‘I didn’t want to discuss it in there – walls have ears. Park benches are a bit dated but nothing beats them if the hood covers the face.
‘And the reason for the cloak and dagger?’ asked Glendinning.
‘Better this way. Your superior is being a little careless in two ways.’ Joseph awaited the grunt at that barb but it was not forthcoming. ‘Tightening security that way, going outside our encryption, outside our soc code, outside our … channels … that has brought attention to him. There has been some interest in him … and in you … and no, we don’t know from where, there’s been no hacking, no DDoS and that suggests Assange’s lot. Or someone else freelance. Why would you say Sir Gerald is being so secretive?’
‘Come on, Neil, we’re all interested parties. And parties are the other issue. If they blow it wide open, that would not be good.’
‘I’ll have a word upstairs, she won’t like it. I’m getting hungry – fancy some pizza?’
‘I’m listening, Laura. Your Plan C.’
‘She does social media under a pseudonym, there are photos he doubtless doesn’t see, not bad ones, just normal social media, we use a few of those, photoshop you onto them, as if you’re talking to her, as if she’s smiling and happy …’
‘He’d go out of his tree.’
‘He would. He needs to know we have this reach but that we’re not monsters, that we could have done as we wished with her little sister as well …’
‘Primary-aged. What I’ve spent a long time setting up is getting the older girl to agree to all this.’
‘She’ll be waiting at a neutral place, with someone she trusts with her, you’ll arrive and speak with her. It’s necessary you do actually make this trip, even though the photo which reaches him will be fake. Photos of this meeting you’ll have with her won’t be used unless they have to be, later. Word is that he discarded the girls’ mother for some young woman, the mother has a bone marrow issue which costs money which he does provide but not for the operation which would fix the problem for good – or so it seems.
The daughters, plural, are not impressed with that although they don’t know about his activities in general, so they still care. It’s fertile ground. Our bargaining chip is always going to be that we don’t use what we have and that he knows that if anything happens to us, our protection of his family ceases and things start happening.’
‘And do they start happening?’
‘Yes, but not to them, only to him. You’ll organize for one of your ‘friends’ to deal with him. That buys us time. The final answer is if the daughter, the love of his life, confronts him and threatens to cut all ties.’
‘And you have this in place?’
‘Yes, the plane is booked to Zurich for you but you need to get it from Rennes. One of your friends will need to airlift you there.’
‘Will this grand scheme be enough?’
‘No, the real carrot is going to be what we actually do for the mother. That’s going to need a decision from you now. It will be an outlay in perpetuity, at least for the rest of her life.’
‘How old is she?’
‘Two years younger than Johanssen but not expected to live all that long.’
Dave Collins finished up for the night and was pleased with the result. Naughty boy, our Mr. Haas but the girl was a puzzle. He didn’t know why but he got the feeling she wasn’t kosher as a baddy, just a feeling – made moves almost as if she were a stickler.
He wondered if Miles was aware that Glendinning was not so kosher either as secret protector of the free world – and it was those bastards feeding GCHQ. He’d tell Miles but as for Bro, Dave had to be a bit careful what went to him.
His ladyfriend was awake when his head hit the pillow. ‘Penny for your thoughts?’ she said.
‘Puzzled, Beth. They know I’m interested but can’t track me. Someone in there though is not kosher, meaning he’s a baddy, and someone in there is a goody, masquerading as a baddy. This one could have jumped on one vulnerability I had, an oversight, he was working late, very late and chose not to pounce.’
‘Maybe he’s not at your level.’
‘Maybe. I think perhaps the opposite.’
‘Wildest dreams’ was the best way to describe the result for Laura and Miles, as in beyond them.
Johanssen’s daughter herself, Natalie, was amazing. Sharp lass, a characteristic her father had in good measure, she sniffed a scam immediately, it hadn’t been the first attempt.
It was a bench in a park and she had her Vice-Principal with her, plus her best friend, a prefect. The attitude of the Vice-Principal was ‘this had better be good’. Natalie herself had insisted on this meeting, the younger sister was back at school, the school’s position was to hear this man out and then contact the parent.
It was laid out, document by document, with the Vice-Principal keeping a copy of every photo and document. Whether it was the incontrovertible evidence, whether it was Miles’s manner as a hard-done-by victim, whether it was that he was asking so little and was willing to put his own money on the line, ready to write a cheque to the school now – well, he wasn’t sent packing.
‘Why would he listen to me?’ asked Natalie, when he suggested the video for her father.
‘You’re his daughter. If you threaten never to speak to him again, that you don’t need his money any more to be at the school, that your mother is being transferred close to where you are, that not only is she being covered now but that your remaining fees and those of your sister are now also being paid, he will bluster but he’ll understand and he’ll have to agree. Only you know if you would really not speak with him again or whether you would – I don’t need to know that, Natalie, I don’t want to know.’
‘But why, Mr. Forrester,’ asked the VP, ‘would you go to such lengths?’
‘Frankly, we’re being threatened by Mr. Johanssen. I’ve explained the island, who I am, who my good lady is, he has it in his head to punish us. Though paying for fees and all of this might seem Good Samaritan stuff, our motives are, to be blunt, to protect our chance of happiness in our upcoming marriage.’ He pulled out the church documents and handed them across, then the copies. Our only hope was to show you we’re serious about this, that lives and futures depend on it.’
‘But if he’s this bad a man …’
‘No, he’s not bad,’ lied Miles and Natalie knew and appreciated it, ‘but he does have the wrong end of the stick here and we need protection, Natalie’s mother needs this money for the operation and the girls need this security. Mr. Johanssen is not well at the moment – he had a slight accident – I swear nothing to do with us – and we want him to know he has nothing to fear from us.’
The VP looked at the girl. ‘Well, Natalie?’
‘I’d be crazy not to help. How exactly though? What must I do?’
He explained the fine detail, it was clear enough.
‘Who will we send it to?’
‘It would be intercepted unless it went to this person -’ he handed over a photo and address with a note on the back.
Natalie looked at the shot and smiled at the memory, turned it over and read it, then handed it to the Vice-Principal. ‘That’s fine,’ she said. ‘I believe you. I’ll do it today.’ Miles silently thanked Laura for that last touch.
‘Thanks, Natalie, thanks, ladies.’
He wrote four cheques, the VP pocketed them and Miles took his leave.
Paul was with Janine in their usual out of office spot, two coffees had gone down the hatch.
‘Do we wish to interfere with Sir Gerald?’ she asked. ‘What’s it to us?’
‘We’re coerced. Both of us know Emma, it will be asked why we did not bring her in, that opens up Neil’s dealings with me, some corners we did cut and he did too. If I keep off anything touchy with Sir Gerald and just address the security side, we might get through this. How would you read Sir Gerald’s IT knowledge?’
‘That’s my reading too. So who gave him this super-secretive encryption?’
‘Jenny of course. Smart girl.’
He grinned. ‘Are there any girls who are not smart?’
‘Plenty – you’ll find them in Room 304, answering phones, making calls, typing up reports.’
‘Why the fuck should I speak to you!’ Johanssen’s look was murder, ‘Look at my fucking leg, look at it!’
‘Firstly, your daughter told you to speak with me and threatened you if you wouldn’t, secondly, your leg was none of my doing. You decided to add one of our principals to your list, they do not take kindly to that, they reminded you.’
‘You have no proof of that.’
‘Don’t waste my time, I’ve no time for this bullshit. I’ll give you this one for free – there’s another reception committee awaiting you when you come out. You won’t make it past the first day. Again, nothing to do with me, I have zero influence on them and you know I don’t. All the deals have already been completed. You’re actually lucky I’m still alive to stop this happening to you. For goodness sake, man, wake up! Now let’s get down to business. We can get part of the seam back for you, not a lot – some.’
His ears pricked up, though he didn’t want. It became too much. ‘How much?’
‘2%. We remove Cornell. Stitch him up. You do believe we can do that too, don’t you?’
‘Those are words.’
‘Do you seriously think I’d come in here to you on an empty hand? We have Cornell already. One moment.’
He went over to the officer, showed him the document, was allowed to proceed, sat down and held it up to the glass. Johanssen reached for his glasses, strained forward and read it. He was chortling.
‘Why would you do this?’
‘Not just for you, we have our own scores to settle too … but it’s true it’s also because my good lady and I don’t want you snuffing us out just as we start to make progress.’
‘You went to these lengths?’ Johansson had most certainly mellowed. ‘As I’ve said many times … Miles … you’re not a player, are you? You had me over a barrel and still you wouldn’t go in for the kill. You really do like the quiet life, don’t you, you don’t like the game.’
‘You’re right, we don’t, we have a family to build.’
‘All right, you’ve done enough, more than enough, honour’s been satisfied, this cost you deep and the prison knows it. I call this a win-win.’
‘Thank fuck for that.’
‘No doubt you’ll still have certain measures in place.’
‘I’m not a complete idiot – yes, news of my death or mutilation goes straight to Natalie. Last thing – do you want to see your girls here? We can fly them over.’
‘See the girls? Here?’ Johanssen barely gave it a moment’s thought. ‘Of course not, no.’
‘Thought not,’ said Miles to Johanssen. ‘Natalie asked me to deliver this camcorder, it’s been watched by the authorities here. That’s for you – your daughters saying hello. What you need to do is record a reply on this camcorder for them, you won’t be in prison gear, you’ll be in the library, the Chaplain or someone will do the filming. I’ll be back in two days to collect it at the front desk, I’ll not come in here again. It will go Royal Mail in a box to the school.’
‘I don’t know what to say.’
‘Don’t say anything, I’d prefer the brownie points.’
‘You really do want that quiet life. Maybe if I make threats every few months, I could get you to do more things.’
‘I’ll do them anyway – just send word, nicely – and no threats. You know the clout I still have. OK, need to go. You’ve got some video watching to do.’
The last image Miles had now was of a man who had scored a huge victory and that’s how it needed to be. Word of this would spread like wildfire around the prison. Now he had to, they had to, deliver on their end of the bargain.
‘I have to go to Chloe,’ he said to Laura.
‘She won’t see you.’
‘I have to try.’
‘ASAP. End of this week, it’s on my mind. Laura, will you come with me?’
‘There might be a paternity suit in the offing down the track. Largesse from us now, as well as being kind, is good politics, you’ve shown me that, plus I need you to hold my hand.’
She thought. ‘It might work if it’s both of us, we need something similar to Johanssen – a carrot she won’t be able to refuse. Trouble is, she doesn’t really have anyone, sure there’s family but she never spoke of them, she must be hellish lonely in there with that baby inside. Can our financial position cover it, plus Johanssen?’
‘It won’t need to. As the former occupier of the land, she can negotiate or I can on her behalf, for a half percent. Carrot we offer is Cornell on a plate, as with Johanssen. We have the goods via Dave. Also, one of my 12 friends would be interested in one of the deals Cornell made in order to stiff him.’
‘He’ll be killed.’
‘Not by my man, it will be that lot up above.’
They fished Cornell’s body out near Shad Thames.
Such a public disposal – who was being warned? Janine had done as they’d agreed, she’d fronted him in his office, provided the proof and that was that, Janine had gone to ground, also as prearranged, the resignation had come.
Cornell had still been in his suit, nothing had even been taken – the issue was more what had been planted on him and naturally, it put Ms. Dalshiel in the box seat as chief suspect.
Miles immediately checked back with his man – no way on earth had it been him, sounded like an internal matter.
Janine reported that the 12 principals were now in a position to recover not only their own lost shares, plus interest, but another 2% could go to Johanssen as promised, 1% to Miles’s IT man and half a percent to Chloe – the other half a percent might go to Frank.
‘Hello Chloe,’ said Miles.
‘Hello Chloe,’ said Laura.
Chloe looked a wreck. She was not happy to see them but neither was she now prepared to turn away a visitor. But what could they say to each other?
Instead, Miles, who’d shown the papers to the officer first, threw the deed for half a percent over the glass, Chloe had caught it.
She looked down, read it and every instinct told her to make the grand gesture of tearing it up and flinging the pieces at the glass. But she saw the half a percent and thought of the child inside her. She knew instantly how much that was going to realise, money beyond any hope she’d had since the troubles, and if she began behaving, she could now be out in three. She wasn’t of course to know that it was worth considerably less than she thought. On the other hand, it was still worth something.
‘You’ve brought me trouble, this will get around, I’ll be heavied now. If I tear it up, the certificate I mean – does that stop, does that …’
‘No, we supposed you would, the originals are in safekeeping. Make the grand gesture, tell us to fuck off.’
‘Thanks. And thanks for coming. Will you … er … come back again, another day, to have another try at melting my cold heart?’
‘Oh we’ll never give up,’ said Laura.
So Chloe went into her performance and none too pleasant it was either, they both beat a hasty retreat, the officer shrugged.
They thought it was pushing it to visit Frank with largesse – it could wait till he came out and frankly, Miles did not want her anywhere near Frank. Which was fine, as she didn’t want either.
What they did do was track down Frank’s mechanic, apprised him that there was a little bit of cash coming to Frank, enough to let him set up again when he came out but it wouldn’t be due for two years. Plus there’d be enough to cover his own efforts, the mechanic’s. Would the man visit Frank, give their regards and tell him?
Dave called and wanted to report in person.
He arrived in his S40, not the white Transit, a beer was provided and nibbles, he began. He covered the paedo party ring, how it operated, the scope of it, how they were puzzled that it had not broken wide open so they could snuff out the hackers, the little deals between various members of various departments were listed, the way Penny was gunning for Amelie/Janine and … well, just about everyone … Penny was not long for this world, thought Laura.
Someone was covering for Amelie, he’d search out who that someone was.
The death of Cornell had been a shock to London – Dave could throw no light on that. However, there was one particularly worrying development – Haas, in an unguarded moment, had sent to one of the ring that he was sending his best operative to deal with ‘the pest’, whoever ‘the pest’ was.
Dave explained that these bureaucrats, they were maniacal for dotting ‘i’s and crossing ‘t’s, whilst being inefficient in every other way, especially about money coming to them. The pest might have been Penny Dalshiel herself, it might still be Laura and Amelie, it might be Dave himself.
Miles thought about it and Laura commented, ‘You’re thinking of getting us away from the fleet, aren’t you, to protect it.’
‘Let’s go to Bergen.’
‘One of our boats is there. We can stay on it for now and get away quickly if we need. Boats are good near coastlines for that, they become vulnerable further out to sea.’
They’d deposited the bags in the wheelhouse.
‘We need to check the boat. If you go through inside, Laura, check everything which looks like a cranny, look for screws which might have been recently loosened and so on, you’ve done that before.’
He went to check the engine bay. Opening the hatch, he looked down at the engine and noted the extra wires.
Heading back to the wheelhouse, he met her coming back up from below, shaking her head, saying she’d found nothing, she saw his expression, he picked up his as yet unpacked bag, she’d started on hers but threw it all in again and followed, he threw all the ship’s papers into the top of his bag on the way out, they made for the jetty and didn’t stop until they’d reached the local information booth.
They were in the equivalent of a B&B, in a small room on the second floor, they’d eaten, they were awaiting the call from the hostess and the visit she’d said she was arranging. It came about 2.15. She appeared with a man who introduced himself and behind him was a young, adenoidal lad who knew English, quite proud of it too.
Yes, it had been a bomb, would have blown the boat to splinters, would have been activated by the starter. Miles and Laura looked at one another. There’d been a second device under the bed but this one was activated by remote. These two were going to disarm the devices, motor her around to their dock, give her a thorough looking over, do a bit of routine maintenance as well, what was it worth this job?
‘No, said Miles, ‘you said it yourself … one of those is a remote device, that’s still live.’
‘We have expert with us. This man is an expert, he will disarm.’