Laura heard him arrive downstairs, heard him come up, knock on the door, she was about to give him the rounds of the kitchen when she saw the bandage.
‘Oh Miles, oh Miles.’ She grabbed his ‘good’ hand, smothering him with kisses.
‘They’ve already washed me so I only have to get this gear off – will you help?’
She laughed through her relief. ‘You want to sleep, tell me tomorrow? I couldn’t sleep now if I tried.’
‘Nor me. Undress me, I’ll fall into bed, you start your tale, then I’ll tell you mine. Ladies first.’
‘And that’s what happened,’ she concluded. ‘You proud of your non-combatant Laura?’
‘Proud? I’m terrified of you!’ he was grinning. ‘Too much to hear it now? Tomorrow?’
‘Now if you would. Let me make coffee.’ She got up and was listening.
‘Sarah got to hear about this attempt on the fleet. She’d been talking to me, half-hankering for Holland, van Agt had phoned her, she hid it from me, she also spoke on the phone with Mandy Sobel, so I was told by Leyton. All was well, she was told. They were just scouting, she believed. Yes, they could meet on the wharf. So easy. Yes, she was kidnapped.
Her attached to the door of the warehouse, and how she was attached to it – she knew her intended fate then, that she was just a pawn. On that floor for hours, no food, no warmth – we can only hope she’s finally got the message.’
Miles took a sip. ‘Neither Jenny could be told about my trip, you could not be told. I’m really sorry.’
‘No, I understand that and you’ve tried to reach me at your earliest chance.’
‘My role, arranged by Leyton through his network, was always to coordinate with Romy Visser …’
‘She has no love for van Agt, she’s not exactly a goodie but in this case .. she was. In her waters, it had to be with her connivance and organisation, it did cost us but was worth it. We used divers to plant them under the hulls. It was midnight Amsterdam time, fifteen crews were given enough seconds to jump off their boats and swim out of the way, the charges were below as I said, there was a two minute delay and then, more or less at the same time up and down the coast, the boats were blown up, debris a fair way around the location of each former boat.
At the same time, an escort took a tray of drinks to the meeting of a key figure on the Dutch list, van der Haar and certain people from his organization, the escort retired graciously, one minute later, the walls of that room were blown out. At the same time, another called Schmelling received a phone call to check the news. He was lucky it had not been him – best he get out of the fishing business while the going was good.’
‘Your arm though! What? Tell me.’
‘Not one of my finer moments, Lauraluv, I was punished for sexism. Not quick enough to realise she would pull a gun. The one I was gunning for was de Vries’ real partner, this Mara, she coordinated the porn part of the trafficking, I organised for her to come onto one of the boats on the strength of me always having a weakness for Jan – some people really bought that,’ she winced, ‘idea was I’d forgotten the cash, would she wait, I’d have to go over to the car over there – she could see it – and get the cash. That bit went all right, she saw the wad, saw me coming back.
Something though must have alarmed her, maybe she’d heard the sound of the first part of the explosion, maybe she saw someone behind me, it might have always been the plan, might have been that she thought the idea of me on a Dutch boat incongruous … any which way, she smelt a rat and jumped. Blast did catch her back, she turned on the ground and aimed, I was a fraction slow getting mine out, I did get her but they had to get me out by boat and then to a medic on our side, it’s just torn, that’s all. I have to go back over there and report in a few days concerning the very public shooting, unless it’s sorted by their police.’
‘Was she the only one?’
‘Nope, there was a list from Leyton, we’d discussed how and where. It was me in conjunction with a police marksman over there, plus one who was a plant on them until now. These people were vile, they were the ones integral to the worst abuses, they were actually running the show but were unknown, untouchable. They made a small error, that was all the Dutch special units needed.’
‘I’m numb. Truly numb. I want to throw up and yet I did the same over here. Just blasted them. I want to say yours were worse, targetted that way, tracked down, but what am I saying? I know neither of us are ever doing this work again, ever, you hear?’
‘Yes, love. You mentioned ‘us’, Laura. Is there still an ‘us’? And yes, I do mean Leyton.’
‘Oh Miles. I came close to making a fool of myself afterwards, too pleased with my own efforts. Stay the night with him? There was certainly a pull in that direction but no, I would not have. First, I could not live with myself and second, I want the moral high ground with you over Jenny.’
‘That really is being honest, Laura. If we can get past all this, if you can get past him, me past Jenny, then I really want to go for it with you, fight to keep you.’
‘Cuts both ways … husband.’
In Amsterdam, witnesses claimed she’d fired first, the only issue was his firearm at all. The magistrate saw the authorisation, the paperwork had been done in-house, it was fairly clear what had happened, he was back by evening.
Miles and Leyton had been talking, they put an idea now to the others.
There was a pizzeria at the far end of Lytton – Madeleine’s – not an easy place to reach, not on the main drag, it didn’t get the bus or train custom but this added to its charm. Its major business was delivery in the evenings – she ran the lunch opening and that was the time for anyone to visit. She herself was widowed, a real barmaid type – a ‘sporting’ lass, not sporty, not really part of the courting game, had family.
Leyton and Miles wanted to take the gang there because some interesting characters dropped by who were of the eligible kind, with vehicles, work, things of interest to a young lady. The other advantage was it was a meeting place away from the harbour or Leyton’s second home. The downside was that Amsterdam might get wind of this and there weren’t crews about to protect it.
They were also in the middle of building a steel hulled launch, at least having the shell built, they’d do the woodwork themselves.
Leyton took Sarah to Madeleine’s first. There was a lady of indeterminate age sitting at a table, maybe mid-30s, not from these parts, nor was that unusual with the type of trade coming through. Thing was, Sarah knew her and was avoiding looking. And Leyton was avoiding looking at her looking. She was a bit of a stunner, this lady, when she smiled.
As they went to leave, he said quietly, just on spec, ‘He’ll be here at 13:45.’ Could have meant anything. The woman nodded.
Before they drove off, he called Miles, said what he’d told the woman, they needed an instaconference, could the shop be closed for a short while, go three lanes back, Wardour Lane, number 47.
Jenny looked into her sister’s eyes. ‘Well, Sis?’
‘Name is Gabby. Bad woman. Meaning she’s good.’ They actually understood that. ‘She’s GI, populists.’
‘Describe her, Leyton,’ asked Miles.
‘5’4”, light brunette, heart shaped face normal hands, feet, medium build, sharp as a tack, spoke with an accent. Some women lose it with age, she gains it. Pity I can’t tell north, south, Walloon, that sort of thing. Gold chain bracelet, yellow pendant on it, white symbol.’
‘Upturned V?’ asked Miles this time.
‘Sarah’s not going to Madeleine’s. I’m taking Jenny. Would you, Laura, and Leyton take Sarah to the launch, for her safety. We’ll phone.’
‘G.I.?’ asked Jenny in the back of the cab.
‘Seems like it. Do you see them as friends?’
‘I do, Sarah doesn’t. She might now though.’
Jenny was looking at him out of the corner of. He smiled back.
The lady actually wandered in with them. ‘Madeleine, first big request – anywhere we can sit, not out here? We’ll be finished in fifteen minutes, you judge if you’ll ever let us come again.’
‘This way, folks,’ grinned Madeleine, adoring this cloak and dagger. ‘Fifteen minutes?’
‘No more. Need a hand locking up now?’
‘I’ll do it.’
‘I’m Gabby. You, Miles, are regarded as one of us, that was quite a show near The Hague.’ She smiled. ‘We wanted the two Jennys, obviously one has changed sides.’ Her manner was not nasty, devious, snide, menacing, it was nothing. It was neutral.
‘Not quite, Gabby,’ said Jenny, ‘Sis is back with us but it’s still way too dangerous for her now.’
‘We understand that. what about Laura then?’
Miles replied to Gabby. ‘We were discussing it, Laura and I, she felt she was too out of shape, out of practice.’
‘We tailor it to your strengths, no master plan, except one taking in many contingencies.’
‘I know your work,’ said Miles, ‘you’re quite some outfit.’
‘Thank you. We’d best go. Here’s my mobile number, please destroy it after you’ve saved it, only call if it’s an emergency.’
He left a pizza delivery order and paid, boys would deliver later. They all went out.
Back in the car, he asked Jenny her view on Gabby and GI. She answered thoughtfully. ‘They’re professional, I like them. Laura might want more say. We’ll have to see. Sarah’s a huge worry to all of us. I must give her some thought too. We’re not taking Sis, no way. Hope that will jolt her. Not sure Leyton and you can keep her here either. She’s resourceful.’
‘We’re still to sort out who’s doing what, we’re all on a need to know basis, so you might know … or think you do. Me too.’
‘That’s true, it will be revealed. For once I’m glad not to be organising this … it’s too vast.’
Meeting and delivered pizzas concluded on the boat, everyone was on board with the idea, they’d meet Gabby tomorrow and it would be laid out. Jenny now nailed Sis with her eyes and said, ‘If you do anything, Sarah, they get told. About it all. You pull your tricks, your little girl tears and we’re finished as sisters. I mean it.’
‘Has anyone thought,’ Sarah held back the tears, ‘to ask ME? You all tell me this, tell me that but you never ask ME. I ended up tied to a door, a door they thought you’d smash or shoot through. Jan is dead, not your fault, the others, Miles, are not my concern. Mara is an utter bitch. I do have my agenda in this thing, Gabby knows it, and it aligns with everyone else’s. I’m not crazy in that way, that I’d go to your enemy. I was careless at the wharf, that was all, not functioning in my mind properly. But you can be sure my loyalty is with your mission, because it’s mine too.’
Jenny looked hard at her, then softened and said, ‘Sis, you being at this meeting now – that’s trust. My threat is my despair at seeing you so low in spirit. You know me well enough.’
‘Yes, I know. Thank you.’
The sisters then did what sisters do.
Jenny had been right about Gabby’s organisation – it was need to know, well planned, Laura and Jenny were back in harness and there were countless evenings – which were not countless because there was a deadline but anyway – they had to relearn, role play, get it right, do it again and so on. Where their lack of knowledge of each other’s instant reactions was an issue, they dropped it from the plan.
And next day they’d go over it again. Gabby’s people were training, monitoring, evaluating. The professionalism was no bignoting, it was real, cautious, closed. Need to know. They felt more secure.
The men didn’t know where, when, how, they just knew it was around two weeks away. At night, Laura would flop back in bed, exhausted, too exhausted for that, Miles was surprisingly patient and encouraging. It was unwritten that he’d never directly ask. He was doing the cooking, punctuated by Madeleine’s pizzas.
‘Your trust,’ she said a few times, ‘I asked you to trust me and now you do, I wonder why of course. Humans!’
Leyton’s main job was Sarah, keeping her close, entertained, even training, talking to her in a way no one had in months, even over the past year.
Miles noted, ‘If Sarah is stringing Leyton along, well – we’ll know soon enough. If she’s not – phew. What happens if they become an item?’
Laura agreed. ‘I’ve thought it through in terms of this mission, it doesn’t need to be spelt out. Failsafes are in place – you should see the ones on me alone. Already, one of the cell leaders has established connection with Agt’s computer guy. All of this goes on all the time. Keeping it all constant is the thing. Wish I could tell you more. Major agencies are monitoring.’
‘This next question is not loaded, Lauraluv, it’s neutral, and a straight answer is required – but after your layoff, no Amelie, new partner possibly with an agenda – do you feel up to this?’
‘Don’t know, Babe, don’t know. I feel all right. She’s much quicker than I am now, than I ever was, probably. It’s intriguing because both of us are known over there, so the element of surprise is gone. I want you to know this, Miles – you during these months, you’ve given me confidence, I feel I have a supporter and friend. I just wanted to say that. And before you start analysing, they’re not famous last words or anything like that. We’re planning to come back in one piece, untraumatised.’
‘If you feel you have the energy, there’s a short time before we must get some sleep …’
Last days before the final mission groupings – they were using two launches, the shock was Leyton and Jenny on one, Gabby and Sarah on the other, both crewed, crews both jailors and guards at the same time on the second launch.
‘I want to join my sister in her work,’ said Sarah from her bunk. ‘I sense disaster with that pair, their agendas are opposed.’
‘Personally, I know I can’t be trusted, have I complained? But I see trouble. Leyton’s no traitor but he does have an agenda and he might be turning my sister to pursue it. Outside this mission. Personal.’
‘I see. I take it this does not impinge on this mission.’ Sarah confirmed that vehemently. ‘All right, it really does depend how you come through this one, Sarah. Do you see that? We judge by targets met, just like businesses. Loyalties are paramount. You’ll get your chance as you asked, and how.’
Sarah nodded. She relaxed. ‘Have you ever killed anyone, Gabby?’
‘Operational issue, can’t say.’
‘I have … with my hands.’
There was a knock and Gabby’s Mariska came through, nodding to both and taking her place on the chair at the table. Not a word.
Jenny was grilling Leyton about himself, also telling him things he needed to know about her sister. He asked just as much about her.
They both dropped off to sleep around the same time.
The first theatre of war on this cool, clear night, was the dinner in The Hague, televised for local consumption – the great and the good all present, EU bigwigs, royalty. It was one of those televised fundraisers.
The tables were in a U, the serving girls supplemented by the smart waiters, the sole had been consumed, the venison, they were onto the Dutch version of Torte au Chocolat Amer et Madarines Crème au Café, the conversation was in full swing, when all servers suddenly appeared, crowded just inside the doors, a 40ish chap appeared between the last two chairs at the end of the U and asked, into the microphone, for the company to forgive him, he then began a speech, the company at the table in good humour, awaiting some sort of presentation.
The royalty present were asked if they were aware of the accomplishments of the honoured guests, then a book, not unlike an ‘It’s Your Life’ rollcall, was handed to him and he proceeded to spell out the achievements of each person present, quite a break from tradition, then it turned savage.
The ‘achievements’ included spirit cooking dinners, orgies, open season games where the homeless and intergenerationally abused were given ten minutes to escape and were then hunted down, all good sport, the records of all abused girls and boys from the Dutroux trials were read, the guests had of course lined up to depart, crushing against the servers near the door, they were beating at the servers and were failing, the chap with the microphone now asked all to be seated once more … and still the exposure continued. They did not sit, they just stood about and had to listen to the drone continuing, all recorded, all distributed online.
He then gave the floor to a girl, an English girl maybe in her late 20s, and beside her was none other than Gabby to translate, herself with mic, all of it at this point on television, not for long of course but for long enough, all of it archived, only now the girl moved around the room – she would point to and then accuse each person who had been present at those ‘parties’, also on ‘that’ island. To everyone’s horror, various girls from among the servers, plus some of the younger men, now joined her and one by one, they all called out names, places and the nature of the perversions, confronting some of those involved.
The MSM had long shut down the broadcast, the crowds were gathering outside, international punditry was in full swing, there were shots outside the room, troops out there were hacking down doors, mediaeval doors, irreplaceable, the servers were not letting them through by sheer weight of numbers, the thugs in riot gear, whoever they were, simply took out servers in cold blood on that parquet floor, all filmed and distributed by secure servers worldwide, Gabby and the 40ish man were long gone, the live gabbing and blogging ceased.
The English girl, now instantly immortalised as Sarah Marie Daniels, was lying askew on the parquet floor, in blood. Jenny saw it and collapsed.
At that same time, in a harbour in north-western England, a pretty harbour, it was quiet, apart from the lapping waves and certain inflatable dinghies moving into position near the fishing fleet. Every one of Miles’s boats was on their list but the main target was the launch which now housed Sarah, Miles and Leyton, or so they thought.
Two dinghies moved up alongside, the occupants climbed onboard and moved into position, they could hear music inside, incendiaries were about to be dropped through, someone on another fishing boat shouted, the firing began, the intruders were taken out from either side, men appeared from inside every fishing boat, the dinghies were taken out, any survivors now picked off by people in the fishermen’s own dinghies, suddenly the horizon lit up and some sort of launch around 150 feet in length, outside the heads, had broken in two, both ends pointing high towards the stars, people were in the water everywhere, some were being rescued by one of the fishing boats furthest out, others were being dispatched by small arms.
It seemed highly selective.