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I

Jenny was totally mute at these revelations.

She finally managed: ‘You call that a boyfriend, Jodi?’

‘It’s all I have, he protected me from the others.’

‘You’re going back to that?’

‘If I do not find someone who works for the Patron, and I won’t because they are not free, not masters of themselves, then what can I do?  I love Miles, so I won’t have sex with him because we’re not married.  And before you ask – not Peter either, no.  It would not work.’

All three were lost for words.

‘Jenny and I make coffee,’ finally said Jodi. ‘Please wait here, Miles. Will you let me stay tonight?  I fear being alone after this.’

‘That is entirely up to Jenny.  You two talk out there, I’m using our bathroom here now.’

.o0o.

Eventually they called him out, they ate and drank, went to the respective bathrooms to ready for sleep, came back to the bed and crashed.

.o0o.

There was a shout and bumping against their launch which woke all of them from slumber, Jodi jumped half out of the bed, Jenny calmed her. ‘It’s light, it’s morning, it’s our guys, they’ve been patrolling for two hours.’

All the same, she jumped out herself to check.

.o0o.

She was back in two minutes.  ‘Yep, we’re shifting our mooring.

.o0o.

Breakfast was full English, nothing halfhearted for the ‘guys’, who were on clover.  Reports were made, plans laid for the day, jobs allocated.  The Patron called – yes, true, those two new ones were now in his employ.

Jenny was not cheered by that.  ‘It’s not those two, Miles, it’s the fifteen who were ‘rescued’.  It’s social services and the police.  I’d forgotten for a short while the mountain we still have to climb.’

‘I’m here to help now,’ said Ms Svobodova.  ‘You know what my name means in our language?  It means ‘freedom’.  You know what our national saying is?’  ‘Truth prevails’.  Jenny, you wear a cross on your chain, so do I.  Put it all together – we prevail.’

‘I sincerely hope so,’ said Jenny, ‘I sincerely hope so.’

II

The Patron phoned, he and entourage needed to scarper and soon, headed for the Irish coast, private matter, he’d be in touch, lay low, ‘no project’ for now, just get on with the fishing.

III

Seven days later.  Miles took the call.

‘Miles, trust you’re well, hope your good lady’s keeping you on your toes.  Is Jodi all right? Luke’s just been telling me he misses those cups of tea, I miss those lunches.’

‘Ah, delighted.’

IV

With the dessert, the Patron got down to business.

‘Right, I’m assuming we all know, I know from Felice,’ he looked at Jodi, ‘the route these two came by, how it starts with a train in Brno.  They have a hold over Felice, they have a hold over Jodi.’

‘We know, she told us.’

‘Did she now?  That her mission is to split you and find out about us too, also get you out of your harbour?

‘Not the last bit but it stands to reason.  Listening.’

‘Is Jodi onside now?’

‘Yes, I’m very much onside.  Is Felice onside?’

The two girls spoke in rapid Czech, there was much going on in that conversation, they saw Jodi crestfallen and then brightening up.

It seemed to have finished, Jodi was asked by the Patron to state what she understood to be the situation.

‘I come with you, Miles, Jenny, to Czechia, Brno, I go to my ex boyfriend and make ‘friends’ again, work for them, another train is being prepared, but you steal this train instead and any girls who still want to go with us go with us, but Mr. Patron has other business too, so it’s a big project.’

‘And you will do it?  You will not betray us?’

‘In every way I help, I like this life.  Please, I wish to work with Miles and Jenny, doing this sort of thing … but my mother, brother …’

‘Miles asked me, it’s in hand.  They come too with us or else go somewhere safe, you will be there to oversee that, you will speak with them and ask.’

She was happy.  The Patron went on.

‘Currency’s collapsed in Germany – communism only lasts so long – severe over-reaction, borders all closed, movement can only be attempted by people like us.   We need to go about four hours from now if you will come with us, Miles and Jenny, our people will still patrol the harbour, you need to arrange your boats somehow, can you do it in that time?.’

‘Not an issue,’ said Miles, ‘we’re organised now, more or less.’

V

It was a goods train once they finally got there.

‘Miles, Jenny, Jodi.’

The Patron was in good form, he’d kept himself in trim, it was just this luggage compartment which was interesting.  No doubt there was sufficient moolah to keep mouths shut. Miles was not going to ask.

‘Me being here personally significant to you at all, Miles?  Right, the pandemics, the lockdowns – business never stops beneath all that of course, currency is soon to be in promissories just before digital, my information is there are these new promissories, pre-electronic trial version, pre-Q codes  but here’s the thing – they will still be honoured, worth a mint.  You getting my drift? They have a national holiday coming up, so we need to be there for it.’

The Patron gulped down some pork crackling he had in a packet.  ‘Assume you’ve eaten?’

‘For three more hours.’

‘Right, we’re going to Brno as you know, you’ve done your homework on the town and here’s the thing – the promissories are in the crocodile.’

Jodi gasped.  ‘Nooo.  Really?”

‘All right, I’ll give,’ he smiled. ‘They have a legend there about some giant crocodile monster in the past, it was killed, the carcass was suspended from the ceiling of a room in the Old Town Hall, tourist attraction, this new form of currency will break up Europe, with love from Brno, logical place is inside crocodiles, so we’re going crocodile hunting. Jodi’s role this time, and Felice’s, is to get through any Czech speaking awkwardness.’

‘All that sounds good but what, may I ask,’ asked Miles, ‘are the two of us, personally, doing here?’

‘Not getting caught or blown up over there.’

‘Ah, right.  Any actual role for us?’

‘As usual – you coordinate, I hide and live to fight another day.’  Miles’ turn to grin.  ‘Actually, Miles, Jenny, this is almost too easy this time, providing they don’t move things and providing my people on this train do not get a better offer.’

‘Big ifs.’

‘The first part, springing the kids, is pretty straightforward, we have young people on the ground, one of Jodi’s jobs is vetting them.  The second is a bit of subterfuge – I’m officially trying for the jewellery exhibition in Výstaviště, to knock off the jewels …’

‘And are you?’ asked Jodi. ‘Trying to knock them off?’

‘Not giving away all of our secrets, Jodi but we’ve had some dummy stones cut to replace those in the exhibition.  You yourself will be there too.  Nothing heavy, a decoy.  All right, Jodi, tell me if this is correct … it’s a student town, universities, there’s some giant phallus in the town square spitting glass balls.’

‘Yes,’ she grinned.

‘And there’s a university, Masarykova Univerzita for example.  Source of what?’

‘Ah, yes Mr. Patron sir.  That is the one.  Yes, he is there.’

‘If you still wish to save those kids, good, it’s all within a small central area too, the logistics are manageable.’

‘Yes, they are.’

Said Jenny: ‘So, just to be clear – the promissories are inside the crocodile right now, which will be replaced by the facsimile at fun time.’

‘You’ve got it.  Now I suggest we all get some rest, sandwiches in the box there, Luke will watch over us.  When we wake, we’ll get down to the fine detail and the timings.’

VI

Jodi had been ensconced as one of the exhibition guides, obviously watched over at exit points by her former captors, and the question was whether she was now back in with them in a Stockholm way, as Sarah had been, or was she a plant.  She was seen chatting to various boys in the employ of the Patron, just as the kidnappers were in the employ of a certain ‘businessman’ in the town.

As she’d said back on the train … students are remarkably susceptible to 5K in Euros apiece, especially when there is the promise of much more … and there were many students in this town, many at her former university.

.o0o.

They had sufficient wriggle room for the other patronic operations until the interested parties watching the Patron finally saw that he was not remotely interested in lifting the jewels, at which point the question was … what the hell was he here for then?

Jenny and Miles were well hidden near the train where the next crop of students were already being held, the sordid little army of Allison Macks were toing and froing, bringing one here, two there, steadily over the day.

Meanwhile, the crocodile was being substituted, had been in fact, as reported by the Patron’s student eyes, the guardians were now hit by the patroni, the crocodile switch done, promissories lifted, not taken from the city, but stored at the university, again by students carrying a few at a time in their backpacks.

And so it went.

Jodi, near close of play, was joined by ‘her boys’, the Patron’s protective detail and they headed, as a bunch of loud students, from the exhibition building, roundabouts towards the station.  Her erstwhile ‘boyfriend’ would have smelt a rat and acted, had he not been in injected slumber right then … his own boys had been frantically calling him, no reply, so they’d suspected the worst and had scarpered.

The luggage compartment had already been taken by patroni, two had beaten up her erstwhile ‘boyfriend’, then injected him.  The good news Jodi would soon get was that her mother was safely across the border in one of the Patron’s safehouses and there’d be a videocall later between them.

The students finally arrived, Jenny appeared from nowhere, quick embrace with Jodi, they both now vetted two girls to skim off from the crowd, girls who’d join them in their work in England.  Jodi spoke earnestly to them about the opportunities in England, the freedom, the safety, the adventure, but also the pitfalls if the smooth talkers, personable guys, got to them.  She told them that that’s where they’d been headed this time, as sex slaves.  She told them certain key phrases, codes used by the gang, the girls were mortified.  Mortified that it had suddenly gone nasty at the train … then the rescue … now Jodi telling of these things.  Some of them had seen her about, some knew of Felice.

None of them had been living at home anyway, all were from outlying towns and villages, living in the halls of residence – this was the cleverness of their selection.

One of the boys was keen, name of Tomas, the Patron had already offered him a job.  The first girl, named Markéta, was more suited to working for the Patron direct, Felice liked her, half knew her. It was stressed by Felice that anything from now on was voluntary, a standard job offer if they liked to put it that way.  Any who wanted to stay in Brno – fine, they would get off the train just before it pulled out.

No, there was no chance of getting family out at this stage, they’d not been able to get Felice’s and Jodi’s out until now either, but the families were safe, would  be under guard in the case of the three students who’d accepted.  It was a big decision, Felice said to ask her anything, there were fifteen minutes.

.o0o.

The time was now up.  Once it dawned on the previously kidnapped that these were real interviews for genuine jobs, the attitude changed and became competitive.  Jenny, Jodi and Felice, with the Patron watching, asking Miles now and then, had decided on Marketa, Tomas and Julia … Jodi now addressed the remaining students.

She named the ones they knew were working for the ‘businessman’, these were to keep right away from any of the remaining kids or they’d be snuffed out immediately.

They knew all that. The instant they were off the train, they’d need to run hell for leather, get away, they knew how.  The three strong arm boys who’d got them here, including Petr, Jodi’s former boyrfiend that lot were going with the train, trussed up.

Everyone clear?

VII

It had been a chartered flight touching down in Kiekkast, the matter handled by Romy Visser who ran that seaboard for a steep price but not as steep as it might have been as she was repaying favours herself, quid pro quo, they’d used her before, a number of vessel changes now followed, eventually making for Goole, alighting at Grimsby and using one of the Patron’s safehouses not far distant.  Home territory.

.o0o.

Gruelling journey, not uncomfortable but gruelling.  The only drama had been dumping the three miscreants at Kiekkast, sufficient money to buy two meals and that was it.  They were locked in a shed, still trussed up.

One had started mouthing off about kidnapping, he’d had his face stomped on by four minders, not quite breaking his jaw … that shut the other two up.

.o0o.

Julie was ‘theirs’ on the Sarah Daniels, she was a bit too nice for this sort of work thought Jenny but Jodi had wanted, the two had hit it off.  Neither had shown the slightest interest in Tomas.

.o0o.

The moment they entered the harbour and Julia saw the Sarah Marie Daniels, she gasped at how lovely it all was.  But she herself needed to set them straight on some things later, things they might not know about this very harbour.  Took the gloss off but only just.  She was happy, so everyone was happy.

There was a call, Miles answered. It was Luke.  ‘Yes … yes … understood. Ta. Come for lunch.  Yes, both.’

He reported: ‘Meeting here tomorrow lunchtime, Patron and Luke.  Ok, we have much to sort out, to discuss before then.  Do you cook, Julia?’

‘Julie please.  Yes, more than a bit but not as much as my grandmother.  My mother works so it’s not so much.’

‘Good, we’re here, let’s get on board and have the guided tour.’

.o0o.

An hour later, they’d supped, it had all been sorted, Julie would occupy Jenny’s front cabin for the night, even two nights, but Jenny needed that cabin as her boudoir. Jodie had her guest cabin.

The good thing was a warehouse they’d converted on the dock to a sort of flat-ette, feminine decor.  It would be good for two girls – quite secure, patrolled by the patroni – but for girls, that had its own dangers if they let men in.  Besides, Jenny liked a third person with her onboard to help with the upkeep.

Jenny explained missions and said, ‘Julie, you’re not really the …er … hard type for that sort of mission.  If you show us what you’re good at, it might be more, just for now, taking care of base or looking after the harbour, are you offended by that?’

‘Not at all.  And Jenny, I won’t get bored or want to go somewhere else.  And I’ll tell you another thing … about those boys, those guys …  I’m not one of those.  I’m looking for someone steady but I’m not a ‘fun’ girl, I prefer to read, to feel nature. But I am not a nun.’

‘Okkkk,’ said Jenny, ‘let’s see how it all works out.  The patron has a mission to tell us about tomorrow.  Tonight, both girls will be here, we’ll work out about the flat-ette tomorrow.’

Asked Jodi: ‘Jenny, why three girls, including you?  It’s great for Miles … but why?  Especially as you were the one who decided.’

‘It complicates my life if we have a man on board … we already do have men when we need … they’re all out there.  There’s Luke, one or two patroni, the fishing guys, there are any number of men but not with rights on this boat.  Miles accepts my role, even insists on it. I also need females around to talk to.  It’s safe, he would not dare, besides he loves your company, he’ll accept that, otherwise I’d leave instantly … forever.  He knows all that.’

‘Yep, I know all that.’

‘You see, when I saw you, Julie,’ added Jenny, ‘spoke with you, I knew that there’d be periods of time Jodi and I would be together, training, missions, and Miles was not going to sit here reading a book.  He would never do something he’d regret.  I see you almost as a PA and housekeeper, one I’d trust. Is the salary enough?’

‘Great thanks.  And now I have to tell you, Miles and Jenny, something I know about this harbour and it affects Jodi and I going to different boats to collect the rental.  This harbour has a reputation I’m afraid.  The flat-ette is a lovely idea but I do not feel safe there.  I do not want Jodi to go there either, she is my friend.’

Jenny had been thinking. ‘All right, here’s a plan for now, let’s try this.  We eat again, we clear the mess from the salon to the sides, we bring out mattresses to the salon floor, into a square, we bring all our bedding, we get under and we can talk or sleep as we wish for this night. Thoughts?’

Just smiles.

Forty minutes later, there they were under the mass of bedding, a four pointed star, each point against a wall, propped up by many pillows, a conference room under cover.  Julie was asked to speak about that other matter now, about the harbour, in more detail.

‘We were told on the train, Miles, Jenny, that we’d be staying the first night on boats.  We understood we’d go to our new ‘jobs’ next day.’  She let that sink in.

‘I heard that too,’ confirmed Jodi, ‘but not with Felice and me exactly, we were already … er …’

‘Earmarked?’ put in Miles.

She looked it up.  ‘Yes.’  They thought she was going to continue but she looked at Julie, who did.

‘Well, if we were going to be overnight on boats … which boats?’

‘Yes,’ said Miles, grimly, ‘we get that bit.  I’m gutted, torn apart.  Naive.’

‘Girls,’ explained Jenny, ‘you see, it wasn’t just that it explains the scuttling or why they did not want me near any boat, but it was who was collecting the rents, who was going over the boats to check safety.  You see, I knew these things too, but how could I tell Miles? During the time I was collecting rents, , I collected quickly, I did not go onboard.  Tom tried to warn me … the main skipper … but you see, there’s far more … it concerned Sarah, my Sis. She’d hoodwinked Miles … it’s too easy I’m afraid.’  The two girls looked at one another and suppressed smirks.  ‘But it’s not just that I knew this which has gutted him, or even that Laura was involved … she did warn him.’

Miles took it up. ‘Yes, it was that she was actually running this end of it, fpr money to make up for the shortfall, in her eyes, from our regular employment … meaning she was lying to me the whole bloody time.  Yet she was still making love to me, poker-faced.’

The females looked at one another again, not the slightest hint of a smirk this time.

Julie: ‘We’re not all like that, Miles … it’s just when you make it soooo easy, we’re crazy, it’s just too easy not to.  And I’ve heard about the two Jennies. Doing what we’re doing now … only nue.’

Put in Jenny: ‘You came to us for two different reasons – Jodi to train for missions, you, Julie, for administrative roles.  Part of that is the job of collecting … which Miles must now do because it’s too dangerous for you. Plus he must soon shut that trade and the police won’t help at all. And the instant he does, we’re enemies in the harbour, we’re for the chop.’

Said he:  ‘There’s the flat-ette as well – secure but not that secure, especially if we make those enemies, no Leyton now to protect us.  There’s the Patron for sure but how would he ever find out who’d done it?  That would result in a turf war with the patroni, who would not win against the combined might of the fishermen.  And there’s the revenue question coming in still but for how long … to pay you for a start, to feed us.  Jenny and I might have to diversify now.’

‘You want us to go?’ asked Jodi.

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