Market Forces
Part 5
by Freddie Clegg

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

Chapter 29: Lost in Translation

I rolled over in bed. Tricia smiled. “I’m sorry you’re going off to Kushtia. Why couldn’t they send that unpleasant shit, Brian?”

“Brian?” I said, “What’s with him? I know he hasn’t been happy with what I’ve been up to but he could make it easier on himself if he just saw which way the wind was blowing. His sales numbers have been hopelessly optimistic for months, according to Freddie. Even normally discreet Elly has been getting impatient with him.”

“Oh, this wasn’t business,” Tricia grinned, rolling over to my side. “He made a pass at me this morning. Seemed pretty upset when I turned him down, but I’m afraid that jolly sales manager persona has never cut it with me.”

“No,” I said, turning towards her. “You’ve always had much better taste.” She threw a pillow at me.

Two weeks after the Questor’s collection and my first date with Tricia, I’d had to endure quite a few jokes from the guys in the Prep Centre and the Sales Centre about bothering with a girlfriend when I could make use of any of the stock at any time I chose. I didn’t think I really needed to explain that it wasn’t the same thing. Besides, if things worked out the stock levels would be coming down and then where would I be?

Now though, and much to my regret, I had to leave Tricia behind and take myself of to Kushtia.

It was a gruesome flight. Air Kushtia had a lot to learn about in-flight service and comfort even from Ryanair. They certainly didn’t have the idea about cabin crew. Homely would be the generous description of the two stewardesses. I don’t know if the Kushtian’s had a shot-put team in the 1976 Olympics but if they did this was what happened to them. Their uniforms looked like they had been designed by a committee of misogynists and manufactured by a team that were more familiar with a staple gun than a sewing machine. I wondered if we could re-acquire Rebecca and interest the CEO in her experiences.

Then the Ilyushin hit another air pocket and I found myself thinking that the main priority for once wasn’t the cabin service. I tried reading the report that Rachel had prepared on her initial interviews with Sukie. The turbulence made it impossible. The in-flight movie turned out to be a celebration of the new Kushtian hydroelectric dam and irrigation programme. The food gave me little encouragement as to how well I’d be eating for the next few days, but then I guessed that there aren’t many airlines where the food on board is a great advert for the national cuisine. I settled down to try to doze.

We touched down (I use the expression loosely) at Kolin, the Kushtian capital’s airport. I was grateful to get off the plane, though given the decrepit nature of the airport buildings, I felt I might have been safer in the air. A charmless Kushtian immigration officer scowled at my passport and waved me through. A sign in the baggage reclaim said in encouraging letters, “Air Kushtia: Kushtia’s Favourite Airline”. An indignant traveller had crossed out the word “favourite” and written in “only”. Nobody had bothered to correct it.

Against all expectations my suitcase fell through the hole in the wall of the baggage reclaim area onto the pile of waiting bags. There wasn’t anything resembling a trolley. I was glad that I’d decided to travel light.

I found my way to the Kolin International Hotel, a fly blown piece of 1960’s Soviet concrete, still pock marked from the machine gun fire of the fighting that expelled the regime that had deposed the Kalinin or possibly from the coup before the coup before that. Halfway between the airport and the Kushtian capital, it sat sulkily behind a wire fence alongside the main highway. As evidence of the economic revival in Kushtia there were more trucks on the highway than there were mule carts but not by much. It looked like the only excitement I’d be seeing would be whatever was on television in the hotel.

The aim of the trip was to visit the Kushtian Minister of Trade. Freddie had said that it was another contact the Kalinin had passed on. “Might be a chance to get some orders, old man!” he’d said. “Build up the old exports like you suggested." I’d got an appointment to see him on the following day. I was also aiming to look in on the Kalinin’s son just to provide a little after-sales contact. It was the least we could do, I thought.

I was standing in the hotel bar, trying to decide just which sorts of vegetables had been boiled, pressed, strained and left to stand in a warm place order to provide the traditional Kushtian non-alcoholic cordial. I was coming to the conclusion that you wouldn’t be able to work it out from the taste and that maybe you wouldn’t want to know when an attractive young woman strode into he bar and swept confidently up to me. Things were improving, I felt.

“Cora Argyll,” she said extending her hand. “You’ll be from FCE? I’m the Trade Attaché from the British Embassy.” She gave a welcoming smile and then, seeing my sceptical look. “Well, the second assistant trade attaché actually.”

I smiled in response. “Lawrence Ross,” I said. She was certainly a welcome addition to the scenery. Tall, willowy, and with long, wavy, dark hair she was in her late twenties. Probably her first overseas posting, I guessed. She had a friendly smile and what looked as though it might be an attractive figure hidden underneath a mannish jacket and a skirt that, in deference to Kushtian views on women in public places, reached the floor. She wore a pale blue, fur trimmed, pill box hat in the tradition of many Kushtian women’s dress and a long scarf in a matching colour draped around her shoulders.

“I was asked to attend your meeting with the Minister,” she said. “The Ambassador is most keen that the Embassy is seen to be helping British companies to build links with Kushtia.”

I wasn’t keen for official involvement. “I’m not sure that will be necessary,” I said. “I mean, I appreciate it and all that but I’m sure I can manage.”

“I’m sorry but I really must insist. You’ll need a translator at the very least and the Ambassador is most anxious that the trade delegation does everything possible to assist in discussions with the new regime. I’m sure you won’t want to cause any difficulty with the Ambassador?”

I decided that she was possibly right. At the very least she could help to get things moving. We arranged to meet the following morning. I spent my evening watching Kushtian television. It wasn’t as good as the in-flight movie had been.

She met me at the hotel an hour before my meeting with the trade minister. “We’ll take my car,” she said as she strode up to greet me in the hotel lobby.

“That shouldn’t be necessary,” I responded. “I believe a car is being sent.”

“Oh, I’d be surprised,” she said. “It would be most unusual for a Council Minister to show such …”

We were interrupted by the arrival of a bell hop. “Your car is here, Sir.” I smiled and thanked him.

“I am impressed,” said Cora and we headed for the door. As we got there Cora paused and swept her scarf up across her face.

“Is that necessary?” I asked.

“Oh, yes. The Kushtian Council is trying to be as open as possible to western ideas but people still expect an unmarried woman to be veiled, especially in the presence of a married man such as the Minister. It’s not really a religious thing as I understand it – it’s more that the Kushtian men sort of - well – owned their wives and a women could not show her face until she had an owner. Can you believe the trade minister has four wives? In this day and age?”


“His latest wife is said to be a gift from the Kallinin! I think what really happened was that there was some sort of ritual gift bestowing – probably based on some historic practice. It’s funny how these things live on. Still, we must respect their culture. After all, look at us with the Changing of the Guard and the Yeoman Warder’s Ceremony of the Keys. I expect that all seems silly to them.”

“Yes,” I said as we stepped outside the hotel to see the bright yellow HumVee with its government flags and a smartly uniformed driver standing beside it. “I hadn’t realised we needed armour plated transport,” I said.

“I think it’s mainly because of the roads,” Cora said. “They are pretty atrocious.”

The driver opened the door for us and we got in. She was right about the roads. As soon as we left the beautifully surface hotel drive, the road degenerated into a series of potholes across which we bounced remorselessly. Another length of smooth tarmac heralded the imminent arrival at the Trade Ministry. “My word,” said Cora as the HumVee drew up. “you are honoured. That’s the Minister on the steps, come to greet you.” She adjusted her veil and the two of us got out.

As we reached the top of the steps the Minister greeted us in the guttural tones of the Kushtian language.

“The Minister welcomes you to Kushtia and hopes that you and he can have a mutually beneficial discussion,” Cora translated.

“Please thank the Minister for his greeting and say that I too hope our discussions will be mutually beneficial,” I said, keeping up the formality.

He showed us through the building and into his office. Sitting at a desk as we entered was a veiled lady, her wrists in manacles, who sat pummelling an ancient typewriter. “Don’t worry about the secretary,” Cora said quietly, “I know it looks like she is in chains but it’s just a sort of costume jewellery. The Kushtians used to keep their women under very strict controls and even though now the new regime is introducing more liberal ways many of the women like to dress traditionally.”

“Ah,” I said, unconvinced by her explanation.

Even with her veil on, I could tell that Cora was embarrassed by the Minister’s next remark. She turned towards me. “He says would you like to, err, wash your hands?”

“Oh, good idea, before we get started on talks,” I responded.

“Its just that obviously, well, I can’t come with you can I?”

“I think I can manage that without creating a diplomatic incident,” I said

“Of course, yes, well. He says it’s through there,” she pointed to a door, “if you’d like to follow him.”

The minister was a tall man. I felt dwarfed as I stood beside him in the stalls of the washroom and we studiously avoided looking at one another in the manner common to men in washrooms everywhere. Suddenly he spoke; not in Kushtian but in perfect English.

“She’s very attractive but a bit of a pain in the arse, isn’t she?” he said.

“Ah, I’m not sure it would be diplomatic to say,” I responded with a smile. “I didn’t think you spoke English.”

“No,” said the minister, “no, neither does she. Still, we’ll humour her. Let’s take this as far as we can with her here and then we‘ll talk again later.” He turned to the basins, we washed our hands and returned to his office.

The minister and I were sat in armchairs facing one another. Cora sat between us. The minister began speaking in Kushtian again. Cora translated.

“The Minister says that he understands that Clegg Enterprises are seeking to supply the Kushtian Government procurement programme. And oh, sorry,”

I looked down to see the minister ostentatiously zipping his fly to the consternation of Cora. He didn’t stop talking.

Cora coughed, embarrassed, and went on. “Perhaps you could outline your proposals.”

“I represent a number of concerns together known as Clegg Enterprises,” I said. I allowed Cora time to translate. ”The most relevant of these to the Kushtian procurement programme is, I believe, Clegg Meat Products. We specialise in a range of prepared and treated meats. Our customers tell us that they are very much to the taste of a discerning palate. If Kushtia is intending to develop its tourism infrastructure then I you will need to have access to the best of international cuisine alongside traditional Kushtian dishes and of course as the Council extends its international ties they will wish to ensure that only the finest dishes are available to their guests.” As Cora translated, the Minister laughed and muttered something.

Cora said, ”He says you shouldn’t expect too much of Kushtian cuisine, it’s an oxymoron, like military intelligence or - oh! – women’s liberation.” There was a pause. “Ah, I see.” Cora said something in Kushtian back to the minister. He smiled. “He was explaining the joke,” she said, not apparently amused herself.

“Perhaps I can explain further, Minister,” I went on. “As I said we can offer a wide range of meat products, most based on British livestock of course. Our most important value to yourselves though is that we can make particular products available to meet particular needs. So for example, if the minister was to be hosting a dinner for a number of dignitaries we could make available particularly dark meats or light meats or for those that like their meat rare, very red. I believe the Kalinin’s son is particularly fond of red meat, for example. Of course we are able to offer a range of meats from rare breeds and from some of the finest herds in British bloodstock.”

Cora translated diligently. The minister responded. Cora was apparently embarrassed again, I could swear that I could see her blush behind her veil. “The minister says that he understands your proposition. In Kushtia they can appreciate excellent food for after all was it not the first Kalinin that said, ‘The sweetest milk comes from the cow with the largest udders.’ He also wonders if you have brought any samples with you.”

“Regrettably no, Minister,” I replied, “It is difficult without import clearance and until we have an agreement I thought it wise not to do so. I believe, however, that the Minister and several other members of the Council have already had the chance to sample our products.”

Cora translated, the Minister responded and she spoke again. “The minister says that the products he has sampled have proved most excellent though he is a man of a hearty appetite and always welcomes more.” Cora put in an aside,” I think he is angling for some sort of inducement. It’s a quite common business practice here, I’m afraid.”

I said to Cora, “I know. I’ll be quite happy to accommodate him if it helps things along. You won’t want to know about this, though. Right?”

“Well, I think it would be best. Ah” The minister started speaking again. “The minister says he has a taste for some rather leaner meat. He is reminded of a meal that he had at the Embassy recently. When he had a most enjoyable time, he says, - ah - because he had the opportunity to sit next to your delightful interpreter. Perhaps you could arrange for the same meat to be made available.” Cora looked a little confused. She turned to me. “I’m sorry,” she said it’s a little difficult to translate, The Kushtian language sometimes gets parts of speech muddled up and its not always easy to work out exactly what is being referred to.

“That’s all right,” I responded. ”You are doing an excellent job. Tell the minister I will see what I can do. I think that’s all we can hope for today.”

Cora and the Minister exchanged words in Kushtian and he got to his feet holding out his hand. I shook hands with him and we left. The HumVee was waiting for us outside.

We got in and it headed back to towards the hotel, bouncing over the poorly paved road. Cora unfastened her veil with relief. “Thank you,” I said. “You were most helpful.”

“That’s all right. It’s what the Embassy is for. We can’t be seen to be involved with inducements, though. That would be quite improper. I could, quite informally, find out what was on the menu for that dinner if that would help.”

“Well, yes. I want make sure I that the Minister gets exactly what he was hoping for.” I smiled at Cora, convinced that while translating accurately she had completely failed to grasp the meaning of my discussions with the Minister.

“Yes,” she said looking puzzled for a moment. “Although, now I come to think about that dinner I’m almost certain we had fish.” She grinned sheepishly. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I Think I may have got this in a bit of a muddle. Still while we’re talking about dinner, how about if I take you out for something tomorrow night? The Ambassador is always keen for us to be building contacts with new companies out here.”

“Good heavens, Ms Argyll,” I said with a smile. “It sounds like you’re propositioning me. But that seems like a great idea. I’d like it.”

“OK,” she said, “I’ll catch you about 7, if that’s OK.

“Fine,” I said, though somehow I thought she wasn’t going to make it to our meeting.

Chapter 30: On The Road Again

I spent most of the following morning at the hotel, talking on the phone to Freddie. He wasn’t keen on a pick up without doing a proper background check first but he did want to help out the Minister. In the end we agreed to go ahead. I took a short call from the Minister. He’d just wanted to check that I’d understood his point of view from our previous meeting. I had. Did I think I could provide a solution. I did. Would it help if he got me some assistance from the Interior Ministry? I would. They were very helpful. I was more than confident.

I had one other phone call. It was from Rick. He thought I’d want to know that Rachel had gone over the wire. He sounded pretty embarrassed about it. So was Sebastian. It was him that she’d jumped to get out.

The way Rick told it; Rachel had a problem with her computer. Sebastian had been working to sort it out. Rachel had come across very grateful and he’d decided to take advantage of the fact that they’d given her the full set of slave skills when they conditioned her. The only problem is that it looked like some of the conditioning didn’t take for some reason. Seb had Rachel strip off and was getting naked himself. He had one leg out of his pants, and was balancing to try and get the other one out when she crashed him against the wall. The cell walls are tough. She was luckier with Seb than she was with me. It was late at night, some of the security guys on CCTV watch were dozing and it was about an hour later when they found him. She had used her stockings to hogtie him and then she’d gagged him with her panties and her bra. He was grunting like mad by the time someone had worked out he was missing and gone looking for him. It looked like Rachel had used Seb’s key tag to get out and had got clear of the Prep Centre. Harry was spitting mad, he’d had to pull a team off collections to go looking for her.

There wasn’t much I could do about it from where I was and I guessed that everyone involved would be having a discussion about their shortcomings with Freddie. I asked Rick to give me an update when he knew more.

That afternoon, as I later heard, Cora Argyll was heading back to her apartment in her Mini Cooper on the stretch of gravel and potholes that passed for the Kolin ring road. With irritation she saw a police car behind her. The flashing blue lights meant the same in Kushtia as they did anywhere. She pulled over and stopped.

She’d looked back at the police officer coming towards her car. It was a woman. “Well, that’s good to see,” thought Cora. Then looking at the overly tight black shirt and the mirrored, aviator sunglasses, “but why do they always think they have to look like something out of Police Academy?”

The police officer came up to her window. “Could you get out of the car please, madam,” she said with the growling accent of a Kushtian from the far north of the country.

“What is the trouble officer?” Cora asked.

“If you could just get out of the car, please.” Cora did as she was asked and handed over her driving license and Embassy papers. “You were driving rather erratically, madam,” the officer said, “all over the road.”

“I was avoiding the pot holes, officer,” Cora responded. “You can see what the road is like.”

“Well maybe, madam. But I would like to test whether you have been drinking.” Her hand went to a pouch on her belt and she took out a breathalyser.

“It’s nonsense officer. I know the law in Kushtia, I know you have a zero-alcohol limit for driving. I’m a British diplomat.”

“Yes, madam, I saw the CD plates on your car. I’m afraid that we find some diplomats do not have great respect for our local laws and customs. Irrespective of your diplomatic immunity we cannot have drivers under the influence of alcohol. Please blow into the breathalyser.”

“Oh, this is absurd. But very well,” she’d said grabbing the box.

“Just blow steadily into the tube.” She did so. The officer took the breathalyser from her and peered at it. “Oh, dear,” she said. “I’m afraid this is not good. You see this number here – this is far too high. We’ll have to get this checked. I’m sure there is no problem really but if you could come back to my car we can go to the Police Station.”

“But, but, its nonsense,” said Cora, protesting, as the police officer took her by the arm.

“Yes, madam, but I‘m afraid you must come along with me,” she said taking her towards the police car.

“Well, all right but you must contact the Ambassador.”

“Of course. We can do that at the station. I’m sure we’ll clear things up quickly there anyway.” The officer reached to another pouch on her belt. “I need to handcuff you, please, Madam.”

“That’s not necessary officer.”

“I’m sorry madam, but it is the procedure. You see my partner will have to drive your car back and I can’t have a suspect in the car with me on my own unless they are handcuffed. Our procedures are quite clear. I’m sure you understand.”

Reluctantly Cora held out her wrists. The officer snapped one cuff on but pulled her wrists behind her back before fastening the second. Cora yelped as the cuff locked shut. “Sorry Madam, I’m sure we will sort this out. Now get in the car please.” The officer helped Cora into the back of the car holding the top of her head to make sure she cleared the roof as she got in. Getting into the front she drove off with Cora fuming quietly but helplessly on the back seat.

Ten kilometres down the road the car pulled off at a petrol station. The car parked at the back. “I need the rest room,” said Cora’s driver. “You’ll be OK there.”

And that was where I found Cora when I drove up alongside in the battered pickup truck I had hired. She seemed pretty pleased to see me until she saw what I aimed to do with the roll of tape I was carrying. Once I got it over her mouth I couldn’t tell whether she was swearing at me in English or Kushtian. I was certain though that it was one or the other. I got her out of the police car and into the front seat of my truck and strapped her in. With her veil arranged across her face no one could see she was gagged. Then there just remained the question of the commission payment. I tossed the package as agreed onto the front seat of the police car; two genuine Wonderbra’s each for the girls, one in black, one in white, ‘36B’ for the arresting officer, ‘34C’ for her partner. It seemed like a good deal to me but apparently they were a rarity out there. I dropped Cora off as agreed at a corrugated iron shed that backed onto a wire fenced compound on the edge of the airport. I added some ropes to Cora’s ankles to stop her wandering off. The sign on the compound said Kushtian Ministry of Trade: Bonded Stores. She was still pretty peeved as I padlocked the door

My meeting later that day with the Trade Minister went exceptionally well. There was one interruption. Apparently the Interior Minister had been asked by the British Ambassador to try to track down a diplomat that appeared to have gone missing. There was some question that she may have been kidnapped by insurgents from over the border. The Ambassador was most upset. The Ambassador was concerned that nothing should interfere with my negotiations. The Interior Minister promised an investigation. I was happy to reassure the Ambassador that I saw no reason for this to interfere with my business discussions. I hoped that no harm had come to the diplomat concerned. Apparently her car had been found near the border. Burned out, it appeared. The Ambassador agreed it was not a safe place for his staff to be travelling to and, of course, he would advise his staff not to do so in future.

The Trade Minister, apologised but was unable to spend much time with me. He was anxious to get on with his business of state because he had a relaxing evening planned at home that day. He was however, very happy that Clegg Enterprises should handle Kushtia’s future requirements for shipments from the UK. His secretary would draw up the appropriate license, he said. If I liked he could have her deliver it to my hotel that evening.

That seemed an excellent idea to me. We shook hands and I left him.

To while away what was left of the afternoon I had a visit planned. I’d promised to see the Kalinin’s son as part of the trip and took the opportunity to call in on him.

“Mr Larry,” he beamed as I walked in through the ornate archway that led into his palace from the courtyard. “Welcome, indeed. Welcome. Will you take tea with us?”

I was happy to accept his hospitality. He showed the way to an opulent room, its walls covered with elaborate patterned mosaics. He reclined on a bench along one wall and invited me to do the same. He clapped his hands. Ginger, the two Mel’s and Emma appeared in full harem dress, wrists and ankles shackled, and knelt before us.

“They look well,” I said. “Married life must suit them.”

“It certainly suits me,” the Kalinin’s son responded. “They are a source of constant delight to me. Tea!” he ordered and the girls scuttled away, giggling.

“I did not see Victoria,” I remarked, and then, recalling my visit to Wales, said, “Surely she is not still locked in your casket?”

“Ah, no, Mr Lawrence. I must admit that she, of all of my wives, found it the most difficult to adapt, but now all is well between us. She has some very remarkable skills which I have found most valuable now we are back in our home country.”

“How so?”

“Well, Mr Lawrence, you must understand about Kushtia that our society is very much oriented towards the desires of the men and the need for women to meet those needs.” There was more giggling as the four girls came back in clutching trays with tea, cups and sweet meats. They knelt between us, pouring tea and passing food to us. “So in our society if a man should submit to a woman it would be a cause of great scandal.”

“I can see that,” I responded. Emma was sliding towards me on her belly, somehow managing to hold a plate aloft. She sat up and offered the plate to me. I took one of the cakes from it and nodded my thanks.

“Well, wife Victoria has a talent that is very rare here. She can bend a man to her will. Not, of course, a strong man like myself,”

“Of course”

“But a weaker man, then yes. And of course if I should come to know of such things it gives me a great power over the man too. And such power can be useful in a country like this.”

“So you encourage Victoria to exploit these men?”

“Not encourage - require! She is subject to me as my wife and she does as I will. And like a good wife she is a great help to her husband.”

“And that is why she is not here now?”

“Indeed. Let us see if we can find her.” He clapped his hands and his other four wives made to collect up the tea things and clear them away. “Come through here.” He led the way through a beaded curtain that hung over another arched doorway, along a tiled and mirrored corridor and on to a balcony overlooking a lower room. There, Victoria was reclining on a couch in a room as luxuriously furnished as the ones we had just left. She was running the leather thongs of a flogger through her fingers. Crouching at her feet, providing an attentive foot massage, was a naked, hooded, Kushtian male with a collar around his neck and a golden chain that ran from a strap around his penis to Victoria’s hand. The Kalinin’s son clapped his hand and Victoria looked up towards us. She waved and leapt to her feet, knocking her slave over as she did so. She tied his leash to a ring beside her couch and ran to greet us.

As she reached the top of the stairs and approached us it became apparent that her costume was even richer than that of the others. She was dressed in a black costume decorated with gold chains and coins. Her veil – unlike the others she wore a veil – was black as well, covering all of her face except her eyes. It draped from a gold chain across her face down in two long cascades of silk that linked back to rings set in her pierced nipples. As she reached us she fell to her knees. “Husband!” she greeted the Kalinin’s son enthusiastically. “And Mr Lawrence!”

“Greetings wife,” the Kalinin’s son said. “How are your duties today?”

“You can see, husband,” she gestured to the man who was kneeling, head bowed, totally motionless, as he had been left. “He is completely at my command. And so he is completely at your command too.”

“Very good. It would suit my purpose it he were to leave at the end of this afternoon aching to be with you again and distracted from his purpose this evening. I expect to meet him later.”

“Very good, husband, I shall do as you wish.” She put her hands together and bowed before each of us before returning to her couch. We watched from the gallery as the man looked up at her return. She gestured with a finger to her left foot and he bent to it with his tongue. She lay back, reaching out for a piece of fruit from the golden plate that stood beside the couch. She looked up at us as she did so and gave an exaggerated wink.

“You see what an asset she is to me. Truly, Mr Lawrence, you are helping to re-establish our dynasty. Even my father sees what an asset my wives are. He will be persuaded to let me have more soon, I know.”

“I hope we can help you in that quest,” I said.

“I am sure, Mr Larry, I am sure. You have shown your skills in that area, why should I turn to others. Besides, I still remember some of those others that you suggested when we first met.” He gave me an exaggerated wink. I smiled in response, happily pondering the opportunity for further business.

“Things have turned out well for your father. Good fortune has seen him to his new position.”

“Come now, Mr Larry, do not be naïve. Good fortune had little to do with it. Fortune is like a precious metal, first you have to smelt it from the ore and that takes effort. Fortune only comes to those that seek it.”

“I believe the Kalinin’s gift to the Councillors may have helped to smelt the ore of his fortune in this case,” I said, happy to adopt the Kushtian allegory.

“Surely you do not think our councillors corruptible?” the son giggled conspiratorially.

“Not in the least,” I said with mock indignation. “I merely suggest that the Council recognised the value of old traditions respected.”

“Well these old traditions are working in other ways than even my father hoped. One of our poor councillors has become most unwell. I believe it to be the exertion. He is a very proud man; a very vigorous man. He was very potent in his youth, but now, in later years, it is not so easy for him and I fear his new wife has such enthusiasm.”

“Which of them is it?

“The one whose hair is like the sun setting through the dust of the autumn storms. Her appetites match and exceed the councillor’s own. It is feared he may die.”

“Oh dear,” I said. “Will that cause your father difficulties?”

“Not at all. Quite the reverse. You see the councillor, knowing my fondness for women with auburn hair has bequeathed me her in his will, and that will mean I shall also take his position on the council.”

“I thought the council was democratically elected.”

“Of course, Mr Larry, of course. But you have to remember how democracy works. People vote for those that they feel ought to rule. Here if a man wills his wife to another, others will think that he is showing who should succeed him. As we say ‘who follows me in the bed chamber, follows me in life’. There will be an election. But I will be surprised if I do not win.” The Kalinin’s son smiled.

“But still, as I say, I need to leave shortly. I have some things to prepare. You are most welcome to stay here of course. You must enjoy my hospitality. I suspect this is a little more comfortable than your hotel.

“I am expecting to receive something there this evening from The Trade Minister’s secretary, otherwise I would be happy to accept.”

“That is no problem. I will have word sent to his office. She will be instructed to deliver it here.”

“As you wish. I gratefully accept.”

“Excellent, I will send Emma to take care of you. She seemed particularly pleased to see you.”

“You are most generous,” I replied. It would at least be more entertaining than an evening in the hotel. The Kalinin’s son’s palace looked like it had a better stocked bar and Emma was likely to prove more entertaining than anything on TV Kushtia Channel One, Two or Three. Plus I needed something to take my mind off what was happening back in the UK with Rachel.

Chapter 31: Emma’s Contribution

The hospitality of the Kalinin’s son was proving very agreeable. Emma joined me in one of the large bedrooms. She was sprawled on the canopied bed when I emerged from the shower.

She was wearing a stylised, emerald green, version of the Kushtian national costume, a beaded and jewelled bodice that left her midriff bare with a long panelled skirt split to the hip so as to reveal her legs as she rolled across the bed. She grinned as my towel slipped from my hips. “Excellent,” she said, “I win!”

“What?” I said.

She pointed at my naked crotch. “Victoria said that you’d be really well hung.”

“Oh thanks,” I said. “Hang on; aren’t you supposed to be the slave?”

“Pooh!” she said sitting up on her heels and leaning forward to display a cleavage that was doing it’s best to help my insulted member to redeem its reputation. “Wives aren’t slaves in Kushtia, they are valued possessions. Anyway, you owe us an explanation.”


“We were a happy bunch of girls, enjoying making music and enjoying our own names. We meet Mr Impresario who seduces us with promises of bright lights and glamour. And instead we’re stolen away, bought by a man that insists on calling us by our stage names and flown half way across the world to heaven knows where. I think that needs explanation.”

“I don’t remember the bit about bright lights and glamour,” I said. “I think the best I offered was some better gigs. Isn’t this a better gig?” I sat down on the bed beside her.

She smiled, “Well it’s better than that pub in Southwark, that’s for sure, and our husband’s cute enough. Except we have to perform as the band – he’s got this karaoke machine and we all have to turn out in the gear. Getting here was completely shite as well.”

“Bad flight?” She seemed quite happy for me to run my hand up her leg in the general direction of her thigh.

“Not the flight, the bit before,” she said. “The being bundled up into boxes, the being fucked whenever anyone felt like it without so much as a please or thank you, the beatings and the chains. That was the shite bit.”

“Yeah well, when the Kalinin decides on something for his son, he likes people to go for it.” My fingers were tracing a pattern across her belly. Her body was responding to my touch even if she wasn’t saying anything to acknowledge the fact.

“Still, all we were ever in it for was the money and the glamour and this,” she waved at the opulence of the room’s décor, “looks like money and glamour to me.”

My hand was on the fastening of her bodice. “How do the others feel about it?”

“Mel C probably took it hardest, but even she’s coming round. She found the rape and the humiliation hard. But we all looked after her. Mel B’s been like a bitch on heat with hubby; she’s pregnant, would you believe, though hubby doesn’t know yet. Ginger – well she’s just good for a laugh anywhere and here’s no different. And Vicky, she’s has found her own little niche.”

“Yes, I saw,” I said. “What will happen to the baby? Mel’s?”

“Can you imagine? If it’s a boy? The first son of the first son of the Kalinin? It will be a major state celebration. Kushtia may be a democracy but that doesn’t mean they don’t still have a yearning for the old days of a hereditary dynasty. If it’s a girl, well, she’ll have a wonderful life here in the palace and marry well. Either way the child will have five doting mothers, more when our husband marries again, and probably quite a few brothers and sisters.”

The hooks on her bodice fastening finally came loose. I pushed the garment aside exposing her breasts. I cupped one in my hand. Finally she acknowledged my touch.

“That’s nice,” she said, “I like that. And,” she reached out with her hand for my now well stiffened cock, “you seem to be liking it too.”

“Yes, the only question is how far your husband’s hospitality extends,” I said sliding closer to her.

“Kushtian traditions of hospitality are strong. The first Kalinin said ‘for my guest; my property is his’. Those traditions are upheld to this day.”

“And you are your husband’s property?”

“Oh yes. Even allowing for the conventions here, the wedding ceremony is quite explicit. The husband vows ‘I take this wife in ownership to keep and care for as my finest horse or hawk’, and the wife answers ‘I pledge myself to be kept and cared for.’ Besides, I’m assuming that a sum of money changed hands for arranging the match between us and our husband. In Kushtia it is usual for the husband to pay the father of the wife but I suppose all traditions have to be updated. Still,” her finger nails raked up the underside of my cock, “don’t worry about going further than my husband would wish.” She shrugged off her unfastened bodice and leant towards me waving her head backwards and forwards so that her long blonde hair brushed sensuously across my crotch. She moved her mouth towards my cock. “Well, I may have won my bet with Vicky, but it seems to come up to expectations with a little encouragement. I guess I win both ways.”

I leant back and let her bring her lips down around my shaft. I didn’t know whether she had learned her techniques before she got to Kushtia or after but she was certainly more than competent. “Well,” I said, arching my back to push forward to meet her, “you’re well able to keep your head up in the fellatio stakes. Or should that be down?”

She coughed with laughter and pulled away.

“Don’t stop,” I said.

“Then don’t make me laugh, or you’ll end up being bitten,” she answered, licking her lips and bending her head to her task once more.

I was still enjoying Emma’s skills as a fellatrix when the Minister’s secretary arrived. She appeared in the room wearing a long sleeved white blouse and a floor length black skirt, her face veiled of course, under a long white scarf. She seemed to see nothing odd in Emma and myself stretched out on the bed.

Without saying anything, she passed me two envelopes, one large and thick, the other small and addressed to me. I opened it. Emma carried on trying to distract me.

I read the contents: “My Friend,” it said, “Thanks to your ingenuity I shall be enjoying a pleasant evening. I hope you will accept my thanks and the use of my secretary, Ekrana, for the evening. She may lack the sophistication of some western girls but I think you will find her amusing, nevertheless. She has also prepared a license for Clegg Enterprises but I suggest you review it at some other time; you will have plenty of other things to occupy you tonight. With best regards.”

I finished reading the letter and looked up to discover an almost naked Ekrana standing before me. She was still veiled, of course. Emma broke into a fit of giggles at the sight of my astonished look. I threw a cushion at her.

I spoke to Ekrana. “Do you speak English?” I asked.

She nodded. A laughing Emma got to her feet and ran to Ekrana’s side. She lifted the secretary’s veil sufficiently to reveal the large rubber ball strapped into her mouth.

“Can you take it off?” I asked. She nodded. “Then do so, please.” She started to fumble with the strap, Emma helped her and the ball came loose from her mouth. Ekrana quickly adjusted her veil to cover her face properly again but allowed the scarf to fall across her shoulder and down her back, giving me an uninterrupted view of her naked body. I felt the least I could do was to look appreciatively. Her skin was darker than that of many of the Kushtian’s I had met and had the soft look of a girl not long out of adolescence. Her long dark hair spilled out from around her veil; coal-black, almond shaped eyes looked unflinchingly at me. “Did the Minister say how you should entertain me?” I said.

“Don’t be silly,” said Emma, leading Ekrana across to the couch. “This is Kushtia. She’ll have been told to do whatever you please.”

“Thank you, Madam,” said Ekrana, haltingly. “It is as you say.”

“Madam!” I laughed, Emma was hardly older than the secretary.

“Don’t laugh,” Emma chided, “I am a wife and so warrant the respect that becomes my status. Even if I wasn’t the wife of the Kalinin’s son, Kushtian girls are taught to hold a wife in almost as high esteem as a man. And in Kushtia the training is rather more subtle than in your ‘Preparation Centre’ – they know that women respond to other things than having the back of their heads rammed against the headboard of a bed. She’ll do whatever I ask of her too.”

“She’ll go down on me?”

“Of course.”

“Or you?”

“Yes, of course. Why? Would you like to watch us play together?”

“Yes,” I said, “of course.”

Emma gave a look of mock disapproval. “If that would amuse you,” she responded. “But as Ekrana is manacled, I should be chained as well. In Kushtia it is most improper for a wife to appear less subservient than a femnyette - oh sorry, it’s the word for an unmarried woman in Kushtian, it means “woman not yet a wife” - if they are in the presence of a man. A Kushtian wife prides herself on her subservience to her husband and those her husband chooses for her.”

“A fine idea,” I said. Emma led Ekrana towards an ornate chest. She lifted the lid to display an array of chains, straps, whips, paddles and floggers.

“This is called the Cabinet of the Marriage Bed,” Emma explained. “By tradition, the father of the bride provides the husband with the tools by which his new bride will be ruled. These were a present from your Mr Clegg to my husband. Ekrana, please use these wrist cuffs on me.”

Ekrana took the cuffs from Emma and fastened them about her wrists. As she did so, she kissed each hand in turn. Emma, seeing my approval of the girls’ intimacy, encouraged her to continue. It did not take long until all three of us were tangled together on the bed; the two girls pleasuring one another and competing to see which could delight me more. I suppose I should have had some feelings of guilt – what with leaving Tricia behind and all – but I have to say I managed to overcome them. And after all, I was only trying to get to grips with Kushtian culture.

Chapter 32: Trade Ministry

“Minister,” I said, nursing a hangover from a great deal too much Kushtian beer and probably an excess of unaccustomed exercise with Ekrana and Emma. “I hope you won’t think me rude if I do not stay long; especially after your generosity with your secretary. My flight leaves shortly and much though I have enjoyed my visit here I must return to England if I am to put in hand the preparations for implementing our agreement.”

“Of course, of course,” the Trade Minister replied. “I just wanted you to see a couple of things before you went back. Firstly, I thought you might like to see my new house guest.”

I assumed he was talking about Cora and, in that, I was right. He showed me out of his lounge and down a corridor towards the back of the house. Steps ran down to a basement area. Along one wall were four identical doors, three were open showing small, windowless, rooms beyond. The fourth was closed. The Minister took a key from the pocket of his jacket and unlocked the door. It swung slowly open. Inside, sat on the floor, chained by her neck to the wall and recognisable by her long dark hair in spite of her veil, was Cora Argyll. The growling grunt that she gave as the door swung back told me that she was still gagged behind her veil. Her wrists and ankles were shackled but the veil, the gag and the chains were all that she wore. The only other thing in the small room was a small bucket.

“I thought you might like to see my newest acquisition,” the Minister said. “In Kushtia there is a long tradition of public officials having concubines. The pressures of public duty are onerous. Holders of public office need to be able to relax. They have their wives to raise their families and run their households but for more recreational female company, a Minister needs more than wives.” Cora grunted her objections furiously. “They are a great aid to the process of public administration. I may have a difficult meeting. Perhaps one of my colleagues is trying to pursue a misguided policy. There may be a complicated matter of legislation to consider. All these things are best dealt with if the Minister is relaxed and in good humour. Ministerial concubines provide an important public benefit. I have no difficulty in justifying to myself the cost to the public purse. And since we expect to do much business with your country, I felt it would be only helpful to have one of your compatriots in my service.”

“She seems a little less than willing, Minister,” I said, noting how Cora was now almost growling through her gag.

“It will be a while,” the Minister said with an air of regret, “until she can take up her duties fully. I fear that western girls need much help in learning our local ways. They have many mistaken ideas and it takes time for them to see the value of the Kushtian culture. Fortunately Kushtian tradition says that once a woman has been chosen as a concubine the man can take his pleasures with her as he will, so she can still be of use as she becomes better acquainted with her new role. Of course, a concubine is not a wife; she still has to wear her veil.”

“I trust that will not be too much of an inconvenience.”

“It has not proved so, this far,” said the Minister with a grin. “In spite of her relative inexperience, she has managed to bring me pleasure on four occasions since she arrived here yesterday. I have managed to find parts of her body unencumbered by her veil. She is most lively in her service. She feigns resistance of course but that is only to be expected. She knows a Kushtian man values the sense of conquest. I can tell she will soon be able to fulfil many of her duties. An excellent start.”

The Minister walked across to where Cora was sitting on the floor. He grabbed her by the hair and pulled her to her feet. She grunted and tried to break free. “I wanted to ask your advice.”

“Of course Minister,” I responded.

“Do you think I should have one or both of her nipples pierced?” He pushed her trailing veil back to give us both a clear view of her breasts. They were well rounded; firm, like small grapefruit.

I gave the matter some thought. I hardly considered myself an expert but I was enjoying the prospect of the almost naked Cora. She tried to wriggle free of the Minister’s grasp. He laughed and wrenched her head back. “Both, I think Minister. I think she would look well carrying rings or perhaps small bells to announce her presence.”

“A fine thought, my friend, a fine thought. I shall take your advice.” Cora groaned in despair. The Minister took no notice and spun her around. “And her owner’s mark? Here?” he asked pointing first to Cora’s left buttock and then to the right. “Or here?”

“You might consider marking her belly,” I ventured entering into the spirit of the discussion in aw ay that Cora evidently found as disturbing as the Minister found engaging. “If you intend to use her mainly from the front, I think it is nice to see the mark there. Like the badge in the middle of a car’s steering wheel.”

The Minister laughed. “A splendid idea. I shall suggest the Minister of Transport does the same with his concubines.”

I thought back to the circumstances of Cora’s acquisition. “Will it not be difficult keeping her here? With your contacts with the Ambassador and so on.”

“No. She will not remain here in Kolin. I have a country estate. She will take up residence there at first. There is adequate accommodation for her while she is learning her place. Not perhaps as comfortable as here in town, but she will be able to learn her new skills, un-distracted by the concerns of the city.”

I looked at the bare concrete walls of the room that Cora currently occupied and wondered what could be less comfortable. Cora gave a gagged moan of distress to the Minister’s amusement. “You see, she retains her spirit. That is good. Rest quietly girl, you will have the opportunity to pleasure me later, do not worry.” Cora squealed in frustrated defiance. The Minister grinned again.

“Come now,” he said. “We must not disturb her meditation any longer. A new concubine must spend much time in thoughts of how she will bring her man pleasure. And besides there was something else I wanted to show you.”

He led the way back upstairs and back into his lounge. From behind his desk he pulled out a battered black brief case. “It was this,” he said.

I took the case from him and looked at it. On the flap it carried an embossed version of the United Kingdom’s coat of arms, the lion and unicorn rampant, supporting a shield and helmet. “Ms Argyll’s case, I imagine,” I said. I had seen her with something similar when we first met.

“We assume so. It was found in the back of her car.”

“Should it not be returned to the Ambassador?” I asked.

“Yes, yes, I am sure it should but I thought you might like to see inside it first.”

I undid the catch and pulled back the flap. I tipped the contents of the bag onto the table in front of me. The collection of file folders was hardly surprising. What was more unexpected was the contents of a small leather pouch – six cable ties, a pair of handcuffs, a roll of duct tape, a hypodermic syringe in a case and a series of grainy, black and white photographs of me.

“Ah,” I said. “I see what you mean.”

“I take it you were unaware of Ms. Argyll’s intentions?”

“You take it correctly. I think I need to discuss this development with Mr Clegg when I get back. I trust it won’t interfere with your enjoyment of your new concubine.”

The Minister laughed “Not at all, not at all, Mr Ross. We have a saying here, ‘a concubine’s life begins with her man’. The young lady’s past is of no concern to me. We must both look to the future. Of course we will let Mr Clegg know if she should happen to mention any piece of information that might indicate the reason for her interest in you. However, you had better be careful between here and the airport. To assist you, my friend the Interior Minister has arranged to provide an escort. I suggest you take the Ministerial car from here. I will have your bags collected from the hotel. We take a dim view of those who seek to interfere with our trading partners.”

“Thank you Minister,” I said, relieved.

“And here is your escort.” A woman police officer came in. Well stacked, I thought. I wondered if she was the ‘34C’ I’d left the Wonderbra for. “Sergeant Dobranin here will see you get safely to the airport. She’s been doing an excellent job for us, helping with our crack down on drunken driving,” said the Minister, so I realised, of course, that she was.

Sergeant Dobranin smiled. She took her sunglasses from her shirt pocket and put them on.

“Splendid,” I said as Dobranin led the way to the Minister’s Hummvee. “You must tell me about your latest arrest.” I hoped that what she had to say would amuse me. I wanted something to take my mind off the Rachel situation and what looked like my own problems as well.

Chapter 33: Back To Earth

The Air Kushtia return flight wasn’t much better than the flight out. I emerged from the Arrivals Channel in Heathrow Terminal 3 to see Harry waiting. “Hi,” I said.

He grunted, “I was your wet nurse, now I’m your babysitter. Clegg thought you might need a lift.”

“Well thanks. I’m sure I’m fine,” I responded.

Harry grabbed one of my bags. ”Not with your track record. Anyway you need to be in the Whitechapel office.” He pointed to a car parked outside the terminal. I got in the back, Harry followed. Tricia was driving.

“Hi,” she said, “welcome back. Good trip?” She wasn’t too effusive, neither of us liked to parade our relationship while we were at work. It wasn’t like it was a secret or anything; we just preferred to get on with the day job when we were working.

“Thanks,” I said. “Yeah sure. It’s a very different place.”

Tricia pulled out of the airport and down onto the M4, heading into London. “How’s things?” I asked Harry.

He grunted in response. “If you’re worried about your writer we’ve got her back.”

“Great,” I said, “Did she get far?”

“No, not too far, but we had a hell of a job getting her back. She found a way to fuck up the chip in her collar. Seb’s still trying to work out how she did it. It meant we couldn’t use tracers. We had to use dogs for fuck’s sake! We haven’t done that for ages. You remember that farm we went to on your first pick up? We keep a few there but they were definitely off-form. First work they’d done for a while and too many dog biscuits, if you ask me.”

I looked down at my own waist line. The past few days hadn’t helped. The Kushtian’s hospitality meant I’d put on a few pounds and the exercise with Emma and Ekrana hadn’t had enough of a compensating effect.

“Still in some ways it was fun. It’s good to go back to first principles occasionally. I haven’t had to do any field tracking for a while. I guess she’d thought she’d be OK without the collar chip, she didn’t go far. We were pretty certain she hadn’t got clear, we’d have heard through some of Freddie’s contacts in the police if she’d got far and that would got very complicated. We thought she was probably holed up in the woods at the back of the Prep Centre; picked up some tracks going through one of the gates – girlie shoes are a bit distinctive. We thought she’d be waiting for the hue and cry to die down. So we put on a show, moved a couple of squads through the woodland, crashing about and making a noise with the dogs. Then we left things quiet for a day.”

The car pulled off the M4. Unusually the traffic was moving and we were soon heading on through Hammersmith and down the Euston Road. “And then she walked out?”

“Not quite,” Harry went on, “but very nearly. We left a few heat sensors around the woods and put in a couple of guys with night vision goggles. They picked her up moving around near the northern edge. Anyway to cut a long story short, they flushed her out with the dogs, we had a team by the edge of wood and she took a tranquilliser dart in the butt as she tried to track out towards the road along a hedge. Went down as easy as you like. Well, apart from the yell of “No!” as she realised she’d been hit. I had to discourage the guys from bringing her back swinging by her wrists and ankles from a pole. They get a bit gung ho with things like that. She’s back in storage now and Rick’s team are having a very detailed discussion with her about just what has gone wrong with the prep programme.”

“How’s Freddie been about it?”

“Surprisingly relaxed. But then it’s the first runner we’ve had in ages. I think maybe he feels that you need one now and then to get people back on their toes. He handed out a few ear blisterings though. People won’t forget for a while. Plus the security teams have been having regular drills again.”

“They’ll not be happy with that.”

“Well, maybe not but it’s the only way. Anyhow, I hear you’ve been busy too.”

I saw Tricia’s head give a twitch of interest. “Just a pickup for the Trade Minister,” I said, not keen to discuss Cora before I’d had a chance to show Freddie what I’d found in her case. “And I didn’t have to do too much.”

“Just as well given your previous performances,” said Harry with a smirk. “If you’re going to be doing this sort of thing you’ll need some training.”

“I wasn’t planning on it become part of the job description,” I said and looked out to see that we had arrived. Tricia stopped the car outside the office in Whitechapel. Harry and I got out. I gave Tricia a smile. She waved back and drove off.

We pushed passed a group of people on the pavement. One of their number was holding forth waving at the surrounding buildings. “And just here,” he said, “were plotted some of the most violent crimes ever recorded against women.”

I was looking over my shoulder, puzzled as we made our way into the building. “Jack the Ripper Tour,” said Harry.

“I was worried there for a minute,” I said, “I thought someone had done too good a job promoting our activities.”

Five minutes later I was in Clegg’s office. Ellie was with him. “You’re going to find things a bit dull after Kushtia, I suspect,” said Clegg.

“Well everyone was very hospitable,” I responded with a smile.

“We got your writer back.”

“So I hear. I suppose Seb’s OK?”

“Oh yes. I think he got over his encounter with Rachel quicker than his encounter with me. They’ll all have learned a few things from that.”

“I guess so.”

“And you were able to help out the Trade Minister, I understand. He called me. He seemed very happy.”

“I thought it was the right thing to do.”

Ellie got to her feet, stubbed her cigarette in Clegg’s ashtray and blew a stream of smoke from her cigarette in the general direction of the window. “I’ll let you boys get on with talking shop.” She said. “I’ve got some stuff to do.”

“OK,” said Freddie.

“Can I drop a license agreement off with you later?” I asked. “It’s something the Kushtian’s gave me. It’ll give us preferred supplier status out there.”

Ellie gave me a pained look. “I can just imagine what Kushtian legal documents are like. I’ll have a look at it but heaven knows what we’ll have to do to make sure we’re properly covered.”

“Do what you can, Ellie,” Freddie chipped in. “This could be good for us. If we’re not having to invest I don’t think we’ll want to beat them up to hard on terms and conditions. Let me know if there’s anything really troublesome.”

“Sure,” said Ellie. “I’ll mug up on their legal system. Larry, if you can drop the license by when you’ve finished here?”

“Sure,” I said. Ellie left us. I turned back to Clegg. “You said the Minister was happy.”

“Well yes. It caused a few ripples in the Diplomatic Corps, though. They tend to be a bit sensitive about that sort of thing you know.”

“Sorry. I hadn’t realised they were off limits. She might have worked out what was going on, you know. I mean she translated the whole thing with the Minister’s tongue hanging out and practically dribbling on her.”

“Yes, the Trade Minister mentioned that she wasn’t the sharpest pencil in the box.”

“There was one other thing.”

“Uh huh?”

“You hadn’t told me this was going to be fucking dangerous.” I dumped Cora’s pouch on the table between us. Clegg opened it and peered at the contents.

“Of course it’s fucking dangerous,” he said calmly. “To the best of my reckoning you’ve been involved in the abduction of twenty two women – twenty three including your friend in Kushtia - since joining us. You’re doing things that will mean some of our competitors feel a bit more squeezed than they would like to. In this business they don’t just write a letter to the local chamber of trade if they feel the competition is getting a bit keen. I’d take it as a complement if I were you.”

I grunted, unconvinced. Clegg went on. “Still never mind about that now. I’ll get Harry to look at it later. I want you to sit in on today’s executive committee meeting and give us an update on the marketing projects.”

It was the first time I’d sat in on an Exec. Clegg had handled the meetings up until then.

It was about as entertaining as these things usually are – that is not at all, except for the usual combination of aggression between peers and fawning to the boss. What was interesting though was the extent to which some of my initial conceptions seemed to be being borne out by data.

Rick was there to run through what was going on in the Prep Centre. He trotted out a series of statistics on cell occupancy, time from intake to shipment and internal shipments versus external shipments. He spent quite a while on the tightening up of security measures after Rachel’s run. He seemed to be well on top of the logistical issues but the numbers sounded like they were going the wrong way to me. Harry’s review of field operations didn’t have any surprises and he seemed happy with the new intake of trainees, which I assumed included Tricia. The CFO – I’d not met him before - gave a run down on the finances and, while cash intake was down, costs seemed to be under control. He was complaining that IT were spending too much time on research projects and not enough on the new accounting system. Freddie listened sympathetically and smiled at me.

Brian’s pitch on the situation in sales didn’t get such an easy ride. Freddie had evidently asked him for some numbers on average prices and on how they compared with the number of buyers present at the sales. He hooked up his PC to the projector and started to run through an interminable number of graphs, pie charts and other diagrams. The presentation didn’t make encouraging viewing. As I had suggested; the fewer the buyers, the lower the margins. And it was evident from Brian’s data that the number of buyers had been steadily falling over the previous year. What was worse, when Freddie pressed him, he didn’t appear to have any thoughts on what to do about it. Freddie concluded the session with a “well let’s hear if Marketing can get us out of this. Larry can you take us through what you’ve been up to…”

Brian looked pretty pissed off as I got to my feet. Elly, who had sat through the whole meeting without saying a word, leant across and whispered something to Clegg. “Morning everyone,” I said. “I’m going to have to apologise to those of you who were looking forward to a real marketing presentation but I haven’t got any slides, so no death by PowerPoint, I’m afraid. I just thought I’d talk things through if that’s OK?”

The rest of the meeting looked relieved.

I ran through the SWOT analysis just as I had with Freddie and then put a bit more detail on what I intended to do about it. I didn’t mention the idea of closing down the Sales Centre, I thought I’d leave that to Freddie at some other time. I didn’t go through any of Rachel’s stuff as I hadn’t really had a chance to review it properly but I gave them some feedback on the first experiences with using an account management approach with the Kalinin; how the initial contact had led to the acquisition of the five All Spice girls and then the extra six for the ministers and the Jewel Questors project and not one auction for any of them. And now there was the opportunity for an overall contract with Kushtia. I ran the video and gave them a demonstration of the web site. “Sorry if this has held up your accounting system,” I said to the CFO.

“No problem,” he said. “This is good stuff, but we’re going to have to work out how to fund it properly.”

“Yes,” said Freddie, “I think you’re right. We must give it some thought. Brian, you need to work out how you’re going to support this too.” He scowled but said nothing.

Back in my office I thought about the meeting. I’d felt it went well although Brian had a bit of a hard time. I didn’t really have time to worry about him though. There was an email for me from Steve Glennis, forwarded from the encrypted area of the member’s web site. “I’ve got that project for you, we talked about,” it said. “I’ve been through the search facilities – great stuff, by the way – and there isn’t anything I can find. Give me a call when you’re free and I’ll run you through it.”

I looked at my watch, six o’clock in the evening UK time. My body was somewhere over Turkey if I thought about it, for Steve on his Caribbean island it would be two o’clock in the afternoon. It was probably as good a time to call as any, I reckoned.

“Steve,” I said, “It’s Larry. You said you might need some help.”

Steve was as friendly as ever. I asked him about his pony school. “That,” he said, “brings us right to the point.”

“I’d have thought you should be able to find suitable candidates on the site,“ I said. “You can specify the physical characteristics, hair colour, that sort of thing.”

“No, that’s not the problem,” he said. “That’s all fine. In fact I’ve put in a request through the site for a quote on a couple of dark mares, just for a different look, you know. No, what this is for is a carriage driver. I know the site picks up hobbies and interests but this is a bit specialised, I’m looking for someone to drive a carriage for me competitively and something to give the stables a bit of class, if you know what I mean.”

I grunted in response and then asked, “How about looks?”

“Well, she’ll need to be easy on the eye, obviously, but nothing too specific in that direction. Just if you’re going trawling in the British aristocracy don’t find me one of those women that looks more like a horse than the horses. When do you think you can give me some ideas?”

“We’ll need to do some research,” I said. “Let me get back to you in a week with some ideas.”

“That’ll be fine, Larry,” Steve said. “Gotta go now though. Just heard the seaplane,”

“OK,” I said, “talk to you soon.”

Steve’s call was good news as far as I was concerned. Clegg would be pleased that the new approach was generating business through the web site and for custom commissions. I had the report from Rachel to go through as well. At least she’d finished the reports on her interviews with Sukie before she went over the wall. There were pages of it.

On the other hand, I was more concerned about getting some sleep. After the flight back from Kushtia without any of the comforts that I’d had on the return from the Caribbean, I felt I was in need of a quiet evening.

That was until Tricia put her head around the office door. “You look like you need a good feed,” she said. “Why don’t I cook you something at the flat tonight?”

All of a sudden it seemed like a good idea. Even the comforts of Emma back in Kushtia seemed to have had something missing. “Yeah, sure, why not.” I tossed her the keys. “I’ve got some stuff to finish up here but I’ll be there by seven. Why don’t you go on ahead?”

She caught the keys, smiled, and said, “see you later,” as she left the office.

Chapter 34: A Messy Apartment

As it happened she was wrong. It took me longer than I thought to finish up. The traffic was lousy. I was feeling guilty about how late it had got. It was almost nine o’clock.

When I got back to the flat the front door was ajar. “Naughty Tricia,” I thought, “anyone could get in.” It didn’t take me a moment to realise that someone had, I hadn’t seen anything as bad since Tricia trashed the bedroom during our practice burglary. It looked a similarly messy job, done to impress. Well I was impressed. What was worse Tricia wasn’t there.

Something told me that calling the police wasn’t a great idea but even so I was pretty wary about looking around. It didn’t take too long to work out what had happened. You didn’t need a degree in forensic science to work it out.

It looked like whoever had made this mess had snatched Tricia when she arrived and had hung onto her waiting for me to turn up. Then they’d got bored or worried and gone, taking her with them. One of the dining chairs had been dragged into the bedroom. There was the remains of duct tape strips around the bottom of each of the front legs of the chair, she’d obviously been taped to the chair at some point, one of her shoes lay beneath it. A screwed up wad of cloth and some strips of tape were the remains of a gag that I guessed had been changed before they took her away. A spent hypodermic lay in the rubbish from the upended waste basket. A heap of tissues soaked in blood suggested that someone hadn’t had it too easy. I liked to think it was whoever had snatched her. The core of a roll of duck tape under the chair suggested that in spite of that they’d got their own way. Her handbag had been upended on the bed, its contents spread around.

I phoned Harry. “I need some help, I said as calmly as I could. “Can you get over here?”

To say that Harry wasn’t happy when he saw the shambles would be putting it mildly. Certainly his exclamations as he rummaged through the muddle left me feeling sympathetic towards anyone that he linked to the events. He was even less amused when he heard about Cora and the events in Kushtia. “So you fucking knew you were at risk? And you let Tricia walk in here without warning her?”

“Well, I’d only just told Clegg about it and .. “

“Fucking great. One of my team is sitting fuck knows fucking where and all because you hadn’t got round to cosying up with her and letting her know just what you’d been fucking about at in the mountains.”

“Harry, it’s not like that.”

“In just what fucking way do you think it’s not fucking like that?”

“Harry, it’s not going to help us, is it? I’m as keen as you are to see her back.”

He seemed to calm down a bit. “Yeah, well, OK sure. Look, who knew you were in Kushtia?”

“I dunno, a few people around the business. I hadn’t made a secret about it around here. I’ve been trying to let people know how well this stuff has been going, you know. Nobody outside the business apart from the Kushtians, though, as far as I know.”

“So how did this Cora know to turn up to meet you in Kolin?”

“I guess the Kalinin spoke to the Ambassador or the Trade Minister asked for her.” I told him the story of my first meeting with Cora at the hotel and the subsequent meeting with the Trade Minister

“But he didn’t need a translator did he? So why would he have bothered? Although he obviously had the hots for her already. But he didn’t need to invite her along to the meeting to set her up, did he?”

“No, no, I guess not.”

“I’ll see what I can find out. My suggestion would be to stay out of the way for a while. Go find somewhere quiet where no one from this world is likely to find you. Check your mobile message box but do it from a landline. I’ll get Freddie to leave you a message when it’s safe to come out.”

“I’d like to help to get Tricia back.”

“Yeah well. I don’t think that’s a great idea unless there’s no alternative. I mean, I know you’ve come on a bit but this could all get a bit messy and if there’s going to be any mess with one of my team then I’ll sort it out. Just lose yourself, right?”

“Hang on. Look, if they’ve snatched her to get at me, they’re going to turn up with some sort of demand aren’t they? I need to be around for that. If they can’t reach me what will they do to Tricia?”

“Well, I dunno.” Harry was considering my remarks when Freddie walked into the chaos.

“This is a mess, Harry,” he said. I didn’t think he meant my flat.

“Yeah, I’m going to fix it,” said Harry.

“Larry,” Freddie said, seeing my discomfort, “I think you need to let Harry handle this.”

We were debating the point when my mobile beeped to say I had a new text message. It was from Tricia’s number. “Larry,” it said, “if you’ve been to the flat you’ll know what this is about. Keep H & F out of it. TXT U L8R. T.”

I showed it to Harry & Freddie. “Guess I can’t really stay out of this.”

Freddie looked at the phone and agreed reluctantly. “Well, it looks as if you’re in it if we like it or not.” Harry snorted. “I guess you’ll just have to pick up the messages and play it as it seems.” Suddenly he seemed to be losing interest. “No point in us complicating things. We’ll only fall over one another. Maybe we’ll be able to help.” Harry tried to interrupt. “No, Harry, I think we’ll back off on this one. Leave it to Larry. It’s his problem. We’ve got enough to do.”

I wasn’t happy with that and Harry didn’t look happy either but Freddie was insistent. I didn’t see why Freddie was washing his hands of it. I had wanted to be involved with helping to get Tricia back but now it looked like I was on my own. I hadn’t the faintest idea what I was going to do. I’d have to play it by ear.

“Now,” said Clegg, changing the subject, “have you been able to do anything about that request from Steve Glennis? I wouldn’t want us to fall down on that one.”

I glowered at him. “Freddie, I’ve got other things on my mind.”

“Sure, sure,” he said “but you need to keep busy. You can’t do anything about this for a while – see what you can do for Steve. Got to look after the customers.”

Chapter 35: Tracking Tricia

I hated to admit it but Freddie was right. There wasn’t much else I could do after I had put the flat back together again so I went in to the office as usual. I reckoned the kidnappers would find me if they had something to say.

I tried to do some work on the Glennis request. I’m not a big fan of desk research, it’s pretty dull to start with, but sometimes it’s the only way to find out what you need to know. Normally I do this stuff to analyse markets; this time it was to look for a potential target but the principles are the same. You aim to gather up the right sources and then work through them looking for clues, linking things together. Since Freddie had OK’d my thoughts on including a focus on British middle and upper class targets as one of our market niches, I’d been building up a library of stuff that might help us understand the market better. I’d got a pile of back numbers of ‘Country Life’ and ‘Horse and Hound’ and a copy of “Debrett’s Peerage & Baronettage”. For this project I added a few copies of Carriage Horse – the magazine for the British Horse Driving Trials Association. After that it was a matter of flogging through them. Looking at Carriage Horse for accounts of event winners and championship holders; checking out the “Lady This” or “Honourable That” in Debrett’s and rooting through the other magazines for pictures that might give some clue as to whether they passed the Steve Glennis “can I tell if this is a woman or a horse?” test.

At the end of it all I had four possible candidates. The favourite, mainly on looks – not in the least bit horsy, I thought - was Lady Angela Marchmont. I dashed off an email to Research to do me a full profile of her and the other three. It worried me a bit. I’d worked all morning and I’d hardly thought about Tricia at all.

Rick phoned to give me an update on Rachel. They’d had quite a few “assisted conversations” as he termed it. He reckoned they had quite a good fix on what had gone on as a result. Turns out she’d studied psychology at college – they’d done a module on some of the brain washing techniques used in the cold war. It was primitive stuff then but apparently we’d used the ideas as the basis for our initial preparation. Apparently Rachel was a big fan of the Ipcress File – a book by Len Deighton and a movie in the sixties with Michael Caine. In the movie, Caine’s character distracts himself from the brainwashing by using pain – he drives a nail into the palm of his hand during the brainwashing sessions. Rachel had been using the same approach, but without leaving any marks. She’d retreated into the pain and humiliation of her rapes, counting them off inside her head. They’d got her to vocalise it under sedatives. Rick said he’d play me the tapes. He thought that now he could fix her. It was good news, I guessed, but I was still thinking about my own problems. Getting the writer back on stream wasn’t very high up the list.

My mobile bleeped again later that evening. It was Tricia’s number again, another text. “Dont 4get the shopping. We need some wine.” I guessed that this was setting up some sort of a meeting and the local supermarket seemed as safe as anywhere as far as I was concerned. I needed some food anyway.

I took a trolley at the door and started making my way up and down the aisles. I got as far as the wine. I’d picked up a couple of bottles of Californian wine when a woman turned into the same aisle. As I went to move along the aisle she pushed her trolley across mine blocking it in. She smiled at me. “You look like you’re looking for something,” she said.

“I’m told supermarkets are a great place to pick up women,” I said, “would you know anything about that?”

“Tricia said you had a sense of humour.” She peered at the bottles in my trolley. “You’d be better off going for a Chilean or South African,” she said, “you’re really paying for the label with those.”

“I don’t drink enough wine to bother with cheap bottles,” I said.

She ignored me. “Are there any of Harry’s team around?” she asked.

“How would I know?” I said. “You’d be more likely to spot them than I am. He’s pretty pissed about this. So is Freddie. But I haven’t seen anything of them for a while.”

“No,” she said, not even bothering to look around. “They seem to have left you to swing. Do you want to see Tricia free?”

“Sure, but I’m guessing that might be hazardous to my health. I’d like to be a hero but I find it a bit of a challenge.”

“All right,” she said, “here’s the deal. Your lady is sitting someplace where she won’t come to any harm. We go for a ride in my car and talk to someone. You get to see her.”



“That still sounds hazardous to my health. Why don’t they just give me a phone call? You’ve got my number.” Another woman turned into the aisle pushing a trolley that held enough shopping to feed a small army for a month.

“Excuse me,” she said pushing between us and picking up a twelve pack of beer before walking on.

I watched as she disappeared around the end of the aisle. The woman I was talking to just smiled. “And the alternative?“ I said.

“Alternative?” the woman looked puzzled.

“Usually there’s an alternative. You do this or we’ll do that?”

“Oh, yes, sorry. Well, if you put it like that. I guess my contact can take out their disappointment on her. That might not be pleasant.”

I was beginning to feel backed into a corner, which I supposed was the idea, but I didn’t want to take more chances than I needed to. “You won’t mind if I just check whether or not you’re carrying a weapon? It’s just that I’ve had a number of unpleasant experiences with women in recent times.”

“Help yourself,” she said. “I’m sure that it’s not uncommon for two people meeting like this to become entangled in an intimate embrace.”

She was right, of course. This wasn’t the place for a conventional frisk down but there were other ways to achieve the same result. I pushed her back against the rack of wine bottles in a reasonable simulation of a passionate grapple. I ran my hands down her body and across her tits. She pushed back against me, helping out and no doubt looking for just the sort of things I was looking for. I groped beneath her skirt, running my hands up the inside of her thighs. She gave a surprised start and pressed her lips against mine. I pushed my tongue between her lips. She kissed me back enthusiastically. Satisfied that she was carrying nothing that might cause me any problems, apart from a well built chest. I backed away.

“Satisfied?” she asked. “Only I thought you might have found something in my fillings, the way your tongue was going.”

“Yeah,” I said. “That’s fine.” I looked up to see two old ladies peering disapprovingly at us from the other end of the aisle. “Maybe we’d better go for that ride. I’m feeling more heroic by the minute.” I turned my trolley towards the check out. “Where are we going then?”

“I shouldn’t bother with the wine,” she said. “There’s plenty there if you fancy a drink.” We both left our trolleys and headed out to the car park. “Now I think we were going for a drive.” She gestured towards a dark saloon car. I followed her to it. She opened the door to the back. “My friend here will keep you company on the drive.” A smartly dressed woman beckoned me inside with a smile that held no warmth at all. I slid onto the bench seat alongside her with considerable trepidation. The car pulled away.

The woman beside me in the back seat handed a scarf to me. “I wonder if you’d mind wearing this” she said, passing me a scarf.

“Around my neck?” I asked ingenuously.

“A blindfold,” she said. “If you don’t mind.” I didn’t see how it was likely to make things worse so I did as she asked. “Thank you,” she said, politely. “That’s most helpful.”

We drove for an hour or more, I guessed. There wasn’t any conversation. Then the car stopped. My back seat companion pulled off the blindfold. We were already inside a garage. I heard the door sliding shut behind us. The woman from the supermarket opened the door of the car and we both got out. She pointed to a door at the end of the garage. “Through there,” she said. I opened it and went through into a darkened room. I wasn’t really surprised when the door shut behind me with the disturbing clunk of a lock closing. It was pitch black.

It became brighter slowly as two red lamps in the ceiling began to glow. As the lights went up it became obvious that I was in a well equipped dungeon. The walls were lined with padded red leather, racks to one side held a selection of whips, tawses and floggers while pegs on the end wall held hanks of rope in various thicknesses and colours. I heard a quiet groan from above and behind me.

Swinging close to the ceiling, out of my reach, was a ball shaped steel cage. The cage was locked shut with a huge padlock. Inside, naked, shackled and ring gagged, struggled a helpless and indignant Tricia. She became more animated as she saw me but I couldn’t make any sense of her distorted speech. Wires ran from clamps on her nipples and labia to a small pedestal beside a door. I was angered by what I saw but it was obvious I wouldn’t get anywhere without a key to the padlock. I was staring up at her as I heard a door opening behind me. I turned around.

A doorway on the other side of the dungeon swung open. Standing in the door way was the figure of a woman clad in a suit of skin tight, black leather. The suit was criss-crossed with leather straps that emphasised her ample breasts. Over it she wore a waist-cinching corset. Her face was covered by a mask of the same black leather. From the back of her head erupted a pony tail wig of exaggerated blondness. She was carrying a heavy whip, wearing stilt heeled, knee length boots, and stood with her hands on her hips confronting me. A strap-on dildo rose with exaggerated tumescence from her crotch, giving her the look of a female Priapus.

“You’ve caused me a lot of problems, Mr Ross,” she said in a gravelly, gruff, voice that suggested a lifetime’s use of cigarettes and whisky.

“Problems?” I said. “I can’t think how.”

“You activities for Mr Clegg,” she said, huskily. “Let us say, I don’t entirely approve of your approach to the market. It interferes with those of my own businesses. I am sure you understand that this is a world in which the status quo is so easily disrupted.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” I said. “There’s enough business to go around if I believe my research. The problem is supply, not demand.”

The woman gave a grunt and ignored my remark. “I though that you should have the opportunity to see that your young lady is in good hands.” She gestured to the cage. “But her future well being depends a lot on your suggesting to Mr Clegg that he changes his approach to the market. We’d be much happier if he went back to something more traditional.”

“I don’t think Mr Clegg is very amenable to suggestions about his business from outsiders.”

“I’m sure but I’d like you to give him this,” the leather clad, masked woman passed a sealed envelop to me. “Now if you go back through that door, she gestured to the way I had come in.

”My girls will take you back.” She turned towards Tricia. “Say good-bye to Mr Ross, dear,” she growled, turning a knob on the pedestal beside her.

Tricia bleated in pain as an electric shock stabbed at her nipples and labia. I started towards the dominatrix. “Oh, no, Mr Ross,” she said huskily, pulling a pistol from a drawer in the pedestal. “Definitely not. Now do take that envelope to Freddie or it really will be goodbye to Tricia and not ‘au revoir’. And I’m sure you wouldn’t want that.”

I looked down at the envelope and gave a last look at Tricia in the cage. She whimpered into her gag. Fuming, I turned towards the door. My chaperone was waiting with the blindfold.

Chapter 36: A Legacy or Trussed

Harry listened sympathetically to my account of my trip to the dungeon. He looked across at Freddie who was sitting back with his feet up on his desk, staring away and out through the window, apparently disinterested. The envelop and paper lay discarded on Clegg’s desk, ignored. As I concluded he swung himself around to face me.

“Fine, fine,” he said.

“With respect, Freddie,” I responded, “it isn’t fine by my books. What are we going to do?”

“Do?” said Freddie. “Oh, I’m not sure we need to do anything. Well not about the dungeon anyway, not right now. I think I know what’s going on. If that letter was meant to irritate me, it has certainly done so. The only problem is that it also confirms what I suspected. I think we may know where young Tricia is. Harry done some research haven’t you?” Harry nodded with a grim smile. “And we have a little job set up.”

“I thought you were leaving me to get on with this?” I said.

“Larry, you don’t want to believe everything I say. I don’t even always believe me, myself. Now I am assuming you want to join in with this?”

Harry leant forward with a conspiratorial air. “You remember that first burglary you came out with Tricia and me on?” he said. I nodded. “Well, I think we need to go on another.”

“We’re going to rescue her?”

“No, not exactly,” said Freddie. “There’s some collateral I want to pick up first. Just in case of any problems.”

“Does this help Tricia?” I asked.

“We think so. Maybe. Certainly it’ll make me feel better about things,” Freddie said. They wouldn’t explain any more but I trusted their judgement. I certainly hadn’t come up with any ideas.

A day later, we ended up outside of an office in a run down building not far from our Whitechapel office. The dimpled glass panel on the door carried some old fashioned black and gold lettering. “Shuster, Siegel & Kent,” it said, “Solicitors & Commissioners for Oaths”.

I took one look at the threadbare carpet outside the door and the damp stain spreading from a corner of the window frame. “Super,” I said, “really super.”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Freddie. “We’re only borrowing it. It’s just what we need for this job.”

Clegg knocked on the door. A voice from inside called, “It’s open. Turn the handle.” Freddie led the way. The girl sitting at the desk looked up, evidently surprised by the idea of customers. “Uhhuh?” she asked. I’d known women that were more articulate with a two inch rubber ball in their mouth.

Clegg persevered. “Good afternoon.”

The girl sat with her arms folded. “They’re not here. None of them. Mr Shuster’s out. Mr Siegel’s away and Mr Kent is not coming in this week.”

“Oh, dear,” said Freddie, at his most conciliatory, “I had hoped to be able to consult with one of your team. Is it really just yourself here?”

“Oh, what? Well. No. There’s her.”


“She’s their para – whatsit. Parallel?”


“S’wot I said. Miss Lane, she is. But they don’t usually let her talk to anyone.”

“I’m sure she’ll be able to help,” Clegg said patiently, “Even if it’s just to suggest whether Mr Kent, Mr Siegel or Mr Shuster would be best able to help us with our problem. Perhaps you could show us through.”

“S’pose so. You’d better come through.” She got up and showed us past her desk, not towards either of the three large glass panelled doors behind her but to a solid wooden door between two enormous filing cupboards. Whereas each of the glass panelled doors proclaimed the identity of their occupants in gold lettering there was simply a card pinned to this door with the word “Lane” handwritten on it in felt tipped pen. The receptionist opened it without knocking. The office’s occupant didn’t seem surprised to be disturbed without warning. “Gentlemen for you,” said the receptionist.

The smartly dressed girl behind the desk looked up with a smile. “Hullo,” she said. “How can I help?” The smile turned to a look of alarm as she watched Clegg pull a gun from his jacket. In the same moment Harry had one hand over the receptionist’s mouth and another around her waist, pulling her back against him and stifling her cries.

“We need to borrow your offices for a while,” Clegg said. “I do hope you won’t mind.” The girl’s hands flew to her mouth. The receptionist was kicking spiritedly against Harry’s hold. He swung her around and slammed her against a rack of files. File boxes fell to the floor with a crash. Her struggles subsided a bit.

I knew what to do. I took the reel of tape from my pocket, grabbed the girl in the chair by the wrists and taped them to the arms of her seat. A wad of sponge followed the tape from my pocket. I pushed it into her resisting mouth and taped over it. I taped each of her ankles over to the legs of the chair and did the same with her knees. It left her a bit exposed; she didn’t look happy with the way that Freddie was checking out her legs.

Harry wrestled the receptionist to the floor. She was still struggling, squealing and kicking as he wrenched her wrists behind her to tape them together. He didn’t seem bothered by her efforts. He taped her ankles as he had done her wrists and then ran a short strip of tape between wrists and ankles bending her backwards in a vicious hog tie. He wound more tape around her arms and chest.

We finished the two of them off with pads over their eyes, wax ear plugs and tape to keep it all in place; there was no need to bother them with what we were up to. Not that I knew what was going on anyway. I still didn’t see how this was helping to get Tricia back.

It was a little while later when we’d installed ourselves in Shuster’s office that Clegg’s four guests arrived. Two of them were women in their mid-forties, two of them young girls. The two older ones looked rather similar; both carried themselves with the air of women that had gone through life without too many problems and seemed as if they felt that their future lives should continue in the same vein.

“Ah, excellent. Come in,” said Clegg, waving them through into Shuster’s office. “Come in.”

The taller of the two women peeled off her gloves. “I hope this isn’t going to take too long,” she said.

“No, no, I don’t think so,” Clegg responded. The two girls were nosing around the office, managing to combine an air of curiosity with a sense of utter boredom. “Do please sit down, though.” The two women did so. The two girls continued to prowl.

The taller of the two girls picked up a paperweight from the desk. “Don’t do that Beth,” the woman said to the girl. “I am sorry,” she said to Clegg. “Now what was it you wanted? Something about a legacy, you said.”

“Yes,” said Clegg. “I just must make sure that you are the individuals concerned. You have the necessary identification?”

“Oh yes,” the woman said, rummaging in her handbag. She pulled out four passports. “This is me, Alice,” she said passing one over. “My sister, Carol here and my two daughters, Beth and Ella.” Clegg smiled at the two girls. They both scowled back, evidently irritated at being dragged into some dusty office by their mother.

“Ah, good,” said Clegg examining the passports. “These are fine. And I can see they confirm the girls are of legal age – it makes everything so much simpler, you understand.”

“Quite,” said the woman.

“Now this legacy relates to an individual, her siblings and her immediate descendants. Can I confirm that is yourselves.”

“Yes, that’s right. This is my only sister and my only children.

“I see. Good, that seems to be in order. Well, as I explained, the legacy is to the wife of the purchaser of this particular property, 64 Lisson Way. It’s a little curious, I will admit, for someone to leave money in this way but not unknown. Oh, you did keep this confidential, didn’t you? As I said, the will clearly states that the wife’s husband must not be informed. I think the individual concerned was particularly keen to see that women had a source of income completely independent of their husbands.”

“Of course. We didn’t wish to do anything to jeopardise the possibility of gaining the inheritance.” Alice said bluntly.

“Excellent,” said Clegg. “Well then it’s just a matter of providing proof of ownership of the property. Do you have the details?”

Alice passed across an envelope. Clegg opened it and pulled out some papers. “Fine,” he said, examining them, “that’s fine. And this property was acquired by your husband recently?”

“Yes, that’s right. Well, in fact I didn’t really know about it until you contacted me. I found the details in his desk. I can’t think why he was being so secretive.”

“Oh, I expect he was hoping to use it as an investment. Many of the properties in that area are bought and then rented out. Perhaps he wanted to surprise you?” Alice looked sceptical.

There was the sound of a heavy thump. It had obviously come from Ms Lane’s office. “If you’ll excuse me,” I said. “We’re having some alterations done. I had asked them to make sure we were not disturbed but, well, I am sure you know how it is…. I’ll just go and deal with it.”

Clegg smiled and I left them to it. As I suspected the noise had been caused by our other two guests attempting to escape. Ms Lane had managed to tip her chair over on its back which had evidently caused the noise that I had heard. She’d made no progress in freeing herself though and all she had to show for her efforts was a cut on the back of her head where she had fallen against the radiator that ran beneath the window behind her. She groaned as much in frustration as pain, I imagined, as I put her chair back on its four legs. I checked that the receptionist was still helpless. The tape was still doing its job in her case too. I made my way back to join Clegg, Harry and their guests. “All fine,” I said. “Sorry about that.” The four women turned towards me. Freddie was evidently happy to take advantage of the distraction. When they looked back at Clegg they found themselves staring into the barrel of Clegg’s gun.

“I am afraid I’ve misled you ladies.” The four women gasped. Alice made to get to her feet but Clegg shook his head and waved her back into her seat with the barrel of his gun. “Would you be good enough to put these on please?” He tossed four pairs of handcuffs onto the desk. “Beth, Ella, perhaps you could help your mother and her sister,” Clegg said politely. The two girls stared at him, rigid with terror. “Do it, you stupid cunts!” he barked. “Hands behind your backs, you two,” he ordered Alice and Carol who were already whimpering with fear. With the two older women secured, he had Beth handcuff Ella before putting the cuffs on the last of the women himself. “Tape them up,” he said turning to Harry, “and we’ll be on our way. Do you want to bring the other two?”

“I’m not bothered,” said Harry, as he started to wrap tape across Carol’s mouth, “probably just a complication. Not worth it, I’d say.”

Freddie looked at me. “Any of your lot want them?” he asked. I shook my head; the more I did with account clients the less need I saw for random pick-ups. “OK, make a bit of a mess. Our hosts will think they’ve been turned over by ungrateful clients. Then let’s get going,” said Freddie, grabbing the two daughters by the arms and hustling them towards a back door that led out onto a fire escape. Harry followed with Carol. I turned over a few files and pulled some drawers out of the desks and cabinets. It’s surprising how much of a mess you can make quite quickly. I grabbed hold of Alice and pushed her along behind the others. Freddie led the way to one of our regular white vans and our captives were soon installed in the back. Clegg shut the doors.

“Aren’t you going to blindfold them?” I asked.

“No point,” he said, climbing in to the driving seat.

“Why,” I asked as Clegg passed Harry the envelope that Alice had given him. Harry waved it in acknowledgement and headed off to his own vehicle. The van pulled away with me in the front alongside Freddie, our cargo moaning quietly behind us. “Where’s Harry off to? Where are we going?”

“We’re taking them to their home,” said Clegg mysteriously, without explaining about Harry. I sat back and wondered just what it was Clegg was up to. Most of the kidnappings I had seen so far had involved taking the captive away from their homes, not the other way around. And I still didn’t see how it was going to help Tricia.

Chapter 37: Best Served Cold

Clegg drove the van up to a comfortable looking detached house just as night was falling. He tossed me Carol’s handbag. “You’ll find a door key in there, I guess,” he said. “No point in busting the door in if we don’t need to.”

Sure enough I found a key and went off to open the door while Freddie checked out our cargo. I went back to the van as Clegg was dragging the two girls to the van’s tail board. “Cut the tape on their ankles,” he said, “and we’ll get them inside.”

Soon all four women were in the hall of the house, mmphing with shock at where they were. “Through here, I think,” said Clegg, opening a door to the living room. He pushed Alice and Carol inside. I followed with Beth and Ella. Freddie pushed his two captives down on the settee and went to close the curtains. “There,” he said, “nice and cosy.” He looked at his watch. “We’ve got some time, why don’t we have some fun?” he said as he looked at his watch. He sat down between Alice and Carol, running the barrel of his pistol up the legs of each in turn.

I didn’t really understand what was going on. Clegg was normally so measured and contained. Now he was showing a rapacious side as he started to toy with Alice’s blouse. “Looks like this little lady has quite nice tits. I’m sure her daughters have too. Why don’t we see?”

Beth and Ella started complaining at once. Freddie hefted his gun and pushed the barrel up under the hem of Alice’s skirt, jamming it against her crotch. She gave a terrified squeal. “Not a good idea, girlies,” said Freddie, “You wouldn’t want Mummy to get hurt would you?” Then turning to me he said, “Undo their wrists, old man, but leave their gags on. Get them stripped down to their underwear.” Carol and Alice were wriggling and grunting their objections. Freddie jammed the gun up against Alice still the harder and snarled at Carol, “You’d better behave too.”

I got the girls undressed down to bras and pants. Beth struggled a bit. I had to slap her back into line before she’d strip off her jeans and top. Ella was less trouble when she saw the treatment her sister got. Freddie to tie them up again so I taped each girl’s wrists together behind their backs and then taped their elbows close together too. It made them whimper but it gave Freddie a view of their tits that he seemed to appreciate.

“Very nice,” said Freddie, admiringly. “They do take after their mother, don’t they? So well developed for what was it Beth, 18? And Ella, 19? Firm and with a rather agreeable fullness, I think we'll all agree. I wonder about Carol?” Freddie grinned humourlessly. “Yes, let her get her top off will you?” I cut through the tape around her wrists. Carol pulled off her sweater under threat from Freddie’s gun and then took off her bra, fumbling with the catch behind her back as Freddie continued to threaten Alice and the two girls. Carol's tits were heavier than her sister’s with large, dark brown, areolas. Freddie looked approving as he told her to come and kneel beside them and I taped her wrists securely once again. Freddie was toying with Alice’s tits through her blouse. “So many tits,” he said. “I’m spoilt for choice. The older women or the daughters. Ah, difficult decisions. Ella you come here.”

I pulled her up and pushed her towards Clegg. The girl joined the three others beside Freddie. He grabbed her by the back of her neck and pushed her to her knees. Without pausing he wrenched away the tape that gagged her and pulled out the wad of cloth that filled her mouth. “Stay quiet,” he warned, pushing the barrel of his gun between her lips. “Now what you’re going to do for me is to see if we can’t get Aunty Carol’s tits to perk up a bit. You’re going to kiss and nuzzle at them and see if Aunty Carol likes that.” Ella gave a choked grunt of objection. Freddie thumbed back the hammer on the gun. Ella gave a muffled squeal. Alice tried to struggle away from Clegg. He grinned at their ineffectual protests, pulled the pistol barrel from Ella’s mouth and jerked his hand back, catching Alice full in the face with the back of his hand with the weight of the gun behind it. Her head snapped back, a small cut over her eyebrow. Ella began to sob. “Do it!” ordered Clegg.

Ella complied, still sobbing and begging us to let them all go. Carol tried to ignore the bites, licks, teasing and kissing that Freddie was forcing Ella to perform but in spite of herself I saw her nipples stiffening. “There,” said Freddie smugly, “Aunty Carol is enjoying that.” She shook her head and looked down at the floor in shame. Freddie just laughed. “Only problem is, poor little Beth is feeling left out and we can’t have that can we.” Beth shook her head vigorously. I guessed that she wasn’t complaining about being left out at all. “Quite right young Beth,” laughed Freddie. “Why don’t you give Aunty Carol a nice kiss.” He got up from the couch and grabbed Beth by the arm pulling her across the room. Taking her gag off, he pushed her to her knees alongside her sister and forced her head between her aunt’s thighs, up under her skirt. “Now,” said Freddie, “I’m sure you’ll have done this with your sister or one of the other girls you know.” Beth shook her head vigorously to Freddie’s laughter. “Aunty Carol is really going to like being kissed down there, so get started.” He draped Carol’s skirt back over Beth’s head. “And get started,” he snarled, grabbing by her bound wrists and pushing them up her back to force her forwards. “I want to see some results.”

Ella had pulled away from Carol’s nipples. “No one told you to stop,” Clegg barked, slapping her face and pushing her back to work. The two girls, fearfully sobbing, set back to work. Carol, unable to respond because of her terror, groaned through her gag. Clegg said, “Excellent,” pulled off Alice’s gag and dragged her from the couch. She tried to speak, coughing and sobbing as the gag came free of her mouth. “Please stop,” she begged. “Let the girls go. I’ll do anything you say, please.”

Freddie grinned at her. “You’ll do anything I say? I know that, you stupid bitch! We’re not letting anyone go.” He pulled at the front of her dress tearing it open. She begged him not to hurt them. He pushed her down on all fours, pulled Beth’s panties down and pushed Alice’s head up against her daughter’s arse. “Now help your daughter out, get your tongue on her rim,” he said. “Show her how it’s done and she can do the same thing for Alice. And just by way of encouragement…” From behind, he pushed her skirt and slip up over her buttocks, dragged down her panties and tights. Unzipping the fly of his trousers, took her doggy style as her face was forced up between Beth’s buttocks. She groaned in shame and fear and tried to pull her face from her daughter’s backside. She was rewarded with a back-handed blow to her head that sent her falling back to her task again.

The five of them made a tableau of threat, fear, lust, despair and abandon. As Clegg was pushing home against Alice’s buttocks, she in turn was tonguing her daughter. Beth and Ella, terrified by the situation continued to torment Carol. All five were grunting and groaning in misery, fear and humiliation.

The living room door opened. Into the debauched scene walked Harry, pushing in front of him the bound, helpless and struggling form of the dominatrix, wearing the same leather outfit that I had seen her wearing in the dungeon with Tricia. “Well done Harry,” said Clegg, pulling back from Alice’s buttocks. Sinking back into one of the arm chairs he grabbed Beth by the hair, forced her to her knees and pushed her face into his crotch, demanding that she take his engorged cock deep into her mouth. She was coughing and choking as he wrenched at her hair and thrust forward with his hips to push his cock deeper into her throat.

The dominatrix wriggled and bellowed with fury. Tricia came into the room, holding an old blanket wrapped around herself. Purple rings of bruises on her ankles and wrists testified to how she had been held captive. Apart from that, she looked OK.

“Ah, you managed to get your girl back too,” said Clegg. “Fine.” For the first time I realised that Tricia had been seen as expendable in this, all Clegg was concerned about was that his business wasn’t being messed around with. “Do take off our guest’s hood, Harry,” said Clegg, nodding towards the dominatrix and pushing Beth’s head back down as she tried to gulp for air.

Harry grinned and unlaced the leather mask that his captive was wearing. As he pulled it clear the identity of the struggling, leather clad, dominatrix became clear.

“Hello, Brian,” Clegg said. “How nice to see you. Your family are doing a much better job of looking after my interests than you appear to have done. I’ve been having such fun with your family. Such a delight to meet your wife; a shame we hadn’t met before. And these daughters of yours too. Fancy keeping them hidden away. And your sister in law too! My, my, Brian, quite a little harem. Oh, I don’t suppose your wife realised that you and Carol had a bit of a thing going, did she?” Brian growled. Alice gasped. Clegg gave a grunt as he came into Beth’s throat. The girl started choking but Clegg made no attempt to withdraw, instead, enjoying the pulsing sensation of the orgasm as his crotch pressed against the girls face.

“You bastard, Clegg!” the unmasked ‘dominatrix’ exclaimed. “Let my family go.” The women tried to turn around at the sound of Alice’s husband. Clegg slapped each of them in turn to put them back to their tasks. Brian tried to start forward in defence of his family but Harry simply grabbed the chain that linked his wrists and dragged him back.

“Now let’s see how much of this I’ve worked out, shall we?” said Clegg getting to his feet, zipping his fly and knocking Beth to the floor in the process. Clegg’s cum dribbled from her mouth as she coughed and sobbed. The others were all left crying, cowering together in a heap in the corner of the room. It was clear that none of them had the slightest idea of the business that Brian had been involved in, much less his recent misdemeanours. “You decided that our friend Larry here was making things complicated for you, cutting down the need for auctions. Now I think you’ve been taking a slice – enough to fund that little fun nest where your two lady friends run that dungeon and where you’ve been keeping Tricia. I can’t prove it but I think that’s what has been going on. So you want to discourage Larry and you tried to have him snatched in Kushtia. Very silly that – there weren’t too many people who knew he was going; you, me, Harry, Rick and Sebastian. I was reasonably sure it was someone inside the business and I didn’t like the idea of that. I know Larry has been shaking up things for us but we haven’t really upped the number of girls we are taking overall so I didn’t think that any of our competitors would really be hurting. I couldn’t see that Harry, Rick or Seb had any reason for doing this. But you, well, the numbers from your side haven’t been getting any better, have they Brian, old man? And Larry’s work has really been helping us stay afloat.”

Brian tried again to break free but without success. “I’m not sure how you set up the girl at the Embassy. What was her name? Cora. You can’t just have been lucky although Larry here certainly was. Perhaps we’ll have a chat about that? Perhaps the Minister can have a chat at his end? Maybe she was working for one of other firms; someone you were helping out with special prices maybe? Not sure if you’ve that clever but that might cause a few problems if we’ve now upset someone that thought they were going to get a slice of the trade to Kushtia. Still, I’m sure we’ll get to the bottom of that. Won’t we, old man?

“Then of course you made a very big mistake. I’m sure you realised I wouldn’t like being threatened,” Freddie held up the envelope and the letter that I’d been given in the dungeon. “But perhaps you thought it would annoy me enough to move Larry here on. The only thing is Brian, old man, if you’re going to send threatening letters don’t use our office stationery.” Freddie held the letter up to the light, The Clegg logo was clearly visible as a watermark. “That really wasn’t clever. It just confirmed what I thought. And I must say I didn’t like that idea at all. Then when I found out about the Lisson Way property I thought that would probably be where you were hiding our Tricia. Harry did the rest.”

“Freddie…” Brian began.

Clegg got to his feet, “Sorry, old man, I’m not really interested.” As Brian tried to break free of Harry’s hold, Clegg reached forward and jammed the envelope and paper into Brian’s mouth. He coughed and choked in response. “I’m sure we’ll find someone to take you off our hands,” said Freddie. “Larry, I know, will be keen to find a customer. It could be a new line for us - male slaves. Perhaps that Daphne Challis you got on so well with at the video screening might be interested. And you’ll be anxious to show how willing you are to make amends by having your family help us out too. The two girls should fetch a price and Alice and Carol seem to have their uses. Should help the numbers, old man, should help the numbers.” Brian was still struggling to break free from Harry’s hold but without success. Freddie smiled and went on, “Just so you know Brian, old man, people who fuck with my little family find that their family gets fucked with!”

Clegg turned to the women. “Get this lot into Prep, Harry,” he said. “I’ll be up at the Centre tomorrow and I want to see them naked, collared and shaved. And you can let Rick’s team know they’re all on the available list.” The women looked shocked and confused. Brian was at once terrified and furious. “And that includes him,” Clegg pointed at Brian. “Get someone from the team to go through here and get anything that looks like theirs into the incinerators. Clothes, jewellery, everything, I‘d hate them to think there was anything of their past life they could go back to.” He went across to where Alice was sprawled on the floor, her dress torn and cum smeared, her two daughters and sister crowding close to her as if by doing so they could avoid Clegg’s attentions. He reached up to Alice’s neck and tore her string of pearls from her. “Start with this,” Clegg snarled tossing them into the middle of the room. “And don’t forget this one’s wedding ring. I’d hate her to have some reason to remember what got her into this.”

“Well,” said Tricia, as Harry was about to hustle Brian and the women out to the van, “If we’re taking him into stock, I wonder if I might help out with some of the orientation sessions at the Prep Centre. I think there’s a whole lot I can do to help get him ready for his new life.” Her grin could only have increased his apprehension.

It was a side of Tricia that I hadn’t seen before but I understood how she felt and I was just glad she was back safe and sound even if Freddie hadn’t been worried. And if I’d ever had any doubts about Clegg’s ruthless determination to have things the way he wanted, they were certainly gone now.

End of part 5