Market Forces
Part 10
by Freddie Clegg

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

Chapter 71: Island Jaunt

While Harry and Rick set up the colonial collection I arranged to take my trip to see Steve.

I felt I should let Kelly know that I wasn’t going to be around for a while and the night I was due to leave I wasn’t far from her place so I thought I’d drop in. I tried her mobile a couple of times but didn’t get a reply.

I got to her house. It looked as if she was there. The car was outside and there were lights on. I rang the bell. There wasn’t any answer but I was sure I could hear people moving around inside. I rang the bell again, longer this time. Eventually through the frosted glass of the front door I saw someone coming.

Kelly opened the door. Dressed in a black polo and slacks she looked pretty hot, but she didn’t seem too happy to see me. “Oh,” she said, “It’s you.”

“Hmm,” I said. “Not a great welcome. Shall I go away?”

Kelly looked apologetic and a little embarrassed. “Sorry,” she said and then laughed. ”It’s just …. Oh look, come on in, you’ll get the picture.” She led the way up the hall. I shut the door behind me.

We got to the living room and I saw what she was embarrassed about. Sprawled on her living room floor were two helplessly bound and gagged women. “This is Larry, a friend of mine,” Kelly said to the two of them. “Don’t worry, he’s cool with this.”

From the looks on their faces I didn’t think they were.

“Larry, this is Brianna,” Kelly pointed to a hog-tied red head, rolling from side to side on the floor as she struggled against the ropes that tied her wrists, ankles, knees and elbows. Her mouth was filled with a knot tied into the middle of a scarf that was gagging her but she was still able to communicate that she wasn’t happy with my arrival. “and this is Sue.” Alongside the red head, a girl with short blond hair was struggling with her own bonds. Both were fully clothed; Sue in a pale blue dress, Brianna in brown trousers and a cream sweater. Kelly turned back to me. “Do you want some tea,” she asked impishly. I nodded. She said, “Have a seat, I won’t be a minute.”

I sat down on the couch, Kelly’s two captive friends struggling and mewling at my feet. Kelly was evidently quite proficient in her use of ropes. Neither of the girls showed much sign of being able to get free.

True to her word, Kelly didn’t take long. She emerged from the kitchen with two mugs of tea. She sat down on the couch alongside me.

“I didn’t have you down for doing the tying,” I said.

“It’s not ideal,” said Kelly. “We take turns.” Brianna and Sue looked distressed that Kelly was discussing things but they couldn’t really object. “I’m going to be in real trouble when it’s their go after this.” Brianna gave her an affirming nod. “Still what the hell.” She leant forward and rolled Sue over on her face. As she sat back on the couch with her tea, she put her feet on Sue’s bottom, using her as a foot stool. The girl gave a muffled whimper of protest. “Now, what can I do for you?” Kelly asked.

“I don’t know that it’s the best time,” I said, nodding to the two girls that were still struggling on the floor. “I’m going to be away for a while, so I thought I’d come and say to look after yourself while I’m away.”

“That’s nice,” said Kelly. “It’s a shame though. Maybe you could have come around and tie all three of us up.” Brianna and Sue took to grunting their protests.

“Sounds like you have some persuading to do,” I said, though the idea of the three of them, trussed up for fun had a considerable appeal. “Look, I’ll leave you to this. I’ll give you a call when I get back.”

Kelly looked down at the two helpless girls. “Yeah,” she said, “It’s probably best. I’ll see you out.”

We walked out to the hall together. As I stopped at the door I kissed her. She kissed me back, enthusiastically. “I meant what I said about the three of us,” she said. “They will have so got off on this, you know.”

“And I meant what I said about look after yourself,” I replied. “I’m not sure how long I’ll be away.”

“You look after yourself too, then,” she said, and we parted.

The flight out to Barbados was uneventful – just how I like them. The security routines at the airport were particularly tedious, especially since I knew that a container was going out, with a couple of girls doped and helpless, in the hold of the same aircraft that I was sitting in. “Did you pack your bags yourself, sir?” : “Yes.” : “Does your checked baggage contain any of the following prohibited items?” : “No, but there is a 24 year old blonde and a 30 year old brunette that you might be interested in……” Customs and Immigration at Grantley Adams International were no problem. Then it was just a short taxi ride down to Bridgetown Harbour in order to meet up with Steve’s seaplane.

The pilot put the Beaver down close to the pier and as we taxied in I could see someone waiting in the dusk as the sun set. I climbed out of the ‘plane, grabbed my bag from the back seat – no helpless mewling female cargo this time – and stepped across from the Beaver’s float and on to the wooden jetty.

“Hi,” said a voice. “You must be Larry. Steve asked me to meet you.”

I looked up from my bag to see the broad smile of Lady Marchmont. She extended a hand and I reached forward to take it. “Hi,” I said, puzzled somewhat to see her walking around without at least some sign of restraints. She was wearing the shortest of denim cut-offs and a sleeveless denim shirt tied off under her tits. There were no cuffs, collars, or shackles that I could see and nowhere to hide them either.

“Leave the bag, I’ll get someone to get it later,” she said. She peered at me. “Have we met before?”

I felt honesty was the best policy. “Mmm,” I said. “You were in hospital in Switzerland and wearing rather a lot of bandages.”

“Of course. You were pushing the trolley. How did things turn out for those nurses? They weren’t too terrible to me.”

I had to confess that I had no idea. The last time I had seen them was when Harry and I had left them hogtied and grunting into bandage wad gags on the bed at the clinic. I guessed that Constanza would have been fairly un-amused with them but I didn’t really know.

I walked back up the jetty with Lady M. Steve emerged from the house as we got to the edge of the lawn. Lady M took off towards him at a run and threw her arms around him. Steve had just managed to disentangle himself by the time I reached the veranda. He put his hand out. “Larry,” he called. “Good to see you again. Thought you’d like to see Angela too.”

I nodded.

“You’ll need a drink.” It wasn’t a question and he knew I didn’t need to answer. “Get us a couple of rum punches, hun,” he said patting Angela’s backside. She wagged a finger at him disapprovingly but laughed and disappeared into the house. Steve watched her go. “Now that,” he said, “has to be one of the best purchases, I’ve made.”

“I’m glad she’s a success,” I said sitting myself down in one of the cane chairs. The view from the veranda looked out to the ocean where the sky at the horizon was fading from dark gold into purple as the last remnants of the sunset disappeared. “She seems to have adjusted to her new life remarkably quickly. I thought she might be wearing a collar at least.”

“She’s an intelligent woman. I explained how things were. She knows that she can go anywhere she likes on the island. She has a lot of freedom here but she knows that there is no way off for her and that if she tried it could be very detrimental to her health. On the other hand she is treated well. Freddie shared with me some of your thoughts on the sexualisation programme. We’re using something similar for Angela, on a much smaller scale of course but it seems to work. She’s very receptive to those ideas and she’s now only too eager to please. I think she’s had a long time of only pleasing herself. She’s glad of the change.”

Anglea reappeared from the house carrying a tray with three fruit and alcohol laden glasses. She put the tray on the table between us and curled up on the floor beside Steve, resting her head against Steve’s thigh. Steve reached down to toy with her hair with one hand while he picked up his drink with the other. I joined him.

We sat there, not talking, just enjoying the early evening. Steve and Angela looked relaxed and comfortable with one another. I downed the last of my punch. “I’ll turn in if that’s OK,” I said.

“Sure,” said Steve. “I know what it’s like. We’ve got an early start tomorrow. There’s a few folk coming in for the meeting. You’re in the end room. Can you find it?”

“Yes,” I said, “I remember.” Mainly what I remembered was that it was where I had first encountered Sukie, It seemed that Steve had a benign influence on the women he acquired. I waved them goodnight and headed off into the house.

The room was just as it was before, the large fan turning slowly in the ceiling, the white louvered shutters propped on by a rattan chair. My bag had been unpacked and my things put away. I tossed my clothes on a chair and fell into bed.

I must have laid awake for twenty minutes or so before I started to doze off so it was through a half asleep haze that I heard the door to my room open.

It was Angela. “Steve thought you might need some help to get to sleep,” she said. I blinked my eyes into focus. The light from the hall outside, shining through the doorway, threw her into silhouette. It was clear that she was naked. Suddenly I didn’t feel quite as sleepy.

“That would be great,” I said turning back the bed sheet to invite her in. She slid into the bed alongside me, her hands on my chest, stroking and running her fingers across my arms.

Although she was naked, I soon realised that almost every part of her body appeared to be adorned with some jewelled ornament. On her head she wore a chain that held a drop pearl in the centre of her forehead. Her neck was encircled by a choker necklace with eight strands of pearls, her arms and ankles carried bracelets and bangles. In each of three piercings in either ear she wore neat gold hoops, those to the front slightly smaller than those to the back. It was as if Steve was presenting her as a gift while showing the regard with which he held her, making the gift more precious still.

Her love making was as generous as it was creative, fired with the same energy and will to please that Rachel and Sukie showed. Rather than taking my mind off things, I ended up feeling homesick. At the end we both fell asleep, her head against my chest.

Chapter 72: Island Ideas

The following day started early. Angela had gone. I heard the drone of aircraft engines as the sun started to stream through the slats of the shutters. I pushed back the shutters expecting to see the Beaver winging in but instead it was a Twin Otter, its two turbo props whining as it banked around to make its approach into the bay.

Steve put his head around my door. “We’re going to start with some breakfast on the veranda, if that’s OK,” he said.

I nodded, took a quick shower, pulled on a shirt and a pair of slacks and headed off to join him.

Steve and Angela were already there with their guests when I reached the veranda. I recognised two of them from my last trip, Narod Jesper and Daphne Challis, the other three were new to me. Steve introduced them. One woman, two men, all Americans. They’d each brought their own slaves - five girls shackled and chained together by their collars were being led shuffling up the path from the jetty.

“Well, hi everybody. Thanks for coming over. I’m sure you’ll have a good few days but I hope you won’t mind if we spend this morning on some business. Some of you will have met Larry here,” Daphne and Jesper nodded, “but for those that haven’t he’s working with a bunch of Brits who are pretty good at sourcing the sort of amusements we all hold dear. I thought it would be useful to give him some first hand input on how you guys see things going.”

The column of shackled girls arrived at the house, looking uncertain about their surroundings. Their neck chains removed, they each knelt beside their owners. Each equally well trained, they knew not to interrupt proceedings.

Jesper kicked things off. He talked about how he had sourced the half dozen slaves he now had in his collection and complained about how difficult it was to get slaves with specific skills. He didn’t seem to know what we’d been doing on customised pick up but there was no real reason why he should, we hadn’t tried to promote what we’d done in the States. I talked a bit about the stuff that Rick had done with the web site and all of Steve’s guests seemed interested. The others chipped in their experiences. Daphne had had some problems with training new intake and some of the preparation techniques being used in the States sounded a bit primitive compared with what we were doing.

There were, however, two themes that the group kept coming back to; toys and new sources.

They were all agreed that the old idea of slaves for house work was disappearing. What was the point of keeping slaves for housework, was the general conclusion. Once you take into account the security costs they are expensive compared with hiring in and they need too much attention. There might be an argument for slaves for agricultural work but why not just use the right machinery. What they wanted slaves for was recreation, for fun. Sometimes (mostly) sexual but sometimes just for companionship. OK some of the recreation might be a bit extreme – one of the women’s eyes really lit up as she described the delight she felt keeping her slave caged under her bed while she fucked one of her male lovers – but it was recreation nevertheless. They also agreed that hey were keeping toys for longer than they had kept slaves before. It took time to find a good one and it wasn’t just a question of the slave’s skills and looks but once you found one you tended to hang on to them.

Daphne was holding forth about her experiences. Narod was looking bored, stroking the hair of the girl kneeling beside him. Angela and two of Steve’s house-slaves arrived with drinks. I hadn’t realised it but most of the morning had already gone. I tried to pull the discussion back to the second point at issue, new sources.

“This one,” Narod said, patting the girl at his side, “is a good example. I found you in cyber space didn’t I, pet?” The girl nodded. “She was looking to be owned, looking to be kept and cared for. Of course, she was maybe looking for something not quite as permanent as she has found but she has at least found that.” The girl looked around at the others. She was kneeling, sitting on her haunches beside Narod. She looked a little embarrassed as she toyed with the chain that ran between her wrists. I could see that she bore a tattoo with the letters N and J entwined together on her right shoulder. “Now the good thing,” Narod went on, “is that this young lady was very cheap to acquire. But,” he stopped. “And it’s a big but. I’ve had to prep and train her myself. That’s a big job and I’ve not done a lot of it. I’d far rather be able to acquire willing source through the current channels, properly prepped and trained but just starting with a willing source. Do you see?”

I nodded. What he was saying fitted in with some of my own prejudices.

The others dived in as well. Each outlining their own experiences of trying to use so-called “willing” sources. By the end of it I could see that there were opportunities for us, if we wanted to follow them up.

Chapter 73: Colonial Collection

I got back to the UK to find complete chaos at Heathrow Airport. The place was stuffed full of armed police. They even had armoured troop carriers lurking around the airport roads. Nobody was saying anything about what was going on. A security alert was the best I could get anyone to admit to. The main focus seemed to be on international departures and I didn’t have any trouble getting out of the airport once we’d been able to find a gate for our aircraft – with no international flights leaving, the place was filling up.

It was the following morning when I heard what had been going on. Allegedly British intelligence had received a tip off from “a credible source” that Chechen terrorists intended to attack an aircraft leaving the UK for Russia.

Wherever that tip off came from, it sounded like they hadn’t found anything or that nothing had been really intended or whoever was planning the attack had been scared off. It was only later that evening that I learned that one very large piece of excrement had come into contact with rotating blades.

“Kremlin Deny Naked Girl Kidnap” the headline on billboards outside the underground station said when I emerged from the office. I picked up a copy of the London Evening News. According to the article the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, successors to the KGB, had denied any involvement in a plot to transport a drugged and naked woman out of the UK in an airline cargo container. The woman had allegedly been discovered during the anti-terrorist alert following a baggage and cargo search of an aircraft flying to St Petersburg. The British Government had refused to comment on security issues, seemingly bouncing the press between the security services, the police, the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office, the Department of Transport and the CAA without anyone giving them enough to confirm their suspicions.

My first reaction was, “bollocks.” It was obviously Tricia. She’d been due for shipping while I was in the Caribbean.

I had a message from Freddie, which seemed to confirm my thoughts. “Don’t bother about the current excitement,” it said. “I’m calling in a few favours.”

By the next day even the Government had given up, trying to avoid commenting. The Daily Mirror had found that a girl had been admitted to hospital near Stansted airport. According to The Mirror, Stansted was handling a lot of cargo traffic to Russia; ATRAN Cargo Airlines, a spin off from Aeroflot, was running transports out of there. Interviews with doctors suggested that the girl was in a seriously confused state, apparently mentally disturbed, and with no memory of her identity. The paper had even managed a shot of the cargo container – or at least a cargo container – it was taken from so far away that in reality it could have been any of a hundred containers lying around at the airport. The questioning caption, “Was This Russian Girl’s Flying Prison?” probably deserved the answer, “Maybe”, “No,” or at best “Who can tell?” but that wasn’t the point.

I tried to reach Freddie and then Elly but I couldn’t get through to either of them. When I found out where they were, I guess I wasn’t surprised to learn that they had flown out for a meeting with Anatoly.

I didn’t think there was much I could do about it, anyway. If there was anything about Tricia’s trip to point to us, then I didn’t think our first problem was going to be “what is the right PR spin to put on this?”

I spoke to Rick, He didn’t think we had too much to worry about. “First,” he said, “she has zero awareness of what’s happened to her. Freddie had been really keen to get a deep burn on anything that might relate to her life with us, especially after he found to that she’d had a briefing from my lot that should have told her the target was a problem. He got quite cross when he found out she’d had the set of email intercepts from the Kustensky email as well as the Oblumov one. Tricia had somehow buried them at the bottom of her files. After that Freddie was pretty insistent that she got the works. We were really worried about whether she’d actually be able to function when she got to the other end.”

“And second?”

“Second; it’s not one of our containers.”

How come?” I asked.

“Anatoly wanted to use one of his own. Said it would make it easier getting clearance at the other end. Plus Freddie had agreed with Anatoly that she should be shipped FOB anyway. His team picked her up from the Prep Centre, we just handed her over naked and clean.”

“Is that going to cause difficulty for him?”

“His boys over here are hopping mad but after that business with Litvinenko they reckon that MI5 and the SVR are going to be tripping over each other enough to keep Anatoly out of the picture.”

“So what’s the word on the Chechens? Was this genuine? Where did the tip off come from?”

“Nobody on Anatoly’s team is saying, even if they’ve got any idea. My take is that its one of four possibilities. Either it was a genuine security alert and we were just unlucky. Or someone here didn’t want to see Tricia go. Or someone’s trying to trip Anatoly up. Or someone’s trying to make us look dumb.”

“I don’t buy the second,” I said. “Nobody seemed that bothered and there would be too big a risk that it would come whistling back into our organisation. Any of the others could be right.”

“And I can think of at least one person that might be interested in making us look dumb.”

“Who?” I said.

“Constanza,” Rick said. “Got to cherchez the old femme, that’s my thought. She’ll be wanting to cream off as much as she can from the Russian Toy contracts and she’ll still be pissed about Lady Marchmont.”

It sounded plausible to me but I didn’t have any more evidence than the Daily Mirror did. Still, that wouldn’t stop rumours spreading around the organisation any more than it stopped newspapers writing good stories.

I disentangled myself from Rick and went to talk to Harry about the pick up of the girls for Basher. He didn’t see any reason to put a hold on it so everything was going ahead as planned.

I’m not sure who had come up with the idea. Maybe it just sprang out of the stuff we’d been doing with video generally and the sting behind the All Spice pick up all those months ago. Anyway we’d worked out a plan for the Colonial Collection as it was becoming known.

I needed to brief Clegg about my trip but I guessed that he would have plenty on his plate for a while so I sat in on Colonial Collection to kill some time until he got back.

Harry ran the briefing session personally. It was a resource-intensive project but then we were planning to lift twelve girls in one go and that wasn’t something even Harry’s team did that often. We’d got the house set up and we’d sent out the invitations. We just had to wait for the girls to turn up.

Harry ran through the photos we had of each of the targets. The research team had chosen them using the basic database that we had already built up plus some custom work at Heathrow and Gatwick airports. We’d been able to tap into the CCTV coverage of international arrivals and some judicious monitoring around the time of landings from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and so on, we had been able to identify a number of possibles. That had been followed up by our conventional surveillance and target screening before any of the girls was approached.

We’d kept Basher updated through the web site; he’d been involving himself enthusiastically all the way along. Sebastian showed me the log of his emails. “Like the look of that one.” “She’ll do.” “Try to find one with longer legs.” “Mylene – ha, with tits like that they should call her Melons ? ” “Like the idea of Miss Monique Devent : General Wolf had the right idea about French Canadians!!!”

Finally we had an agreed list for the next step. “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” the canvassers had said. “Imagine, Big Brother - but on a global scale. It’s a reality show syndicated live around the world; right across the English speaking world. It’s a passport to instant, worldwide, fame.” We’d come up with the idea of ‘International House’ – a TV show that put girls from a range of cultures and countries together in one house for two months. The real hook for viewers was that the whole thing was going to be kept secret until everyone was already in the house and the programme was about to start; that way (we said), we’d build up a real cult status among those that get into it from day 1.

We showed the girls the promotional material that we planned to use once the programme started. “The International House – 12 House Mates – 12 Nations – One World - One Winner” the ads said. We made a big thing of the housemates being part of a demonstration of the ways in which different cultures could get along. That was why they were there by invitation, we said. But also, it must be said, we didn’t under-emphasize the opportunity for global TV exposure or the $250,000 prize money. We only needed 18 approaches to get our 12 house mates. (The other six are on a list back in the Prep Centre somewhere, it seemed a shame to waste the research. We told them afterwards that the whole idea had fallen through).

With the lift team briefed we headed off to the house. We’d set it up with a few (not very well) hidden cameras for the girls to find but the basic premise was that it was a normal London house, except that the girls would have no access to the outside world. They’d been told to tell people they’d be away for two months but they absolutely couldn’t tell anyone where they were going: that would have made them ineligible for the prize.

They started to turn up in the middle of the afternoon, and by 4 o’clock, as requested, they were all assembled in the house’s living room. Even the dimmest of them worked out there was something strange from the start; there were thirteen of them. We’d put Eva in as part of the team to oil the wheels.

We were monitoring their discussions from the Porta-Cabin that had been installed in the garden as a studio.

“Hey, I’m Mylene,” one of the taller girls said smiling and giving a wave to the others. “I guess I’m representing ‘Oz if we’re all from different places.”

The others all pitched in with their names and their home countries. “Tsai Lin – Hong Kong,”; Angie – Canada, Lucy – New Zealand, Eva – I’m from the UK, and so on.

Angie mentioned the odd number of participants first of all. “Weren’t there supposed to be twelve of us?” she said.

Yes, you’re right,” cut in Eva, “that’s odd. Maybe another country signed up for broadcasting rights or something and insisted on having a representative.”

“Yeah, could be,” said Mylene, “or it could be part of whatever’s going to go on here. You don’t think they are just going to turn the cameras on and leave us to get on with it do you? There will be all sorts of weird things going on before the winner gets out of here, believe me.”

All of the girls looked up as Harry entered the living room in his role of master of ceremonies. “Good afternoon, ladies,” he said, in his most avuncular tone. “As we discussed in your briefing sessions you’ll have a day before the cameras are turned on.”

“Like we believe that,” the microphones picked up Mylene muttering beneath her breath. In the control room one of the sound engineers gave me a thumbs up sign, “See, pick up is sensitive enough,” he smirked.

We’d invited Basher along too. Well, not so much invited as acquiesced in his instance to be there. Harry had not been keen, Basher had said he wanted to be sure they’d be alright when he saw them in the flesh. I was worried in case he wanted to reject any then but he claimed that wasn’t the case. In the end we’d compromised ; he could turn up for the girl’s arrival but he’d go before we did the lift. “Colonel Snell here is representing our main UK sponsor,” Harry explained introducing Basher. He beamed at the girls from his wheel chair. “I’m sure you’ll join me in thanking him and his organisation for making this show possible.” The girls smiled tolerantly but without much enthusiasm.

Basher grinned back. “It’s a great treat to have you all here,” he said. “Such a delight to have representatives of some many places.” He pointed to one of the girls. “You. Where are you from?”

A dark haired, rather studious looking girl responded, “Boston, Colonel,” in a quiet New England accent.

“Ah,” said Snell, “excellent. Our representative from the Province of Massachusetts Bay.” The girl looked puzzled at this reference to her home’s old colonial name. “Well, stay away from the tea my dear. And you others, “Rhodesia,” the girl from Zimbabwe looked affronted, “The Malay States, and you dear where are you from?”

“Dahka, Colonel,” the girl said politely.

“Ah, yes, East Pakistan,” Basher responded cheerily.

“We call it Bangladesh, now, Sir,” the girl said. “We are an independent country, no longer part of Pakistan.”

“Hmm, too popular an idea, independence,” Basher said. “You’ll soon find out you need to depend on each other and on the mother country too.”

I looked along the line of girls. Basher’s intervention was clearly disturbing them and he was in danger of spooking one or more of our house mates. I decided to interrupt. “Well, Colonel,” I said, “we need to get things going.”

Basher span his wheel chair around. “Quite, quite, Barry, my lad,” he beamed. You get these young gels started off. Don’t mind my ramblings.”

Mylene the Aussie girl walked across the room to join Eva. As she passed Basher’s wheel chair, she seemed to jump about six inches into the air before landing again clutching her backside. She gave Basher an accusatory look as she joined the other girls. I thought I saw the trace of a smirk across Basher’s face for an instant before it resumed its normal impassive stare. I overheard Mylene hiss under her breath to one of the others, “He’s a real pervert. I caught him staring at my backside when I was looking in the mirror earlier on. And he’s always got his hands in his pockets, I’m sure he’s playing with himself. He makes my flesh creep.”

Harry went on with the introduction. “So you’ll be able to have a relaxing evening, get yourselves settled in, choose your room mates – you’ll be sharing four to a room – and get yourselves a meal. There’s plenty of food in the pantry and you’ll find plenty of drink as well. Now, I’m going to leave you to get on with things. Don’t forget you can use the ‘Speak To The World’ room at any time if you want to talk to any of us. Remember this show is all about showing how well people from different parts of the world can get along together. Whoever wins, I’m sure you’ll all want to be seen as ambassadors for your countries but whatever happens I hope you all have a great time. Enjoy yourselves.”

There was a small ripple of applause from some of the girls. Harry smiled and asked if there were any questions. There weren’t. “Well, I leave you to it then,” he said. “Good luck.”

Chapter 74: Colonial Reality

Harry was sat at the bank of CCTV monitors watching the girls in the house. He looked bored. There wasn’t much going on. The girls had all had a good go at the drinks cupboard and now they were sleeping it off. “Do people actually watch this stuff on their televisions?” Harry asked.

I nodded. “Yepp. It’s pretty popular in the real world. But then getting to vote someone out on a reality show is probably the closest a lot of people get to having the sort of control over someone else that our clients take for granted. Maybe the desire for ‘ownership’ is more deeply seated than we know.”

“Given the choice between a dozen sleeping women and your ideas of philosophy, I think I’ll go with the women,” he said, turning back to the monitors.

I felt he was being a bit unkind but it had been a long day. “I’m not sure I understand why you don’t just scoop them up straight away,” I said.

“It would be easier,” said Harry, “but I’m pursuing a cock-up prevention programme on this one. Given that they’ve been told to tell no one where they’ve gone we’re just going to sit on the house for a few days to make sure that they really have been good girls and that there aren’t any tabloid journalists sniffing around for a story.”

Basher was getting impatient. We managed to pacify him by letting him have tapes of some of the sessions in the “Speak To The World” room where the girls poured out their hearts and their innermost thoughts and fears to the camera. I could imagine Basher would be watching them with only one hand on the TV remote.

As it was we waited a week, just to give the Sundays their chance too, but there wasn’t a sniff. Harry’s team had been checking out their homes too and it all looked O.K. The pick up itself we organised so that we could take them one at a time. I guess we could have walked in with machine guns at the ready but there’s always a risk that something will go wrong and Harry likes safer approaches.

The girls had been used to having some sort of competition in the afternoons. The first few days they’d won access to a case of wine on one night, the use of a CD player for an evening on another and a fancy party on a third.

For this task we’d installed a tube that ran from their lounge through to a hidden internal room and they had been told that they had to decide which order they would go through the tube. They’d all been given uniform, short-sleeved, white shirt-waister dresses with their country’s logo embroidered on the breast pocket. “No prizes for guessing why we’ve got these,” Angie said as she looked at how short the skirt of her dress was. “They’ll be looking for great arse shots as we crawl into that pipe, won’t they?”

One girl was to go as soon as the first green light came on. Then a red light would come on until it was time for the next to and so on. There was more debate than I’d expected. It turned out that Mylene was quite claustrophobic and the others had to persuade her that she really had to do it or they’d lose out on whatever treat the producers had in store for them.

As a result Mylene was the first to go into the tube and the first to emerge into the hidden room. Once she started exploring she found a door to another room. As she went through into the dark room beyond, the door slammed shut and locked behind her and she was grabbed by some of Harry’s team. Within moments she was handcuffed, ball gagged, ankle shackled and carried out. The others followed, each crawling into the tube when the green light came on. Eva was the fourth one through but, of course, avoided the reception that the others had to endure.

At the end of half an hour all twelve girls were wriggling helplessly, standing up, chained by the neck in the trailer that they had thought contained the program’s broadcast equipment.

Eva wheeled Basher up a ramp and into the trailer. The girls’ distress and agitation became even more evident as they realised not only that they had been abducted but who had commissioned their kidnapping. The fact that he was grinning like a five year old child in a candy store probably didn’t help.

Basher waved Eva away and wheeled himself along the line inspecting each of the girls closely in turn. He stopped alongside Mylene.

Basher reached up to the right breast of the girl standing beside his wheel chair. You will excuse me, my dear,” he said, “my eye sight is not what it used to be.” He ran his fingers lightly across the embroidered badge on her breast pocket. She flinched involuntarily at his touch, earning a rap from his stick across her shins. He resumed his touching, eventually deciding that the embroidered form represented a kangaroo. “Ah,” he said, “the Australian representative. You’re going to be suffering for the prowess of your cricketers, I am afraid, my dear. And by the way,” he reached up again groping at the girls full breasts, “you can get used to me touching you young lady, I’ve no intention of letting a pair of tits like these go to waste.”

He grunted with satisfaction and moved off along the line. Each of the girls suffered some indignity or other at Basher’s hands. Tsai Linn, worst of all, was almost stripped of her dress by the enthusiastic, orgiastic Snell. “Very nice,” he commented when he had got to the end. “I can hardly wait for you to finish your preparation work. Oh by the way, I’d like them all to be blondes by the time they are delivered. I much prefer blondes.”

“Basher,” I said, “that might be a bit of a challenge for the representatives from Hong Kong, Nigeria, India, and Pakistan mightn’t it?”

“Don’t worry about it looking too natural,” Basher smirked, “I’ve always quite liked a tarty look on a girl. I’m sure you’ll manage it.” He rolled his chair down the ramp and out of the trailer. We hitched up the trailer and headed off to the Prep Centre. Some of Harry’s team stayed behind to clear up in the house.

Chapter 75: An Offer You Might Refuse

The preparation of Basher’s colonial harem was well under way. I was back in the Whitechapel office. I finally got a chance, albeit fleeting, to talk to Clegg.

“How was the meeting with Anatoly?” I asked. “Is there anything I need to do?”

Freddie shook his head. “No,” he said. “we are clean as far as I can tell. Elly had a conversation her contact in the National Crime Squad to try to get a fix on what’s going on. Apparently, in the best tradition of detective novels, the police are baffled. The press have lost interest since as far as they can tell there’s no evidence of any government cover up or incompetence and that’s the only thing they seem to want to write about. Beside the story is all of two weeks old; so what chance is there of anyone remembering it?”

“And how’s Anatoly?”

“Spitting mad - but not at us. I reckon he half thinks there might have been a genuine Chechen plot but he’s also worried because the container malfunctioned.”


“Yes. Anatoly’s got his transport containers tricked up so if you open them the wrong way they dump a lethal dose into the veins of whosoever happens to be inside. Tricia should be dead by all accounts. Anatoly’s relieved we think she was completely wiped and worried in case he’s got a bad apple in his own team.”

“What’s your view?”

Clegg looked impassive. He sucked in his breath slowly and shook his head.

“Constanza?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m sure she would never consider such a thing.” It was Elly’s voice. She had come into the office behind me. She managed to say it in a way that made me think that she felt Constanza might well be guilty of considering such a thing and then doing something after the considering.

Freddie took the opportunity to use the interruption to change the subject. “How was the visit to Steve?”

I filled him in on the trip. He actually seemed a bit more interested than I expected but I didn’t get very far on tying him down to doing anything about it. I felt a bit frustrated that I wasn’t getting anywhere with our discussions. Elly just smiled as I left Freddie’s office. “Don’t worry,” she said, “he’ll take it on board. He just likes to think things through."

I was back in my office when the phone rang. “Hi,” said Brad when I picked up the phone. The line was crackly and Brad’s voice sounded as though there were several socks spliced into the wires between him and me.

“I wondered if we could have a chat. The Trade Minister has had some thoughts and he thinks your business could help us. Why don’t you come over? He’s got some time at the end of the week if you’re free.”

“When you say come over, you’re not talking about the Castle are you?” I asked, sensing that even allowing for the usual problems with telephones here, the British Telecom were unlikely to have found a way on incorporating a two second time lag between London and Worcestershire.

“Ah, no, Kolin actually. Don’t worry about the trip, there’s an air force transport leaving Stansted tomorrow if you can be on it.”

I wasn’t sure that Kushtian military aviation was likely to be any better than the civil sort but at least there wouldn’t be any pretence at comfort and security would probably be more than adequate. “Sure,” I said. I was happy to oblige, particularly if it led to some more business. I told Sukie and Rachel that I would be away again for a few days, both of them looked worried. I tried to reassure them, Elly agreed to keep an eye on them while I was away and that seemed to comfort them. Ownership is a real responsibility. I didn’t think I could just send them down to the cells as though they were being kennelled and besides, Rachel had work to do.

The Kushtian Air Force flight was, well, an experience. It wasn’t quite as bad as I thought when I walked up the ramp at the back of the Ilyushin 76 into its cavernous hold, half empty, half filled with crates of indeterminate origin. I was staring around looking for something that resembled a seat and beginning to think I’d have to do the flight standing up or propped against a crate when a voice called from the front of the hold.

“Mr Ross? This way please.”

I walked the length of the aircraft’s hold. A woman in the blue serge uniform of the Kushtian Air Force stood at the foot of a short metal ladder. She gestured for me to climb it.

At the top of the ladder I became more encouraged. A cabin with some twenty seats in it had been built into the front of the hold behind the flight deck. It looked a great deal more luxurious than I would normally have expected for a military aircraft. The reclining seats looked as if they had been bought by the Kushtians the last time that Virgin refitted their first class cabin. At least I might get a reasonable sleep. A smiling officer emerged from the flight deck. “Mr Ross, welcome,” he said. “We’ll be taking off shortly. Do take a seat. Anywhere you like.”

“Just me?” I asked.

The officer nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Don’t worry though. We’ll try to look after you. Aerina Kolanka Kuslanis will take care of anything you need.”

I chose a seat about half way back in the cabin and strapped myself in. Kolanka – I assumed that Aerina was her rank rather than her first name – appeared at the top of the ladder and closed the hatch. She smiled at me and took her place on a fold down jump-seat beside the flight deck door. As she tightened the straps of her harness I could see that beneath her uniform jacket was a body of interesting possibility. The engines fired into life with a cough and splutter that did little to encourage belief that they would keep going until we reached Kushtia. Aerina Kuslanis seemed unconcerned, however, and I took some comfort from that.

The flight was largely uneventful. Kolanka proved immune to such charms as I could muster. Her uniform remained depressingly well buttoned up for the entire flight.

When I got there, Brad and the Trade Minister were sitting waiting for me in the lounge. Brad suggested that we go through to the pool bar. “I hope you enjoyed your trip here,” the Minister said.

“It was fine,” I said, “the Kushtian Air Force seems to have its operations well organised.”

“Yes,” he said. “At least the transport.”

“And how is the economic development programme going?”

“Quite well, I think. Up to a point. The Emir here has found a number of companies that it will prove most beneficial for us to work with and of course our relationship with your business has worked very much as we had hoped.”

“I’m glad things are working out well, Minister. Can I ask how the last concubine we arranged for your use has turned out?”

The Minister chuckled. “Ah, yes, your diplomatic baggage! Miss Argyll, wasn’t she called?” I nodded. The last I had seen of Cora Argyll was sitting shackled and gagged in a cell under the Minister’s House. “She has proved most accommodating after her initial reservations had been overcome. I have found her to be a most useful diversion from the cares of office.” I smiled. “But how are you? You managed to avoid the attentions of those that were seeking to disturb your operations?”

“I did indeed, Minister. All is resolved.” I looked across at the pool, two girls, naked except for their collars, were swimming back and forth with two rather over weight men. “And the Emir’s facility is proving an asset?”

“Somewhat,” said the Minister. “It has been useful to get us started but I believe we will be suspending our operations there. Let us just say we are learning more about the niceties of international trade and we would not wish to be felt to be trampling on local cultural differences. Still, I understand you were able to provide some excellent staff. Those two for example,” he pointed to the girls in the pool, “have been a great help.” I realised it was Karen and Peta, the two volley ball players. “Very athletic; most capable entertainers of those we wish to influence. They are here to learn a little of true Kushtian culture first hand. They too came by Air Force jet, but with less comfortable accommodation than your own.” I thought back to the crates arrayed in the hold of the Ilyushin and wondered whether there had been any on my flight. They hadn’t looked as though they were as well equipped as Clegg and Anatoly’s cargo containers.

Brad waved to the bar, to get us some drinks. Greetje Van Bruijn came teetering across wearing stilt-high heels, her collar and nothing else. Each of us asked for a beer and she disappeared to get them. “Such a nice arse,” said Brad appreciatively.

“How’s your engagement present from Kushnati?” I asked.

Brad gave a self satisfied grin. “Let’s just say I’m enjoying playing with a doll for the first time in my life.”

“And Lauren? How’s she coping with Kushtia.”

“Ha, more like how’s Kushtia coping with her,” the Minister interjected.

Brad looked embarrassed. “My daughter has yet to adopt all of the ways of Kushtian women,” he said diplomatically.

“There are suggestions of terrible scandals,” the Minister said conspiratorially with a smile. “The corridors of every council members offices are buzzing with gossip about her flagrant infidelity. It has quite cheered the place up.”

Greetje reappeared with the drinks. Brad clicked his fingers to indicate she should kneel between us. He balanced the tray on her back, she made a convenient table.

“Like you said Brad, daughters are a rule to themselves. Still what was it you to wanted to discuss?”

Brad looked at the Minister who seemed to indicate that he should take the lead. “Well Larry,” he began, “There’s three projects that are going to need support. Firstly Kushtia is now trying to encourage inward investment from Japan and other Far Eastern countries. One of the incentives that they planning to offer Japanese businessmen is access to certain special hotels, run by slaves, where room service takes on a new meaning. We’ve learned a lot operating this place. We’ll mainly use Kushtian girls for the staff but we’ll want a number of western girls for entertainment purposes and Brits seem like as good a bet as any.”

I didn’t see any problem with that. I was thinking back to the files that we had found in Cindy’s car. There had been half a dozen of them that had been young and female buyers of sports cars. From what I remembered of them they’d be ideal. And Cindy had been meticulous in building up a profile of each of her clients. Rick couldn’t have done a better job. She’d also made a note of who it was that was actually paying for the car; husband, boyfriend, doting father.

“The other opportunity we’ve spotted is the whole off-shore call centre business. Plenty of British firms seem keen to outsource their call centre operations. We reckon that we can use girls from there as a way of providing low cost off-shore resources while still offering native English speakers as a way of ensuring good customer service. You know how it is with some of these off-shore call centres, you get to know pretty quickly that you’re talking to a foreign country and people don’t like it. Of course they’ll need some fairly heavy preparation, being on the telephone to the outside world, you see.”

I liked the idea but it seemed completely reckless to me. Unless they were going to prep their operators to the point of catatonia the whole thing would be too risky and if they did then the girls would just sound like robots. On the other hand maybe that wouldn’t be so different from some of the call centres I’d encountered. Maybe there was something in it; I’d got irritated myself by talking to people who just didn’t seem to understand what I was on about. On the other hand it sounded like the volumes might be greater than we were interested in getting involved in even if it was feasible. “What’s the third project?” I said.

“Well, it’s an extension of the outsourcing idea,” Brad began.

The Trade Minister interrupted. “We wish to make sure that Kushtia benefits from the digital age. Kushtia must build a knowledge economy,” he said. “There is an explosion in technology. Unfortunately our universities have been late to recognise this but we cannot wait. If we do not act we will be overtaken by others in our region.”

“So what do you intend.”

“We will build a software factory. We intend to provide a software development service based in Kushtia with very advantageous labour rates. I think there are sufficient companies that will not ask too many questions about how we provide our resources if they can get the work done at the cheapest costs. We understand that you have had some experience in doing something similar.”

I thought back to Sebastian’s collection of ‘web slaves’ and nodded.

“Do you think that Clegg Enterprises can source the necessary products?”

“Well,” I said, “in principal, yes. I wouldn’t want you to feel that we weren’t interested in helping with this. On the other hand, it will depend on the volumes. You know that we are mainly working with low volume, high value projects these days. We will need to look at how we deal with this. It might be better for one of our associate companies to handle this.” I was worried by the idea of high volume / low value work but I didn’t want to turn them down flat. “I am assuming that you are seeking females for these tasks?”

“Indeed,” said the Minister. “We understand how to manage women in Kushtia as you know. These projects simply represent a logical extension of one of what I believe you marketing people call our core competencies.” The Minister smirked.

“I am sure you will create a completely unique working environment for your recruits,” I said. By now I was becoming increasingly convinced that the Kushtians had gone completely mad.

The Trade Minister smiled. “Yes,” he said. “That’s why I have another proposition. But for you; personally.” I looked puzzled. “This programme will create a large pool of foreign labour within Kushtia,” he said. “We are most anxious to see that our culture is not diluted, not contaminated, by this influx. There is a benefit from low cost labour of course but we wish to avoid the problems of westernisation that could arise from so many of these girls being brought to our country. We want to appoint someone as Director of Overseas Resources; someone to take a role in ensuring that our incomers become well adapted to Kushtian ways. We think you could perform that role for us. You would also have responsibility for oversight of the UNESCO cultural transfer programme.”

I was flattered and said so, but I was uncertain about the idea, even if I had been looking for another job. “I’m not sure I see it as a problem and, in any case, surely a Kushtian would be better for that role,” I said. “Someone that is clearly identified with your own culture.”

“No,” said Brad, adding his weight to the argument. “What this needs is an outsider to champion the Kushtian way. I’d consider it myself but I’m only just getting things set up here and besides, I’m a Kushtian really by blood.”

“So many slaves together may find ways to hang on to their old culture. To cling to dreams of their previous lives. That will not help our projects. Consider it,” said the Minister. “You could bring your wife. You do have a wife?” I shook my head. “No matter. Your concubines then. Perhaps you’ll find a good Kushtian girl.”

“I’ll think about it,” I said. “But I’m not sure if it’s what I want to do.”

Chapter 76: Party Time

Brad was standing at the front of the room holding forth to the assembled crowd. Since I knew most of them the effusive introduction was unnecessary but none the less welcome.

It was good to see them again. The Trade Minister had Cora Argyll in tow, literally. Cora was hardly recognisable. Wearing a long, full skirt but naked from the waist up, her entire torso, arms, face and shaven head were covered with elaborate tattoos. The Trade Minister was leading her by a chain that ran to a ring set in the septum of her nose. It was only as she came alongside that I saw that the piercing had itself been set with a silver grommet to prevent the ring causing damage. I asked the Minister about the designs on her body.

“Do you know about the Pythork?” he asked.

I searched my memory and eventually remembered the incident at the Castle. “The ritual snake dance?”

“Yes. For us it is a potent symbol. A symbol of life and regeneration. In the eastern countryside the barren nature of the land means there are few snakes. They tattoo their women this way to summon their spirit. These are their traditional designs.”

I looked more closely at the swirling patterns that curled around Cora’s body. There were indeed stylised snakes, intricately wound about each other like the patterns on some Saxon illuminated manuscript. Forked tongues twined around each of her cheeks. The head of a cobra was pictured on her forehead, its tongue reaching down to the tip of her nose.

Cora knelt, docile, beside the Minister. “Did you discover her reasons for conspiring to abduct you?” he asked. I nodded but felt unwilling to share them. There was little pointing washing the Clegg Organisation’s dirty linen with its customers. “Yes,” I said. “It is all resolved now.”

The Minister smiled respecting my discretion.

“Is this the sort of thing you’re looking to develop with your cultural transfer programme?” I asked.

The Minister chuckled. “Nothing so extreme, my friend,” he said, “or at least as far as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation is concerned. We are hopeful of getting funding for our programme. They are beginning to understand the importance of protecting endangered cultures, just as World Wildlife Fund seeks to protect endangered species. Let’s say we are hopeful.”

The Kalinin’s son was there as well but with Emma and Ginger instead of Victoria as I had expected. “Most extraordinary,” he confided in me. “There has been some scandal about my wife, Victoria. It is rumoured she has been involved in most exceptional activities. That some members of the council have indulged in the most shameful acts with her. We thought it best if she stayed out of the public eye for a while.” He winked. “But I am sure that all will be shown to have been above board.”

“You think she will be shown to be innocent?”

“Innocent is not a word I would use about Victoria,” he laughed. “Let us say she will be shown merely to have indulged the perverse demands of a few corrupt individuals, fearful that failing to accommodate her husband’s colleagues would jeopardise his position. After all no woman would initiate such actions.”

“Do you know what the greatest scandal is?” Emma asked.

“I dread to think.”

“Victoria is rumoured to have fitted herself with an artificial penis and to have used it to perform a sexual act upon one of the members of the Council.”

“Don’t be absurd, Emma,” the Kalinin’s son chided but with a smile at me. “Such a thing is nonsense. How could it be? What nonsense you women gossip about.”

At the far end of the room sat Kushnati Koresh, his new wife in attendance. Lauren was dressed demurely, sitting quietly beside her husband while he raucously grabbed at drink and food from passing serving girls. She even seemed accepting of his grabbing at the girls as well. She saw me, spoke to her husband and walked slowly across to where I was standing beside the Kalinin’s son.

Emma laughed. “You will need to speak to her first,” she said. “No Kushtian woman will speak first to a man.”

“Lauren,” I said, accepting my cue. “How is married life?”

Lauren relaxed and smiled impishly, the proprieties having been observed. “Let’s say that the wedding vows still have enough loopholes to let me have some fun. And some of Kushnati’s tribe have turned out to be really rather good companions. Very healthy, very physical, very much fun. They don’t speak much English of course and my Kushtian is still not good but we manage to get by. I’m learning a lot.”

I didn’t think she just meant the language.

“And how are your personal slaves?” I said, thinking of Toos and Femke.

“Working their little butts off,” Lauren smirked. “Keeps them too tired to think about trying to get into the pants of any of the bucks around the place. They look after me pretty good though – they’ve worked out that’s the way for as quiet a life as they’re going to get. Plus,” she said, “and this bit is a real hoot, Kushnati’s letting his tongue hang out for them.”

“How is that good?”

Lauren looked around conspiratorially. “Let’s say unrequited passion is not good for the old man’s blood pressure and for a husband to take advantage of his wife’s slave girl would be a great disgrace. Sometimes you can see the red mist rising in his eyes! I‘m looking forward to the inheritance.” She waved her fingers at her husband. “Gotta go see the gimmer,” she said, “time to start working on his blood pressure.” She smoothed down her tunic to show off her figure and grinned when she saw the effect it had on her husband. “See you!”

I watched as she slid back across the room to where her husband was waiting. “That doesn’t sound like my understanding of the Kushtian laws of inheritance,” I said to the Kalinin’s son.

“I think you are right my friend,” he said, “but it will suit some for a vacancy to appear in the Elders and perhaps there are those that have misled Kushnati’s wife in order to serve their own ends.”

I was beginning to understand more about Kushtian politics but I needed to get back to London.

Chapter 77: Futures & Options

I felt that I really had to talk to Freddie before I made a decision. I mean he had brought me into the business, albeit in a rather underhand way, and he’d given me a lot of support. He’d arranged for us to meet at the club where he’d first suggested that I might join his team.

As I walked in I saw Colonel Snell in his wheelchair scooting across the lobby in the direction of the lift. He skidded the chair to a halt and swang around to face me. “Garry!” he boomed (a memory for names, and indeed discretion, I suspect were not his strongest attributes). “Good to see you, young man. Clegg’s leant me a couple of rooms here while I’m in town.”

“Hullo,” I said. “how are things in the colonies?”

Snell grinned conspiratorially. “As they should be, young man, as they should be! Here, help me up to my room, will you?”

I thought he was well able to manage but he seemed keen for me to accompany him. I pushed his chair into the lift. He prodded the button for the fourth floor with the end of his walking stick. The ancient lift gave a shudder and started upwards with a whine of an electric motor and a hiss of cable. It stopped at the fourth floor without taking the trouble to slow down first. Snell’s chair bounced and fell back with a thump. He didn’t seem bothered. I pushed him out of the lift and took the route indicated by the gestures of his stick down the corridor. Confronted by one of the club’s room maids, he waved her aside with the stick. “Stand clear, girl,” he bellowed. “Coming through!”

The suite that Clegg had provided for Snell was comfortably appointed but its main feature was the tableau provided by the three helpless members of Snell’s colonial harem. Mylene was there, tied kneeling by the side of Basher’s bed; naked from the waist up, mouth wrenched wide by a Hodgkinson gag. Ropes tied around the base of her tits had forced them into the shape of distended globes; the nipples bruised and reddened. On Basher’s bedside table were the implements responsible for the tortured look of her tits, clamps, pinchers and a pair of pin wheels. Basher wheeled across to beside Mylene. She squealed at his approach. He responded by widening her gag another notch. “I fear your team just took another three wickets, my dear,” he said, causing her to squeal more and wriggle against the ropes that held her; she evidently knew that good news for the Australian cricket team was bad news for her. “You’ll have to take the consequences of that in a little while.”

Kneeling on the other side of the bed, Angie, the Canadian, was trussed to a wooden frame. She was still wearing a short white dress like that all the girls had been dressed in when they were in the International House; after a few weeks of wear, it was now dirty and torn. Although ropes held her firmly against the frame her arms stretched out across the bed, her wrists shackled and joined by a short length of chain. From the way she was positioned and the array of oils, gels and creams on the table beside her, it was obvious that Angie’s main role was to provide Basher with his regular doses of masturbation.

A third girl stood beside the bed. Basher waved towards her. “Did you meet my little kiwi?” he said. “Makes a very good little waitress, don’t you, Lucy my dear?” The slight, dark eyed, girl nodded warily, prevented from answering by the ball gag that filled her mouth. Basher turned back towards me, “I’m sure she’ll manage to atone for the faults of her countryman.”

“Countryman?” I asked, knowing that this would only lead to another diatribe from the xenophobic Snell.

“Jackson, Peter Jackson,” Basher said with a sneer. “Has the nerve to take an English story and high-jack it to the southern hemisphere. Tolkien’s part of our cultural legacy,” he snapped, “what’s a New Zealander doing filming it down there? He should have brought it here. Heaven knows his parents were English! Disgraceful.” He seemed to calm down a little. “Can she get you a drink?”

I shook my head, “Sorry Basher, I can’t stop,” I said. “I’m seeing Freddie.”

“Fair enough,” said Snell. “Tell him I’m happy with this lot and thanks for the rooms. Now help me up on to the bed, can you?”

I leant him my arm and allowed him to lever himself up from his chair and onto the bed. Lucy went to draw the covers over him. He waved his hand. “No, no,” he said. “Just unzip my trousers and put some baby oil on her hands,” he nodded towards the helpless Angie. “I feel in need of a little relaxation before I turn my attentions to Mylene here.”

I’ll leave you to it,” I said, waving to Basher. He nodded and lay back on the bed to receive the ministrations of the girls.

I made my way down to the room that Freddie was using. Elly was there too.

I explained about the Minister’s offer. I’d expected him to be pretty angry. I mean, I’ve never liked customers poaching my staff. Instead his response was measured, thoughtful. “Hmm,” he said, putting the ball back into my court. “What do you want to do?”

“Well, Freddie,” I said. “On the face of it, it’s a great opportunity. I’ve got on well with all the people that I’ve met there and, if I’m blunt, it offers me a lifestyle I couldn’t hope to maintain here. I mean I know you’ve been very supportive over Sukie and Rachel but I’m realistic enough to know that we can’t sustain that sort of indulgence here, even though I enjoy it. On the other hand I would hate to leave Sukie and Rachel here, they depend on me, I think and it seems unkind to walk away from them. Plus, of course, everyone here has been great. I know what it can be like having a new face come in with new ideas but everyone’s been great.”

“Brian excepted,” Clegg chipped in. Elly gave him a look that I guessed was intended to say “get over it.”

“Yes,” I said, “Brian excepted.”

The desert menu appeared. I’m not a fan but Clegg rubbed his hands, summoning up a sticky toffee pudding. Elly raised an eyebrow but joined him by ordering a mango sorbet . “Do you want to hear my take on this,” she said.

Clegg turned towards her. “Of course,” he said. I nodded too.

“Larry, you’re disposable.”

“Well, thanks,” I said, “I know what that means around here.”

“No, don’t get me wrong. You’ve put the business on a course. It’s quite capable of following it through. The sales guys are taking an account managed approach now, research support that the Search & Snatch service is up and running. You’ve done what Freddie brought you in to do.”

Clegg looked thoughtful as he weighed Elly’s point. His pudding appeared and provided a distraction.

Freddie went on. “Let me give you my view, Larry. I’ve been pretty happy with what you’ve done. But Elly’s right, the business probably doesn’t need someone with your talents now. We could make do with someone less qualified. Probably not even ‘voluntary’ if you know what I mean. In some way’s I’d be happy to see you working for one of our customers and I think you’ve earned the right to make the choice. The only problem is that I had another idea. But if that’s what you want to do…..”

I was intrigued. “Another idea?” I asked.

“Mmm,” said Freddie. “Do you remember something you talked to me about a while back? You’d hooked up with some girl after a practice run. What was her name?”

“Kelly,” I said.

“That working?” Freddie asked. I pulled a face. “Uh huh. Oh, well. You said something about there might be an emerging opportunity for ‘voluntary’ slaves; ones we wouldn’t need to abduct.”

“Yeah, sure,” I said. My main recollection was that Freddie hadn’t seemed very interested, I hadn’t raised it again until my report of the trip to see Steve and then I imagined it had got forgotten in all the business over Tricia being discovered in the container at Stansted.

“Well, I did some thinking about it. There was the feedback from Steve’s meeting and the things that are going on in Kushtia with their cultural programme was interesting too. I think it’s something we need to explore. It could be an opportunity, it could be a threat. Hard to tell yet, I guess. Anyway I wanted to see if we could explore it a bit but I don’t want to do it inside the business. Too many conflicts of interest. I want to set up something at arm’s length. Close enough to keep an eye on it, separate enough for it not to get disrupted by other interests. I thought you might like to run it.”

“Run it?” I said. “Me?”

“Why not? You have a good grasp of what makes sense and what doesn’t. You can keep the numbers on track. You’d have some support on the financials but you’d have day to day control. You’d report into FCE Group board of course.”

“Well it sounds interesting,” I said. “Starting from scratch?”

“Not quite. We’ve identified a possible business that we might bring in to the Group to provide us with a starting position,” Elly dumped a folder labelled ‘Project Willing’ on the desk. “Small business set up by an entrepreneurial lawyer in one of the university towns.”

“Dreadful what some of these lawyers get up to,” Clegg smirked at Elly.

She gave him a look of tolerant amusement. I remembered that was her background too. “She’s got half a dozen girls under contract, small network of clients, interesting approaches to recruitment and promoting the service. I’ve done due diligence on the contracts, they’re pretty solid and they’d allow the owner to novate them in the event of change of ownership of the business.”

“So we thought we might make a take over play for them,” said Freddie.

Something about the way he said it made me think that his idea of a take over wasn’t quite what the normal practices of corporate governance would encompass. “Freddie, does this ‘take over’ involve the lady entrepreneur finding herself wrapped in rope and enjoying Rick’s hospitality in the Prep Centre?”

Freddie looked pained. Elly grinned. “Larry, Larry,” Freddie said, “You know I like to have a controlling interest in things.”

“Don’t you think we should try a conversation first? Just to see if she’s interested? She might need the funding, might be grateful of some support.” I saw Elly give Freddie an ‘I told you so’ look.

“Do I take it that means you’ll do this?” Freddie said. “Rather than swanning off to Kushtia?”

I picked up the folder and thumbed through it. I had to admit that the idea of running my own operation sounded appealing. “I need Rachel and Sukie for support,” I said.

“I think we might be able to do that,” said Freddie.

“And we do it legitimately,” Freddie looked uncomfortable, “at least until we’ve come to the conclusion there’s no alternative.”

“OK,” said Freddie reluctantly. I saw Elly grin.

We had a deal.

Chapter 78: Hail & Farewell

“I feel a bit of a fraud,” I said looking out at the crowd of people that had turned up. “After all I’m not really leaving. Well not to go far.”

“No, I know,” said Freddie, “but it’s good to have an excuse to get everyone together and let them have some fun. Look, it’s your leaving party, enjoy it.”

We’d borrowed Brad’s castle for the event. Brad was back in Kushtia full time now and Freddie had arranged to look after the property for him in his absence. We’d brought stock down from the Prep Centre to help out and most of the team were there. Even Elly turned up, which I took as a great compliment. She just never came to events like this.

Brian’s family and some of the other stock had been put down into the cells for the amusement of any that wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. As usual it seemed like it was the accountants and the HR people that were queuing up for a turn. Fair enough, I guess, they don’t get many perks on their side of the business. Rick had put a few of the guards down there to keep an eye on things but that was more about protecting the girls than preventing any trouble..

I saw two faces that I recognised - Rebecca and Amanda had been acquired from Constanza (I suspected mainly with the aim of giving Freddie some insights in Constanza’s operations and possibly getting some intelligence about the business with Tricia) and had been pressed into waitressing duties. At least some of their flight attendant skills were still being put to use. Close up I wasn’t too impressed with the surgery that Constanza had put them through. Sure the surgeon had got the slanted eyes all right and the breast reduction had meant they could wear the cheong sam with a measure of authenticity but the overall effect was a bit weird. They just looked like an uncomfortable mixture of Asiatic and western features to me. I wasn’t sure how Constanza could complain about the barbarity of some owners and then do something like that. Still, they’d been her property then, I suppose and they seemed happy enough as they wound their way through the crowd carrying trays of drinks and snacks. Tricia could have helped out too if she’d still been there, I guess.

I caught myself thinking about the Rebecca, Amanda and Tricia. They were all women that I’d shared a bed with at some time, now hopelessly enslaved, physically abused, or mentally scarred. I supposed that I ought to have felt some guilt about their situation, although Amanda was the only one that I had been actually involved in kidnapping. Somehow it just seemed part of the day to day job now. I counted up the number of women I’d been involved in abducting. I made it 47. It sounded like a lot but then I thought it had been almost a year. I stopped again. It was a lot. However long it had been, it was a lot.

Sarah, on the other hand, was there. Harry brought her into the room, leading her on a leash that linked to her collar. She was smiling cheerfully as she stepped along behind him in impossibly high heels and a skirt so tight that she seemed only to be able to move her legs below the knees. Harry turned to talk to her. As he did so, I realised that there must have been some reconciliation between the two of them that I had missed out on while I was away in Barbados and Kushtia. She had obviously finished her sexualisation and pleasure programme and it looked like Harry was interested in the result.

Rachel and Sukie were standing together at the side of the room. It looked to me as though they were having fun too. I went across to talk to them. I’d told them that things would be OK; that I’d carry on looking out for them in the new job. Rachel was looking forward to helping. Sukie had just seemed grateful she wasn’t going to be turned away or sold again. Now the two of them looked happy. Sukie was sitting holding Rachel’s hand. “It’s been a strange year,” I said.

Rachel turned to me, “It’s not a bad story. Maybe you should write it down. I could help you.”

I thought she was probably right.

The only one that wasn’t there was Tricia. At least, she wasn’t there in person. Laying on a chair at the side of the room was a copy of the Daily Mirror. Its front page was filled with a grainy photograph taken with a telephoto lens. A solitary figure could be made out against a background of trees in some sort of garden or park. In spite of the way that her head was hunched down, it looked like Tricia to me. The caption said “Container Girl : No Hope Of Identification Says Hospital”. I read the story below the photograph. The paper’s reporters had tracked down the mental hospital where the girl found in the Russian aircraft was being cared for. Sources on the medical team said that there had been no progress in either getting the girl to identify herself or discovering anything about her. Security services were still allegedly interested in talking to members of the Russian foreign intelligence service. A police source felt the girl was probably Russian, their favoured explanation was that she was a dissident asylum seeker that had slipped into the UK somehow and was now being repatriated in a rather extreme way. The Russians had declined to comment. I thought it was only a while before the police put out a full face shot and someone recognised her. Freddie had said that wouldn’t be a problem, like all of Harry’s team she didn’t have a link to her past as far as the organisation was concerned. I wondered how they’d break the links for me if they ever needed to.

I dropped the paper back on to the chair. Freddie called everyone to order and was kind enough to say a few words. I ended up feeling a bit embarrassed, I felt he made too much of the difference I’d made but there was a warm round of applause at the end so I guess that the rest of the team didn’t feel he had over egged it.

Harry stood up to add his contribution. That was even more embarrassing as he chose to recall some of the more amusing episodes of my life with Clegg Enterprises. I’d have been happier if he hadn’t bothered to remember Rachel and the keyboard, but she was good enough to smile about it too.

I got to thank everyone. I didn’t say much more than that. I always reckon these things go on too long.

Finally Freddie got up and said, “As a last word before you all go off and get stuck into the drink and the food, I’ve got one more announcement to make. Larry’s moving on to pastures new, fortunately within Clegg Enterprises, but we want to carry on with his ideas and approach. Larry’s been a great help in helping us to identity a suitable successor and I’d like to introduce you to her now….”

On cue, two of Rick’s guards wrestled a girl through the door into the middle of the room. She had a sack over her head but from the familiar sound of grunting and mummphing it was pretty obvious she was gagged. Beneath the sack, the captive woman was obviously attractively built. Her blouse was torn a bit and so was her straight skirt but she hadn’t been subdued by her experience, she was till trying to kick out at the guards as they pulled the bag from her head. As the bag came free it revealed a mass of long ash blonde hair and a pair of grey eyes looking out furiously from above the strips of grey tape that plastered the lower half of her face. She shook her head and looked around in disbelief at the assembled crowd and the round of applause that she received. As soon as she saw me she started struggling even more. I hadn’t seen her for quite a while. We’d worked together about five years ago when I’d just been starting out in marketing management and she was a trainee marketing exec. We’d gone on to work for competitors. Some of the stuff she’d done had given us a bit of trouble. She was good at what she did. It would be interesting to see how she adapted to some new markets and new products.

The way that they’d taped her arms with the strips around her elbows and around her body under her tits emphasised her well configured chest. The way she was struggling did nothing to prevent everyone appreciating it.

Harry said to me, “Hey, she’s got a nice body. Certainly a better shape than her predecessor. She’s going to fit in well around here.” Sarah smiled at Harry’s enthusiasm. He went on, “Only thing is Freddie didn’t give us a name. Who is our new colleague?”

“Oh, I said, that’s the best part of it.”

He looked blank.

“Well, it couldn’t be anything else, really. Harry, meet Sally.”

Even Rick gave me a pained look as the guards hustled the confused and squealing girl away. Harry grunted and led Sarah off in search of a drink. Sukie, Rachel and I did the same thing. There would be plenty of work soon enough but for the evening at least we thought we’d enjoy ourselves. And then there’d always be some market research to do with Kelly.

It hadn’t been a bad year. For me at any rate.

The End