Jenny thought about what more she could say about Sarah.
‘She’s a bit taller than me as I’ve said, I have a bit less curve, she’s far more bubbly, she holds back less and plunges in. She’s bright but there’s just this something where she doesn’t always understand, doesn’t always see trouble for what it is. At the river she did, because that had been gone through by us.
Sis needs exposure to your ways, Laura and Miles, to your way of operating, we’re so … interwoven … her and me. It would help if you could size her up again, I know she liked what she saw at that house with you two. She can’t quite come to terms with our new situation.’
‘I’m sure you have all these little side projects,’ said Miles.
‘No, that’s just it … we don’t, we’re both out of work … suddenly. I’m … well, I’m stunned.’
‘Temporarily, Jenny, only temporarily,’ said Miles. ‘We haven’t sorted our own details yet, Laura and I, things are happening so fast, but we do know we’d love to work something out. My thought is that one or two of our patrons, not all, just one or two … well we could do a few freelance jobs for them, we both have continental connections, we both keep these up … nothing planned at this stage but it feels right to us.’
‘Oh yes, to us too. We talked about it.’ Now she went a bit quieter. ‘Miles, Laura, I’m going to slip out in the middle of the night tonight, maybe four hours sleep now, if I wake you up, I’m sorry, I’ll say, ‘It’s me,’ and leave by your backdoor if you don’t mind, over the fences. It’s Sis you know, I must be on call. Any dogs around here?’
‘Not of late,’ said he. ‘Ok, shall we get some shuteye? I for one am knackered.’
There was a meeting of the captains on Miles’s boat, Laura was the hostess, she was enjoying the attention and compliments.
Thing was, the EU was changing the rules and what waters were still left to the fishermen were going to be reduced even further – they were being squeezed out of business. They were going to have to either defy their own government who’d been rubber stamping anything the EU wanted or else they’d have to just defy the EU … but it was the same thing in the end.
The question came up of doing it on the sly – just catching anyway and to hell with it. If there were gunfights in the English Channel, so be it. They all agreed to go away and think out plans, then meet again a week Tuesday.
It was the gentle tap-tap-tapping on the upstairs bedroom window which woke them.
‘Well look what the cat dragged in, it’s Jenny,’ mumbled Laura and then buried her face into the pillow.
‘Looks more like two Jennys to me.’
She looked over, said, ‘Well I never,’ and lay on her back, face upwards … but grinning. Pleased in fact.
Miles got out and went over to let them in. ‘This is going to be most interesting indeed.’
The mini tsunamis came through, handing over their packs to be searched, which weren’t and just sat on the floor, as they helped each other with the tricky bits like boots … finally there they were … starkers, the first test concluded.
They’d not been asked to do this, Laura was in fact a bit annoyed in some ways but realised there was a dynamic going on here. Best take advantage of it and play it as it unfolded.
‘May we look hard at you … you know … stare?’ asked Laura. ‘In intimate detail?’
‘No point if you don’t. We don’t do this for just anyone.’
‘Uh huh,’ said Miles, ‘which of you was the one at the river?’ She put her hand up. ‘You’re Jenny A then, all right? The other’s Jenny B.’
‘Ok,’ they said in succession.
‘Towels in the bathroom,’ said Laura, wide awake now, ‘dressing gowns here if you want, take your time, Drambuie’s over there in its regular place, Miles will bring the snacks from downstairs for when you come out – microwaved All Day Brek ok?’
Both nodded enthusiastically and Jenny B led the other through to the bathroom.
‘What fun,’ said Laura. Truth was, she half meant it. Miles went downstairs to make the makings.
The two eventually came out, there’d been much laughter and talk next door, they filed through, did not even ask but made to pile into the hosts’ bed, queen size they’d obviously noticed. The two hosts looked at one another.
‘Er, food, girls?’ suggested Miles.
‘Oh yeah,’ said Jenny B. They walked off the bed they’d just stepped onto, went over and wolfed it down. Then they piled into bed, occupying the middle half and a bit in each other’s arms.
Laura sighed, ‘Okaayyy,’ and climbed in on her side, up against Jenny B, one arm across her, holding herself from falling out. Miles looked at his betrothed, hesitating, she nodded, at this very moment he knew this was a matter of huge import, that he was being tested, yet two conflicting imperatives were clawing at each other, maybe three … yes, lust, there was that bare back and bottom, and here was he, everyone waiting for him to get in … then gallantry, yes gallantry … the insult to the lady not to, chivalry and all that … and yet, though Laura was pushing and he going along with this ‘testing’ rubbish … and it was pure rubbish … it was running through his mind that the instant he got in there and her cool backside met his front, that some sort of spirit thing was happening, that he was going to lose Laura for sure down the track … and this now was the moment.
He got in on his side, up against Jenny A’s exquisite body, anything he now said was meaningless to any of those three, meaningless to heaven, empty words. ‘I’m not going to say anything at this point, it doesn’t need saying, Laura is in charge of this show, OK?’ The two both said ok.
What a copout, he said to himself, Laura just gazed over at him, expressionless eyes. The moment would pass but it was as sure as hell going to return one day.
‘You lead the talk, Jenny B,’ said Laura.
Jenny A was facing her sister, listening to all, Laura sighed because she understood that Miles, having now fallen like this, had no practical choice, given the width of the bed and four people, but to have one arm across Jenny A in order to stay there and this Jenny had now taken his arm with her hand, holding him there, quite happy with the situation. Miles was obviously awaiting Laura’s lead, she didn’t lead, she refused to, because she wanted to know just how weak he was. She just sighed and told Jenny B to get on with it.
‘Right,’ Jenny A, not Jenny B, started, ‘both of us can’t even start to tell you how we feel about your kindness. We really do feel we’re temporarily ‘in from the cold’, in a haven just now. It’s having a major effect on our brains …’
‘And our souls,’ added Jenny B more drily.
‘Well isn’t that just lovely,’ said Laura, Jenny A checked her expression, then relaxed again.
Jenny B continued. ‘We’re in here, Laura, for the testing, you’re doing that now. You both feel you have the feel of both of us? Ok, Sis and I are now going to change places.’
Sis crawled over her sister, who now shuffled over towards Miles perfunctorily she’d have called it, making clear that this was under sufferance, something Laura appreciated, Sis backed up against Laura who also found it not unpleasant as Sis gyrated herself into a good position between Laura’s hips, which disturbed Laura more than a little. Sis was nothing if not silky smooth and effervescent.
Miles found Jenny B a quite different package, a lot more reserved, and yet he could feel her longing for human warmth all the same, he could feel a whole lot more going on as well which he was going to mention to Laura later. Why? To try to make it all right?
Jenny B asked, not of anyone in particular, ‘How would you rate that as a test?’
Laura it was who answered. ‘Effective, Jenny B. You two can really do a number on someone if you want.’
‘Anyone interested in just doing a bit of fishing and rent collecting?’ Miles put in.
Jenny B spoke quietly. ‘I am for sure.’
Murmured Laura, ‘All right, you’ve shown us the differences. You’ve shown us your power too. We do, though, have a fifth person in this – DI Collins. He’s part of the mix, yet he can still put me away, so he’s not yet a full and equal partner in my eyes. Which Jenny was with Dave again? I’m assuming it was Jenny B.’
‘Correct,’ said Jenny B.
‘Well, ten past two in the morning, girls,’ continued Laura. ‘Anything else really vital we need to discuss this first time out?’
Said Jenny B, ‘No doubt we’ll think of something after we’ve gone.’
‘No doubt,’ said Miles.
Jenny A turned over to Laura, planted the biggest kiss, hugging her to bits. Right. Ok.
Laura looked at Miles, he looked back, they both sighed … then semi-smiled. ‘Right, girls,’ said she, ‘we need to do our analysing of you two … before we fall asleep.’
‘Of course,’ said Jenny B, hastily … she scrambled out, dragging Sis.
They were gone within eight minutes through the upstairs window.
‘Well, fiance of mine for now …’ she laid it on thick ‘… speak.’
‘As operatives first … seemed impressive to me … what about you?’
‘First rate, they can do a number all right. You know I mean sexually. In other words, what did your tadger-tenna tell you?’
‘Sarah put my hand straight to her breast, she pushed her rump back into me but must have wondered about my thing going down. She knows how to do it, how to do all of it …’
‘Yep, she’s been groomed by someone, Laura, way too by the numbers, afraid it lost my interest. Jenny B though … she stayed reserved, yes, but she still said heaps in that reserve. Sarah’s physical pushing made it quite unlikely anything could have occurred, Jenny though was dangerous. She never pushed, she just placed her zone ultra-close for docking. Laura, she was right there you know, she knew exactly what she was doing, she was making statements all over the place with her muscles, her manner was deadpan but her body was alive, and how.’
‘At attention the entire time … she was coaxing me.’
‘Also groomed, you think?’
‘No, I don’t think she was, just hours of practising on her own I’d say. Somehow I believe her tale about the virgin.’
‘I do too. Thanks, Miles, for giving that away, I couldn’t see all that was happening, I could guess though. You know I have no choice but to ban Jenny B up against you … tell me you have no plans to see her privately.’
‘None whatever. I’m currently trying to secure you, aren’t I, with one weather eye on Leyton, and this may have been a setback. No way Leyton’s coming into our bed.’
Poker face from her. ‘Let’s see how the two of them do on missions.’
Miles and Laura had been ‘burgled’. They’d been at the boats, doing the rounds, shopping, usual things, had come ‘home’. They’d been burgled.
‘Glad we could finally meet,’ said DI Collins in ‘their’ living room, over coffee. ‘Let’s start with the report on your done-over home here. Nothing missing you say but they went through everything, especially papers. That’s a message to you and to me.’
It was Laura who’d seen it first – the slight misplacement of things within boxes on mantelpieces, never the things themselves. They’d been professionals.
‘What were they after?’ she asked.
‘Documents, names. Here’s something for you.’ He took a file from his briefcase. ‘This is my working list, nothing official, just ones we’re interested in.’ He went round to their side of the table and laid it down.
They both scrutinised the sheet, Laura pointed to about five names. He pointed. ‘Not this one? Nor this?’ She shook her head. ‘That does fit. There were some testers on that list as you’d imagine, I had to do it that way.’
He returned to his chair and she topped up his coffee. She asked, ‘Does that move us forward?’
‘Moves me forward but not by much. Just confirms other reports coming in – can’t be touched. One is head of my department, that’s off the record of course. You know the rules if you want anything further.’
‘Naturally. Now we’ll help you. There’s an organisation, runs courses for leaders, it’s in every council …’
‘The organisation itself is not evil …’
‘We dispute that.’ Miles got up, found his hard copy and passed it to the Inspector. ‘That’s their modus operandi … and this.’ He went passed across another page. ‘And this.’
‘Phew. No idea.’
‘Do you understand now our reticence to talk? Look at this one – an FoI request. Look at this one who phoned this one and they blocked it. It’s all here.’
‘It’s online for anyone interested, we’ve made hard copies. This is how things have changed these days. And those names keep coming up. Not in their capacity as heads of the organization mentioned but they are the same people who are also in this organisation.’ He showed the Inspector the next page.
‘We go through hoops and this stuff is all here.’
‘Yes. By the way, who’s your 2IC of anti-fraud?’
‘Have a look at this.’
‘Any computer, any library … Leyton. It’s there. That is what we’re up against.’
‘Who are these organisations exactly?’
Miles answered. ‘They’re just shadowy departments, bean counters the programme gave our address to – for the most part. And yours too, by association with us.’
‘And if we stop associating?’
‘Worse – that’s of even more interest. What triggered it, they ask?’ He went into what Jenny B had said in general terms, he added about the Deep State. ‘That’s today’s reality – anything online, anything at all, ends up at GCHQ if the bots say it’s of interest. Soviet Union,- eat your heart out.’
‘It’s … horrifying.’
‘It’s today. Welcome to the new world.’
Laura joined in. ‘There’s no way to touch those five names, they’re too well entrenched. Like spiders, any tugging on the web and they’re alerted.’
‘So,’ continued Miles, ‘if they really do want to snuff out Jenny [he was keeping it singular for now], that’s that. Where does that leave official crimefighting, Inspector?’
He was thinking. He stroked his chin. ‘Directives come down all the time, more paperwork, more reports, inventories, things which tie us up in paperwork. We’re ordered to be hard whereas before we’d let it go, creampuff stuff. Minor things, ordinary lads, pensioners – we throw the book at them now.’
‘That’s what is happening. Our ships’ paperwork – you want to see it?’
‘I’ve got the idea. And now I might be of unofficial help. Try these two names, leave the rest.’ He took a sheet from his briefcase and handed it across. ‘Third and seventh – you’ll probably know one of them, the other you probably won’t.’
‘Actually, I do,’ said Laura. ‘My former work,’ she explained.
‘Tell me more.’
Leyton’s question about the miscreant in question had had the effect of Laura clamming up.
‘If you feel you can,’ he smiled. She shrugged and plunged in, about the man’s side ventures, about the children’s charity he was patron of, about all the good work he’d done, of the church society, the vestry in question.
The Inspector’s eyes showed immediate recognition. ‘I’m wondering if there’s any point any more.’
‘As you’re meant to think. Stay a good boy, don’t investigate the ‘unnecessary’ or you’ll be framed. This is why Jenny’s now irrelevant, the work she does. The killings go on – turf wars, that’s all. We want nothing to do with it, we fish.’
Collins smiled. ‘Paragons of virtue.’
‘Known-knowns, Inspector. Not saints but within the law.’
‘Because,’ said Miles, ‘in this day and age, you get away with nothing, everything’s online or on computer, you stay clean. If you did take our hard drive – what’s the bet it would come back with more on than it went out with?’ Collins was noncommittal. ‘Not saying you’d personally do that. However, when it comes back, we’d destroy the drive immediately, we have back ups for our own data in many places. We ditch the entire laptop every couple of months.’
‘Those are the acts of suspicious people, money launderers and the like.’
‘Those are also the acts of people who’ve educated themselves that the state is not their friend, even if they are within the law. I’m sorry because you’re a dedicated officer …’
‘No, you’re right. And it’s the same elements every time.’
‘Look at the current police chief.’ Collins groaned. ‘These people,’ said Miles, ‘are career bureaucrats, doing bidding from above, word in the ear and they deploy a dozen officers, so what chance we can nail these two names? And what if we could anyway? It’s a hydra, as Laura says, grows two more heads.’
‘Ah, but as I pointed out, you might just discover some recent developments with those two names which could shift the balance.’ He was smiling. ‘Use Jenny, go after this lady,’ he wrote it down on a sheet from his pad, ‘connected to N7 and this … connected to N3. They’re disgruntled.’
‘You don’t know how high.’
‘With N3,’ put in Laura, ‘I do know.’
‘I have to get back. Don’t suppose you can tell me where Jenny is?’
‘Safe, she’s not on the game at this moment, she’s frightened and lying low.’
‘You two take care.’
He departed, Jenny B came out of the linen closet with no linen in it and said she’d heard all that. ‘Will you show me those names, I might know some too.’
Laura showed her the list she’d made, Jenny whistled. ‘We can nail this one. Sis and I can.’
‘No. Just give us time to plan it and run it past you.’
‘Let’s have lunch.’
At that, Jenny A came out of hiding too.
Over lunch, Laura changed the topic.
‘You, Jenny B’ She thought what to say. ‘I’m torn. Hear me out, both of you.’ They had no intention of doing otherwise. ‘We’re building something here. All my working life, I’ve helped takeovers, or else dragging bad people down. We’re doing it again. But we’re building too. Miles and I are building this thing we have, things have fallen into our laps, but as you’ve just seen, Jenny, we can be riding high one day and suddenly it all changes.
Let’s say Jenny B finds Mr. Right, then that alters the dynamic, doesn’t it? Same with what Sis does. I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I‘m not sure what I want,’ she mused. ‘This thing is still developing with us and now there are four. I know it relieves tension, not to say boredom, that it’s interesting for now. Long term I’m not so sure.’
‘Laura, you only need take us aside and say,’ said Jenny B.
‘I know that. And I thank you, both of you.’
‘We do have a plan,’ said Sarah. ‘For the names on the list I mean. There’s no killing, we promise, nothing like that but it will certainly bring those people out of hiding, out from under their rocks. We just need this chance.’
‘And then we just monitor the main players,’ put in Jenny B, ‘watch for anything unusual, keep an eye on developments. The net is like a spider’s web.’
Laura looked at Miles, he in return, they both shrugged. Well why not see how this goes?