Chapter 1: 14 Months (1)
After her marriage with Frank Randall has failed and Claire Beauchamp flees from her violent husband, she finds refuge in the house of the Fraser/Murray family in Berlin-Wilhelmshorst. But then tensions arise between Britain (which has since left the EU) and some EU member states. All holders of an English passport are required to leave EU territory within six weeks … and suddenly Claire’s fate looks more uncertain than ever.
This story was written for the #14DaysofOutlander event, hosted by @scotsmanandsassenach
“Berliner Fernsehturm” * Foto: BernardoUPloud
"No! I can't do this, Janet!"
Jamie's voice sounded muffled but still audible through the crack of the door leading to the kitchen of the house.
"Didn't you watch the news, you dumbass?! In the next six weeks, all holders of English passports must leave European Union territory or they'll be deported to the Channel Islands!"
Janet Murray sighed. Then she went on:
"Provided that mad Vladimir de Salty Brownson of No. 10 Downing Street does not break the armistice with France, Belgium, and the Netherlands!"
"I can't do it, Janet!"
Jamie sounded exhausted and sad.
For a moment, silence fell.
"Brother! I don't know if you realize the danger this situation poses! If you won't talk to Claire, I will, and you don't want me to, do you?"
"No way, Janet!"
"So, you'll talk to her today?"
“Die Tür” by PhotoMIX-Company
Claire had just come out of her room on the first floor. She had wanted to ask Janet (called Jenny) if she could help her as she always did. But now that she overheard the conversation by chance, she backed away. Quietly, she walked back up the stairs and the heavyweight that had been placed itself on her chest while listening seemed to get heavier with each step. She had come to this house fourteen months ago. It was her refuge. At least that's what she thought until now.
Claire could not remember ever feeling so safe or so happy before. Sure, she had experienced many happy moments in her youth and sure, she had felt sheltered under the care of her uncle Lamb. But, all those years, mostly in the hours before she fell asleep, doubts and fears crept into her thoughts. Doubts that she would ever really experience lasting happiness. And the fear, the constant fear of what would happen if Uncle Lamb, the last of her relatives, died? The thought of suddenly being all alone in this world filled her with trepidation. When Frank Randall came into her life, she thought she had found an answer to these worries. She was nineteen and head over heels in love, but it did not take long, however, before she realized that she had been more than wrong about this man, her now-husband. At an early stage in their marriage (they still lived in Cambridge where Frank taught at the university) he cheated on her. He continued to meet women from the university faculty and students he had met before their marriage regularly without interruption. And of course, he continued this behavior when they moved to America, where Frank took up a position at Harvard.
When she left Boston fourteen months ago after almost ten years of marital martyrdom, she was broken, utterly exhausted - and again frightened. Claire had gripped the outstretched hand of this strange man, who had introduced himself to her under a French name as a German citizen of British origin, like a lifeline. She was too exhausted to even think about where it all would lead her. Claire could only hope that the help he offered her would take her one step further on her path to a life of freedom and peace.
Everything had happened so fast. On the flight to Berlin, she had slept most of the time, only waking up once at Stockholm Arlanda Airport, where they had to change planes. When they arrived at Berlin Schönefeld Airport, he had woken her gently. Picking up her luggage and driving from the airport to his home (as he called it) had passed her by like a fleeting dream.
“Haus” by MichaelGaida
Then they had finally arrived. The sight of the manor like house and the even bigger park that surrounded it, had an effect on her as if a bucket of cold water had been poured over her head. Claire suddenly felt completely awake. Then the big oak door had opened and Jenny had come out and greeted her with great kindness. A few minutes later they were all sitting in the living room, drinking tea and eating apple pie. An hour later she was lying in a freshly made bed in a room that had been prepared especially for her and was sleeping deeply. When Claire woke, she had slept for almost eighteen hours. To her surprise, a small table with a thermos of tea, a Tupperware box with sandwiches, a bowl of fresh fruits and a little vase with yellow and red tulips stood by her bed. She still remembered how the experienced care had moved her to tears. Since the last days she had spent with Uncle Lamb, nobody had cared for her like this.
With each day that she stayed in Wilhelmshorst, Claire became more and more a part of this family. Jenny had become a good friend for her, almost a sister. After a short phase in which the women had met each other in a distanced way, they opened up to each other and took more and more pleasure in doing the work in the house, going shopping or tending the garden together. Ian had become a good friend too. While Claire appreciated the practical side of Jenny, she loved talking to the man, who seemed so calm and level-headed and therefore the exact opposite of his wife. Ian the younger, Caitlin, Katherine, and Michael, the children of the Murrays, had immediately taken her to their hearts. And the feeling was completely mutual. She was grateful to have some money of her own again when the first Christmas arrived and she was able to give small presents to the children, but also the rest of the family.
And then there was ... James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser called Jamie.
His real name he had revealed to her only after Claire had settled in with the Frasers/Murrays for a few days. He was the one who saved her in ‘a tour de force’ from a last violent attack by her husband and took her with him to Berlin. Unlike Jenny, who carried her heart on her tongue, and Ian, the level-headed thinker, she could not figure him out. He always met her with great kindness, was generous and helpful. But at the same time, he always kept his distance and remained silent most of the time.
And yet Claire felt drawn to him in an inexplicable way. For the first time, she noticed this when Jamie had business appointments in Düsseldorf for a few days. With astonishment, she realized that his absence triggered feelings of emptiness and loss in her. But whenever he returned from such business trips, her heart filled with gratitude and joy. Although there was no real reason for her to be frightened, she always felt safer when he was at home If she was honest with herself, then Claire could not deny that his presence gave her a feeling of security and peace. And then, just over six months ago, while he was on one of these business trips, she had asked herself if he was seeing women in the cities he traveled to regularly. But Claire immediately dismissed the idea. She didn't think he was such a kind of man ... and if so, it was none of her business. However, two months later (Jamie was at a conference in Stuttgart) she caught herself wondering if she was in love with him. But she immediately dismissed that thought as well. For one thing, she hadn't been sure what love was since her marriage to Frank. For another, such a thought was completely hopeless. Jamie showed no sign of a greater interest in her and how would it look if she ... No, she couldn't do that. What would Jenny and Ian think? Wouldn't it look like she was taking advantage of the situation? No, it would be best if things stayed the way they were. Once the inheritance issues were resolved, she could get her own place. She could get a job and... everything would look different. Then maybe ... if Jamie ... yes then maybe there was a chance of happiness? Love? She didn’t know.
But now she'd never find out either. All of her life in Wilhelmshorst would come to an end now, just because some politicians couldn't keep their lust for power in check. Even before she reached her room, she felt tears running down her cheeks.
“Tee” by StockSnap
Two hours later Jenny's voice echoed loudly but friendly through the hall:
"Claire, are you coming? Tea is ready!"
Claire opened her door.
"I'll be right there."
A few minutes later, she entered the living room where Jenny had just set the coffee table. Jamie stood, arms crossed over her chest, by one of the big windows, his back turned at her.
Then Claire's eyes fell on the table.
"Why did you only set the table for two people?" she asked Jenny.
"Oh, äh, uhm, Ian invited me and the kids to go to the zoo. We're about to leave..."
Claire nodded. She tried to stay calm.
Jenny left the room and Jamie turned to her. He smiled, at least he was trying to. With his right hand, he pointed to a chair by the coffee table. Claire nodded and sat down. Jamie sat down on the small sofa, so they sat across the corner.
She reached for the teapot and poured the tea first for Jamie, then for herself. When she put the teapot back on the teapot warmer, they heard the front door slam shut and shortly afterward a car drove off the yard.
Jamie emptied his teacup and held it out to Claire, who filled it again. When she too had emptied her cup, he turned to her and said:
"Claire, I have something very important to discuss with you."
Although she knew what it was about, and although she had had two hours to prepare herself inwardly for this conversation, her hands began to tremble slightly. She hastily put the cup down.
"Jamie, I know. I ... I couldn't help overhearing your conversation with Jenny in the kitchen. Please believe me, I didn't mean to eavesdrop, it was just a coincidence."
He looked at her with his eyes wide open but didn't interrupt.
"I watched the news on TV, of course... I knew something like that was coming. You don't have to worry. I'll return to England as soon as possible. I don't know yet what will happen or where I can live, but I'm sure I'll find a way..."
Again Jamie looked at her with great astonishment. Claire's eyes showed the same frightened look he had seen before - fourteen months ago when he first met her. It all started that day - at a small art gallery in Boston.
Chapter 2: 14 Men (1)
This second chapter gives us a little insight into the life of James Fraser before he met Claire Randall. How did he happen to be in Boston at that exact time? What events had led his life in that exact direction?
“Glencoe” by dowchrisr
James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser was born and raised in the Scottish Highlands. But the development of world history made it impossible for him to spend the rest of his life in his beloved homeland.
Well-read in European history and as a keen observer of global political developments, he had guessed early on that the hard “Brexit” of Great Britain would throw the (until then) United Kingdom into an unprecedented chaos.
When the Corona Pandemic ebbed in Europe and the British Isles and travel restrictions were largely lifted, James Fraser, as head of his clan, decided it was high time to leave the country he and his family loved so much. Many people around him, especially the other 13 members of the Covenant of the "New Jacobites”, felt the same way. Some of his friends emigrated to the Republic of Ireland, others to France or the Netherlands. For Jamie and his family another door had opened many years before.
Jared Fraser, one of Jamie’s uncles, had gone to Paris in his youth and (starting from the French capital) had built up a flourishing, Europe-wide wine trade. He had also opened a branch in Berlin. From there the entire business for Germany and South-East Europe was coordinated. In order to save taxes and to invest the proceeds of his business profitably despite the European Central Bank’s zero-interest policy at that time, Jared Fraser had bought real estate. Among the houses he had purchased in the State of Brandenburg was a well-preserved manor house just some kilometers outside of the German capital. After his death, this part of Jared’s estate had fallen to Jamie and his sister Jenny.
“Brexit” by Foto-Rabe
So it came about that on the day it was decided at Westminster that the emergency laws passed because of the Corona Pandemic should remain in force, a container ship left the port of Leith for the port of Rostock. The containers it was carrying contained most of the Fraser/Murray family’s movable property. The family itself, Jamie, Ian, Jenny and the children, had boarded a Norwegian Airlines plane the night before, which took them to Berlin-Schönefeld Airport within four and a half hours with a stopover at Oslo-Gardermoen.
When they arrived at the airport, Felix Kloppstock, the vice manager of the Berlin headquarters, who had become a trusted employee of Jared Fraser, had picked them up in a minibus owned and used by one of the wine shops. When they arrived in Wilhelmshorst near Potsdam, the house was already prepared for them. The beds were made and the smell of roast venison came from the kitchen, letting them know that dinner was ready. They were then greeted by Mr. and Mrs. Ballin. The 55-year-old housekeeper Helene and her husband Frieder had also been hired by Jared Fraser and entrusted with the management of the house years ago.
When all the Frasers/Murrays fell into their beds late in that night, they did so with one laughing and one crying eye. Laughing because they knew they were safe now. Crying because they missed their home. And James Fraser was thinking about something else entirely. He was grateful that his parents didn’t had to witness the political developments of the present day. At the same time, he was overcome with a feeling of great sadness when he thought that he would probably not be able to visit their graves in the cemetery near Lallybroch for a very long time.
“Brandenburg” by reinhardweisener
Just a few days after their arrival at their new home at Wilhelmshorst, Ian, Jenny and Jamie were to learn from the media how right and decisive their step had been. They had put the children to bed after dinner and were now sitting together in the kitchen for a while. Jenny became as white as a sheet when the radio reported that the London government had announced that it would now explicitly use the emergency laws to take action against the Scottish independence movement, which was growing bigger and louder with every single day. Anyone suspected of being part of the Covenant of the “New Jacobites” or their followers should be arrested and charged with high treason. Ian, who was sitting next to Jenny at the kitchen table, looked up in horror. Jamie, who had just taken two bottles of beer from the fridge for himself and Ian, turned, looked at them and just sighed.
"This is what I’ve always been afraid of. But don’t worry, our naturalization papers. identity cards and passports are on their way. I spoke to Ernst on the telephone last night.“
Ernst, more precisely Ernst Neuenburger, was a State Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Economics. Jamie had met the official in 2018, when his uncle Jared took him to the ministry’s summer party, introducing his nephew to the network he had been building across Europe for many years. (More than anybody else outside Scotland, Jared Fraser had dedicated his life with great zeal to the service of the "New Jacobites”. Wherever on the continent he could, he had used his influence and financial resources to promote an independent Scotland with good relations to the European Union).
James Fraser and Ernst Neuenburger were immediately sympathetic to each other. And in the course of the day, Jamie discovered that Ernst Neuenburger was not only a competent interlocutor in economic matters, but that he had also a great affection for Scotland.
BMWi Goerckehof mit Brunnen by Fridolin freudenfett - (Federal Ministry of Economics, Goerkenyard with fountain)
Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
“If we take the right of self-determination of a people seriously, as laid down in Article 1(2) of the UN Charter, through the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of December 19, 1966, then Scotland must be given the right to be a State in its own right,” the State Secretary had said.
Jamie had nodded in agreement and then, more jokingly, asked:
"Are you a secret Jacobite, Mr. Neuenburger?“
"No, Mr. Fraser,” the politician had replied with a smile, but with a very serious undertone in his voice, “I don’t think you have to belong to any special group to stand up for freedom and self-governemenrt. To be a democrat is, in my opinion, quite enough.”
Neuenburger, who obviously enjoyed talking to Jared Fraser’s nephew, took a quick look around.
"Why don’t we take a few steps,“ he then said, pointing with one hand towards a path that would lead them away from the center of the festival.
"Gladly,” Jamie replied, and together they moved away from the crowd. Jamie well remembered seeing his uncle Jared as he walked away, talking to a man and a woman in the shade of a high hedge, also a little away from everyone else. Jared had smiled, nodded briefly to his nephew and then immediately returned to his conversation partners.
When they had moved about two hundred yards away, it was Jamie who resumed the conversation:
"It’s interesting that you as a German say things like that. We’re only used to revolutionary sounds from French people. The French supported us in earlier centuries, but the Germans…“
"If I may say so, Mr. Fraser,” Neuenburger interjected, “the Germans didn’t exist then. When the French supported the Scots, thanks to the political intrigues of the French, the Austrians and the Russians, there was only a patchwork of small and tiny German countries. It was Bismarck…”
"I know, I know. But they were Germans, the King of Hanover…“
"Oh, yes, of course. And no need you remind me that the Kingdom of Prussia was allied with the Kingdom of Hanover… But you know the saying: ‘You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends’. As you may know, George August II was a cousin of Frederick William I, the father of Frederick the Great. Both George II and Frederick I were brought up by their common grandmother, the Electoress Sophie at the palace of Herrenhausen near Hanover. It has been historically recorded that the men already had an aversion to each other as children. This aversion continued later, when they became men or kings, respectively.”
Neuenburger paused with his remarks when a waitress appeared with a tray of glasses filled with champagne and offered them to the two men. Both men exchanged their empty glasses for full ones and continued their walk.
"Twice it almost came to war between Hanover and Prussia. Did you know that?“ asked Neuenburger.
Jamie looked at him questioningly and shook his head slightly.
"In 1731 there was a dispute between the kingdoms and the royal families because Prussia was recruiting settlers wherever possible. George II issued an edict and assembled an army on the banks of the river Elbe. Friedrich Wilhelm I, on the other hand, had 40,000 soldiers stationed at Magdeburg to defend his territory if necessary. The dukes of Brunswick and Gotha mediated and were able to settle the dispute to a certain extent. A war was prevented.
But it was a cold peace. At the same time as the Scottish resistance was crushed at Culloden, another dispute between Hanover and Prussia was smouldering. After the death of the last prince from the house of Cirksena in 1744, it was disputed who would inherit the county of East Frisia. On the part of the Frisian princes there had been a contract of inheritance with Hanover since 1691, but Frederick I had received a “Letter of Exspektanz”, meaning an actual entitlement, from Emperor Leopold on 10 December 1694, which said, that after the extinction of the princely house of East Frisia the county should fall to the kingdom of Prussia. The decisive factor in this conflict, however, was the city of Emden. At that time the town was politically isolated and economically weakened. The reason for this was the “War of Appelle” fought in 1726/27.
This war was actually a civil war and resulted from a conflict between Prince Georg Albrecht of East Frisia and the East Frisian Estates. It was, how could it be otherwise, about the tax sovereignty. But even after their defeat, the city leaders did not give up their goal of making Emden an important economic metropolis again.
Since the 'Emden Revolution’ in 1595 the city had the status of a quasi-autonomous urban republic. In this - successful - revolution the city had already freed itself once from the rule of the Cirksena and, as a ‘satellite’ of the Netherlands, achieved de facto the status of a free imperial city. From then on, the representatives of the city signed all contracts and public publications according to the Roman model with ‘S.P.Q.E.’ (Senate and People of Emden). The title ‘Respublica Emdana’ and the abbreviation ‘S. P. Q. E.’ were from then on officially used by the city.
Understandable that the aldermen of the town wanted to return to this freedom and independence, which they had already once enjoyed. When the last Cirksena Prince took over his reign in 1734, the city had already refused to pay homage to him. But at least from 1740 on, the Emden councillors planned to achieve their goal with the help of the Prussian King. Secretly they negotiated the ‘Emden Convention’ with the Prussians. In this treaty, Prussia recognized the rights and privileges of the city of Emden and the East Frisian estates, and in return the East Frisian estates recognized the rule of Prussia after the death of the last prince from the house of Cirksena. It was a win-win situation. Prussia left the East Frisians and their estates the liberties they had enjoyed before and in return received a land with access to the North Sea. On 25 May 1744, two weeks after the Emden Convention had been ratified by both parties, the last prince of East Frisia died. Prussia immediately asserted its right of succession. The widowed Princess of East Frisia, a relative of Friedrich II, recognised the succession of Prussia on May 26th and recommended herself ‘to the protection and generosity of the King’. Frederick II had immediately instructed his representatives to make it known everywhere that the privileges and rights of the East Frisians would remain undiminished and that no enticement of East Frisian citizens was to be feared. With this reassuring message, the Prussian soldiers were even positively received at Aurich and Leer. The seizure of possession was already completed on June 2, just one week after the death of the Prince. Three weeks later, on June 23, 1744, the entire county paid homage to the Prussian Crown.
“Rathaus Emden” / "Town Hall of the city of Emden" by fokkengerhard
What do you think, Fraser? Did they rejoice at it in Hanover, or better, in London? I don’t think so. On June 3, the Hanoverian official Voigt arrived in East Frisia with papers demanding the rights of the Hanoverians. But there the whole thing was already finished. The speed with which the takeover of East Frisia took place, made possible by the careful and secret preparation, once again put the Hanoverian competitor in the shade. One cannot avoid the impression of dilettantism on the part of Hanover. It is true that they had also reacted immediately by sending Voigt to East Frisia on June 3, with a corresponding power of attorney, but nobody wanted to accept him or his claims officially. On June 10, the Estates very aptly informed him that the contract which had been concluded between the House of Cirksena and the House of Hanover was neither known to them nor did it concern them, since neither they nor the Emperor had approved the document. East Frisia was also supposed to have a potential for conflict for some time to come. In 1748 the disputes over maritime trade became more intense, especially with the Netherlands, but also with England and Sweden. During the Seven Years’ War, however, England then needed the support of Prussian soldiers and only in the course of this did it give up all claims in relation to East Frisia.”
The two men had stopped and emptied their glasses.
“Why are you telling me all of this?”
“Brunnen im Kanonenhof des Invalidenhauses, heute Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft, Berlin”
(“Fountain in the cannon yard of the Invalidenhaus, today the Federal Ministry of Economics, Berlin”) by Dirk Sattler
- Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62311136
“Well, you said it was unusual to hear such 'revolutionary’ sounds from a German. Surely, as Frederick Engels once said, ‘revolutions in Prussia are made from above’. We may not be as revolutionary as the French, but please remember that we are a very, very freedom-loving people. The history of the First and the Second World War is well known. However, the history of the our war of libration, 1813 to 1815, against Napoleon is often overlooked. The support from the people was so great that some historians even speak of the Prussian People’s War. Men and women exchanged their golden wedding rings for iron rings to support their country. The phrase ‘gold I gave for iron’ became something like a proverb, a synonym for the will to sacrifie one's own dearest possessions for the fatherland. A well-known picture, which spread after the wars of liberation, shows a returning soldier. He does not call out to his wife, who welcomes him with open arms, ‘I am back’ but ‘The fatherland is free! Victoria!’ And that wasn’t the inner attitude of the people just then. Remember that this country has been struggling for 40 years to be reunited and thus to be free. Not aggressively, but with endurance. And when the Germans in the East brought down the SED regime, it was a peaceful revolution that brought the dictatorship to its knees. What do you think, Fraser, the people here would feel for a people that is oppressed by its, shall we say, bigger neighbour?”
Neuenburger slowly began to walk again. Jamie latched on.
“Why exactly are you telling me all of this?” he asked.
“Well, perhaps I wanted to remind you that revolutionary, i.e. cataclysmic, thoughts don’t always have to unload themselves in a storm of the Bastille. Sometimes it is wiser to keep them to yourself and … say, wait for the ratification of an Emden Convention. As far as I know, a freedom-loving people will always welcome and … support the freedom, or rather the liberation, of another freedom-loving people.”
Neuenburger smiled. Jamie shook his head slightly and smiled too.
"Come Fraser,” the newfound friend then said, “let’s go. The buffet is open."
The conversation between the two men was not without consequences. Twice, once in autumn 2018 and once in summer 2019, Ernst Neuenburger had visited the Frasers’ home estate in the Scottish Highlands as a holiday guest, before political events made these trips impossible for him. But the two men’s confidence in each other had grown during these weeks of walking, horseback riding and hunting together, to the point that by the end of 2020 Jamie was able to make contact with his friend in Berlin unnoticed (through previously agreed 'private’ channels). Everything that happened then, that had to happen to bring the Fraser/Murray family into safe exile, happened very quickly. It had to happen very quickly because the window of opportunity to do so was, as in any historical moment, only open for a very short time.
“Schottland” / "Scotland" by Emphyrio
On the first Saturday evening that the Frasers/Murrays spent in their new home, Ernst Neuenburger came by to deliver the passports, identity cards and naturalisation papers for all family members. Jenny invited him for dinner and afterwards Jamie and his guest went to the library to talk in private.
After the two men had discussed the political situation in Europe for a while over a glass of whisky in front of the fireplace, Ernst Neuenburger leaned over to his host..
"We have a question for you…”
It had been clear to James Fraser that sooner or later Neuenburger would approach him with a request. He didn’t see it as extortion or payment. On the contrary, he was grateful if he could do something in return for the privileges granted. He would have been reluctant to remain a debtor to his friend.
“You must believe me when I tell you I didn’t plan this. I have and will continue to do everything I can to help you and your family with great joy …”
“Speak Ernst, straight forward.”
“Well, you have some skills that would be very useful to us. You speak English, perfect French, very good German. You are intelligent and a man who can keep quiet. You also have a thriving wine trade and as a businessman…”
“… I can travel anywhere without raising suspicion?”
"Right. But the most important thing is that I trust you.”
The men were silent for a moment.
“Would you be willing,” Neuenburger then asked, “to act as an negotiator on our behalf and travel when necessary?”
“Shall I conclude ‘Emden conventions’ for the country?"
Neuenburger had to smile. What a good memory Fraser owned!
“And where would that lead me to?”
“Well, first of all, to the African continent. 116 million Africans in 31 countries speak French. And counting. Your language skills predestine you for tasks in this field. However, we would ask you to learn Spanish and possibly Portuguese as well. Then we could also send you to South America. Of course, we will provide you with a language teacher paid by us.”
Again the men were silent for a moment.
“How dangerous could these 'missions’ be for me?” Jamie then asked.
“Not particularly,” replied Neuenburger. “You are travelling as a businessman and that causes far less sensation than the travels of a politician or a political official. There are quite a number of, shall we say, colleagues of yours who do that for us. So far, every one of them has returned. We will, of course, prepare you thoroughly for your task.”
Jamie pondered for a moment, then nodded and answered:
“Travailler pour le roi de Prusse? Jes suis prest! This country has provided me and my family with freedom and a new start here. If we were not here, I would probably be in an English prison by now. It’s only fair that I give something back.”
"Thanks,” said Neuenburger and went on “It’s not the King of Prussia, but a democratic republic you serve. Just saying.”
Then he reached into the right inside pocket of his jacket and took out another fresh passport, which he handed to Jamie.
Jamie reached for it and opened the little red book.
“Well, well, well, you’ve thought up a nice alias for me.”
“Reisepass” by Edeltravel_
Four weeks later, Etienne Marcel de Provac Alexandre, alias James Fraser, began his first trip as a well-camouflaged diplomatic negotiator.
This and other journeys were to take him first to numerous states on the African continent. He negotiated political and economic contracts with other negotiators, lobbied for the release and repatriation of citizens in difficulty and delivered oral messages whose content was too secret to be transmitted by paper or electronic means. From 2023 on, when he became fluent in Spanish, he was also send to South America. One of his last trips took him to Buenos Aires, where he signed a trade agreement. Officially, however, he attended the “Conference of Argentine and Chilean Wine Merchants”. In order to make his trip as unobtrusive as possible, he did not fly back to Berlin directly, but made a stopover in Boston. There, officially, he would meet a businessman, a friend, who was planning to include the wines which Etienne Marcel de Provac Alexandre sold, in his range. But in reality, this stopover was to change his life fundamentally. But James Fraser knew nothing of this when his plane landed at Logan International Airport.
Thank you for rading. Chapter 3 ("14 Seconds") will be posted in one week.
Chapter 3: 14 Seconds (1)
Like the hands of a clock that move forward inexorably, Jamie and Claire move towards each other.
Note: This chapter contains references to domestic violence and suicidal thoughts. If these things trigger something in you, please skip this chapter.
Etienne Marcel de Provac Alexandre was satisfied. No, Etienne Marcel de Provac Alexandre was not satisfied. He could not be satisfied at all, because in reality he did not exist. It was James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser who was satisfied that Etienne Marcel de Provac Alexandre, his alias, had also successfully completed this assignment. Neither the negotiations nor the conclusion of that special trade agreement with the Argentinians had caused any problems, so he was able to finish his job in the time allotted.
“Buenos Aires - Skyline” by maymuc
The success with which he had been able to complete his mission helped him to get over the inconvenience of his onward flight to Boston. It took more time for these 8,500 kilometres than for the return flight from Boston to Berlin. So he flew from Buenos Aires-Ezeiza shortly after eight in the evening first to Lima, where he had an 80-minute stopover at the Jorge Chavez International Airport. Then he was able to board a plane that took him from the Peruvian capital to Florida. He used the time on the plane to get some sleep.
When he arrived at Miami International Airport, he first had an extensive breakfast. Then he wandered around a bit, just to move his legs and afterwards he immersed himself in various wine magazines. While he was still reading and waiting for his connecting flight to Boston, an elderly gentleman approached him.
According to his legend, he introduced himself as a French wine merchant who, on behalf of the Berlin-based company “In Vino Veritas - International Wines and Spirits”, searched for new wines worldwide or brokered wine sales to partners.
This company - “In Vino Veritas” - really existed. And if anyone should have the idea to make further investigations about the firm, he would find nothing else but a flourishing wine and spirits trade, based in the German capital. Every time James Fraser mentioned this name or passed on his business card bearing this company’s name, he had to force himself not to smile. The irony of this name had made him laugh out loud when Ernst Neuenburger first told him about it. Because there was no truth in the wine that this company sold at all. On the contrary, this wine was nothing but deception. “In Vino Deceptio” would have been the correct name, but for very understandable reasons, that name had not been chosen. Ernst Neuenburger had acknowledged Jamie’s loud laughter by saying:
“Irony is one of the best gifts to survive the challenges of this life.”
The elderly gentleman who approached him at the airport in Miami made a harmless impression. He showed no great interest in the personal background of the person he was talking to, nor in his business relationships. It seemed as if he was simply trying to bridge his own waiting time by philosophizing with someone he liked about a topic in which both were interested. For Jamie, that was o.k.
It was due to his thorough preparation by Ernst Neuenburger’s staff that Jamie was not only very well versed in European wines, but also in Australian, New Zwealand, North and South American wines and their respective markets. On their behalf, he attended the Austrian Wine Academy and completed his training as a Wine Academician with the Wine Diploma, also known as the “International Wine Specialist”. He was thus not only accepted into the “Club of Wine Academics”, whose members were active in 41 countries around the world, but also acquired the prerequisites for the “Master of Wine” degree. Jamie was happy to take the trouble of this training, which not only helped him to fulfil his covert mission, but also raised his status in his real business life. The fact that his certificates and diplomas were issued in his alias name and in the name of James Fraser was also taken care of by Neuenburger's staff.
Etienne Marcel de Provac Alexandre talked for almost an hour with the older American, who introduced himself as Bob Snider (“the one from Boca Raton, not the folk singer from Canada”), mainly about American, French and German wines. Then his flight was called and Etienne Marcel de Provac Alexandre said a hearty farewell to his interlocutor.
“Terminal - Miami International Airport” by Martin St-Amant (S23678) -
Eigenes Werk, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6281155
When James Fraser took his seat on the plane that was supposed to take him (finally!) to his next destination, he first wrote down the content of his conversation with “Bob Snider” and all the details he remembered about the man he had spoken to. The senior may have been harmless, but the mere fact that a stranger had come to speak to him obliged him to report this contact to his employer.
It was shortly after three in the afternoon when his plane landed at Logan International Airport. He took a taxi to the hotel where “In Vino Veritas” had booked the so-called “Boston Studio” for him. When he entered the room, he had to smile. The arrangement of the furniture in the various hotels around the world amazed him again and again. Here, it was the mixture of modern furniture and furniture trimmed on old that made him shake his head slightly. He would never really feel comfortable in such a mixture. But maybe it was better that way. The discomfort he felt in such rooms made him want to return home all the more. All that mattered to James Fraser was that the hotels booked for him had a fitness area that was open 24 hours a day. And that’s exactly where he went after having a light dinner in the hotel restaurant that evening. One hour of workout and a long shower later he returned to his rooms where he went over the planning for the next day. Twenty minutes later James Fraser, alias Etienne Marcel de Provac Alexandre, sank into his bed and fell asleep contentedly.
“Luftbild des Hafens von Boston” by ArnoldReinhold -
Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=83686125
Just a few blocks away from Fraser’s hotel, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall was lying in the bed of her conjugal bedroom. Tears were streaming down her face and wetting her pillow. Although she had been lying under her warm blanket for more than half an hour, she trembled all over her body as if she were standing outside the house on a frosty winter’s night without a coat.
Behind her lay another evening of arguments, insults and humiliation. Frank, her husband for almost 10 years, had left the house at some point in a rage. She knew that he would now be sitting and drinking in one of the nearby bars. If he picked up any woman who wanted to spend the night with him, he was not expected to come home soon. But if he left the bar empty-handed, he would return ‘home’ and the night could turn out even darker.
Frank Randall could not find a woman that night who would voluntarily share a cheap hotel bed with him. He returned to the house he and his wife had once called ‘home’. That night, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall’s worst fears came true.
The next morning, James Fraser woke up well rested and full of energy. His first course, after a brief visit to the bathroom, took him back to the hotel gym and then to the shower. Just as he was getting dressed for the new day, the room service brought the “Continental Breakfast” that he had ordered the night before. He had breakfast, reading on his tablet the various international newspapers whose online editions he had subscribed to. Exactly the peaceful and quiet morning time, as he appreciated it.
There were still four hours to go before his next appointment, a business lunch with “Paul Smith”. That man was also on Ernst Neuenburger’s payroll but had a completely different legend. Jamie had decided to use this time to have a look around the area of his hotel. The hotel’s limousine service first took him to Paul Revere’s house, and an hour later he was driven from there to the Old North Church. He would also have liked to visit the Museum of Fine Arts, but there was not enough time left and so he let his driver take him to the steakhouse where he should meet “Paul Smith”.
When he arrived there, his “business partner” was already sitting at the table reserved for them. The men, who had never seen each other in person before, greeted each other like long-time friends. No one would have suspected that they knew each other only from photos that Ernst Neuenburger had placed quite innocently in the advertisements of a wine magazine some time before. They ate, drank and had lively conversations (and for those sitting nearby with ears too big) about current trends in the wine scene, prices, order quantities and shipping options. At the end of the extensive business dinner, they signed each other’s contracts, both of whom knew that they would never experience any real economic development, and then toasted each other loudly with champagne to this glorious “business deal”. Shortly before three o'clock in the afternoon, “Etienne” and “Paul”, who called each other by their first names only and addressed each other as “brother”, left the restaurant. Their sunny mood was in stark contrast to the dull, autumnal weather that swept over the city of Boston that afternoon.
Paul waved at a passing taxi and got in. Jamie waited for the limousine service, which was parked a bit far away, and due to the rather cold weather was quite happy that the car started moving in his direction immediately.
While he was still waiting, his eyes fell on an advertising flyer, which was driven across the sidewalk by a light wind. A name that was emblazoned on this flyer caught his attention. It was the name of a painter - Gerhard Richter. Jamie not only admired the paintings of the professor, who had taught painting at the Art Academy in Düsseldorf from 1971 to 1993 and whose works were among the most important and expensive of any living German artist. He was also fascinated by his life story, to which Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck had set a monument in his film “Never look away” (”Werk ohne Autor”). Without thinking for long, Jamie bent down and picked up the flyer. Still in the car he began to read. A small gallery not far from his hotel advertised an exhibition documenting Richter’s life and work. Jamie put the flyer in his left breast pocket. He would love to spend part of his free evening visiting this exhibition. But now he had to hurry, because a small, private teleconference with the “managing director” of “In Vino Veritas” was scheduled for three o'clock in the afternoon local time, and he didn’t want to be late.
While Etienne Marcel de Provac Alexandre reported to his boss in faraway Berlin about the successfully concluded contracts with “Paul Smith”, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall made her way through her neighbourhood. Although the weather was unusually cold for the time of year, with 13.8 degrees Celsius, she could no longer bear to stay in her “home” after everything that had happened the previous night. At first she had thought of going to a nearby café that she visited regularly in the past. But the thought of having to sit on a hard wooden chair had made her refrain from doing so. Not far away there was also a church that she had visited repeatedly and the fact that the pews were furnished with soft seat cushions lead her steps hopefully towards this building. But this hope was to be disappointed. On the - closed - main portal there was a handwritten notice that on that day the doors of the church would stay closed due to a sudden illness of the sexton. Resigned, she turned around. Where could she go now? Her gaze fell on a small gallery that was open until six o'clock in the evening. That was still three hours away. Three hours in which she could look at pictures there, or sit down in front of one of the works of art. Three hours in which nobody would approach her or ask her about anything. Three hours in which she could think about her next steps in peace. Somehow she had to find a way out of this misery. But she did not know how. Only one thing she knew with one hundred percent certainty: She would never return to Frank Randall. Not a single moment would she voluntarily stay in the presence of this monster again. She would rather put an end to her miserable existence. Claire had already thought about this once before. Back then, on 31 May 2018, when Longfellow Bridge was reopened again after five years of repairs. But when she stood on top of the bridge, she was not sure whether a jump from there would bring the longed-for end to her agony. She had turned away and had returned. Returned to her life with Frank, whom she knew was cheating on her regularly. Returned to a life of lies. Returned to a life where she tried to numb all her pain with alcohol and pills. But if her experience had shown one thing, it was that no drug in the world could cover those wounds, especially not those that Frank had inflicted on her the previous night. Something had to happen.
“Ausstellung” by beludise
Twenty minutes before 4:00 pm Jamie had finished the conference call. Through one of the windows of his room he looked outside and noticed that the sky was darkening. A strong wind had come up and rain began to patter against the windows. But even if the thunderstorm was about to start, he would not be deterred from visiting the small gallery whose flyer he still carried with him. He dialed the number of the reception and ordered the limousine service again.
On the way to the lobby of the hotel he thought about how much he would have loved to get in touch with Jenny, Ian and the kids via video conference. But that was not possible. The chance of endangering himself, his job and possibly his family was too great. But it would not be long before he would finally see them again. The following evening his flight left and the following day, with a small detour via the headquarters of “In Vino Veritas”, he would arrive back home and see them all again. He was already looking forward to it very much. For him, his family was the most valuable earthly possession and he wished for nothing more than to be able to start a family himself one day. Up to now he had always pushed that thought away. While he was still living in Scotland, the administration of his parents’ estate and the political activities took up all his time and energy. Moreover, he would not have wanted any women to be the wife of a man who was a convicted traitor, being held in a London high-security prison and therefore not able to provide for his family. But more important than this was the fact that he had not yet met “the” woman with whom he really wanted to spend his whole life and with whom he wanted to start a family. When he entered the foyer and the receptionist told him that his limousine had just arrived, James Fraser had no idea that he was less than an hour away from that very encounter.
Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall had entered the gallery, paid the entrance fee and accepted an exhibition guide, which she had immediately stowed in her handbag. She had wandered aimlessly through the rooms until she found a small bench in one of the back exhibition rooms. It stood in front of a picture showing an older man with glasses, standing in front of a reddish wall. But she only took note of it peripherally. Much more important in her present situation was that there was soft upholstery on the bench. Carefully she sat down on it and yet the pain went through all her limbs.
When Jamie’s limousine stopped at the curb in front of the gallery entrance, it had already begun to rain in torrents. The sky had darkened to black and now and then a loud roll of thunder could be heard. Carl, the limousine driver, parked near the entrance and then quickly jumped out of the car with a large black umbrella bearing the logo and name of the hotel in golden letters. He opened the door on the rear passenger side and held the umbrella so that Jamie could get out without getting wet. The chauffeur accompanied him the few steps to the gallery, then quickly hurried back to the limousine where he would wait for the guest to return.
As soon as he had entered, Jamie was greeted by a friendly member of the gallery staff. He paid the entrance fee and received the exhibition catalogue. Then he slowly started his way through the exhibition. It took him about forty minutes to reach the back room of the gallery. Already from a distance he recognizedthe well-known photo that showed the painter in front of his famous work “Wall”. Only once had Richter had himself photographed in front of this work. This photo had then adorned the title page of the art magazine “art”.
“Locken” by KRiemer
In front of exactly this two-meter by two-meter picture sat a petite woman, whose head was surrounded by an only slightly tamed, dark brown mass of curls. Carefully and anxious to make as little noise as possible, Jamie approached her with some distance. A few minutes passed, then he heard the woman sniffing softly. She opened her handbag and was obviously looking for a handkerchief in a hurry. Jamie reached into the right pocket of his jacket and pulled out a pack of Tempo tissues, which he opened and held out to the unknown woman.
“Please, take one of these."
The woman turned her head up to him and looked at him with big amber eyes, red from weeping. Later, James Fraser would tell again and again how those first 14 seconds, when he looked into the most beautiful eyes in the world, decided his future path of life.
Chapter 4: 14 Seconds (2)
Jamie and Claire's first conversation at the gallery leads to an unexpected course of the evening for Claire.
When Jamie's car stopped just before the entrance of the gallery, it had already begun to rain in torrents. The sky had darkened to black and every now and then a loud thunder could be heard. The limousine driver parked near the entrance and then quickly jumped out of the car with a large black umbrella bearing the logo and name of the hotel in gold letters. He opened the door on the rear passenger side and held the umbrella so that Jamie could get out without getting wet. The chauffeur accompanied him the few steps to the gallery, then quickly hurried back to the car where he would wait for the guest to return.
As soon as he had entered, Jamie was greeted by a friendly member of the gallery staff. He paid the entrance fee and received the exhibition catalogue. Then he slowly started his way through the exhibition. It took him about forty minutes to reach the back room of the gallery. Already from a distance he saw the well-known photo showing the painter in front of his famous work "Wall". Only once had Richter had himself photographed in front of this work. This photo had then adorned the title page of the art magazine "art".
Exactly in front of this two-meter by two-meter picture sat a petite woman, whose head was surrounded by an only slightly tamed, dark brown mass of curls. Carefully and anxious to make as little noise as possible, Jamie approached with some distance. A few minutes passed, then he heard the woman sniffing softly. She opened her handbag and was obviously looking for a handkerchief in a hurry. Jamie reached into the right pocket of his jacket and pulled out a pack of Tempo tissues, which he opened and held out to the unknown woman.
"Please, take one of these."
“Boston” by chabotphoto
The woman turned her head up to him and looked at him with big, red, weeping eyes.
Then she immediately looked back down to the ground.
"Don’t be ashamed. I know only too well how much this painting can speak to a person's soul," Jamie said softly.
"What?" asked the young woman and looked at Jamie again.
"I meant the picture..."
Jamie pointed with his right hand to the large photo she was sitting in front of. Claire looked over, then shook her head.
"I ... I didn't ..."
At that moment, the dark silk scarf she had wrapped around her neck began to come loose, revealing her ivory skin. To his horror Jamie discovered several dark red-blue strangulation marks there.
James Fraser had learned early on to hide his emotions well. Among the people who regularly dealt with him, he was known for the stoic mask he was able to put on. A mask that never betrayed what he really thought or felt. Ernst Neuenburger had once highlighted this characteristic of his Scottish friend as a further asset to his diplomatic missions, saying, that if Jamie ever got tired of his daily work, he could make a very good living as a poker player.
But at that moment every joule of stoic calm left him. A feeling of righteous anger pervaded his entire body and the desire to bring the one who had caused those marks and the pain and fears associated with them to justice almost overwhelmed him. His emotions had obviously not escaped the young woman. Frightened, she grabbed her neck and immediately put the scarf back on. Then she looked down again. Now tears were dripping from Claire's face onto the floor. Jamie, who had not failed to notice this either, again held out the package of Tempo tissues to her.
"Please, take the whole package."
Claire reached for the tissues.
"May I sit with you?" Jamie asked, pointing to the other side of the bench.
Cautious not to get too close to her, he sat down on the other end of the bench.
A few minutes went by in which they both remained silent. But in James Fraser's head the thoughts were spinning. What could he do to help this young woman without endangering his mission? How could he approach her without frightening her timid nature even more? In what way could he gain her trust? And above all: How could he prevent her from being exposed to even more brutality?
In Claire's mind, too, one thought chased the other. Who was this man? What did he want from her? Could she trust him? Was he the help she had prayed for just a few minutes ago in a more or less conscious prayer? He did not look like an angel, more like the modern version of a tall Viking. And yet there was nothing about him that seemed threatening to her. His bright blue eyes gave her a feeling of ... a feeling of ...
Suddenly the soft, deep voice that had so kindly offered her the handkerchiefs before interrupted her thoughts:
"Excuse me, I haven't introduced myself. My name is Etienne Marcel de Provac Alexandre. I'm a wine merchant. I had a business meeting in town today."
Jamie gave her his right hand.
Claire, who had calmed down a bit, grabbed it and answered:
"Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp..."
“Hände” by Bru-nO
Usually, she would also have used the name "Randall", but she never wanted to have anything to do with that name again. Before she could even think about how to get rid of this name, the stranger's voice interrupted her thoughts again:
"Oh, from France too?"
"Not exactly. My ancestors ... emigrated to England ... many centuries ago. Are you from France? You speak English with no accent?“
Jamie had to smile.
"Well, my ancestors also left France centuries ago. Then they came to Germany ... through ... various countries. I ... I work as a wine merchant for a company in Berlin.“
He reached into the right inside pocket of his jacket, took out a small silver case with business cards and handed one of them to Claire. She took the card and read attentively. Surprised, she suddenly heard herself wonder:
"How far is Berlin from here?"
Jamie thought for a moment.
"A little over 6,000 kilometers, I guess."
"And how far is it from London to Berlin?"
"About 1,000 kilometers."
"And you are in Boston on business?"
"Yes, I had a meeting with one of our business partners."
"I don't want to be indiscreet, but may I ask you something?"
Claire looked at him and Jamie realized that the trust he had just so carefully tried to build between them had disappeared from her eyes.
But then the young woman nodded again.
"You ... you're not here for the exhibition?" he asked softly, almost whispering.
"No," Claire replied just as softly, and then, to her own surprise, it flowed out of her:
"I ... I was looking for a place where ... I could have some piece, a quiet place to think, and since the church was closed ..."
"Sorry if I disturbed you. I didn’t mean to."
Jamie made preparations to stand up carefully. But to his surprise, Claire had quickly put her hand on his arm as if she were holding him back. Was she? She didn't know it herself.
At that moment, the voice of the friendly co-worker who had greeted Jamie sounded from the ceiling speakers. She warned the visitors to the gallery that it would be closing shortly.
Jamie looked at Claire.
"What are you gonna do now?"
He did not need to wait for an audible answer, her eyes told him that she did not know.
"May I invite you to dinner, Mrs. Beauchamp?"
What did that man want from her? Could she trust him? Or was there some other purpose behind his altruism. She had truested Frank once ... But what if he really just wanted to help her? What if he really just wanted to be kind to her? Maybe because the thought of his French ancestors had activated a kind of feeling of solidarity? Did she have any chance? Did she have a better alternative?
Jamie got up and waited until Claire had also got up and taken her bag. Slowly they walked towards the exit. Through one of the large windows they saw that the rain that had begun to cover the city a few hours earlier, had gradually turned into a real storm. Jamie grabbed his smartphone and dialed the chauffeur's number. Shortly afterwards Carl appeared in front of the gallery with two large black umbrellas and together they walked quickly to the car.
“Schwarz und Weiß” by Pexels
"To the hotel, Mr. Alexandre?"
"Yes, Carl, to the hotel."
Claire looked at Jamie in surprise.
But he briefly put a hand on her right arm to calm her down:
"My hotel has a wonderful restaurant. I arrived yesterday and will fly back to Berlin tomorrow. I didn't have time to explore other restaurants."
Half an hour later they were sitting at a table in the hotel restaurant and had ordered dinner. Claire had decided that she would make the most of the time they had together. She had nothing to lose and so she began to question Jamie, alias Etienne. How had his family come to Germany? Had he grown up in Germany? Had he studied? Did he have brothers and sisters? How long had he worked for the company that sent him to Boston? Did he enjoy his job? Did he want to pursue this profession all his life?
As they ate and talked, Claire carefully glanced over his hands. He was not wearing any rings. So the question of whether he was married seemed unnecessary. Now he looked at her questioningly, obviously he had noticed something.
“Glashütte Original Panomatic Date“ by GFP via WikiMediaCommons
"You are wearing a very beautiful watch, Etienne," she said, hoping that he would not notice that her attention had not been focused on the piece of jewelry on his left wrist. Already in the car she had seen that he was wearing a watch with a blue dial that matched the colour of his eyes.
"What kind of brand is it?" she asked, hoping to distract him further.
"It's a Glashütte Original. Model PanoMaticLuna," he replied. Then he cut off another piece of his steak.
"Looks expensive," she said, then led another fork of lettuce to her mouth.
"Let's just say it wasn't cheap," Jamie replied before he in turn brought his fork with the meat to her mouth.
"So you make good money?"
The question came briskly and Claire almost bit her tongue. She hoped she hadn't offended him. But Jamie didn't seem to mind her remark.
"I was lucky enough to close a very good sale a few years ago and my boss gave me a percentage of the profits. That's how I afforded this watch. I'm not giving much about wearing ... jewellery, but I've always wanted a reliable watch.
"What was it that you were selling at that time? It must have been quite extraordinary."
Beauchamp! Your mouth will finally get you into trouble.
She was about to apologize when Jamie grabbed his wine glass, smelled it and then took a sip. This gave him a chance to think for a moment before he answered.
Claire also reached for her wine glass. She looked at him and saluted him.
"Well," he began, after putting his glass down, "I can't, of course, talk about business matters. But let's put it this way: I located some very old bottles of European wine a few years ago and was able to acquire them for someone else, a collector, at a very good price."
Fraser, you nut. I hope she takes it from you.
He'd read that this sort of business was really happening, but extremely rare. He also wondered if his answer had sounded convincing. Yes, he'd bought this watch on a bonus. But he had not received it for finding and reselling old wine bottles. For weeks he had been negotiating in the hottest weather with a North African group of bandits who had kidnapped a German-Austrian team of archaeologists. After finally returning the twelve men and women to Vienna and Berlin on a Gulfstream 650, Ernst Neuenburger presented him with a cheque. With this money he had bought the watch he had been wearing ever since.
As dinner drew to a close, Jamie decided to play at full risk.
"Claire, I know this must sound ... strange to you. But ... I'd like to help you. How would you feel about me booking you a hotel room? My company can cover the cost. It's no problem. I'll check with my boss later. You ... you don't ... you don't have to ... go back to ... him ... tonight."
He had spoken softly, almost in a whisper. Yet she felt as if her ears were ringing. Before she could even answer, Jamie had called a waiter and asked him to ask at the reception if he could book another single room.
She looked at him speechless. He just smiled.
Shortly after, the waiter came back and explained that unfortunately there were no more free single rooms because of the Boston Marathon, which would take place in two days.
"So that's all right then, but thanks for the suggestion," Claire said and reached for her wine glass again.
"There's another possibility," Jamie started and reached for his wine glass as well, "there's a fold-out sofa in my studio. You can take my bed, I'll have it freshly made and I'll take the sofa."
Claire placed her wine glass on the table with such force that he thought the stem would break off.
"What do you think?!" she thundered at him. "I'm not that kind of woman."
He would have been happy to answer her at the same volume. But some of the other guests were already looking at them and he wanted to avoid further fuss at all costs.
"And I, Claire, am not such a man," he replied in a calm but very specific tone. When she had calmed down a little, he went on quietly:
"I have a family in Berlin and I don't travel the world to bring vulnerable women to my room on my nights off."
He put his hands in front of his face and massaged his forehead lightly. When he looked up again, he saw her shaking slightly. Since she was silent, he continued speaking:
"All I want, Claire, is to help you. I don't know who inflicted those marks on your neck and I'm not going to ask you about. But I don't want you to have to go back to him - if you don't want to. And I don't want you wandering around this town in the middle of the night in this weather too. I want to be sure that you're safe and that you're getting a good night's sleep. Tomorrow you can decide what to do next."
Tears ran down her cheeks and Claire quickly reached for her napkin to wipe them away.
"Claire, please! Allow me to help you."
He reached out his right hand to her. When she had put the napkin aside, she grabbed it.
"Thank you. You’re kind."
Jamie waved to the waiter and asked him to arrange for the pull-out sofa in his studio to be prepared and his bed to be freshly made up. He also asked to separate the two sleeping areas with screens. When the waiter returned shortly afterwards and announced that the guest's wishes would be carried out, Jamie asked that dessert be served.
“Lemon Meringue Tart" by la-fontaine
After they had eaten the lemon meringue tart and emptied the rest of the bottle of wine, Jamie stood up and offered his hand to Claire. Together they walked out of the restaurant to the cloakroom where they received their coats.
Soon after, Jamie opened the door to his studio and let Claire go in. When he entered after her, he saw that the service had carried out his wishes to the point. His bed had been freshly made and there was a second bathrobe on the bedspread. The bedroom had been separated from the living room area (where the sofa had now been converted into a pull-out bed) by a bamboo screen which was about 2 meters long. Claire also looked around carefully and Jamie thought he saw something like an expression of satisfaction and relaxation on her face.
He took Claire's coat off and hung it with his in the cloakroom.
"Take a seat, please," he said, pointing to one of the armchairs in front of the gas fireplace. Claire let herself fall into the armchair more than she let herself sit down. It seemed as if she suddenly lost all her strength. Her eyes fell on the wedding ring that she still wore out of habit. She tried to take it off, but she couldn’t. Overwhelmed by feelings of pain and anger, she burst into tears again and began to sob. Jamie, who stood at one of the windows for a moment and looked down at the street, turned around immediately and took two big steps towards her. Without thinking about it any further, he knelt in front of her and put an arm around her.
"Claire," he said softly, "trust me, we'll find a way. You don't have to go back to him."
When she looked at him with her redish weeping eyes, he could hardly bear the sight and pulled her to him.
Chapter 5: 14 Seconds (3)
In this chapter we witness Claire's last day in Boston.
They had stayed like that for a while - Jamie kneeling in front of Claire, one arm around her and Claire, crying while clutching onto that arm. When they had separated, Jamie had stood up. He had stepped up to the minibar hidden behind a small cupboard door. There he had emptied four small whisky bottles into two glasses and handed one of these glasses to Claire.
At the end of that evening they did not speak much to each other. Claire asked at some point if he could lend her a T-shirt. Since all his T-shirts were sweaty from sports, he gave her one of the shirts that the room service had brought back from the cleaners that morning. She disappeared into the bathroom with it.
Meanwhile, Jamie sat down at the small desk next to the sofa that had been folded out to form a bed and opened his laptop. Then Etienne Marcel de Provac Alexandre began writing an email to the management of "In Vino Veritas" ordering a bottle of champagne for a friend's wedding and asking that the Magnum bottle be delivered as soon as he returned. Jamie knew that there would be someone sitting in the basement of the In Vino Veritas office building who would understand this "order" perfectly.
The "special office" (as they called it), which was hidden behind an easily movable wall of shelves full of exquisite wine bottles, was manned 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Between four and ten "employees" of the wine shop took care of the very special "orders" that arrived there from time to time from all over the world.
Jamie also knew that people in the cellar of "In Vino Veritas" would not be happy about this "order". But there was no question that they would do anything to fulfill his "wish".
“Weinkeller” by designermikele
After he had pressed "Send", Jamie stretched his arms and legs. Then he considered whether he should let Claire in on his plans that very night, but decided to let her sleep for now.
Shortly afterwards, Claire came out of the bathroom. Out of the corner of his right eye, Jamie saw that she was wearing the big white hotel robe. She disappeared immediately behind the bamboo screen.
"The bathroom is free now," she shouted.
"Thank you, I'll be going now," he returned. Then he took his pyjamas out of his suitcase and went to the bathroom.
When Jamie came back a quarter of an hour later, also wrapped in a hotel bathrobe, there was still a light burning behind the bamboo screen. He lowered himself onto the sofa bed and thought for a moment. Then he turned out the light.
"Good night, Claire."
"Good night, Etienne."
Now the light behind the screen went out.
Jamie wondered if Claire would be able to sleep that night. He hoped so. Whether he would sleep at all was doubtful to him. Again and again he played out in his mind the plan he had already made during dinner. He was not sure if Claire would accept his suggestion. But he had to try, at least.
At 5.20 am, Jamie was awakened by the pressure of his bladder. He turned off his smartphone alarm clock, which would ring ten minutes later. Then he went quietly into the bathroom. When he returned, he had put on his sports clothes. He quickly wrote a short message for Claire on a Post-It sticker he put on the bathroom door. Then he quietly left the room.
At 6.40 am Jamie returned from the gym. Carefully he opened the door of the hotel room. But everything inside was still dark. He stopped for a moment and listened. From the area behind the bamboo paravent a slight snoring could be heard. Jamie had to smile. He took his clothes, removed the Post-It sticker from the bathroom door and went inside.
When he came back into the room just some minutes after 7:00 am, Claire was sitting in one of the chairs. She had both legs hanging over the armrest and was drinking in bulk from a water bottle that Jamie had taken from the mini-bar the night before and put on the table. When she had put the bottle down, she yawned heartily and stretched her arms away from her. Only now did she notice Jamie. She flinched briefly and pulled her legs from the armrest.
"Oh! Excuse me!"
"There's no need to apologize. Good morning, Claire. Did you get … some … sleep?"
She looked at him and for the first time since he'd met her, a radiant smile went over her face.
"I didn't actually think I could sleep," she said, "but I must have fallen asleep at some point, When I woke up, I heard the shower and I was extremely thirsty."
"I'm glad you did. Are you, uh ... hungry too?"
"Not at the moment, but after a shower I could certainly use a strong coffee and something to eat."
"Good. I'll call the room service.”
She got up and went past him into the bathroom. Jamie had to force himself not to look at her. Why should such a beautiful woman apologize for her stunning legs, he thought, grinning like a honey cake man. Then he felt the blush shoot into his face. He picked up the receiver of the room telephone and ordered breakfast.
“Frühstück” by contatoartpix
It took Claire almost forty minutes in the bathroom and that could only be right for Jamie. When she came back, he had cleaned up a bit and packed his suitcase. Then the room service rang and brought breakfast. After Claire spread the food out on the small table and Jamie poured coffee into their cups, they started eating in silence. Jamie waited until Claire had had her first cup of coffee. As she finished her first croissant and turned to the scrambled eggs, he thought the time had come to let her in on his plan.
"Have you thought about," he asked cautiously, "what are you going to do now?"
Claire didn't answer, but Jamie saw her face darken slightly. He knew that this question had thrown her back into the very reality she so eagerly wanted to escape from. But he could not spare her that now. She took a deep breath, then she said:
"No, I haven't done that yet."
"Do you have any obligations?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, professional, maybe? A job where they are waiting for you?"
"No, I don't."
Again she was silent and Jamie decided not to pursue this topic further because Claire seemed uncomfortable with it.
"Are there any friends that you could stay with for a while?"
Jamie knew that question was dangerous. Claire could say ‘yes’ and then turning down the offer he wanted to make. Still, he chose to ask about it. He wanted to avoid any appearance that he was pushing her on anything.
But his concern was unfounded. Claire looked down.
"No, my best friend ... married an Australian doctor six months ago who's gone back to his home country. She ... now lives in Canberra. And ... another friend of mine ... flew to the Congo last week - with his wife. They're doctors, and ..."
"The Democratic Republic of Congo? The recent Ebola outbreak?"
"Yes, they're helping the local doctors ..."
"I see. And there's no one else?"
"Well, there are people I know, but I wouldn't confide in.”
"Claire, if you have no work commitments here and no friends to stay with, I have a suggestion ..."
"What kind of suggestion?"
"Well, how about a vacation?"
Claire had to laugh out loud.
"A vacation?" she asked incredulously.
"Yes. What would you say if I invited you on a vacation to Germany? I know this is going to sound crazy to you. but it really wouldn't be a problem. My family has a big house, you'd have your own room with a bathroom. My sister would take care of everything. There are forests and lakes nearby ... very close. You could see Berlin, Potsdam, Dresden ... if you like. Maybe together with my sister and the children. Whatever you like ... In any case, you could keep your distance from the ... situation here and ... you could decide what you want to do in the future on your own time."
“Schloss Rheinsberg” by 70650
He was silent. Even Claire could not utter a word out of astonishment.
"But how can this ...?"
"Don't worry about that. I'll take care of it. I just need to know if you want me to. And I assure you, if you don't like it in Berlin, I will get you a ticket back here. You don't have to worry about that or the cost.”
"No buts. Yes or no?"
Claire couldn't believe it. Was this a dream or reality? Last night she had asked him how far Berlin was from here. 6,000 kilometres he said. What a distance. 6,000 kilometers between her and the monster who still called himself her "husband" ...
"Do you ... honestly mean that?"
"Yes, Claire. And I have no ulterior motives. If it makes you feel any better, I have to work during the week and so I'm usually not at home. So during the day, you'll be dealing mostly with my sister, the kids and staff. And that's only if you want it. You are completely free to do whatever you want."
Again her mind was spinning. Could she really trust this man. He had not approached her that night. But would he maintain this restraint if she flew with him to another, a foreign country? But maybe he really only wanted to help her?
"You ... said you were flying back to Berlin tonight ... “
"Yes, that's true, but if we hurry, I can still fix all this. Will you come with me?"
Did she have a choice? Did she have an alternative? Traveling, discovering another country, meeting new people. All that had determined her childhood and youth, the time she had spent at the side of her beloved uncle Lamberth. And how much she had missed it all. While she thought of uncle Lamb, a verse from a children's opera she had attended with him more than two decades ago suddenly flashed through her mind. It was the well-known last verse from Humperdinck's 'Hansel and Gretel' - 'When adversity rises to its highest, the Lord God puts out His hand to us!’ Without noticing it, Claire hummed the melody softly to herself.
Jamie, still waiting for an answer, looked at her in wonder.
"Claire? Yes or no?"
"Yes," she replied, and her voice had regained a firmness that had been one of her defining characteristics long after she had finished medical school.
"Yes," she said again, adding, "I'm coming with you to Berlin."
Jamie's heart was beating faster. Until now he had hardly dared to hope that she would accept his suggestion. And yet it had happened.
"All right, I'll make the arrangements. Do you have your passport with you?"
"Sure, in my handbag. But don't I need a visa?"
"Yes. I'll arrange it. You don't have to worry about that.”
Jamie had got up and went to his laptop, which was still on his desk. The night before, he'd prepared an email for this case. Now he sent it. In this new mail, Etienne Marcel de Provac Alexandre asked that the bottle of champagne he had ordered be accompanied by a greeting card.
After that was done, Jamie sat down at the table with Claire again.
“British Passport” by Gustave.iii - via WikimediaCommons
"Claire, is it far to ... your apartment and will ... your ... husband ... be home?"
"No, it's not far, maybe 25, 30 minutes by car. I suppose that ... Frank will be at the university by this afternoon ..."
"Okay, then please write your address on this piece of paper and give me your passport."
She did what he asked.
"Thank you. Eat some more. We'll have to leave soon to get your things. I don't know if we'll have time to have lunch."
About half an hour later there was a knock at the door and a voice called out:
Claire looked at Jamie in amazement, but he just nodded. He put her passport and the note with her address on a plate and spread a napkin over it. Then he went to the door. Claire looked after him and watched as he handed the plate to a waiter. When Jamie returned to the room, he saw her amazed look.
"Please don't worry. Trust me. I'll explain everything to you later."
Claire gave a slight sigh.
"I guess that's the price I have to pay for this adventure," she said, and put cheese on another croissant before wrapping it in a paper napkin and putting it in her handbag.
An hour later, after Jamie had checked out and paid her bills, they were back in the hotel limousine and had Carl drive them to Claire's address.
“Boston” by thefastandthefanagle
Once there, Claire carefully opened the front door with her key. To her great relief, Frank was nowhere to be seen. Jamie heard Claire exhale freely. He looked around and a chill ran through him. Everything he saw was old, but not in any antique sense. He had a thing for tasteful, antique furniture. But the decor did not have the taste or warmth of an old place. It almost seemed as if it had been furnished in a pragmatic way in the 50's and then forgotten until now. Everything here seemed purely functional, impersonal and cold. It was a furnished apartment, but definitely not a home.
"Claire, we have to hurry. Where are your things?"
She pointed up and he followed her up the stairs. When she reached the first floor, she stopped in front of a door for a moment. Then she pushed it open and went inside. Jamie, who followed her, saw that it must be the Randalls' bedroom. But there was no marriage bed. There were two single beds on the right and left side of the room. To his surprise, the sheets were scattered all over the beds. And … there were bloodstains on one sheet. He did not dare to imagine at that moment what had happened here. Now it was time to keep a clear mind, use the time and then get Claire safely out of this danger zone. Afterwards there was still enough time to let his anger about these things run free. When he was back home in Wilhelmshorst, he could maltreat the sandbag in his fitness room with his fists for as long as he wanted. But now ... Then he noticed how Claire had put some suitcases on one of the beds and was now busy packing clothes into them.
"Claire, when you've packed all your clothes, please pack everything else that you care about. Documents, books, whatever belongs to you."
She just nodded and put more things in the suitcases. When she had filled three large suitcases, the wardrobe was empty. Jamie carried the suitcases down the stairs and put them down near the front door. When he returned to Claire, she had another, a smaller, suitcase and a backpack filled with documents and other things.
"Is that all?"
"That's all I can take with me in suitcases."
"Is there anything else that belongs to you and that we should keep safe?"
“Box” by bluebudgie
"There are several boxes in the cellar with things my uncle Lamberth left me, but we'll hardly be able to take them on the plane."
"Don't worry. We'll get them on another way to Berlin. I'll take care of that."
Slowly they went down the stairs. But before they got to the last step, they heard someone unlock the front door and enter the house. Jamie saw him first. An obviously drunk Frank Randall staggered towards him and, seeing the strange man, began to scream:
"What are you doing in my house?"
A tremendous rush of adrenaline shot through Jamie's body, followed by a rush of rage. He could barely contain himself. He knew it couldn't be. The man he now faced could not be the demon he had fought with years ago in a prison cellar in Edinburgh and to whom he owed scars that would remind him all his life of the time he spent in that dark vault. Jamie's mind told him that Jack Randall, better known as 'Black Jack', was dead. But Frank Randall looked so much like him and it cost James Fraser all the strength he could muster at that moment or he would have forgotten himself.
But then Frank Randall noticed Claire next to Jamie.
"You slut, you whore! I knew it! I kneeew it! You're whooooring around with a muscleman, but you're not gonna let meeee have a little funnn with women who are nicer than you everrrrrrrr were. You frigid, cold bitch, you ..."
He had raised his right arm and was now trying to punch Claire. But before she could duck, Jamie had grabbed Frank's arm and turned it onto his back. The drunk cried out in pain. Jamie let go of him and gave him a gentle nudge. Frank landed, face down, lengthwise on a yellowish sofa. A light cloud of dust rose above him. Claire looked at Jamie in shock.
"Is he ...?"
"No," he assured her, "he's not dead. He's just dead drunk and will sleep it off in the next few hours. Before we leave, I'll turn him over."
Suddenly the front doorbell rang.
Claire looked at him again.
"Open the front door, Claire. The men will get your bags."
"I'll explain later. Go and open. Now, Claire! I'll keep ... an eye on Frank."
She had a million questions, but Claire decided to just go for it. When she opened the front door, there were five men in overalls that looked like they'd come from a moving company.
"Mrs Randall's suitcases?" asked a tall man who reminded her of an actor and who was obviously the boss of this group.
"Here you go."
Claire pointed to the suitcases and two other muscular men stepped in, took the suitcases and carried them to a black van with "New Castle Movers" written on it.
"Is there anything else that needs transporting?" asked the boss of the troupe.
"Yes, down in the basement. I'll show you."
The man waved at the remaining two men and together they followed Claire into the basement.
“Bellhops loading a truck“ by Bellhopsmarketing - Own work,
CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75018108
Thirty minutes later, the men had loaded Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall's entire belongings into the black van belonging to the “New Castle Movers” company. The boss of the troupe had briefly exchanged a few words with Etienne Marcel de Provac Alexandre, then they drove off. Claire would have loved to know who these men were and what they would do with her belongings. But then Frank started to stir again. Jamie turned the drunk man, who was mumbling incomprehensible things, onto his back. He tried to stand up and talked to Jamie. But he just looked at him and Frank sank back into the cushions of the sofa. Shortly afterwards he started snoring loudly. Claire could only shake her head. This nightmare had to end. She wanted to get out of here as soon as possible.
"Who were those men, Etienne? And what happens to my things?"
"They are friends of a friend. Your things will be on their way to Berlin in a few hours ... on a cargo plane. They'll probably arrive a day or two after we do. Don't worry, my company will take care of it. Have you got everything now?"
"Good, then we'll go to the airport now."
He took her small case and the backpack and went to the door. Claire followed him. She was tempted to look back. But she did not. It had to end. It would end right here, right now. She pulled the front door behind her into lock. Then she pulled the front door key from her key ring and pushed it under the pot with the little buxus that stood on the top step of the stairs to the entrance. Jamie, who had stowed the hand luggage in the trunk, held the door of the climousine open for her. She got in and he took a seat next to her.
"To the airport, Mr. Alexandre?" asked the uniformed driver.
"Yes, Carl, straight to the airport."
Chapter 6: 14 Men (2)
Claire and Jamie leave Boston and arrive in Berlin. The next day Jamie has to explain to Clair that his real name is not Etienne Marcel de Provac Alexandre. But Claire's reaction to this confession is more than surprising to Jamie.
A deep breath escaped Claire’s lungs as the limousine drove on.
It seemed as if pure adrenaline was pumping through her body, her veines and nerves. The thought of leaving the country with a man who was almost a complete stranger to her had already created a strong excitement in her. She still didn’t know if she could trust this person. The way to her marital home and the stay in that room where the horrible deed had happened had cost her unspeakably much effort and strength. But it was the unexpected and repulsive encounter with that being, which she could no longer call human, that had almost pulled the ground from under her feet. It was only thanks to his alcohol level and the intervention of Etienne that Frank could not live out his hatred and brutality again. Claire was sure that she would not have survived another ‘encounter’ with him like the one the night before. And still, still, she had to gather all the strength she could find in her body, her soul and her mind. Because she had sworn an oath …
Claire opened her bag and took out her smartphone. Again she breathed in and out audibly. Then she dialed one of the numbers she had saved some time ago, albeit reluctantly. Jamie’s eyes followed her. It took a moment, then someone seemed to answer.
“Smartphone" by JESHOOTS-com
“Mrs. Travers? This is Claire Beauchamp. You know who I am, and I’ve known who you are for a long time. The man who cheated on me with you is lying on the sofa in the living room of his house. He’s drunk. He may vomit and choke on his vomit. If he means something to you, take care of him. The key to the front door is under the pot with the little buxus, which is on the top step of the stairs to the house. And when he wakes up and sobers up, tell him I left him. Once and for all. He’ll hear from my lawyer.”
Claire didn’t wait for an answer. She hung up and deleted the number. Then she turned off the phone and slipped it into her bag. She looked out the window of the limousine. Silently, she began to cry.
Jamie, who had noticed, put his arm around her and pulled her towards him. But Claire pulled her face in pain and he immediately let go.
“I’m sorry, Claire, I didn’t realize… ”
“It’s okay, you couldn’t …
She pushed her right hand over to him, which he took carefully and stroked gently.
“I’m sorry, Claire. I’m very sorry.”
“Thank you. It’s over,” she said softly, leaning against him exhausted.
“Yes, it’s over,” he replied and then added whisperingly, “By this time tomorrow we’ll be in Berlin and from then on you’ll have all the time in the world to relax … and recover.”
She closed her eyes while he continued to hold her hand. He would only let her go if she wanted him to.
An hour after they left the house, they arrived at the airport. The chauffeur parked the limousine and unloaded the luggage onto a luggage cart, which he steered towards the check-in. Jamie and Claire followed him. Suddenly a slim, black young man came towards them. He was wearing dreadlocks, covered by a colorful knitted hat, on which large headphones were sitting. He reminded Claire of Bob Marley in other ways as well. Although the young man must have seen them, he ran straight towards Jamie and bumped into him.
“Oh, sorry, man!”
The young man raised his hands defensively. To Claire’s amazement, he held an issue of the American magazine ‘Wine Advocate’ in one of them.
“It’s all right, no problem Bro!” Jamie said and smiled at the young man, “Nothing happened.” They continued on to the check-in where Carl was already waiting with the luggage.
“Etienne,” Claire said excitedly, “I think the young man booby-trapped something from your coat. He reached into the inside pocket! I saw it clearly.”
Jamie smiled at her. Then he replied:
“Shh, it’s all right, go on. Just keep calm and carry on.”
Claire could only look at him in wonder.
Arriving at the baggage claim, Jamie said goodbye to his chauffeur.
“Carl, I travel a lot on business, but you’ve been the best chauffeur I’ve ever had. Thank you for the service and especially for your discretion. If I ever have business in Boston again, I’d be happy to take you up on it.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Jamie reached into the inside pocket of his coat and took out a small envelope.
“This is for you, Carl. Buy something nice for your child and take your wife out to a special dinner.”
“How did you know, sir …?”
“I happened to see the picture on your smartphone when you were holding it yesterday.”
Carl smiled, then he reached out to Jamie.
“Thank you, sir, and have a safe flight home.”
Shortly after that, Carl disappeared with the baggage car. Jamie reached back inside his coat and turned to Claire.
"The young Bob Marley fan,” he said whisperingly, “even though he reached into my coat, didn’t steal anything. He put your passport with the visa and your ticket inside. The bump-into-trick works the other way round, too.”
He smiled. Then he handed her the passport, which contained the ticket from Boston to Berlin. Claire was silent. She wouldn’t have known what she could have said. Only one thought kept going through her mind: Who on earth was this man?
A few minutes later they checked in their luggage and received their boarding cards. They went through the security and identity check, went to the gate and after passing another check, they boarded.
Jamie didn’t know how the “In Vino Veritas” team had done it, but he decided to thank them for getting Claire the seat next to him. He told her to take the one by the window.
They went through the usual introductory program and finally the plane took off, leaving Boston first under and then behind them. Although Claire loved to look out of the window while flying, she now consciously resisted this wish. She never wanted to look back at the place where the most horrible thing that had ever happened to her … had happened to her. She closed her eyes and wished for nothing more than to finally fall asleep.
Boston - General Edward Lawrence Logan International by Konstantin von Wedelstaedt -
Gallery page http://www.airliners.net/photo//0171420/LPhoto http://cdn-www.airliners.net/aviation-photos/photos/0/2/4/0171420.jpg, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26879312
Then everything happened very quickly. On the flight to Berlin, Claire had slept most of the time. Only once did she wake up. It was at Stockholm Arlanda airport where they had to change planes. When they arrived at Berlin-Schönefeld Airport, Jamie had woken her gently.
He took care of the luggage and when they came to the exit a young man was waiting there whom he introduced to her as Felix Kloppstock. He loaded the luggage into a black Mercedes S-Class Coupe Concept. Jamie opened the door for Claire, let her in and sat down next to her.
“We’re driving to my house, but we have to stop by the company first. It won’t take long.”
Claire nodded. She was too exhausted to ask questions.
Almost half an hour later Felix Kloppstock dialled a number on the car phone and announced his arrival. When they stopped in front of a five-storey building with the name “In Vino Veritas” emblazoned in large letters on its façade, the car was spotted by a surveillance camera. Then a large steel rolling gate opened and the driver steered the car into an underground garage.
“We have to change cars now,” Jamie said and opened the door.
To Claire’s surprise, the garage was quite large. There were only a few other vehicles in it, though. They were mostly small vans, the majority of which had “In Vino Veritas” written on them.
Each of the men took parts of the luggage, then Claire and Etienne followed Felix through a wide aisle and two fire doors into … another underground garage. Several passenger cars were parked there. The men walked towards a black BMW M550d xDrive Touring and loaded the luggage into its trunk. Then, Jamie opened the front passenger seat door for Claire.
“Please take a seat. I’ll be right with you.”
She nodded. Then she saw the two men walking to an elevator door. A moment later the door opened and out stepped an elderly man with gray hair, wearing a blue suit. Etienne and the man talked briefly, then Felix Kloppstock and the stranger disappeared in the elevator. Etienne returned to the car.
Although the men all smiled and patted each other on the back as they said goodbye, Claire was a little eerie.
“Etienne, what’s all this about?” she asked when Jamie got back in the car. Hoping to instill confidence and trust in her in this way, he took her left hand and smiled.
“There’s no need to worry, Claire. I’d parked my car at the company before I left on my business trip. It’s what I always do.”
He started the car and drove it towards a steel roll-up door that resembled the one they used to enter the first garage. He waited until the security camera caught him and the door opened automatically. Then he drove out. Claire noticed that they left the building in a completely different way than when they entered it. But she knew that now was not the time to ask any more questions.
For about twenty minutes, their path led them through the city, then the picture changed. For a longer time they drove through a wooded area. Finally, a few smaller villages and a large motorway junction followed.
“Potsdam / Babelsberg” by Kai_Vogel
“Now we are leaving Berlin and we are in Brandenburg,” Jamie suddenly said.
“One of the 16 German states. The state capital is Potsdam. It’s only ten minutes from our home. We’re just passing by Babelsberg. Maybe the name means something to you. It is the most famous film location in Germany. When the GDR still existed, its state film company, the DEFA, had its headquarters here. The place was also popularly known as “Honnywood”, a pun from “Hollywood” and “Erich Honecker”, the head of the GDR government at the time. But that was long ago.“
They drove through a small town area and then came to a less populated area. Jamie turned onto a road that led to a stately country house. The house was on a sloping hillside property that was enclosed by a limestone wall with a wooden fence on top. At the entrance of the property was a small pavilion. This pavilion, also built of limestone and with a red pointed roof, reminded Claire of an ancient guard house. The path leading to the house and the car park in front of it was framed by pine trees on both sides. When they stopped directly in front of the house, Claire saw a huge tree on the right, which she estimated to be at least fifteen meters tall. But before she could take a closer look at the house, Jamie had already got out and held the door open for her. Out of a garage door that apparently led directly to the lowest floor of the house came a friendly looking older man. He was wearing brown corduroy pants and a white shirt over which he had put a green quilted jacket. When he saw Etienne, he smiled over his whole, very round, face. The two men greeted each other warmly. Then Etienne introduced the older man, whose head was only framed by a wreath of grey hair, as Frieder Ballin.
Suddenly the big oak door had opened and a woman whom Etienne introduced to her as his sister Janet, called Jenny, had come out. Jenny had welcomed Claire with great kindness. A few minutes later, they were sitting in the living room, drinking tea and eating apple pie. An hour later, Claire was lying in a freshly made bed in a room prepared especially for her, fast asleep. When she woke up, she had slept for nearly eighteen hours. To her surprise, there was a small table with a thermos of tea, a Tupperware box with sandwiches, a bowl of fresh fruit, and a small vase of yellow and red tulips by her bed. Her suitcase and backpack stood next to the door of her room. Someone must have put all this in there while she was sleeping.
It was eleven o'clock the next morning when Jamie, who was taking a walk around the house, saw the shutters on Claire’s windows being pulled up. He was happy to see a sign of life from Claire and hoped that the long sleep had done her good. At the same time, deep inside his stomach, a sinking feeling came over him. Now he would have to talk to her. It had to be now, it definitely had to be before the children returned from their trip. And he would have to reveal a truth to her that he didn’t know how she would react to. All he could do was hope that everything would work out.
Ten minutes later, Jamie came knocking on Claire’s door. When she opened and greeted him, he was relieved to see that she really looked more recovered.
"Claire, are you okay?”
“A little better, yeah. Thank you, Etienne.”
“I have something important to discuss with you. Would you please come with me?”
Claire nodded. Then she picked up her bag and followed him.
While they walked through the house, Jamie showed her the different rooms. About ten minutes later they were standing in front of a double door. Jamie opened the right door and pointed in:
“Please. This is our little library.”
As Claire walked in, a room with bookshelves on three walls opened up to her. On the fourth wall, a large window opened onto a garden. Jamie pointed to four comfortable leather armchairs set around a coffee table. There stood a bowl of fruit and drinks. They sat down. Then Claire, who could no longer stand the tension, asked:
“What is it, Etienne?”
Jamie took a deep breath, like he was trying to get a running start inside.
“Bibliothek” by mbahoco
“Claire, I have a confession to make …”
She didn’t say anything, just looked at him defiantly.
“I … haven’t been completely honest with you …”
Claire’s gaze changed into a state of consternation.
“It’s not that I was deliberately deceiving you …”
“Then why did you do it?”
“Because … I would have put myself, my family, and probably you in danger.”
"And what did you lie about?
Claire’s voice trembled slightly.
"My name is not Etienne Marcel de Provac Alexandre.”
She had expected many things, but not this.
"Your name is not Etienne Marcel de Provac Alexandre? But you have a passport …”
“Yes, I have a passport with that name. And this passport is not fake. It "s real. I …”
Claire saw non-Etienne kneading his hands, but he stopped immediately when he noticed her look.
“I use that name because it’s too dangerous for me to travel under my real name.”
“Why is that?”
“Because otherwise I might be kidnapped, taken to a maximum security prison and put away for life … for high treason.”
Only later would she admit, admit it only to herself. But the thought that this man, whoever he really was, would be locked up for the rest of his life stabbed Claire’s heart.
“Then who on earth are you?”
“My name is James Fraser, you can call me Jamie.”
Claire’s eyes had widened in astonishment. Then she said slowly, as if in shock:
“James Fraser? The James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser? Lord Broch Tuarach?”
The shock hit his whole body like lightning. But before Jamie could ask how she knew his full name, Claire went on:
“You are one of the ‘14 New Jacobites.’ You are one of the leading men of the Scottish independence movement. You have fled Scotland with your family and are said to be somewhere in Europe. Downing Street No. 10, the government of Vladimir de Salty Brownson, has put a bounty on your head!”
Claire clapped her hands together in front of her face.
They were silent for a moment. Then Jamie asked:
"How do you know all this, Claire?”
For a moment she seemed to be struggling, but then she said:
“My husband, Frank. He’s not just a historian, not just a professor at Harvard. He’s also worked for the Ml5 … and still does. You … and the 14 New Jacobites are the centre of his work.”
Chapter 7: 14 Men (3)
After a surprising confession, Claire makes a surprising discovery that changes everything for her.
"Your name is not Etienne Marcel de Provac Alexandre? But you have a passport..."
"Yes, I have a passport in that name. And this passport is not fake. It "s real. I ..."
Claire saw non-Etienne kneading his hands, but he stopped immediately when he noticed her look.
"I use that name because it's too dangerous for me to travel under my real name."
"Why is that?"
"Because otherwise I might be kidnapped, taken to a maximum security prison and put away for life for treason."
Only later would she admit, admit it to herself. But the thought that this man, whoever he really was, would be locked up for the rest of his life, that thought stabbed Claire's heart.
"Then who on earth are you?"
"My name is James Fraser, you can call me Jamie."
Claire's eyes had widened in astonishment. Then she said slowly, as if in shock:
"James Fraser? The James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser? Lord Broch Tuarach?"
Jamie was in shock. But before he could ask how she knew his full name, Claire went on:
"You are one of the 14 New Jacobites. You are one of the leading men of the Scottish Independence Movement. You have fled Scotland with your family and are said to be somewhere in Europe. The government of Vladimir de Salty Brownson has put a bounty on your head."
Claire clapped her hands together in front of her face.
They were silent for a moment. Then Jamie asked:
"How do you know all this, Claire?"
For a moment, she seemed to be struggling, but then she said:
"My husband, Frank. He's not just a historian, he's not just a professor at Harvard. He's also worked for the Ml5 ... and still does. You ... and the 14 New Jacobites are the centre of his work."
“Bibliothek” by StockSnap
After these mutual revelations, they fell silent for a while. Only slowly did the implications of those confessions begin to take shape in their minds. Claire was the first to find her voice again. She leaned over to Jamie and carefully put her hand on his arm:
"Mr. Fraser ..."
Jamie didn’t answer, but stared in front of him.
"James ..." she tried again.
"Jamie, call me Jamie, Claire."
"Jamie, you don't need to worry. I won't betray you or your family. I have no interest in that whatsoever. Please believe me. I have no sympathy for the government of Vladimir de Salty Brownson, nor for," she faltered for a moment, "the monster whose drunken vengeance you saved me from only 36 hours ago."
He had guessed. When he saw Frank Randall come through the door into the hall, he had guessed. And if he was honest to himself, deep down, he had known. It couldn't be a coincidence. They looked too much alike for that. And that face ... that awfully ordinary face ... that mask of conformist commonality ... and then that mediocre stature. Not too short, not too tall, not too thin, not too fat. A person you meet and forget in a few days. But he was not as harmless as he looked. On the contrary. He was not a man without qualities. Jamie knew it. He had literally experienced it firsthand.
He looked at Claire again. And slowly, Jamie realized what the hectic pace of the past two days had clouded in his thinking:
If Frank Randall was related to Jonathan "Black Jack" Randall (and he had to be, because they were just too much alike), then she, too, must have gone through unspeakably bad things.
Claire's voice was now back in his ear.
No, Claire would never betray him or his family, he was sure of that. The common enemy, the common threat, made her a natural ally. But what if Frank Randall recognized him despite his drunken condition? He had to take the necessary steps to protect himself, Claire, and of course his family.
Jamie took another deep breath.
"I trust you, Claire. But ... we still need to take some precautions, for your sake and ours."
Claire wanted to ask him what kind of precautions he was talking about, but at that moment there was a knock at the door.
Jamie shouted, "Come in!" and Helen Ballin appeared to inform them that lunch was ready.
"We'll be right there," he replied and the housekeeper closed the door of the library behind her.
"As I said, Claire, we must take some precautions. That is why I will need to speak today with ... those friends ... who have helped me and my family to find a safe exile here. They are the same ... friends who helped me to bring you here safely. I have to inform them ... as soon as possible ... and I think they would like to speak to you as well. Would you be willing to do so?"
"Yes, of course."
"Fine, but first we're going to have lunch."
“Esstisch” by RealAKP
The lunch that Jamie and Claire had with Ian and Jenny in the dining room was lively with animated conversation. Jamie had told Claire that he would not tell his family about the developments concerning Frank Randall until he had spoken to his "friends".
As they ate and Claire followed the casual conversation, her thoughts kept wandering to the question of who these "friends" could be. They had to be people in influential economic or political positions. That much was clear to her. Who else could have such possibilities as she had seen them at work in Jamie's life for the past two days? No, he had to have significant connections. Relationships in the influential circles of this country. But how did he come to have them?
Traditionally, France, Spain and Ireland had been allies of Scotland. Germany, especially the Hanoverians, were more likely to be the country's opponents. Should that have changed in the meantime? Frank had mentioned nothing of the sort. Anyway, Frank was not very happy about the "Nazis" on the other side of the big pond. Like Margaret Thatcher, he felt that "those" should never have been allowed to reunite their country. These people could not be trusted and he was sure that even seven decades of a democratic state could not hide the fact that these barbarian Huns were just waiting for the opportunity to subjugate Europe again. For this reason, Frank had enthusiastically welcomed both the Brexit and the rise of Vladimir de Salty Brownson. She remembered very well how enthusiastic he was when Prime Minister Terry Mary June failed with her Brexit negotiations and had to resign. Claire had not forgotten the sarcasm with which Frank had commented on this event. "Women," he had said in a snide tone, "should stay out of politics on principle. After all, that's something for rational beings." Claire had listened to all this, but hadn't given it any meaning. Since the age of five, she had travelled the world with her uncle Lambert, but she had never been to Germany. And she refused to pass judgement on people she had never met. But she was silent, because at that point she had already learned that it would not be good for her if she contradicted Frank. When Jamie had asked her if she would accompany him to Germany, she had only one thought: Frank would not follow her into that country willingly.
"Claire, some more wine?"
Ian's question had interrupted her thoughts.
She held out her glass to him and Ian filled it.
After they finished the dessert, Jamie thanked Jenny for the meal.
"You'll have to excuse Claire and me. We have things to discuss."
Ian and Jenny nodded. Claire followed Jamie through the hall to the terrace behind the house. There, in a sunny spot, were some armchairs with cushions around a round table. Jamie asked Claire to take a seat in one of the armchairs and sat opposite her. Claire did not wait for Jamie to start talking.
“Sitzecke” by fietzfotos
"Who are these 'friends' you spoke of, Jamie?"
"They're ... people my uncle Jared was already friends with. He had built up a pan-European wine trade out of Paris. And in most of the European capitals where he had subsidiaries, he not only bought real estate, but also made contact with ... influential people. He was a gifted networker. Of course, there were and are former friends of my uncle in Berlin.
"Who are now also your friends, or friends of your family.”
"Exactly. And these people will also be your friends, because you are friends with my family.”
"Friends of friends, so to speak?"
"You say it. Unless ... you don't want to.”
"No, I have already told you that I trust you, and ... that I have no sympathy for the government of Vladimir de Salty Brownson or for ... his follower in Boston."
She was silent for a moment.
"Is there anything I have to do? Do these friends expect anything from me?"
"I think they will ask nothing from you except secrecy."
"Do you think they will allow me to stay here, I mean, in this country?"
"I think so. And I will, of course, do my best to secure your stay ... unless you don't want me to. Is there any other country that you'd like to go to ..."
"No, no. Not at the moment. I ..."
“... you would like to stay and rest for a while?"
"I have no doubt that you will be allowed to do so. Now, if you'll excuse me a moment."
Jamie got up and went to the opposite end of the terrace. Once there, he pulled his smartphone out of his pocket and dialed one of the numbers that connected him to the "management" of “In Vino Veritas”.
"Ferdinand? It's me, Etienne. There are certain delivery problems regarding the wine from California. It would be good if we could discuss this in person ... Could you join us for dinner tonight?"
He was silent for a moment.
"Yes, 7:00 pm is fine. I look forward to it."
He hung up and put the phone back in his pocket. Then he went back to Claire.
"Did you reach your friend?”
"Yes, he'll be joining us for dinner tonight and we can talk afterwards. Is that okay with you?"
"Yes, although I'd like to lie down again."
Jamie reached out to her and helped her get up.
"Is it the elderly gentleman who greeted you in the underground car park?" Claire asked as they went back into the house.
Jamie looked at her for a moment, then smiled and said:
"No, this is also a ... friend, but he doesn't have the ... authority that is needed now. I'm going to introduce you to him tonight."
They said goodbye at the elevator and as it left, Jamie turned to the door leading to the living room. Jenny and Ian were waiting there. He had to inform them of the developments and the dangers that his meeting with Claire Beauchamp had set in motion. Reluctantly, he reached for the doorknob.
“Wohnzimmer” by JamesDeMers
When Jamie had finished and reached again for the whisky glass that Ian had put for him and refilled once before, his sister and brother-in-law looked at him in shock.
"And you are sure it is really a relative of Jonathan Randall?” asked Jenny incredulously.
"Unfortunately yes," Jamie admitted.
Silence filled the living room.
"I hope you don't think I'm putting us all intentionally in danger ..."
"Jamie! We know you didn't mean to put us in danger. Do you think Claire will ..."
"Ian," Jenny now interfered, "if her husband is as brutal as his relative, then I don't want to imagine what her body looks like under her clothes. And if she's thinking of turning on us, we might as well tell her what her husband's relative did to us."
Jenny looked grim.
"Please," Jamie turned to her again, "I don't think that's necessary for now. Tonight Ferdinand will speak to her and I have no doubt that he knows exactly how to explain the urgency of the whole matter to her. I think it would be wiser to get to know her better first and build a good relationship with her. One doesn’t betray the people who are good to you."
"You forget, my dear brother, that 10 Downing Street has put a bounty on your head and 10 million pounds is something to be considered," Jenny said.
"Yes, perhaps in England, but not in Europe or anywhere else in the world. And if the economy continues like this, at some point you will need 10 million pounds to buy a loaf of bread. No, I think Claire is neither greedy for money nor so crazy that she wants to return to England at the moment. Even before I offered her to come with me, she asked me how far Berlin was from Boston or London. I think she needs to put a distance as great as possible between her husband and herself."
"Are you sure we can still live here? Will they continue to protect us, won't they?"
Ian's gaze was serious.
"There's no question about it. I don't know if we can stay right here or if we have to move to another place. But I'm sure they'll keep protecting us. Remember: Not only do they know something about us, we know a lot about them as well. And moreover we have common goals - when the time is ready. I will not jeopardize that, nor do I think Ernst is stupid enough to do so."
Jamie's brother-in-law nodded.
"Let's wait and see what tonight's conversation brings," he then said and reached for his whisky glass.
“Wohnen in weiss” by RainerSturm / pixelio.de
Claire had returned to her room. She felt exhausted and would have liked to get some sleep. But after the previous conversation with Jamie, that was out of the question. She slipped out of her shoes and began to make one round after the other through her room. Unconsciously she had crossed her arms in front of her chest. Now and then she stopped in front of one of the windows and looked out. At some point she stopped in front of the fireplace and stretched out her arms over the entire mantelpiece. A sigh escaped her throat. So many questions suddenly rushed at her. If she revealed to Jamie's friends, who obviously belonged to the political and certainly also to the secret service circles of this country, the information she had learned through her marriage to Frank, wouldn't she become a traitor to her country? Would she not sell her birthright in this way for a lentil dish? And with all the negative feelings she had built up against Frank - would she put his life in danger by her actions? Once more she went a few rounds through her room. Then she decided that she had to talk to Jamie about these questions.
When Claire knocked on the door of the living room a few moments later, Jenny's voice was heard. She opened and entered.
"Oh, hi, Claire!"
"Jenny, I'm sorry to bother you.”
"It’s o.k., Claire. What can I do for you?"
"I need to talk to Jamie, but it seems, he is not in his room ...”
"Ah, that's not surprising. He's in the gym and should have finished his daily workout by now. Come on, I'll show you where to find him.”
Jenny, who had been sitting on the couch while knitting, stood up and came towards her. Then she led Claire down the hall to a door under the stairs. When Jenny opened it, Claire saw a staircase that led to the basement of the house.
"Down here, then immediately to the left. Continue straight down the hallway until you come to the door with the small window. That’s the gym. You can't miss it. Just walk in. Jamie usually has his headphones in there when he works out, so he can't hear anyone knocking.
“Fitnessraum” by lewisgoodphotos
She descended the stairs, followed Jenny's directions, and a minute later Claire was standing outside the door described, which she opened without knocking.
Throughout her medical studies, Claire had seen many horrible images. And what she saw in the emergency room where she later worked had often been just as bad. Except that the injuries were no longer just pictures, but injuries inflicted on living humans. That which had been bad but far away during her studies had come close and seemed all the more terrible to her. But Claire had never seen something like that, what she saw when she walked through the door of Jamie Fraser's gym. Later she would realize that this experience gave her the answers to all her questions.
Chapter 8: 14 Men (4)
That evening, Jamie and Claire meet one of Jamie's friends to discuss how Jamie's secret can be kept.
During her medical studies, Claire had seen many horrible pictures. And what she saw in the emergency room where she later worked had often been just as bad. Except that they were no longer just pictures, but injuries endured by living people. That which had been bad but far away during her studies had come close and seemed all the more terrible to her. But Claire had never seen anything like what she saw when she walked through the door of James Fraser’s gym. Later, she would realize that this experience gave an answer to all her questions.
“Fitnessraum” by lewisgoodphotos
The sensitive person inside her shuddered at what she saw. But the healer in her could not help but stretch out her hands and lay them on the terrible scar tissue that covered Jamie’s entire back. Only later did she realize how much she could have frightened him with this gesture. But Jamie, who had finished his work out and was almost dressed, sat on a bench facing a wall of mirrors. There he had seen her coming. Still, he felt a slight tremor when he felt Claire’s hands on his back.
“Who … who … did … did this … to you?” Claire asked quietly and in a trembling voice.
Jamie grabbed her left hand and pulled her gently down onto the bench. Claire slid into the seat next to him. Her face reflected the immense shock she felt about what she had seen. Jamie carefully put his left arm around her shoulders and pulled her gently towards him. Then he replied, just as quietly:
“Jonathan Wolverton Randall, better known as Black Jack Randall.”
Claire’s eyes filled with horror.
“Did … did you kill him?”
Though the situation was so serious, Jamie could not help but smile.
“No,” he said quietly, his words accompanied by a slight shake of his head, “I wished for it many thousands of times. But in the end, other men put an end to his life, at least to the one he had on this earth.”
“He … he … was Frank’s cousin …” she said and a long breath escaped from her lungs. Then her gaze wandered into emptiness.
“I didn’t know … but ever since I … since that day in Boston, I’ve felt that somehow they must be related.”
Claire turned her face back to Jamie. Slowly, she ran her right hand down his left cheek. She wanted to say something, but nothing she could think of seemed appropriate for that moment. She shook her head again, then lowered her gaze to the floor of the gym. Jamie pulled her gently towards her again.
“Don’t worry, Claire. It’s all over. And no one here will hurt you.”
They remained like that for a few minutes. Then Jamie stood up, put on his shirt and undershirt and stuffed them into the trousers he had put on before Claire arrived. Finally, he slipped into the black leather shoes that stood under the bench. Still in silence, they left the basement and took the elevator that brought them to the attic. It had not escaped Jamie’s notice how deeply this further revelation about the background of Frank’s family had shaken Claire. Arriving at the door to her room, he asked:
“Claire, are you okay? Is there anything I can do for you?”
“I’m exhausted and I want to lie down, but … ”
“I don’t want to be alone right now. Could … could you …”
"I can stay with you - if you want me to.”
“Schlafzimmer” by innokurnia
They entered the big, bright room. While Claire sat on the bed and wiped off her shoes, Jamie stepped to one of the windows and looked out. Then he turned back to Claire:
“I haven’t asked you if you like this room. I hope you’re comfortable.”
Claire looked around. Her face showed that she was thinking.
“No but. It’s just that I’ve … well, I’ve never had a room all to myself that big before. It’s … basically an apartment, not a room. I enjoy the light …”
She looked up towards the roof. The middle part of the ridge of the roof was glazed, so that it let the sun in during the day and at night you could look through it at the starry sky.
“Do you know that you can cover the glazing in the ridge? In case it gets too bright or too hot from the sun.”
Claire looked at Jamie questioningly. He walked over to the small coffee table that stood near the door and formed the center of a small seating area. Next to a bowl of fruits was a kind of remote control. He took it and gave it to Claire.
“There are only two functions: open and closed. Press ‘close’ once.”
Claire pushed the button and together they watched a dark cover slide across the glass.
“If I cover these windows, does that mean the windows on the other side of the ridge are also covered?”
“No. You don’t have to worry about that. The glazing above my room will stay clear. I also have a remote with which I can control my side. But didn’t you want to get some sleep?”
Claire nodded, went back to the big white bed and sat down against the wooden, large pillow-backed headboard of the bed.
“Can you … sit next to me?”
Jamie walked round the bed, wiped off his shoes and sat down beside her. After a moment’s hesitation, he decided to put his right arm around her. Claire lowered herself against his shoulder. The scene reminded Jamie of the night they had left Boston sitting next to each other on the plane. And indeed, again it was only a short time before Claire fell asleep. He watched with joy as first her body relaxed and a little later her facial features. About half an hour after she fell asleep, Claire began to spin. Obviously, her body was trying to get into a more comfortable position while she slept. Jamie got up, circled the bed and gently lifted her up on both arms. He set her down a little below the pillows, bedding her head on one of the it. Then he took the blanket that was at the foot of the bed and covered her with it. He was glad Clair hadn’t woken up during this action, but before he could sit down next to her again, she had turned around, still asleep, and was groping for him with her outstretched left hand. He reached for her hand and whispered:
“I am here.”
There was no reply from Claire’s direction, just a light sigh. Instead of letting go of his hand, she pulled it towards her belly and held it there. Jamie had to smile. He closed his eyes and was grateful that no one could read his mind at that moment.
Around 4pm the alarm on Jamie’s smartphone sounded. Claire woke up and yawned. Then she noticed her hand clasping his and let go in shock.
“Good morning,” Jamie, who hadn’t been sleeping, muttered jockingly.
Claire turned abruptly and now they were face to face.
“Have I … the whole time …”
“No problem, Claire. My arm’s a little asleep, but there are worse things. I didn’t want to wake you. But now it’s time for tea, and then we have to get ready for the evening.
"Lie still. I’ll ask Helene to bring us the tea.”
“But it doesn’t have to be …”
“Yes, it must be,” he said and reached for his smartphone to dial Helene Ballin’s number. While waiting for the housekeeper to pick up, he thought that this evening, especially the conversation they had to have with his 'friend’, would be exhausting enough for Claire.
“Tea Time” by NajukusnijiRecepti
Three hours later, at 7pm sharp, the front doorbell rang. Jamie had already seen a big black Opel coming up the driveway from one of the windows of the hall. The driver had stopped, then opened the passenger door and let an elderly gentleman about six feet tall get out. Jamie had opened the door and welcomed his friend.
Claire and Jamie had taken the tea that Helene Ballin had served. As Jamie prepared in his room for the evening’s conversation, making a short list of questions and thoughts, Claire showered and thought about what to wear for the occasion.
In the end, she decided on a dark, classic-timeless dress, with a skirt that went way up over her knees. Although it accentuated her body, Frank had called it a 'prude Pietist frock’ when he first saw it. When she had looked at him then in astonishment, he had added that she would look in it 'as if she had come out of the 18th century’. He was not so wrong with this remark. Claire had discovered the dress in a shop during a stroll through town, and the owner also made re-enactment costumes. But that she had not told Frank. She knew that he would then finally declare her insane. But how could she explain to him that it wasn’t only fashionable reasons that had persuaded her to buy that dress. She couldn’t quite explain it to herself. All she could say was that something about the dress spoke to her. This dress was not the only one she had bought in that shop. Little by little she had bought one dress in dark red, one in dark green and another in dark blue. Claire stored all these dresses in a wooden box that she had inherited from her Uncle Lambert so that Frank would not discover them. A few weeks before 'the horrible night’ happened and she left Boston, she had felt the urge to go to the store once again. On this occasion she bought three more dresses. These too disappeared into Uncle Lamb’s box. In all the chaos that had accompanied her escape from Boston, Claire had forgotten all about the dresses. But then the suitcases and boxes that had disappeared in that black van marked “New Castle Movers” arrived in Berlin, and Claire wondered if she would be able to wear them now. But when she noticed that Jamie’s sister also wore ladies dresses almost exclusively, she had dismissed the question of whether she could be dressed inappropriately. On the previous days she had worn more modern dresses with a light, floral pattern. But for the occasion of this evening this dress seemed appropriate to her. Like the other dresses she had bought, this one had an oval neckline, into which she had tucked in a white silk scarf. Normally she tucked it in so that a small part of her neck was still visible. But this time she covered everything. The marks that 'the 'that horrible night’ had left had turned blueish in the past two days and she did not want anyone to see them.
Claire looked at herself in the mirror once more. Then she opened the door and stepped into the hallway. She decided not to take the elevator. Slowly, she went down the stairs. Suddenly, she heard the doorbell ring and when Claire arrived on the first floor, she heard voices. One of these voices belonged to Jamie, who was greeting a man he called Ferdinand. Claire paused for a moment. She was now just a bend, a landing and some more stairs away from the entrance hall. She was far from eavesdropping, yet something was holding her back.
“Jamie! It’s so good to see you again!”
“The pleasure’s all mine, Ferdinand. Even if the occasion is a bit, well, complicated.”
"Jamie, we don’t even start before ‘complicated’. We start with ‘impossible’ and move on when ‘hopeless’ appears. But when we com to ‘utopian’, we are at our best.”
The men giggled briefly. But then the voice, which belonged to the unknown Ferdinand, became more serious:
“Jamie, none of this has to be a real problem. We just have to be wise about this whole thing. It is important that we act calmly. The elections are in a year and a half and Ernst has a good chance of being promoted to the top of a ministry. From there it’s just a matter of winning an election or two. With each of these steps we are getting closer to our common goal. We may …”
“… not to endanger it,” Jamie finished the sentence.
After a short pause he continued:
“I know, Ferdinand. I know. And I’ll do everything I can to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
Claire wondered what goal it was the men had in common. And who was this man called Ernst they spoke of? But then she had to turn all her attention to an itch in her nose. She tried to suppress the approaching sneeze. She went around the corner and stepped on the steps that led directly into the hall.
“Foyer” by ErikaWittlieb
Then she sneezed - loud and audible. The men standing in the hall looked up at her.
The men’s wish came as if from a mouth.
Claire sneezed again. She shook herself slightly. Then she smiled and walked down the final steps of the hall.
She felt Jamie’s gaze latch onto her, accompanying her every step down.
“Good evening,” she said as she arrived in the hall.
“Good evening, Claire,” Jamie replied. Then he turned to the older, tall man and introduced them.
“Claire, this is my good friend, Ferdinand Groide.”
She shook hands with the stranger, who to her surprise indicated a kiss on her hand.
“Good evening, Mrs. Beauchamp. Welcome to Berlin.”
“Ferdinand, this is Claire Elisabeth Beauchamp.”
“Good evening, Mr. Groide, and thank you for welcoming me.”
Jamie led the guest and Claire into the dining room, where Ian and Jenny were already waiting.
Clair noted with interest that the Murrays, and Mrs. Ballin, treated the guest like an old friend. When the housekeeper served dinner, she mentioned that she had prepared his favourite vegetables and Jenny thanked him before and after dinner for the large bouquet of flowers that the guest had brought. Claire herself was very restrained during the meal, but also during the conversation between courses, and was more inclined to observe the interaction of the individuals.
When the coffee Helene had served with dessert was also finished, Jamie urged to leave. The Murrays said goodbye and retired to their living room while Jamie led Claire and Mr. Groide into the library. There he previously had Helene Ballin prepare the larger rectangular table for their small conference. He had not found it appropriate to have this conversation at the coffee table.
“Chipendale” by JamesDeMers
After they sat down and Jamie poured a glass of water for each of them, Ferdinand Groide began:
"Mrs. Beauchamp, Jamie, Mr. Fraser, told me that your husband is
Dr. Frank Randall. Is that correct?“
"Yes, that’s right.”
"And is it also true that your husband is not only a professor of history at Harvard University, but also works for British Ml5?“
"Yes, that’s also correct.”
"You’ll forgive me if I enquire. But people who work for an intelligence agency don’t usually talk about that activity. Not to their spouses or to their family members. What makes you think your husband is in the service of Ml5?“
Claire smiled lightly.
"My husband is not only convinced of the cause of what he calls the great British Empire and its superiority, but also very much of himself. This … arrogance and … his use of alcohol … often caused a certain talkativeness. On top of that, especially in the last few years, he did not consider me to be his intellectual equal. I don’t think he could imagine that what he told me would one day be used against him or even leave my mouth.”
“Can you give me an example?”
“Mr. Groide, I am prepared to share my knowledge with you. But you will understand that I need certain guarantees.”
Now Jamie smiled lightly. He hadn’t underestimated Claire, and he was happy to see her speak up for herself so clearly.
“What kind of guarantees do you have in mind?”
“Well, first of all, I have to ask if I can stay here, in this country. At present, I am grateful to accept the hospitality of the Fraser family. But as you may know, I am a trained physician. Surgeon, to be exact. And once I’ve settled my affairs in the United States, I’d like to return to my profession, earn my own income.”
Ferdinand Groide nodded.
“For the time being, nothing should stand in the way of your stay in our country. If I am correctly informed, you have a visa that is valid for three months. This can easily be extended, as Jamie, I mean Mr. Fraser, will vouch for you. And if you should decide to acquire German citizenship … I also don’t see any problems in principle that would prevent you from taking up work later. As I’m sure you’re aware, our country has been seeking medical personnel for years, and as you can imagine we’re always happy to hire well trained doctors.”
He smiled, then he went on:
"I can’t promise you that we can employ you as surgeons or in a hospital, but I’m sure we’ll find a job where you can use these skills and abilities and earn your own decent salary. But you were talking about guarantees, plural?”
“Yes. As you may also know, I have left my husband. Our marriage had been on paper only now for several years. I will ask for a divorce, if that is possible from here. However, this … this … I care about his life. I’m a doctor, I took an oath. If I reveal the secrets I have learned … what will you do to him?”
“What do you mean? What are we gonna do with him?”
“Will you lay hands on him? I mean, will you let someone lay hands on him?”
Ferdinand Groide and Jamie looked at each other in amazement.
“Mrs. Beauchamp, we’re not the Mafia. We don’t hire hit men.”
“But you are part of a secret service, Mr. Groide.”
Claire said those words with the same calmness and objectivity as if she told Jenny:
“If you put one more egg in the batter, it gets better.”
“And intelligence agencies do these things,” she added to her statement with the same objectivity.
“Well, maybe the CIA or the KGB,” Groide replied smiling. After a brief pause, he continued:
“Let me answer you this way: In my opinion, a living Frank Randall is far more interesting and valuable to an intelligence agency than a dead Frank Randall.”
“That is, you guarantee me that the information I give you will not put his life in danger.”
Once again, Groide and Jamie looked at each other.
It wasn’t a question, it wasn’t a request, it was a demand, and the way she made that demand left none of the men unaware that for her there was no alternative to this deal.
Groide took the hand Claire held out to him.
“You have my word, Mrs. Beauchamp. You don’t know me yet and you probably mistrust me. That’s only natural. But Jamie, Mr. Fraser, can assure you that I’m a man of integrity, a man of my word.”
Claire looked over at Jamie. This one nodded.
She reached for the glass of water that Jamie had put in her hand and emptied it in one gulp.
Then she began to talk.
Chapter 9: 14 Men (5)
Part 1 of the conversation between Claire and Ferdinand Groide about the secret service activities of her husband, Frank Randall.
After she sat down and Jamie poured everyone a glass of water, Ferdinand Groide began:
“Mrs. Beauchamp, Jamie, Mr. Fraser, told me that your husband is Dr. Frank Randall. Is that correct?”
“As you may also know, I have left my husband. Our marriage had been on paper only for several years. I intend to ask for a divorce, if that’s possible from here. But I still have to care about this man’s life. I’m a doctor, I took an oath. If I reveal the secrets I have learned… what will you do to him?”
“What do you mean? What are we going to do with him?”
“Will you hurt him? I mean, will you let someone hurt him?”
Ferdinand Groide and Jamie looked at each other in amazement.
“Mrs. Beauchamp, we’re not the Mafia. We don’t hire hit men.”
“But you’re in Intelligence, Mr. Groide.”
Claire said that sentence with the same calm and objectivity as if she was saying to Jenny:
“If you put one more egg in the batter, it gets better.”
“And intelligence agencies do these things,” she added to her statement with the same objectivity.
“Well, maybe the CIA or the KGB. Let me answer you this way: In my opinion, a living Frank Randall is far more interesting and valuable to a secret service than a dead Frank Randall.”
“In other words, you guarantee me that the information I give you will not endanger his life.”
Groide and Jamie looked at each other again.
It wasn’t a question, it wasn’t a request, it was a demand, and the words Claire used to make that demand left none of the men unaware that there was no alternative to this bargain for them.
Groide struck the hand Claire held out to him.
“You have my word, Mrs. Beauchamp. You don’t know me yet and you probably mistrust me. That’s only natural. But Jamie, Mr. Fraser, can assure you that I’m a man of my word.”
Claire looked over at Jamie. He nodded.
She reached for the glass of water that Jamie had put in her hand and emptied it in one gulp.
Then she began to talk.
“Microphone” by Florian-Media
“It was in the year 2015, in late November 2015 to be exact.”
“Excuse me, Mrs. Beauchamp,” Groide objected, “but we ought to do this properly.”
He removed from his briefcase a device whose rectangular clunkness was reminiscent of an early mobile phone. After placing it in the center of the table, he inserted two small, round microphones attached to longer cables, one pointing at Claire and one pointing at himself. Groide pressed the record button, then he gave the date, time, place, names of those present and, as the reason for the recording, ‘Statement by Dr. Claire Elisabeth Beauchamp’.
Jamie had to smile. Ferdinand was a friendly person, but he was also a German bureaucrat. Everything had to follow the specific order and everything had to be done ‘by the book’. Those Germans. They had rules for everything. They couldn’t just have a conversation like that, it had to be a 'statement’ and of course it had to be 'recorded’. In this country everything was recorded, either on paper or on tape. And then everything was filed, paginated, numbered and archived. Nothing was lost. They were so damn meticulous, these Germans, but also so damn effective.
“Please begin with your personal life, Mrs. Beauchamp. Name, birthday, place of birth, family, etc.”
“My name is Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp. I was born in London on October 20, 1993, the only child of Julia, née Moriston, and Henry Montmorency Beauchamp. My mother was a primary school teacher, my father worked as a statistician for an insurance company. In the winter of 1998 my parents were killed in a car accident. My uncle, Lambert Quentin Beauchamp, was appointed by the authorities as my foster father and guardian. He was my only living relative, my father’s only brother. Due to the activities of my uncle, who was an egyptologist and archaeologist, I grew up in England for only a short time, the rest of the time we spend abroad. When I was 16 years old, my uncle returned to England permanently and accepted a professorship at Oxford University. Shortly afterwards I began training as a nurse. Also in Oxford. At the age of 19, I had just completed my education, I met my future husband Franklin Wolverton Randall through my uncle. He also worked in the history department and specialised in Scottish history. At times he worked as an assistant to a professor. We married the following year. My uncle died only a few months later. His health had unfortunately not been the best at the end of his life. When my husband was called to Harvard University’s history department, we moved to Boston.
"Oxford” by MarlonRondal
Groide nodded. Jamie was sure that nothing Claire had told him so far was new to his friend. Guaranteed, they had checked Claire from the day he requested the visa for her passport. And they had certainly not been idle since then. At “In Vino Veritas” there was a small but very effective group of staff who had certainly dug up everything they could find about the young woman in the past few days.
“When and how did you learn of your husband’s secret activities?”
“It was in the year 2015, in late November of that year to be exact. Does the name Jonathan Pollard mean anything to you?”
Jamie listened with new interest. Groide just nodded.
“Then you know that this man has served thirty years in the United States for espionage. In 2015 he was released on parole and in the American media there was a lot of coverage and discussion for days. I had never heard this man’s name before and, to be honest, I didn’t care about the whole thing. However, I listened up when my husband spoke about it. It was a Sunday, two days after Pollard was released. I remember the whole thing so well because that day was the day of the terrible accident in that jademine in Myanmar, where 90 people were killed and over 100 people were missing. We had had dinner and then Frank turned on the TV. There was a talk show where the case was discussed. My husband had already started drinking in the afternoon. While Frank was watching the talk show, I thought, ‘My goodness, they’re talking about an age-old espionage case and people are dying elsewhere without the media even paying attention.’”
Claire reached for her glass, which Jamie had refilled in the meantime, and took a big sip.
“I didn’t pay much attention to the discussion on TV. But then suddenly Frank started mumbling loudly:
'Spy! Spy! Spy! Nonsense! The man was an amateur! What real spy leaves secret documents openly on his desk in the office and his wife was stupid enough to leave a suitcase with secret documents with a neighbour who was in the military himself!’”
Claire reached for her glass again and drank.
"What he said made me furious, so I said to him: 'Oh yes, but you know how a real spy behaves!’ I thought his reaction was terribly arrogant. To my surprise, he then turned down the TV. He came over and sat down with me on the sofa. He looked me in the eyes and grinned. Then he said, ‘Yes, my darling, I know that. The MI5 recruited and trained me while I was still studying at Oxford. Right after they heard I was going to specialise in Scottish history. With my family background and the good connections we had in the military and police through my cousin Jonathan, there were no obstacles.’”
"Books” by MichaelGaida
“How did you react to that?”
“Well, at first I was stumped. I thought he was just showing-off again. So I replied, ‘Why would the MI5 need an expert in Scottish history?’ He replied, ‘Well, of course you can’t imagine, you little fool. Good God, Claire! The Scots want independence and just because last year’s referendum went so well, they will not give up. It’s their history they’re drawing strength from! What do you think will happen if they really gain their independence? It could set off a chain reaction. You know that Prime Minister Cameron announced two years ago that he would hold a referendum on Britain’s withdrawal from the EU if he was re-elected in 2015? So? He has been re-elected! Now there must be a referendum. And what if Britain’s withdrawal from the EU is carried out but Scotland becomes independent and is then admitted to the EU as a member? Did you ever think about that? This is going to get us in big trouble! Then the EU will continue to stand with two legs on our island! We can’t let that happen.’”
Claire paused for a moment, then she went on:
"I must have looked at him in wonder and disbelief, because suddenly he stormed out of the living room. I heard him looking for something in his study. When he came back he had a newspaper article in his hand which he held in front of my face. ‘Read it,’ he said to me. ‘Our government takes this danger seriously… and so should you!‘
I took the article and read. It was an article in the International Business Times in July 2015. It reported that the Prime Minister had met with the CEOs of a media company. The purpose of the meeting was allegedly to prevent the broadcast of a TV series about the Scottish Rebellion of 1746 before the referendum on Scottish independence. It seems that a request has been made to postpone the broadcast. I later found on his desk a copy of an article from ‘The Scotsman’, which also covered the subject in detail.”
Groide and Jamie looked at each other and smiled. Both men nodded, but said nothing.
"Frankly,” Claire continued, “I hadn’t given the matter any thought at all. In the five years before, I had been mainly busy finishing my medical studies and gaining experience as a doctor. You don’t have much time to worry about other things. Besides, due to my, well, somewhat non-conformist upbringing, I was never so much confined to one country alone …”
“How is it that despite medical school, your husband still refers to you as…” Groide is looking for words, “intellectually… weaker…?”
"Frank believes that medical school would consist largely of memorizing the contents of textbooks. He thought that people’s bodies were somehow all the same and that if you had learned the appropriate forms of treatment, then you could treat them. He never understood the diversity and complexity of the human body and how medical science reacts to it.”
“Did your husband explain his duties for the MI5 to you?”
“When I told him that Scotland’s history, and Scotland’s ambitions for independence, were well known, he told me not to think so superficially. He said that historians are not only concerned with the past. They can also make predictions about the future to a certain extent, based on their knowledge. I should think about what the clan system had meant and still means to the Scots. Why did the English central government everything to destroy it after the Jacobite uprising of 1746? England should not allow a united counter-power to be formed again in the north of the country. He was probably particularly concerned about this lobby group, One Banner for all Scots, which had formed the year before.”
“Scottish Independence” by Emphyrio
Claire was focused on Ferdinand Groide and the recording equipment in front of her. She didn’t see Jamie’s face become more and more thoughtful.
“Mrs. Beauchamp, all this is interesting, but… not very specific.”
“At first, I too got to know only general things. It only became more specific later when I did… well, my own… research.
"You did your own research?”
Groide suddenly seemed interested again. Jamie tried not to smile. What seemed like a minor revelation to his friend only confirmed what he had been thinking all along. Claire was an intelligent, strong woman. Her strength might have been broken for a time by what her husband had done to her. But Jamie was sure that she would find her way back to that strength. And he vowed to himself that he would do everything he could to help her.
“I thought Frank was a braggart for a long time, but… I can’t describe it exactly. Something had caught my interest. Then a colleague asked me if I would trade a weekly shift with her. She would have had a night shift, but her babysitter was unavailable. I agreed and that same afternoon I went to the university library and borrowed books on Scottish history and the independence movement. The department where I was on night duty was not very labour-intensive. I had a lot of time to read and think during the nights of that week.”
She paused for a moment.
“After that week, I became aware of the urgency of the issue.”
Groide didn’t say anything, but his gaze urged her to continue.
“National self-determination. Well, there’s no need to explain that further. Scotland’s oil. 64% of Europe’s oil reserves are on Scottish territory. They’re said to be worth 4 trillion pounds. Then there is the issue of renewable energy. I mean Scotland has 25 % of Europe’s wind energy potential, 25 % of Europe’s tidal energy potential and 10 % of Europe’s wave energy potential. I do not have to tell you that these are also enormous financial potentials.”
A fine smile appeared on Groide’s face.
“And then, of course, there is the question of nuclear disarmament: with control of defence and foreign policy, an independent Scotland could tackle the elimination of Trident nuclear weapons, an issue long associated with the campaign for an independent Scotland. Trident class submarines carrying missiles with 120 nuclear warheads are based at the Clyde naval base near Glasgow. In the event of Scottish independence, England would have to withdraw these weapons and revise its defence strategy. I imagine that would be a thorn in the side of the American allies as well. There will certainly be a lot of diplomatic pressure behind the scenes.”
Claire took a deep breath.
“Now you’re going to tell me that this is all public information and I would agree with you. But I wasn’t aware of it before. These informations woke me up. It took a while but when I had the opportunity to take on another week of night shifts I immediately agreed. In this time I developed a kind of plan. I was eager to find out if Frank’s statement was true. At first I tried to track when he was going to conferences or work meetings. Not all of them, but several of them took him to England and Scotland. I can’t prove it, but I had the impression that his travels became more frequent at times when 'the Scottish theme’ was boiling up. Later, after 2015, and particularly after the brexite, his travels intensified.”
To Jamie’s surprise, Claire reached into her handbag, which she had hung on the back of her chair, and pulled out a piece of paper she handed over to Ferdinand Groide.
"Tea” by Pexels
“This is a list of all the trips my husband has taken since 2013. supposedly for reasons of his work as a historian.”
Groide skimmed the list, then put it aside.
“Thank you very much. We will try to verify the data.”
“In the weeks that followed, I voluntarily took several weeks of night duty. Because there was another advantage to this. I was at home while my husband was at university and could look through his records almost undisturbed.”
“Will you share the knowledge you have gained from this?”
“Yes. But perhaps we could have some tea?” Claire replied as she looked at Jamie.
He got up and left the room. Ferdinand Groide pressed the 'stop’ button on the recorder. Then he got up and stretched a bit. Claire did the same.
Chapter 10: 14 Men (6)
Part 2 of the conversation Jamie and Claire have with Ferdinand Groide.
"Tea” by Pexels
"It's good to take a little break," Groide said as he slowly walked across the room and then paused at one of the windows. Claire, too, had stood up and stretched. Her steps led her to one of the dark oak bookcases. Slowly she let her eyes slide over the old leather-bound volumes. Then her gaze wandered over to Groide.
Ferdinand Groide was, at least as far as she could judge right now, an impressive person, even on the outside. Claire estimated him to be in his mid-60s and should be almost right. The 66-year-old, tall man stood bolt upright in front of the window and had his arms crossed behind his back. He was moderately slim and not muscular, but his movements suggested that he had kept himself physically fit for his age. His black, short cut hair showed grey patches only at the temples. From the first moment they met, Claire had been attracted to the unusual shape of his face - you could almost call it rectangular. The way he appeared and behaved radiated calm and a kind of positive authority. He was wearing a black three-piece suit of virgin wool, whose jacket he had taken off before dinner. The timelessly elegant waistcoat that appeared beneath it, from whose small side pocket a golden watch chain protruded, and the discreet tie of dark Italian silk jacquard that matched the pocket kerchief of his jacket contrasted with the visitor's simple but flawless white shirt. Groide wore gold-framed, thick glasses that suggested myopia, a simple gold wedding ring on the right hand, and a signet ring with a dark blue stone on the left hand. At dinner, Claire had also noticed the rectangular gold cufflinks bearing Groide's monogram. Everything about this man underscored Claire's impression that she was dealing with a person who not only knew exactly who he was but also what he was doing.
Moments later, the door opened and Jamie entered.
"Tea will be here in just a few minutes. Would you like anything else to drink?"
Claire shook her head, Groide turned to Jamie and said:
"Thank you. Not yet."
A little later, a knock caught their attention.
After Helene Ballin served tea and everyone had a cup, Groide asked:
"Can we continue?"
Groide pressed the record button on the recorder, and Claire went on to talk:
"My husband has always had a certain reluctance towards the new media. Of course we had a PC in the house that was connected to the Internet. But my husband used it very rarely. An yes, he also has a notebook. But it was never allowed to be connected to the Internet. Frank was always afraid of viruses or that hackers would steal his work. Before 2015, when he used the term 'work', I was thinking only of his research and the manuscripts of his books. But since that conversation in November 2015, I wondered if it could be about something else entirely. My husband always took his notebook with him to the university. But that was not a problem. Because Frank was obsessed with the thought that his notebook might get lost or - even worse - be stolen. So..."
“.... were there disks, USB flash drives?" Groide asked interested.
"No," Claire replied smiling, "papers.”
The expression of the highest astonishment was to be heard in the older man's voice.
"Yes, papers. Frank believes that only what is written by hand will remain in one's memory. That's why everything he later typed into his notebook was first written down by hand."
"And you had access to these handwritten documents?" asked Groide, who had now put his arms on the table and moved his whole body forward a little.
"No," Claire replied smiling.
An unmistakable disappointment spread over the face of the German.
"Why?" Claire asked, adding: “One can get access."
She laid her head to one side coquettishly, smiled, and shrugged her shoulders.
Once again, astonishment spread over Groide's face. Meanwhile, Jamie had to pull himself together because he almost laughed out loud. This woman was not only intelligent and strong, but she also had a sense of humor. It was delicious to watch the rapidly changing emotions she was able to conjure upon Ferdinand Groide's face.
"So you have ... gained ... access ..." he said, trying to remain objective.
"Yes," Claire, in turn, noted objectively and took another sip from her teacup.
"One Friday evening, it was in early February 2016, my husband came home from university in a rage. He said that he had had a dispute with the university management about his research funds. Later I was to learn that this dispute never existed. In fact, it was that one of his affairs had dumped him. But that's another story. As always, when he was angry or did not know how to handle a situation, he became aggressive and drank. And that's what happened that weekend. "
Claire paused for a moment, looked at the table, and took a deep breath.
"Then on Sunday ... he started drinking whiskey after lunch. He drank until he was laying snoring on the sofa. I used this opportunity to make a copy of the key to his filing cabinet and the key to his desk."
"How did you know how to do that?" Jamie asked, looking at Claire in amazement.
"As I said, I was raised and educated in a very ... nonconformist way. In port areas, you can ... come into contact with ... people ... who ... help you with ... such questions ... I had used the pre-Christmas period to, well, let's say, make contacts there. Frank hates to go shopping and so I knew that on these days I did not have to expect that he wanted to accompany me. In a bar, I inquired and the waitress behind the counter told me that she could make a contact for me for the payment of $100. I gave her $50 and the number of my department at the hospital as well as the dates on which I was on the night shift. Two days later, a man calling himself 'Joe' called. We set up a meeting the night of the next day. He promised to give me two small boxes with a mass to make prints with. He asked me $600 for them. The next night, just before the night shift started, I met ‘Joe’ in the parking lot of the hospital. He gave me a brown bag, the kind you get in the burger and fast-food restaurants. Inside were the little boxes. I gave him an envelope with the money in it. We agreed that if I got the prints, I would get back to Brenda at the bar. It took some time, but at the beginning of February, as I said, I finally had the opportunity to carry out my plan. When Frank fell asleep drunk on the sofa that Sunday afternoon, I took the bunch of keys from his jacket pocket. Then I locked myself in the bathroom and made the prints. When I returned to the living room, Frank was still asleep and it was easy to slip the bunch of keys back into his jacket pocket. I had taken the boxes with the prints, wrapped in a towel, into the bedroom. There I stashed them among other things in my doctor's bag.”
“Medical Bag” by Raimundo Pastor
Claire held out her cup to Jamie, who poured tea for her again.
"A few days later I went back to the bar, gave 'Brenda' another $50, the boxes and a note with the details of my next night's duty. It took about 10 days, then 'Joe' called during my night shift and announced that he would bring me the keys the next evening. And that's exactly what happened. He gave me the keys and I gave him another $600. The next day I went back to the bar and gave 'Brenda' another $100, as I had promised her. That was the end of the deal. In total, I paid 1400 dollars. I thought this investment will certainly pay off."
Now Claire took a big sip from the cup that Jamie had left for her.
"Investment?" Jamie asked.
"Well, I was curious if Frank was really working for the Secret Service. To be honest, I still thought his story was just bragging and I didn't expect to find anything real to do with MI5. But I was hoping to get hold of evidence of his affairs. Evidence that, in the event of a divorce..."
Claire paused for a moment.
"Our marriage had gone downhill in the years leading up to it ... I had heard rumors, I had suspicions. "But my studies and work didn't give me time ..."
"And then you put the keys to use?" asked Groide, who was very keen to make sure the conversation didn't drift into secondary topics.
"Yes, in mid-March the opportunity arose. Frank flew to Edinburgh for a weekend, supposedly for a conference, and I took the opportunity to look around in his filing cabinet. I was frankly amazed at how well the keys worked. When I opened his cabinet I found, among other things, 14 files relating to the 'New Jacobite' leaders. They contained detailed information about each of these men. CVs, family trees, family relationships, friendship, and business relationships, relationships abroad, and more. In each of these files there was also a folder with pictures. I didn't recognize Jamie, I mean Mr. Fraser, in Boston. Because in the pictures in the file that Frank keeps on him, he has red hair and no beard..."
Claire looked over at Jamie, whose hair and beard were black. He smiled and stroked his hair, slightly theatrical, and said:
"There's nothing like a good make-up."
All three of them smiled. Claire picked up her cup again and drank. Then she continued in a rather nonchalant tone:
"It was very interesting to read about the lives of these men. "
"After all these years, do you think you can still remember what you read in these files?" Groide asked.
"Anything?" she asked with a smile.
"I can remember everything as if I had a photographic memory."
Again she reached into her handbag. To the surprise of the two men, Claire's delicate hand produced three silver USB flash drives, which she slid over to Ferdinand Groide.
"Each of these sticks contains one terabyte of data. I photographed all the pages of the files and placed them in folders with the appropriate names."
The men looked at her first, then at each other in silence for a moment. Ferdinand Groide took the sticks and looked at them.
"You ... said ... that ... you ... did this ... research ... in 2016, so seven years ago ... does that mean the files are up to 2016?"
Her answer came quickly and came as no surprise to Ferdinand Groide or James Fraser:
"No, I made the last additions three weeks ago. At that time Frank was - supposedly - at a meeting of historians in Canberra. So all the files should be almost up to date."
Groide was struck dumb. Jamie had no recollection of ever seeing the old man like that. He had sunk slightly into himself and his face had lost the rosy color that was so characteristic of him. He was obviously aware of the heavy responsibility that came with owning these sticks. Claire's information could change the fate of at least three or more nations. Groide knew it and Jamie knew it, too. But was Claire aware of it? Jamie could not answer this question.
His friend took off his glasses with the angular golden rims and wiped his eyes. A long breath of air escaped the old man's lungs. Then he looked at Claire:
"And you want to give me, I mean us, this information freely?"
"May I ask you, are you doing this to get back at your husband?"
"No, I mean yes, you may ask me. But the answer is no. I was thinking of using it against him in case of divorce. But having read so much about the history of Scotland, I think that something like this ... must never happen again. And..."
Now ist was Claire who took a deep breath.
"And having learned by chance this afternoon what a member of my husband's family had done to Mr. Fraser, I don't want anything like that to happen to anybody else."
Groide looked over at Jamie but kept silent.
"All I ask is that you use the information you receive from me in a way that will prevent harm."
Groide had his eyes on the tabletop and the USB sticks in front of him. Claire and Jamie heard the hands on the big wall clock that hung behind them ticking. A few moments passed, during which they all remained silent.
"Mrs. Beauchamp, I want you to know that I have great respect for your decision. I'm just one small wheel in a much larger machine. But I promise you that I will use all my influence to see that this information is handled as you wish. I also want you to know that we have no hostile feelings towards your country here. On the contrary. The Brexit and its consequences are much regretted in our country by most people. And not just for economic reasons. We miss the voice and political weight of your country. The oldest democracy in the modern Western world has always had an important, a great weight in this Union - also to establish a political balance. You know, there are member states that have not been familiar with the democratic system for so long. So far, things have gone reasonably well, but the loss of the British vote in the Europan Parliament could lead to dangerous imbalances ... And then we must not forget the human relations. I myself grew up many decades before the reunification of our country in a West German state where British troops were stationed. The British were neighbors for us. A friend of mine, who has since passed away, married an English woman, joined the Anglican Church, and became a military chaplain for these troops in his city. Friends of mine had planned to buy a small cottage in the southwest of England and spend their retirement there. Many of the cities where I lived had partnerships with English cities. We all very much regret the developments of the last ten years ... and we can only hope that a future generation may be able to reverse them. I hope you know that you are very welcome, not just because you are giving us this information or as a health professional, but as a person. And I hope you'll be able to settle in."
Claire nodded. Then she reached out her hand and put it on the old man's right hand.
"Thank you, Mr. Groide. I appreciate it."
"You can call me Ferdinand if you like."
"Sure, Ferdinand, I'm Claire."
"Well, after that eventful work meeting, let's have a nice drink, shall we? How about a whisky?"
Jamie looked at her expectantly.
"I'd love one."
Groide shook his head.
"Jamie, you know I don't drink that stuff. I'll have a vodka, please."
"You see Claire," Jamie said with an ironic undertone, "you might as well learn something about the Germans here. When it comes to alcohol, they have no taste."
He handed her a glass of whiskey.
"He's right, Claire. And remember one more thing. We have absolutely no sense of humor either."
The men began to giggle and Jamie had to stop for a moment before he handed the glass of vodka to Groide.
"You may say what you usually say about my taste in alcohol, Jamie," Groide then said jokingly.
Jamie looked at Claire with a grin.
"He spent too much time with Russians, they spoiled his taste."
"Sa sdarovje!" was all Groide would answer. Then he turned to Claire again:
"You said earlier that you intend to ask for a divorce from your husband?"
"Yes, I do. I hope it's also possible from here."
Groide looked at her thoughtfully.
"Do you object to Claire's request, Ferdinand?"
"No, I understand the request very well. I'm just worried it might put MI5 on to you, Jamie."
A mild shock drove Claire through and she nearly choked on the whiskey she'd just taken.
Chapter 11: 14 Men (7)
Part 3 (end) of the conversation between Jamie, Claire, and Ferdinand Groide.
“Whisky” by PublicDomainPictures
"I think there's a way we can avoid this. Ever since Claire spoke of filing for divorce, I've been thinking about who could help her."
"Well? Who did you have in mind?" Groide asked.
"I have come to the conclusion that I would recommend the service of Stephanie Svart to her," Jamie replied and turned to Claire.
"She is an excellent specialist family law attorney and the law firm she works for has offices in several Western European countries. I don't know 100%, but I would be very much mistaken if they didn't also have cooperation with American law firms. They could try to do it through their Amsterdam office ... That would move the focus away from Berlin and into one of the countries that is currently in a very tense relationship with the UK ... I don't think they would send anyone there because of the marital disputes of an MI5 employee like Randall. If you add to that the fact that Claire fears repression from her violent husband, you don't even have to give a home address. You can use the address at the law firm."
Groide nodded smiling and held his empty glass out to Jamie.
"Well thought out."
"Who is this lawyer?" Claire asked.
"We've known her a long time. My Uncle Jared had a girlfriend here in Berlin, or rather, a fiancée. Her name is Violetta Chambeau. They were supposed to get married, but then my uncle's illness came along and his death ... But 'Aunt Vio' is still family. She's the one trough whom my uncle met Stephanie Svart. They both studied at the same university. Mrs. Svart is a specialist in family and inheritance law. We trust her, and if you don't mind, then..."
"Well, I don't know any lawyers here, and if she's trustworthy... no, I don't mind if you make contact."
"I've already made an appointment with her, just in case. We could meet her tomorrow morning."
"The sooner I get this over with, the better."
She reached for her whiskey and took a big sip.
"What do you think, Ferdinand?"
"I think it's a good idea."
Suddenly, there was a knock at the library door. Jamie shouted, "Come in!" and Helene Ballin appeared.
"Mr. Groide, out of your jacket in the hall there comes the sound of a bell. I assume it's your smartphone?"
Groide jumped up and hurried out of the room.
“Smartphone” by niekverlaan
About ten minutes later, he came back.
"Excuse me, but this call was important."
The old man sat down, then he looked at Jamie with a serious look:
"A Carl from Boston called the office at ‘In Vino Veritas’ and asked to speak to you..."
Now Jamie and Claire looked at him in shock.
"I've convinced him that I'm a good friend of yours and that he can talk to me too."
"What did he say?" Jamie asked, his voice giving away his tension.
"He said a man named Randall called the hotel limo service and asked for a specific car..."
Claire's face changed color in one fell swoop. Completely pale and with eyes filled with fear she looked at Jamie. The mention of Randall's name, and even more so the fact that he was obviously picking up her trail, had brought fear back into her life within seconds.
"What happened? What did he say?" Jamie asked.
"They put Randall's call through to Carl because they knew he was your driver. Carl told Randall, that he drove you to his home, as Randall already knew, and then to the Boston Mariana.”
Jamie and Claire looked at each other first and then at Groide.
"The marina?" Claire asked incredulously.
"Yes, Carl felt that it was none of this man's business where he took you. He didn’t know him and he felt his passengers had a right to discretion. That's why he told Randall that he drove you to the quay next to the ‘Yacht Haven Inn & Mariana’. There, he said, you boarded a large yacht. This yacht arrived at the quay at the same time as the limousine and left immediately after both of you went on board. Randall asked him if he had seen the name of the yacht or if he could remember the flag. Carl replied that he had not paid attention to it. But he assumed that it was a private yacht.
Claire closed her eyes. Her body relaxed, if only slowly. Jamie smiled. Groide remained silent for a few moments. He knew that the two people sitting in front of him would have to digest this shock first. Then Jamie stood up and filled the glasses with whiskey and vodka again. After they had drunk in silence, Groide resumed the conversation:
"Well, that went well once again. At least that's how it looks at the moment. But it's not impossible that Randall recognized you, Jamie. So, for the time being, you won't be taking any assignments outside of Europe... who do you suggest as a replacement?"
"The best man we have. My adopted son."
"When will he be ready?"
"I'll call him in the morning and get back to you first thing."
"Well, I hope he agrees to take over your duties.
“Tür” by CJ
When Claire and Jamie got off the elevator an hour later and walked down the hall to their rooms, she asked, whispering:
"Does your comment about Ferdinand's relationship with the Russians have any deeper meaning?"
"You mean if Ferdinand really was involved with Russians?"
"I don't know, it's a joke between us. Ever since I first met him, I've tried drinking whiskey with him. But he always refused, and so far he's stuck to vodka. But I wouldn't be surprised if he had dealings with Russians as part of his service. As far as I know, he came to Berlin to study. That must have been a little over 40 years ago. So it was still the Cold War period."
They had stopped at the door of Claire's room.
"Don't worry, Jamie, I'm not here to question you."
"Oh, I don't think that's top-secret information."
He looked at her and his eyes got caught on her dress.
"What you did tonight... it was remarkable. So much acumen, intelligence. It will have... certainly... taken a lot of strength from you. And tomorrow will be no less exhausting... will you be able to sleep? Is there anything else I can do for you?”
"Thank you, but I think I’m fine.”
"If there's anything else... I'll be right here.”
He pointed to the door of his room.
"I'll leave the phone on, just in case.”
"Thanks, Jamie. You're very kind. Good night."
"Good night, Claire."
She opened the door and entered her room. When she had closed the door behind her, she held her hand on the door leaf for a moment, as if she could still maintain contact with Jamie in this way. This man touched something inside her. Something that was buried deep under years of neglect, harshness, and unkindness that she had experienced through Frank Randall. For the first time since the death of her Uncle Lambert, she felt that someone else really cared about her. Claire went to her bed, pulled out her pajamas from under her pillow, and changed. Then she went to the small desk that stood under one of the windows and turned on the small lamp that was placed at the right side. From one of her suitcases, she took a diary. She sat down at the desk and began to make notes about the evening and about the conversation with Ferdinand Groide. An hour later, Claire closed the book and put it back into the suitcase. She sat down on the bed and reached for her handbag, which she had left on the nightstand. Claire opened it and pulled a zipper attached to the lining. Another zipper was attached to the bottom of this inner bag. When one opened it, you entered a compartment that was hidden in the bottom of the handbag and not visible from the outside. Claire reached into this compartment and then looked thoughtfully at the six silver USB flash drives on her hand. What had Frank once said? You can't let all your cards go at once. She had agreed with Frank only on a few things, but on this point, she had to agree with him. Slowly she put the USB flash drives back and closed the handbag. After she had freshened up a bit in the bathroom and put a big glass of mineral water on the bedside table, she lay down and turned off the light. Claire looked up at the ridge of the roof. Through the glass, she could see the night sky. She wondered if Jamie was now lying in his bed and looking up there as well. With this thought, she fell asleep.