Portrait Of A Lady - Part 6
I must have lost consciousness – the last thing I remember of that day, or indeed the next two days, were this woman standing over me with two young girls behind her. As this was happening, however, others were discussing what they could do...
January 1st 2000, 7 pm
“The Council is in total agreement with you on this, number 17 – this does indeed seem a most egregious attack on a contact in good standing. Our only question is why we should assist you in whatever action you decide to take.”
Sandy looked at the assembled group. “Fellow members, I have to make this perfectly clear – the man we believe to be behind this attack is not only after Madame – I also will be on his list, so to find her is to protect a member of this Council. More importantly, however, he has committed an act of aggression against members of the Association in good standing - one has been captured, and it is a debatable question as to whether or not he is still alive.
“I only ask the Council to approve assistance in locating Madame X and offering assistance. Other resources have been put on locating the base of operations of this man, although any assistance that can be given there would be useful as well. I remind the Council of their promise when we first started operations to Madame. It is time for that promise to be fulfilled.”
Outside the meeting room, Maddie was sitting on a sofa, looking straight ahead and wondering what was going on inside. A door to one side opened and a tall, well built man with greying hair came in. He turned to Maddie and walked over, holding her as she stood up.
“I’ve placed a few calls with some old contacts – we’ll find this man,” John said as he sat next to Maddie. “How are you coping?”
“Barely – Sandy is in there now talking to the Council, and George is keeping a discrete watch on the premises. The others have been told to scatter and wait for instructions – all except one.”
John nodded as the chamber door opened and Sandy came out. “We’re going to do all we can to locate her,” she said as she walked up to the other two. “I just hope she’s all right. John, what have you found out?”
“Nothing yet – but I may have a lead soon on the one person Maddie was just referring to.”
When I finally came to, I found myself lying on a cot bed, in a small box room. At first I thought he had found me, but there was nothing restraining me, and I could heart laughter from elsewhere. I tried to sit up, but a great wave of nausea came over me and I fell back down again...”
January 3rd 2000
The door opened, and through her half closed eyes Madame could see a woman walk in, carrying a tray with a bowl on it.
“Well now, I see you’ve finally joined the land of the living again,” she said as she set the tray down and sat on the bed next to Madame. “Just lie back and relax, you’ll not be disturbed here.”
“Where... Where am I,” she said in a deep, dry voice.
“You’re in the spare bedroom of our house. When Suzie and Jenny told me they had found you in the shed, I thought you were going to die. What happened to you?”
“A fight,” Madame said as she started to sit herself up, wincing in pain as she did so. “Hey, hey – I may be a good nurse, but that wound was a nasty one. Whoever did this to you must have meant business.”
“May I know my angel’s name?” The woman looked at Madame and smiled. “I’m Carol Hutchinson. You’re lucky I found you – you nearly died, but the wound was a clean one. I do have one question, however.”
“Well, first thank you. Now, what is your question?”
“Tell me why I should not call the police right away.”
Madame looked at Carol for a moment, before saying “Carol, I can only ask that you trust me. If you involve the police, it may cause more problems than it solves. All I can say is, if you trust me and allow me to rest for a few more days, all will be well and I will make sure you are rewarded for your troubles.”
Carol looked at the tin, dark haired woman lying there, before saying “all right – I brought you some soup, if you feel up to eating it.”
“Thank you,” Madame said as she forced herself to sit up and waited for the tray to be put on the bed. As this was happening, a ten year old girl, the spitting image of Carol came into the room.
“This is Jenny, my oldest daughter. Jenny, this is...”
“Shirley,” Madame X said as she smiled at the young girl. “I understand it is you I have to thank for finding myself here.” The girl hid behind her mother and looked round, smiling as she did so. “Thank you, Jenny,” Madame said with a smile, “Please, sit with me while I eat.”
“Sandy, I may have a lead. Not on Him, but on the turncoat, Jack. Can you meet me in an hour?”
Sandy simply said “yes” before cutting off the call and dialling another number. “Maddie? It’s Sandy – gat a couple of the boys and meet me here in 45 minutes. We may have a lead on things.”
January 4th 2000
He looked down at Robert as his head slumped forward and shook his head. “Such a waste,” Master said as he walked out of the room, where Jack was standing waiting for him.
“What news do you have for me?”
“I went back to where I stabbed her – there was a faint blood trail leading to a housing estate nearby. I think I know where she may be hiding out, but I cannot be certain.”
“Do not let that concern you, my friend – I have another assignment for you at any rate. I will take care of this meddlesome woman myself. Do you have an address?”
Jack handed Master a slip of paper, which he read quickly. “Very well – I will call you when you are needed,” he said as he walked down the corridor. Jack lit a cigarette as he walked in the opposite direction, out of the door and into the courtyard of the farmhouse where Master had made his base of operations.
Walking briskly over to his car, he climbed in and set off down the lonely farm road, turning onto the main road as he headed towards town. It took him an hour to return to his flat, parking outside and heading to the door.
“Excuse me – do you have a light?”
Jack turned and saw a well dressed, broad shouldered man standing there with a cigarette in his hand. “Yeah, sure,” Jack said as he reached into his pocket and drew out a lighter.
“Thanks,” the man said as he leaned forward to allow Jack to light his cigarette – only to drop it to the ground as Jack fell forward, stunned by the cosh which had hit him from behind. Sandy looked at him as John Jacobs picked him up.
“Let’s go,” she said as a van pulled up, “We need to have a little chat with him.”
“I believe that you need to Go Fish.”
Suzie laughed as she and Jenny played with Madame in her bed, while their mother was working downstairs. They were both wearing blue t-shirts and jeans, and enjoying the game. The doorbell rang, and Carol popped her head round the door, the sleeves of her blouse visible as she held the door.
“There are two men at the door – could you watch the girls while I see what they want?”
“Of course, Carol,” Madame said in her deep clear voice. Carol smiled as she closed the door to and left the young girls with Madame. “Do you have any nines,” Jenny said as they could hear their mother opening the door.
“Can I help you?”
“Police, Mrs Hutchison,” a male voice said, and Madame froze in her bed. “Is something wrong, Shirley,” Jenny said as she looked at their guest. Madame listened as the voice continued “We’re interviewing people in the area about a disturbance nearby – may we come in.” They heard their mother saying “Of course,” the door closing and then a muffled call.
“Girls, why don’t we play a different game,” Madame said as she sat herself up. “Jenny, close the door. Suzie, is there anything in that walk-in cupboard?”
“No, Shirley – why, are we going to play hide and seek?”
“Yes – yes we are,” she said as she stood up and Jenny walked back. “I want the three of us to hide in that cupboard, and to be as quiet as we possibly can. Whoever stays quiet the longest will win a special prize. Does that sound like fun?”
The two girls nodded as Suzie opened the cupboard doors and Jenny helped Madame to walk over. As they did so, she could hear noises downstairs, but said nothing to upset the girls as the three of them sat on the floor and Jenny pulled the doors closed behind them. “Remember,” Madame whispered, “as quiet as church mice, whatever happens. Someone may come looking for us, and we don’t want them to do that, do we?”
“Wake him up.”
Jack flinched as the bucket of ice cold water was thrown at his face. As he opened his eyes, he saw Sandy standing in front of him, dressed in a blue boiler suit, with a man he did not recognise standing nearby.
“Hello, Jack,” she said without smiling, “I guess you know why I invited you to join me here today.”
Jack tried to stand up, but the leather straps holding his arms to the chair prevented that. “We have a lot to talk about Jack, but let us do everything in their proper order. What happened to Madame X?”
“That little tart? The same thing that is going to happen to you if you don’t let me go...”
“That,” Sandy said as two masked men walked forward, “was regrettable and uncalled for. My colleagues here would like to teach you some manners before we talk again.”
The room door opened, and through the slats in the cupboard doors Madame could see a man come in and walk round, looking at the room. The two girls sat beside her looked up, and she put her finger to her lips to indicate they should stay quiet. Eventually, the man turned and walked out, shouting “No sign here” as he did so. “Let’s stay here in case he comes back,” Madame said as the girls cuddled into her. She put her arms around them, making sure they were all right as she listened for any sounds from within the house.
Eventually they heard the door close, and Jenny very carefully pushed the door open. As the two girls walked out, Madame slowly stood up and came out herself. “Girls, will you please stay here,” she said as she walked to the door. “I will go and see what the men you heard wanted, and will call you down when your mother wants you to come. Please, stay here until I say so.”
“All right, Jack, let’s try this again – where is Madame X?”
The man grinned at Sandy as she stood over him. “I’ll tell you where I think she is, but it won’t do you much good. He is on his way there now.”
“Tell us, and you might live to see another day. Don’t and I leave you to the tender mercies of my friends.”
“All right – a house on the Broadwater estate. 27 Hercies Road.”
“Watch him,” Sandy said as she walked out of the house, the tall man following her. Maddie met them in the corridor.
“Come on,” Sandy said as she stripped off the boiler suit and grabbed a leather coat. “I think we know where she is.”
Madame slowly opened the door to the front room and looked in. The room was darkened by the curtains across the windows, but she could see Carol lying on the couch as she looked over at her.
“My god,” Madame said as she walked over and gently drew the rolled up napkin out of her mouth. “You should have just given me up Carol; you did not have to do this.”
“You had the girls upstairs,” Carol gasped as she sat up, “and they are the most important thing to me. Are they safe?”
“Yes – I told them to stay up there,” Madame replied as she looked at the twine around Carol’s wrists. Tied over the cuffs of her blouse, it had been run down to her legs, and tied over the ankles of the mid length black leather boots she was wearing over a pair of slacks. “Did they threaten you?”
“They tried, but they didn’t harm me. Just tied me u, and then gagged me. Shirley, who were they?”
“The men who tried to kill me,” Madame said as she stood up. “I’ll get a pair of kitchen scissors to cut you free.” Carol nodded as her house guest walked off to the rear of the house.
An hour later, the four of them were sitting in the front room; the curtains open to the world as if nothing had happened. The two girls were happily watching a Bratz video, while Carol was nursing a mug of coffee with a liberal application of brandy. Madame had cleared way the twine and cloth, and was sitting in a pale blue dressing gown watching the girls when the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it,” Carol said with a look to Madame as she stood up. She closed the door to the front room and walked to the main door, picking up a shillelagh from the hallway as she did so.
Waiting at the door was a young, dark haired woman in a leather coat. “Good morning, Madam,” she said to Carol as she stood there, “We’re conducting a survey in the area, and wondered if you had a few moments to answer some questions.”
“It’s not really a good time at the moment,” Carol started to say, but the woman stopped her. “If you would just take a look at this,” she said as she handed Carol a clipboard. She looked at the card fixed to it, before saying “Perhaps I can spare a few minutes. If you would like to come in?”
“Very kind,” the woman said as she walked in, Carol closing the door behind her. “Where is she,” was the next thing she said as Carol indicated the front room.
As the door opened and I saw Sandra come in, the wave of relief that washed over me was enormous. It was just such a horrible tragedy that the next few days would bring so much grief and pain...