“You sure this is where you want to go, luv,” the cab driver said as he drove up the man road. There were two people in the back of the car, both smartly dressed, and it was an unusual request to go from there to here.
“Yeah, don’t worry – I know the place,” the brunette said, so he shrugged his shoulders. Their funeral, he figured.
They’d knocked a few more places down, built more little rabbit hutch houses, but it hadn’t changed much, Tottenham was still Tottenham. Susan glanced sideways at Clint, this was his first visit to the UK, his first visit to meet her Mum, his first chance to see the ground from which she’d sprung. She saw the interested look in his eyes as he watched the traffic pass, and sighed – he was the man for her.
Susan looked down at her outfit, the dusky pink jacket and knee length skirt with the camisole top that covered her small bump, and matching shoes. What had seemed appropriate while she dressed in the luxury of the Savoy, seemed over dressy, totally out of place in Tottenham. Her designer suit would make her stand out round here like she was an alien from another planet.
Clint’s dark, tailored suit would look just as bad to many of the locals. If this had been late at night, they might as well have been wearing signs on their back saying ‘Mug Me’. But it was too late now – onwards and upwards, as the book said.
She sighed as she sat back. Why her Mum wouldn’t take up Susan’s offer to buy her a nice house out Broxbourne way she would never understand. She could hear her Mum’s voice on the phone when she’d proposed it, “But all me friends live round ‘ere.”
The taxi driver pulled up outside her mother’s multi-story slum, and Susan looked upwards, “Goddess I hope for once the bloody lift is working.” She counted the stories, 11 bloody flights of stairs in 4-inch stilettos if they had to walk it
“Well here it is…Home Sweet Home,” Susan said half mockingly, half apologetically as they got out of the cab, Clint handing the driver a note.
“Rough Neighbourhood.” Clint looked round at the surrounding buildings and the people watching them. “This is where you grew up?”
“Yeah, round ‘ere, mainly on the streets, Mum was too pissed most of the time to care what I got up to, so I knew this place like the back of my hand.”
Clint laughed, “Babe, you’re slipping into London speak.”
“Yeah like you don’t go all Californian surf boy when we go to your folks.” That has been a surprise to her when they visited his place in LA – he became almost a beach boy for the holidays. That, and spending Christmas Day in a short sleeved dress.
There was litter in the entrance hall to Alderman Spark Tower, there was graffiti on the walls, it looked like it was, not really a fit place for human habitation. As they waited hopefully for the lift to arrive, Susan glanced at some of the gang graffiti, the Allstars, Greenboys, Slashers, and her old gang the White Vipers; they were all still claiming the building as their territory.
“About bloody time.” Susan whispered as the bell rang and a black woman, carrying one baby and pushing another in a pushchair, got out.
“Can I help you Ma’am?” Clint’s polite offer earned him a glare of suspicion as the woman hustled away. “Friendly…”
“Nah yer just don’t know who you can bloody trust round ‘ere.”
“Which floor Babe?” Clint glanced at the dead rat in the corner of the lift.
“Eleven.” Susan pretended not to notice the deceased rodent as they got in.
Slowly the lift creaked its way upwards, Susan hoping and praying it didn’t break down, the thought of being trapped in this metal box with her husband, and a dead animal not particularly appealing to her.
She breathed a sigh of relief as the door opened. “Down there on the left.” Susan pointed.
Clint lifted the parcel he was carrying, and followed Susan. He watched as she stood in front of a red-painted door, and took a series of calming breaths, before knocking.
“’Old yer bloody ‘orses I’ve only got one bleedin’ pair of ‘ands yer know.”
They heard someone shuffle to the door and unlock several locks…then the door opened. The woman inside was about the same size as Susan, but wore a stained grey sweatshirt and joggers, with slippers on her feet.
“Well if it aint my bleedin’ daughter the gangster.” The prematurely grey haired woman who already looked the worse for drink at ten in the morning stood in the doorway.
“Can we come in Mum?”
“Surprised you even remembered where this place woz.”
“Can we come in Mum?”
“I spose so.”
The older woman moved out of the way allowing Susan and Clint access, carefully shutting and bolting the door behind them. She turned and looked at both of them, raising an eyebrow as she did so.
“I spose you want a cuppa tea, or do you both drink some fancy Yank crap?” They walked through to a small, cluttered room with an old three piece suite in front of a television.
“Mum, this is Clint…my husband.” Susan was fighting hard to both preserve her manners, and keep her temper.
“And tea will be just fine.” Clint set the parcel down and cleared a spot for himself to sit on the couch.
“I’ll make the tea mum, you just sit down.”
She made her way to the kitchen, wrinkling her nose at the rubbish before she filled the kettle and switched it on. Turning, she saw her mother standing in the doorway, her arms folded.
“I’d have thought you’d be too rich and posh to make tea fer yerself anymore, you bein’ such a big time crook.” As she said this, she coughed.
“Mum ‘ow many times do I ‘ave to explain, I aint a crook anymore, I work for a perfectly proper insuarance company.”
“Yeah and I’m the fuckin’ reincarnation of the Queen-Mum…You ferget I used to work in the rag trade Sooz, I know ‘ow much that suit on your back cost, and you don’t get that sorta dough ‘onestly, even as some lah di dah, bitch wiv ‘er nose up in the air insurance woman.”
“Well if it’s that bleedin’ obvious I aint short of a few bob, why don’t you let me move you out of this dump.”
Her mum stayed silent as Susan made the tea, using tea bags in the mugs and finding some milk that was at least non-stinking in the fridge. She slowly brought three assorted mugs of tea into the living area, putting the cups on the coffee table and clearing more space on the couch so she could sit next to Clint.
“Mum aint it a bit early?” Susan complained as her Mum emptied a substantial part of a small whiskey bottle into her tea.
“It’s none of your bloody bizness wot I do Miss Gangster.” Her mother looked daggers at her daughter, “You wan’t sum?”
“No.” Susan looked firmly back.
“Well miracles do bloody ‘appen, used to be a time I couldn’t keep you away from me booze.” She sat back and took a long drink, sighing before she put the mug down.
Susan tried to calm herself. One, two, three deep breaths. “Mum I’ve got some news?”
“So why you bovverin’ to tell me…”
“Because you’re going to become a grandmother you old bitch.”
“And yer already married,” Susan’s mum laughed as she saw the ring on her finger. “Father Kelly will ‘ave a larf at that news, a member of this family who weren’t up the spout before she went to the altar.”
Clint sat forward and smiled. “Rose…I can call your Rose can’t I?”
“You can call me what you bleedin’ like darlin’ she bloody well always ‘as.”
“Rose, we’d like you to come to the States after the baby is born for the Christening.”
She laughed and slapped her thigh before saying “Oh I can see that, me mixin’ wiv all ‘er posh friends…I don’t fink.”
Susan gave out an exasperated groan. “I told you it was bloody useless even coming to see her Clint…Stupid old cow don’t even care about her own granddaughter.”
“Yeah,” Susan said as she looked at her mother, “I’m ‘avin’ a bloody little girl, just like you did, yer stupid old bitch. Only this one won’t have a mum who abandoned her to fend for herself.”
“Rose,” Clint said quietly, “we’d really like you to come to New York.”
“And leave this luxurious pent’ouse of mine?” Rose giggled.
“Well I tried Clint, if she’s to bleedin’ pig ‘eaded to give up the chance, well it’s ‘er own bloody fault.”
For a few moments the room went quiet, everyone taking in what had happened in the past few moments. The hostility and anger hanging in the air, as Susan and Rose glared at each other.
Suddenly the doorbell rang, Clint to escape the tension shot out of his seat.
“I’ll see who it is,” he said as he left the room.
“Don’t open it till you look see who it is!” Mother and Daughter shouted in unison, but it was too late, and as Clint opened, five figures dressed in jeans, trainers and hoodies pushed their way in, knocking Clint back into the room and onto the floor as they produced an assortment of knives and a single gun as their weapons.
“Oh shit,” Rose said as she went pale, and Susan stood up.
“Well wot ‘ave we got ‘ere, some rich bitch slummin’ it in Totnum?” A female voice emerged from under the hood of the person holding the gun.
“Shall we tie’em all up?” Another female voice asked, this one younger and more excited and eager.
“I’ll do Blondie wiv pleasure.” This voice was also female with just the fainted hint of the Carribean in her accent.
“Yeah tie ‘im and the old bitch up, I wanna see what Lady Muck ‘ere is carrying before we do ‘er.”
“You can’t just barge in and threaten me,” Rose said as she slowly, shakily stood up.
“Ah sit down, you old hag,” the one with the gun said as she puhed her into the chair, and one of the intruders pulled her wrists together, using black electrical tape to secure them and then taping her ankles.
Susan watched as Clint had his hands bound behind his back with tape, then round his ankles, one of the hoodies holding a knife to his throat, while the other did the binding.
Her Mum though gave to the one tying her up an unpleasant surprise, throwing up all over the bitch.
“You Stupid Old Fart,” The one holding the knife to her mum’s head gave her a hard slap. “Now you gotta pay fer that!”
“Since when do White Vipers beat up old drunks, Marina?” Susan asked in a pleasant voice.
“Ow do you know my name?” The one with the gun pulled her hood down and shook out her long red hair. ”You the old bill?”
“Ere Blondie was carryin’ this.” One of Clint’s captors pulled out the 9mm he’d been carrying in a shoulder holster, Rose’s eyes widening as she looked at it.
“Wot about you bitch?” the one called Marina patted her down, lingering too long to feel her tits.
“It’s in my handbag.” Susan sighed.
“It bloody well is as well,” the young eager one pulled out her .38 and started pointing it round the room.
“Be bloody careful with that.” Susan and Marina said the words simultaneously.
“You aint a bloody copper, you dress too good for that, but ‘ow do you know me?” Marina asked warily, “and why the fucking artillery?”
“Ere this is just like yours ‘Rina,” the eager girl pulled Susan’s knuckledusters from her handbag.
“Let me see?” Marina carefully looked at the brass knuckles. She noted they’d been sized for a small woman’s hand….Just like her own.
“Billy Postern did a good job makin’ those.” Susan smiled.
“How the hell do you know Billy?” Marina looked puzzled.
“I told you she’s the fucking law, let’s slit their throats and get wot we can.” The girl who’d been thrown up on was getting agitated.
Suddenly the penny dropped as the redhead tilted her head to one side.
“Sooz?” Marina enquired, only half convinced.
“Who the bloody hell did you think it was?”
“Oh My Fucking God! … I’m sorry.” Marina put her hand to her mouth.
“Marina,” Susan said as she sat down, “I don’t mind you trussing Mum, but kindly undo my husband if I’m going to introduce you properly.”
“Let him go girls – this ‘rich bitch’, she’s one o’ us.”
"I take it you know these girls?" Clint said,
stretching out as they cut the tape away.
"Well at least one." Susan laughed.
"Since when do we pray on one of our bloody own Marina?"
"I didn't know it was you Sooz,
all we 'eard was some expensively dressed bitch was
visiting yer Mum…Sorry."
"Sorry Sooz," the
black girl pulled her hood down.
"It's nice to see you again Trace. The bloody rest of you,” she said as she
looked at the other three, “I don't know."
"Oh you know me…”
The young, eager one pulled her hood off.
"Oh fuck, you're not little Kylie Mitchell…hey
what are you? About bloody 13?" Susan stared at
Marina, "Since when do you take kids like 'er
out to work?"
"She's been tagging along since last summer. That's Bev Martello, that's Kerry McAndrews, both after your time Sooz."
Marina looked downwards.
"Nice to meet you girls, and sorry my Mum puked
on yer Kerry."
"I still fink we orta
bloody do 'er." Bev looked enviously at Susan's
jewelry, “she's got a bloody fortune round 'er
"And you'd last about 24 hours before you ended
up floating in the River Lea yer stupid bitch."
"I aint fuckin' stupid Marina."
"You would be if you touched 'er….Sooz is a big time bad girl, or are the rumors
“Depends,” Susan said, "What have you
"You run wiv Madame X's
"My wife might also be a member of another
American based gang that doesn't take kindly to people hurting its
members." Clint smiled as she looked at the five girls.
"I aint bloody
scared…" Bev brandished her knife.
“Never said you were Bev – but use the bloody brain of yers. Madame X – big, BIG league.”
"Where the fuck did you find 'er
from Marina?" Sooz shook her head.
"She's Elly Martello's
sister, we took 'er in when 'er
sister went in 'Olloway."
"Elly was a good Viper." Susan nodded.
“What the fuck is going on here – gangster school reunion,” Rose said as she stared at them.
"So where you all livin'?"
Susan asked, ignoring her for the moment.
"We're squattin' in a
place on Palmerston Road…bloody rat trap."
Marina sat down next to Susan. "So where are you stayin'?"
"We have a suite at the Savoy?"
the chippy up Enfield Wash?" Kylie asked.
"No the posh 'otel up
"That's the place Marina…oh and someone undo my
bloody Mum before she chucks it again."
Kelly cut Rose free, the older woman rubbing her wrists as she looked on.
"Where do you live Susan?" Kylie asked.
"In New York, we have an apartment on the Upper
"You've gone up in the world a bit Sooz." Marina smiled.
"I got lucky, and I got smart."
"You got lucky getting' him." Tracy looked
admiringly at Clint.
"Yeah I did, Clint works with the same people I
do, and he's going to be a daddy later this year."
Marina embraced her old friend.
"Yeah my fuckin' daughter the gangster's going to be a muvver." Rose looked with hatred at every other person in the room.
“Oh fuck it - you might as well 'ear this as well
"I know all I bloody want to know about
“Please, Mum, just shut the hell up a minute,” Susan
said as she took a deep breath. "Officially
I run the New York offices of a fairly major Insurance Company."
"Sounds like a great job." Marina nodded.
Susan took a deep breath, "I'm a professional armed robber."
"And she's very good at it." Clint smiled
"So you are nuffink but
a gangster, just like I said." Rose huffed.
"She's a bit more than just a gangster
Rose." Clint smiled.
"And at the moment I'm on maternity leave from
that kind of work anyway."
The five girls looked at her, before Kylie asked "You ever... well….you know what?"
"Yes i have Kylie, and it's the worst thing to do in the world, but in my line of work sometimes it's necessary."
"So… so you're a fuckin' murderin' gangster as well?" Rose spat the question out.
"Yeah I've killed people mum - in self defence but I have killed them, and it nearly tore me
Marina looked at her and said "this American group - have I ‘erd of them."
"Possibly, you hear about the slave ring in New York."
Rose looked at her daughter and said "yeah what about them?"
"My wife was one if those that helped bring them down," Clint said with a smile.
“Oh – did you now,” Rose said as she looked at her daughter. When she had come in, all she had seen was the teenager with a flick knife and a permanent sneer. Now – now she could see she was different.
"Shit, Sooz,” Marina
said, “they were meant to have stolen millions and used it to free those girls..."
"Yeah - I may be an armed robber, and a killer, but I look after my own. And whatever I am, Mum, you set me on that path."
“Me? How the fuck did I do that?”
“By being not that much older than Kylie there when you had me, and by not having anywhere to turn for help,” Susan said with a sigh. “Mum, you did your best, but you couldn’t cope, and then that stuff…”
She picked up the whisky bottle and looked at it. “This has been you for far too long now.”
"It's a long way from shoplifting in the High
Road Sooz." Tracy laughed.
"Same principals though Trace,
but done on a bigger, and yeah Mum sometimes more violent scale."
"Your Aunt Maeve - she sent me some picture of
you at some fancy party."
"Which one Mum?"
Rose picked up her handbag and handed Susan a folded
page from a magazine. She laughed at the
picture as she looked at it.
"Oh that one. Yeah, that was back in October."
"Sooz is that you and
Abigail de Ros?" Kylie asked in awe.
"Yeah, Abs is a friend of ours."
“Does she know you are a fuckin'
gangster?" Rose asked.
"Oh Mum, if you only knew." Susan chuckled quietly as she looked at Clint.
"So Miss Big Timer what would you teach us?"
“You want to learn some things from me?”
“Why not – you got out of this rat hole.”
“Try to mug the right person in the street is a start – that was how I hooked up with Madame in the first place.”
“You got lucky,” Marina said.
"All right – well, for starters think what
evidence you are leaving behind when you do a job like this."
"Well look at your
'ands for starters."
"Wots wrong wig
'um?" Kerry asked.
"No fucking gloves, you are leaving fingerprints
"Wot else?" Marina
"The hoodies work
reasonably well, but invest in some wigs, and get some stockings as
"Why, we do alright as we are." Bev again
"Yeah you are aint yer,” Susan said as she looked at her, “livin'
in a bleeding squat in tottenham, 'arf the Vipers are in the nick, 'cluding
your sister, yeah your join' great."
"Even I spotted security cameras everywhere." Clint observed. “Orwell was right – we are a society that is watched, and it’s the powers that be who are watching you.”
"And every word since you came in that door has been recorded, hasn't it Charlotte?"
"It has Susan." a disembodied voice with a
South African accent came from Susan's handbag."
the fuck?" Marina stood up and looked round.
"I pressed an alarm on my bag, alerted the
office, soon as you came in the door." Susan smiled. "In this damn
world with cameras and alarms everywhere assume nuffin'.
ALWAYS research your target, always minimize the evidence you leave, one day
maybe you'll rise to better things."
"Wot's this a bloody school for crooks?" Rose asked.
“Nah Mum – it’s how to live in the world we got. Another thing – and you’re not gonna like dis one.”
“Yeah,” Bev sneered again, “what?”
“ Clean up your real
lives, get proper jobs…"
"What the fuck for?" Tracy asked.
"Because if you look respectable on the outside
no one knows wots goin' on be'ind the cuvver….Think about it
Trace, my pictures in the papers two or free times a bloody week, I 'ave real 'igh society friends…I 'ide in plain sight. I'm a very respectable insurance
executive, Clint works for the UN as a bodyguard and driver…"
"Your point is?" Marina asked.
"'Ow many times a week
do you lot get pulled over by the Old Bill?"
"Once or twice…" Marina looked at the others.
"More like four or five times Marina, as I bloody
"Well we aint all bin
as lucky as you." the resentful Bev shouted, "'ow
much is that fuckin' bracelet worth?"
"In pounds? ….about Sixty."
"Sixty? That bloody
all?" Kylie looked disappointed.
"She means Sixty Thousand Kyl."
Bev was clearly thinking about that.
"Yeah the rewards of learning this business
properly Kylie…By the way are you goin'
the fuck for?"
"Because Kylie, it's like I said, your front has to
be perfect. Kylie you need schooling if
you are going to get on in this business, and I don't mean just actual school,
I mean other types of learning as well."
"Well you never went to school either."
Marina thought she was scoring a point.
"Maybe, but I have since I escaped this dump I
"Yeah, she got a degree from UCLA last year
majoring in Finance." Clint smiled.
"Yer bloody kiddin' me?” Rose looked over, “My daughter went to
"It was hard bloody work mum, I hadda learn a lotta the stuff I
would have learned if I'd gone to school, but with help and encouragement, from
Madame, Maddie, the lady I worked for in LA, and of
course Clint I did it."
"Well blow me down…"
"I learned a lot professionally shall we call it
from friends…How do you think this lot would do at Diana's place
"Worse then you did the first time."
Charlotte's laughter came through the air.
"Wot's this Diana's
place?" Bev asked.
"Let's just call it a training school for crime shall we." Susan laughed. "A place where you learn what this biznizz really is all about."
“They have dose?”
“You have no idea,” Clint said with a smile.
"I also learned to be a lady from watching
others…I learned so well most people don't believe it when I say i ran with a gang like this.'
"So what do they think you used to do?"
Marina looked interested.
"I don't think they are sure…I think people take
it for granted I'm a slightly, fluffy, little Englishwoman, not very
"Until they see her use those brass knuckles on
someone…." Clint laughed.
"I wear nice clothes, I take orders well, I've
been learning ever since Madame took me in, but I guess only in the last 9
months has it all come together…"
"She still can't cook, and she's the world’s
"Susan I agree with Clint, I've driven with you…" Charlotte's voice came out of the microphone in the bag again.
“Come on Sooz – der’s a reason I nefer let you drive,” Marina said with a smile.
“All right, all right – but like I say, I got lucky. Maybe I can help you get lucky too - if you want it.”
Susan took a card from her purse and handed it to Marina. “If youse girls are really serious about doing dis right, call her, and tell her I sent you. She knows people, can get you set up. First fing though – get yerselfs togefer and build a face.”
Marina looked at the card, then at Susan. “I might do dat – then maybe one day we can meet at dat Savoy’s.”
“Marina, you do that and I’ll buy the drinks. Meantime, spread the word – she,” she said as she pointed at Rose “is off limits, and if anyone does anyfing to her, it won’t just be me they answer to – it’ll be Dominique.”
“Shit,” Tracy said, “you know her?”
“She’s a close personal friend, and don’t ferget dat.”
“You’re not just gonna let them walk out,” Rose said as the girls got up.
“Rose, they haven’t hurt you or taken anything,” Clint said quietly, “is it worth getting the police in for that, around here?”
“Sooz,” Marina said, “I’ll spread the word. Keep safe.”
“You too,” Susan said as she hugged the girls, and watched Clint show them out.
“How many,” Rose said as he came back in.
“How many girls did you save?”
“Nearly two hundred in New York, I have no idea how many others,” Susan said as she sat down. “Mum, can we start again please?”
Rose looked at Susan as she said “I’m sorry I caused you so much pain, but I’m not sorry for what and who I am. I have bettered myself, and I may sound like a weak fool for saying this, but I want to help you get out of this shithole of a dump and your life, and get yourself back.
“How many friends do you have here, really? Those you can trust to come if you call, even if there is no booze?”
Rose looked at both of them, and said quietly “Not enough to stop me drinking this.”
“Then let me help you – because there’s one other thing I’ve discovered. Family matters, and you need them as well.”
Rose looked at the bottle, and said “I don’t know, Susan, I don’t know if I can do it…”
“Does Aunt Maeve still want you to visit?”
Rose looked over and nodded, as Susan said “then let’s go together tomorrow. If you’ll come with me?”
“I may not have that much to wear…”
“Which is a good time to give you this,” Clint said as he handed Rose the parcel. She opened it and took out a large coffee set.
“Will you come out and be with us for the Christening – posh gits of my friends included.”
“IF I can sober up, yeah,” Rose said with a smile, “think Maeve will help me?”
“We can but ask,” Susan said as she held her mother’s hand, “we can but ask.”
“A granddaughter,” Rose whispered. “At least you can give her a better start, and he’s not gonna do a runner, is he?”
“She’d kill me if I did,” Clint said with a smile.
The last time Penny had walked down the main street in Fleet, she had been twelve years old, it was after midnight, and she carried her clothes in a bag as she hitched a lift from a delivery lorry driver. Now here she was, twenty years later, leaving the offices of the estate agent with the keys to her new house.
“Well, I’m back,” she said to herself as she looked up and down the street, recognising some of the buildings, before she got behind the wheel of her car and drove off.
Half an hour, and she opened the door of her new home, walking in and breathing deeply the air of the rooms. She had her belongings coming from her apartment the next day, but she wanted to spend a day in the house, on her own, with no interruptions.
She’d bought a large country house with ten acres of grounds, private and peaceful, which is the way she wanted it to be. The estate agent had recommended a housekeeper and a gardener, both of which Penny had already met and agreed to employ, and it had another advantage. It was only a short drive from there to the Farm, so for work and personal reasons it was ideal. All she had to do in terms of security was arrange with Lily and Charlotte for a system to be installed, and she was ready to go.
“Well, I hope nobody saw me drive up,” she whispered as she headed to the kitchen, where she had put some basic groceries.
So naturally, the doorbell rang, and with a sigh she walked back along the corridor, opening the door to see a blonde haired woman standing there with her back to the door. She wore a black waistcoat over a white jumper, tight riding breeches and brown knee length boots, and as she turned she saw the basket in her hand.
She also recognized her instantly. As the woman looked at Penny, in her open necked red floral print dress, and red shoes.
"HI, I saw you pulling in and thought I'd welcome you to the.... The blonde stared at her for a few minutes, and then gasped "My god - Penny? Penny Harker?"
“Yeah, it’s me,” Penny said with a smile. “Nice to see you as well, Rhona.”
Rhona Caldwell had been one of the few girls at school who Penny had got to know. The daughter of another of the RSMs, Rhona had everything in a father Penny hadn’t. She’d thought of getting back in touch once she had settled in, but she had no idea where Rhona was – until now.
“My god, you look good girl,” Rhona said as she came in and closed the door. “I mean, I’ve seen the occasional picture of you at big corporate functions, and wondered if it really was the same girl I knew at school, but to see you in the flesh, after all these years…”
“Are those fresh muffins?”
“Yeah – why?”
“Then why don’t we go into the kitchen – I have some coffee that I had imported from France, and it means I can give that coffee maker in there a whirl.”
“I still can’t believe it – you disappear twenty years ago, and now you’re back here.”
Penny smiled as she passed over the coffee. “Tell the truth, Rhona, I can’t quite believe I’m back here either. This was probably the last place on earth I thought I would settle.”
She sat at the kitchen bar and looked at her old friend. “So what happened to you?”
“Oh I grew up, went to uni, got married – I have a ten year old girl now. Then got divorced, but I got the house.”
“You look well anyway.”
“So do you – but where did you go? One day you just vanished, and nobody knew what had happened.”
“Well, I can answer that one,” Penny said, “I ran away.”
“That much I knew – but why?”
“I had reasons,” Penny said quietly, “is your father still alive?”
“Yeah – he’s retired now, and runs a security firm in the area. What about yours?”
“No idea – I haven’t seen him or spoken to him since I left. Do you hear anything of him?”
“Sorry, no,” Rhona said as she shook her head, “I know he was pensioned off ten years ago, and I had heard he still lives nearby, but I haven’t seen anything of him. I’ve had other distractions.”
Rhona looked at Penny, and said “When you disappeared I heard Dad talking to some of the other NCOs. They reckoned your dad had been too strict with you.”
“An understatement,” Penny said with a hollow laugh. “Look, Rhona, forgive me if I ask you not to ask – some things need to stay in the shadows for the moment.”
She sipped her coffee, and said “So what’s your daughter’s name?”
“Penny – sorry, when she was born, that was the name that came to mind.”
Penny smiled to herself as she said “I don’t mind – she goes to school around here?”
“The local middle school – is there a man in your life?”
“No, I’m too busy with work for that. I’m the executive assistant for the director of a large insurance firm, who has interests in a few other things.”
“So you travel a lot?”
“Yeah – but I’ve been wanting to come back for a little while now,” Penny said with a smile.
Rhona then glanced at her watch, and said “Ah – I need to get going. Listen, when you’re settled, come and have dinner with us.”
“I’d like that,” Penny said, “I’d like that a lot.”
“Right – that’s everything set up Penny, you’re good to go.”
Charlotte Gordon smiled as she stood back with Penny and looked at her office. “I added what I could from the arrangements for Madame in New York – direct link to our office, panic button, the works.”
The young redhead smiled as Penny said “Great work – I feel as if I am finally at home now.”
Penny was wearing a pair of jeans, the legs tucked into black leather boots, and a red and black checked shirt with a black belt round her waist, while Charlotte wore a blue tunic over a pair of black leggings and flat shoes. She typed some commands into the keyboard on the desk, and said “Yeah – connection is good as well. Expect to hear from her in due course.”
“Yeah, I know,” she said as she heard a knock on the front door.
“Expecting visitors,” Charlotte said, Penny shaking her head as her friend produced a ,45 from her handbag. The two women walked to the door, Charlotte standing behind it as Penny opened up.
A ten year old girl was standing there, wearing a black blazer, grey pleated skirt and white blouse. “Hello there,” Penny said as she signaled Charlotte to lower the gun, “what’s your name?”
“I’m Penny – Penny Caldwell,” the girl said, “did you just move in?”
“That’s right,” Penny said, “I met your mother the other day. What can I do for you?”
“Can you help my mummy? I think she’s crying?”
“Crying? You’d better come in,” Penny said as she held the door open. “This is my friend Charlotte, and my name’s Penny as well. Why do you think she is crying?”
“I was going to go in when I heard her crying out – I think she was hurt, because I heard her say to stop.”
Charlotte and Penny exchanged a look, before Charlotte said “”Where do you think she was Penny?”
“I don’t know, I went into the kitchen, heard her cry and came out. I saw the car outside, so I came to see if you could go and see if she is all right.”
“Hey,” Charlotte said, “I tell you what. Got any ice cream in Penny?”
“In the freezer.”
“Right then,” she said as she took the young girl’s hand, “why don’t you come with me while my friend Penny goes and checks on your mum. Which house is it?”
“The big white one down the road. You talk funny.”
“So I’ve been told,” Charlotte said as she took little Penny to the kitchen, Penny herself waiting until they were out of sight before she went out, walking down the road.
Rhona’s house was hard to miss – a large white stoned building with two cars parked outside. Penny slipped a pair of leather gloves on and walked slowly around the side, finding the door to the kitchen and letting herself in.
As she did so, she heard Rhona say “No… Please I’ve told you where everything is…”
“All right – go and check it all while I shut little miss muck up and keep her company.”
The second voice was male, young and harsh, and as Penny pressed herself against the wall she heard a pair of heavy footsteps running up the staircase. Peeling herself away, she walked slowly up, taking care not to make any noise as she ascended.
At the top of the stairs she could hear the sound of drawers been pulled out and items falling to the floor, and looking into what she realized was the master bedroom she saw a young man searching through the contents. He stood about six foot tall, and wore a black leather jacket and jeans.
Penny took a moment to study him – looked strong, but didn’t move with grace. A bruiser possibly, but not a fighter.
“Easy meat,” she said to herself as she looked round, but could not find anything to use as a weapon – just a bath towel that had been dropped on the floor. Picking it up, she held it at the ends, and pulled it taut, looking into the room as he turned his back to the door.
“What the…” he mumbled as Penny walked in and pulled the towel tightly over his face, covering his nose and mouth as she twisted the ends round the base of his neck. He reached up to try and pull it away, only to grunt and fall to the ground as Penny thrust her left knee into the small of his back, making him drop to the floor as Penny knelt behind him.
“Do yourself a big favour, little man,” she whispered into his ear, “stop struggling, and lie down, or I wrap this round your neck and crush your larynx.”
“Never you mind who I am – drop or die, your choice, little man.”
She felt him struggle for a moment, and tightened the band around his neck, before he stopped and fell forward. Checking his pulse, she shook her head and tied the ends of the towel together, before grabbing some of Rhona’s pantyhose which had fallen out of a drawer. Binding his wrists and ankles, she put the young man into a hogtie, and then left him there, walking down the stairs.
As she walked down the stairs, she heard the first man say “Your kid should be home soon – when she comes back, we’ll show her how much fun this can be.”
“DNTUFKNGDDRRR” she heard Rhona’s mumbled voice said, and as she looked in she saw her lying on her side on a long recliner, wearing a blue blouse and a black leather skirt. The skirt itself was hiked up by a length of rope that had been passed between her legs, and as she looked carefully Penny could see the ropes around her arms and chest, her legs above and below her knees, and her crossed ankles.
A wide band of white tape covered the lower half of her head, and from the way her cheeks bulged Penny could tell there was something packed into her mouth. She had bound many men and women herself, so she knew the drill, but the mention of the child, and his intentions, was a red flag in her mind.
“Hey, asshole,” she said as she stepped into the room, “what was that you said about preferring little girls?”
“Pnneee?” Rhona said as she looked over and shook her head, her eyes wide in shock.
“Oh my – someone coming to your rescue,” the man said with a sneer. He had long brown hair, pulled back in a pony tail, and wore a white t-shirt and jeans. “Who do you think you are, a cop?”
“Asshole, if I was a cop you’d be thanking me,” Penny said, “so you get one chance. Get the fuck out of here before I have to teach you a lesson.”
“Pnneewhtrudng”, Rhona said as she struggled on the recliner, trying not to moan as the ropes rubbed against her.
“You have guts, I’ll give you that,” the intruder said as he produced a knife, “but if you don’t come over here right now, and kneel in front of this lady, I’m gonna cut you.”
“You’re welcome to try,” Penny said with a smile as she watched him.
Rhona screamed again as he ran forward, only to stop as Penny ducked and brought her knee up, hitting him right between his legs. As he opened his hand and dropped the knife, she grabbed his arm and pulled it hard up his back, pushing him hard against the wall
“What’s the matter little man – still think you’re big,” Penny said as she pulled back on his ponytail, and then thrust his head forward, hitting it against the wall as she heard his nose break.
Rhona watched in amazement as Penny dropped him to the ground, and grabbed a coil of rope that was sitting on the floor, hogtying him within five minutes and then kicking him in the side.
“You’re lucky,” she whispered into his ear, “I don’t like anyone who threatens kids, and if you were anywhere else, you’d be dead by now. Got it?”
He nodded as she picked herself up and walked over to where Rhona was lying. “Got some scissors somewhere,” she said as she looked at the tape. “I need to cut you free and remove that gag before I call the police.”
“Penny is at my house with a friend – scissors?”
“Don’t move,” Penny said, as she walked off, pulling the man along with her.
In the kitchen, she knelt down beside him and said “Listen up, shit for brains. I work for Madame X – you know who she is?”
As he whimpered and nodded, Penny smiled. “Good – because as far as you are concerned, you are going to be good little boys and confess to everything. But if I find out the name Penny is mentioned – and I will – then my friends will come calling, and they won’t be so nice. Understood?”
He nodded as Penny patted his head. “Good boy,” she said as she walked off with a pair of scissors, kneeling down and cutting the tape away before she removed the scarf from her mouth.
“Are you all right,” she said as she looked at Rhona.
“Yeah – I think so, can you?”
“Sure,” Penny said as she cut the crotch rope away, and then freed her wrists.
“Where did you learn to do that?”
“I’ll tell you sometime – listen, how much pull does your dad have with the local force?”
“Some – why?”
“Call him – tell him what’s happened and get him to come over and call the police from here. I don’t want to be involved or my name mentioned in this.”
“Please, Rhona – I have my reasons. When they’ve gone, both of you come to my place – I’ll get your girl something to eat and put the telly on for her, tell her you’re all right and I called her granddad.”
“Penny…” Rhona looked into her eyes and said “All right – I’ll see you in a while. Hand me my mobile.”
Penny ran up and embraced her mother as she came in, Rhona returning the hug as she looked at her old friend.
“It’s all right, Pen,” Rhona said, “I had a little accident, and Penny called your granddad before she came back to look after you.”
“Listen,” the grey haired man said, “why don’t you go back to your house with mummy, angel – I need to talk to Penny.”
“All right, Grandpa,” Penny said as she took her mother’s hand. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Penny said as they walked off, and then she said “Why don’t you sit down, Mister Caldwell.”
“Thanks,” he said as he sat and looked at her. “Penelope Harker – Rhona said you were back in the area, but she never mentioned what you were capable of.”
“She doesn’t know, and I prefer to keep it that way,” Penny said as she sat down. “You look well, Mister Cald…”
“Please, call me Eric,” the man said. “Can I ask the obvious question?”
“London – and I survived before thriving,” Penny said. “More that that I’m not going to say.”
“I don’t think I want to know – from Rhona’s description, you certainly picked up some street fighting skills at least. So why come back?”
“To lay demons to rest, and put some roots down. I grew up – well, grew up a little here, and it feels right to return now.”
“Those demons – your father?”
Penny nodded and said “can I offer you a drink?” She walked to a cabinet and opened it, taking out a bottle of 12 year old Laphroaig.
“I won’t say no,” Eric said as she poured two glasses and handed one over. “Rhona said you work as an executive director now.”
“Yes – I’m the PA and number two to a certain very wealthy businesswoman.”
“And you obviously keep in shape?”
As he sipped his drink, Eric looked at her. “Penny – your father was a very brave, very stupid man.”
“Bad choice of words – I meant after your mother died, he tried to run his home life like his military one. Some of us often suspected you got the worst of it, and that was why you ran away.”
“It had everything to do with it,” Penny said. “Did he ever try and find me?”
“I wish I could say he did – some of us tried, including me, but he just went on trying to be a good leader.” Eric took another drink, then said “I know where he is now, if you wanted to see him?”
“Rhona said nobody knew.”
“That’s because that’s what we told people,” Eric said.
“So if you suspected he was – disciplining me, why didn’t you do anything about it?”
“That is a damn good question,” Eric said, “and I truly wish I had a damn good answer. All I can say, years too late, is that I for one am sorry.”
“You are not the one who needs to apologize,” Penny said as she sipped her drink.
“Penny,” Eric said, “can you explain to me how an executive assistant knows how to silence and fell two armed men without even a scratch?”
Eric shook his head. “All right – I told the police I overpowered the men, and some friends I brought along made it very clear that was the story they would tell when questioned before we cleaned up. For the record, however, I appreciate what you did.”
“Rhona… Rhona was one of the few friends I had before I left here,” Penny said. “I don’t want her to think I didn’t appreciate that.”
“She knows – and so do I,” Eric said quietly as he put his glass down. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“Do I want to see him?” Penny sat back and swirled her drink. “Yeah – I do, if only to show he can’t hurt me anymore.”
“I’ll pick you up tomorrow at ten,” Eric said as he stood up, “we need to take a little drive.”
“Where are we going,” Penny said as Eric drove the car down the M3.
“Winchester – you’ll see where,” Eric said as Penny looked out of the window. She was wearing a red velvet jacket and skirt with a black jumper and knee length cloth boots, while Eric was wearing a dark suit, white shirt and tie.
Eventually, they entered the outskirts of Winchester, and stopped in front of a large mansion house.
“What is this place,” Penny said as she looked round.
“Think of it as a retirement home, for those who served their country and now need help,” Eric said as they walked in. A grey haired woman in a crisp blue dress came out of an office as they came in.
“Mister Caldwell, we got your message,” she said as she looked at Penny. “Is this Miss Harker?”
“It is – where may we find him?”
Looking at the clock, she said “he’ll be out in the garden, you know the way?”
“Indeed – this way, Penny,” Eric said as they passed through a large room, where some older men and women sat reading, and went out into a large garden.
Penny gasped as she looked at the man sitting on a bench, his face raised to the sun and his eyes closed. He wore a grey v-necked sweater and pants, and seemed happy.
They walked slowly over, the man not looking at them, until Eric said “Hello, old friend.”
“Eric,” the man said his eyes still closed, “it’s not Sunday already is it?”
“No – I brought someone with me, someone I ran into the other day.”
He turned his face and opened his eyes, Penny seeing the opaque covering over the lenses. “Oh? And who would that be?”
“Dad,” she said quietly, “it’s me – Penny.”
She took his hand and sat down, saying “Yeah – I’ve come to say hello.”
“Penny? Penny was my daughter – you can’t be her, she was only a child.”
“I was Dad, when I left,” she said quietly, “but I want you to know I have made a success of my life, and I am happy – despite all that you did to me.”
“I did what I did to all my soldiers – made you tough, made you fight.”
Penny looked at Eric, who shook his head. “Well, I’m back now, and I will come and visit when I can, but I travel a lot for work.”
“Yes, I understand, so did I,” he said as she felt a gentle squeeze on her hand. “Welcome back soldier.”
“What happened to him,” Penny asked Eric as they sat in a nearby bar.
“Second Iraq war – a bomb exploded right in front of him, blinded him and nearly killed him. When he recovered, he was placed in the home.”
Penny sipped her drink. “I think it’s best he stay there – he is amongst his own kind, and harsh as this will sound, I’m not his own kind. Not anymore.”
“I understand – but you cheered him a little today. How do you feel?”
“Sad – I hated him so much, but to see him like that… I guess I don’t hate him quite as much.”
“Oh it’s still all right to hate him,” Eric said, “but have a little sympathy as well. So what now?”
“Home – and back to work,” Penny said, “I have a project to complete.”