a few metres. By the time I looked up again the gap was widening.
I pushed myself on again, panting furiously. Already my legs were starting to tire. I guess I wasn’t in as good a shape as I thought. The stranger crossed the road, and not bothering to look for traffic I followed suit. He disappeared round the next corner just before I got to it.
The instant I turned the corner I felt my muscles burn, and I couldn’t move. Within another two seconds I was lying on the ground, unable to mobilise myself for another chase.
Managing to twist my head, I saw the man jumping into the driver’s seat of a nearby car. More significantly, I noted the object in his right hand. I had been given the good news with a taser as I came round the corner, which explained why I was only just able to stand upright again.
The car roared away, and was out of my vision in a few seconds flat as it turned the corner.
Immediately I dropped my hands to my kneecaps, supporting the tiredness in my body. I was pissed at two things. One, I hadn’t noticed anything about the car, and two, that I’d had a chance to catch someone who was obviously involved in this, and not capitalised on it. It did seem to offer some sort of explanation about how my meeting with Deighton was leaked, but it didn’t bring me any close to finding out who the man was.
I trudged wearily back towards the hotel, questioning the long distance we had covered in what seemed like a few minutes. Jamming my hands into my trouser pockets, my fingers closed around a familiar object. Removing the cell phone I quickly selected the number and held it to my ear.
The answer was near instantaneous.
“Hello, Government Switchboard.” The secretary’s voice was neat and efficient.
“Deputy Prime Minister please. Jon Carter of the Culture Department speaking.” I asked.
“One moment Sir. You designator?” The routine confirmation was asked for.
“Echo, Foxtrot, zero, eight, four.” I took care to keep my voice hushed.
There was no reply, just a slight click as I was patched through to whatever line he was on. The designator codes are changed every few weeks, standard security practise. The Satcom would have also pinpointed my location as Bilbao, and the phone number should have been shown as mine, so the operator would have been reasonably sure that it was a legitimate call.
“Hello Jon!” I had to hold the phone away from my ear slightly. Either he had a hearing problem, or just enjoyed shouting at people.
“Good Afternoon Sir. I wonder if you could help me. I’ve been summoned to meet the PM on Monday morning, do you know anything about it?” I asked.
There was a slight pause.
“Yes. I requested the meeting.”
My mouth was left ajar at that statement.
“Why?” I spluttered out.
“You’ll be briefed fully then. All I can say is that there have been developments, and your posting will be changed to accommodate them. It has been decided that you’ll be promoted at the next reshuffle, but until then you are going to have some kind of ambassadorial role.”
He then added, “With facility to continue on our current business.”
“Are you aware of my meeting with a mutual friend in Paris?” I asked.
“Of course. Are you following up on anything?” he answered a question with a question.
“I’ve got some ideas, yes. I’ll get back to you as soon as I know anything concrete.” I tried to make my tone of voice indicate that the conversation was over.
“Fine. I’ll see you on Monday.” He closed.
“Goodbye Sir.” I finished.
The phone call was ended, leaving me reeling. I was well pleased to get a job promotion, but I was curious as to what ‘New Developments’ meant. The Press Secretary had mentioned that it was about my behaviour with Avril. Something was afoot. No doubt, something very strange.
The same two men who had appeared so pleased after the success of the Paris operation were now spitting blood at their desk.
The younger man, Franz, placed his hands behind his head, and rose to pace around the room. They had only just heard parts of the phone conversation as the power source of the bug was dying.
Josef wearily placed his headphones on the table, and then spoke. For a native German, his English was perfect.
“So he’s still investigating?” he asked.
“Ja. It looks like he is not alone, either. Too bad we won’t be able to tap his phone conversations any more. Lost most of that call from London earlier as well. I knew that power source was not long enough.” His disgust was obvious.
Josef rubbed his stubble covered chin. “Do we send in a team?”
“Lets hold…” The landline telephone ringing interrupted Franz. He grabbed it from the cradle, and held it to his ear for a brief duration. He did not speak until he had ended the call.
“That was Carlos. He said that Carter recognised him before he could enter the hotel room, and that he only just escaped from him during a chase through the city. He also had to leave the signal booster in the corridor.” He dropped his eyes. As he expected, Josef was furious.
“So we have no bugs, Carter is onto one of us and he is not giving up.” He nodded quickly. “We send in a team. Call Merceron and arrange!”
He stormed out, as Franz again reached for the telephone.
“Are you sure you can afford meals like this?” Natalie Imbruglia asked me, only half joking.
I gave a sheepish smile, and then explained.
“In the Government, people of my rank are known as Level 7 Civil Servants. What that means is,” I paused, heightening the delivery of my final line. “I can authorise my own expenses.”
She laughed. “You lucky bastard! So anything you want is paid for?”