Kate ran, choosing no direction, trusting to her luck and to the darkness.
By the time she reached the wire she had more faith left in her famous luck than in the darkness that had seemed so complete from the doorway, for the promised cloud had broken, the night grew brighter around her with every stride, and she knew that her pursuers would find their vision adjusting just as fast as hers. Though she had known that she would have very little cover as she crossed the moor, she had not meant to make herself so clear a target; she would never have chanced it, not daring to imagine so incompetent a pursuit.
As her hands found the tools she would need she stole a glance at the buildings clustered below her. There was a blaze of activity at the doorway, dark figures swarming around it like ants, their torch beams dancing chaotically against the sky. She wondered if, like ants, they would have the hive intelligence to find her trail before their own hapless milling destroyed it, but she had no time to spare to watch, or to let the thought distract her.
She turned back to the wire and worked fast, for there was no hope of discretion in this job. They could not help but find any gap she made for herself, though it was impossible to guess how long it might take them to do so. She glanced back, and saw the torches trained more sensibly along the ground as the party fanned out in their search, and once more she ran.
It had not mattered where she hit the wire, but now she made for the woodland above her by the straightest line, unable pick her terrain. It slowed her, but a little extra cover as she approached the welcome line of trees compensated somewhat for the brightness of the clearing sky, and by the time she reached full shadow the sounds of pursuit had grown fainter.
Another glance, the briefest glimpse, a small group converging on her breach in their defences. She pushed on. A few moments of unavoidable blundering through the underbrush, leaving a trail that could hardly be missed, and then she stepped – fell, rather – onto the path. It was no more than a deer track, her footing invisible in the deep shadows, but she had checked it in daylight and she flew along it now. How far to push it? How long, on that obvious path, before they stopped checking for her footprints? But she must not push it too far in her caution. She must be off the path before they found it, and she was aware of the invisible boundary looming ahead of her that she must not cross. She balanced the risk as she ran, passing one tree perfect for climbing, a second, a third, promising herself that she would take the next good chance, and going five aching minutes without one. She almost turned back, but then an old beech offered firm handholds, and she flew up it, and lay still.
She could see the line of the wire, but not the place where she had crossed it. She could hear their voices, but even if she had known the language she was not close enough to follow their discussion. Nothing for it but to wait, and hold her nerve, and draw some confidence from the memory of Tomeckova’s welcoming smile when she walked into his office, his satisfaction only faintly edged with relief.
She had half hoped to surprise him, knowing that no name had been sent ahead, but she had known the moment she saw that familiar, wolfish smile that he had caught exactly the fish he had angled for. It had not, she realised, been a difficult calculation. The favour called in, the skills requested, the clear fact that they would send an agent he already had a file on, if they could; she had been the only likely candidate.
She had protested inadequate briefing and made him run through his scheme, and he had stuck to the script as she had already heard it. A training camp closer to his border than he liked to see it, but no valid grounds for action, and a party of international observers restricting his options. He needed a thief, and a thief with no possible connection to his service. He saw her doubt, and his predatory grin flashed back.
“Perhaps I do have one or two people,” he had admitted, “who can’t be traced back to me or mine, but no one I could trust to pull this off – except you. I’ve seen you run before.”
He had, she knew, but as she rested silently on her high perch she couldn’t help wondering if his confidence had been well founded. Lights and voices still clustered around the wire, but she could not risk moving far enough to see what progress they had made. Eventually the excited voices gave way once more to order. Through the trees she made out glimpses of a small party following her faint trail across the hillside, and she heard their self-congratulation when they found the place where she had broken through to the track. As she had hoped, they followed it with renewed confidence and reduced care, and they passed beneath her without an upward glance between them. Did they know where the path led? Would they cross the border in ignorance? Or would they cross it in the comfortable belief that their incursion would never be noticed?
It hardly mattered. She allowed herself to relax, and to imagine the encounter that she was so tempted to follow and observe, as Tomeckova’s picked men rose up like ghosts around the unwary group. They would talk of a provocateur, but their talk need not concern her. It would fall on the unsympathetic ears of observers who were confident that no one else had crossed the border that night.
I have stated, in several places, that Kathryn Blake will return, in Find the Lady, in December 2013. Well, they do say that if you want to give God a giggle you should tell him your plans.
Find the Lady will be available for purchase from January 24th; it might be available for preorder by the end of the year, but I’m not rushing the formatting just for that – and if I did, it would hardly keep the spirit of the promise. To satisfy my honour, then, Kathryn Blake must make some kind of appearance in the next two days.
Fortunately, there’s this.