A Reason To Give Thanks
They were sat around the table, eyes closed in prayer as the man sat at the head of the table spoke. On the white tablecloth was sat the meal – corn steaming as the butter melted on it, various starters, and sitting on the side a turkey bronzed and ready to carve. There were six places set, but strangely only five people – the man, his wife, and their three older daughters.
“We thank you, Lord, for your grace to us this year, and for giving us the strength in these trying times. Wherever Jodie is, may she know your strength as well….”
The mother wiped a tear away as the man finished, and stood up to pass the tray around when the front doorbell rang.
“Who could that be?” she said as her oldest daughter stood up, left her napkin at the table and went to see. There was silence for a few minutes, and then a loud scream.
“MUM!!! DAD!!! COME QUICK, IT’S….”
The two parents rushed out to see their daughter holding in her arms a thirteen year old girl, her clothes dishevelled and her face covered in dirt, save for a clear strip around her mouth. She looked up, whispered “Mummy?” and ran into the woman’s waiting arms. Her father looked at her as the tears ran down her face, then to their daughter, who just shrugged.
One week earlier…
“I’m sorry, but Miss Moore really cannot be disturbed at this time. If you would like to make an appointment?”
The lift door opened as a young woman, wearing an Armani trouser suit and with her blonde hair pulled back, walked into the lobby. She saw the receptionist talking to a tall dark haired woman, dressed in a leather jacket and matching trousers, who in turn was staring back at her over the desk.
“I have not spent ten hours in a plane to be told by a young slip like you that…”
The woman turned at looked at the new arrival.
“Susan – would you please explain to this young lady who I am?”
“Ah – my apologies, she has just started here. This lady,” Susan said as she turned to the receptionist, “is on our special list – access at all times, no question asked. Please remember that for future, or Madeline will be – displeased.”
The young girl visibly shrank back, and mumbled an apology as Susan took the new arrival into the lift.
“This is unexpected,” she said as the lift went to the top floor, “and worrying – I trust we are not in any trouble?”
“No – but I do need to talk to Madeline and you urgently, and then I will need your help to do something before she gets here.”
The lift door opened, and Susan led Dominique through the office area, the quiet hum of conversation lessening as she walked past.
“It’s your first time here, isn’t it?” Susan said as they walked towards a pair of large doors in the wall.
“Yes – in the role I play now, I travel quite a bit. How are you and Clint doing – I haven’t seen you since the wedding.”
“We can’t complain,” Susan said as she stopped and knocked on the door. “Come,” was the response, and as Susan opened the door a tall red haired woman stood up.
“Dominique – this is an unexpected pleasure. Had I known you were coming I would have had you met at the airport. Please – take a seat.”
“Thank you Madeline, but these days I prefer to travel in a slightly more incognito fashion,” the raven haired woman said as she sat down, Susan taking a seat beside her. “We also did not want to alert certain people of our intentions here, but I am authorised to let you know that Madame will be arriving in three days at the airport.”
“I’ll make the usual arrangements,” Susan said as she made a note on her blackberry. “So, we should ask why you’re here at all.”
“Tell me,” Dominique said as she accepted a glass of water, “Does the name Lesley Hunt mean anything to you?”
“Hunt – no, not really. There is a Hunt Associates listed in the last quarterly report, but I presumed that was one of Madame’s legitimate concerns.”
“It was – we had to conduct an audit last week, and we discovered that Miss Hunt had been using Madame’s investments in some rather dubious ways.”
“Dubious? If it has indeed upset Madame, then it must be bad – but that does not explain why you are here.”
“In itself, no – but one of the companies Miss Hunt seemed to be investing in is based here in Los Angeles – the Rising Stars Agency. I understand they represent younger people who wish to earn money by modelling for catalogues and such like?”
“Yes – they have been in the news recently. Some very successful deals mentioned in the entertainment networks – but why should that concern Madame?”
“It would appear some of their clients have – well, there is no polite way to put this, but they have disappeared, presumed run away. In reality…”
The faces of both Madeline and Susan darkened as the implications of what Dominique was saying sank in. “I can see why Madame is so upset – and why you are here. What is your intention?”
“I intend to pay the owner of this agency, a Mrs Kathy Huan, a visit in the next twenty four hours, and then I have until Madame arrives to find out as much as I can. At the very least, I think we will be taking control – at the worst, we will shut it down. Either way, we have work ahead of us, and I hope to count on your support.”
“Of course – we will do what we can,” Madeline said as she stood up. “Susan – have someone get as much information as we can on the owners of this agency, and pass the information onto Dominique. In the meantime, afford her every assistance in this matter.”
“Thank you, Madeline,” Dominique said as she stood up and shook her hand. “Now, if you will forgive me, I need to get some rest – I have a busy night ahead of me.”
The Huan residence could be found in a suburb of the city, high up on the surrounding hills. It was typical of many of the houses in the area – large, with its own grounds, and a driveway with two cars parked on it. Dominique had spent some time that afternoon scouting out the area, and had parked her own car some way from the actual house, preferring to make her way through the woods at the back of the house on foot. She looked through the leaves at the back yard, as the sun started to set over the horizon.
Moving quietly, she crossed the yard and produced a set of skeleton keys from her back pocket. She worked swiftly, manoeuvring the barrels in the door lock until she heard a soft click and the door swung towards her. Pausing only to adjust the stocking that she had pulled over her head, she slipped into the kitchen of the house and closed the door behind her. The room was in darkness, but she could hear quite clearly the sound of the television playing somewhere in the front of the house.
Making her way along the corridor, she peeked through the crack made by the slightly ajar door to see two people in the room. One was a young girl, about twelve years old, wearing a pinafore dress over a short sleeved white blouse, while the other was a young woman in her late teens. Both had jet black hair, and the features that showed the Vietnamese ancestry from their mother, Kathy Huan.
The older girl stretched and yawned as she put the book she was reading down, and Dominique heard her say something to the younger girl. She nodded, and stood up to walk towards the door. Dominique slipped back, and took a soft cloth out of a plastic bag that she had in her jacket. The young girl came out of the room and closed the door behind her, passing Dominique as she stood against the hallway wall.
“Ang,” the older girl said as the door opened again, “Did you get that drink?”
“Ang is having a little nap,” Dominique said as she closed the door behind her and pointed her gun at the young woman, “and I advise you to do exactly what I tell you. She will be fine, but it’s best she does not see what happens in this room tonight.”
The girl back away and sat down, the cuffs of her jeans lifting slightly as she did so to reveal the tops of her black leather boots. Dominique walked into the room and sat down beside her. “Now, why don’t we get acquainted until your mother returns,” she said as she took several lengths of white cord from her jacket pocket.
The wind was blowing more strongly as Kathy stepped out of her SUV and walked up to the door of her house. It had been a long day at the agency, with a number of meetings she was regretting already, and just wanted to get home and spend some time with Ang and Xian, her two daughters.
“Girls, I’m home,” she said as she came in, but she received no answer. Taking off her long coat and putting it on the coat stand, she walked quickly into the front room, which she had noticed had the blinds drawn.
“Xian, I’m sorry I’m late, but…” She was stopped in her tracks by the sight of Xian, her older daughter, lying on her side on the recliner. She was looking up at her mother, her eyes pleading for help, while sat in a chair nearby was a tall, dark haired woman dressed in a black leather jacket, leggings and mid length boots with a dark stocking over her head. She stood up as Kathy came in, and said “Good evening Mrs Huang – please, forgive my intrusion, but I need to talk with you about a matter you have a concern in.”
Kathy looked at her daughter as she lay there, moaning through the thick cloth that filled her mouth and struggling to get free from the ropes that held her wrists behind her back and her crossed ankles together. “What is the meaning of this,” she said angrily as she turned to the intruder.
Dominique looked at the woman. She was in her late forties, with short cropped dark hair and about five foot six in height. She was wearing a round necked pinafore dress made of soft tan suede, over a light brown long sleeved top and leggings, and soft brown leather boots were on her lower legs up to her knees. The dress fastened to one side at the front, and a belt was passed around her waist.
“I said, what is the meaning of this,” she said as she moved toward Dominquez, “and where is Ang?”
“Ang is asleep – she will not wake up until the morning. As to why I am here, well – my employer has discovered that some of her money has been invested in your agency, and she does not like what is being done with it.”
“The agency? We represent young women who want to be models – Xian is one of my clients. What is wrong with that?”
“Nothing – it’s the little issue with your other line of business.”
Kathy’s face went pale, and she staggered back into an armchair. Xian looked over at her mother, confused as to what was going on.
“Jenny Bulstrode. Amanda Deans. Suzanne Fletcher. Jessica Denson. Jodie Hansen. Do I need to go on?” Dominique walked over and stood over the woman, who was shaking in the chair.
“Oh God,” she whispered, “Oh dear God – how did you find out?”
“As I say, my employer found out some of her money was invested in that area. She takes a very dim view of that line of work – she has a thing about children been placed in Jeopardy. Tell me, Mrs Huang, if it was your daughters in that position would you still allow them to be sold on as slaves?”
Xian looked at her mother as she sat down, her head in her hands. She knew Jenny and Suzanne – they were a couple of years below her at school, or had been before they disappeared. A note had been left in both cases to say they had run away, but no trace had ever been found of them. Jodie had disappeared just two weeks before in the same way. This masked woman seemed to be saying her mother knew what was going on, and she could hardly believe it – yet looking at her now, it was clear that something was wrong.
“Mrs Huang – I’m waiting.”
“Yes – I admit it,” Kathy said as she looked over, “I knew what was going on, but I was powerless to stop it, or else…”
“They would have taken my daughters in the same way.” She looked over at Xian, with tears in her eyes. “I know you may not want to, but you must believe me, my child, what I did I did to protect you from them.”
Dominique stood up, walked over to a drinks cabinet and poured a large measure of brandy into a glass. She handed it to Kathy, before walking over to Xian. “I am going to remove the gag – do not scream, as I think you may need to hear your mother out.”
“Mother, what’s going on,” Xian said as Dominique helped her to sit up.
Nancy swallowed. “About three years ago the agency was in real financial trouble. Your father leaving meant I took my eye off the ball, and we would have gone bust without extra investment. I got that investment from an overseas company called Global Supplies.”
Dominique had sat back down, but she leaned forward when she heard the name. “Global Supplies, whose head office is in Macau?”
Kathy nodded. “They sent a woman to work with me – Angel Simpson. You’ve met her Xian – she came to dinner last year.”
“Yes – a tall thin woman with white hair and pink eyes.”
“Yes – had I known then she was a devil, I would have walked away, but they were clever. Everything was fine for six months, until she told me about her real intentions.
“She wanted to recruit some of our younger models of what she called long term contracts. The first name I suggested was Amanda – she was fourteen at the time, but could look older. I know Angel talked to her privately, and she was excited about the offer, then…”
“She disappeared – ran away to all intents,” Dominique said finishing the sentence. “You suspected nothing?”
“At first, no – but then more girls went missing, and I confronted her. That’s when she told me what was happening, and if I said anything my two girls would be next.”
“I am familiar with Global Supplies,” Dominique said with a grim expression on her face, “and I can understand what you did. Mrs Huang, if I told you I may have a way to… terminate that business agreement, what would you say?”
“I would take it – but I do not know if I can look my girls in the eye again.”
“I understand, mother,” Xian said, “but we must end this and get these girls back if possible.”
“That may be more difficult than you think,” Dominique said as she stood up. “I need to contact my employer – Please, talk quietly together.”
As she took her phone out of her jacket, Kathy went over and sat next to her daughter. “I am sorry, Xian, so very sorry,” she whispered as Dominique talked. A few minutes later, she shut down her phone and sat down.
“Mrs Huang, as you may have gathered I do not represent the official authorities. My employer, however, is a very powerful woman and is willing to help you. If you co-operate with me, she will become your primary backer and you will be kept out of whatever happens. On this, you have my word. Will you help us?”
Kathy looked at Xian, and nodded.
“Do you have a list of the girls that Angel Simpson gave these contracts to?”
“Yes – they are on my laptop. Would you like it?”
“That would be extremely useful. While you do that, I will be looking in your safe.”
“My safe – why?”
“I need to ensure my tracks are covered, so I am afraid you walked in on me tying up your daughter after she got her younger sister to bed. I was forced to restrain both of you before stealing your jewels. Do you understand?”
Kathy looked up, and then at her daughter. “Do you understand, Xian?”
“I do, mother,” she said, “but I have a request?”
“May we be together?”
“Of course,” Dominique said. “Now, Mrs Huang, the combination please.”
One hour later, Dominique pulled tight the final knot on the ropes holding Kathy and Xian together back to back. They were sat on the floor, Kathy bound hand and foot as her daughter was, and ropes encircling their chests and arms. Both had thick scarves tied into their mouths.
“This is thanksgiving week, I believe,” Dominique said as she stood up. “After the holiday, a new life will begin for you and your family. Until then, say nothing.”
Kathy grunted as Dominique picked up her small velvet sack and put it in her pocket. She turned the light off and left the two women in darkness, secured and wondering what was to come next.
“Global Supplies? That is indeed a most unfortunate situation the good Mrs Huang has found herself in. You are satisfied, Dominique, that she has had no part to play in this business save as an unwilling partner?”
Madame X looked at her chief enforcer as they sat with Madeline in her office. She had arrived that morning, and asked to be driven straight to the Los Angeles office to receive the update from Dominique.
“Perfectly satisfied, Madame. I went through her own records with her, and she was actually grateful to relieve herself of the burden of her knowledge. If nothing else, I am aware of exactly how persuasive Angel Simpson can be.”
“Forgive me, Madame, but who is this woman?”
Madame X brushed a thread away from her silk skirt.
“You will not have heard of her, Madeline – I actually thought she was dead until this incident. She is an albino, and works for Global Supplies as an enforcer and procurer. It would be her style to involve an innocent party in this most disgusting operation. I suppose I should be grateful to Lesley Hunt for bringing this to my attention.”
Even though her dark rich voice was event toned, both Madeline and Dominique could sense the anger behind her words. In the business they were in, it would be hypocritical to condemn those who carry out a similar line of work, but children – that was another matter entirely.
“Well, the holiday season is fast approaching, so I propose we make arrangements quickly. Madeline?”
The red haired woman passed a dossier over to Madame. “We managed to get some shots of Simpson leaving the office. She was actually being most conciliatory to Kathy Huang about the robbery at her house – my compliments to you on that, Dominique.”
“And mine – I am sure we will be in a position to support the Rising Stars Agency once we have cleared out the canker at the centre. Do we have a home address for this woman?”
“The details are in the dossier. Do you wish me to arrange a team to visit her?”
“No – Dominique and I will deal with this personally. I do want a team on standby, however – if any of these unfortunate girls can be recovered quickly, I feel we should do so. After all, they are true innocents in all of this.”
“As you wish, Madame,” Madeline said as she pressed a button on her intercom. “Susan – have a team pulled together and awaiting on standby from...” She turned to Madame X.
“Seven tonight,” she said as she rose. “Dominique, you will meet me at the apartment then. In the meantime, look around the location of the residence of Miss Simpson – I want no surprises.”
The air was turning surprisingly cold that evening as the red Porsche pulled into the underground car park. The woman who stepped out was tall, slender and with pure white shoulder length hair. She walked down the basement, the heels of her boots clicking on the solid tarmac, and tapped her feet impatiently as she waited for the lift to come down. She was wearing a dark brown leather skirt and jacket, with a cream coloured slip top underneath, and dark glasses despite the dimming sunlight outside.
The lift doors opened and she stepped in, using a key to operate the button that led to the penthouse. It took several moments for the lift to reach the top of the building, and she stepped out into the apartment, the dim light from candles glistening against the glass and chrome of the furniture.
“Betty – can you fix me a drink please?” she called out as she placed her slim case on the table by the lift door. When she got no response, she shrugged her shoulders and walked towards the main living area. Passing the bathroom, she failed to notice the pair of legs that were just visible through the open door, with the white rope encircling the black stocking clad legs.
“Betty?” she called out again, but the sound of something being poured told her that her maid had indeed heard her request. She walked into the main room, only to be startled by the two people who were there.
Sat in a cream leather armchair was a strikingly beautiful woman in her early forties, holding a brandy glass in her hand. She was impeccably dressed, wearing a fur shrug over a strapless back evening dress. The Jimmy Choo evening shoes on her feet were burnished and shone against the firelight coming from the hearth. She looked about six feet in height, with long dark hair.
“Good evening, Angel,” she said in a voice that was both warm as melted chocolate and hard as ice, “I am so glad you could join us – we have a lot to talk about.”
Angel turned her attention to the other woman, who was approaching her with a second glass of brandy. She was also about six foot in height, dressed in black jumper and leggings with the legs tucked into mid length felt boots, and she moved noiselessly.
“Please, do not try to use the weapon you are no doubt fingering in your handbag,” the first woman said as Angel accepted the drink. “Dominique here is more than capable of disarming and hurting you before you had a chance to use it.”
“Dominique,” Angel said as she removed her glasses to reveal a pair of pink eyes. “Then I presume that you are Madame X?”
“At your service, Miss Simpson. Why don’t you take a seat – we have much to discuss.”
“I think we have very little to discuss,” Angel said as she sat opposite Madame, with Dominique standing between them. “Our business paths so rarely cross; I cannot see why they should now.”
“I am afraid that option was not available to me when I learnt of Hunt Associates role in financing your – procurement activities.” Madame’s voice hardened audibly as she said those words.
“Hunt… Ah, I see. May I therefore presume that you were funding Lesley Hunt?”
“I was – she has decided to hand over control of the company to another person. I am sure you understand me.”
“Quite,” Angel said as she raised her glass to her visitor. “May I ask where Betty is?”
“Your maid is having some quality time to herself,” Dominique said. “She was most cooperative when we came in, so I told her to take the rest of the night off. She was most unwilling to do so, but I persuaded her otherwise.”
“Ah – I will have to compensate her for that. So, here we are.”
“Indeed,” Madame said as her voice warmed again, “Here we are. You realise, of course, that I am not willing to have my name associated with your activities. It offends my professional and personal code.”
“I realise that – and I also hope you realise that Kathy Huang and her family will…”
“Let me make this perfectly clear,” Madame said as she placed her glass on a table and stood up. “Rising Stars Agency, their employees and owners and their clients are off the board, effective immediately. Tell your employers in Global Supplies that I will have no truck with that, when you next see them.”
“When I next see them, you are likely to need to attend my funeral.”
“Well, I am sure when they learn that the enterprise here was broken up by the associates of Lady C, they will look more kindly on you.”
“My respected opposite number in so many ways. Before I came here, I asked her to assist me in a number of small ways – one of which will involve passing on information as to the whereabouts of certain young ladies to Interpol.”
“And how do you intend to get that information from me – I would die first,” Angel said as she placed her own glass on the table.
“There will be no need for that – not at this stage anyway. As to how – we downloaded the information from your computer thirty minutes ago. Even now, a team of my associates are visiting a certain establishment elsewhere in the city, where I believe Suzanne Fletcher, Jessica Denson and Jodie Hansen are staying. Others will be, shall we say, liberated very soon, and your employers will have some questions to answer.”
“I think not,” Angel said with a smile, “they are as good at making sure they cannot be touched as you are. So, what happens to me?”
“Well,” Madame said as the clock struck twelve, “I am not an unforgiving woman. We will ensure you were taken unawares by the associates of Lady C. Dominique?”
Angel looked at the dark haired woman as she picked up a roll of silver tape. “Where would you be most comfortable?”
Eight hours and twelve thousand miles away, a blonde haired woman was looking out onto a beautifully manicured lawn as she supped her morning tea. The door to the room opened and an attractive Asian woman walked in.
“Good morning, Cho,” she said as the woman closed the door. “How does the work progress?”
“We have forwarded the relevant information to Interpol, and I believe they are coordinating their actions as we speak. What of the three who no details were provided on, my lady?”
“I think my hated rival will take care of them for us, Cho – she finds this sort of thing as abhorrent as I do. We will leave that to her.”
The clock struck two as Angel looked at her bedroom, the contents of her wardrobe and scattered over the floor and her computer downloading the last details. She glanced over her shoulder as Dominique finished wrapping the tape around her arms chest. The two women had allowed her to take her jacket off, but the tape was tightly wound around her legs and body securing her in place.
As she was laid back on the bed, Madame X walked over and leaned close to her face. “Once you are discovered, your employers will doubtless wish you to return to Macau and explain yourself. When you do so, never return to these shores. I will take over your stake in the agency here, and they now fall under my protection. Do I make myself clear?”
“Perfectly – but if either you or this woman cross my path again, I will kill you. Do I make myself clear?”
“Perfectly,” Dominique responded as she pushed an expensive silk scarf into her mouth, followed by a layer of tape covering her lips. “Be assured, if I see you first and you are doing this line of work, you won’t see anything within two minutes.”
“Goodbye, Miss Simpson,” Madame said as she walked away, turning the light off as Dominique followed. Angel lay there, planning her own response and yet also giving thanks – from what she had heard of Madame X, she was lucky still to be alive.
The two women quickly walked out to a waiting car, climbing into the back as the chauffer held the door open. Inside, Susan handed them each a drink as the car set off.
“To the rendezvous, Clint, as quickly as possible,” Susan said to the driver. “I do not know how long we have.”
“I think we have sufficient time,” Madame said as she took a sip of the hot liquid. “Dominique did an excellent job on securing the two women, and they both understand their time here is over.”
The dawn was rising over the hills as the car drew up next to a black van. They had taken a road up further into the hills, and were waiting alongside a dirt track that led into the woods.
“Madame,” Madeline said as the three women stepped into the back f the van, “I trust all is in readiness?”
“The information on the other unfortunate girls has been forwarded – which leaves us with the situation here. Progress?”
Madeline turned to a set of screens. “One access road, guarded about a mile up by a checkpoint. I sent a team to take care of things – and it looks as if they have succeeded.”
On one screen the assembled group could see two men being dragged into a building, darts barely visible in their necks. The checkpoint was still manned, but the two people there kept their faces covered.
“Excellent – Dominique, Susan, you will proceed on foot and secure any guards in the house. Our information indicates there will be two – one posing as the housekeeper, the other as the cook for Miss Simpson’s country retreat. Do what is necessary.”
The two women nodded and left the back of the van. Hoisting rucksacks onto their backs, they walked quickly up the track, nodding to the two guards as they passed the gate, and made their way up to the house. Glancing at their watches, they saw it had just passed seven am as they approached the large bungalow. Susan nodded at her companion as she broke off and headed to the back of the house, while Dominique made her way to the front door and started to pick the lock.
At the back of the bungalow, Susan could smell the bacon on the griddle pan as she crept to the kitchen door. Looking through the window, she could see the cook working at the table, and three trays prepared with plates to put the food on. She could also see the pistol nearby, and smiled as she took a small canister out of her pocket. Picking up a handful of gravel, she stepped back slightly and threw it at the screen across the door.
“What the hell was that,” she heard the cook said, and then the sound of a lock turning as she opened the door. Susan waited until the cook stepped out – a large woman, dressed in a blue dress with a white apron over her clothing, and shoulder length dark curly hair. She stood there, mumbled something about racoons, and was about to go back in when Susan pounced and sprayed the contents of the canister into her face. The cook staggered for a moment, then crumpled to the wooden veranda that ran round the back of the house.
“Happy thanksgiving,” Susan said as she dragged the unconscious woman back into the kitchen, and turned the heat off under the frying pan. She could see the preparations had begun for the holiday meal – a turkey was waiting to be stuffed and trussed, and a ball of butcher’s twine was on the table for that purpose.
“Waste not want not,” Susan said as she picked up the ball, rolled the woman onto her stomach and placed her wrists in the small of her back.
Closing the door behind her, Dominique had a look around. The door opened into a large hallway, with a staircase going from the centre of the floor up. There were a number of doors leading off, and she took particular note of one that was embedded into the wall under the staircase with a heavy padlock on it.
A sound came from one of the rooms, and Dominique flattened herself against the wall. A woman came out, about thirty years old with close cropped blonde hair, dressed in a dark jacket and skirt with knee length leather boots. She walked across the floor, a set of keys jangling in her hand, and unlocked the door. Dominique watched as she opened the door, and then made her way across to listen at the door.
“Prepare yourselves – breakfast will be in ten minutes. Your gags will be removed, but you must not talk to each other.”
She made herself as flat as possible against the wall, as the sound of footsteps climbing a staircase came from behind the door. As the door opened, she drew a small plastic bag from her bag and removed a sweet smelling cloth from it. The woman made her way out, and was busy locking the door when Dominique grabbed her and firmly placed the cloth over her nose and mouth.
“Time for sleep,” she whispered into the woman’s ear as she struggled to pull her arm down, but Dominique’s grip was too strong. Her eyes slowly closed, and she was allowed to collapse unconscious onto the floor. Putting her bag on the floor, she pulled out a length of rope and rolled the uniformed woman onto the floor, pulling her wrists behind her back and looping the rope around them.
Susan opened the door leading from the kitchen some minutes later to see Dominique finishing off a hog tie on the housekeeper, before rolling her onto her side and covering her lips with a length of tape. She stood up, looked at Susan and said “How’s the cook?”
“Trussed up like the turkey she was thinking of cooking,” Susan replied as she looked round. “I don’t think there are any other guards here.”
“Then it’s time,” Dominique said as she switched on a radio. “Madeline? We’re secure – move in.”
Susan made her way to the front door and opened it as the van and car made their way to the front of the house. The van door opened and a team of black-clad women came out, accompanied by Madeline and Madame.
“Secure the house,” Madeline said to the team, “and take what evidence you can find. Where are they?”
“Down in the cellar – may I suggest you and I go and see what is needed while Dominique and Madame interrogate the staff?”
“Excellent idea, Susan,” Madame said as she and Dominique made their way to the kitchen. “Two of you – take this one out to the van and keep her guard, the rest carry out your orders.”
The two women made their way to the kitchen, to be greeted by a torrent of muffled abuse from the cook. She was lying on the floor, the butcher’s twine wrapped around her arms and legs and resembling nothing more than a ham that had been tied ready to hand. A large white tea towel had been stuffed into her mouth.
“She does such a good job of improvisation,” Madame said as Dominique knelt down and threw the woman over her shoulder. “I trust she will give you no trouble as you take her out?”
“Nope – what do you want to do with the food?”
“We’ll get some of the crew to collect it and take it to a local shelter – it seems fitting that they share this with those less fortunate. Come – they hopefully have recovered the girls by now.”
As Dominique carried the struggling cook out to the van, Madame watched as Susan and Madeline led three very scared girls through the cellar door. They were dirty, pale and showed signs of having been restrained.
“Girls,” Madame said as they looked at her, “I am pleased to say your ordeal is nearly at an end. We will take you home – with luck, your families will be overjoyed to see you. The police will want to talk to you at some point, but when they do please tell them it was a group of strangers who freed you. Do you understand?”
The three girls nodded, and were helped out of the house by three of the group. “It wasn’t nice down there,” Susan said as the last one left the house, “what do you want to do?”
“We need to send a message to Global Supplies. What time is it?”
“About seven – why?”
“Then we just have time – I will follow you in the car. Stop at the local police station, will you?”
“Sheriff, will you come out here a minute?”
Sheriff Tobin had just come into the rear entrance of the station when one of his deputies called out to him.
“What’s up,” he said as he came through to see his team looking out through the office window.
“See for yourself,” the deputy said. Sheriff Tobin looked out to see two women tied to the flagpole in the centre of town. He ran out of the office and up to the pair, who were staring at him over their gags. Attached to the jacket of the one who was tape gagged was a note, which he quickly read.
With the compliments of Madame X – the first gift of a number for thanksgiving. You may wish to visit the private house indicated on the reverse.
He turned over the map and signalled to his deputy. “Get a car up there – and get these two down. I need to talk to them.”
Susan took Jodie by the hand as she walked her to her front door. Tear stains were visible on her cheeks as she stood there.
“You will be safe now – talk about what has happened, it will help you to cope.”
“Who are you,” she whispered in a hoarse voice.
“A friend,” Susan said with a smile as she brushed the dirty hair away from her eyes. She stood up, turned and walked quickly away as Jodie reached up to ring the bell. From a distance, Susan watched as the door opened and a young woman looked out, before screaming and scooping Jodie into the house, slamming the door shut behind her. Smiling, she climbed into the waiting car and drove off.
“Let’s go Clint – Madame has invited us to a thanksgiving dinner of our own,” she said to the man in the driver’s seat as they set off down the suburban road.
“So, I presume our business with Rising Stars is completed?”
The group of women were watching the firework display from the penthouse flat that Madeline lived in, the remains of a full meal on the table as maids came in to clear away.
“Yes – we will add it to our legitimate business interests here, and we may even out some work the way of the video company we own.”
Madame took a sip from her glass. “I must say, Madeline, that this is a truly memorable site. I should visit more often.”
“Yes,” Madeline said, “but I am still concerned about Global Supplies and the Simpson woman. I can’t believe we have heard the last of them.”
“What is the line from that film – Tomorrow is another day? Worry about it then – for tonight, celebrate the freedom we have, my dear Madeline.”