Carol had sat for hours, weighing up the dilemma she faced. The night had passed and the clock on the mantelpiece struck eleven as she stared at the two envelopes in front of her, unsure as to what action she should, or indeed could take. Tears stained her cheeks, but her throat was dry.
Suddenly, with an effort, she stood up, walked over and opened the curtains in the room. Looking out on the street outside, she turned and walked to a bureau in the room. Unlocking a drawer, she withdrew an envelope and opened it to reveal a Christmas card. Carol opened it and read the inscription.
To Carol, Suzie and Jennie. In eternal gratitude.
She stared at the card for a few minutes, then picked up the telephone and started to dial a number.
It was a non-descript warehouse in one of the smaller industrial estates – quiet, peaceful and not unlike the other units in the area. A perfect cover for one of the largest and most widespread criminal organisations in the country, if not the world. In a penthouse suite on the top floor, a tall dark haired woman in an expensive trouser suit was in conversation with her most trusted assistant when the telephone rang.
The other woman, smaller and lighter haired, picked up the receiver.
“Penelope, I have a call from a woman saying she was given this number and asking for Shirley. Could you check please?”
Penelope held her hand over the mouthpiece and turned to her boss.
“Madame, it’s George at the reception. He says a woman has called giving this number and asking for Shirley?”
Madame X looked up and placed her pen on the blotter, with a look on her face that Penelope had never seen before. After a moment, she said “I’ll take the call” and took the receiver from Penelope before pressing the speaker button.
“George, put the call through please.
“Shirley? You cannot be serious.”
A quiet, fearful voice said “I am serious – and don’t call me Shirley!”
Madame smiled, and said in the voice that could melt chocolate and at the same time command respect “This is a most unexpected pleasure, Carol. However, if you are calling me, then I suspect pleasantries are not the issue. Do we need to meet?”
“Yes, but it may prove difficult.”
“I understand. Carol, perhaps you need to go for a shopping trip. Do you still live in the north west of the city?”
“Then come to Knightsbridge tomorrow and indulge in some retail therapy at Harrods. I especially recommend the food hall – do you understand?”
“I do – what time?”
“Eleven o’clock will be fine. Will that allow sufficient time for you to get in?”
“Yes – but no later. I have a deadline to meet for work.”
“I understand. Until tomorrow, then?”
Madame X replaced the receiver and sat back, lost in thought. Penelope looked at her.
“Oh – forgive me, Penelope, but that….. That was a call I never expected to ever have to take.” She took a sheet of paper and scribbled an address on it. “I need a surveillance team – a good discreet one – to go to this address immediately and report back with a report on anyone near this house within two hours. Also, prepare a team for a short notice job tomorrow.”
“Madame, what is happening?”
“A debt of honour, Penelope, a debt of honour – have the team report back to me tonight.”
The Food Hall at Harrods is a very exclusive place, and Carol was nervous as she walked into the vast retail area. She drew her raincoat tightly around her as she walked over and examined the contents of the shelves.
A slim, dark haired woman walked over and examined the tea caddies where Carol was standing. As the crowds milled around, she slipped next to Carol and whispered “I suggest you visit the toilets – second cubicle from the left, and wait for a knock on the door.”
Carol turned her head, only to see the woman walk away. Putting down the container she was holding, she made her way across the floor to the ladies toilets, paying a pound to the attendant and finding the second cubicle from the left empty. Closing the door behind her, she sat down and waited as the door to the cubicle next to her was opened. One minute later, there was a soft tap on the door.
“You can come out now,” she heard the woman who spoke to her earlier say, and Carol cautiously opened the door.
“Someone has taken your place for an hour or two. Come with me.”
Carol followed the woman through a side door, into a small room where a tall woman sat next to a table with tea and cups laid out.
“Carol – thank you for joining me,” Madame X said as she held her hands out and took Carol by the hands. “I know this has to be serious, and I appreciate time is of the essence. Penelope will pour – sit and tell me how I can help you.”
“I… I…..” Carol stammered before she collapsed into Madame’s arms. She gently helped her to sit down while saying “Penelope, something a little stronger than tea, I think.”
Penelope took a flask from her handbag and poured a measure of brandy out, which she gave to Carol as she sat sobbing. “Thank you,” she whispered as she drank the measure and looked up. “I’m at my wit’s end, and you are the only chance I have to get my daughters safely back.”
“Safely back?” Madame sat down and put her hands together. “Carol, I think you need to start at the beginning.”
The visitor sat back, and put her hands in her lap. “I know the line of work you are in, so I won’t beat about the bush. You know Jack Kvetch?”
Madame nodded. “Yes, I know the gentleman you speak of. I believe he has an appointment in the Old Bailey next week. How are you involved with him?”
“Bad luck – I happened to be passing the bank he and his gang were leaving from, and he ran into me. I got a good look at his face before he ran off.”
Penelope sat down opposite the two women. “That would be the Balsam Street raid last year? I remember that one of the guards was seriously injured.”
“Yes, Kvetch is not the most subtle of operators. A number of customers were also, as they say, roughed up. I take it this means you are a witness at the trial?”
Carol nodded. “The problem is – well, you remember Suzie?”
“Yes, although it has been some time. She would be twenty now?”
“Yeah – she’s at University in the North. At least, that’s where she’s meant to be, but last week…… I got this in the post.”
She handed a much handled manila envelope to Madame X. Opening it, she withdrew a photograph and a piece of paper with pieces of paper stuck over it. The photograph showed a young woman, with a strong resemblance to Carol, sat in a wooden chair and secured there with several layers of rope. A white tape gag was over her mouth, and she was looking at the camera with fear-filled eyes.
“Suzie?” she said as she passed the photograph to Penelope. Carol nodded, and pointed to the accompanying piece of paper. Madame read the message that was pasted on the white sheet.
WE HAVE YOUR DAUGHTER – IF YOU APPEAR AT THE COURT, OR GIVE EVIDENCE AGAINST KVETCH, YOU WILL NEVER SEE HER AGAIN. WE WILL BE WATCHING YOU.
“That would explain the unmarked van outside your house, and the two men who have followed you all day.”
Carol looked up and stopped crying. “You know?”
“When you called yesterday, I put my own staff on alert to see what was happening. One of my associates is making sure the two men are following her for the moment. So, Carol, I presume you did not call the police?”
“No – I called her flat, and one of her housemates said she had gone off for a couple of weeks on a study course. I realised she was in trouble, and then I had a phone call later that day that repeated the message, and warned me to talk to nobody. I didn’t even tell Jennie what had happened.”
“Where is Jennie now?”
“That… that’s what made me call you. She didn’t come back from her sixth form college on Thursday night, and then when the doorbell rang I rushed to it. It wasn’t her, though – it was someone else entirely?”
Penelope and Madame X exchanged glances. “Who was this new arrival?”
“A young man – early thirties I’d say – who said his name was Parker. He pushed his way in, as did the two women with him, and said they had a message for me from Jennie.”
“The two women – one tall, Amazonian and dark haired, the other smaller, slimmer with auburn hair?”
“Yes – do you know them?”
Madame X nodded. “You have met the Parker gang – another of the less subtle operators in our city. What did they want?”
Carol gulped. “They pushed me into my living room, sat me down and showed me they were all armed. They then showed me a video on a small camcorder.
“It was Jennie – she was lying on a mattress, still wearing the white sun top and jeans she had left the house in the day. Her arms were held above her head by ropes, and her legs tied to the mattress as well, and there was a cloth tied into her mouth.
“The man who called himself Parker then said that, unless I testified against Kvetch next week, I would never see Jennie again, and then they left me with these.”
She passed Madame X another envelope, containing several pictures of Jennie obviously scared by her situation.
“I see – you have indeed found yourself in a most unfortunate situation Carol.”
The woman looked up at Madame, her tear stained cheeks showing more prominently. “Fifteen years ago, you said if I ever needed help that you would do so. I need help – can you help me?”
Madame sat back, her fingers together. Eventually she stood up and took Carol by her hands.
“I owe you a debt of honour, Carol, and I always pay my debts. Penelope here will take you back to the cubicle in the boudoir – wait there until the cubicle on your left is occupied, and then depart for home. Your sister,” she said nodding at Penelope, “will be arriving later today for a surprise visit. Don’t be afraid any more – your daughters will be safe home as soon as is humanly possible.”
“Thank you, thank you…..” Carol said as Penelope led her put of the small room, and then returned a few minutes later.
“Penelope, please call Lillian and ask her to come into the office in one hour. Then pack and head to Carol’s house – I will call you on your mobile phone there later.”
“Of course Madame – but may I ask a question first?”
“What does this woman mean to me?”
Penelope nodded, and Madame X sat down.
“She saved my life fifteen years ago – and I swore then to repay the debt when necessary. She, to her credit, said she hoped she would never need my help – but circumstances dictated otherwise.”
“I see – what happened?”
“Time for that in a few days, Penelope – please ask Lily to join me in one hour, and then I will call you.”
“Jack Kvetch? Yeah – Uncle George told me about him, specifically to avoid him at all costs. Neither the smartest tool in the box, or the nicest. Why are you asking about him? I was under the impression he would be spending some time in Her Majesty’s lodging houses by the end of next week.”
Lily Harmon was sitting across from Madame X, dressed in a smart jacket and skirt. Since joining the company, she had been learning some of the rules of her new workplace – the first of which was always to dress well when Madame X calls.
“Lillian, I find myself in the need of your special knowledge. Do you know if Mister Kvetch has any family?”
“No, I’m afraid not – not that we could use as a bargaining chip anyway. His sister is also his chief lieutenant.”
“His sister? How very interesting….. Tell me, Lillian, how difficult would it be get this sister to co-operate with us?”
“Ah – now that is a different matter. What do you need?”
“I think this sister is trying to save her brother from incarceration, and has taken a young girl hostage. I need you to do a little job for me – and to do it in a particular style.”
“A particular style?”
“Yes, Lillian – in the style of a group known as the Parker girls….”
“Interesting – but will that not upset a certain Mister Parker?”
“Not necessarily – tell me what you know of this sister….”
Carol was pouring coffee when Penelope’s mobile phone rang.
“Good evening, Madame.”
“Good evening Penelope. I am pleased to say that we may have a way to solve Carol’s problem, but for now tell her nothing.”
“Of course – what do you need from me?”
“To support her, whatever happens – is that clear?”
She walked down the road, swinging her arms as she walked along. Her tight leggings tucked into her knee length black leather boots, and her grey woollen military style jacket fastened against the cold air, she was oblivious to the traffic passing her.
She looked up and saw a slim, blonde haired woman standing in front of her.
“I wonder if I can trouble you for a light?” she said as she held a cigarette in her hand.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t smoke,” the other woman said as she tired to pass, but the blonde haired girl grabbed her arm as she pressed a small gun into the side of the girl in black.
“I think you had better come with me – quietly now,” she said as a grey transit van pulled up beside them. As the side door opened, she pushed the girl into the back of the van, climbing in behind her.
“What’s going on,” she said as she felt tape being wrapped tightly around her wrists.
“Just relax –we have a drive ahead of us,” Lily said as she started to bind the girl’s legs together. “I need you to have a word with your partner.”
“Helen? But she’s up north on business.”
“I know,” Lily said as she held a strip of tape in her gloved hands, “Now close your eyes.”
“If I take the tape off your mouth, will you promise not to try and scream again?”
Suzie nodded as she looked up at her captor. A small woman, powerfully built and dressed in a jumper and jeans, she put the tray down on the table and peeled the duct tape off her face. She coughed as she caught her breath, and then whispered “How much longer are you going to keep me here?”
“Just until my brother walks free from the court – then I’ll see that you are free to go. Now, open wide.”
As Helen Kvetch fed her the porridge, Suzie tried once again to see if she could free her wrists, but it was no use. They had been crossed, bound together and secured tightly to a slat in the chair back, and the ropes around her chest held her tightly to the wood. She had been like this since she had been snatched off the street on her way to the college buildings, not knowing if it was night or day outside. Her legs were lashed to the front chair legs as well, making attempts at escape next to impossible.
“What makes you think my mother will do as you ask? She believes in upholding the law.”
“She also loves her daughter, just as I love my brother, and I’m prepared to do anything to save him, so she will for you.”
The room was closed off to outside light, but Suzie knew it was a downstairs room – she had heard her captor running up and down stairs – and it was some distance from the area she lived in. She had been kept in the boot of the car for two hours when she was snatched – the car radio had helped her to keep time.
As Helen put the bowl down, the sound of a doorbell ringing came through from outside. Picking up a roll of duct tape, she tore a strip off and quickly smoothed it over Suzie’s lips, before leaving and closing the door to the room behind her.
Suzie looked up as sounds of arguing and fighting came through the closed door, before it was thrown open and four armed and masked women walked in. All four were dressed in jeans, short crop tops and denim waistcoats, and had bandanas tied over their lower faces as masks. Two of them held Suzie’s captor by the arms, while the other two carried in the bound and struggling body of another woman. This one was dressed in black, and silver duct tape was over her mouth and eyes.
“Put that one on the couch and tie her up,” the leader of the group said as she looked at Suzie. She had shoulder length blonde hair, and for a fleeting moment Suzie was sure she winked at her, but she just stood up and turned round.
“Mister Parker sends his compliments,” she said as the other women started to wrap tape around Helen, “but he wants this one to join her sister. I hope you don’t mind.”
“You fucking bastards – when I get out of here I’m going to have you and that bint’s mother as well!”
“Language,” the leader said as she nodded to one of her accomplices. Pinching Helen’s nose, she stuffed a black scarf into her mouth and wrapped tape around her head.
“You tell your brother he crosses Mister Parker at his peril,” the leader said as the two women were left struggling on the floor. Walking over to Suzie, she cut the ropes holding her to the chair, but left her wrists bound and the tape over her mouth.
“Come with us,” she shouted as she led Suzie out of the room and down to where a door lay open. As they stepped out, a blanket was thrown over her before she felt the cold air on her body as she was led to a waiting grey van.
She heard the door slam, and as they set off the blonde haired woman took the scarf off and sat beside Suzie, reaching over to peel the tape away.
“Don’t worry, Suzie, we’re the rescue squad,” she said as she took a mobile phone and dialled a number.
“Good afternoon Madame – we have Suzie and are heading home. You can start to take care of Jennie now.”
“Will someone tell me what’s going on?” Suzie cried out as her hands were released.
“Your mother will explain it all when you see her,” Lily said as she handed Suzie a bottle of water, “but you’re safe now.”
In the room, Helen finally managed to peel the tape away from her girlfriend’s mouth, having managed somehow to remove the tape from her eyes and jaw.
“I’m sorry, love – they grabbed me and forced me to tell them where you were.” The dark clothed woman was pulling the scarf from her partner’s mouth as she said this.
“Don’t worry about it – those bitches are going to regret the day they came up against me. Come back to back and let’s see if I can get you free.”
“HLP!!! SMBDY HLP M!!!!”
“Can’t you do anything to shut that little girl up?”
The two women looked over to where Jennie was lying bound and gagged on the mattress.
“Let her scream – nobody is going to hear her out here.”
“When do you think the boss will call?”
“I don’t know – probably when her mother has done what she needs to do and Kvetch is behind bars. Serves him right after he did us over on the Madison raid.”
Both turned back to the card game they were playing, oblivious to the sounds of traffic outside. Jennie threw her head back against the pillow, wondering how much longer she would have to stay like this.
The first indication she had of an answer was when the door to the room was kicked in, and a female voice shouted “FREEZE!!” Looking over to the doorway, she saw three women enter, the one in front dressed in jumper and jeans and the other two all in black. Smoke grenades had been thrown in as well, making it difficult to see who was there.
“What the fuck,” the two other woman shouted as they were grabbed and forced to their knees. “Who the hell are you?”
“You’re trying to mess about with my brother, and I don’t like that. I’m gonna take this little girl here to join her sister in my company.”
“Kvetch? I’ll get you for this, Helen….”
“Oh zip it, Bonnie – you’re outclassed this time, so face it like a woman!”
The tow in black quickly used zip ties to secure the two Parker girls, leaving them lying on the floor as they were gagged with bandanas.
“Tell Parker never to cross us again.” The woman called Helen shouted as they cut Jennie free from the mattress. Carrying her between them, the two women in black half-dragged her out of the room as their retreat was covered.
The smoke slowly cleared as Bonnie rolled over onto her side, and indicated to her partner to come up behind her. With some difficulty, she managed to pull the scarf from her mouth, and waited patiently as the favour was returned. The other girl then shuffled over to the table and fished from a bag sitting on the floor a mobile phone. Dialling a number, she held it to Bonnie’s mouth.
“Boss? We’ve got trouble – Kvetch’s sister just snatched the girl. Come and get us, and then we need to pay a visit to her mother.”
“Carol, whatever happens in the next five minutes, follow my lead, understand?”
Carol nodded as there was a loud rap on the front door, and Bonnie came storming into the room without waiting.
“We told you, bitch that you had to testify tomorrow. That still……”
“You’re one of the Parker girls, aren’t you?” As she said this, Penelope drew a gun from her handbag.
“So Helen Kvetch said you would call. I’m keeping this woman company, but if you want to discuss it – tomorrow, 9 am the old warehouse.”
Bonnie glared at Carol and Penelope, then turned and walked out.
“What the….” Was all Carol said before two men walked in.
“What was Bonnie from the Parker Girls doing here?” they demanded.
“Making sure I was keeping Carol company is what. If you want to discuss this further, tell Helen Kvetch 9 am, tomorrow, the old warehouse. Until then, scram.”
The two men looked at Penelope, at each other, then turned and went out. Penelope replaced the gun and made a call.
“Madame? Everything is ready and the messages have been passed on. I’m taking Carol to the safe house now.”
The sky was overcast at 9 am the next morning, as Helen Kvetch drew up at an abandoned warehouse on the side of town. Leaving her car, she walked into the main building and stood there, waiting.
“Well, Parker, I’m here – what have you got to say?” she shouted.
“Us? We could ask the same thing about you!!”
Bonnie walked out from the shadows, a gun in her hand.
“You’re the one who snatched the girl to make sure your brother walked free.”
“Me? You snatched MY hostage to make sure he went down! Your girls paid me a little visit yesterday.”
“My girls? Apart from me and my friend watching the young kid, they were all doing a job elsewhere. What girls?”
“Those would be my girls.”
The voice was dark, sensual and commanded respect. Helen and Bonnie turned and saw Madame X coming from a dark limousine parked a short way into the building.
“YOU!!!” Bonnie shouted. “What business is this of yours?”
“My name is Madame X, Ms Kvetch. I hope you have heard of me?”
Helen paled at the sound of that name.
“Now, I understand your brother is appearing at the Old Bailey today, and you want the star witness not to appear, so you kidnapped her daughter, correct?”
“Yeah – what of it?” Helen replied as Bonnie looked on.
“Well, sadly for you, I believe your brother is need of some time out, as our American cousins said, and as for you,” she said turning to Bonnie, “your little gang of amateur gangsters have been a thorn in my side once too often.
“I will say this once and I want to make it clear. This woman and her family are under my protection, and as such you are never ever to try and do what you have done again. If you do so, you will suffer my….. displeasure.”
“There is no way on this earth that bitch is appearing today,” Helen screamed.
“Young lady, you will mind your language in the presence of your betters. I presume you are unaware the trial has already begun, and the mother of these two unfortunate girls has already started her testimony?”
“Learn the lesson, my dear Ms Kvetch – do not anger me. This incident will be kept quiet, and apart from the embarrassment you both no doubt feel nothing else will be said. Do anything to harm any of these women again, and I will make my anger known. Are we perfectly clear?”
Bonnie and Helen looked at Madame X, and nodded.
“Excellent – remember what I said,” she replied as she turned and walked back to the waiting limousine.
In a house on the outskirts of London, Suzie and Jennie were sitting at a table, quietly eating as Lily sat next to them. The door opened as Penelope walked in, with Carol following behind her.
“Girls!” she screamed as she ran forward and embraced her daughters, while Penelope drew Lily to one side.
“Let’s give them some time together,” she said as they retreated to the kitchen. As Lily made some tea, they compared notes as to the events of the last few days.
“It’s a weird feeling, isn’t it?” Lily said as she passed a mug over.
“Helping someone instead of robbing them.”
“Working for Madame, this does very occasionally happen – but it is an unusual event.”
As they drank their tea, the door to the house opened and Madame X joined them in the kitchen.
“Twenty to life,” Penelope replied.
“Well, the streets of our city may be a little safer now. Come – we need to talk to Carol and her daughters.”
The three of them made their way back to the main room, where Carol was still standing hugging her girls.
“Thank you – thank you so much,” she said with tears of joy as she embraced Madame X.
“I said I would help, and I repay my debts. No more will ever be said of what has happened to all of you these last few days – on that you have my personal word of honour, and as you know that is a binding agreement for me.
“I think you deserve a break now – I have made arrangements with all of your respective colleges and employers for you to take a short vacation somewhere nice and warm. Penelope will arrange your luggage and passports, and I will provide the transportation. Until then, enjoy the facilities in this house, and be assured no-one will ever harm or touch you again.”
“How can I… how can we ever repay you?”
“You do not have to – it is a debt repaid. Come, Penelope, Lillian – we will leave them alone now.”
As Penelope closed the door on the three women, Madame leant against the wall and breathed a sigh of relief.
“My apologies, Penelope – if not for the actions of that woman fifteen years ago, I would not be alive, much less standing here now. It is something I have often wanted to repay, but until now….
“Come – I will explain all at the office."