The auburn haired woman paused for a moment before she knocked on the large oak door.
“Come,” a rich female voice called out, as the woman opened the door and went in.
“Are the team assembled Penelope,” the woman inside said as she walked round from behind her desk. She wore a black Chanel trouser suit, and high heeled black patent leather mules.
“They are, Madame,” Penelope replied, brushing some lint from her red skirt, “Lily and the others await your pleasure in the conference room.”
“Very well then,” she said as she walked round, “Let us brief the team on their objective.”
Penelope followed behind the tall, dark haired woman as she walked to a door, and opened it, the four women inside standing as she came in. One, a thin blonde haired woman in a grey jacket and skirt over a white top, said “Good morning Madame” as Penelope closed the door.
“Good morning Lillian, ladies,” Madame said as she took a seat, the others following suit. “Penelope, please distribute the briefing material.”
Each of the women took a manila folder from Penelope, opening it and taking out a picture of a woman sitting down. She had lightly permed black hair, and was wearing a pair of large black framed glasses as she sat on the seat, her hands on the cushions. She wore a grey coat dress with a brown pattern on the material, the skirt pulled slightly back to show the purple lining, and a pair of light brown Ugg boots.
“This,” Madame said, “is Angela Reading, the daughter of Sir Clive Reading, chairman of Mallards Supermarkets. It is our intention to arrange for Sir Clive to make a substantial impact on certain current negotiations – but to do so, we must invite Angela to stay with us for a while.
“Lillian, you and your team will enter the Reading residence under guise of a robbery, extract Angela Reading, and bring her back here for negotiations to open. I have assigned Catherine, Angelica and Rebecca to your team for this purpose.”
Lily looked at the other three women. Cathy was a small, red haired woman with an infectious laugh and a genius level skill with alarm and security systems. Angie was one of the most proficient marksmen in Madame’s organization, while Becky had recently demonstrated a flair for driving at the speed and skill level required.
“Of course Madame,” Lily said as she looked back to the head of the table. “We shall be ready to move out in twenty four hours.”
“Excellent – as always, Penelope will be your central point of contact. I await the results of your visit with great anticipation – good luck ladies.”
As Madame stood up, Penelope leaned over and whispered “A word – in Madame’s office,” Lily nodding as she followed them out.
“Right – we are clear on the plan of attack?”
Lily looked round the table at the other three women. In contrast to yesterday, all four were dressed in black jumpers, leggings and boots.
“Stage one,” Cathy said, “we visit the office of Sir Clive, and get from his secretary the access code to the front gate. Although Sir Clive is abroad on business, his secretary still has the security information.”
Lilly nodded and looked at Becky.
“Stage two – we enter the mansion, secure Lady Reading and their other daughter, and perform a standard robbery cover.”
“Meanwhile,” Angie said, “we find and remove Angela Reading, and report back to base for stage three.”
Lily slowly nodded, and looked at her watch. “I have 4 pm precisely on my mark – mark.” The other three checked and nodded, as Lily said “all right – let’s move out.”
The corporate headquarters of Mallards was in an estate in a London suburb, the autumn sun already setting as the grey van drew up at the rear of the building. Lily looked out, then motioned to the team to follow her as they pulled the balaclavas down over their heads.
“How long,” she said to Cathy as the young woman looked at the code pad.
“Not long,” she said as she first sprayed the pad with a fine talcum powder, then blew gently on the surface. As she looked, the dust congregated on some of the keypads, and then she looked carefully with a magnifying glass, before pressing a sequence.
“Easy when you know how,” she said as the door swung noiselessly inwards, the masked women making their way in and up the rear service stairs to the fourth floor.
Lily looked out of the door, noting the only light on at the end of the corridor, and then the team moved down, stopping outside the door as Lily listened.
“Yes, Lady Reading, I will mail you the new code as soon as I receive it. Thank you, and I hope you have a pleasant evening as well.”
Lily indicated to Cathy to stand guard as she put her hand on the door, and pushed it in, the other two following her.
A dark haired woman looked at them, wearing a green top with a black leopard print over a black pinafore style dress, patterned dark tights and a pair of knee length red leather boots with three inch wooden heels.
“Don’t move a muscle except to put your hands in the air,” Lily said as she pointed a pistol at the young woman, smiling as she slowly raised her hands. “I presume you are Margo?”
She nodded as Lily looked at the nameplate on the desk.
“All right Margo,” Lily continued, “we’re not going to hurt you, we just need the current access codes to the Reading mansion. The question is, will you give them up willingly, or do we need to get them from you by some other means?”
Margo looked at the three armed and masked women, before saying “All right – I’ll give you the access codes. They’re on my computer.”
“Sit, and reveal them – and no tricks. I would hate to bring your evening to a premature and messy end.”
Margo slowly sat in the chair, working on the computer as Becky knelt by her side. She felt her ankles being pulled together, the rope rubbing against her leather boots, as she accessed and pulled up a file from the system.
“Take a note,” Lily said to Angie, as Margo felt more rope pulling her ankles together below her knees.
“Got it,” Angie said as she looked at her tablet. “What now?”
“Delete the file, and put the computer into standby,” Lily said as Becky then pulled Margo’s arms behind the chair back, securing her wrists together with her hands back to back, and then tying them down to the support for the back rest. She then passed some rope around Margo’s arms and upper body, pulling them tight into her sides as her top opened up under the pressure of the hemp bands.
“Make sure her feet are off the ground as well,” Lily said as Becky tied another length of rope to Margo’s ankles, and pulled them up under the seat, securing them to her wrists. They then wheeled her into the corner of the room, Angie pushing a cotton cloth into the bound woman’s mouth before Becky wound black tape around her head, trapping her hair underneath to keep the wadding in place.
“All right, let’s move out,” Lily said, as the three of them left Margo alone in the room. A few moments later, she looked up as the door opened again, nodding as she accepted the thin blade in her bound hands, and started to work on her wrist binding…
The front gate of the Reading mansion sat in a high stone wall that ran around the perimeter of the grounds. Lily looked up at it, as Angie typed a sequence of numbers into the entrance pad by the intercom button.
“You sure that patch is going to hold,” Lily said as she looked at the grey disc covering the lens of the security camera. It was designed to show the front gate of the building, and had been attached by Becky using a telescopic arm as soon as they arrived.
“Should do – after all, the tech department designed it,” Becky said as the gates swung inwards. Angie climbed back into the van as they drove up to the front door.
“All right,” Lily said as she looked at the trio, “we deal with the housekeeper first, then the family. Angie, Cathy, you go first – find the housekeeper and make sure she cannot interfere.”
The two women nodded as they got out of the van, and made their way stealthily to the rear of the manor house. They could see a light in the kitchen window, and looking in from either side they saw a woman standing over a cooker, wearing a purple cardigan over a checked patterned dress.
Angie motioned to Cathy, who nodded as she crept along to the rear door. Turning the handle, she slowly opened the door and crept in, shutting it behind her.
The woman suddenly straightened, and was about to turn when Cathy grabbed her, a gloved hand over her mouth as she whispered “Not a word – sit down in that chair, hands behind your back, and keep quiet.”
She nodded slowly as she turned and walked to the chair, guided by Cathy as Angie came in. The cardigan was actually tied just below her chest, the dress having a low cut neckline and a flared skirt, ad a pair of baggy black leather boots on her feet.
Cathy and Angie worked quickly together, using lengths of cord from their pockets to secure the young woman to the chair she was sitting in, her ankles tied to the front legs, her own legs tied together under the skirt and below her knees, her wrists secured to the chair back and cords around her arms and waist to secure her further. Angie picked up a tea towel, rolled it into a band and pulled it between her lips, muffling her complaints as she secured the ends together at the base of her neck.
“Go and let the others in,” she said to Cathy, taking a seat and leaving her gun on the table as she watched the housekeeper carefully…
Cathy crept out of the kitchen, listening carefully to the noises from the front rooms and upstairs as she opened the front door, and let Lily enter with Becky, carrying a canvas bag each.
Cathy nodded as they looked to the door to the right, the light of a television screen shining through the opening at the bottom. “Right – let’s see who is in here first,” Lily said as they opened the door and walked in.
A thin, grey haired woman stood up and looked at the three armed and masked woman, before saying “Who the hell are you?”
“Please, Lady Reading,” Lily said quietly, “no shouting, no screaming, and no resistance. We are armed, and we will not hesitate to use them if you or your family cause us any trouble.” She looked at the eighteen year old girl on the couch, who had put her arms around her legs and drawn them to her chest when she saw them come in.
She wore a white short sleeved top, olive coloured pants and a pair of Greek style sandals, while the older woman wore a grey top with elbow length sleeves, a pair of light tan pants and red slippers.
Lady Reading looked at their guns, and said quietly “very well – what are your intentions?”
“We will secure your daughter, and then you will open your safe for us before we secure you,” Lily said quietly. “Questions?”
“None,” Lady Reading said quietly. “Constance, do as they say, all right?”
“Yes mother,” the young girl said as Angie opened a bag and took out a roll of silver tape.
“All right,” Lily said quietly, “Constance, lie face down on that couch, and put your hands behind your back. Lady Reading, please place your hands behind your back as well.”
The older woman watched as Becky tore the end of a roll of tape, and knelt by the side of Constance, putting her hands together palm to palm before taping her wrists tightly together and then running the tape down over her hands. As this was taking place, Cathy stood behind Lady Reading and pulled her arms behind her back, using the tape to secure her crossed wrists together.
“Be brave, Constance,” Lady Reading said as Becky made her daughter kneel on the couch, and taped her arms tightly to her side, before laying her down again and taping her ankles and legs. She herself felt her wrists pressed against her back, and then to her sides as bands of silver tape were wrapped around her body.
“Open your mouth,” Becky said, Constance looking at her mother before she opened her mouth and allowed the masked intruder to push a sponge ball into her mouth. She closed her lips over it before Becky pressed several strips of the silver tape over her mouth.
“Please,” Lily said as she opened the door, “come with us. You stay with the girl.”
Becky nodded as Lily and Cathy escorted Lady Reading from the room, Becky sitting and watching the struggling youth on the couch.
The trio walked into the office, Cathy closing the door as Lily said “The combination please, your ladyship.”
Lady Reading nodded as she gave a sequence of numbers, Cathy kneeling by the safe and opening it with little trouble. As she emptied the contents, Lily sat Lady Reading in a chair and taped her legs together, as well as her body to the chair back.
“I suppose I should thank you for your manners,” Her Ladyship said as Cathy stood up, and looked at Lily.
“Silence Her Ladyship,” Lily said as she handed Cathy a sponge ball and the roll of tape, “I’m going to look round upstairs.”
Cathy nodded as Lily went into the hallway, collecting several lengths of rope and a couple of scarves from the bag before she headed up the stairs. Walking down the corridor, she stood by one door, and opened it, the woman sitting by the desk looking round as she came in.
Cathy and Becky came out of their rooms to see Lily coming down the staircase, her hand on the arm of Angela Reading. The young woman was not wearing her glasses, and wore a long sleeved jumper with black, olive, brown and white stripes on a slight diagonal, a short brown skirt, green tights and knee length brown leather boots. A green woollen scarf was around her neck, and a knotted black scarf sat in her mouth.
Her arms were pulled behind her back, and tied to her sides with bands of rope around her waist and chest. She looked at the other two masked women as Angie came through from the kitchen.
“We got what we came for – let’s move out,” Lily said as the four masked women left the house, Lily bringing Angela with her. As they approached the van, she made the bound woman step in, and then sit on the floor before she bound her ankles and legs together, and then blindfolded her with her own olive coloured scarf.
“Let’s go,” she said as she took out her mobile phone.
“Penny? It’s Lily – objective met and we’re coming home. Full debrief to be scheduled.
“Understood – we’ll see you in base in two hours.”
The four women were sat again around the conference table as Penelope and Madame X came in. Penny was wearing a red jersey dress and black boots, while Madame was wearing a dark green jumper and long skirt, a designer scarf tied round her neck.
“Well, Lillian, I hear all went smoothly?”
“It did Madame,” Lily said quietly, “we have Angela Reading safely resting in one of the guests rooms, and the contents of the Reading safe are in the storeroom.”
“Excellent – and your team?”
“Performed to the high standards that you would expect of them, Madame.”
Madame X looked round the table, and said “good – very good. All objectives of the task fulfilled?”
“Indeed – I presented my report to Penelope within an hour of returning.”
Penny nodded as she glanced at Madame X, before saying “Shall I?”
“Please,” Madame said with a nod as Penny stood up and opened the door. Becky, Cathy and Angie all watched as Margo, Lady Reading, Constance Reading and the housekeeper came into the room, and stood on the other side facing the table.
“Ladies, my thanks for your cooperation tonight,” Madame X said as she looked at them.
“Forgive me, Madame,” Becky said as she looked at the other women, “but what is going on here?”
“That, Rebecca, is a very good question,” Madame X said as she looked down the table. “I have been aware for some time that there was, to use the vernacular of some of my American colleagues, a snake in the grass within our organization. It does happen from time to time, but when it does happen I have my own way of dealing with it. Margo?”
“I was able to escape within five minutes thanks to this person, who left a blade and a number to call.”
“And did you call the number?”
“No Madame – but I did recognise it as one of those known to be used by Lady C.”
“Thank you Margo – you may return to your normal duties now, with my thanks.”
The dark haired woman nodded as she looked round the room, and left quietly.
“The real Lady Reading, Constance and housekeeper had been secured earlier in the evening by another team, and replaced by these three,” Madame X said as she stood up. “At my instructions, Lily left one of you alone with each of them, and then brought Angela Reading down. She had already agreed to take part in tonight’s performance, in return for the safe release of the others and their property. Penelope, will you see to that please?”
“Certainly Madame,” Penelope said as she got up and left the room.
“You see, ladies, we had narrowed the suspects down to you three, so we arranged this team exercise, in the hopes that the plant would reveal themselves in full plumage. When you left with Angela, one of the three women here had been left with an escape route, and the same number to contact.
“I will give the person concerned ten seconds to admit their guilt, before I unmask them. The clock starts – now.”
Lily watched the trio as they looked at each other, before Cathy made a bolt for the door – only to run into the tall, black haired form of Dominique as she stood in the doorway.
“I think you left this with me,” the false Lady Reading said as she placed a thin blade on the conference room table. Cathy looked at Madame, before saying “My apologies, and I hope there are no hard feelings.”
“None whatsoever,” Madame X said with a smile. “Dominique will ensure you are safely returned to my dear friend, and I wish you continued success in your career – so long as we never see each other again.”
Cathy nodded before she was led away by Dominique, and Madame turned back to the room. “Ladies, my thanks. Rebecca and Angela, my apologies – and you will be recompensed for your troubles. Please, leave Lillian and I to discuss other matters.”
The other six women nodded as they left the conference room, and Lily looked at Madame X.
“I thought all three of them were working together?”
“Of course they were, Lillian – but the other two held their nerve at the moment of crisis. I admire that, and therefore they may remain – under close supervision and only for selected tasks of course.
“I believe it was Sun Tzu who said ‘Keep your friends close but your enemies closer’. I understand the importance and necessity of that, Lillian – I hope you do as well.”