When they got back to the Piccadilly flat Marcus was waiting for them downstairs with Naomi’s bag. “Let’s get you back home then, shall we?”
“Ok, yes, thanks,“ Naomi answered, bewildered. Was he that anxious to get her out of his flat? Had she done something wrong in not asking his friend in to stay? “Your friend said he was in London for the next two weeks, and you were not to worry about where he was staying.”
Marcus frowned at that.
“Sorry, that came out all wrong. I think he thought that he couldn’t stay with you or something while I was there, maybe it’s best if you just call him.”
“Thank you, I have already cleared that up,“ his voice sounded tense.
Hm, still not right. “Thanks for debugging my house.” She smiled up at Marcus, trying to read his expression. “Hey, you know what? I could make us all some hot soup.” It had definitely turned cold by now with the sun gone. “And chapattis, and we could have a nice quiet evening in front of the fire for once without all the running and rushing around.” She beamed at her companions, not really keen on being alone in her house for the moment. With Stan and Nick on holiday and her best friend living abroad, her choice of companions was limited. Besides, the only people who knew the situation were these two men. “We could also take another look at that chronology you made, I’ve got a nagging feeling we’re missing a vital connection there. I think I saw something this morning that didn’t make sense; maybe you can figure it out.”
Paul nodded to that proposal, also not happy with leaving her alone in the house, surveillance or no surveillance. “Soup sounds nice, I’m starving.”
Marcus agreed: “A splendid idea!” He dashed upstairs again to get his timeline and then directed them to Kensington with his usual efficiency. He seemed quite elated, Paul noticed, now that they were gone from Piccadilly. Or was it the idea of Naomi cooking dinner for him? Paul’s mood sank.
Once at Naomi’s house, Marcus laid out the timeline on the dining table and read through it frowning. After a while he shook his head and turned away. He got up and looked at Naomi’s books at the other end of the room. Paul noticed that he seemed rather tense.
Naomi had started the soup, cutting onions garlic and ginger root. She had declined Paul’s offer of help. None had been forthcoming from Marcus.
Paul decided to take another look at the timeline too, and after twenty minutes Naomi joined him, the soup was now simmering on the cooker.
“There,“ she pointed to a date and looked over to Marcus, “Why did you put that with 2001?”
He appeared at her side and looked. “It was in that memo from 2001, why?”
“Well, the memo was dated March, so if they’re talking about April, it should be 2000 unless they were talking about the future.”
“Absolutely, what a silly mistake,“ Marcus was shaking his head, took a pencil, and started to correct his timeline.
“Wait”, Paul stayed his hand. He drew back his hand in surprise. Marcus must be very hungry if his hands were that cold. He felt his friend’s eyes staring into his for the shortest time, but then continued with the matter at hand. “What did that memo say? Wasn’t it about planning something?” He squinted. “I can’t read this.”
Naomi smiled, shaking her head. Why didn’t he simply put on his reading glasses? They didn’t really make him less handsome. “It says: ‘we don’t want another April 8th.’ Wait. That April date doesn’t refer to either year.”
“What happened on April 8th?” Paul asked, alert now.
“When?” Marcus asked the relevant question. He had sauntered over to the bookshelves again and started leafing through a volume of Browning.
“And where?” Naomi added dryly, “The world’s a big place.”
Paul ran his hands through his hair. “No idea. But we might have to read this in the context of the whole memo, if they said ‘another’.”
“Bingo!” Naomi sighed. “We don’t have the memo anymore, right?”
“Half-right”, Paul smiled, “I don’t like unsolved riddles. Naomi, would you mind if I used your computer to surf a little?”
“Not at all, give me a minute.” She got her laptop to the table and started it for him. “Ok, ready when you are.”
Paul got out his copy of the files and read through the memo again. “So, Sutton-Barr warns the PM to ‘pull off his people in time from Basra’ a fortnight from the date of the letter so there won’t be a repetition of April 8th.” Paul’s mind was racing. Was this the document the Service had planted? But Clark had said that the exchange had already taken place, besides, if it was a plant, then it could very well be fictitious. But probable, otherwise the blackmailing would not have worked. Damn! He needed to get back to Clark – if he was inclined to tell him about it. Alternatively – Paul’s heart was beating in his throat when he considered the possibility that had just presented itself – something else completely was going on here, which meant that they were completely in the dark. His fingers were flying across the keyboard. “What happened in Basra on that day?”
“Nothing, if he complied,“ Marcus said dryly, “You need that April date. It rings a bell, but I can’t put a name to it, I’m afraid. Maybe we all should sleep on it.” He didn’t seem comfortable at all.
Paul wasn’t ready to give up though and continued searching.
Naomi started laying the table and asked Marcus conversationally: “So tell us about your friend Philippe.” The smile she gave Marcus cut Paul like a knife.
Marcus thought for a moment, then said slowly. “Well, I met him while travelling in Africa. He’s very much like me, we share a lot of interests, that is.”
Naomi and Paul both blinked at that. Where would be the similarities between the hippie-like African and this hyper-civilised old-fashioned Brit?
“I thought you were alarmed at him coming to your flat,“ Naomi wondered aloud.
“Just a little. He’s … sometimes a bit special with women.” Marcus was not looking at them. He seemed extremely strained.
Ah, Paul thought, remembering Naomi describing Philippe as handsome, so there was a weakness in the perfect knight’s armour, he’s jealous and doesn’t want his friend to start raining on his parade. Well, I won’t give him a reason to turn his focus on me.
Naomi looked at Marcus worriedly. “Are you sure you’re alright? Didn’t you sleep at all last night?”
Marcus turned a dazzling smile on her. “Don’t worry about me, I’m fine. And I do enjoy the company.”
Naomi blushed and tried to hide it by checking on the stove again.
The soup was starting to smell really good by now, red lentils ginger and other Indian spices he could not identify. Paul’s mouth was watering, but he took a deep breath and said: “You know, folks, I think I’m not that hungry after all. Maybe I should turn in early for once this week, so I’m all bright in the morning.” He feigned a deep yawn. “Can you make your own way home?” He looked at Marcus, who was throwing him back a strange glance. “Good, have a nice evening then. Bye.” He almost ran from the house, berating himself that it had taken him so long to realise he was in their way.
By the time he got back to his flat, he was almost punching himself, so he stopped at the pub round the corner. Maybe getting drunk would erase the pictures in his brain of Naomi in Marcus’s arms. Wasn’t it just his luck that when he met someone that attractive, he would be second in line to Mr Perfect?
Later that night a phone rang in a car parked outside Paul’s flat.
“Yes?” Short and aggressive.
“Speaking. What do you want?”
“Have you got them?”
“No, the way the woman’s house was crawling with police and MI5 I couldn’t risk it. And I can’t search the detective’s flat either, Usher is out, but someone else is in there.”
“Of all the rotten luck there is! Ok, come back, we’ll get them tomorrow.”