Market Forces
Part 4
by Freddie Clegg

© Freddie Clegg 2007. No posting or reproduction without permission.

Chapter 22 : Ready For My Close Up, Mr DeMille

In her Prep Centre cell, Rachel was in a pretty sorry state. The guards and anyone else that felt like it had taken the opportunity presented by the “available” sign on her cell door. Someone had started chalking five bar gate counts on the wall by the door. It had reached twenty eight. As I got to her room, the Prep Centre’s receptionist was emerging with a smile, clutching a strap-on dildo and a harness. “Hi, Larry,” she said, “back again?” as she ticked off another stroke on the wall. Twenty nine.

I nodded.

“Your writer has been giving everyone a good time,” she said, hefting the strap-on with a smirk. “Makes a change for us support staff to get a chance to play.”

I edged past her into Rachel’s cell. As I got in the receptionist called after me. “Oh, Larry, I’ve left my tit clamps on her. Be a love and drop them off at the desk when you’ve done, could you?”

Rachel was sprawled on the floor in one corner of the room. She was in a terrible state and it had only been two days since I turned the guards loose on her. If she had looked shocked before, she was almost catatonic now. They’d replaced her standard collar with a broad one that forced her head upwards. Her mouth was distended by the wire frame gag that held it open. Her eyes were staring unblinking from dark hollows in her face. I couldn’t work out at first what she was wearing but finally realised it was the tattered remnants of the sweater and skirt that she had on when I’d last seen her, torn by the mistreatment that she had suffered over the last two days. Her tits were purple, and sore, the steel claws of the tit clamps pinched into her nipples. Her hair was lank and greasy, sticky with I wasn’t sure what; her face puffy from where her mouth had been used repeatedly. They’d strapped her wrists to the tops of her arms and her ankles to the tops of her thighs, leaving her breasts, arse and cunt available for any intrusion. From the bruises on her legs, especially on the inside of her thighs, it was clear that she’d had a lot of attention. Seeing me, she gave a whimper of recognition.

I bent down and unfastened the ratchet on her gag. Even with the wire frame removed her mouth stayed open as though her jaws were locked wide. I took the nipple clamps off. She gave a sharp, animal-like, cry in the back of her throat as the blood started to rush back and feeling returned in a wave of pain. Minutes went by before she regained the use of the muscles that allowed her to talk.

“Th, th, thank you,” she stammered, hardly able to form the words, “I’m sorry. Please stop this. I’m sorry.”

“I stopped it before and look what happened. Why should I stop it again?”

“I, I, I know. I can’t bear this any more though. Over and over again. So many times. Please. I’ll do anything.”

“You say you will, Rachel, of course you say you will. And right now you believe it too. But I’m not sure I can risk it. It took a long time to lose that headache.” She looked scared at the prospect that I would not relent. “We’ll give it one more try, though.” Her expression changed to one of relief. “You’ll work on the script. There are some revisions.” She nodded animatedly. “You’ll be kept shackled, though.” More nods of agreement. “There’ll be no more rapes. IF you behave. But if you don’t you’ll be beaten and you’ll be back in here with the ‘available’ sign on the door. Do you understand?”

She nodded. I still wasn’t convinced. I should have let Rick do a proper orientation job on her. I aimed to mention it to him later. He could have a go as soon as we finished the first script. I left Rachel, giving instructions to the guards to clean her up and put her back to work on the script. They were disappointed of course, but later I heard they were laying odds on how soon she’d be back on the available list. I gave the receptionist her tit clamps back. She grinned and asked if I fancied playing with them later. Somehow I wasn’t in the mood.

I was on my way over to see Rick when I bumped into Harry as he strolled down the corridor with a cheery smile on his face. “Uhhuh,” I said sensing that he’d had a good time the night before. “So you did get to date that waitress.”

“Is it that obvious?” he asked.

I nodded. “I hope she’s still footloose and fancy free. Tell me she isn’t languishing down stairs somewhere.”

“Don’t worry Larry, I took your advice. Absolutely no business whatsoever and some extremely agreeable and very conventional sex, right up to the point…”

“Oh, Harry!” I said, “that wasn’t the idea.”

“No, listen,” Harry responded. “Let me finish. Right up to the point where she said, ‘I hope you don’t think I’m kinky, but have you ever tied a girl up?’ It took all my self control to give her a less than honest answer.”

I guffawed in response. “Oh well,” I said, “at least you tried.”

“No, don’t knock it, Larry. It was good, straightforward, uncomplicated fun and we both ended up grinning like idiots and covered in sweat. I had a great time. I think I might do it again.”

“With the waitress?”

“Oh, I sort of have to really,” he said. “If only because of her name.”

I looked blank.

“It’s Sally,” he said. “You know, ‘When Harry Met…”

“I’ve heard it,” I said and left him, still grinning, to search out Rick.

I found him in his office. I was clutching the version of the script that I already had. “How are we going to set this up then?” I asked as we sat together. “You’ve seen the script. We need to get the girls looking presentable and showing themselves off to best advantage.”

“Well, I’ve made a start,” said Rick. "I’ve put a small team together to help. You’ve not really seen much of the Prep Centre staff yet have you?”

I shook my head.

Rick continued. “The Prep Centre isn’t just about basic slave conditioning. I also try to get the merchandise into a condition so it can get a better price when it gets up to Brian’s Sales Centre. We need to help the girls to look good and they need to be healthy too. They get quite a lot of physical mistreatment as part of their training but there’s nothing worse than a scrawny, bruised body on the auction block.”

“Well, I’ve only seen the guards. I hadn’t realised there were any other staff.”

“Not staff as such,” Rick smiled. “More sort of slaves. Well, not ‘sort of’ really.”

“Silly of me,” I said. “Freddie wouldn’t want to pay for that sort of thing, would he?”

“Uh-huh,” said Rick shaking his head. “Very careful with his pennies, our Mr Clegg. Come and look in here, I’ve got the team together.” He opened the door of his office, walked across the corridor and unlocked the door to one of the Prep centre cells. As the door opened six girls, all dressed in identical, white, button-through, short sleeved, dresses, got to their feet, turned towards us and bowed their heads.

I looked around the cell. It was quite an improvement on the conditions that the merchandise had to put up with. There were two couches, a couple of arm chairs, two low tables. In one corner of the room there was a television. A pile of DVD’s stood beside it. On one of the tables was a heap of magazines.

“My training team,” said Rick. “Carry on girls.” They went back to what they had been doing before our arrival. One was busy working on the make up of another, a third was trying to create for a girl with long dark hair a particularly elaborate hairstyle modelled on a photograph in one of the magazines. Another sat cross legged on the floor in front of the TV watching a group of girls working out in a fitness video. “Now let’s see,” Rick went on, pointing out each of the girls in turn. “These two are our beauticians. This one is a qualified hair stylist; her guinea pig here is a choreographer. That one is a physical training instructor – she’d been a personal trainer in her local gym, now she’s making sure our merchandise is fit for purpose. And that one,” he pointed to the last of the girls sat reading on the couch, “that one was a medical student. Now she provides nursing services for the group. They have an easier life as long as they do what we ask of them. They’re excused rape – though I don’t mind if they want to get it on with any of the team willingly – and you can see their work cell is quite comfortable. We give them the stuff they need to keep up to date on their field of work. Plus their overnight accommodation is better too; sheets on the beds, lighter weight restraints, stuff like that. OK?”

“Yes fine,” I said, “and have they got started with the cast yet? Oh rats!” I cursed as my mobile phone started to ring. It was the Kalinin. I felt obliged to take it.

“Ah, Larry, so pleased to have caught you,” he said. “I wanted you to know that the shipment you organised for me has arrived in Kushtia.”

“Good, good,” I responded. “I hope you are satisfied with the goods.”

“Yes, indeed,” said the Kalinin lapsing into the oblique terminology that we all used when using telephones. “The upholstery is quite up to our expectations and the pieces are all of most acceptable quality. Very good for the year of manufacture in every case.”

“Well, I am glad you are pleased. I hope that these items are soon gracing the bedrooms of your Councillors.”

“They are already, Mister Larry, they are all ready. And providing great comfort to all, I am very sure. The Councillors will find them a very appropriate gift, I will achieve my aims. Oh yes and the other piece, the one in ebony; most unusual for Kushtia.”

He was talking about Alessa.

“I’ve decided to keep that for myself. Not such a well aged piece as the other items but I think with time it will prove excellent. Let me say how much I appreciate your generosity with the ebony piece.”

I’d included Alessa as a complementary. Well, after all the Kalinin had taken 11 pieces from us, it seemed only reasonable to make up the round dozen. She’d have been furious if she’d known she was a freebie, of course. After all, the woman has her pride.

“Now one more thing. I have a friend that I think you can help. A Mr Hannani. He will call you. He has my personal recommendation to you as you have to him. That is the way we like to do business in Kushtia. I am sure you can help him. I have told him of all the wonderful things you have done for my son and myself. Oh yes, I should say my son’s five piece suite is still proving most comfortable. He is hardly ever off of one of the couches or chairs.”

The Kalinin’s use of the furniture metaphor was getting stretched but I was pleased he was so satisfied. “Thank you, your highness,” I said, “I hope that they are proving to be sufficiently hard wearing,” I heard him chortle, “and we will do all we can to help Mr Hananni. Thank you for recommending us.”

“Not at all. It is all I can do.” He said his goodbyes and hung up.

I apologised to Rick and returned to the matter in hand. “Sorry. Are they working with the cast yet?”

“Yes,” said Rick, “They had their first class with them this morning to get them set for a training session this afternoon. We can see how things are going, if you like.”

“Sounds good to me.” I followed Rick out of the cell and he locked the door. He showed the way to a cell with a large open area. Inside it six women, faces immaculately made up, hair carefully coiffured, wearing nothing but their lingerie were walking slowly around in a circle. A girl in a white button through dress was standing to one side calling instructions. Three guards were sat in a corner of the room playing cards. “Head up ladies, posture is everything,” called the girl in the white dress, “shoulders back, please, and chests out, remember you have to show your assets off to their best advantage. And smile please, always remember to smile. Now step out. From the hips and one and two and one and two. That’s better. Good. Wait! Stop! 317 – you’re out of step. I’ve told you before. You must keep in step.”

One of the guards put his hand of cards down slowly, got his feet and walked across to the group.

“Alright, 317,” he said. “Take off the bra.”

The offender whimpered but slowly complied, dropping the garment into the middle of the circle where it joined a small pile of underwear. The guard went back to his seat and the girls started off again. “It’s all part of the training programme,” Rick explained. “They make a mistake, they lose one item of clothing, if one of them ends up naked she gets beaten, if they all lose more than ten pieces, they all get beaten.” Rick turned to the guard. “How many is that now?”

“Six, boss,” the Guard answered.

The girls had gone into a huddle. 317 was coming under pressure from the others. “That’s your fourth item, you’re going to get us all thrashed. We’re going to be beaten just because you’re not paying attention,” one said.

“It’s not my fault,” 317 responded, on the edge of tears. “I’ve never done anything like this. I am trying, really.”

Another girl said, “She is you know – and you lost your robe when you missed your footing on those heels. And I lost mine when I wasn’t standing up straight.”

“Yes but that was only once. She’s lost her robe, both gloves and now her bra.”

“Yeah, I’m not going to get beaten because she can’t keep in step.”

“All of you, back in your circle,” the woman in white called. “Start again, heads up, chests out, think elegance, smile and step out. Step out. No! No! No! 317 again! You’re still out of step.”

The guard went across again. “Now the girdle,” he said. “I hope you’re all looking forward to your beating.” The four that had been attacking her looked furious, the one that had defended her was looking worried too. The four of them were murmuring under their breath until the guard told them to shut up.

“Start again,” the woman in white called. This time they managed to continue for a few more circuits. Before she called a halt. “335, you are not smiling. That is absolutely not acceptable. I’ve explained it all enough times now.”

335 added her robe to the pile. Rick spoke a few words quietly to the woman in white. She looked pale and put her hands up to her mouth. Rick came back to join me. “Come on, let’s go,” he said. “They’re going to be at this for a while. I just told her that if the girls get beaten she’ll join them.”

I walked by the training room a little later on. All six girls and their trainer were strapped down, bent over a low beam with their arses pointing skyward. Two of the guards were making their selection of whips from a rack on the wall. Interestingly I noticed that 317 still had her stockings, shoes and garter belt on. She’d only lost one more item while the girl that had been criticising her had managed to loose everything but her panties. “There you go,” I muttered. “It doesn’t do to criticise too soon.”

Chapter 23 : Couch Potatoes

The training was finished, the script was finished. The first version of the video was shot. It was time to show it to Clegg.

Clegg sat back in his arm chair opposite the big video projection screen. “OK,” he said, “let’s see it.”

I sat in the chair alongside him and hit ‘play’ on the remote. The Clegg logo span around in the middle of the screen and then dissolved to show a helpless girl in a car boot. A girl standing with her hands chained over her head followed, then another shot of a girl bound helplessly and pushed into a crate. Then the scene switched to an office. The camera panned around to face a woman, seated behind a desk. It zoomed in on her face showing her wide smile. In her mid forties, with big hair and a suit jacket with shoulder pads thick enough to land a helicopter on, she looked like she had stepped out of 1985. “Hi,” she said. “I’m Angie Dennison. You’ll remember my hit 80’s show ‘Miami Detective’. Quite a few of our dramas dealt with ladies in distress. Even me sometimes!” She laughed. “Nothing in that series compares with what happens these days. Just watch…”

I could see Clegg was leaning forward appreciatively. “How the devil did you get her to introduce this? And what on earth does she think she’s compèring?”

I let the video keep running.

The picture on the screen dissolved to the auction room in the Sales Centre. Angie’s voice continued. “What will be the fate of girls like these?” As the picture came into focus five women could be seen sitting on the stage. Each was perched on a tall bar stool and wore a low cut dress with a short tight skirt. They all sat identically, hands clasped in their laps. They all wore the collars and number tags that marked them out as victims of Clegg’s snatch squads.

The voice of a man off screen said, “Number 302 come forward please.” The first of the girls climbed down form her stool and walked towards the front of the stage, teetering on high heels and making effort to walk gracefully in a skirt that was both too tight and too short for comfort. “302, your details please.”

The girl looked to one side, obviously towards the voice that was directing her. “Your details, please,” the voice repeated. She turned back towards the camera.

“I’m twenty one years old, a trainee accountant from Maidenhead in England. My measurements are 34, 23, 35. I’m 5 feet six inches tall and weigh 113 pounds. In my new life I could be your very personal assistant, because you see, as well as having a head for figures I know how to make use of my own.” She reached behind her, obviously unzipping her dress. She shrugged off the shoulder straps and let the dress fall to the floor. “Wouldn’t this make going over the month-end numbers more interesting?” she said, slipping the bra strap from her right shoulder, smiling at the camera and running her tongue across her lips.

“Thank you 302,” the voice said. “Please put your hands behind your back.” She did as asked. “Now tell us a little more about yourself, please.”

“I’ve recently completed the first year of an accountancy course which I passed. I play sports at weekends - I’m part of a women’s hockey team - and I exercise regularly. I’m, I’m,” she hesitated.

“Go on, 302, the voice urged. . “I’m not particularly sexually experienced with either men or women but I have learned many of the basic skills during my initial training here and I’m sure I will be able to satisfy any prospective buyer in that area.”

“Thank you very much, 302. Please take your seat.” She walked back towards her stool. “Number 317, please.”

The second girl came forward, her dress no less revealing than that of her predecessor, her heels no less high, her walk made slightly easier by the hip-high slit in her skirt. “Your details please, 317.” The girl stared at the source of the voice. “Go on.” She shook her head and held her face in her hands. “Go on, 317. I am sure you wish to be cooperative. You will remember how important this is for you. Do as you have been instructed.” The girl bit her lip, looking from side to side. “Go on!” the voice barked. “Your age, your measurements, your weight, your skills. Continue!”

Slowly, the girl began. “I’m, uh, twenty three years old, from a small village in Oxfordshire, England. I am, I was a secretary for a firm of lawyers in Oxford. My, measurements are 38, 25, 36. I’m five feet three inches tall and weigh 120 pounds. I could be your very personal secretary,” she was looking at the floor now, “and I am sure you’ll want to take the law into your own hands.”

“Look up, 317,” the voice ordered.

The girl appeared to pull herself together. “I’m a competent typist and I can handle most office administration. I like to go clubbing, I’m a good dancer and I’m good to watch.” She unfastened the front of her dress and took it off. She was clearly a little fatter and less fit than the first girl but her bigger breasts would be attractive to many. “I’ve had about twelve lovers, all but two of them men. You’ll find that I am sexually skilled with both my mouth and my hands.”

“Thank you 317, that was better,” the voice said. “Now please give us a smile and return to your seat.”

The girl did so.

The picture dissolved again to Angie Dennison. “Abduction, kidnapping, white slavery. Whatever you call it, these girls will have a whole new life.” The picture returned to the auction room.

The girls were back on their stools, dressed quite differently, still wearing their collars and tags but now all gagged. The voice spoke again. “Girls, now you have the opportunity to demonstrate your skills for your potential new owners. Number 323, please.”

A woman wearing a smart business suit, hat and gloves, stepped forward.

“Now, 323, you told us you were the sales manager for a packaging company. You also claimed you were used to using your charms on both your customers and your colleagues. Perhaps you can demonstrate that to us now?”

Music started and the girl looked straight into the camera. She struck a pose, hands on hips, head back. As the beat of the music picked up she began a sensuous striptease. Peeling her gloves off with the assistance of her teeth, she unbuttoned her jacket and trailed it behind her as she walked across the stage. She returned square to the camera and started to unbutton her blouse, bumping her hips as she did so. Her blouse followed her jacket to the floor of the stage, with her skirt and slip soon after. She spent longer parading herself in her underwear before removing her bra, stockings, shoes and finally panties.

The music faded. “Thank you, 323,” the voice said. “Return to your seat.” The camera zoomed in on the face of 323 as she stooped to collect her clothes. The camera caught the girl flushed with the effort of her dance; the beads of sweat, the drool from the gag and the streaks of mascara across her face.

“And now, 331, our student from Cardiff.” The voice spoke once more. “Now you said you enjoyed amateur dramatics and your last performance was in ‘Flower Drum Song.’ So, let’s see what your buyer can expect from you.” A slight looking girl walked onto the stage wearing a short, blue silk cheong-sam, holding her hands palm to palm in front of her. She fell to her knees at the front of the stage and bowed her head to the floor. Then she lifted her head to show the bright blue ball that filled her mouth as a gag. She was swaying from side to side as she stayed on her knees in front of the camera. She smiled and got to her feet, ripping the fastening of her dress open and stepping out of it before going into an acrobatic dance routine that ended with a flying cartwheel and a splits landing, her face only inches from the camera.

The source of the voice could be heard applauding from off stage. “Impressive, 331, impressive. Thank you.” She picked up her dress and threw it over her shoulder triumphantly before skipping off stage.

The image of Angie Dennison returned to the screen again. “But that’s all in the future. Why are they here? How did their luck run out?” The screen split, Angie’s face still in one part seeming to watch the other where the camera was close-up on another gagged girl, her face filling the rest of the screen. A hand off screen unfastened the gag and pulled the ball from her mouth.

“My number is 335, I was acquired for an owner in Sarawak. He wants a new slave to teach his others the skills of western cooking. I was working in a small restaurant when I was approached by one of our customers who said he was looking for a new chef. I agreed to prepare a meal for him and his friends to demonstrate my skills. They ate the meal and pronounced themselves satisfied. One of them produced a gun, the others tied me up and forced me into a car. I have learned some other skills and I leave for Sarawak tomorrow.”

She was followed by an athletic looking blonde. Again the camera zoomed in on her face as her gag was removed. “My number is 342. I was acquired for an owner in Surinam. He wants a slave to run a fitness regime for his wives. I was a personal trainer. I was out jogging with one of my clients. I enjoyed working out with him; he had been seeing me for two months. We had jogged our route many times before. I felt quite safe with him of course. But the last time, as we jogged past a van, I was grabbed, pulled inside, bound and gagged. My client has now been seeing to my training. He has been teaching me skills that he tells me I will need in Surinam. They have the money for me now, they say. I am being shipped on Friday.”

Each of the others turned up in their own screen split in turn. “Acquired for an owner in Sinkiang”, “an owner in Kachin”, “to do the administration of his businesses”, “to teach his slaves English”, “to join his breeding slaves”.

The slaves faded out. Angie’s face filled the screen. The camera pulled back, She was sitting in a large arm chair smiling directly at the camera. “So, there you have it - we’ll listen to what you want. And we’ll see that you get it.” The picture froze as text scrolled across the screen, “Clegg Enterprises offers a custom service in slave acquisition, finding exactly the right property to meet your needs. We’d like to talk to you about how we can help.” The picture faded to black.

I turned up the lights, peering at Clegg anxiously. He broke into a broad smile. “First class!” He exclaimed. “First class! Angie Dennison, good grief. Brings back fond memories of adolescent television viewing. For some of the older guys it’s The Avengers, for me it was Miami Detective. How did you get her to do that?”

“Well, we weren’t entirely honest,” I said. “Here watch this – it’s the video footage we shot of her doing the ‘come-on’ advertisement that we told her we were making to attract sponsors for a new series.”

I started the video player again. On came a shot of Angie in the armchair talking directly to the camera. “Can we get on with this? Jeez you guys are slow. I’ve worked with real film crews you know – MGM, UA, Touchstone, … “ A voice from someone off camera says quietly, “RKO.” “What was that?” said Angie but she was interrupted by a clapper board appearing. “Scene 105, take 14, mark!”

Angie composes herself instantly, smiles and continues, “Hello. I’m Angie Dennison. You’ll remember my hit 80’s show ‘Miami Detective’. Quite a few of our dramas dealt with ladies in distress. Even me sometimes! But nothing in that series compares with what happens these days. Just watch…

“This is a new series of Miami Detective for the new century. It will be must see viewing just the way the 1980’s series was. But now there are new crimes to combat. Abduction, kidnapping, white slavery. Whatever you call it, these girls will have a whole new life. But that’s all in the future. Why are they here? How did their luck run out? What will be the fate of girls like these?

“Each episode of Miami Detective ’06 will follow the fortunes of one victim of crime and how the perpetrators are brought to justice.

“I’ll be there too. You’ll see me again as ‘Salty’ Anders – Captain Anders this time – and no doubt I’ll get into some scrapes too. But here’s the trick and this is what makes Miami Detective ’06 different. Miami Detective ’06 will work with viewers. We’ll listen to what viewers want each week on our web site. Viewers will directly affect the story lines. We’ll listen to what they want. And we’ll see that they get it. Just like Miami Detective in the ‘80’s every episode will feature some of the most attractive young actresses around. Your company could be one of the lead sponsors on this show and help shape the story lines too. So, there you have it - we’ll listen to what you want. And we’ll see that you get it. I’m proud to be a part of Miami Detective ’06 – I hope you will be too.”

"Cut," another voice called. "That's fine Angie. We'll use that one. Great."

"About fucking time," Angie's scowl showed itself through her botox frozen forehead. "I've been pissed around all morning. Fuck know how you guys will make a series if you get the funding."

I turned the video off. “Marvellous what you can do with a bit of editing,” I said.

“First rate job,” Clegg enthused. “Shame you didn’t tell me you were shooting. I’d have liked to have met her. Liked to have more than met, if I’m honest.”

“I’m glad you said that,” I said getting to my feet. Clegg looked puzzled. I opened the door to Clegg’s office. Harry was outside as agreed. Without saying anything he wrestled a woman into the room.

Clegg got to his feet. “Angie Dennison!” he roared in a combination of recognition and approval. “Well I’m certainly delighted to meet you.”

“Hmmgh,” Angie grunted into her gag. We had dressed her in as close to the costume from the ‘80’s series as we could get. We’d got a blue short sleeved uniform shirt and tie, with the Miami Police insignia and a straight black skirt. We’d even managed the regulation handcuffs – even if they were locked around her wrists. They’d gone in for over the mouth gags in the original series so in deference to that Angie was wearing a scarf across her mouth. Of course her mouth was packed with foam and taped shut underneath it – there are limits to authenticity. I wasn’t keen to be around when Clegg took her gag off; I’d had enough of an ear bending from Angie when she found out what we had planned for her after filming the promo.

“We’ll leave you to get acquainted” I said.

“Thank you very much Larry. And by the way – I think you’ve proved your point about the value of matching what we do to what the customer’s want – I’d have paid a great deal for this. We’ll talk about what you want to do with the video at some other point.”

I grinned and waved to the pair of them as I made to leave.

“Oh,” said Clegg, “by the way. What happened to that red-head of Harry’s?”

I looked him straight in the eye. “I shot some footage with her but it didn’t really fit in when we came to cut the final version,” I said honestly, waving another disk. “I can let you see it if you like.”

“No,” said Freddie, “not a problem. I just wondered.”

Yes, I thought to myself and I wonder what you’d have said if I hadn’t done anything with her.

Chapter 24 : Sebastian’s Web

I’d left the City offices and gone back up to the Prep Centre. I needed to talk to the IT folk about the other part of my plans. As usual there was a problem finding a parking place with Clegg Meat Products trucks all over the place.

Eventually I managed to squeeze the car in and headed into the building. “I’ve got an appointment,” I said to the receptionist. “Sebastian in IT?”

“Sure,” she said, punching a number into her phone. She spoke into the mouthpiece, “Seb? Visitor for you.” She put the handset down and turned back towards me. “He’ll be over in a minute. Take a seat.”

I’d barely the chance to thank her before a figure appeared through the door from the admin areas. He looked like Murdoc from Gorillaz. It ain’t a great look, even if you’re a cartoon, but he seemed friendly enough. “Hi,” he said, “you’d be Larry.”

“Yeah, hi. Have you got something to show me?”

“Sure,” he said, “come on through and meet the team.” He showed me through, back along corridors I’d seen when I’d first visited the Prep Centre. We got to a door. It had a card pinned to it, ‘Seb’s Harem’. Sebastian stopped. “Just before we go in, let me explain a couple of things. All the team I’ve got working on this are pick-ups, not staff. They all think they’re working their tickets too – Do a good job and the bonus is a free pass out of here. It isn’t true, of course, but it’s a hell of an incentive.”

“OK,” I said, ”sounds like good use of resources to me.”

“Like your style, man,” Seb said and opened the door.

I saw what they meant by the sign on the door. The team was six girls, not one of them could have been over twenty years old. They all wore mini kilts in different tartans, they all wore white shirts, some of them tucked into the waist bands of their kilts, some loose, one with her midriff bare and the shirt knotted up under her tits. They all wore thin, straight, black ties, some knotted up to their throats, most loose showing beneath the collars that were routinely put on when pick ups were booked in to the Prep Centre.

I looked appreciatively as they busied themselves at their tasks. “I like your style too,” I said.

“Well,” said Seb, “I guess it’s a bit of an indulgence but a man’s got to give in to his enthusiasms. Come over here, I‘ll give you a demo – the site that is, not the girls,” he grinned. “214,” he called and one of the girls turned towards us. It was Jackie. She didn’t appear to recognise me. “Show us the site, please.”

Jackie slid between us and sat down at the keyboard. A few taps brought up a web site in her browser window. “OK,” said Seb, “this is the entry portal, it’s a pretty ordinary BDSM photo and video gallery site. All the usual membership features, forums, all that sort of stuff. This bits not finished yet but it’ll do for now. To get beyond this you need a security token and some souped-up encryption software which Jackie here has developed and when you’re in you get this…”

The page was headed up, “Larry Ross – My Control Centre”. Underneath were panels headed up “My Projects”, “News”, “Catalogue”, “Search & Snatch”

“Let’s deal with the easy ones first, said Seb. “The ‘News’ section is pretty self explanatory – they can get details of forthcoming auctions, special offers and so forth, we’d feature videos of the prize items in upcoming sales and they can select live web cams of particular cells to view lots as well. The section headed up ‘Catalogue’ is just a list of any of the stock that we have on hand at any one time with photos and the key details about them. There are sort options so they can view the catalogue by age, height, racial characteristics, colour of hair and so on. We can also put up a series of video clips for each of them too. I thought we might have a sort of rotating view as standard, a short interview and then anything that showed off particular skills.”

“Fine,” I said, “that sounds pretty much like what I had in mind. What about the other areas?”

“Well, you know you said people wanted to feel we were solving their problems, meeting their specific needs. The other two areas are meant to deal with just that. Look at this. I’ve mocked it up on the basis of your last few projects.”

I looked at the ‘My Projects Area’; there was a short list: ‘Kalinin’s Son Project’; ‘Kalinin’s Councillor’s Project’; ‘Clegg Video Project’. Jackie clicked on the link to the ‘Kalinin’s Son Project’.

“Buyers can set these up themselves,” said Seb. They fill in a requirements form. They can get at a copy of that through here. Our progress reports and video footage – surveillance for example – gets published through here. They can feed-back on specifics as they see how things are going and using this we’d get their OK before any pick up. That should mean we have less redundant stock – we quite often pick up a girl for a specification and discover later that she doesn’t quite fit in some way; then she’s back in here for resale at whatever we can get for her.”

“Right, right. I could see that working. What about the ‘Search & Snatch’ area?”

“Now that’s the bit that’s really clever, thanks to my little team of lovelies here,” he gestured at the girls who had all gathered round to watch. “This is really intended to open up the buyers mind to the opportunities out there. Try it yourself.”

Jackie got up and let me take her place. I clicked on the Search & Snatch button. Up popped a form. Down one side was listed a series of links under the heading ‘My Saved Searches’ with the unpromising titles of ‘Test 1’; ‘Test 2’, ‘Test Search Blondes’ and so on. In the middle of the form was an array of tick boxes. At the top it said, “Search & Snatch : Explore our on-line database of a wide range of possible UK products. Search on the basis of your choices. Choose those that you think you would like to own. Clegg Enterprises will provide a customised quote for acquisition and delivery.’ I looked more closely at the tick boxes. One provided for age ranges, one for colour of hair, one for racial type, one for skills and qualifications, one for height another for weight and so on.

“Go on,” said Seb, “try it.”

I found myself thinking of Rebecca. Suppose I’d been looking for someone like her. I ticked a number of boxes; 26-30, English / British, 5 foot 4 inches, 110 – 120 pounds, blonde, flight attendant.” I hit the “search” button – it occurred to me after that ‘submit’ would hardly have been appropriate.

I’m not sure what I expected but I certainly hadn’t expected the response, ‘List Mode. Your search has found 124 entries. These are listed below by name. To select an alternative order click here. To refine your search please return to the previous page. To see this search in display mode click here. To save these search criteria in My Searches click here.’ Beneath the text at the top of the screen was a long list of names. I scrolled down. Sure enough there was ‘Hales, Rebecca’. I clicked on the link up came a page with Rebecca’s details and a photograph which looked as though it had come from her Atlantic Airlines personnel file. Under ‘Employment’ it said; ‘Last known employer 01/06 : Atlantic Airlines’. I went back to the previous page and tried clicking on ‘Display Mode’. The same list appeared but now with a short summary of each person and a thumbnail picture alongside.

“Extraordinary!” I exclaimed, “how can you possibly have all those on file?”

Seb grinned. “Tell him Jacqueline,” he said. “This has been your contribution.”

Jackie turned around in her chair. “The data comes from a number of sources. We haven’t built a database here. We plant a small programme, a virus I guess you’d call it, on the servers of certain companies. Then when we do a search we poll each of those servers. Our virus does a search on that database and sends the results back. The system at this end collates the results, combines data for similar looking responses and presents it to the user. Easy.”

“Easy,” I said. “But what are the target systems? I still don’t understand how you’re getting the data.”

Seb butted in. “Come on,” he said, “you used to be in the software business. What proportion of companies uses standard software packages?”

“Pretty much all of them these days, I guess. For some parts of business people still develop their own programmes but generally it’s not worth while.”

“So for personnel, HR, say?”

“No, you wouldn’t bother developing something customised. It’s going to be far cheaper to buy a package or use a service.”

“Exactly. So what we’ve done is to develop a virus that works with the five or six HR database packages that make up about 90% of the installed systems. Then Jackie here has managed to load that virus on virtually all of the major temp and executive placement agencies and a few of the major employers too. We reckon we can get access to around 250,000 records relating to women between the ages of 18 and 40 say; anyone who is on their books or has applied for a job via an agency. They’re supposed to clean off old data but none of them do.”

“But the photographs?”

“They all do that now. Take a digital photo at the interview, stick it on the file. We strip the photo out just like any other data. The systems ought to have sufficient security to stop anything like this but most of these guys have pretty sloppy security and even the people that do have good systems – the banks say – their focus is on keeping you out of financial applications not the HR stuff.”

“And as long as their security doesn’t spot us we can go on querying their data.”

“That’s it. And actually what we do is to keep a copy of the results for each query so that even if a system does go off-line in the future we’ll have built up a lot of data of our own.”

“Fantastic! The customer gets to choose from an enormous shopping list and we got quite a lot of data on which to go back to them with a quote to collect and supply quite quickly. We shouldn’t need to collect speculatively for auction at all.”

I was really pleased with the work that Sebastian and his team had done. I wanted to check it out with some customers, of course but it looked to me like we had a solid basis for a really innovative approach.

I went back to town to try and catch Freddie. I certainly wanted his OK before talking to any of the existing customers and besides I hoped he would help out at the event I had in mind. I was sat in my office starting to sketch out the programme when a knock at the door disturbed me. I looked up.

Normally the arrival in my office of a raven haired, blue eyed, woman with legs up to her armpits and a suit with tailoring so sharp you could cut yourself on it would be greeted with considerable enthusiasm. On this occasion, though, my pleasure was tempered by wariness. This was Ellie, Elspeth Grant – the head of Clegg’s legal department and according to most office gossip, Clegg’s long term partner in matters carnal. In fact, as far as I knew, she was Clegg’s only interest outside of his work. As a legal eagle she had a lot going for her, fine feathers and the sharpest of talons.

“Mr Ross,” she said extending a perfectly manicured hand towards me.

I reached forward and shook it carefully. Someone had advised me once to count my fingers after shaking hands with a lawyer; from what I’d heard about Elly I shouldn’t make an exception for her. “Indeed,” I said. “What can I do for you, Ms Grant?” I was hoping she wasn’t about to basll me out for setting Freddie up with Angie Dennison.

“Oh, please, it’s Ellie,” she smiled. I wasn’t sure whether I needed to be encouraged by the familiarity or not. “Freddie suggested I had a word with you.”

“Fine,” I said, still wary. “Take a seat.”

She sat down in one of the chairs beside the coffee table. “I thought you ought to get a briefing on what we do in Legal,” she said. “After all, I can imagine that some of things you’re doing might need our help.”

“Fair enough,” I said, “I hadn’t really thought about it. I guess that since to the best of my knowledge most of what we do is outside the law, your team’s main job was keeping the law out of everybody’s way.”

Ellie smiled tolerantly. “Well, there is that,” she said. “I do have a small team of girls to keep some of those who might cause us problems ‘on side’ so to speak. You needn’t worry about that though. Just think about it as part of FCE’s central services – canteen, mail room, photocopying, girls to shag the commissioner of police – it’s all the same thing.”

“You sound like you don’t feel appreciated.”

“Hmm, maybe,” she smiled, surprised that anyone should seem sympathetic. “You’re right, though. Freddie’s always been supportive but I don’t think many people see the value of what we do. Anyway, I wanted to talk to you about contracts.”

“For the girls?”

Ellie laughed. “Oh no, of course not. They’d have no standing in English law. You can’t make a contract under duress and I fear that most of our products are under duress in one way or another. We do have some legal cover in that area. It’s all a little complicated; there were some oversights when the anti-slavery acts were passed in the nineteenth century but I won’t bore you with that. I’m not sure how well it would play in the courts if it came to it. We ought to win in the Crown Court, the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords here but if the European Court of Human Rights stuck its oar in then I think we’d have difficulty. No, we’re better off steering clear of contracts for the girls, I’d say.”

I must have looked relieved. I was. She went on, “It’s contracts for the clients that I’m concerned about. We have a standard sale agreement that covers purchase at auction, warranties, transfer of entitlement to goods, payment terms, standard disclaimers, that sort of thing. The Sale of Goods Act 1979 and the Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers regulations 2002 apply, you see. Goods have to be "as described" and “of merchantable quality and fit for the purpose they are intended for”. That’s usually OK, Harry and Rick take a lot of trouble to make sure the end product is as expected and as long as we don’t get too carried away with the descriptions in the catalogues we are fine. For buyers at auction it’s only different if the goods are second hand. I’m not sure how it would relate to some of the things you’re planning with the account management programme though.”

I must have looked puzzled. “I’m not sure I see how it’s different,” I said. “We just end up with a sale at the end, same as at auction legally, I’d have thought. What sort of thing are you worried about?”

“There has to be a question of title to the goods in the period between collection and transfer to the client. Normally title remains with us to the point of auction but where a client is commissioning a collection – that’s your usual model isn’t it?”

I nodded. “Pretty much from a legal point of view.”

“Where the client is commissioning we should be careful to have a service contract that covers the research and collection phases. We’d want to ensure that any costs incurred are recoverable in the event of the client deciding not to proceed and that title remains with us until the client takes delivery and concludes a final sale agreement.”

“Sounds reasonable. Do we need one of those every time we engage with a client?”

“No, that’s not necessary. We could come up with a standard managed account agreement if you like. Then we can simply add schedules to it covering individual projects, the specification of the product involved, agreed pre-collection activities and so on.”

“Sounds reasonable. We could add something similar to the website user’s agreement too. Not that anyone ever reads them!”

“None the less binding!” she said with a grin. “Harry’s team may like cable ties, rope and straps but I’ll stick with contracts.” She got to her feet, looking at her watch. “Well thank you for that Larry,” she said, bringing our discussion to a close abruptly. “I’ll drop you a note on the things we need to do. Freddie said you’d be all right about it. Thanks.”

And with that she left. I still had all my fingers. I thought it had gone all right.

I went down to see Rachel. She’d done a good job with the video and I thought that she deserved a thank you at the very least. I’d kept my part of the bargain and told the guards she was off-limits. She’d kept hers. No more stupid escape attempts and the script she had produced was fine. I opened the door to her cell. She looked up at me from her seat beside the table we had given her for her computer. Mind you the table was bolted down. So was the computer. A light chain ran from her ankle to a ring in the wall. The guards had given her some clothes, a loose sweater and a skirt. They hadn’t let her have any shoes. She still wore her collar but she wasn’t gagged. Even so, she didn’t say anything. Most of her cuts and bruises had healed up, but she didn’t look great.

“I came to say thanks for the script,” I said. “It worked well.”

“Terrific,” she replied sullenly. “What happens to me now? Is this when you come to collect? Or do I just get put back on the available list again and sold off when someone comes along and asks for a piece of meat that can spell properly?” She was staring down at the table.

I sat down at the other side of the table facing her. “I need some more stuff written,” I said.

She looked up, tired, desolate and silent.

“I need a brochure and some case studies. How we’ve helped our clients that sort of thing.”

“Fuck off,” she said. “Why should I help you? Why make it more likely that you’ll trap more girls like me?”

“Because you’re here. And the alternatives aren’t good.”

“Fuck off.”

I looked across at her. She was staring down at the keyboard of the computer. It wasn’t going to work, I decided. She’d been broken down by the rapes but there hadn’t been anything put in its place. I’d spoken to Rick before I came to see her. He thought he might be able to do sufficient orientation on her to fix things. Enough to get her compliant but still able to write. I’d hoped that I wouldn’t have to put her through it but I could see that she wasn’t about to become more pliant without a lot of work by someone; and at least Rick’s team was trained to do it. I got up and walked to the door. Two of the guards were waiting. I beckoned them in. Rachel looked up terrified that she was about to be raped again. She wasn’t. It would be much worse than that.

“Sorry Rachel,” I said to her; and then, to the Guards, “Take her down to Orientation. There’s a programme set up for her.”

The taller of the two guards grabbed her by the arms and pulled her to her feet. He jerked her wrists upwards and over her head to fasten her wrist cuffs to the back of her neck collar. The other wedged a gag into her mouth before she could protest. They unfastened her ankle chain from the ring in the wall and hustled her, struggling against them, out of the cell. I wouldn’t be seeing her for a while.

Chapter 25 : Quest for the Questors

“The question is, can you do it?”

Word, it seemed was getting around about the willingness of Clegg Enterprises to take on apparently difficult projects. Peter Hananni was the latest of a series of individuals that had appeared with a range of challenges to Clegg’s research and snatch teams.

“I was put on to you by a mutual friend. The Kalinin of Kushtia? He indicated that you had been able to help him out with some of his requirements.”

“Yes,” I said. “The Kalinin is a valued client of ours. I am pleased he speaks well of us. He said you would call.” I wasn’t clear how Hananni and the Kalinin were connected. Hananni looked to be of North African origin, Egyptian or Libyan possibly, I thought. He sported a style in dress and personal jewellery that left no one in doubt of the material success his business endeavours had achieved.

“He does indeed but as I said, the question is, can you do this?” He smiled. He had almost as much gold in his mouth as on his knuckles.

“Well, Mr Hananni, I won’t give you an answer off the cuff. Give me a week and I’ll come back to you with a proposal or a no-can-do. I am sure you realise that this is going to need some level of ingenuity to execute.”

“Of course, Mr Ross,” said Hananni, disarmingly, “That’s why the Kalinin suggested I talk to you. And why Mr Ross, I am most keen that you should handle this personally.”

‘This’ was on the face of it a fairly demanding project. Hananni had a new business venture in hand; a game in which players gambled on which one would emerge victorious from a labyrinth of problems, dangers and other competitors. The game would be staged on a remote island. The competition was to be based on a popular computer game in which four buxom adventuresses strive to find the fabled Jewels of Nefertiti. My client’s request was quite simple: he wanted us to supply the Jewel Questors; the actual Jewel Questors; the characters that the game was based on.

The only problem was that, for the first time since I’d joined Clegg, the Research team had drawn a blank.

Derek Johnson in the Research Centre was looking glum. “Larry, I’d like to help but I don’t see how we can. I’ll tell you what we’ve got but it isn’t much.”

I wasn’t that happy with the prospect of going back to the client and saying ‘no can do’ but I let him go on.

“Jewel Questors is developed and published by NRT Games. They’re a British company and their development takes place here in the UK. They’ve controlled the franchise very tightly, hardly any merchandising of the characters, no spin offs at all. If you want to get into the game, you have to buy the game. It’s been the most successful NRT product but Jewel Questors III – The Amarna Ring didn’t get the greatest of reviews. Their competitive edge was that they use very accurate physical modelling for the animation and personality modelling for the interactions and responses and they did this by using four real individuals as the basis for their programming. I understand that it is these individuals that your client is keen to acquire?”

I nodded.

“The problem is that no-one know exactly who they are. The legends on the message boards say that they are NRT employees who were working in the development team when the game was devised. It’s also reckoned that the company paid to have breast augmentation surgery so that they would better match the interests of the game’s target players.”

“Adolescent males of any age?”

“Uh huh. So the four women that are used to model the game characters and who do the very, very few, personal appearances have never spoken publicly and we haven’t been able to find out who they are. We’ve been watching the company offices but seen no sign of them”

“So is there anything known on the company that would help?”

“Not much. It’s a private limited company so they don’t have to give out much apart from publishing accounts which don’t really tell us much. All we do know is that the second largest shareholder, one of the founders and the Development Director, is this lady.” He tossed a grainy photograph, obviously a blow up from a telephoto shot, across the desk. “Helen Stanhope, 43 and as far as we can tell the only person that has direct involvement with the Questors. She’s there at any event where the Questors do appear and it’s only ever her that’s there from the company.”

“OK, maybe some sort of in, there.”

“Well maybe, but she’s going to be difficult to get at. She’s more of a geek than her team is. Home – work – home; lives in an apartment in an old mansion that’s been renovated, trouble is the place is stiff with CCTV – and yes we’ve seen if we can crack it and the answer is no – and security. Seems like she’s one nervous lady. But maybe that’s what working on these games does for you.”

It wasn’t looking hopeful. I was groping around for some leverage. “Husband? Boyfriend? Girlfriend? Kids? Aged aunt?”

“Not that we’ve found. She divorced about twenty years ago, no kids; parents died about five years back in a car crash; doesn’t look like she has a social life outside the office or inside it either.” I was feeling glummer by the minute. “There is however, this.” He tossed me another photo.

The woman in the picture was in her mid twenties. She looked like a younger version of Helen. “Sister?” I said.

“Yeah,” said Derek. “Andromeda Stanhope.”

“Andromeda? What was with their parents? Too many holidays in Greece?”

“There are some limits even to the capabilities of the Research Team, Ross,” said Derek, investing his remarks with all the pomposity of Q admonishing James Bond. But then he grinned. “We’ve no idea. But it would appear that younger sister is both accessible and a potential lever. She and big sis don’t meet up much but they do exchange emails every day, sometimes four of five times a day.”

“Is that healthy?”

“Who knows, but it could mean that if anything untoward were to happen to little sister then big sister might be willing to help us to get access to the Questors. It’s about the only shot we’ve found so far.”

“Well we only need one. Do you want to do a bit more research on Andromeda, talk it though with Operations and work up a collection proposal. If we can invite young Andromeda around to a rock that she can be chained to then I’ll be happy to have a chat with Helen and see if she can launch four Questors in our direction even if she can’t manage a thousand ships.”

It was less than a week later when I had the chance to talk to Helen Stanhope. It was a pleasant day and we’d agreed to meet by the lake in St James’ Park. I was sitting on a bench at the agreed time when I saw Helen walking towards me along the path by the edge of the lake coming from Horse Guards Parade. She sat down on the bench beside me. I could tell she wasn’t happy with having to be there. I was pleased to see her, especially after she’d been so rude when I first phoned her. “Absolutely not,” she’d said, “Nobody gets to meet the Questors, especially right now. I don’t care how big your sponsorship offer is, we’re not meeting with anyone until after Jewel Questors IV is locked down and even then I’ll need something more convincing than some half arsed co-marketing idea to get interested. Call me back when your brain gets as big as your dick obviously is.”

Mind you that was before we sent her the emails showing her sister naked and in chains. I thought that the guys in the Prep Centre had done a creditable job of reproducing the scene from Jewell Questors II where the Questors have to free a hostage from a chamber in an underground tomb. I mean she was still pretty foul-mouthed about it all but this time she agreed to meet me.

“Good morning, Helen,” I said. She scowled back but said nothing. “I thought we might talk about happy families.” Still nothing. “How, let’s say, one sister has all the business skills but another one has all the ideas, all the stories, all the scenarios. How one is happy to plod away at a job but the other wants nothing to do with work. How one is currently enjoying the morning sunshine in St James Park while the other is in, shall we say, less salubrious surroundings.”

“Is she safe?” it wasn’t much of a conversation but at least it was something. She was looking straight through me.

I nodded. “And she can stay that way.”

“What do you want? Money, I suppose. It’s usually money?” She was getting more talkative.

“Well, surprisingly it’s not that. It’s just that, well, I’m a terrific fan of the game. Always have been, ever since Jewell Questors – The Golden Ankh, and I’ve always wanted to meet the Questors.”

“Nobody meets the Questors.” She cut in automatically but then stopped herself. “You kidnapped my sister so you could meet the Questors?”

“Kidnapped is a horrible word. I’d prefer to say she’s a house guest.”

“It didn’t look like she was really able to leave even if she wanted to from the pictures you sent me, you arsehole.”

I ignored the abuse. “Ah. Well, I hope you didn’t mind me using your sister’s email account to send those. It seemed the best way to make sure you read them. I’m sure you must get a lot of emails from all sorts of lunatics.”

“All sorts of other lunatics.”

“That’s rather unkind but I’ll ignore it. So when can we arrange my meeting with the Questors?”

“You’re assuming a lot.”

“Well, that’s what us lunatics are like but it doesn’t seem much to ask. You set up for me to meet with the Questors. Just me and the four of them and you too if you like. Just so I can see them in the flesh as it were. Well in character at least,” I smiled. “Then I can achieve my ambition and you can have your sister back. And then she’ll be able to let you have all the interesting scenarios she’s been thinking about for Jewel Questors IV. Some of it sounds very exciting. I’m really looking forward to it already. Oh, and of course that might help the IPO you’ve got planned. I can’t imagine that your prospective investors will be frightfully keen to discover that the creative energies of the company aren’t actually employed by it.”

“How do I know you will do as you say?”

“If you let me get to see the Questors then you and her get back together and I get to see part IV when it’s developed and NRT Games get to carry on. If you don’t then she’ll stay with me until she runs out of stories to tell – a bit like Scherezade – and by then I’m not sure if it will matter; NRT Games will have run out of time and, I suspect, money.”

“How do I know she’s safe?”

“I brought you a present.” I reached into my pocket and pulled out a black iPod. “You’ll find some video to watch on there. I took it while she was watching the news this morning. The picture’s not great but it should be some comfort to you. I’d really like this not to be the last you see of your sister.”

She slipped the iPod into her handbag. “What do you want me to do?” she asked in resignation.

“I’ll let you know,” I said. “I’ll drop you an email. Might even send you some more video for the iPod. Just set things up so you can get the Questors to turn up. I’ll leave you to work out how to do it. Anyway, I must be off now; better make sure my house guest is still all right. I’m never sure if there’s really enough oxygen in those little boxes.”

Helen whimpered as I got up to leave. “Don’t worry,” I said as I walked away. “I’ll make sure that you and your sister get back together. See you soon.

Chapter 26 : Web In Focus

We were in Freddie’s club, expecting a dozen or so clients to turn up. I wanted to give them a briefing on the new web services to get some feed-back.

I had a good session with Clegg before the clients turned up. We’d run through the arrangements for the day and he seemed very happy with the plans. “I like this idea of getting feed-back from the clients,” he said. “We could spend a lot of money without having a solid foundation, otherwise.”

I thought I’d take the opportunity to raise one of my concerns. “You’re right,” I said. “I really want to find a way of getting better insights into the client’s minds to help strengthen the account management approach alongside this. It’s a big problem – I just suspect that it’s one of those areas where they won’t realise if you’re doing a good job but they’ll soon complain if you’re doing a bad one.”

“Hmm, maybe,” said Clegg. “Of course some of the merchandise must get a pretty good insight into their owners over time. Only problem is we don’t see many of them back through our hands. And I draw the line at kidnapping our client’s property! Still if you have another idea, let me know. Things seem to be going the right way and we need to make sure that we keep this on track.”

We broke off our conversation as the first of the clients started to appear. Clegg was at his best greeting them, sliding from one to another, making all feel equally valued. Eventually all twelve had arrived and we got them sat down in the presentation area. Some of our clients were travelling with slaves and had brought them along. I wasn’t keen that the slaves hear what we had to say so we’d come up with the idea of allowing them to remain but having them ear-plugged and hooded, We’d provided the hoods as the clients arrived; soft black leather to cover the eyes, the ears and the back of the head, back laced to allow for long hair. The hoods left the mouth free – we knew that many of the clients would have their slaves gagged anyway. Each hood carried a Clegg Enterprises logo worked into the buckle of the strap that ran around the slave’s neck to keep the hood in place. A nice memento, I thought.

“Good morning, ladies & gentlemen, welcome to the club here and thank you for coming along today,” Freddie said, greeting the clients we had invited to preview the efforts of Sebastian’s team. I was pleased that he felt ready to front it; it was all a bit of an innovation after all. He’d been happy to invite folk too, putting a squeeze on them to free up some time in their busy lives. “I know you have all been interested to learn what we have been doing to improve our sales approach, so I am very happy to introduce our Marketing Director, Larry Ross. Some of you I know have met Larry all ready and I hope you’ll agree with me that he’s bringing a whole lot of valuable new ideas to Clegg Enterprises, ideas that I think you’ll find interesting. We’ve asked you here today to preview a new service that we are about to launch. We’ve spoken to people about different parts of it but this is the first time any of our clients have had the chance to see the whole thing in action. We are really anxious to get your feed-back on this. I can’t stress enough how much we want to fit this service to what our clients want, so please be as open as you like on what we have done. Still, enough from me. Here’s Larry.”

Clegg sat down to polite applause and I took the stage. We’d agreed to make the whole presentation very factual, very professional. Brian had wanted us to field some of his latest acquisitions as evidence of what we could do but I didn’t want anything that would detract from the systems. Fortunately Freddie had agreed with me. I looked out at the audience. They looked as though they were ready to give us a hearing at least. At the back of the room four hooded women stood, shackled and silent.

I started off with a short presentation summarising some of the things that I felt we’d not been good at previously, particularly the whole thing around not responding to customer needs. I gave them a short case study on the way we were becoming more interactive; using the project that we’d done for the Kalinin’s son. If nothing else I thought it might help drum up some more custom acquisition work that way and some of them might see the value of putting enough business our way to warrant becoming an account managed client. They seemed quietly impressed.

I went on. “The real purpose of today, though, is to show you the proposed web service. This will be available to all of our clients and I think it offers many features that you will find useful and that aren’t offered by any of our competitors. It’s got three main aims; to help our customer select potential acquisitions, to track any projects that you might engage us for, and to participate in auctions without having to trek up to our sales centre. Of course you’ll still be welcome if you want to come in person but we believe that many of our clients are busy people and find it increasingly difficult to justify the time to visit auctions unless there is a very special item available.”

I could see that the audience was still interested but I felt that if I didn’t get down to the nitty-gritty pretty quickly they would start to get restless. I’d arranged for a PC to be hooked up to a projector. One of Sebastian’s team of young ladies was back stage pressing the buttons. I talked them through the features of the system. The News and Catalogue areas were greeted with luke-warm enthusiasm, although there was some interest at some of the items of stock on display. Attention picked up though when I started to explain the “My Projects” area and interest turned to enthusiasm as I began to run through the “Search & Snatch” service. By the time I asked for questions at the end most of the audience were looking keen.

Inevitably at such an event there were few questions in the open forum, most people wanted to talk one-to-one. Clegg, Sebastian, Harry and Brian were all on hand to chat people through what we were aiming to do. Clegg had got the club to lay on some drinks and snacks. It was a novelty to be served by women that weren’t chained and gagged. We’d got an information pack together for each of the attendees with a security fob that gave access to the service and a set of simple instructions. We’d also included a discount offer for the first live auction that we had planned for later that month. I’d figured that anything we offered off the top would be offset by higher prices resulting from more bidders, so the whole thing should be self funding. Clegg had agreed – he liked the idea of giveaways that didn’t cost anything.

Brian had just seemed disagreeable about the whole thing. Just to make the most of it I’d arranged with Rick to have five of the auction lots shipped down and put on display in cages in the room where we were serving the drinks. They weren’t very far on in Orientation yet so we’d had to make sure they were well shackled. Even so some of them were trying to rattle the bars in protest at being put on show. I was pleased by how quiet Rick had managed to keep them. He’d shown me a new gag that some of the guys in technical had been working on; a heavy leather, padded face piece coupled with a mouth filling plug stuffed with a gel that expanded slightly as it warmed. That way the plug swelled up once it was pushed into the slaves mouth. Small tubes allowed cold water to be run through the gel to shrink it when the gag needed to be removed. It wasn’t pretty but at least it let us talk to our guests without too much disturbance from the exhibits and some of them were expressing interest in the gags as much as in the women that were wearing them. I made a mental note to think about whether Clegg Enterprises should consider going into the business of branded restraints.

I spent some time talking with Steve Glennis. He confirmed that what we were doing was well ahead of anything he’d seen from the American agencies and he thought he’d be able to use it for future acquisitions for his stables. I asked him about Sukie; if she’d been sold yet.

“No,” said Steve, “she’s with me now – at the back there.” He nodded his head to the back of the room where the four hooded slaves stood patiently. I hadn’t recognised her at first but I could see that the girl second from the left, in black polo jumper and slacks, could well be Sukie. “She still doesn’t know that I intend to sell her on. I’d hoped I might find some interest on this trip from some of my contacts but no luck.”

I thought back to the conversation I’d had with Clegg. “Suppose we took her off your hands as a sort of down payment against a future project?” I said. “It’s not what we’d normally do but you obviously won’t be wanting to cart her back to the island. We’d be happy to take her on account, so to speak and credit you with her resale value when we deliver the next piece of merchandise you take from us.” I was on fairly safe grounds, I thought. Sukie was eminently resaleable, and Glennis hadn’t bought anything from us for ages, so if this got him started spending with us again it would be a double bonus. Besides, Sukie was a bright girl. She’d give me plenty of useful insights into slave owners – from our conversations on the island there had been at least four or five others that she had been leant out to during her time with Glennis.

Steve looked a bit sceptical at first but then warmed to the idea. “All right,” he said. “Have one of your legal team run up an agreement. You might as well take her now though,” he said, leading the way across to the hooded, gagged and deafened form of Sukie. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small fob on a ring. I recognised it as a USB pen drive. “All her documentation is on here,” he said, clipping the fob to a ring on the girl’s hood. “Let me know if there’s anything else you need.” He ran his hand down her back and patted her backside. She gave a puzzled grunt through her gag, unaware of anything that had been said. Steve smiled and shook my hand before apologising that he had to leave. Sukie never saw him again.

Brian had been cornered by Daphne Challis, the dumpy woman I had last seen on the flight back from Steve’s island. She was standing closer to him than he felt comfortable with. I had some sympathy with him, I could tell from where I was standing, twenty feet away, that her personal hygiene hadn’t improved any since the flight. Clegg was doing the rounds of his old pals, beaming effusively and enthusing about the work that Sebastian had done. Seb himself was being engaged by several of the audience who were keen to see how things worked close up. We were all being fairly tight-lipped about how we did the Search & Snatch thing. No point in making things easier for the competition than we needed to.

Freddie came up to me afterwards in as cheery a mood as ever, evidently well pleased with the day’s proceedings. Brian was being unenthusiastic. “Why on earth did you get me stuck with that Challis woman?” he complained. “And I don’t see how this can substitute for proper selling,” he said. “No real contact with people. I think you’re on the wrong track, Ross.”

I started to defend my approach. “We’ll see,” I said, “people seemed interested today at least.”

“Interest is one thing, sales is another,” said Brian.

“Yes,” said Clegg, “quite right. I want to talk to you about that Brian. Can you run me through the numbers from the last auction? I don’t think we’re seeing the improvements you hoped for yet, are we?”

Brian looked even more uncomfortable than he had when Daphne had sidled up alongside him. Clegg steered him away as Brian glowered over his shoulder at me.

“Had a good day?”

I jerked around, startled by the sudden words. Elly, elegant as ever, had slid silently up behind me. “I think so. The feed-back has been good.”

“Freddie was looking forward to this. I think he’s pleased. He’s been quite the happy bunny lately, first the Dennison woman and now this.”

“Brian wasn’t too impressed.”

“Oh, I shouldn’t worry about that, if I were you,” Elly encouraged, “I think he’s feeling a bit insecure at the moment. Not quite on top of his game as Freddie might say.”

Something told me that was exactly what Freddie would say and presumably had been saying. “I needed to talk to you,” I said and explained about Sukie and the scheme with Steve Glennis.

Elly looked sanguine about it. “I’d rather you’d consulted me first,” she said, in a carefully measured tone that left no doubt about what I should do next time, “but it sounds all right. I can get an agreement drafted for Glennis, best keep it all above board, less danger of confusion and fallings out down stream that way. A Clegg Enterprises hire and agency agreement should cover it. We can add your credit arrangement as an annex to the main contract.”

Chapter 27 : The Abduction of Helen

With the web site launch done, I had some time to devote to the Questor’s project. I know I shouldn’t really go on operations, but it’s hard to resist the adrenalin rush and besides, Freddie and Harry both seemed happy that I was getting involved. “Just as long as there are no vodka bottles around,” said Harry with a smirk. Plus, of course, Hannani had been keen for me to handle things personally and the customer is always right.

I’ve always liked the Ashmolean Museum. Not a lot of people go to visit it. It’s in Oxford and most people go to visit the colleges but the Ashmolean is like a jewel box. It’s extraordinary really – one building with the whole of mankind’s history on display. Plus it was founded by a man who basically stole the original collection from the man who set up the first ever public museum in Britain. The handy thing is that they are always ready to open it up after hours for corporate hospitality events. They were really cooperative when I asked if I could hire the Egyptian Gallery to impress a few clients and perfectly happy for me to organise my own caterers; just as long as I didn’t break anything, they’d said with a smile.

I was sitting in the Morse Bar of the Randolph Hotel opposite the museum, looking out across Beaumont Street when I saw the cab pull up. Three women got out – Helen Stanhope and two others that I took to be two of the Questors. I was pleased, she was on time and obviously doing as she had been told. There was no sign that she’d brought any help but the snatch crew would be looking out for that. I saw two other women walking up Beaumont Street, waving to her. That made the full set as far as I was concerned. I watched as they went up the steps into the courtyard and towards the museum entrance. I left them for a few minutes to get settled and followed them in.

I found them as I expected in the Egyptian Gallery. The women had all taken off their coats and were standing, drinks in hand, admiring the exhibits. They were being served by two waitresses, both dressed in the usual black dresses with white aprons and caps. One held a tray of drinks, the other, Tricia, a tray of canapés. I was beginning to enjoy it when Tricia turned up on a job. She certainly looked good in the uniform.

Helen scowled as I entered first of all, but then managed an insincere smile. “Well, hello,” she said, sourly. “We were beginning to wonder if you were going to come.”

I gave Helen an equally insincere embrace of greeting. “Goodness, I wouldn’t have missed this, Helen,” I said. “It’s so good of you to arrange it. And these are the Questors. Wonderful. Ladies, it’s a great pleasure to meet you and in such appropriate surroundings too.”

That bit at least was honest. The extent to which the computer game characters resembled their originals (or vice versa) was remarkable. I’d spent some time playing the game – purely as part of the project, you understand – and the four Questors in the game were only slightly exaggerated versions of the real things. There was Anya Tanith, archaeologist and fortune hunter, bush shirt tied off under her tits and khaki shorts that looked like they had been spray painted on; beside her was Dr. Elspeth Train, the linguist and scholar in her trademark dark tweed jacket, tight black skirt and half-moon, gold rimmed spectacles. Between these two and Helen were the black jump-suit clad Aniko Tomaka – the all-action heroine - and Caressa Santango, the fiery, Latin, intuitive one of the four, in a scarlet dress that was cut every bit as low as those she wore in the game. For what it was worth, I reckoned that all four of these ladies had been surgically enhanced so that their attributes provided the desired look when animated. They didn’t say anything, they just smiled. I wondered what Helen had told them about our meeting.

Helen wheeled out a suitcase. “I brought the clothes you asked for,” she said with an air of distaste. “One costume for each of the characters.”

“Thank you,” I said, “a wonderful souvenir.”

“A gift for a pervert, if you ask me,” she hissed under her breath. I smiled. Still Helen had certainly delivered her side of the bargain. It was just a shame that I wasn’t really going to be able to do the same; or at least not in the way that Helen imagined.

“Would you like some wine, Sir,” the waitress with the drinks tray said to me.

“I’d rather have a scotch if you can manage it,” I answered giving the girl the signal to start. I looked up at the CCTV camera that covered the gallery. The techies would have it on divert by now.

“Of course, Sir,” she said putting down her tray of drinks. Tricia did the same with her canapés. The first waitress reached behind a statue of Ahkenaten and pulled out a pistol, a second later she had her arm around Helen’s throat and the gun pointing at her temple. As she did so, Tricia grabbed an Uzi from inside a canopic chest and was pointing it at the other four. “Nice and calm, ladies, please,” she said politely. “Just remember there aren’t any cheats for extra lives in this game.”

Helen was looking furious and was about to speak when her captor jerked her arm more tightly about her throat and jammed the barrel of the gun harder against her head. “Not interested, sister,” she said. “Lots of quiet is what is needed. You others,” she barked at the four Questors staring on in disbelief. “Grab a napkin each, from the table there and push it into your mouth as far as it will go. Then put your hands up way over your heads and get over facing that wall. Get on with it! Are you waiting for me to press CTRL-SHIFT-Get The Fuck Over By The Wall or something?”

I watched as the four girls did as they were told. Tricia and her Uzi went over and she made sure each got a good prod in the ribs from the gun just to reinforce the situation. Then she frisked each of them in turn, removing Anya’s bowie knife, and Aniko’s throwing knives - one of the benefits of the games was that we knew what to look for.

“OK, ladies, turn around but keep your hands up please.” The four of them turned around each with a wad of white napkin spilling from their well stuffed mouths. I walked along the line strapping the napkins in place with a couple of strips of tape for each. I took a napkin for Helen and gave her the same treatment. “Very good,” Helen’s waitress said. “Now round again and hands behind your back, please.” The waitresses had brought plenty of rope with them so it was easy for me to get their wrists tied and then to put a turn or two between their elbows and around their chest. Helen was dealt with in the same way as the others.

“Thanks a lot girls,” I said to the waitresses. “You can clear away now and make sure they’re all bagged up. We haven’t got time to strip them now and I don’t want those costumes messed up on the journey. Here, take this case too.” I pushed across the suitcase that Helen had brought. The four Questors and Helen were hustled away at gunpoint, out through the kitchens and into the catering van that the waitresses had come in. Helen’s waitress came back to pick up the glasses, the plates and the remains of the food and drink. I knew they’d be out and on their way to the Prep Centre in minutes.

I went to find the museum’s curator to let him know that my hospitality event was over. He seemed happy. “Just as long as you didn’t break anything,” he said with a grin.

“No, no,” I replied, “though of course we did steal a few priceless items.”

He laughed in response. “I’ll enjoy watching that on the replays,” he said nodding to the security monitors. “Well,” he said, “I hope your clients enjoyed themselves.”

“Oh, yes,” I answered, “they were quite taken with the place.”

I passed the catering van as they reached Warwick on the M40 going north. I was back at the Prep Centre before they were.

I was waiting for them when the catering van backed up to the loading dock. When we opened the doors at the back of the van I was pleased to see that Tricia and her pal had done just as I asked.

The four Questors had been bagged in zip-up nylon bags that closed up to their necks. It was just as well for their outfits, a couple of trays of food from the buffet had tipped over during the trip and spread themselves around the back of the van.

Like I say, the Questors were fine but Tricia hadn’t bothered to bag Helen. She had evidently been trying to free herself in the back of the van, I reckoned that was what had dislodged the food trays. The combination of her struggles and the spilled food meant she was in quite a mess. I untied her ankles and pulled her from the van.

Her tights were laddered from struggling on the floor of the van and her black jacket and skirt were streaked with mayonnaise and prawn sauce. She’d got something in her hair; it took me a while to work out what it was, you don’t normally expect to see asparagus up there. Her blouse was soaked from something; spilled wine I guessed – there was an open bottle lying on the floor of the van where she had been.

As I stood her up, I brushed off the worst of it. She’d even sat on some sandwiches; the back of her skirt was covered in crushed food. “You’re a messy eater, Ms Stanhope,” I joked. She didn’t see the funny side and growled back through her gag. From the way her mouth was working underneath the tape, I could see that she felt she had plenty to say about her current circumstances.

I pushed her on to the loading dock and passed her over to one of Rick’s team. They took her away, still struggling. Tricia and her colleague had got the Questors off the van and out of their bags. Two more of the Prep Centre guards made to take them away as well. “Have them stripped,” I called out, “But carefully, the client wants the outfits as well.”

I smiled at Tricia and her pal as the Questors were led away. “Thanks, ladies,” I said, “that was great.”

Tricia’s colleague said, “Thanks, no problem. I’ll check them in.” She gave Tricia a wave and followed the captives into the building.

Tricia watched her go. “She’s been a real help. She’s been doing this for a couple of years now, I’m learning a lot.”

“Great,” I said. “Well, today was certainly professional. Harry would have been impressed.”

Tricia smiled, “Yeah, maybe. I hope so. It seems to take a lot to impress him.” She seemed a bit subdued; she should have been really up after a good snatch like that. She looked as though she needed cheering up. I felt I could use an evening of female company that wasn’t under duress.

“Well,” I said. “Anyway,” I pointed at her uniform, “I wouldn’t want you to think I made a habit of making passes at waitresses but I thought we might go for a drink when you get off.”

Tricia hesitated for a moment but then grinned, “Yeah, why not. I’d like that. I need to do the paperwork for this snatch and book the outfit and the Uzi back into stores but I’ll be done in about an hour. How’s that for you?”

“Fine,” I said. “It’s a date.” And it was – the nearest thing to a normal date that I’d had since, well, since Rebecca had gone off on her last trip for Atlantic. I watched as Tricia headed off towards the stores. It was a shame she was checking the uniform back in, I thought, she looked cute in black and white. I headed off to the Prep Centre reception cells.

They’d put Helen in with her sister. That was considerate, I thought. Andromeda had been giving the guards some trouble, I imagined, and they’d strung her up naked, with her wrists high over her head, balanced on tip toe in the middle of the cell. For consistency they’d put Helen in the same position, though she was still wearing her food stained suit and wine soaked blouse. They’d swapped her napkin gag for one of the Centre standard ball gags but that didn’t seemed to have improved her humour any. They both scowled at me as I came in. Andromeda gave me a rather more animated grunt through the ring gag she’d been given.

“Good evening,” I said. “Here you are, Helen, I promised I’d reunite you with your sister and you see I am a man of my word.” Helen was having trouble standing upright, swaying on the chain that held her wrists high above her head. “Those clothes are in a real mess,” I said. “Here, let me help. If we undo this blouse it will get a chance to dry off.” She squealed and twisted as I unfastened the buttons and pulled her blouse from the waist band of her skirt.

“There,” I said, “isn’t that better.” She seemed to indicate that it wasn’t but as far as I was concerned the unobstructed view that I now had of her tits was a distinct improvement. I unzipped her skirt too and let that fall around her ankles. Her legs weren’t bad either. I suppose I hadn’t really worked out what we were going to do with her and little sis – the client hadn’t specified them at all. They were just collateral in the collection of the Questors.

Tricia put her head around the door to the cell. “I thought I’d find you here,” she said. She’d changed out of her waitress uniform and was now wearing a summery dress. It didn’t quite square with my image of a gun toting abductor but she looked agreeably normal. Suddenly I just wanted an evening off from all this. “Your client wants to see you. He’s in with the Questors.”

“OK, I suppose I ought to see him. You won’t mind waiting a while, will you? I’ll make it quick.”

Don’t worry,” she said. “I can hang on. I’ll see you in the office.”

I gave her a smile and left her. I heard the groans of Andromeda and Helen as Tricia followed me out and locked the door to their cell. The Questors were two doors further on. Mr Hananni and the girls were already there together with one of the Centre guards. He was wasting no time in taking advantage of his new purchase. Anya Tanith was bent forward, face down across a desk, her hands still tied behind her. Hannani was in the process of buckling his trouser belt, having evidently taken his pleasure with Anya from behind. The other Questors were looking on in horror.

“Mr Ross, you have excelled yourself!” Hananni exclaimed. “Everything that my friend the Kallinin said of you was true.”

“Well, Mr Hananni, thank you but it’s not all down to me.”

“Well, it is your team and that is the main thing. You have done just as you said.” He gestured to the four girls as the guards herded them across the room until they were standing chained by their neck collars to the wall of the cell. Looking at them naked I could now see just how much modification they had had done to them; natural breasts just aren’t that spherical for a start nor do they have nipples that you could use to hang things from. The Prep Centre team had done a good job of getting them displayed for Hananni, Rick was certainly getting in touch with the idea of fitting in with the customer. I particularly liked the fact that he’d arranged for some dress makers dummies to be positioned beside each of them, half of them dressed in the costumes that the Questors had been captured in, half in the costumes that Helen had brought. A nice touch.

“I’m glad you are pleased, Mr Hananni,” I said. “In fact, I wondered if you’d like to consider another couple of properties that we have available to us that could add significantly to your business venture.” I took him to one side and explained the availability of Helen and her sister. I was pleased with his response; it looked like we wouldn’t need to put them to auction after all.

Hananni wanted some time to think about the possibilities for Helen and Andromeda, which was fine by me as they weren’t taking up too much space in the cells and in any case I had other plans for the evening than chatting to clients. I agreed to get one of the sales team to talk to him in a couple of weeks and left him in search of Tricia.

We had a great evening. It was good to spend some time with a woman that didn’t involve chains, ropes and gags. Tricia seemed happy too – at least that’s how I interpreted the enthusiastic sex we both fell into at the end of the evening and the way in which we both went on repeating it for the next two weeks.

Chapter 28 : Account Planning

I was in the staff bar chatting with Rick. “Just wanted to give you a bit of feed-back,” I said. “The Kalinin called last night. He’s as pleased as punch with the girls you set up for his councillor’s project. Said they were working out really well with their new owners. He’d been a bit worried whether women of that age could be made sufficiently obedient to appeal to a Kushtian – they wouldn’t want to have to bother with too much training and punishment. But it seems your ‘orientation’ has been first rate. No problems at all. In fact a couple of them have proved a bit too willing for their new masters. Two of the councillors have had to take holidays to regain their strength.”

Rick chuckled, “Kushtians obviously need their cushions.” I didn’t bother with a laugh.

We were still chatting when the news started on the big TV screen that hung on the wall behind the bar. An implausibly attractive newsreader was shuffling her papers and smiling out of the screen. The sheen on her lip gloss sparkled as she turned towards the viewer. “A surprise development this afternoon in the Central Asian Republic of Kushtia where recently the first ever democratic elections were held. The new governing council has announced that the Kalinin of Kushtia is to be sworn in as democratic life president of the new republic. The Kalinin was the last hereditary ruler of Kushtia and had been in exile in the UK for the last two years. Since the coup that brought about the introduction of democracy there has been doubt about how the role of Head of State would be filled. The First Minister of Kushtia explained the decision, which comes after months of uncertainty about the role, by saying the Kalinin offered continuity with many of the traditions of Kushtia that were so important to retain while the country embraces the modern world of democracy and free market economies.”

Rick snorted. “Continuity! That’s a new word for it. Still it’s good for us I guess.”

“Sure,” I said, “it’s had the desired outcome.” Brian drifted into the bar. “Hey, Brian, you’ll be pleased about this. The Kalinin’s been elected president by the council. I reckon it’s all down to the girls we got for the councillors.”

“Your project, not mine,” said Brian, irritated. “Won’t do me any good. I don’t suppose he’s going to be jetting over here for auctions, is he?”

“Well, no, I guess not but it’s got to be good for all of us, hasn’t it? I mean that brought in the Questors job and now he wants me to go out to Kushtia to talk about some more opportunities. Come on, mate, you can’t just look at it from the point of view of who’s at the auctions.”

“I bloody well can. I’m not paid on anything that doesn’t go through the Sales Centre. And don’t call me ‘mate’!” He grabbed his beer and stalked out.

Rick watched him go. “He’s pretty peeved about this, you know. He had a pretty easy time of it until you turned up. Least ways, that’s how he sees it. Anyway have you heard how the Kalinin is getting on with his freebie? What was her name? Oh yeah, Alessa. Can’t remember a piece we’ve had to keep gagged for so much of the time. What a mouth!”

“She seems to be getting on fine. Alessa has many faults and her mouth is probably the biggest of them but the Kushtian’s have their own way of solving that sort of problem. Apparently they’ve pierced her tongue and every time she speaks out of turn they link her tongue stud with a chain to the back of the mule that they have treading round in circles to pump water for irrigating some of the fields on the Kalinin’s farm. She gets to follow the mule around for a while and tread in the odd mule pat now and then. That seems to be having some effect.”

“Ouch,” said Rick. “I’ll say one thing for your customers Larry, they certainly have their own ways with women. I saw some traffic about the girls we got for Hannani. He’s got them working in his hi-tech maze already. He emailed me a link to their video feed if you want to see it.”

“That’s quick work, I didn’t think you’d have finished with orientation yet.”

“We weren’t doing it. He took them un-prepped. I guess he wanted to do the orientation on site.”

“What’s he got them doing?”

“Nothing much yet. Just settling them in. They’ve got like a bedroom with doors leading off into different parts of the maze. The idea is that he turn up the heat, cold, or noise in the bedroom and drive them out into which ever part of the maze he wants. There are lots of doors. If the controller is quick he can separate girls by opening and closing them as they go though. First time that happened they got really twitchy. Should make good entertainment for Halinin’s pals.”

“Interesting,” I said. “I need to keep an eye on that stuff. Looks like we could pick up some hints.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” Rick went on. “Still we manage to do quite well too. We’ve finished with that writer of yours. She’s ready any time you want. Guaranteed not to whack you with a keyboard or anything else.”

I grimaced. “Yeah, well, I’m trying to forget about that. Can I see her? I was planning to talk to the woman that Glennis gave us. She might as well get started on that at the same time?”

“Sure,” Rick said, “come on through to her cell.” I followed him through.

I’d not really been exposed to the results of Rick’s orientation programmes before so I was interested to see what he’d been able to do. I did actually need her to be working properly.

As Rick opened the door to her cell, Rachel got to her feet. She was looking much better than when I’d seen her last. She’d lost the sunken look from her eyes and she’d even put on a couple of pounds. They’d put her back in the black short skirt and low cut top, low heeled shoes and dark tights or stockings, I couldn’t really tell. She had on her collar and identity tags of course. “Good morning, Rachel,” said Rick. “How are you today?”

“I am very well, Sir,” she said. “Thank you.”

“This is Larry,” Rick said. “You’ll be serving him, now. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Sir,” Rachel responded looking at me without any indication that she remembered us ever meeting before. “She turned towards me. “What would you have me do, Sir?” she asked.

“You’re a writer, I believe,” I said. Given the way she was behaving, presumably as a result of her orientation, I thought it was best to go back to first principles.

“Yes, Sir. That is one of the duties I am trained for.”

I looked at the way her breasts had been hoisted up by the bra that they had put her in. No doubt they trained her in the other duties that slaves were usually expected to perform as well. I wasn’t sure if or when I’d have time to try them out. Things were working out pretty well with Tricia and I guess I didn’t feel the need. “Good,” I said. “In which case bring your pad and come with me.” I turned to Rick. “Thanks for this,” I said. “She’ll be fine I think.”

I took the leash that was fastened to her collar and led her down to the cell where Sukie was being held. I was aiming to use Sukie’s experiences as a way to understand better the ways in which slaves were used in the US.

Sukie was still cuffed, shackled, hooded and gagged when I found her but then, like the guard said, no-one had said they should do anything else with her. She still had the pen drive fob hanging from her neck. I unfastened it and put it into my pocket to check out later.

I looked at her curled up in a corner of the cell and reached around behind her head to unbuckle her hood. Even though lighting in the cell was subdued, she blinked in the unaccustomed light as the hood came off. Her head was soaked in sweat, her dark hair plastered down against her scalp. I prised the ball-gag from her mouth.

“Thank you,” she said, her voice unusually loud as a result of her ears still being plugged. I pulled the wads of wax from each of them. She shook her head and thanked me again. “Where is Steve?” she asked. “Am I being kennelled while he is away?” Then realising such familiarity might not be appropriate in her new surroundings she dropped her eyes to the floor. “I apologise,” she said, “I did not mean to speak disrespectfully.”

“That’s all right, Sukie,” I said conscious that she had obviously had no idea that Steve had been about to abandon her. “You are no longer with Steve. We are your owners now.” She looked confused and upset but said nothing. She bit her lip and hung her head, understanding that she had no reason to have been told of her impending change of ownership, but nevertheless disappointed,

“I need to talk to you Sukie. I want you to tell us about your experiences, about how you were treated by those that Steve gave you to. Rachel here is going to write down your story. Do you understand?”

Sukie nodded. “Will I be with you?” she asked. “I enjoyed serving you on the island.”

“No Sukie, I have to go away soon.”

“Oh,” she said, disconsolately, another straw of hope removed from her grasp.

“Do you remember how we talked when I came to the island first of all?” Sukie nodded. “You told me how Steve took you in?” Another nod. “Well, I want you to tell your stories to her.” I gestured towards Rachel who was sitting silently in a chair by the door. She had her notepad opened on her lap; pen in hand she was waiting to begin. “Let’s start with those that Steve gave you to.”

“But there were so many,” Sukie said. “On the island, if ever there was a visitor, I was asked to be nice to them.” I looked across at Rachel, she was scribbling away on her pad.

“Like you were with me?”

“Yes. Yes but not like that. Some of them were brutal, cruel. Some of them were strange. But always I would do what I could to please them. It was what Steve wanted.”

“Go on,” I urged. Rachel was listening attentively.

“The worst were the ones that came for the pony races. Especially if their ponies had lost or if they’d lost a lot betting. Then they’d beat me, or worse.”

“Were there many of those? Pony races?”

“Oh yes, perhaps one each month. There were a dozen or more owners that would come. I was given to many of them. They all have two or three ponies. Work them for a year or so and trade them on.”

“And how would it work? With Steve and you?”

“The guests would arrive. I’d serve them drinks. Sometimes they had their own slave girls with them - many of the owners have three or four slaves as well as their ponies. Steve would have me dress in riding clothes, jodhpurs, boots. They’d like that. Sometimes one of them would just ask Steve if he could have me for the evening. Sometimes Steve would offer me without being asked. Once they tied me up and four of them played cards for me. Sometimes they just got drunk and weren’t interested.”

“Always men?” Rachel was still scribbling away.

“Mainly. I did see some women at Steve’s. One a very dumpy, unpleasant woman. I’m not sure about the others. They were the worst.”

“How so?”

“A woman knows how to please another woman, but she knows how to hurt as well.”

I looked across at Rachel. If she was remembering anything of our earlier encounter she was managing to hide it. She’d have plenty to do while I was away. It was sounding like Sukie would be an excellent source of intelligence.

End of part 4