Portrait of A Lady - Chapter 2
When I left these musings, we had moved into a period when my “master” had decided to kidnap innocent women, just from the street, to feed his own wish to break into new markets as well as his own influence. This disturbed me – in a way I cannot explain, as by then I had resigned myself to having to live this life. As the years passed, I realised just how widespread such activities were, as he took Sandy, Maddie and I to new places to find new stars, as he put it.
While I could see the obvious profit, it disturbed me. Of course, by this point I had realised how my father had earned a vast amount of his fortune, but I also knew he had had some scruples, picking only targets who could afford to lose some of their wealth. This was indiscriminate, uncontrolled, and could easily land us all in trouble.
Unknown to me, there were changes afoot in my family as well, although I was not to learn what happened until much later...
The small group made their way out of the church, talking quietly amongst themselves. Near the church doors, a small woman was standing talking with a man dressed in black.
“I am sorry for your loss,” she said as she held his hands in hers, “I know she never really recovered from Shirley’s death.”
“Thank you, Margot,” the man said in reply, “I appreciate your support. In a way, I am glad she is now at peace.”
The grey haired woman nodded as she let go of his hands and walked off. She was followed by a tall, broad shouldered man who grasped the hand offered to him.
“John - thank you for coming. I know Edith wanted you to be here.”
“Of course – if there is anything I can do?”
“Thank you, but I will cope. I heard you were thinking of a change of career.”
The tall man rubbed his greying hair. “It’s true – this is a young man’s game, and I’m getting too old to do this too often. I’m going to go legit – slowly, but it will happen. First, though, I’m going to take a long deserved holiday.”
“It’s been a long time since I went to Paris – I think I’ll head there for a few days next spring. I need to set up a few things in my new business first.”
John let go of the hand and walked off, talking quietly to Margot who had been waiting for him. The man sighed and turned to talk to other guests, as the cars parked nearby drove off.
“He wants to see you, right now.”
Shirley looked up at Robert as he stood in the doorway, sighing as she put her magazine down. She stood up, straightening her tight black skirt, and looked at her friend.
“What does he want this time – another session?”
“No idea – Maddie and Sandy have been summoned as well, and I’m coming too. I think he has another trip in mind.”
Nodding at Robert, Shirley walked down the corridor, her heels clicking on the stone floor, before stopping outside a heavy wooden door. Knocking, she waited until Master said “Come in,” and opened the door.
Maddie and Sandy were already inside, sitting in front of the large mahogany desk that Master sat behind. They were wearing grey dresses with flat shoes, and had worried looks on their faces as Master stood up.
“Shirley, Robert, thank you for joining us. I have been asked to arrange for a custom video to be shot, and I require the help of all four of you to arrange suitable subjects. You will travel with me today to ensure I have you readily to hand.”
“May I ask a question?”
Master looked at Shirley, who said “Master” with an emphasis he found displeasing. “You may ask.”
“Where is this event to take place?”
“You will find out soon enough. Robert, please prepare all three girls for transport.”
“My apologies, ladies,” Robert said as he picked up three sets of handcuffs from a table. “You need to be cuffed, silenced and blindfolded for the trip.”
Shirley nodded as the other two girls joined her, facing Master as they placed their hands behind their back. Shirley silenced her grunt as the metal was fastened around her wrists, before opening her mouth to accept the rubber gag which Robert gently placed between her teeth, biting down as he fastened the straps either side of the external pad behind her head. Once Maddie and Sandy had been similarly secured, he placed a sleep mask over their eyes, before stepping back as tow further guards came in.
“Take them to the transport and secure them in place,” they heard Master say as they were led off, Robert following behind.
How long they travelled for, they had no idea, but when eventually the blindfold was removed from Shirley’s eyes she found herself in a well lit, large bedroom, with Sandy and Maddie sat next to her on a bed. “How are you feeling?” Robert asked as he removed the gag and wiped Shirley’s mouth.
“Better for that, thank you,” she said as he moved on to release the other girls. As they stood up and rubbed their wrists, the door opened and Master came in.
“Good morning, ladies,” he said, “and welcome to France. I trust you enjoyed your journey?” The three of them stared back, their faces blank. “Well, now, to work – you have three targets selected to participate in this film shoot – their details are here.” He threw a small manila folder down on the bed. “Robert has arranged transport, and will take you to collect them, while I take care of some other business.
Maddie picked up the folder and looked at the contents. “Mother and daughters? Not your usual ploy, Master.”
“As I said, this is a special request. You will collect them at 07:00 tomorrow – until then, enjoy the room.”
Through the darkened windows of the van, Shirley looked out at the terraced house next to them.
“Why these three, Robert?” she asked the man sitting next to them. He smiled as he checked the gun he was carrying – Shirley’s voice always made him feel special, appreciated, loved, unlike many he had dealt with.
“No idea – he left with the others before we did, saying something about getting the rest of the crew together. Any questions?”
All four were dressed in black jumpers and trousers, with leather gloves on their hands and hats covering their hair. “Nope,” Maddie said as she put on a pair of dark sunglasses, “Let’s just get this over and done with. I don’t like the way we have to do this anyway.”
“Patience, Maddie,” Shirley said as she opened the door, “I hope this will soon all be over.” The four quietly stepped out of the van, checking nobody was watching as they walked to the door of the house and rang the bell. The door was opened by a small, plump woman in a grey short sleeved dress, who said “May I help you?” The response was for Robert to push her back into the house, his hand over her mouth and his gun pressed to her temple, as the three girls came in and quietly closed the door.
“Go,“ Robert said as he looked at them. “Ten minutes, no more and no less. I’ll take care of the maid.” Sandy nodded as the three women ran into the kitchen, throwing the door open as Maddie shouted “Nobody Move!!”
The youngest girl, a sixteen year old wearing a white blouse with a checked pinafore dress, stopped with her hand in midair, while her mother stared at the three arrivals from the cooker. She was wearing a padded jacket of white silk, with brass buttons, and a matching A-line skirt, while seated at the breakfast bar was a twenty year old blonde girl wearing a white jumper, jeans and short suede boots.
“All three of you,” Sandy said as Shirley closed the door, “Stand up, walk into the centre of the room and stand with your backs to us, hands on your heads. Do as you’re told, and nobody gets hurt.” The two younger women looked at their mother who slowly put down the pan she was holding and turned off the heat underneath. Nodding to them, she made her way to where Shirley was removing three lengths of white cord from her pocket, and stood with her hands on her head as she was joined by her daughters.
Quickly, quietly, Shirley made the mother bring her hands round behind her back and crossed them, wrapping the rope around and between until they were firmly secured together. As she moved on to the older daughter, Maddie tore a strip of silver tape from a roll and smoothed it over the older woman’s lips, both girls repeating the process until all three were bound and gagged.
“Move,” Sandy said as she took the younger daughter by the arm and marched her towards the door, the others following behind. As they stepped out, Robert came into the corridor, and through the door behind him Shirley could see the maid lying bound and gagged on the floor.
“Let’s go,” he said as he opened the door and looked out. Seeing it was clear, he ran out and opened the side of the van, allowing the women to climb in before he closed the door and climbed into the driver’s seat. He had just set off, and was turning the corner when the sound of sirens started to become clearer.
Shirley looked up from where she had been securing the ankles of the younger girl and looked at Maddie. The mother glared at all three, a look of silent glee in her eyes. “Silent alarm,” Shirley said quietly as she sat back. “We got out just in time. If we had been less efficient, or delayed...”
“Let’s just get back to the location,” Sandy said, “You can ask HIM there.”
“How unfortunate,” Master said as Shirley stared across at him. “Thank goodness you were so quick.”
“Tell me, Master,” Shirley said with the voice that could melt stone, “why did your file on the family make no mention of this?”
“An oversight, nothing more,” he said as he stood up. “Your team are too valuable to me to lose in such a stupid way. You may go now, Shirley.”
As she stood up and walked out of the room, Shirley thought over her conversation, and decided it may be time to consider her move. She went down a corridor and opened a door, where the three captives from this morning were lying on mattresses.
“Please, stay calm, and do as we tell you,” she said as she checked the ropes that held them down. “We will be back shortly.”
As she closed the door, she stopped Robert as he walked by. “Did you find out what the others were doing today?” she asked gently, but to her surprise Robert looked back at her with a look of concern. “It’s best you don’t ask,” he said as he walked past. “I’ll come and talk to you later.” She looked at his back as he continued to walk past, before turning in the opposite direction and walking towards a door at the end of the corridor. As she opened it, she found a flight of steps going down, and heard muffled sobs from the bottom of the staircase. Slowly, she walked down the first few steps, and looked into the room below. As she came back up, closing the door behind her, the look on her face was determined and focused.
Maddie was staring at Shirley, while Sandy sat down with a thump as they heard the tale of what she had seen.
“Twelve – no older than six, I reckon. From their clothes, pupils at a private school. This,” Shirley said as she thumped the table, “is the final straw. I have a horrible feeling we were meant to have been caught today, to divert attention from whatever he was planning.”
The trio fell silent as the door was opened, but relaxed as Robert came in. “He’s in a revolting mood,” he said as he closed the door, “almost as if something had not gone according to plan.”
“I don’t think it did,” Shirley said with a sigh, “I very much fear we were not meant to have come back this morning. Robert, I’ve seen the cellar.”
The tall man looked at the three young women, before saying “I only found out from one of the others later. They hijacked the bus and brought them here – I understand the ransom notes have already gone out.”
“What are we going to do – this time the French police are going to be after us.”
Shirley sat in thought, then said “I think the time has come to find new employment. I need to know if you three are with me.”
All three looked at Shirley and nodded. “Excellent,” she said, “Robert, you are going to be key to this. Do you have any idea what he wants to do with the family we collected today?”
“I think he wants them returned – they’re no good to him, and I know for a fact there is no film equipment here.”
“Very well then – Robert, when he gives the word say we will do the return, and then I need you to do two other things...”
The mother raised her head as the door opened. “Come,” Shirley said as she started to untie their legs, “We’re taking you to a release point.” Helping all three to their feet, she guided them out of the room and down the darkened corridor to where Maddie was waiting by the door.
“Inside,” she said as the side of the van was opened. As the three climbed in and sat by the side, Shirley, Maddie and Sandy climbed in as well, while Robert closed the doors and started the engine.
“Do you trust me?” Shirley said as the van set off. The mother looked at her two daughters, and then nodded. “I am truly sorry this has happened to you today,” she continued as she peeled the gag away from the mother’s mouth, “but you will be free soon. I do need, however, to put all three of you to sleep for a little while. You will be safe, I promise you. Do you understand?”
As the older woman nodded, Sandy soaked a cotton pad in her hand with ether. “Thank you,” Shirley said as the pad was pressed over the nose and mouth of the older woman. As the daughters were also put to sleep, Maddie removed her glasses.
“No going back now,” she said as they heard police cars going past, their sirens wailing.
“Indeed not,” Shirley said with a sigh. “Whatever happens, however, we will face it together.”
“We abandon this van, and get some new clothes somehow.”
“Good idea,” Robert said as he pulled into the side of the road. “Here’s as good as anywhere, but we need to get clothes for you before we move on. I have an idea – if you are up a little larceny first.”
Opening the side door, the three women stepped out to find themselves in a suburb, a number of tree lined houses along the street.
“Where are we, Robert,” Sandy asked, and in response he pointed to the horizon. “Does that answer your question,” he said, and Maddie replied “It does indeed.”
“So what now,” Shirley said as she looked round.
“I’ve just seen someone go into that house over there,” Robert said as he pointed to a door a few yards away. “Why don’t we pay them a surprise visit and take things from there?”
The quartet walked down the street and slipped up the side of the house, looking out onto a rear garden as they heard voices coming from an open door.
“Ready,” Robert said, and the others nodded as they followed him round. “Good afternoon, Mesdames,” he said as he walked through the open kitchen door and pointed his gun at the two women sat at the table. “This is a robbery – kindly keep your hands where I can see them. Miss A,” he said as he looked at Sandy, “Check the rest of the house and make sure we are indeed alone here. Miss B,” he said as he looked at Maddie, “Start looking for any valuables or money you can find. Miss C – see if you can find some washing line or something.”
One of the two women, a red head in a floral print dress, stood up and said “What is the meaning of this?”
“As I said, this is a robbery, so I would ask you to sit down and shut up.” Shirley was impressed with Robert’s flawless French as the woman sat down. “I presume this is your sister?”
The other woman blushed – she was wearing a blue denim blouse with a knitted waistcoat and a long denim skirt. “I am, but how did you know?”
“I am an excellent judge of character. AH, thank you Miss C,” Robert continued as Shirley took two skeins of white rope from a cupboard. “Kindly use those scissors to cut the rope into appropriate lengths – we don’t want these lovely ladies to interrupt us while we rob them, not do we?”
Two hours later, the two women sat and looked at Shirley, Maddie and Sandy as they stood there. They had changed from their black clothing into a variety of outfits they had found in closets upstairs, and Shirley had in her hand a bag filled with other clothes. Andy had a small rucksack containing some jewellery and money. For his part, Robert was checking the knots that held the cotton napkins firmly in the mouths of the two women, while their bodies were held firmly to the chairs with ropes holding their wrists to the chair back, their ankles to the legs and their waists to the seat.
“Well, we must be going now,” Robert said as he took a set of car keys from the work surface. “Thank you for everything.” The four left, leaving the two women to try and struggle free from their bonds.
The next morning found all four sitting a little cafe near the centre of Paris, as Robert read the paper. “It would appear a gang of five men were arrested yesterday, after an anonymous tip off, and charged with kidnapping the twelve young daughters of various prominent Parisian citizens,” he said as he folded the paper and picked up his coffee cup. “There’s also a report inside of an armed gang that held two women captive while ransacking their house and stealing both jewellery and clothing. Not that we would know anything about either of those.”
Shirley smiled. “So, Robert, what will you do now?”
“Not sure – unlike you, I have my passport, but the contacts I have given you will eventually help with that. You’ll need to spend some time in Paris, however – how long I’m not sure. I may head back to Britain and see what happens.”
“Well, good luck, and thank you,” Shirley said as she stood up and shook Robert’s hand. Maddie and Sandy hugged him before he walked off into the distance. “So,” Maddie said as she picked up the paper, “What now?”
“Now,” Shirley said as she drained her cup, “We find a cheap apartment, and start to get in touch with these contacts. We need to plan how we are going to pay get back to Britain.”
“I’m not sure I want to go back,” Maddie said as she looked down the street. “First things first,” Sandy said with a smile. “It’s a glorious day – let’s go for a walk.”
As it was, it took longer than anticipated before we could make our next move – mainly because we found we enjoyed life in Paris. Over the next year or so, there were a number of robberies in houses and apartments in the area, and in all cases the victims noted two things. The first was that the intruders were women, the second that one spoke with a deep, rich voice. I had already realised that the way I spoke had a number of effects, which I intended to use in the future.
What I wanted to do most of all, however, was return home and put right the wrong that had been done to my family. I knew it was going to be difficult, given I was dead as far as they knew, but for the moment the three of us managed to live comfortable.
Then, about a year later, came the most unexpected of events...
The Champs Elysees was packed as Shirley walked down the street, enjoying the sunshine and looking in the shop windows. She was wearing a classic jacket and skirt, with her long dark hair flowing over her shoulders, and looked like the young French woman she had become over the last year. Gone were the worry lines and gaunt expression of her more recent past.
As she turned to cross the road, however, she bumped into a woman in her thirties who was standing there with her husband and two young children. The handbag the woman was wearing slipped off her shoulder and fell to the ground, but as Shirley bent and picked it up she screamed out “THIEF!!!”
“Calm yourself, dear,” the man said as he looked at his wife. “For one thing, you are upsetting Yvette and Madeline.” Shirley looked down at the two girls, who had tears rolling down their cheeks. “For another, she was only picking up your handbag, not stealing it.”
“Oh be quiet – she was stealing it and that is enough for me. I thought you would be more compassionate, especially after last week. Where is a gendarme?”
“Please, accept my apologies,” the man said a she gently took Shirley by the arm. “We were robbed last week, and my wife is still trying to get over the incident. I will smooth things over - please, leave now.”
“Thank you, monsieur,” Shirley said as she looked at the woman screaming for the police. For one horrible moment, she thought she had recognised her from the visit last week – after all, Maddie and her had left her bound spread eagled to her bed with a plaster gag over her mouth. As she walked away, she failed to notice a tall, well built man who had observed the altercation staring at her. He followed her at a distance as she made her way back to the flat she was currently living in.
“You’re joking – you bumped into Dupris?” Maddie had to stop herself from laughing. “Thank god she didn’t recognise you.”
“Even so, I think it is time to move on.” Shirley looked at the magazine that was lying on the coffee table as Sandy carried in a tray of mugs. “Perhaps we need to arrange those passports now?”
“Do you think it is safe to return to Britain now?”
“I’m not sure – perhaps Germany, or Greece.”
“Actually, I think you do need to come back to Britain – and quickly.”
The male voice took them by surprise, and the three women stood up suddenly to look at the man who had slipped in unnoticed. He was tall, broad shouldered and with greying hair at the temples, and was staring in particular at Shirley.
“Shirley, do you know this man,” Maddie said as she looked at her friend. For her part, Shirley was standing there in a state of shock.
“Given she used to bounce on my knee, I think she does – but we thought you were dead. It is you, isn’t it, Shirley?”
Sandy and Maddie looked at Shirley, as she quietly said “Uncle John?”
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