A Business Arrangement
It was late, and the red streak across the horizon was beginning to fade into a darkening sky as the lights went on around the buildings. A familiar grey building on the estate was also well lit, with people working late as they awaited reports and returning teams.
Madame X was at her desk, studying carefully a report she had just received, when there was a knock on the door.
Come, she called out, and Penelope entered, wearing a stunning red dress with gold lame sewn in to it. The dress was cut off one shoulder, the arm on the other side encased in a fitted glove sleeve. The front of the dress was cut to allow her to reveal her stocking clad legs, and she wore a pair of stiletto heels on her feet.
Ah Penelope, Madame X said, her warm and inviting voice soft and gentle in the tone, How was the reception?
Most illuminating, Madame, Penelope said as she sat down. I believe I know the layout of the Manor House well enough to allow us to complete our plans, although I do have one question.
Then you must ask it, Penelope.
Would it not be simpler to detain his daughter and wife at a more private moment, rather than at the next ball?
Perhaps, Penelope, Madame said as she sat back, but I have a personal reason for wishing this to happen in this way. There are certain considerations that have to be taken into account, and I also need to do a favour for an old associate.
Are you familiar with Lady Clarkson?
With her, no - but I have had some dealings with her husband in a professional capacity in the past. When he was plain David Clarkson, he ran a very successful loans company on the side - with some rather underhand dealings as part of it.
I see - but if you are both professionals, then why such a public display?
Madame X smiled, as she said Penelope, would it surprise you to know I have a little bit of a competitive edge?
If you do, Madame, you keep it well hidden. Is there some sort of wager I should be aware of?
Madame X merely smiled. Have the team ready for briefing at 11 am on Friday - I will explain then. Oh, and Penelope?
The redhead stood up before saying Yes, Madame?
That dress is very flattering - good choice.
Penelope smiled as she walked out of the room, as Madame returned to the report she had been working on.
The driveway up to Didcote Manor was lined with burning braziers, as the cars slowly made their way up towards the well illuminated front door. One by one they parked, the uniformed chauffeurs opening the rear of the vehicles to allow the distinguished guests to exit and walk to the arched doorway.
Standing there to receive them was the official greeter, who took their invitations and announced their arrival. He was impeccably dressed, in a well fitted black dinner suit, white shirt and symmetrical bow tie - the suit so well tailored you could not see the bump from the holster around her upper body.
In fact, security was so discrete the guests had little idea of how well they were protected - a fact Lord Clarkson was very proud of, as he walked round and chatted with the guests. As he glanced across the expanse of the ballroom, he could see his wife doing the same thing, as she turned and smiled back at him.
Laura, Lady Clarkson, had been a stunning beauty in her youth, having earned a small fortune in the more acceptable end of the glamour girl market in the 80s. She was in her mid-fifties now, but still maintained her figure, as the gold lame sheath dress she was wearing testified by the way it clung to her body. It was held up by a single strap over her left shoulder, her greying hair falling over her other bare shoulder, and a slit from the hem as it brushed the floor to her waist on the other side, the material parting as she walked to reveal a pair of gold strapped heels on her feet.
Also working the room was his daughter, Jemima. She was the image of her mother when she adorned the inside pages of the papers, standing at six foot tall with long auburn hair that fell down her back. She had chosen on this evening to wear a classic black cocktail dress, reaching to just above her knees, with thin spaghetti straps over her shoulders, dark hose and highly polished leather shoes with a three inch heel. In her early twenties, she had recently graduated with a degree in Art History, and the evening was in her honour.
The ballroom was rapidly filling, as the waiting staff walked round silently, holding trays of glasses and snacks as they served the guests. The men were dressed in black suits, crisp white shirts and ties, while the women were wearing white blouses with small bow ties, knee length skirts, tights and flat shoes.
A red haired waitress walked past as Lord Clarkson took a glass of red wine, saying Thank you as he did so. The girl nodded and made her way across the room, passing as she did so a slightly smaller woman with long blonde hair. They smiled and nodded to each other as, at the far end of the hall, the band struck up a dance tune.
Like a well oiled machine, the people moved to the sides, seating themselves at the tables as others took to the revealed dance floor - in particular, Lord and Lady Clarkson, who started to dance a waltz as others clapped.
The evening continued, as the waiting staff entered and exited through two sets of swing doors to the serving area. On one particular exit, the blonde haired waitress made her way towards a table where Jemima Clarkson was sitting, talking with a group of very well dressed women of her age.
Ladies and gentlemen - could I have your attention please?
Oh God, Jemima said as she put her head in her hands, He swore he would not do this. She took a glass from the tray the waitress was carrying and set it down, as Lord Clarkson said please, Jemima, stand up wherever you are.
Jemima slowly stood up, the eyes of her table on her as the waitress laid out other drinks for them. Jemima, your mother and I love you, and we just wanted to say congratulations and well done! The room was filled with applause as Jemima blushed, smiled and then sat down, taking the drink and downing it in one before she drew another breath.
Are all parents as embarrassing, she said with a smile, and the other girls around her table nodded. Come on, she then shouted as she suddenly stood up, and then gripped the end of the table.
Are you all right, Jem? one of the girls said. You look pale.
Probably one glass of champagne too many, Jemima said as she stood up, Ill be back in a few minutes. She steadied herself, and then walked with deliberate poise and grace to the door that led to the hallway.
As she put her hand on the handle, the red haired waitress said Are you all right, Miss Clarkson?
I just need to go to the toilet, Jemima whispered as she opened the door and stepped out, the waitress following in time to catch her as Jemimas knees seemed to go from under her.
Whats happening, she moaned as the waitress lifted her up, putting her arm around her neck as she walked her to a side room.
Just relax, Miss Clarkson, she said as the door opened from the inside and she escorted the young girl in, Everything is going to be just fine. Two other women were waiting inside the room, both wearing the uniform of the waitresses. Jemima looked up, said Hello, and then her head fell forward as her eyes closed.
Everything going to plan, Penelope, one of the two women said as they laid Jemima on a blanket and started to undress her.
So far so good, Penelope said as she went to a black bag sitting on a table, and drew out another uniform, as well as a black wig, You have five minutes - go.
What happened to her?
Lady Clarkson had stepped out from the ballroom for a minute, and saw two of the waitresses carrying a third between them, her head slumped forward and her dark hair all that she could see.
Our apologies, Your Ladyship, the red headed one of the pair said, She was taken ill suddenly. We are taking her to a car that is waiting outside to take her home.
Very well then - be gentle with her, Laura said as the two women carried the third out, watching them leave before she returned to the ballroom. Excuse me, she said to a blonde haired waitress as she walked past, Have you seen my daughter anywhere?
Miss Clarkson? I believe she left a few minutes ago, Your Ladyship. She was complaining of a headache.
Too much champagne, Laura said with a shrug. Thank you. She walked off again, the waitress watching her as she went back into the ballroom and started to mingle once more with her guests.
Twenty minutes later, Lord Clarkson came alongside his wife.
Laura, my dear, have you seen Jemima? Some of our guests wish to say good night.
I believe she went to her room - Ill go and see if she is still awake, Laura said as she turned and left the ballroom, the waitress following her out.
Laura walked up the staircase, gathering her skirt up as she ascended, and then down the corridor, stopping outside her daughters bedroom and knocking.
Jem, she said as she opened the door and came in, Are you...
She stopped at the site of Penelope, sitting on the bed with a smile on her face and a gun pointing at Laura. Come in, she said in a commanding voice, close the door and raise your hands in the air.
What is the meaning of this? Laura said sharply, but she did as she had been commanded, closing the door and raising her hands. Penelope stood up and stepped to the side, revealing a pair of blue jeans, a tan coloured cashmere sweater and a pair of trainers on the bed.
You will take off that exquisite dress, Penelope continued, and change into these more suitable clothes for travelling. If you dont, then your daughter will not be returning any time soon.
You have Jemima, Laura said as she shivered, Dont hurt her.
Then change, and quickly, Penelope said as she watched Lady Clarkson, we have a schedule to keep.
Laura nodded as she stepped forward, and reached behind her back, slowly pulling down the invisible fastener on her dress as it slipped onto the ground. Pulling the jumper over her upper body, she then sat on the bed and removed her shoes, flexing her toes before she pulled the jeans up and over her legs, and then slipped the trainers on.
Now what, she said as she looked at Penelope.
Turn round, and put your hands behind your back, the red head said as she produced a length of silk cord.
OF course - I should have expected this, Laura muttered, but she turned and stood still feeling the soft material as it pulled her wrists together behind her back, Penelope expertly wrapping the cord around and between her arms to hold them in place, then tying the ends to a loop at the waistband of the jeans.
She watched Penelope as she walked to the wardrobe, and took out a grey poncho, which she pulled over Lauras head, covering her upper body as the back covered her wrists.
If this is a kidnapping, Laura said as she watched Penelope fold a cotton handkerchief into a pad, Why not knock me out and just take me?
Because you are allergic to most anaesthetics, Lady Clarkson - our aim is to kidnap you, not kill you. Laura had to admire the fact she knew that, as she opened her mouth to allow Penelope to push the cloth in.
She then saw her take a roll of flesh coloured plaster and tear off a strip, before she smoothed it over Lauras mouth and jaw. The soft material formed itself to the contours of her mouth, so well that Penelope was able to take a tube of lipstick and trace over Lauras lips. Finally, Penelope took a large red headscarf, folded it into a triangle and used it to cover Lauras grey hair, tying the ends over the point at the back of her neck.
There now, Penelope said as she took Laura by the arm, Time to take you to join your daughter.
Laura wondered what was happening as she was pulled out of the room. Surely they were not going to walk her through the guests to the front door?
No, Penelope said as if she had read her mind. We will take the servants staircase. She escorted Laura in the opposite direction to the main staircase, and opened an old wooden door at the end of the corridor, revealing a staircase that went down to the lower levels.
Watch your step, was all Penelope said as she helped Laura to walk down, past several of the other waiters and waitresses on the lower floor before they left by the kitchen door. There was a grey van parked outside, the blonde waitress Laura had spoken to earlier standing by the side of it.
Nice one Penny, she said as she opened the door and Penelope helped Laura to step in. Sitting on the floor by the other side was the waitress Laura had seen earlier - only now her wrists were tied together in front of her with a length of rope that ran down to her ankles, and a black scarf had been pulled between her lips.
Whstgngn, Laura mumbled as she was sat down, a strap passed around erg waist to fix her against the wall while the blonde haired waitress crossed and bound her ankles together.
Forgive the subterfuge, she said as she looked at Laura, but our instructions were to take both of you. She reached over and pulled the black wig off the head of the other girl, Lauras eyes widening as Jemimas blonde locks cascaded down her head.
Keep them company Lily, Penelope said as she stepped out and closed the door. Lily sat and smiled at both of them as Laura felt the engine starting under her, and the van lurched forward...
Laura and Jemima grunted as they were escorted into the room - well, less escorted and more pushed in by Penny and Lily. Jemima had come to during the journey, and after the initial panic of discovering she was bound, gagged and moving, she had seen her mother and realised she was not alone in this.
As the door locked behind them, Lily started to untie Jemima, while Penny removed the poncho and released Lauras wrists. The gags stay until we go, Penny said, But there is food and drink under the covers over there, and you will find nightwear on the beds. We will return in one hour to secure you for the night. You realise, of course, that the room will be guarded, and you must do as we say?
The two women nodded as Lily and Penny left, the door locking behind them. Jemima reached behind her head and untied the knot holding the scarf in her mouth, while Laura reached up and very slowly peeled the plaster away from her jaw, before removing the cloth from her own mouth.
Mum, Jemima finally said as she worked her jaw, Whats going on? Have we been kidnapped for ransom or what?
Im not sure yet, Laura said, but I need a drink. That cloth dried my mouth out. She uncovered the items on the table, revealing some snacks, two bottles of water and a letter. Handing one of the bottles of water to Jemima, she took the other one and opened it, having a drink before she read the letter.
Youre remarkably calm, Mum, Jemima said as she watched Laura read the note, I thought you would be climbing the walls. The last thing she was expecting was a smile on her mothers lips before she took a drink from the bottle.
Jem, she finally said as she looked at her daughter, Set aside the shock of what has happened for a moment - tell me how you felt when you realised we had been taken against our wills.
Jemima stared at her mother for a moment, and then said Terrified, scared, wondering who had taken us, what was happening... She sat in silence for a moment and said Is it wrong of me to admit I was excited as well?
No - no it was not, Laura said, and Im glad of that. Let me tell you something...
Well, I see you are both ready.
Lily had returned to find Laura and Jemima sitting on the two beds. Laura had changed in to a plain white negligee, which came to just above her knees, while Jemima was wearing a white silk vest top and matching boxers shorts. For her part, Lily was now wearing a black one piece suit with knee length fabric boots.
Well do whatever you say, Laura told Lily as they both stood up, Just please do not hurt us.
Good, Lily said as she handed Laura a roll of white tape. Secure your daughters hands behind her back, and then wrap it around her waist to keep her arms in place.
Just do it, Mum, Jemima said as she turned her back to her mother, her hands palm to palm as Laura used the tape to secure them tightly together, then wrapped it around her waist to keep them in place. She then walked quietly over to the bed, sitting on it as her mother taped her ankles together, then her legs below her knees, and then lying down on her side as she got comfortable.
Gag her, Lily said, and Jemima watched as her mother tore three strips of tape free, putting them on her arm before she put the roll down. Im sorry, Jem, she said before she smoothed the strips over her daughters mouth, and then kissed her on the forehead.
Your turn, Lily said as she picked up the roll of tape. Jemima watched as her mother was secured as tightly as she was, and then gagged before she lay on the bed, the two women watching each other.
Good night Ladies, Lily said as she turned off the light and closed the door, Laura and Jemima grunting to each other as she closed and locked the door.
Good night? Penny said as Lily turned round. Its nine in the morning. Penny was wearing a grey jersey dress with a wide red belt around her waist, and grey heels.
They dont know that, do they, Lily said with a wink as the two women walked down the corridor. So what now?
Madame wishes to see both of us - she has a visitor she wants you to meet, Penny said as they made their way to the elevator. As they stepped in, Lily turned and said So when do we send the ransom demand?
We already have the money, Penny said, Madame will explain everything.
As they entered the office, Lily saw that Madame X did indeed have a guest. She was in her mid forties, with bleached blonde hair cut to highlight her face, and was dressed as immaculately as Madame, the grey Armani suit flattering her figure. Madame herself was dressed in a blue jersey dress.
Penelope, Lillian, Madame said as the two of them stood up, I would like you to meet an old friend of mine. Vera, this is Penelope, my personal assistant, and Lillian, one of my more promising senior associates.
The pleasure is mine ladies, Vera said in a clipped English accent. Madame has been most gracious to me in accommodating my request.
Vera is the organiser of the monthly Kidnap Club meetings, Madame said quietly, and both Penny and Lily nodded as they heard that. She also operates a most efficient service for other of the more - adventurous members of society.
Laura Clarkson is one of my oldest clients, Vera said as she looked at them, and she was keen for her daughter to learn what it was like. She wanted her first time, however, to be - well, a surprise present, so I asked Madame if she would make the necessary arrangements.
So that is why it had to be last night, Penny said, I presume her husband knows?
Lord Clarkson? Well, given he signed the payment cheque, I would imagine he does, Vera said with a smile. The arrangement is that you will look after them for two days, and then return them safe and sound.
It will be our pleasure, Madame said as she walked round. Well, I think everything is in order now Vera, so I will detain you no longer. Please, give my regards to Blanche when you next see her.
That should be in about an hour, Vera said as she consulted her watch. Dennis informed me they had her just before I left.
Madame smiled as she said Penelope, would you please escort Vera out. Lillian, I need you to stay for instructions concerning our guests.
Of course, Madame, Penny said as she opened the door. Vera picked up a document case and said I will see you soon, before she followed her out. As they walked to the elevator, Penny said Vera, may I ask a favour?
Of course my dear, Vera said with a smile.
When is your next contest?
Vera smiled as she opened her case, took out a document and handed it to her. Read, sign and return to the address given, she said as she handed it to Penny, and I will let you know. She entered the elevator and turned, smiling as the doors closed on her.