“Simple,” they’d said. “Our scheme gets permission, and Sergei will be a happy man. And when Sergei is happy, he takes good care of his friends. But when Sergei is unhappy…”
The silence hung in the air for a moment too long.
“Are you trying to bribe me? Or threaten me?”
A broad smile, from the dapper-suited lawyer. “Oh, Mr Jenkins. How could you possibly think that? My client is an entirely honourable man. Any… rumours.. you may have heard are entirely without foundation. You can check the records of any jurisdiction on the globe; you’ll find that my client comes up with an entirely clean bill of legal health. But I do hope that we might count on your co-operation. Oiling the wheels of local government, as they say.”
“The planning process is entirely fair and open, Mr Woods. My role is to ensure that due process is followed. As it shall be. To the letter. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think this conversation needs to come to an end.”
“Indeed. Just as you say. And the afternoon is drawing to a close. I’m sure that you have better things to occupy your time. That girl of yours: what’s her name?”
“I beg your pardon…?”
“The friend you seem to spend time with. The pretty one. I showed Sergei some photos the other day. Borough Market. He rather liked her.”
“Don’t challenge me, Mr Jenkins. Sergei likes a contest. And he never loses…”
He’d told her, of course. Reported the incident, too. “Nothing to worry about,” his boss had assured him, not entirely convincingly. “Nothing better than gangsters, that lot.” Hardly the language of reassurance.
He’d told her that, as well. Had held her tight. Comforted, as best he could, as she trembled. As she comforted him: “We’ll be OK. It doesn’t matter.”
And a new tower block in the centre of Westminster was never going to get planning permission. No matter how many oligarchs, how many billionaires, how many ill-gained foreign assets it would have brought to the country.
“If you struggle, we’ll crease your suit,” they’d told him after they’d bundled him into the car. “Just a short drive. Relax. Just a meeting you’re required to attend.”
Across the river. Turning east. And then the tiredness, the overwhelming tiredness. Deep, deep sleep.
The drugs wore off to the sound of screams from next door.
The two men held him tight, arms clasped behind his back, his suit by now torn. He tried again to force the gag from his mouth, to no avail.
In front of him, in the brightly lit room, the heavy wooden table. “Oh, we won’t hurt you,” they’d told him. “Sergei understands. Knows you had a process to run. Knows it wasn’t your fault. Still, though: he’d not a happy man.”
The door opened, and they dragged her in. Naked. Sobbing.
He fought his captors; she fought theirs. These were not men to lose fights.
They pushed her over the table. Arms grabbed hers, stretching them out. Rope binding wrists, ankles. Overpowered. Exposed. Vulnerable.
“She likes it rough, we hear,” one of them said. “Likes to be a good girl for him. Obedient. We’ll see…”
Six strokes, they gave her, with the fearsome cane. Hard strokes, the rod lifted high, cut down with scant regard for precisely where it landed. Each brought cries of anguish that cut him to the core. She writhed. She begged. They watched. They photographed – “For Sergei.” Ran fingers over her weals, fingers that loitered a moment too long…
And then they took up the rod once more.
Six strokes was nothing compared to a full-on whipping that followed. One man on either side of her – one left-handed, one right. Ten strokes.
Until she stopped fighting the ropes. Stopped screaming. Stopped, even, sobbing.
Until one of them moved behind her. Unzipped himself.
Until he was done. Until his colleague wanted a turn.
Until they had broken her, utterly.
Until she could lift her eyes and, for the first time, meet his. Tears gazing at tears.
And then they untied her, leaving her slumped across the table, and let him go…