The sun was beating down, but a cool breeze was blowing across the tarmac as the woman waited impatiently. This private airstrip was perfect for the discreet arrival and departure of visitors to the area, and this particular visitor protected her privacy far more than most.
She looked through her sunglasses into the sky, shading them with her hand to see if she could see anything coming. Gradually, a speck appeared on the horizon, and she heard the sound of jet engines coming over the desert air. She turned and knocked on the window of the waiting limousine.
“That will be them coming in to land now. Inform Madeline, and then come and join me as the plane lands – there will be bags to bring to the car.”
The speck had now resolved into the shape of a small jet plane, which was coming in to land. She watched the perfect touchdown, and waited for the jet to taxi round and park near to where she was standing. As the jet engines stopped, she was joined by a dark suited man with a peaked cap and sunglasses.
“You know her – are the stories true?” He asked the woman as she removed her glasses.
“Just keep quiet and do as you’re told – you’ll see for yourself,” she replied as the door to the jet opened. She strode over in her light silk trouser suit, and waited for a set of stairs to be brought over.
A tall dark haired woman, dressed in a dark Armani suit and wearing black patent leather heels, walked down the stairs towards the waiting woman. Behind her came a slightly smaller but no less stunning lady, dressed in a red jacket and skirt and carrying a briefcase.
The first woman walked up to the waiting lady. “Susan, so nice to see you again,” she said in a voice like melted dark chocolate.
“Welcome to Los Angeles, Madame,” Susan replied. “I trust you had a pleasant flight.”
“Thank you, yes” the woman she had called Madame answered. “I trust you have informed Madeline of our arrival.”
“Naturally, Madame. Clint here will take care of the luggage for both you and Penelope, and I have some refreshment waiting in the limousine. If you would come this way?”
The three women walked towards the waiting car, while the driver supervised the unloading and transporting of the luggage. Placing the bags carefully in the trunk, he walked round and climbed into the driver’s seat.
“Where do you want to go, Susan?”
“I know you have had a long journey, Madame. Do you and Penelope wish to freshen up before we join Madeline?”
“Thank you, Susan, that would be helpful.”
“Very good, Madame. Clint, please take us to the apartment, and then wait for us to return. Could you inform Madeline that I will let her know when we are on our way?”
Clint nodded, and discreetly raised the glass divider between the driver and passenger seats. As they drove off, Susan opened a bottle of champagne and handed her two guests a glass each. Madame took a sip.
“So, Susan, Madeline tells me that you are doing well here. How are you enjoying your time in the United States?”
“I am enjoying it immensely, Madame, the opportunities here are so different from at home and Madeline is a good teacher.”
“Good, I hoped you would benefit from it. You may or may not be pleased to hear that the police have decided that you used a false name, and have simply disappeared. Perhaps you will be able to return soon, if you wish to?”
“Thank you, but if you are agreeable Madame I would prefer to stay here. I have made some very – friendly contacts out here.”
“I see – Clint, I think you said his name was?”
Susan blushed, and then recovered her composure. “Yes, Madame, Clint works for us after leaving one of the local groups. He and I have a close understanding. Ah – we are at the apartment now. I’ll ask Clint to bring the bags up, and then we will await your return.”
Some hours later, the three women arrived at non-descript office block in the outskirts of Los Angeles. Clint opened the door, and waited as the three entered the building before returning the car to the garage.
A red-haired woman was waiting in the lobby area, dressed in a cream blouse and skirt and open toed sandals. “Madame, this is a pleasure – we very rarely see you over here,” she said offering a hand of welcome.
“Thank you, Madeline, it has been too long since I have been here. I suggest, however, we go into your office and discuss the reason for my visit.”
“Of course, you wish to see what we have discovered. If you will follow me, Madame, Penelope?”
The four women made their way to an upper floor, and into a plush office overlooking the Hollywood hills. A young woman brought in a pot of coffee, and discreetly closed the door behind her.
“So, Madeline, what have you found out about Jack Hockney?”
“A small time film maker, who specialises in the slightly more adult end of the market. I have to admit I would not have worried about him if I had not had this passed to me by one of my juniors here.”
Madeline passed to Madame and Penelope a DVD. The cover showed a picture of a terrified woman sitting on the floor in a maid’s outfit, staring over a cloth gag at a postal worker holding a gun at her. The title of the DVD was “A Case of Coins: The True Story of Britain’s Most Sensational Robbery!”
“My junior associate collected this when she was undertaking an assignment for one of our local clients – it seemed to her that it may be of interest to us, given we knew slightly more of this particular robbery. When I showed it to Susan, however, it became clear we had a bigger problem.”
Susan turned to the visitors. “I don’t know how, but he has all the details of the case – everything, including the planning and execution, right down to some characters having the same name. He has a bit of a blurb at the start about how he has ‘imagined’ what happened, but it is far too close to the real story. When I realised that, both of us felt you had to be informed.”
“And you were right to do so,” Madame replied. “It is obvious somebody has been talking, shall we say, out of turn, and we need to find out who and when. We also need to teach this man a lesson. Madeline, what preparations have been made?”
“We have placed someone in his office, who has arranged for all his principal actresses to be a certain location tomorrow for a special filming. I have arranged for a group who have helped us from time to time to – surprise them and start our plan into motion.”
“Can they be trusted?”
“Implicitly – we have helped them out of some problems in the past. They also wish no payment, saying, and I quote, ‘It is an honour to be asked to assist the famous Madame X.’”
“I am flattered and pleased, but I’m sure we can offer them something later. What about the real targets?”
“The details are in the dossier,” Madeline said passing Madame a folder. “Hockney has a wife and daughter, and as is often the case here a little something on the side. I have arranged two teams to collect and bring the packages together at the central location, before you personally deal with Mr Hockney.”
“I am pleased, Madeline – you have done well. Now, as I am here, let us spend some time catching up on your work here.”
“Penelope, perhaps you would like a tour of the building, while I brief you on the part you will play tomorrow?” Susan asked, and the two assistants left their superiors to discuss other work issues.
The next morning, the six main actresses who worked for Hockney Films gathered at a small studio in the less salacious part of Hollywood. All were dressed in shorts and t-shirts, as required by the message that had summoned them.
“Well, Tracey,” one of them demanded, “When is our lord and master due to show up?”
“I’m not sure, Tallulah – I got the same message as you six, be here for seven am. I guess he’s on his way as we speak.”
The girls were sat around the room, drinking coffee and chatting, while Tracey checked over the script for that day. All of them looked up as the door was thrown open and four men ran into the room, masked and carrying guns.
“All of you, hands on your heads and keep quiet,” one of them shouted as a second closed the door and the other two trained their guns on the girls in the room. “Do as you’re told, and no-one needs to get hurt. Just stay very still and all of you put your hands on your head.”
The girls looked at each other, as the sound of Tracey’s script hitting the floor echoed around the room.
“Get them lined up in front of me,” the leader shouted, and the two armed men pulled and pushed the seven girls into a line, Tracey at the start followed by Tallulah and then the others.
“Right, I want you all to turn to your right, and do exactly what we tell you. Turn now.” As the girls turned so that Tracey was at the front of a single line queue, the leader put down on a table a bag he was carrying and removed a collection of sets of objects. Taking one from each set, he handed them to one of the armed guards.
“Right - first in line, slowly take your hands off your head and put them behind your back, wrists crossed.”
Tracey stared at the armed men, but did as she was asked. The guard then handed Tallulah a zip tie.
“You – use that to tie her wrists together, and do it tightly or you will suffer. Take aim at her until she does it.”
The two guards aimed their guns at Tallulah, who whispered “I’m sorry” to Tracey as she wrapped the tie around her wrists and pulled it tight. She was then handed a scarf, which had been rolled into a band and a knot tied in the centre.
“Put the knot into her mouth and tie it tightly at the base of her head.”
Tracey opened her mouth as Tallulah slipped the knot in, and tied the ends of the scarf off behind her neck. She was then handed a second scarf, and told to use it to blindfold Tracey, which she did leaving Tracey standing there.
“All right – first girl stay where you are, you,” the leader said pointing at Tallulah, “put your hands behind your back, and you, “ he said pointing at the third girl in line, “do now to her what she did to the first girl.”
The gang worked their way down the line, with the girl behind tying, gagging and blindfolding the girl in front, until the last one was left. She in turn was secured by the leader, leaving all six standing in a line.
The leader then produced a large coil of rope, and began to play it out. Starting with the last girl in line, he made a loop and tied it around her waist, pinning her bound wrists into the small of the back, and knotting the rope in front of her. Playing out the rope so that there was a length of about a foot, he then wrapped it around the next girl in line, and so on until Tallulah had her wrists pulled into her back and the rope knotted in front.
Instead of knotting the rope around Tracey’s waist, however, he kept it taut and handed the end to his fellow gang members. “Get them out to the van,” he said and the six girls were led out of the studio into the corridor.
Taking a knife from the bag, the leader cut the tie around Tracey’s wrists, and removed the gag and blindfold. “What are you going to tell your target,” he asked her as she grabbed a bottle of water.
“Not your problem,” she said as she drank from the clear bottle, “but you did a great job. Take them to the rendezvous, and we’ll talk later.”
The man nodded and left the room, as Tracey took her mobile phone and made a call.
“Madeline? Stage 1 completed – time to move on to the next targets.”
“And did Daddy Darling come home last night?” Charlotte asked her mother at the breakfast bar.
“No he did not – and less of the sarcastic tone, Charlie” her mother replied. Suzy Hockney had lived with her husband’s – indiscretions for too many years to remember all the details, but she still loved him in her own way and she knew he loved his daughter. He just had a strange way of showing it.
Charlotte, or Charlie as everyone called her, was finishing off her ham and eggs. She was wearing a white strapless top and shorts, sneakers and short ankle socks, and a white bandana was tied over her hair. As a student at the local university, she didn’t have far to travel and preferred to live at home as opposed to the student halls or sorority houses.
Suzy Hockney was in her late forties, and still had an air of beauty around her that only regular tennis lessons could give. On this morning, she had an appointment with her lawyer in town, and was wearing a black silk blouse and leather trousers.
“Whatever you may think of him – and God knows he’s not perfect – he still puts food on the table and a roof over our head.”
“Yeah, yeah – but the way he treats you I’m surprised you stick around.”
“I have my reasons – and that’s good enough for us.” Suzy heard a ring at the front door. “That will be the mail man – wait there and I’ll give you a lift into the campus.”
Charlie sat at the bar, nursing her range juice, but turned sharply when she heard her mother scream. As she stood up, she saw her mother been pushed back into the kitchen, accompanied by two women in tight fitting overalls and with stocking masks over their heads. She looked at the three of them for a minute, then turned and started to run for the back door, only to find her way blocked by a third masked and armed woman.
“If I were you, I’d drop onto the floor and lay face down right now – both of you!”
Charlie stared at the masked intruder, then knelt down on the floor and lay on her stomach, putting her hands behind her head. Suzy was pushed down beside her daughter, and both of them looked at each other.
“Just relax and do as you’re told, and you won’t get hurt,” the women said with a slight southern drawl. “Make sure they’re both secured while I search the house.”
As she went out of the kitchen, the other two women pulled lengths of rope from the overall pockets and knelt on the floor, one on each side of the two Hockney women. Pulling their wrists behind their backs, they proceeded to tie and cinch their wrists together, and then their elbows behind their backs.
“Is this a robbery?” Charlie asked.
“Not another word, or you’ll be silenced earlier than you need to be,” she was told as both women were rolled onto their backs. They watched as the two assailants began to wrap rope around their ankles, pulling it tight and cinching it before tying the knots off behind their ankles. More rope was then passed around their legs above their knees, leaving both Charlie and Suzy immobilised and lying on the floor.
The leader came back into the room, carrying a sack that rattled as she put it on the breakfast bar. “Right, ladies, you’re coming on a little trip with us, and you are going to do exactly as we say, understand?”
“What do you mean, we’re going on a trip?” Charlie asked as she and her mother were pulled up into a seated position.”
“Time for you to be quiet, I think,” the leader said, and both Charlie and Suzy gasped as their noses were held by the two other intruders. Forced to open their mouths, they were powerless to resist as both had a large foam ball pushed into their mouths, and a knotted scarf tied over it to keep it in place. They each also had a folded scarf tied over their eyes as a very effective blindfold.
“Take them out to the van,” the gang leader said, and the two bound and gagged women were lifted one at a time and carried out of the back door. As Suzy was taken away, the leader dialled a number on her mobile phone.
“Madeline – it’s Susan. Packages are on their way.”
In an apartment across town, Cherry Flower watched as the door to her apartment closed. She enjoyed the attentions of Jack Hockney, and he certainly had introduced her to some of the people who made films, but if she was honest with herself it was his prowess in the bedroom that kept her by his side. Yes, she knew he had a wife and daughter – so does most of the lower end of the market film makers around the city – but he looked after her and made sure she was well looked after. With the world the way it was today, she had to take what she could.
Pulling her dressing gown around her and tightening the sash, she went into the main room of her apartment and sat down to read the newspaper. She hadn’t been sitting for more than two minutes before the intercom went.
Standing up, she walked over and pushed the button.
“Ms Cherry Flower?”
“Yes – what is it?”
“I have a delivery of flowers here for you – could you buzz me in so that I can get your signature?”
“All right, bring them up,” and Cherry pressed the door release button. A few moments later, there was a knock on the apartment door. Opening it, Cherry stepped back as instead of a large bunch of flowers, a small pistol was pointing at her and the person holding it stepped into her lobby.
“This is a robbery – don’t make any sudden movements. Where do you keep your valuables?”
“I…. In the bedroom,” Cherry replied.
“Right – in there now and put them in the sack – I’m covering you all the time, so no funny stuff.”
The two women walked into Cherry’s bedroom, and as the intruder watched Cherry emptied jewellery racks and boxes into the sack.
“Right,” she said as Cherry handed her the bag, “lie face down on the bed and out your hands behind you back.”
“You don’t have to tie me up, I won’t raise the alarm, I promise” she stammered, but the intruder just pointed the gun at Cherry’s midriff.
“I said lie face down on the bed, and put your hands behind your back. Now, unless you want your wonderful life to end here, do it!”
Shaking, Cherry did as she was asked, and felt her wrists been tied tightly together behind her back. The intruder then crossed her ankles, and tied them tightly as well, making sure both sets of bindings were cinched to prevent their easy undoing.
“Say good night, Gracie” the intruder said, and as Cherry looked round to see what she meant a pad of cloth was clamped over her nose and mouth. She tried to hold her breath, but the sweet sickly smell permeated her nostrils, and eventually she had to breathe in the fumes. Her eyes rolled up slightly, and eventually her eyelids closed as she fell into a deep sleep.
The intruder threw the rag to one side, and producing more rope she secured Cherry’s legs together over her dressing gown, and with a further length her arms were secured to her chest. Pushing a foam ball into her mouth and covering it with medical tape, she then made a call. She spoke quickly into the phone.
“Madeline? It’s Penelope – I have the last package ready for pickup. Please inform Madame that she can start in one hour unless we advise otherwise.”
The offices of Hockney Films were actually a run-down warehouse in the slightly seedier side of town, but given the clientele that enjoyed the films Jack Hockney made that wasn’t a major problem. As he drove up to the building, he was too busy thinking of all the extra revenue that latest film of his had brought in. He knew he was onto something when he was told that story, and given it happened in another country no-one was going to chase him over payments for royalties. Anyway, what criminal is concerned about his stories been told in a so-called “fictionalised” manner?
Parking and leaving his car, he was struck by how remarkably quiet it was today. Normally there was something going on, but today nothing. It made him feel a little uneasy, though not as much as trying to come up with an excuse for Suzy as to his absence last night.
Entering the warehouse, he was equally surprised at the absence of Ted, the security guard. “Probably wandering around somewhere,” he thought to himself as he walked into the office part of the building. His secretary, Pauline, was nowhere to be seen either, and the light on the telephone indicated a number of missed calls.
What really surprised Jack Hockney, however, was walking into his office and being greeted by the sight of a tall and elegant woman sat at his desk, obviously waiting for him to arrive. She was looking intently at the computer screen that sat on his desk, and only looked up when he closed the door behind him.
“Ah, I presume you are Mr Hockney?” she said with a voice that ran through his body like a warm drink. “I have been wanting to talk with you for some time.”
“Have you now? I don’t believe I have had the pleasure…..”
“I assure you, Mr Hockney, this will not be a pleasurable experience for you. Sit down.”
“Pardon me, but I think you’ll find I am the boss here. If you don’t like that, I could always call security.”
“And I think you will find that your security guard and your secretary will be unable to answer if you called. They are – indisposed at the moment. Now sit down, Mr Hockney, and we’ll have a little chat about this.”
She threw a DVD case across his table, and as he picked it up Jack recognised his latest release.
“What about this – it’s just a reconstruction of something that happened in the UK, what has this got to do with you?”
“Everything, Mr Hockney. This is a very, VERY faithful reflection of what happened, and I am one of the few people who can see that with absolute confidence.”
Jack sat down suddenly in the chair. “Who are you?” he asked.
“Somebody who wants to know how you found out what happened that day, who from, and what you intend to do by way of recompense to me.”
“To recompense – you want me to pay you? Not a chance lady – you have no right to tell me what I can and cannot do!”
“I thought you might say that,” the visitor replied, “so I arranged a little something. Have a look at your computer screen.”
She turned the monitor round, and Jack could see a picture of six women, sat on a floor, bound gagged and blindfolded. Looking more closely, she recognised one of the six as Tallulah, one of his own leading actresses. They were obviously awake, as he could watch them struggling to try and free themselves, but equally they were unaware of where they were.
“As you can see,” his visitor continued, “we have arranged for all of your leading actresses to spend some time together in our company. The question I have to ask you is, what are you willing to let them go through before you tell me what I need to know?”
Jack looked at the picture, then turned and looked at his visitor. “They’ve been through worse in my pictures. Heck, they all played a part in that film you’re so interested in – so I don’t see why I should be concerned about what they’re going through right now.”
“How interesting. I had thought that attitude towards actresses died with the like of Louis B Meyer and his compatriots. However, you should know that your acting troupe are not the only people we have as visitors. Take a look at this.”
Jack watched as the camera transmitting to his computer panned to the left, and stopped at two women who were tied together, back to back, on the floor. One was wearing a white top and shorts, and the other a black silk blouse and leather trousers, and both were also gagged and blindfolded. Two masked and armed women were standing guard over them.
“Suzy? Charlie? Oh Christ, what have you done to my family! If you’ve hurt them in any way….”
“Calm yourself, Mr Hockney, for now they are quite safe. I do wonder, however, what would happen if we removed your wife’s blindfold and she saw who was sitting right opposite her.”
The camera panned still further to the left, to reveal a third woman facing Suzy, also bound and gagged with medical tape but only wearing a pink silk dressing gown. Of all the women, she was the only one who was not blindfolded,, and she was staring around with eyes full of terror.
“Cherry…… You bastard, what is it you want.”
“Mr Hockney, there is no need for such language. I only want three things, and then all will be returned and restored to as normal as things will get for you after this.”
“Yes. Firstly, I want the name and address of the person who gave you the story information for your latest release.”
Jack stood up, went over to a filing cabinet and pulled out a copy of a letter. He handed it to the woman,
“Here – and I hope you do to this idiot what you’ve done to me.”
She looked at the address on the letter, raised an eyebrow and folded it before placing it in her bag.
“Don’t worry – they will be dealt with. Secondly, I want your word that you will never attempt a film like that again?”
“And why should you trust me?”
“Because if you break that word, your wife gets a very full record of your activities last night, after we take her blindfold off. I understand she was going to see her lawyer today – do you wish to take a risk as to what she might do after she finds out about your latest exploits?”
Jack sat down, looking like a broken man, “What’s the third thing?”
“Sign this,” his visitor said handing him a sheaf of paper. “It is a bill of sale of Hockney Films to a new holding company. Don’t worry – you still get to make your films and sell them, but 25% of your gross earnings will now be taken by me. You can see it is all properly drawn up, and your secretary has already graciously agreed to act as a witness – all you need to do is sigh where it is indicated.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Then I suggest you wave goodbye to all nine women – they will be taken to a new life, and you will never see nay of them again. You will, however, have to explain to the authorities what happened. So, will you sign?”
Jack looked at the picture on the screen, which was now continuously panning across all nine women. Grabbing a pen, he signed and passed back the contract.
“Excellent – thank you very much, Mr Hockney. My associates will be in touch in due course.”
“What about the women?” Jack asked as the visitor turned the screen off.
“They will be returned to their homes – I suggest you start thinking of excuses for what happened, and for the police. Goodbye, Mr Hockney – pray that I never need to visit you again.”
The visitor stood up and walked calmly out of the office. Jack sat stunned in the chair, until he heard a thumping noise coming from a nearby room. Remembering his secretary and the security guard, he stood up and ran to the source of the noise.
Charlie and Suzy Hockney had no idea what was going on. At first, they had thought it was a simple robbery, but then they had been taken somewhere and stayed in a room. More rope had been used to tie them back to back, and they had sat there for – well, neither of them had any idea, but they knew they weren’t alone. Then they had been released from the ropes around them, picked up and driven somewhere else, where they had been left on a floor.
“Neither for you move for thirty minutes,” a female voice had said, and then they were left in silence. Charlie had moved herself across the floor until she had hit something, and a soft grunt told her that she had found her mother.
With some difficulty, they moved around so that they could feel each other’s hands, and Suzy started to pick with her fingers at the knot that held the rope around her daughter’s arms. It was a sloe, painful process given they were both still blindfolded, but eventually Charlie felt the ropes start to give and she worked her wrists free. Moving down the floor by sliding herself down, Suzy managed to find the knot that held the ropes around Charlie’s elbows, and picked at that.
Soon after, the blindfold was removed from Suzy’s eyes and she saw her daughter looking at her with the gag still in her mouth. Working quickly, Charlie untied the rope around her mother’s arms and the two women held each other tight. Removing their gags from their mouths, Suzy simply said “I think we need to have a serious word with your father, don’t you?”
Charlie simply nodded.
The private jet was waiting on the tarmac as the limousine drew up.
“Thank you for all of your help, Madeline. I do not think we will be troubled by Mr Hockney again.”
“Thank you for visiting us, Madame. I also have been asked by our helpers to thank you for allowing them to visit the homes of the six girls before they took them back – they profited handsomely from their finds.”
“Please thank them again on my behalf, Madeline. Now, if you and Susan will excuse me, we have a long flight ahead of us. Penelope?”
The two women boarded the jet, which quickly made its way to the runway and took off into the haze of the sun. Madeline and Susan watched as it became a speck on the horizon, and then disappeared.
“So, Susan, what are your plans for this evening?”
“Clint and I are going to see the latest Downey movie – care to join us?”
“Thank you, but no – I have some papers to review with regards to Hockney Films. Enjoy your evening, Susan.”
The two women drove off in the limousine, and quiet descended over the airfield.