The skippers and Miles were the only ones present this time, the brainstorming brought all sorts of details out, quite a few miscreants were mentioned, no one of the calibre who could be running this but they could certainly be acting for higher powers. Miles wanted to know if there was any turf war raging just now.
Two of them went silent at this, some looked away. Yes there was – details please.
Turned out that the first sinking might have been down to that feud, obviously the other skipper hotly denied it. It was also clear there was something else on their minds as well, boatmen aren’t the most subtle of men as a rule and as no one wished to speak, it was obviously delicate.
Miles took the bit: ‘Seems to me, gentlemen, that it might be one of three things – first is the Patron I do business with, second is my new wife, third might be the new continental manager, Jan de Vries.’
Ah … he’d hit on it.
Miles’s longest serving skipper spoke in as close to a respectful tone as he could muster. ‘I don’t hold with wimmin on boats, sir,’ much nodding, ‘but your own good lady has been fine, she doesn’t interfere with operations, collects and is pleasant, the bloody EU quotas are a pain, I know you’re running out of spare boats to lend people, Miles.’
‘The damage, the scuppering, is being done at dockside or at least before the heads. It’s someone in your crews.’
Spoke up one: ‘If we could have sorted this, sir, we would have by now.’
‘All right, let’s move on – you two in this feud, would you let Tom here be the arbiter, he’s far enough from your own grounds not to be a player – you’d accept that? He’ll tell you the line and you’ll not cross it, not drift over it. Any objections? No? Thanks for your time.’
Tom stayed back and Miles was glad, light ales were provided.
‘Good lady not with you, sir?’
‘Thought it unwise, had a feeling the meeting might be like this. Ok, then who’s the bastard doing this?’
‘Have you looked across the channel? This Jan – he has big ideas, sir.’
‘I’m watching him carefully. Lke a hawk. With someone inside his camp. There’ll be a fishing war before this is out.’
‘Not telling you your business but it doesn’t always work to appease. Sometimes you have to have that war and the new rules come out of that.’
‘I can’t just dump him without reason.’
‘Oh there’s reason, sir, reason aplenty.’
‘Is it that he’s Dutch?’
‘That’s part of it, main thing is he’s not straight. I see why you want someone Dutch – access to those ports – but he’s not the only Dutchman in Holland, begging your pardon. Trouble is, he’s involved in shenanigans over there, we’re the other side of England and so it shouldn’t affect us this side. Yet it is affecting us and it’s more than my life’s worth to get into it.’
‘I hear what you say.’
‘Listen, Miles, you need to look very, very carefully at what is coming between Holland and here, how it gets here. And why. I dare say no more than that.’
More pillow talk. He’d delivered what had been said, unadorned, she was not upset by the seeming sexism, not by any of that. Her issue was now Jenny A.
‘You, Miles, need to loosen your attachment to this Jan, just because he eases your way into Dutch waters, or so you think.’
‘You’re sure I think that? You think there’s not an agenda on my part which can now be no more since the skippers and I spoke? We’ve already lifted Jenny A anyway, both girls will appear at our window again, only this time I think it might be much rougher and Jenny A will be trying to compromise me. I understand she’s looking the worse for wear. Should we let them inside our bed?’
‘You’ve been reading my mind. Let’s take it as it comes but we may have to deal with it. I’m uneasy, Miles … about all of it, including you and me. I’ve told you not to worry about my loyalty … at this point … but pressures are building.’
The now familiar tapping on the window came pretty well on cue, the next part also went as ‘usual’, they both went to the bathroom and did their thing, came back, Jenny poured the drinks, Miles had microwaved the All Day Breks, they both ate, then came that moment when they piled into bed.
Sarah looked at them all, Jenny B close to tears, Laura it was who said they could get in but it was going to be her, Laura, then Miles, then Jenny B, then Sis the far side next to her sister.
Everybody could see that Sarah was a wreck, they saw weals on her forearms, her manner was different, diffident, almost defiant. Neither Laura nor Miles nor her sister actually wished to be close to Sarah’s body this time round. Sarah at least cooperated by seeing the lie of the land and accepted it.
Said Jenny B to her: ‘You can’t keep de Vries any more.’ Jenny A was completely silent and stiff where she lay.
‘I owe both of you,’ said Miles, ‘the most abject apologies, especially Sis. It was not that we didn’t know – at least Laura didn’t but I did. Laura suspected, I knew. I had no idea though that it had gone this far. I’m not even sure Jenny A will admit anything any more. But I’ll tell you anyway. Jenny A was on a mission from me. Comment, Jenny A? Sarah?’
Total silence. Then: ‘You kidnapped me, Mr. Forrester.’
‘You mean to get you back here? Yes, the three of us did. And you’ve been abused because of my neglect. We so wanted to nail them.’
Suddenly, Sarah climbed over Jenny and went down with her haunches straight onto his thing, guiding it, Jenny dragged her off, she jumped off anyway, he leapt out and sat on the chair at the table, Sarah went straight for the bathroom.
‘This is bad,’ said Laura.
Jenny started weeping. After Miles had thrown her a handtowel and she’d wiped her eyes, she said, ‘I thought Miles had lost the plot, I was really worried, worried enough to ask him to let me go from his employ, I’d have gone over there.’
‘Straight into a trap, Jenny,’ said Miles. ‘but you were justified all the same. De Vries is in with a man called van Agt, he’s one of the high-flying paedos, de Vries is not a paedo, just greedy and he’s running an operation which DI Collins and I are even now close to exposing. Sis is no way part of that, she fell in love with Jan.’
‘Thank you for calling him that, Miles,’ Sarah spoke from the doorway. ‘I … I’m sorry, Miles, I’m sorry Laura.’ But she stayed by the door.
‘Is this thing, the trade I mean,’ asked Laura for confirmation, ‘via the canals?’
Miles looked in his bookshelf, found the short story he wanted, found the places marked in pencil, went over, gave the book to Jenny and asked her to read those parts out loud.
She did and essentially, it was about a blackguard who was also a charmer, he’d protected himself by telling a girl he’d seduced about his past but in a way she could forgive. They tried many ways to get her to see reason and none worked. The girl had that look on her face which said, ‘Do your worst’. Sarah had just been ready to say that and now thought better of it.
‘Jenny, what was the only thing in the story, near the end, to cause the girl to wake up?’ Now Sarah was intrigued as to what her sister would say.
‘He was seeing another girl.’
‘Yep, a girl such as Mara Hanssen.’
‘Ah,’ mocked Sarah, ‘and I thought you had something. He employs her in the business, she takes spare parts to England.’
Laura was furious, she jumped out of bed, raced over to her dresser, rummaged through the second bottom drawer, found it, and came back. She opened the brown envelope and took out a photo, handing it to Jenny. ‘That’s Mara Hanssen. Who’s she with in that photo?’
‘Van Agt and Jan and a girl. About 15.’
‘That’s still not proof of course, despite the film set. Jenny, come over here.’
Jenny got out, Sarah stayed by the door. Laura took out an old compact disk player, portable and a few of what looked like blank disks which Jenny assumed had been burned. ‘These are never kept here with us, only this evening, only tonight. Hang on, let me check … here it is.’
She put the disk in and clicked on the track she wanted. ‘It’s Jan, Mara and the girl, one of those mother daughter things.’
Sarah rushed for the bathroom door, they heard the click, Laura stopped it and took the disk out.
‘She won’t self-harm,’ said Jenny. ‘there’s no one more into self-preservation than my darling sister. Just give it time. I got close to the truth a couple of times, I knew of it, knew he was bad, I just could not understand why Miles allowed her to go. Then I did see why. Her own assurances to Miles.’
‘To a point. I was still too slow to act. Also, there’s far more than that,’ said Miles. ‘Not here, it’s at Leyton’s work, on file. Snuff, all sorts of sicko stuff. That was now was mild by comparison.
More than enough had been seen. The only thing was – Sarah had not and no one wanted to see any of that sick stuff. They could hear her in there, occasionally throwing things around but she never once screamed or shouted.
To Jenny, this was a major advance. ‘She’s signalling, Laura, Miles.’
Miles, meanwhile, had turned to other things – Leyton had left him with a transcript which he now handed to Jenny. At this point, Sarah unlocked the bathroom door and came back through. Laura went to secure the player and Sarah said not to bother, she got the message, she got back into bed. ‘What do you have there?’ she asked Jenny.
‘Read it to us, Jenny,’ suggested Laura.
She read off date and time, people present, then the conversation according to Sgt. Tim Madders. It went like this:
‘Ms Sobel said: ‘No uniform, Sergeant?’
‘Different branch,’ I said, scrutinising her. ‘Ms Sobel, I’m faster than you but I’m not going to arrest you – let those two things sink in. So there’s no need to get away quickly. Also, we’re both armed.’
‘Ms Sobel was alarmed but decided to ride it out. ‘Your word, is it?’
‘Yes, my word. I’d not have promised otherwise.’
‘Man of integrity eh? Haven’t met one of those in a long while.’
‘I need your help but can’t ask that unless we’re clear what we know and what we don’t. These will show you what we know.’ I handed over an envelope with screenshots of a garage roof and Mandy at work, plus other data on her past.
She was quite uneasy. ‘If you know all this, why don’t you arrest me?’
‘Don’t be insulted but we’re after bigger fish. We want to know the real game. I’m going to play fair – we think Jan de Vries commissioned you and supplied you but I’m not asking you to confirm that. What I am asking is – if that’s wrong, then tell me what else is wrong as well, you don’t need to tell me what is right, as that will have you in trouble with whoever organized this.’
‘What’s your thinking?’ Ms Sobel asked.
‘We know you were onboard a few of those craft. Not saying they were the ones which sank but you were definitely on some boats.’
She just looked at him.
Jenny kept reading:
‘We think Miss Laura was getting wise to some things going on with the boats or else she was part of them or else Miles was or else Holland was and these puzzled us for some time – down the Leeds-Liverpool and over to Holland. We’re still not sure whether it was guns, drugs or both. We’re not yet sure whether it goes through Goole or not. That can be sorted later.’
‘Where do I come in?’ asked Ms Sobel.
‘We can’t offer a plea deal but there’s another way – we don’t charge you at all, feeling we couldn’t make it stick. I think you see what we need in return.’ I could see the cogs working overtime in there and this was the critical point – would she shop others to save herself or would she mislead to protect?
‘I’m not naming names.’
‘Not asking you to.’
‘But later, you’ll pull me in and make me tell, keep me there all night, all of that.’
‘Not during this case.’
‘I’m not talking about you personally. Someone, years later, goes through the files and decides to chase me.’
‘Depends what was written in the files – how it was written up. Who wrote it up.’
‘I don’t trust you. You got a sweet face but I don’t trust you. And I don’t grass.’
‘Ms Sobel, Mandy – we need pointers, ideas. You do it this way, no one comes after you ever, no one wants anything more from you – I write it up that way. We’re after the principals. Only thing I ask is not to put us on the wrong track entirely – because then we really would come after you, even overseas.’
Ms Sobel stewed over it and stewed over it, knowing exactly how it would pan out. She made a decision. ‘It doesn’t go Ireland to Holland, it goes the other way. It’s not drugs, it’s people.’
‘Migrants you mean?’
‘No, something paying far more.’
‘I’m saying nuffin.’
‘Miles’s boats were used for that? Did he know?’
Jenny looked up and put the report aside. Laura spoke.
‘I never knew just how bad it was Miles, though I could have guessed. I knew there were a few boats involved in what I thought was contraband, maybe drugs. Miles, I’m afraid has been slack about this, he judged by the fish which came in.’
‘It seems a long, slow-winded way of doing it,’ said Miles, ‘bringing them that way, via canals, with stoppages along the way. Why not just a light aircraft?’
‘Too open, too trackable. Much easier to get them off the boat short of a bottleneck, put them in a van, put them back on the boat later. They work it out to the last detail.’
‘Starts in Amsterdam?’
‘Correct. The paedo ring you can’t break,’ said Laura, ‘because you would not be alive to break it – once you get close enough, things happen, they have different ways of dealing with it. There’s a central organising group of people – it’s so high that no one’s ever touched them in centuries – but it’s part of a larger, global move for the destruction of society, let’s not get into that now. There are rings which form, then disband, fade away, new ones form – it’s always moving on, always changing. You can nail various figures but usually after their deaths or the deaths follow that and then it’s someone else, it’s a hydra, there is no one head at the top of it all. Not in this world.
Sometimes a figure is disciplined – they’ve stepped out of line or are about to become an embarrassment. I didn’t know this when I thought I was being so clever on the continent but I was ‘allowed’ to expose such individuals – it happened with Strauss-Kahn. That wasn’t paedo per se but they still had the goods on him in his chosen perversion.
That’s how it’s done, that’s how they keep people under control. I was a fighter for what I believed to be good, seems I was just being used, just as everyone else is. Looking at my past, you could say I was abused as well – yes, I fit the classic profile, oversexed from too early exposure to it. And it’s not from newfound moral rightness that I’m talking, it’s from personal pride, ego – they think I’m going to stay quiet.
I’m going to tell you some things and then it’s up to you what you do – if you use them, you condemn me to death. The boats were not so much for the really bad stuff but for borderline, the girls were 18 or close to it, it was for the porn industry, also for clubs. You haven’t got anywhere near the awful stuff here that Holland and Belgium have … or Scotland. You saw a bit on the player.
The ones on Miles’s boats are used for clubs across the land – you might ask why not homegrown. The answer is personal preference of the clientele. Maggie from Barnsley is not quite the same as Maria from Slovakia – they move differently for a start, they do things differently.
The borderline age is much easier to transport in plain sight – take them off a canal boat and they could be some twenty year old guy’s girlfriend, they rejoin later. Meanwhile, their lack of papers – well, there’s a whole smokescreen of illegals right now, isn’t there?
Tom is not involved – they kept him in the dark just as much as Miles. Anyone halfway moral is kept in the dark – that’s obvious. Other boats, other skippers, they’re not so scrupulous. I was one of those girls many moons ago, that’s how I got to that agency, that’s how Miles found me. Did he rent girls? No, but girls found him – he represented money in those days, they called themselves hostesses and PAs, and Miles was fine with that.’
‘Jan de Vries?’ asked Jenny.
‘Miles taking him on tells you something about him, about Miles – either he really is that naive, our Miles, or else he knew and was keeping the person close, you can’t always tell with Miles but now we do know. Mandy and I had a past, Chloe too – for a short time I set up wealthy men for Mandy to relieve of their money. I wanted my cut but she refused and so I shopped her. She did two years before parole, I was on a bond and assurance. Chloe knew us both but you, Miles, didn’t know us back in those days.’
‘You haven’t said who’s giving the orders,’ said Jenny, ‘my Sis was with these people. I’m still not sure, Miles, if you knew you were sending Sis into danger.’
‘I’ll answer the head honcho one first,’ said Miles. ‘He’s well known in Amsterdam, which is why I can tell you straight – I’ve mentioned him once – his name is Ruud van Agt and there was another over here you do know of, Jenny – Neil Joseph. You dealt with him. The Uberboss was Paul Glendinning whom we know is now dead, which means someone has taken his place.’
Laura took it up. ‘Both used or still use Jan as a front, Jan in turn used Sarah who thinks he loves her, the silly little fool.’
‘Which brings us to whether Miles knew he was sending my sister into that danger or not. Miles?’
‘He didn’t,’ Sarah suddenly put in.
‘He didn’t. See, I was supposed to provide intel but Jan – well he was charming and I started lying to Miles. So no … Miles didn’t know.’
‘How much of it do you know yourself, Sis?’ asked Laura. ‘Of what is actually going on? I think you were never involved in the trade or the shoots.’
‘I lost interest. As Jan made me his one and only,’ she snorted, ‘the intel fell away, I didn’t even look.’
‘Personally I’m glad and I think Miles is too. That’s probably what kept her alive.’
Jenny was marginally happier. Marginally. ‘All right, it’s pretty clear. Sorry, I don’t want to think of the things done to those girls, I can’t handle that, truly I can’t handle it any more, my one concern now is Sis. Laura, Miles, may we stay here tonight, I don’t feel up to going anywhere.’
‘Me neither,’ agreed Sarah. ‘You can all call me Sarah now. Jan I can get over until I kill him. The drug is more of an issue. Is there anything they give like methadone for heroin? These are not heroin, they’re tabs.’
‘Can you get through to tomorrow morning, Sarah?’ said Laura, ‘then we’ll get you down to the clinic. Police unit, not public.’
‘Are you going to run out on us tonight, try to get back there to rejoin him or kill him? Because we have a sting coming up. Needs huge organisation.’
She thought it through. ‘I can say not an issue, not at this point, medically … who knows in a few days? As for my loyalty, you can be sure of it. No way I would wreck a sting, endanger any more people. My sis doesn’t believe that but it’s true all the same.’