Cat on a Cold Tin Roof
Hot town, summer in the city,
Back of my neck feeling burnt and gritty.
Get down, isn’t it a pity,
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow on the city
All around, People looking half dead,
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a matchhead…
The song blared out over the park as she walked through Central Park, her floral print mini dress allowing the men to admire her brown skinned legs which seemed to go on forever. She had dark hair, cut in a fringe around her face and then hanging down his back, while the sandals she wore had four inch heels.
She walked with poise and confidence, smiling as she approached the terrace of the restaurant, where her boyfriend was waiting for him. He smiled as he stood up and embraced her, kissing her on both cheeks before he held the seat for her.
“Sorry I’m late, Francois,” she said as he sat down, “I needed to have words with her again.”
Francois Legault smiled. “Do you wish me to chastise her when I get home tonight?”
“There is no need, I have already punished her. How was work?”
“Boring – the new assistant arrives in two weeks, and we need to have things ready for the transfer of role to her.” Francois was a member of the French delegation to the UN, a senior post, and the expensive silk suit he wore reflected the price they paid for his talents.
“She sounds a real drag – a countess, you told me? It is so colonial, no?”
“My dear Angel, do not let it concern you. She and I are working on different areas, it is very unlikely that you will meet her.”
Angel Xantu smiled at the words of her boyfriend. A descendant of a Mazengwean tribal prince, she believed in the superiority of her place, and the right of her to do as she wanted.
“Listen, my love,” Francois said, “I must leave town today to attend a meeting in Geneva. I will only have time to collect my passport and pack my bag after this. Will you be able to cope with her until my return?”
“Oh I believe I will – I’ll have the Nicoise salad,” she said to the waitress.
“More coffee, Madame?”
The waiter was speaking to the tall dark haired woman, who was watching the happy couple with interest.
“Thank you, I will,” she said quietly, taking mental notes the whole time.
Annie Kelly locked her classroom door. She'd dropped in to photocopy the work sheets for her students for the first month of the year. This was the worst part of the long summer vacation, the bit parents and students never got to see, the endless preparation that ensured the classes ran smoothly.
She allowed her mind to wander onto the wonderful Italian suede boots she had seen in Bergdorf's. She desired them, but she needed both to venture out and maybe make another score tonight to pay for them. Jimmy Threeballs, as she thought of the pawnbroker, was taking his time paying her for some of the pieces he claimed needing valued.
Annie seriously considered taking them to someone else next time. She had done her own research, and knew Threeballs low balled her on what he paid her. She wondered if she could do better with another fence, but had enough savvy to realize that it wasn’t a simple as just saying “no more” and going elsewhere.
She realized she still had a lot to learn about this new side of her life, but she was a quick learner. Nodding, she resolved to make some further inquiries, before too long.
"Okay first the gym, then lunch” she told herself, as she walked along the silent corridor. She stepped into the office to grab her bag, and then headed out of the building and down the street.
Half an hour later, she walked into the room that contained the climbing wall, pulling on her thin leather gloves as she looked round. The athletics top and shorts hugged her skin, and on her feet were the specialized climbing shoes.
“Hey Sam,” she called out to the instructor. He turned and smiled before saying “be with you in a moment – I’m just doing this induction assessment. Ready when you are, miss.”
Annie sat on a bench and watched as the woman said in a voice that had a British accent “very well then,” and started her ascent. The tall dark haired woman was new to this gym, but she wasn't new to climbing – that much was obvious, as she selected her route up the wall. Annie admired her technique as she went up and reached the top in a good time..
“Not bad – not bad at all,” Sam said as the woman came back down again, “You obviously know what you’re doing. If you sign up here, I think one of the more advanced classes would be most suitable for you.”
“I see,” she said as she unbuckled the harness, “”And what wall would that be on?”
“This one,” Sam said as he indicated a wall on the other side. “Miss Kelly here is one of our advanced class members – would you like to see her tackle it?”
“I would certainly be interested,” the stranger said with a smile as Sam said “Okay Miss Kelly, now your turn," and hooked her up into the safety harness.
“He flatters me,” Annie said with a smile, but she started to make her way up, the possible new member watching her the whole time. The foot and hand holds were shallow and a fair distance apart, but Annie made short work of them, reaching the top in about twenty minutes.
“Not bad at all,” Sam said as she made her way back down again.
“Indeed – very impressive,” the woman said as Annie was unclipped. “I think this may just provide the challenge I need. Can we discuss membership terms?”
“If Miss Kelly is happy for that?”
“Go on,” Annie said, “I’ll put my running shoes on and go on the treadmill.”
As she pounded on the running machine, she saw the new member go past, and smiled to acknowledge her. The smile was returned, and as she left the gym she asked Sam “this Miss Kelly – does she come here regularly?”
“Most days – she’s a teacher at St Angela’s, so in term time it’s the evenings, but she comes around this time at the moment. Why?”
“Just curious,” she said quietly, “just curious…”
Sitting on the bench in Central Park, Annie unwrapped her salmon bagel and bit into it, chewing slowly as she considered her plans for that evening. There were a few places that she had scouted out that may be possible, but one particular location kept coming back to her mind. It was a townhouse near the park, with a nice quiet back alley that she could use to gain entry. Compared to the climbing wall at the club, she could also climb up in her trainers.
Biting again into her lunch, she thought over the timelines – she had time to head home, change and go to see what Threeballs was playing at, then grab some dinner at home before she went out. With luck, the tall African woman she had seen coming in and out of the townhouse would prove to have rich pickings.
“Good afternoon, Dominique – a productive morning?”
“Indeed Madame,” Dominique said as she sat down, “I think I can clear up the favour Diana has asked of me tonight, and then focus purely on the other matter at hand.”
“Excellent,” Susan said as she gave Dominique a drink. “What about my visitor?”
“Yes,” Dominique said slowly, “on that I…”
of the mobile phone made everyone stop and look at Charlotte. She glanced down at her phone beside the
papers she was reviewing - she disliked people phoning her at work on personal
is dit?" she asked in Afrikaans.
made her laugh.
Ken, I saw the call was from back home and thought it was Piet…. Now no more 'Bastard
Dutch' as you call it, English only." Charlotte giggled at the
unilingualism of Professor Ken Howlett at Wits.
"What can I do for you?… Oh?…
"Now that is interesting, can I ask who your source is?… well John Nyanga is one of the most honest journalists on the continent…. and he says he has information they will try sell them here?… Yes my employer will be very interested…. Thanks for the heads-up Ken…..en jy regtig nodig het leer Afrikaans…. Bye and Thanks.”
“Someone of import,” Madame said as Charlotte ended the call.
"Indeed, Madame - a friend back home says he heard from a good source that the rebels in Burinda are going to try selling a large amount of blood diamonds via either a French or Mazengwean contact at the UN.”
“I see – did he say when?”
“No – but it seems to confirm what I managed to decipher what we learned from the Geneva documents. I think we may have a few days grace – enough time to set up what Susan and I need to do.”
“Good – progress that tomorrow, with the names mentioned in the file. Dominique?”
“I will be at your disposal tomorrow, Madame, once I have made a delivery to Diana.”
“You all right, Dom, you look concerned about something,” Susan said, but before Dominique could reply her phone rang.
“Clint? Where are you right now?
“You sure? Right – I’m on my way.”
“Problem,” Madame said as she looked over.
“No – Clint thinks he’s found the fence my visitor used. He’s watching the place until I get down there.”
“Need back up?”
“Thanks, Dom, but this one is mine,” Susan said as she put her jacket on and walked out of the office.
Susan jumped out of the cab and looked at the grubby exterior of the pawnbrokers. A faded sign over the window said “J. COLLIER. ITEMS BOUGHT AND SOLD.”
“That’s one word for it anyway,” she heard Clint say as he came up behind her. While Susan was in a pale blue jacket and skirt, with black leather gloves and shoes, Clint was wearing a black leather bomber jacket over a blue shirt and jeans.
“So what did you see?”
“Bottom left corner – centre of the tray.”
Susan glanced down and nodded as she recognized the ring in the white pad. “Right then,” she said quietly, “let’s go in and have a look round,”
They entered the shop, the bell above the door ringing as Clint closed the door behind them. A couple of people were looking round, but Susan looked out of place in the dim light. This did not bother her at all- if anything, it gave the impression she was a fed or a cop, and as the two customers left she was glad of that effect.
“Can I help you doll?”
Susan turned and smiled at the overweight man standing behind the counter, wearing a white shirt that was straining to cover his stomach.
“Oh I do hope so,” she said in her quietest voice, “I saw the ring in your window and just had to see it. May I?”
“Sure, doll,” the man said as he leaned over, his shirt riding up to reveal his hairy back, and carried it over to the counter. As he did so, Clint quietly locked the front door and turned the sign to Closed.
“What d’ya think,” he said as Susan leaned over and examined the engagement ring.
“Oh yes, this is exactly what I was looking for,” Susan said quietly, “May I?”
The man watched as she picked up the ring and examined it. “This engraving – two sets of initials and a date,” she said, “do you know what it means?”
“No idea, doll,” the man said as Clint made his way to the side of Susan. “Probably the poor lady’s initials and the schmuck who dumped her.”
“Hmm – Clint darling, these are the same initials as us,” Susan said as she showed her partner the ring.
“Why so it is,” Clint said quietly, “quite a coincidence.”
“Mister Collier – you are Mister Collier aren’t you – can I let you into a little secret?”
Susan beckoned to the pawnbroker, who leaned over and listened as she whispered into his ear “It’s my ring, you little snitch.”
He barely had time to register the fact before Clint hauled him over the counter, looping his arms under his and locking his hands together behind his neck.
“Now,” Susan said quietly, “this and a number of other items were taken from my flat a few nights ago. Put simply, I want them back. Where are they?”
“Who the hell are you, Feds,” the man said as Clint held him.
“Easy Jimmy,” he said as he tightened his grip, “just answer the lady’s questions.”
“That’s right Jimmy – play nice, and tell me where the rest of my jewellery is.”
“I got no idea what you’re talking about, lady.”
“Oh dear oh dear,” Susan said as she placed her purse on the counter, opened it and took out two sets of linked rings, Jimmy’s eyes widening as Susan pulled the brass knuckles on over her gloves.
usually abhor this kind of crude violence, but that bitch took things that were
very personal to me?"
the pawnbroker a solid shot into his guts, knocking the wind out of him
"Now maybe that will help trigger your memory?"
“Hold… Hold on,” Jimmy gasped, “I… I got your stuff in the back.”
“Clint, darling, be a dear and go with Jimmy to find my things,” Susan said with a smile as Clint dragged the wheezing pawnbroker into the back office. She whistled softly to herself until they reappeared, Jimmy dropping a box on the counter as Clint stood behind him.
Looking through the box, Susan nodded and then frowned. “One piece is missing, Where is the brooch?”
“Brooch? What ooommpphhhh.”
He collapsed to the floor as Susan hit him in the stomach again, Clint standing over him and saying “do not lie to the lady, Jimmy. If she says a piece is missing, it is missing. Where is it?”
Jimmy looked up as Susan walked round, and then kicked him in the groin. “I said, where is it?”
“Sa…. Sa… Safe.”
Clint looked over to the small floor safe, which was slightly open. Looking in, he smiled as he extracted a small box and uncovered a diamond brooch in the shape of a jaguar.
“That’s better,” Susan said as she slipped the brooch into her purse. “Now, where do I find the bitch who brought this here?”
“No… No idea. I’m strictly cash, but I knew this was something special. I…I’ve been holding off on paying her.”
“About five eight – red hair – slim, street punk. Attitude all through her.”
“And I bet you have no records, right?”
Jimmy nodded as he looked up.
“No sense doing any more darling – he doesn’t know anything else.”
“I agree,” Susan said as she slipped off the brass knuckles, before giving Jimmy another kick. “Pray I never have to come back.”
Annie stood outside the shop, wondering why it was closed, when she saw the door open and two people come out. The tall man intrigued her, but her heart nearly stopped when she saw the well dressed woman with him.
“Damn,” she said to herself as she walked away, “I need to find a new fence.”
Susan and Clint hailed a cab and got in, not noticing the black car that drew up, or the man and woman who got out and headed into the shop.
Adam Ball and Janice Carter entered the store, looking round and wondering what had happened.
“Anyone home,” Janice called out as they heard a groan, and then saw Jimmy Collier slowly stand up from behind the counter.
Jimmy long time no see." Adam looked at the slightly rumpled appearance of
a dissatisfied customer?" Janice glanced round.
"No." Jimmy straightened himself up, “Just something I ate.”
“Oh – did it give you a black eye as well.”
“Must have happened when I ran to the men’s room,” Jimmy said. “So what do you want, Ball?”
"I'll come right to the point Jimmy, I've seen copies of a picture of a piece of jewellery that interests me"
and what might that be, I am sure I can do favorable terms for a sale to the
aint lookin' to buy Jimmy." Ball looked hard and long at the pawnbroker.
"You have a diamond pin in the shape of a wild cat…. mind if we see
groaned and held onto the counter. "What's
the fuckin' interest in that damn brooch all of a sudden?"
a guy and a rather nasty broad were just in here saying it was stolen from
a certain lady who has been using my services acquired it, this limey bitch,
said it was hers, and she made her point rather strongly." He stroked his
"You say she was English?” Janice asked urgently. “Describe her.”
looked up and said “Blonde about five four, nice looker."
the pin - might it have been a jaguar?"
been, whadya think I'm a naturalist or something?"
bet your security cameras were turned off."
"Hey - my customers this timea day don't like their pictures getting' taken too much."
“I’ll bet,” Janice said with a smile. “The girl who brought them in – can you describe her?”
“Street punk – like a hundred other street punks.”
“Honestly, Ball, you know the way I work – no names, no pack drill.”
“Yeah – the life of a low level fence. Count yourself lucky, Jimmy.”
“Most people who see that pin or similar ones tend to end up dead. So count your blessings, Jimmy – you had a very near miss.”
“What do you…” Jimmy suddenly started shaking, as he said “Shit – are you saying she was one of THEM?”
“Could be, Jimmy,” Ball said.
“I don’t suppose we could persuade you to come in and see a sketch artist and describe the blonde Jimmy?” Janice asked.
“If she was one of those bitches, you’ve got two chances of me doin’ that… FAT and NONE!”
“We can offer you protection Jimmy.” Ball added.
Jimmy was shaking now as he said “Protection against dem bitches…. Aint no such thing. They are stone cold killers.”
“So you won’t describe the blonde?” Janice asked.
“The English one Jimmy.” Adam spoke.
“Who said she was English? Who said she was blonde?”
“Well I got confused, I don’t know nuthin’.”
The two agents looked at each other. “Well, Jimmy, stay well and – hey, you go to a church?”
“Nah – why?”
“I was going to say pray for your thief – she may need it.”
headed street punk." Clint mused, "Going to be hard to find."
punk my arse…. and I'm willing to bet she's as much a redhead as I am."
Susan snorted as she looked out of the cab window.
makes you say that, babe?"
Clint, remember I ran with street gangs, this girl carried herself differently,
and sure spoke better than any street punk I ever knew."
disguise, and a smarter woman than that guy thought."
you get it in one." Susan rewarded her husband with a kiss.
at least we got your things back – especially that brooch. Happy?"
but I'd still like a little chat with that lady."
your brass knuckles on?" Clint asked.
ran as fast as she could for the subway, not looking back as she did so.
she thought to herself, "Who the hell was that bitch to track her fence
down so easily?"
Down the station stairs she ran and onto the platform, stopping to catch her breath.
forget those lovely boots" she sighed inwardly, "unless I make a big
cash score tonight."
She stood on the platform, well at least she hadn't been followed. It was just such a shame to have lost both a haul and her fence like that. She silently prayed that tonight would be a good night.
In her hotel room, Dominique carefully checked her supplies, ensuring every piece was in pristine working order. Her lock picks, nightlight, ropes, and the device she had borrowed that could decode the combination for a safe within minutes.
Sitting back in her chair, she looked again at the pictures she had taken of the townhouse, looking at the front and rear of the building. Nodding to herself, she rang room service and ordered a light meal, smiling to herself. “Never go to work on an empty stomach – rule one,” she said to herself as she closed her eyes.
Annie slipped her jumper on and looked at herself in the mirror. The black suited her, making her look slimmer and taller as she stood in her leggings and trainers.
Smiling, she picked up the red wig and put it on, covering her own hair as she adjusted it. Grabbing a leather jacket, she slipped it on and picked up her small backpack, before heading out.
Tom Callaghan sat back and looked at Ball and Carter.
“So you’re convinced this was a pussycat pin?”
Janice nodded. “Yeah I think some sneak thief got more than she bargained with when it got taken.”
“Would not like to be in her shoes if they catch her.” Adam added.
“And your theory is that this brooch was one worn by the bitch who whacked that security guy in the bank at Greenwich?”
“Yeah the one they called Miss Jaguar… the English import.”
Tom put his fingers under his chin. “Your theory at the time was she came from this mysterious Madame X’s organization.”
“That’s still my theory Tom, I think the Pussycats have built a working relationship with The English and that they supply specialists now to help the Pussycats.”
“An international crime treaty.” Adam nodded soberly.
“All right – if that is the case, she may still be in the city, as a sort of liaison. What’s your next step?”
“We’ll spread the word amongst the snitches and fences – if this redhead appears again, we’ll find out. She could prove to be the weak link we’ve been looking for.”
Tom nodded. “Do it – maybe we just got very lucky…”
They say New York is the city that never sleeps – but it does get quieter, so at two there were only a few people walking the streets. In the vicinity of the townhouse on W 85th Street, only a few people were walking by. The tall, dark haired woman stood opposite the house and looked from left to right, and then again at the house, the windows dark and unwelcoming.
She wore a black sweater, jacket and pants, and a pair of knee length soft leather boots, and as she pulled a pair of soft leather gloves on Dominique smiled. She always enjoyed this part – the anticipation of what was to come.
Looking at the door, she decided that entry by that method would not be suitable. There was a stairway that led to a basement, so he made her way down that and looked at the door. It was locked, but she had cover, allowing her to slip her lock picks out and get to work.
It took her a few minutes, but eventually she managed to open the door and slip in, closing it behind her. She was in some sort of basement – it probably was a kitchen at one time, but not now. Now it looked as if it was some sort of storeroom, but Dominique was surprised to see what looked like a cot bed in one corner.
She walked quickly up the staircase, and opened the door that led into the hallway. There was no light, but she could see a box blinking in the corner. She made her way along, sticking as close to the wall as possible, and then opened the front of the box, looking carefully at the pad before she sprayed a fine dust over the keypad. Looking at where the dust lay, she pressed a sequence, smiling as the light stopped blinking.
“Alarm taken care of,” she said to herself, “now to find the safe.”
She walked quietly into the front room, and looked round. It was well furnished, with a definite African theme, and Dominique had to admire their taste. Still, she had a job to do, so she started to carefully examine the furnishings and wall hangings.
A cool breeze was starting to blow as Annie stood in the back alleyway. She could see on the third floor the open window, and once again thanked the need for fresh air over the noise of an air conditioner – even in a house as nice as this.
She looked up at the pipes that ran up the side of the house, planning her route carefully, and then took the nylon stocking from her pocket, pulling it down over her red wig and head and tucking it under the collar of her jumper before slipping her gloves on. Taking hold of a drainpipe, she started to pull herself up like a cat.
It only took her a few minutes to scale the wall as she slipped into the bedroom. Lying on the bed, the silk sheets only half covering her, was a tall African woman, the white silk of her short nightdress clearly visible against her chocolate brown skin. Her dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail, held in place by a small red scarf tied around it. She slept peacefully, Annie smiling as she looked down at her before she began to carefully search the room.
A number of boxes on the top of her dressing table caught her attention, as she opened them and began to examine the jewellery inside.
They were nice pieces, but she knew they were only costume jewellery – everything told Annie someone like this would have more valuable pieces somewhere else.
She then noticed the woman starting to stir, and walked over, pulling the .22 from her pocket as she stood by the bed.
“Nothing in here,” Dominique said as she moved the painting back, and then she looked round the room once again. The polished wooden floor gleamed a little in the moonlight, with the rugs, one under a coffee table, the other sitting on its own in the middle of the floor.
“I wonder,” Dominique said as she carefully walked over, and started to roll up the second rug. Her suspicions were confirmed when she saw the panel cut into the wood, and she took a long thin blade from her toolkit. Slipping it into the crack, she moved along and then smiled as she heard a soft click, and the panel lifted up, revealing a metal safe door underneath.
“Very very clever,” Dominique whispered as she looked at the electronic display. “Now, shall we get to work opening you up?”
She took from her pocket a small silver box, and placed it next to the lock, pressing a button and watching as a series of red lights started blinking.
“It’ll take a little while,” she said as she stood up, “Let’s see what else I can find.”
Standing up, she left the device to do the work it was designed to do, and made her way into the kitchen. She was thirsty, so she opened the refrigerator and removed a bottle of water.
As she was about to close it, she heard a soft whimper, and turned slowly round, the light of the icebox allowing her to see the cause of the sound, her grip on the water bottle tightening.
Angel Xantu was uneasy, as she stirred in her sleep. Something felt wrong, and she was not sure what it was.
Opening her eyes, she felt the breeze from the open window on her face, and saw the moonlight, and the woman standing over her…
Angle opened her eyes wide as the leather gloved hand was clamped over her mouth, and she saw the gleam on the barrel of the pistol pointed at her.
“Not a word, dear lady,” the woman said, “if you wish to remain unhurt.” She was not tall, but not small, with what looked like red hair squashed under the stocking that covered her head. “Do exactly what I tell you, and everything will be just fine, understand?”
Angel nodded slowly as the woman smiled. “Good – now, when I take my hand away, roll over and put your hands behind your back. I need to make sure you cannot raise the alarm, and ropes, while uncomfortable, are not lethal. You understand, don’t you?”
She nodded again as the woman removed her hand, and picked up a length of rope in her hand. “Now – please,” she said quietly.
As she rolled over, Angel looked at the woman, her eyes adjusted to the dim light. She wore a black jumper, leather jacket, pants and tennis shoes, and certainly looked the part. As she felt her wrists being crossed and tied tightly together, the rope biting into her skin, she tried to relax as much as possible, figuring less resistance meant it would be over sooner.
She then felt her ankles being crossed and lashed tightly together, and then her legs being drawn together above and below her knees, the leather gloved hands moving across her skin as the rope went between her legs at each band. When the masked woman was finished, she could not move her legs apart at all, as she heard her captor say “roll over and sit up.”
She did so, looking at the woman as she shook free a longer length of rope. “It will save a great deal of trouble if you tell me where your jewellery is,” she said as she began to wrap the rope around Angel’s arms and body, pulling her arms against her as it went above and below her chest.
“I think you have found them all,” she said as she felt the rope force her chest out, and the woman tied the bands together behind her back.
“Oh I found many nice things,” the masked woman said as she walked to your wardrobe, “but that gown you wear as you wriggle round is pure silk, and worth a fair amount. Looking at your clothing, you wear only designer clothes, of the highest quality. Do not insult me by saying that is all you – ah, here we are.”
She parted the rows of hanging dresses in the wardrobe to reveal a small safe. “Now,” she said as she walked back, “the combination, please.”
“I am not in the habit of asking twice,” the masked woman said as she came back, and pressed the .22 against Angel’s head, “the combination – please?”
Swallowing hard, Angel gave her the combination, watching as she walked over and opened the safe. “Thank you,” she said as she picked up a red silk square and folded it in her hand as she walked back, “now, open your mouth please.”
“If I must.”
“You must,” she said as she held the cloth in her gloved hand. Angel opened her mouth wide, feeling the soft material as it pushed her tongue down and closing her lips over it. She watched as the woman then took a roll of black tape from her bag, and wound it round her head, sealing her lips and keeping the scarf in place before she tore it off and smoothed it down.
Angel lay with her head on the pillows, grunting as her legs were pulled back and tied to her wrists, leaving her struggling as the masked woman walked back to the safe and began to empty it.
Annie could not believe her luck – there was a fortune in small gems, some mounted, some not, but there were also bundles of notes, hundred dollar bills rolled and tightly secured with rubber bands. There were at least ten of them, which she put into her bag.
The girl was about fourteen years old, and was sat in the corner, dressed in a black dress with a white apron tied over her lap. She wore white tennis shoes, and her eyes shone, blue and white against her dark skin.
Dominique squatted in front of her, and brushed her hair away from her dirt streaked face. “It’s all right,” she said quietly, “I’m a friend. What’s your name?”
“I am called Ama,” she replied, “has Mistress sent you to punish me as well?”
“Why should I punish you Ama – we have only just met. I have no reason to wish to hurt you.”
“Perhaps, but my mistress does not like me to talk to people – and I get punished for that. I get punished for doing many things my mistress does not like.”
Dominique took hold of the young girl’s arm, and looked at the marks on her wrists and skin. To her expert eye, she saw rope burns, but there were other, circular burns as well.
“Ama, how long have you served your mistress? When did you come to this country?”
“I do not know how long, but I know three winters have passed since I moved here.”
Dominique could feel the rage building in her, as she helped Ama to stand up. “Come,” she said as she took her hand, “I can take you with me, and I promise you, the fear, the punishments, the pain – all will end, now. On this you have my word.”
“You can do this? You can take me where mistress will never find me?”
“I can,” Dominique said softly, “but before I leave, I have some business to complete. Do you have anything you wish to take?”
“I have nothing save what I wear and Master and Mistress give me,” Ama said with her head bowed.
“I understand, Ama. My name is Dominique. Will you come with me?”
“Will I be working for you?”
“No child,” Dominique said with a smile, “you will be free.”
The young girl nodded as she slowly followed Dominique back into the front room. “Oh no,” she said as she saw the rolled up mat, “Master…”
“Is not here,” Dominique said as she sat Ama down. “Here – take this and drink. I should not be too much longer.”
Ama smiled and took the bottle of water as Dominique knelt down and looked at the row of flashing green lights. Picking the box up, she typed the numbers on the display into the safe, before turning and using the handle to open and lift the door.
Reaching into her jacket, she took out a canvas bag and slowly opened it, taking out file after file and placing it inside.
“Very nice,” Annie said as she looked back at the struggling Angel. “Now, you just stay there and relax, while I look round the rest of your house.” She pulled the knapsack shut and smiled as she opened the door, and made her way out of the bedroom, slowly walking down the open wooden staircase.
As she did so, she found herself in an open area, tastefully furnished. A few things caught her eye immediately – the young African girl in a maid’s dress, who gasped as she saw her, the rolled up mat, and the open safe door.
Dominique heard the soft creak on the wooden staircase, and the gasp from Ama, as she stood up suddenly and drew her gun. Standing at the bottom of the stairs was a woman, about five foot eight, and dressed in black – including the stocking covering her head, and pressing down her red hair.
“Good evening,” she said quietly, smiling as she sized her up, “I believe you are the Black Cat the papers have reported on. Where is the lady of the house?”
“Upstairs – I secured her,” Annie said quietly as she took in the scene. “May I know your name?”
“Not yet – please, can we put our guns away? As professionals, it is never a good idea to start with threats.”
Annie nodded and put her .22 back in her pocket. “So you’ve heard of me?”
“Of course – you have been most prolific, and you have been riding your luck, like a cat, for some considerable time. I think you are talented, but I also think you have a lot to learn. I can teach you, if you will let me.”
“What can you teach me?”
“You would be surprised – but for now, I need your help. Come, look.”
Annie walked over and looked into the floor safe, which had been emptied safe for three black velvet bags. “Open one,” Dominique said as she stood back.
Annie knelt and slowly drew the cords apart, looking in as she picked a number of stones out.
“They are diamonds,” the girl on the couch said, “Master brings them and places them in there.”
“Thank you Ama,” Dominique said quietly.
“Who is she,” Annie said as she looked at her.
“She is a child slave.”
Annie stared at Dominique, and then turned and made her way to the staircase.
“Where are you going?”
“To have a word with the woman upstairs.”
“No – there are other ways to deal with people like her and her husband. Ways my employer is perfectly placed to deploy. I want you to come with me, share what you know – and, since I have no more room in my bag, you may take the diamonds in yours. What you already have, you keep – but I keep them to use against these and others.”
“Do I have a choice?”
“No – not really. I offer training, protection, and a way for you to turn your gains to far greater profit. Otherwise – are you aware one of your fences was visited by the FBI today?”
Annie didn’t reply, as Dominique said “I see you were not. Come – we must leave here immediately. Ama, my child, it is time. Come with me as well.”
Annie unfastened her bag and pushed the three black velvet sacks in, then watched as Dominique closed the door, replaced the mat and picked up her bag. Holding her hand out, she took Ama’s and said “I think leaving through the basement may be more comfortable.”
Nodding, Annie followed her down into the basement, looking over at the cot bed as she walked through.
“Was this where you slept,” Dominique said to Ama, and as the girl nodded she said “No more.” Opening the door, the three women left.
“Remove the stocking now – we need to be inconspicuous.”
Nodding Annie carefully rolled the stocking up, looking at Ama as she said “I have never seen red hair. In fact, apart from Master, I have never seen another person with light skin.”
“That will change,” Dominique said as they climbed the stairs. “Come, Ama – I will take you to a new life.”
Annie looked at this tall woman with a mixture of admiration and fear. To care for one so young, and at the same time take charge so effectively – who was she?
“You as well,” Dominique said as she looked at Annie, “We have much to discuss, and there are others I wish you to meet.”
“And if I was to run off now, with these diamonds?”
“That would be – unfortunate. Some of the people you have visited have secrets, and they would kill to keep them secret. I suspect one of them is in that house. Consider – diamonds, and a child servant. You strike me as an intelligent woman – what does that say to you?”
Annie nodded and followed the tall, dark haired woman as they walked down the street. A few blocks away, she stopped at a black car and opened the trunk.
“Put your bag in here and then get in,” she said, Ama and Annie climbing in the back before she got behind the wheel and drove off.
In the townhouse, Angel was struggling, trying to free her hands. Her personal safe was one thing, but if they had found the main one…
Annie looked round the suite as she walked in, holding Ama’s hand as Dominique placed their bags on a coffee table.
“Would you like something to eat,” the tall woman said as she looked at Ama. The young girl nodded as Dominique picked up a menu, and said “Read – you may have whatever you want. Miss Cat, a word please.”
Annie walked to the side of the room as Ama looked in wonder at the menu.
“A child? They had a child as a servant? What the hell have I walked into?”
“Hell is an apt description,” Dominique said quietly. “As I said, you have some talent, but you have stumbled into something far bigger and potentially far more deadly than you can imagine. I offered you protection not just out of a sense of professional pride, but because you are now involved in this, like it or not.”
“Dammit,” Annie said, “and I could have just walked away.”
“Life is full of such choices,” Dominique said quietly as there was a knock on the door. She watched as she went and opened it, and a red haired woman with freckles came in, wearing a jumper and jeans.
“Oh my,” Ama said as she looked at the new arrival, “are all light skinned people red haired?”
“No,” Dominique said quietly, “we are not, as you will see. Charlotte, this is Ama. Ama, Charlotte. Madame?”
“She is on her way, and offers her congratulations,” Charlotte said as she looked at the young African girl. “And she?”
“An innocent victim,” Dominique said quietly. “Have you decided what you wish to eat yet?”
“Please – what is a burger?”
“Why don’t we find out,” Dominique said as she lifted the phone. “Room service? Two quarter pounders with the trimmings, and two bottles of water please. Thank you.”
Charlotte smiled and then noticed Annie standing there, quietly in the corner. “Is that..”
“Err – hi,” Annie said as she stood there.
“It is – it appears we both picked the same target, and I believe she has done well. However – show her what I asked you to take from the safe.”
Opening her rucksack, Annie took out the three black velvet sacks and placed them on a table. Opening one, Charlotte took out a few of the stones and examined them closely.
“Diamonds – I’d say from the same Burandi mine as those we obtained in Geneva. So this Francois Legault is most likely the French contact we were told about.”
“It would appear that way – but I fear we are dealing with far more than blood diamonds here.”
Charlotte looked at Dominique, and then at Ama, before there was another knock on the door, and a female voice said “Room Service.”
“One moment,” Dominique said as Ama stood, and Charlotte replaced the stones and closed the bag. Dominique walked over and opened the door, a young woman bringing in a trolley with two domed plates, glasses and water on it.
“Your order, m’am,” she said as she handed Dominique a slip of paper, Ama watching as she signed and paid the waitress a tip, when showed her out. “What are you doing,” she then said as Ama stood up and uncovered a dish.
“Serving you,” she said as she bowed to Dominique.
“No child,” the tall woman said as she sat Ama down, “you serve no-one again. This, I give to you.” She took a plate and placed it in front of the young girl, her eyes shining as she said “thank you” and picked up one of the fries.
“Oh my god,” Annie said quietly, “child slaves?”
“Precisely,” Dominique said as she opened her bag and drew several files out. “Charlotte, you need to sort the stones. As for you…”
“Oh shit,” Annie said as she saw Susan standing in the doorway, Clint behind her.
“Well, well,” Susan said as she walked in, wearing a red jumper and blue jeans, “this is a day of surprises. First I manage to get some of my things back, and then who do I find but the woman who took them in the first place.
“Not the time and not the place Susan,” Dominique said quietly as Clint closed the door. She glanced sideways and Susan saw Ama sitting there, eating the food as if she had never tasted anything so good.
“The issue we are looking into just got a lot more complicated,” Dominique said. “The man I was asked to retrieve something from? He is the French diplomatic contact.”
“Oh,” Susan said as she looked at the files Dominique was sorting, and then at Annie.
“Look,” the teacher said, “I’m only a cat burglar, I have absolutely no idea what I have walked into here. As for you – I’m sorry, but you were an easy target.”
“Well, she was right in that,” Dominique said. “Susan here is one of those mistakes I mentioned. There will be time for you and her to discuss that later – right now…”
They all turned to see the tall, dark haired woman standing in the doorway, wearing a grey shawl over a white jumper and slacks.
“Madame,” Dominique said with a slight bow, “thank you for coming at so early an hour.”
“Your summons appeared urgent – Charlotte, Susan, Clint. And who have we here?”
“This is Ama – I found her at the residence and brought her here to be under my protection.”
“I see,” Madame X said as she looked at the young girl. “Is there something you wish to tell me, Dominique.”
“There is much we need to discuss, Madame,” Dominique said quietly, “but not here, and not with this young girl in the room. She needs rest and time to adjust to a new life.”
“Of course,” Madame said quietly. She knelt in front of Ama and offered her hand.
“My child,” she said quietly, “you need never return to the life you knew. I offer you sanctuary and protection. My friend Susan here will make sure you want for nothing, but first I think you need to rest.”
“She may use my bedroom – I will not be sleeping tonight,” Dominique said as she the young girl’s eyes close and re-open. “Why don’t you come with me,” Dominique said as she offered her hand, “I have somewhere you can sleep.”
“Sleep, child – we will talk in the morning,” Madame said as Annie watched her go with Dominique.
“And now,” Madame said as she looked at the redhead, “I think some further introductions are in order. May I presume you are the so-called Black Cat?”
Annie looked at the woman, wondering who she was. Her voice was quiet, deep, rich, and yet she knew this was a woman to respect, and not one to treat lightly. “I am,” she said eventually, “may I know who is asking?”
“I am called Madame X – Dominique, Charlotte, Susan, Clint – all are employees of my organization. The question is, who are you?”
“One very scared lady,” Annie said quietly, “What the fuck have I walked into? I just wanted to rob that woman, and instead I find blood diamonds, child slavery, and a woman I robbed before who probably wants to kill me.”
“Oh if that was only the end of it,” Susan said with a grin.
“Enough,” Madame said quietly, “there will be time to discuss that later. I am assuming Dominique offered you protection?”
“She mentioned training and better contacts – and given what I saw today, I could do with all that.”
Susan looked at Annie, then at Clint as she nodded.
“We can help with that, and support you – but in return, we need to know we can trust you. So, please, remove the wig and introduce yourself.”
“And you can keep me safe from all of this? Dominique said they may come after me as well.”
“We may require your help, but yes – so, will you trust us?”
“I have a choice?” Annie removed her wig and said “My name is Annie Kelly, I’m a teacher at a private school, but recently I took part in something – and I found I loved what I learned there, so I took a night job.”
“And a most profitable one, if done correctly,” Madame said as Dominique came back in. “But in your innocence, you have stood on some toes.”
“So I see,” Annie said with a rueful smile. “So, if the offer is still open?”
“All right, but we will have words at some point.”
“I will put her in touch with the Association, and act as her mentor. For now, however, we have much to discuss…”