Now, Iím no fan of medieval literature. In fact after youíve got past the contents of the average castleís dungeon, my interest in things medieval wanders off. I had to read The Canterbury Tales when I was at school. I was surprised by how much smut there was in history. Some of it was filthy.
Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales in around 1400AD. Itís a tale of a group of pilgrims and it starts like this...
"When in April the sweet showers fall
That pierce March's drought to the root and all
Then folk do long to go on pilgrimage,
And pilgrims to go seeking out strange strands,
To distant shrines, well known, in distant lands."
These days, itís not so common for pilgrims to go to distant shrines in distant lands but there are other pilgrimages, other shrines, other grails.
My nameís Steve. Thereís this woman I know; Daphne. We share some interests. She had some problems. I was concerned about her but somehow I never got around to helping out. Iím not proud of that, itís just the way things are some times.
It turned out not to matter. She solved her own problems. Sheís been on a pilgrimage but sometimes you donít end up where you think you are going and sometimes you do. You might like to hear about it.
Like many pilgrims, Daphneís path was eased by others on the way. There was a Merchant, a seller of souls. He found a Student for Daphne. Then a Clerk sought out someone else to help Daphne on her path. She encountered a Counsellor and .....
But thatís putting the cart before the horse -- and if you know me then you know thatís something I never, ever, do!
Itís probably easier if they all tell their own tales...
I first met Daphne shortly after Iíd joined Freddie Clegg Enterprises. I was flying back from a trip to the Caribbean. She was on the same Ďplane. My first impression of her wasnít great. She looked shabby; overweight, badly dressed, poor complexion and greasy hair.† I guessed that she was about forty but it was hard to say. She could have been older.
Perhaps I should introduce myself. Iím Larry. I look after marketing for Clegg. Well at least I did when all this kicked off. This was one of the last jobs I was involved in before I moved on to run one of his new business ventures.
Cleggís organisation is what you might euphemistically call a recruitment agency; except our recruits usually werenít planning on a change of role before they met up with us. I suppose slave traders is the real name for what we are. The Caribbean trip had been to meet with a potential customer, a chap called Steve Glennis. No, he wasnít planning on using his purchases to start a new sugar plantation. Iíll let you guess what he wanted them for but hereís a hint. They were all young. They were all women.
Daphne just seemed like another potential client when we spoke on the flight. My first thought was that she seemed pretty greedy as she sat next to me stuffing her face with snacks. But, since it seemed likely that would extend to her tastes in slaves, I just saw that as a potential opportunity for us. She certainly had the money to pay for them according to Clegg.
After our discussion on the Ďplane and her suggestion that we might do some business I asked Rickís team in our research department to do a profile of her "Daphne Challis," their report said, "was borne in Boston, USA. Her father was in the US diplomatic service, divorced shortly after she was borne but she stayed with him. Sheíd grown up pretty much everywhere, spending time in most of the countries across Europe. Picked up language skills in French, German and Spanish. Clever at school, but somehow she never got the knack of getting on with people socially. She read economics and accountancy at university, graduating very well. She joined a City bank as a foreign exchange trader, managed to cope with the bullying and sexism by ignoring pretty much everything except making money. Now in her mid thirties (Iíd got her age wrong by at least five years -- the way that most women wouldnít ever forgive you for) she was a millionaire several times over and sheís mainly into investing. She used her capital in small entrepreneurial start-ups and her contacts in the city for any funding that she couldnít cover from her own resources.† In her private life though she seemed to be still a lonely, awkward, socially inept, individual. Her business associates found it hard to square her business acumen and acquisitive drive with her lack of social skills - as one said, sheís like a little girl with a big bag of money."
That much I could recognise in the woman Iíd met on the Ďplane.
"Itís not clear when she first started keeping slaves." The report went on. "The first purchase transactions that we are aware of were three years ago. Anecdotal evidence suggests that she had a number of BDSM relationships in her early twenties and that at some point she made the transition from consensual to non-consensual slave ownership. There were at least three male slaves "owned" by her at first. The Clegg organisation became aware of Challis first when she offered these three for sale at an auction run by one of our competitors in the States and acquired three females as replacements. Since then she has replaced these on a fairly regular basis, keeping three or four at any one time, not retaining any of them for more than six or seven months. She always takes trained / conditioned stock under twenty five years, but of no particular racial origin. Sheís bought and sold around a dozen slaves that we are aware of. The money doesnít seem to be a problem because sheís losing money every time she trades them in but it hasnít affected how sheís been buying. To date none of her purchases have been through the Clegg Organisation, they have all been in US markets. She has been based in the Hamptons until three months ago. It is understood that she may be moving to the UK."
The report told me a bit more than Iíd worked out for myself. As it turned out, it was useful background when I got a call from her. She was planning to set up in the UK, she said, and thought we might be able to let her have some pieces for her household over here. I said we could probably help. We agreed to meet. I suggested a restaurant in the West End; she came up with an alternative, "The Rose By The River Hotel." I hadnít heard of it but then Iím like a lot of taxi drivers -- I hardly ever go south of the river.
When I got there, I realised Iíd been missing something. It billed itself as a boutique hotel. Not far from Tate Modern and the Globe Theatre, it was a short walk from Borough Market and the City itself.
I got to the sixth floor and the restaurant. Daphne was already there. As I walked in she was chewing on a mouthful of food that had her face stuffed as well as the gags that we use in the Prep Centre. She barely paused in her eating and waved me across to join her. The remains of a rump steak, half a pile of chips, a smear of pepper sauce and an untouched portion of vegetables decorated the plate in front of her. A dribble of sauce was running down her chin. She wiped it as she swallowed the mouthful of food. I thought it wasnít a great menu choice. From what I remembered of her backside, the last thing she needed was more rump.
"Larry," she said holding out a limp hand, "nice to see you again." She smiled. I could see a piece of steak wedged between her two front teeth.
"Ms Challis," I said. "Good to see you, too." I wasnít being entirely sincere but she was a potential customer after all.
"Daphne," she said, "itís Daphne. Do you want to eat?" She asked. Without waiting for a reply, she called across to a waitress. "Hey," she called. Can we get a menu here?" The waitress seemed more than a little pained by Daphneís lack of finesse. She produced an impressively large menu and put on the table in front of me.† Daphne carried on eating. It wasnít the most entertaining of sights. One forkful followed another into her mouth with barely a pause. There were a couple of sticks of white asparagus on the side of the plate. She picked one up with fingers sticky from pepper sauce that had dribbled down her fork and guided its head to her lips. I found the sight of her sucking at the white, fleshy vegetable slightly disturbing.
I hadnít been very hungry before I arrived and somehow even the vaguest interest in food had disappeared. I didnít see anything on the menu that I fancied. I passed it back to the waitress and shook my head. Daphne shovelled the last fork full of chips into her mouth. "Iíll never work out why you guys call fries chips and chips crisps," she said to me. Turning to the waitress she said, "Chocolate cheesecake."
The waitress said, "Cream or ice cream?"
Daphne said, "Both."
I said, "How can we help?"
"Iíve got a requirement," she said. "Iím going to be based here for a while. Iíve got a suite here in the hotel for a few weeks but Iím moving into a new place in Greenwich.† I need a house-piece. Someone to keep the place clean and me happy. You seemed to know what you were talking about when we met on Narod Jesperís plane and Steve Glennis said you did a good job for him."
"Thanks for the compliments."
"I trust Glennisís call. He was a big help when I first started out owning rather than playing. Itís a big change. He was really useful."
"How about Jesper?"
Daphne coughed. The waitress appeared with her desert. The food looked excellent but it was obviously the size of the portions that attracted Daphne. "Too weird for me," she said. "Weíve done a few private transactions; heís taken a couple of girls off me. Iíve had one of his. He sold the plane, you know?"
I nodded. "Yeah, I came across the stewardesses a while back in Switzerland."
"Oh yes. I heard about that from Steve. Even Cleggís team screws up occasionally, then?"
"We worked things out. Steve was happy in the end. We ended up buying the girls."
"So I hear." She ran through what she was looking for. It didnít seem anything special - just a slave girl that would do for domestic and bedroom duties while Daphne was getting set up. It seemed straight forward. Then she added the rider. "Oh, and she needs to speak Portuguese."
"Uh huh. Iím going to be doing quite a lot of work with some Brazilian companies, opportunities with eco-friendly fuels, renewable energy resources, that sort of thing. Itís going to be hot technology. I need a translator."
"Not, I hope, with a degree in bio-tech or engineering?" I was only half joking, weíve been asked for more specific requirements.
"That would be good, but, no, not essential. I just want someone that can I can rely on for some of the more interesting documents."
Portuguese wasnít so easy -- weíd never done much in Spain or Portugal -- but I thought Rick would be able to come up with something.
Daphne thought sheíd want maybe a couple more pieces when she was settled but the place she was moving into only really had secure accommodation for one at the moment. She wasnít very specific about what she wanted beyond the language thing. I asked her whether sheíd be happy with something from stock; I was thinking maybe one of our European associate groups might have something. Maybe the Contessa might have something. She shrugged her shoulders. She just didnít seem bothered. "Just get me a good one," she said. She waved to the waitress for the bill. It appeared with a bowl of mints. She picked up her handbag, Louis Vuitton in soft brown leather with a stain that looked like dried mustard just by the catch. Daphne pulled out her purse and flipped her key card onto the bill without reading it.
The waitress picked up the card and went in search of her payment terminal. Daphne emptied the dish of mints into her handbag. She paid the bill. "Call me when youíve got something to view," she said. "Youíve got my number." She got her feet and moved towards the door. She didnít move as if she was comfortable with it. Walking didnít seem to be something she was big on.
The waitress came over to clear the table as I got up to leave. Daphne had made such a good job of clearing her desert that they wouldnít really have to wash the plate. I was pretty sure the waitress let out a sigh of relief as Daphne waddled away.
I gave her a sympathetic smile. "Takes all sorts," I said, and left her.