On The Shop Floor
The tall, thin woman strode through the entrance hall of the non-descript building and approached the desk at the far end of the entrance hall. She wore a black jacket and skirt with a thin grey stripe, a black silk blouse and three inch heel pumps, her long black hair falling down her back and shoulders.
“Miss Dominique – I was not expecting to see you today.”
“Good morning, George – Madame asked me to call and see her.”
“Of course – go straight up,” the uniformed doorman said as Dominique headed for the private elevator. She smiled as the doors closed and it moved swiftly up, opening on the office headquarters of Madame X.
She smiled as she looked at the blonde haired woman.
“Lily – I was asked to drop in. Something about an assignment?”
“Oh, the shop floor program – I had my turn last week.”
Dominique raised an eyebrow as Lily said “Don’t worry – it’s not as bad as it sounds. Penny’s in her office with her – go right on through.”
Shaking her head, Dominique headed for the double doors and knocked before opening them. She found the dark haired head of the organization sitting at her desk, her assistant Penny by her side as she signed some papers.
“Ah, Dominique,” she said in the voice of power and subtlety, “come in. I think that is everything, Penelope – will you ask her to join us in ten minutes.”
“Her,” Dominique thought to herself as Penny walked past, whispering “Good luck” as she did so.
“Please, be seated,” Madame X said as she indicated the chair on the other side of her desk.
“Thank you, Madame,” Dominique said quietly. “I believe you have a new assignment for me?”
“Indeed,” Madame said as she sat back and looked at her head of security. “How long has it been since you were in Geneva?”
“A few years – is that where you wish me to be?”
“Indeed,” Madame said with a smile. “There is a certain diplomat there who has access to information I require for a future endeavour. How familiar are you with the situation in Mazengwe?”
“Only what I read in the papers and see on television.”
“So less than half the story,” Madame said with a smile. “This diplomat works at the Mazengwean embassy, as an assistant to the UN ambassador, but what I desire are the documents in her private safe at home – well, that and the stack of diamonds that she is known to store there to meet certain untraceable diplomatic expenses.”
“Sounds like something I can do for you – I will leave immediately.”
“One moment, Dominique. I wish you to take someone with you from the office. All my senior staff are required to help those with limited experience gain – I believe the phrase used to me was ‘time on the shop floor’.”
“I see,” Dominique said, “and who will this person be?”
There was a knock on the door, and a young woman in a grey suit and white blouse came in. “You asked to see me, Madame,” she stammered, before her eyes widened as she saw Dominique sitting there.
Dominique looked at her new partner and shook her head. Of all people for Madame to lumber her with Charlotte Gordon was probably the worst. How she’d ended up in the organization Dominique could never understand. Charlotte was 23, born and raised in Johannesburg, with light red hair and freckles that spoke instantly of her Scottish ancestry. She wore little makeup and that red hair she never ever fussed with, other than to pull it back into a ponytail.
That Charlotte knew her way round computers was self-evident, but Dominique doubted that she’d ever handled a gun in her life. Office rumours had it that Charlotte was some sort of expert on diamonds, but Dominique dismissed that. No, Charlotte was one of Madame’s projects, and it was just her bad luck to be the one to have to take her out in the field under the new ‘job experience scheme’.
“With due respect, Madame, is Charlotte the right person for this task?”
Madame X raised an eyebrow, and said “Dominique, I ask you to trust me on this.”
Bowing her head, the tall woman said “as you wish.”
“Excellent – Penelope has your tickets, travel documents and the briefing documents. Your flight leaves Terminal 5 at four tonight - good luck.”
Dominique nodded and stood up, indicating Charlotte should follow her out of the office. “Go home and pack – one carryon bag, and bring suitable clothing for a raid. I will meet you at the Costa Coffee at the departure side of Terminal 5.”
“Of course – and thanks,” Charlotte said as she went off, Dominique shaking her head. “Last thing I need on this is to babysit someone,” she said to herself, “but as Madame requests, I do…”
If she had had time to read the young South African’s personnel file, Dominique may not have made such a snap judgment. Charlotte was a graduate of the University of the Witswatersrand’s mining engineering department. Her late father had been a consulting mine engineer, travelling all over Africa for work and dragging his daughter along with him. She might look scrawny and that a good breeze might blow her down, but underneath her shell was a self reliant, and confident lady who did indeed know diamonds.
Yes, she had no practical criminal experience, and in London she hid behind a girly girl mask, but she was not quite the liability Dominique imagined.
When Dominique arrived at Terminal five, she soon found Charlotte waiting for her, wearing a blue denim jacket and jeans with trainers and a black t-shirt underneath.
“Slightly better for our purposes on this trip,” Dominique said as she slipped a passport and boarding pass out of her bag and handed it to her. Looking at the documents, Charlotte smiled and said “thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet – let’s get through to the boarding area and on the plane. I hate these short hop flights…”
“Oh I don’t know – I used to enjoy it when we flew over the Savannas.”
“You grew up in Africa?”
Charlotte nodded as they cleared security. “I think that’s why Madame wants me to accompany you – special knowledge and all that. Besides, it’s good to get out of the office occasionally – IT support can only offer so much.”
Dominique looked more closely at Charlotte, before saying “Well, it is your first time, so you follow my lead and do exactly what I say, understood?”
Charlotte nodded as they headed for the departure gate.
The train ride from Geneva airport to the main terminus was mercifully short, as they stepped out of Gare de Cornavin into the main town square.
“We have reservations at the Novotel,” Dominique said as she started to walk across the square, Charlotte following behind as she looked round. “Once we check in, we’ll find somewhere quiet and discrete to eat, and we can discuss the assignment.”
An hour later, Dominique and Charlotte were sat in a booth in a small restaurant. It had been recommended by the hotel concierge, who had seen the two women and jumped to the wrong conclusion – one Dominique was not about to dispel.
“This is the target,” Dominique said as she passed a photograph to Charlotte, “her name is Nyanda Omagolla.”
She noticed a slight twitch as Charlotte held the photo, and said “Do you know the name?”
“In passing – she is attached to the UN delegation?”
“Correct – she has an apartment on the Rue Sismondi. She is driven from there to the UN and back by official car, so our only opportunity is to break into her apartment, or to surprise her as she comes home. It is in a communal block, so the issue becomes getting entry into the block itself.”
“There is another issue – internal security. If she is a diplomat, bet you pound to penny she has a sophisticated alarm system.”
“Too sophisticated for you?”
“I have some equipment that will help locate bugs, and we get her to switch the alarm off as soon as we enter.”
Dominique nodded – the girl had more to her than she realised. “Exactly – we have a two day stay planned, so tomorrow we do reconnaissance, then we hit tomorrow night. Did you bring the clothing for a visit?”
“I have a black jumper and leggings, and a balaclava in my bag.”
“Excellent – well, tomorrow we are sightseers in this fair city. For now, let’s eat and get an early night.”
The next morning found Dominique and Charlotte walking down the Rue Sismondi. They stopped at a small café, sitting outside and ordering two coffees as they watched the comings and goings.
A black Daimler came out of the car park for the apartment building and turned the corner, Dominique and Charlotte getting a glimpse of a dark skinned woman in a dark jacket and knee length skirt before the window was raised.
“That’s her,” Dominique said as the Daimler drove off, “so what do you think?”
“Looks like a single point entry phone with a keypad for residents,” Charlotte said as she looked across the road. “So we need the access code – not that difficult to get hold of.”
“Frequent use on a keypad will wear away the common numbers eventually. Also, people get careless – watch.”
The two women watched an elderly woman in a tweed coat come to the door, and then press a sequence of numbers.
“One top row, two middle, different, one bottom. All we need to do is spray some fingerprint powder on there and we can see the stickiest keys.”
“Leaving two possibilities – very claver. Where did you learn that trick?”
“University,” Charlotte said with a smile as she stood up and walked across the road, looking at the keypad and spraying some powder on it before she took a few notes on a pad.
“May I help you,” the concierge said as she opened the door and looked at the young lady.
“Forgive me – does Mademoiselle Delacleur live here?”
“No, I am afraid not.”
“Ah – forgive me, I have the wrong address.” She bowed to the elderly woman and walked across the road, Dominique standing and joining her.
“Got them – let’s do that sightseeing.”
Dominique looked out over the park to Lake Geneva, the water sprout rising high in the air, while Charlotte looked along the line of flags fluttering in the slight breeze.
As she turned back, she saw Charlotte looking at one flag in particular, black and green with a gold star in the middle.
father was murdered by the rebels in Mazengwe." Charlotte said as she looked
up at the flag of the strife ridden nation.
to hear that." Dominique said sincerely. "What about your mother?"
died giving birth to me."
Am I prying?"
shook her head and smiled. "No, not
really. It was five years ago now, but
it seems almost a lifetime past."
stood quietly for a moment, before saying "So how did you end up with
knew my father's work, she knew he'd fought hard to stop child labour in
diamond mines. When she heard of his death she had someone approach me. I
didn't have anywhere to turn, and Madame's organization seemed a place I could
make a difference."
do know that we are criminals?"
"Yes,” Charlotte said with a smile, “but often it is criminals who understand justice best. They had the right idea in the US when they made former outlaws marshals – they just chose the wrong people sometimes."
Dominique nodded as Charlotte turned to her. “You do know the girls in the office fear and respect you in equal measure? I mean, you’re the head of security, and yet you’re also this well known thief. How did that happen?”
“Long story,” Dominique said with a smile. “When you know how Penny got into her position, then you can ask me.”
“Challenge accepted,” Charlotte said as she turned round. “What now?”
“Lunch, then back to the hotel – I want to get to work before the young lady is driven back.”
The two women walking down the street did not attract a second glance from the other walkers. They both wore black jumpers and leggings, and while the taller wore a pair of knee length black leather boots, the smaller had on a pair of black sneakers. Black woollen hats covered their heads on top, and they both wore mittens, while each had a rucksack on her back.
They crossed the road and stood in front of the door to the apartment block, the smaller woman tossing a coin and catching it on the back of her hand. Looking at it, she put the coin away and tapped a sequence of numbers, smiling as she heard a click and the door opening.
“Good guess,” Dominique said as they walked in and up to the third floor, looking at a plain wooden door with a plate that said “Omagolla”
“Right,” Dominique said as she looked to the end of the corridor, “down to the car park, and we take up our positions.” They walked to the end and got into the elevator, reaching up to their hats as they did so.
Fifteen minutes later, the black Daimler swept into the car back, stopping by the lift as Nyanda Omagolla stepped out.
“Thank you – I will see you tomorrow at seven,” she said as she closed the door, the Daimler moving smoothly away as she opened her large purse and fished out a set of keys, standing in front of the elevator as she waited for it to arrive. The silver doors opened as she stepped in, only to gasp as she turned and saw the two masked women get in after her.
“Not a word, Madame Omagolla,” the taller woman said as she looked at her through the eye slits in her balaclava mask, “remain calm, and I won’t have to use the gun I have pressed into your side. Hand your purse to my colleague here.”
The dark skinned woman looked at the smaller woman, her eyes and lips the only thing visible under the black mask, and slowly handed her the purse. “You do know I am a diplomat,” she said as she turned back to the older woman.
“Yes, and I’m a supermodel during the day – now shut up and do as we say.”
The doors opened and the smaller woman checked the corridor was clear, before they walked Nyanda quickly down the corridor. Searching through the purse, she found a set of keys, opening the door and the three of them entering as a beeping sound started.
“Turn the alarm off, or I kill you now,” the taller woman said as she held her gun to Nyanda’s head. Nodding, she opened a panel at the side of the door and punched in a set of numbers.
“Now the silent alarm,” the woman said as she looked at Nyanda.
“You’ve done your homework,” she said as she typed in a second set of numbers, and a light turned green on the panel.
“Of course we have – we’d hardly be professionals if we had not.” Looking at the smaller woman, the armed intruder said “do the sweep.”
Nodding, the other woman took her rucksack off and removed what looked like a tablet, looking at the screen as she moved it round the hallway before moving to the main living area.
“Hands behind your back,” the masked woman with Nyanda said as she took her own rucksack off, opening it with one hand as she removed a length of rope.
“You are making a very grave mistake,” she said, but she moved her hands behind her back, clasping her hands together. Nyanda was taken by surprise as her hands were turned so that they were back to back, and then the rope pulled tightly around them, holding them firmly together as she felt the rope going round and between her arms.
“You are professionals,” she said as she wriggled her fingers.
“Main room’s clear - I found a couple of hidden cameras and bugs and neutralised them.”
“Good – check the other rooms,” the tall woman said as she pushed Nyanda into the open plan living space. “Stand still,” she said as they stood in the centre of the room, and she took a longer length of rope, doubling it over before she wrapped it around the African woman’s arms and pulled them into her sides below her chest.
“nggg,” she cried out as the rope went round her arms, above and below her chest, forcing her jacket open and revealing the wide collared white silk blouse. “You may have allowed me to take my jacket off, you know?”
“No, you keep it on,” the masked woman said as she pulled the rope tight, and then fed it under one arm, pulling it up as she took it around the back of Nyanda’s neck and under the other arm before tying it off. She tried moving with little success, as the masked woman said “Sit down – make yourself comfortable. You may be here for some time.”
“I should thank you,” she said as she sat at the end of a chaise longue. “May I know your name?”
“You may not,” the woman said as she knelt and picker Nyanda’s ankles up, crossing them before she bound them tightly together, the African watching with mild interest. As her legs were bound below her knees, she remarked “your style speaks of a well established person. Be assured when I find out who you are, I will give you the same respect in dealing with you.”
“Is that the same respect your father showed to his opponents,” the smaller woman said as she came into the room. “All found.”
“Ah – so you know who my father is?”
“General Omagolla, chief of staff of the Mazengwe armed forces. Please, do not be under the allusion that is a barrier to our work.”
“Then you are very brave, or very foolish, or both.”
“We’ll leave that for you to figure out, Miss Omagolla,” the tall woman said as she lifted her legs up and made her lie on the recliner. “Where do you keep your jewellery?”
“And if I do not tell you?”
“Then we tear the place apart – do yourself a favour, and save on the cleaning bill.”
Nyanda shrugged her shoulders, and said “In my bedroom – second drawer in the dresser.”
“Go,” she said to the smaller woman, before taking a cloth from her bag. “Time for you to be quiet – open wide.”
Nyanda looked up and closed her mouth firmly, the tall woman smiling as she said “Good plan – let’s see how long it lasts” as she pinched the young woman’s nose closed. They looked at each other for a few minutes, before Nyanda had to open her mouth to breath, allowing the masked woman to stuff the cloth behind her teeth.
“Don’t spit that out,” she said as she took a wide roll of white tape, tore a long strip off and pressed it firmly over her lips and dark skin, sealing the wad in place.
She watched as the masked woman tore off a second strip, and took two cotton wool pads from the bag. “Close your eyes,” she said, and as Nyanda did so she felt the cotton pads on her eyelids, and then the tape over her eyes.
Dominique smiled as she looked at the African woman, the two strips of white on her face, and said “Don’t struggle – lie still, and it can be a surprisingly pleasant experience” before she walked to the side of the room, and lifted a Klimt print off the wall, revealing the silver safe door behind it. It had a digital lock, but she smiled as she took out a small silver case and put it next to the keypad, pressing a button and standing back.
As Charlotte came in, holding up a velvet sack, she watched as the device slowly obtained the combination number.
“Present from a friend,” Dominique whispered in answer to the unasked question, before the display was filled, and she typed in the numbers, turning the handle and slowly opening the door as Nyanda lay still.
Looking inside, Dominique motioned form Charlotte to bring her rucksack over, and then very carefully lifted out several small bags, which she place carefully inside, before removing the other contents and placing them in her own rucksack while Charlotte put the other items in her bag. Motioning to the other girl, she walked quietly to the front door of the apartment, and opened it, looking to see if the corridor was clear.
Slipping out, they closed the door behind themselves, and then pulled their balaclava masks off, Dominique shaking her hair out as Charlotte ran her fingers through her red hair.
“Nicely done,” Dominique said as she fastened her rucksack and put it on her back, Charlotte doing likewise with hers. They then walked back down the stairs and out of the front entrance, returning on foot to their hotel.
“That was – different,” Charlotte said as she poured a glass of wine and handed it to Dominique. They were sat in their hotel room, as she opened her sack and took out the bags.
“Some nice jewellery here – should cover our hotel bill and air fares at least, but this is what I wanted to see,” she said as she emptied the other bags out onto the coffee table, the rocks glittering in the light.
“I’m going to shower,” Dominique said as Charlotte looked at the stones. By the time she returned fifteen minutes later, in a bath robe, the South African girl had sorted the stones into three piles.
"What are you doing?" Dominique asked with obvious curiosity.
"Sorting these by origin,” Charlotte said as she sifted through the last few stones, placing them in one of the three piles.
"You can tell that just by looking?” Dominique sounded amazed.
you've been dragged over enough mine sites you soon learn.” Charlotte smiled.
Dominique picked up one of the hard dirty pebbles and tried to see what
are what I expected to see." Charlotte indicated one of the piles.
"These are from the old Beyerskloof workings, deep in government held
territory. As a government operative, it
makes sense she would have these
“These though," she indicated the second pile these are from Mingwe, and that's deep behind the rebels lines.”
“So why would she have both government and rebel lines of supply?”
“Why not? Diversify and make as much as you can, seems to be the way with many of these countries.”
nodded as Charlotte sat on the bed, staring at the largest of the three piles.
"These, however," Charlotte breathed deeply, "aren't even from Mazengwe. They were mined in Burinda and that’s 800 clicks north."
"Now how the hell did they end up in the safe of Mazengwean diplomat?" Dominique asked.
"That is what I think Madame will want to know. Anything in those papers?”
Dominique shook her head. “No idea – my job is to bring them back, let others analyze them. Enlighten me – why would she worry most about that group.”
Charlotte stood up and walked to the window. “Bad enough these are being used to fuel the civil war,” she eventually said, “but Burundi – it was an area my father was particularly concerned about.”
Charlotte nodded. “What has Madame said about the diamonds?”
“Bag them separately and label them – our courier arrives at seven tomorrow, and he’ll take them to Basel. We meet with Madame at two tomorrow afternoon – share your concerns there.”
Looking at the three piles, Dominique then says “Are these blood diamonds?”
Turning, Charlotte nodded and said “almost certainly – what I don’t know is for which side, and why three sources?”
Madame X listened carefully to both Dominique and Charlotte in her office, the two women dressed in business attire once more.
“I share your concerns, Charlotte,” she finally said, “With luck, the documents Dominique brought back will give us more clues, but for now you have my gratitude for your help. You may return to your duties.”
“Thank you Madame,” Charlotte said as she stood and walked out. As the door closed, Dominique turned and said “I was wrong in my initial assessment of her – my apologies for that Madame.”
“Thank you,” Dominique said with a smile, “I feel she may prove most useful over the next few weeks. Her talents and knowledge may prove invaluable if my suspicions are correct.”
“Do I take it from this you are showing an interest in Mazengwe?”
“In a particular person or group of persons from that country, yes. Dominique, I wish for you to prepare for a visit to Susan in New York – I may ask Charlotte to accompany us as well. Would that be a problem now?”
“No Madame,” Dominique said with a smile, “no problem at all.”