Chapter 5/The States

Soon enough I went back to collecting ransoms for the Firm.

Hardly had much choice. The Firm had sprung me and they didn’t spring me so I could retire to some neutral country.

If I wasn’t their slave the least I could do was be their vassal. The Firm would work me. I wanted to point out to The Chairman that I hadn’t had any choice in the matter of escape, I had simply been ordered to report to a storeroom and make my way down a vent to an office where I was presented a change of clothes and an escort out the front door, but that I was hardly in a position to say no, thank you, I‘ll quite be staying put. That would not have been prudent so I kept me yap shut. There are times you yield to the prevailing winds.

I stayed in the safehouse to start. After matters had subsided I didn’t have to, but I wasn’t burdened with options because me cottage was known to the constables, so a proper home, as it had been all me life, was out. I was used to it. As I approached middle age, though, I liked it less and less.

Eventually, I wearied of living at Chateau Safehouse and collecting ransoms had become as routine as grocery shopping, though far less dangerous. True to myself, the usual outfit of wanting something more interesting than what I had was waiting to be tried on again.

The Chairman, whose great skill was accurately reading others, sensed this and after a couple of months he told me to be patient, something was in the works and it would involve me. Well, that tided me over for a while. The Chairman is an evil arch-villain, the mastermind of a criminal underworld of unknown scope and breadth, but his word was good and I patiently did my work through the spring and by summer I was on my way to the States.


Hide in plain sight.

Even though I was an escaped con I was an extortionist and not Jack the Ripper for Pete’s sake and it had been confirmed I was utterly off the constable’s radar in North America. Lord knows they had enough to worry about with their citizens turning their once-proud country into a shooting gallery. Still though, despite the fact I possessed legitimate papers under another name, I took precautions and I left home and was granted admittance to the States as a matter of course.

The largest city in the States is a splendid place to hide in plain sight. I checked into a comfortable hotel near the park that nobody paid any mind to. At check-in, there was a package waiting for me. There was no postage or return address on it, so it had been hand-delivered and the desk clerk offered it without comment. Since the Firm was the only one who knew I was here it could only be from them so, naturally, I waited until I was in my suite to open it.

In it was a States’ passport. The Firm’s reach wasn’t all-encompassing but it was long so the passport would be legit and not a mere forgery, so I could travel with it and even obtain a conductor’s license if I wanted to.

There was also a letter. It was printed from a computer on common paper and wasn’t signed. Based on its generally chatty tone, it sounded like it was from Mauricio, the bloke I tag-teamed with at the Games. It welcomed me and graciously said for me to take a generous amount of time to get comfortable and acclimated. It said there was a flat leased for me and gave the address, and there was a key for the post office box which turned out to be convenient to absolutely nothing or no place whatsoever. I was also strongly encouraged to ensure my original papers were kept secure and not found by anyone who was not me.

Monica flew in a couple of days later from the national capital, where she had a varied and horny clientele that provided for a very profitable couple of weeks. Though admitting the charms of the hotel the Firm had provided, she nonetheless deemed them unsatisfactory and before nightfall – and, of course, at my expense – had secured accommodations at a suitably 5-star hotel. This was hardly a bulletin.

After a couple of days, we set about to find the flat the Firm had leased for me. It was, hardly surprising, perfect. Nice, but not so nice people would wonder exactly who was living there. It was comfortable and almost gracious. You might think that Monica, as a female, would be of some use in setting up a household but you would be wrong. After years of being pampered in luxury hotels, she utterly lacked those skills. She could no more help a bloke set up a home than she could help him install a science laboratory. Her biggest concerns were whether or not there was a satisfactory view, a proper soaking tub and decent concierge service. (Yes, yes and no. Concierges are paid to be nosy.)

The Firm would have duties for me later. The Chairman chatted with me about them before I left saying they were mainly supervisory in nature. The Firm had long-established rackets in place and the guy I would be taking over from was being recalled.

Monica and I had some time for a proper holiday. As the planet’s most desired courtesan she had, of course, been to this city many times and there was no shortage of things she enjoyed doing but we kept it simple for the first few days. We took a bus tour of mid and lower downtown that took most of the afternoon and ate in places that served good food despite the fact it appeared they’d been bribing the health inspector for years. There were museums and shows and all the other usual touristy things. After a week we took advantage of a break in the weather and rented a car and drove north along the coast. This is the area where this country was founded and while it’s not as old as Europe, it’s old enough, with charming small towns.

I didn’t make Monica dress up like an old hag like I did at the Games, but I went out in my usual moderate disguise, mainly because it matched the picture on my new passport. After a month Monica left. It was a splendid month, a month I looked back on often, especially during the years when thinking was mostly all I had to do.

Monica left for Rome, where she was meeting a client for a month-long cruise. Hilariously, his wife would be there, too and you might – or you might not – be surprised at how often a bloke brings his courtesan on a trip with his wife. They never cross paths, generally, but Monica would be squirreled away in her own stateroom and the client would stop by when he could, circumstance Monica thought hilarious. She said they were great fun because the demands on her were minimal. All she had to do was open her door and let the client in from time to time. He would do things to her, things Monica enjoyed having done to her and would have done to her had she gone on the cruise on her own anyway. After that, she was free to do what she wanted and there was never a shortage of things to do on luxury cruise ships. She tended to put on weight on these, weight her position as the planet’s preferred courtesan demanded she take off immediately after debarking.

As usual when it was time to part her breezy kiss and wave goodbye were betrayed by her eyes, while the usual stake was driven through my heart.


I ended up with over five weeks to meself. I managed to find the Firm’s post office box and one day there was a letter in there for me, the usual printout on everyday paper that sounded a lot like Mauricio. He said he was certain I had comfortably established myself and that it was time to get to work. He would meet me on a street corner at noon on a Monday. The city being the city, it would very busy on that street corner. More hiding in plain sight.

On the designated day I presented myself at the place at the designated time, a few minutes early because that’s what you do. I stood around looking at nothing in particular for a few minutes when I heard a voice behind me say both my original, given name – which I seldom used anymore and caused a small fright – and the Firm’s codeword. I turned around, saw the assistant warden who had walked me out the front door of the nick, and gave the countersign. Ever efficient, she smiled at me – not without some warmth – and instructed me to follow her. We ended up at one of those infernal chain restaurants that fester like weeds here in the States. Little they served was edible, which was rich considering this is a country that likes to whine about the food where I’m from.

Waiting for us at the table was Mauricio. Small talk was brief. Plainly we are all fine and you do not talk about what you do for the Firm even with comrades from the Firm. It was part of controlling what you could control because there was no need for others to know what you were doing. Knowledge kept in the back room was control the same as knowledge you put out on the shelves.

Mauricio gave me a folder with his usual plain paper, printed letter inside. Graciously, it welcomed me to the States and advised if everything was not in perfect order with my accommodations to let him know with all possible haste. Then it got down to business, explaining, in necessary detail, the Firm’s operations in the city, mainly extortion because crime responsibilities and territories in the city were rather specific and crossing previously set boundaries could get bloody, and my role in them. I was left with the impression there was a lot left out, plainly because it wasn’t anything I needed to be bothered knowing. After I was through reading it Mauricio took the letter and the folder back, doubtless so he could destroy it before it appeared in tomorrow’s headlines.

The work would be easy. Like any enterprise, it required a hands-on manager to keep the workers guided, inspired and in line and when that’s accomplished all you have to do is maintain it. I would, nominally, be working for the assistant warden, who appeared to a district manager or regional vice-president or some such for the Firm, it was hard to tell. But it was made clear I would report to her. It was also made clear we were to stick to Firm operations and not freelance with any side gigs. Except for the assistant warden and me having a go of it from time to time, we adhered to that.

I‘ve always been a bit of a lad and I was open to having a go of it with the assistant warden. She had done her homework, knew about Monica, adding it was plain I had feelings for her. I shrugged almost diffidently; it was none of her business. She added she didn’t want to get in our way, but Monica wasn’t here right now and she was, so how about it?


Monica visited regularly, though perhaps not often. Her client list continued to be exclusive and not very long, but it was mainly in Europe.

We usually went to a luxury resort a couple of hours north of a big city in what Americans call the Midwest. Despite many years of having clients in America, Monica had never been there and Lord knows I hadn’t and it was perfect. It was luxurious with two marvelous restaurants and the finest room service, for my quid, at least, I’ve had and I’ve had an awful lot of five-star room service. Best of all, we both enjoyed having a world-class resort we could call our own, where we hadn’t been to with anyone else, that wasn’t merely returning to another job site.

We had no idea. There was always the assurance of next time and by now I had gotten accustomed to our casual departures to the extent a stake wasn’t driven through my heart anymore. When the doorman opened our limo door and addressed us by name that winter day, neither of us knew we were leaving the resort for the last time. Our limo dropped us off at the airport and we went to our separate terminals.

It would be many years before I would see Monica again, and there were times it appeared that we might never see each other again at all. When we did, it was in the exact opposite of a 5-star hotel, or even a bloody airline terminal.

Chapter 4: Monica and the Games
Chapter 6: The Operation and Another Escape 
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