Chapter 2/The Firm

I was still bored when the Firm came calling. The head of the Firm was a tall, rail thin man of indeterminate age. Could be 35 or 50 and he was too focused to fuss over the matter and I dared not ask because he gave the impression he would tell you what he wanted you to know. He had an unkempt shock of black hair that he either left unkempt or spent an awful lot of time and gel getting it to look unkempt. He wore khaki work pants and an old yellow sweatshirt. We were meeting in a bustling coffee shop in Copenhagen where you could shout terrorist plans at the top of your lungs and no one would pay you any mind.

How he heard of me remains a mystery: he hadn’t been a client of the girls because I met and vetted every gentleman, but it was certainly possible he knew someone who was. I had heard of the Firm, though not of him specifically because the Chairman disdains the limelight. He knew about the girls and said he was impressed with the clientele we had built up, some of which he named. This was for my benefit, so I would know that he knew what he was talking about, which didn’t worry me probably as much as it should have. He said the Firm did things other people were unwilling or unable to do for themselves. He said their only ideology was making money and that the Firm, rather happily, would take money from A to bomb B, then take money from B to shoot down A’s plane. The Firm also had its own in-house enterprises, too, mainly kidnapping and extortion.

He had work for me. The Firm made a lot of money collecting kidnapping ransoms and they needed a frontman. This might sound dangerous, but it really wasn’t; all you really needed was some nerve. Ransom and assets, as the Firm called them, were not exchanged at the same time. You paid the ransom and your loved one was released after said ransom was counted and it was verified the notes were non-sequential and unmarked. If there was any problem with the ransom drop – like the frontman getting arrested, for instance – the family or, as likely as not, the company, would be told to keep an eye on the mails because their loved one was being sent back in a couple of dozen mason jars. It ensured drops went without incident.

The Chairman explained in some detail the mechanics of kidnapping, from planning to execution to keeping a prisoner to demanding and collecting a ransom to releasing the asset. He said my nondescript looks and the ability to disguise myself would serve me well in this job. How he knew I could disguise myself was also not immediately clear, either. It was true, though, of course. I had hundreds, maybe even thousands, of personas standing by, ready for duty.

The Chairman was thorough and efficient and I got the impression, probably correct, that he would not have offered me work if he didn’t truly believe I would flourish in it. He took the time that was necessary to inform and recruit me but none of our time was wasted. I was bored enough to be interested.

I hardly needed the money. If I never earned another pence and didn’t start a cocaine habit and didn’t need to beat a murder rap, I was comfortable. The girls had seen to that. Having money was better than not having money, though only for financial reasons. It couldn’t buy one necessary of the soul and one necessary I had right now was something interesting to do. So for exactly the same reason I started stealing – because it was more interesting than not stealing – I told The Chairman I would be delighted to work for the Firm because right now collecting ransoms was more interesting than not collecting ransoms.

Kidnapping turned out to be a lot of fun. If you’re the kidnappers. If you’re the victim it tends not to be fun and if it is your husband we’ve snatched well, we apologize for the sleepless nights, though you really should be resting easy because we’ve assured you everything is going to be OK if you follow instructions.

If you’re the asset we’ve also assured you that this is nothing personal, that our only goal is to exchange you for a large sum of money so unless you’ve pissed someone off and they don’t want to pay your ransom, you are probably going to be OK, and we apologize for keeping you chained up in a tent, but that’s the way we do it. We’ve done our homework, so we know what meals you favor and you can bet you’ll be seeing them regularly.

Kidnapping is big business, too. It may not seem like it because snatches seldom make the news because most follow our instructions about not yapping to the coppers or the press, but don’t kid yourself. The Firm makes an awful lot of money collecting ransoms and it is rare when something is mucked up to the point where the asset has to be killed because the Firm does not want that any more than the family does. We merely want some money and when we get it everyone ends up happy. The ransom was always an amount the family or company could easily afford, too, just like the fees I charged back in the early extortion days.

The planning was immense. It had to be because the Chairman was fond of saying Plan A better work because the kidnapping racket seldom allows for a Plan B, which is generally getting killed or, worse, caught. First, they had to identify a family or company that could afford to pay a ransom that was worth the Firm’s while. Then there was a proper victim to ID then we had to decide if it was feasible. Then the actual grab had to be planned and then there had to be someplace to put him for a few days because generally families and companies didn’t keep the large sums of money we require lying around. The Chairman supervised, no, commanded is a better word, every step.

My job was to make contact with the victim’s family or employer to assure them that if they did everything we said more or less when we said to do it, their loved one or CEO would be returned safely. The first call was always great fun. We always left a so-and-so’s-been-taken-and-we-would- be-in-touch card at the snatch site, so they were expecting to hear from us. Like in the movies this note was sometimes made of letters cut out from magazines and newspapers. You could hear the strain and fear in their voice. I never used my real voice for these calls and they were kept brief to avoid being traced. They were told we had so-and-so and he hadn’t been beaten yet and if you did what you were told he would be returned safely. I told them I would be in touch and hung up. Ideally, the person on the other end said nothing. I would let them enjoy a sleepless night before calling them again and announcing our ransom demands and later on Day 2 I would call to check and see if they planned on paying the ransom and advising when to have it ready. We are not fools. We knew, sometimes better than they did, that collecting a lot of money in cash tended not to happen right now. To really keep them on edge, I generally did not call them during this period, though they would receive a picture of the asset holding that day’s newspaper in the mail, so they know he’s alive. On the day the ransom should be ready I called to ask if it was. Usually, it was, though sometimes they needed an extra day or two and we had enough comrades in the banking industry that we generally know if this was true or not.

There are a variety of options for ransom drops and The Chairman let me pick the one I was most comfortable with and I tended to favor drops in parks or other open places where you could easily see if someone is watching you. You can’t have them drive straight there, though. In the old days before mobiles, you would call them and tell them to drive somewhere. Then a comrade would give them an envelope with further instructions and we would do that one or two more times until the driver was issued the final instructions.

Sometimes though I would be the messenger and get in the car, take the ransom and give the driver instructions on where to go. When we got there I would hop out and dive into the waiting car and we would drive to the safehouse.

The key to collecting the ransom was to keep them on their toes.

After collecting the money I would take it to the safe house for counting. Once it was verified – and any messengers used in the drop were accounted for – I called the family again and told them where to go to and pick up their loved one. Usually, we left them, drugged, in the back of a stolen van that we parked somewhere before calling them with the location. By the by, it would not surprise me if the Firm has someone watching me during this evolution though if they did he/she was very good at what they did because I never spotted anyone tailing me, not that I spent a lot of time looking because success in these matters, like success in anything, demands complete focus.

After a couple of years with the Firm, I started branching out. Again with the need for something more interesting because Lord knows collecting ransoms wasn’t exciting enough. A comrade said people like us needed to be where the smoke was and if there wasn’t any smoke we were willing to create it just to make life interesting for ourselves and others, too.

So we created some smoke when the Games came to a nearby country. This wasn’t a Firm Original Operation, we were hired out by someone, but we went at it with our usual zeal and while I wasn’t directly responsible for any of deaths – logistics and planning were my rackets – my hands were as bloody as those who actually set the detonators. But I was where the smoke was. Life was me and I was life and I was smack-dab in the middle of it and to bloody hell with anyone else. If someone choked on my smoke, sorry.  I was determined never to live in a grimy flat with a drunk wife and a thief son and an easy daughter.

But mucking up the Games wasn’t the problem. What got me nicked was an extortion racket I was working on my own that went completely wrong. The asset decided to whine to the police, which was contrary to my orders, and I got nicked in a sting.

Bully for him. He got out of paying his extortion money. Not bully for him because now his family, and everyone else who follows the news, knew his secret, a pretty high price to pay when easy, weekly payments would have kept everything on the down-low. Not to mention the fact I wouldn’t have been nicked.

It was almost funny: two decades of never earning an honest pound and I finally get hooked up not in a heroic blaze of glory but because someone sniveled. Go figure. I started out in the dock, but the evidence was more compelling than my verbal denials and I eventually pled guilty for a lesser sentence.

Chapter One: The Girls
Chapter Three: The Escape