Portrait of A Lady - Part 9

 

 

 

 

 

I could hear the hush fall over the room a sI entered - a memory that stays with em to this day.  It had been a few months, and they were anxious to know what plans I had in place.  Taking a deep breath, I stood up and addressed the room.

 

“Good morning to each and every one of you.  First of all, I wanted to thank you for your loyalty to Madeline and myself during this difficult time.  I am told that you have all performed your tasks in an exemplary manner, and I commend you for that.”

 

The gathered group visibly relaxed as Madame X said this.  One of their great fears was that her time away would have made her harder, more of a taskmaster, but the real emotion in her voice told them differently.

 

“The infortuante events of the new year have passed, and it is time to mov eon and assimilate the results of those events.  Over the last few months, I have visited a number of sites owned by our former opponent, and have devised a strategy that I believe will lead to greater profit for us.

 

“There will, however, have to be some changes around here, in term so fthe way we are structured.  Firstly, I am no longer to take a front line role in our activities.”

 

The group gasped as Madame said this, only to relax once more as she continued “The organisation we have inherited has proven to be wider and more complex than even I had believed, and we need ot adopt a corporate structure to deal with this.  I willb e taking on an equivalent role ot that of Chairman of the Board, and I will seek to put in place a small group of trusted confidants ot act liek Directors.  Each of them will take on specific responbilities fo rone are of the organisation.

 

“I will still be involved in approving all major operations, but the day to day activities will be devolved to this group.  I am pleased ot announce that Madeline,” as she turned an dsmiled at Maddie, “will be the first of that group, and I will explain her new role to her later.

 

“Others will be appointed in due course, and a team structure will be built under them.  I am also going to be seeking new members of oru group, with the help of Sandra, to fill certain other key roles.

 

“To the outside world, we must establish the face of a modern, efficient trading organisation.  I trust and hope that each of you will play your part in this.

 

“To that aim, I will ask some o fyou to take on more administrative duties within this organisation.  In return, I will allow those staff to carry out freelance work, so long as that doe snto interfere with any plans we have now.

 

“thos efo you who remain on, to use a phrase, active duty will eb expected to work solely for this organisation.  Sabdra has arranged for thso eof you with active BA contacts to complete those terms, and then become full part of oru group.

 

“For all of you, however, we will isntiute a benefits program.  The legitimate businesses we have acquired will cove rtthe costs of such a program, and I vbelieve it is both well earned and well deserved by each and every one of you.

As the assembled company took this in, Madame continued.  “I have one further announcement to make - because of these changes, we must move fromt he informal arrangements we had in place to a more formal employment structure.  You will all be required to sign contracts, relevant to your role, and pass a security check.  If any of you have a difficulty with that, you have until 5 tonight to hand in yoru resignation, and you may leave, no questions asked.

 

“I will be in consultation with Madeline for the rest of the day.  Please, return to yoru desks and stations,a nd consider what I have said carefully.”

 

As she turned to leave the room, there was th esound of one person clapping, then another, then another, until the whoel room was appluauding.  She turned an dlooked at the group, with Maddie at the front, an dsimpyl said “Thank you” as she truned to walk out.

 

 

 

“Director - I like the sound of that,” Maddie said a sshe joined Madame X in her office.  “Who else do you have iun mind to fill those roles?”

 

“I have some thoughts, and I am sure you have some to share with me,” Madame said as she sat down.  “We cna discuss those soon - have there been any messages for me.”

 

“John rang - he would liek to come and see you, when you are ready to see him.”

 

“I would like that - please call him back and ask him to come tonight.  I also need you to make several phone calls for me, Madeline.”

 

“Who to?”

 

“I want to meet with the great and the good, and establish good working contacts with them.  It is important that we can learn to at least work alongside each other, if not exactly trust each other.”  She took a sheet of paper from a desk drawer and handed it over to Maddie, who looked at the names, her eyes widening as she read down.

 

“Some farirly powerful people here - who do you want to start with?”

 

“The Baron and the Baroness, I think - and then work from there.  I am also particularly keen to meet with Margot Harman - I feel she has a lot to teach me.”

 

“Is this part of yoru plan?”

 

“Very much so - to keep in the background is one thing, but to those who matter, it is important they know that I am in charge.  Now, let us share our ideas.”

 

 

 

Over the coming months, Madeline and I, with the help of Sandra, built an organisation as smooth and as complex as any legitimate organisation.  We established section heads, and under them a team of workers well suited to the task.

 

I was particularly pleased at the way Madeline took advantage of the orgaqnisationsal structure to lead the oversight of the businesses we ha dinherited.  Soem of those that The Master had run we shut down, a spainlessly as possible.  I wanted no truck with anything that placed younger children in danger, and also with anything involving narcotics.  Other areas, sucvh as smuggling and finance raising, we turned into a model of efficiency.

 

One thing was a fly in the oitnemnt, however - he had built up a number of business interests in America, and they needed a more hands on approach.  So it was, that one day in November 2000 I sat with Madeline to discuss a difficult subject.

 

 

Maddie sat down and corssed her legs, adjusting her skirt to cover her legs, as she looked at Madame X across the desk.

 

“Madeline - Maddie,” Madame said as she sta back, “You’ve been my strong right arm for years now.  I want you to know I will never forget the kindnesses you and Sandra have paid me over the years.”

 

“Maddie - you don’t usually call me, at leats not for a long time.  What’s wrong?”

 

“I’m not exactly sure if I would say something si wrong - but I need you to do something for me, something that you may not want to do.”

 

Maddie sat up as she ehard this.  “Come on, Shirley, we’ve known each other of rfifteen years.  I would do anything for you, and you know that.”

 

“Including leaving the country?”

 

Maddie sat back in her seat.  “What do you mean?”

 

“I need somebody to go to the United States and take charge of the organisation out there.  They wiull eb based initially in New York, but I think we need ot move ot a new base of operatiosn in the next year.  They would have complete control of the groups, answering only to me.”

 

Madame stood up and walked round the desk as Maddie also stood.  “Maddie, my dear odl friend, will you do this for me?  Will you become my eyes and ears in that country?”

 

“I... I don’t know what to say,” Maddie stammered, lost for words.  “Of course I will - but who will fill my role?”

 

“I have an idea for that - somebody John told me about.  A young woman with a very keen brain.”  Madame picked up a paper and handed it to Maddie.

 

“The Nottingham Evenign Post - a bit provincial.”

 

“Page 5 - read the article.”

 

Maddie turned to the page Madame mentioned, and looked at the headline.

 

DARING RAID ON MAPPERLY HOME

 

THREE WOMEN HELD HOSTAGE DURING DAYLIGHT JEWEL THEFT

 

Police are investigating a break in at a house in the Mapperly area of the city yesterday, when three young women were held hostage by a gang while they searched for jewellery and valuables.

 

The three women, who have not been named, were unharmed,d but are believe dto have been bound an dgagged during the ordeal, which lasted for three hours yesterday afternoon.  It is thought the gang gaine dnetry through the rear garden.

 

DEscriptiosn are hazy, with the only facts known been there were three females, dressed in grey.  Police...

 

Maddie looked up at Madame X.  “The China Dolls?  I’ve hear dfo them - wuite a reputation they are getting.”

 

“Yes - but the young person who has been advising them of their targets and approaches apparently wants a new challenge.  I have arranged for her to come tomorrow for an interview - would you be so kind as to conduct the discussion, and let me know what you think?”

 

“Any plans?”

 

“If you think she is suitable, there is a test that I think we can ask her to perform - see what you think s right.”

 

 

 

The lift doors opened and the young girl stepped out, looking round the open office area as she did so.  She was wearing a smart grey pinstripe jacket an dskirt, with a white camisole top underneath, and black patent leather shoes with dark thights.  She ran her fingers through her chestnut hair as she walked towards the receptionist desk.

 

“Good morning,” she said to the girl sittign there.  “The gentleman downstairs said I had to report here - I have an appointment with Madeline?”

 

“Penelope Harker?”

 

The girl turned to see a well dressed, blonde haired woman walking towards her, her hand outstretched.  “I’m Madeline - will you come with me please?”

 

The two women walked into a side office, and Penelope sat down on the opposite seat to the odler woman.

 

“Thank you for coming today,” Maddie said as she looked at a manila folder on her lap.  “Tell me, how did you hear of our organisation?”

 

“I have a friend - an older man I bumped inot while working one day.  He has acted liek a mentor for me, so when we met a few days ago and I mentioned I was looking for a change in career he said he could arrange something.  Then I got a call asking me to be here today.”

 

“That would be John - discretion is his middle name,” Maddie said with a light laugh.

 

“You know John Jacobs?”

 

“We are old friends - although he has known my employer of rmuch, much longer.”  Maddie took out the newspaper and handed it to Penelope, saying “I believe this was your work, Penelope?”

 

“Please, call me Penny - I don;t like my full name.”  She looked at the article, before looking back at Maddie.  “May I speak freely?”

 

“You may.”

 

“I di darranegt his, but I think the tiem has come for me to move on from my friends.  They are more than capable of carrying on without me - for example, although I selected this target, they planned and executed the majority of the hit themselves.”

 

“So you are interested in the planning more than the execution?”

 

“I didn;t say that - but I like to make sure everything is in place.  Why do you ask?”

 

“We’re looking for somebody to effectively act as a personal assistant, but to tak eon a much wider roel than would normally be expected from such a person.”  Maddie looked again at the files.  “I have a report here from number 17 - she speaks glowingly of you and your potential as well as your skills.  I’ve also spoken privately with John, and he is in agreement with her.”

 

“I thought I was being interviewed for a team member in this organisation?”

 

“And so you will be - but I think we can do better than that.  Woudl you excuse me a moment?  I’ll have one of my assistants brign you some coffee.”

 

Maddie stood up and left the room, leaving Penelope to wonder just what was going on.  A few moments later, a young girl in a white shirt and black leather skirt came in and handed her a cup of coffee, whiel through the open door she could see MAddie heading into another office, a pair of wooden doors closing behind her as she entered.

 

As she sat sipping her drink, Penelope looked otu at the people working in the office area.  To all intents and pruposes it looked liek a normal office - but she knew something more was going on here, something greater.

 

She sensed rather than heard Maddie return, and placed her cup down on the table.  “Would you come with me, please,” she said as she indicated the open doorway.

 

As she crossed the office area, she could feel eyes looking at her, sizing her up, but of rthe life of her she had no idea why.  As Maddie opened the door, however, she was ushered into a large office, at oen end of which was a large desk.  Satndign in front of the desk was a woman in he rlete thirties, dressed in a black silk gown, her dark hair flowing to her shoulders.  She looked at Penelope, and then extended her hand, saying “It is a pleasure to meet you, Penelope - I am Madame X.”

 

Penelope swallowed as she took the proffered hand and shook it.  “It is an honour, Madame - I have hear dso much about you.  I trust you are well?”

 

Madame looked at Maddie.  “I am recovering, thank you.  Madeline is impressed both by your resume and by your appearance today, and I have to say that I concur.”

 

She walked round and sat behind the desk.  “I wish to give you a test, Penelope.  If you pass, I have a position that I think will interest you.  Are you up for the challenge?”

 

“It depends,” Penelope said quietly, “on what the challenge is.”

 

Madame X smiled.  “Tell me, have you heard of Belle Epoch?”

 

“The diamond merchants?  I have, why?”

 

“I need you to take the place of a secretary there, and then await my call.  I will be visitng the establishment soon to obtain some additional funds I require - and I need yo uot be, to use th evenacular, the inside man.  Do you think you can do this?”

 

Penelope smiled.  “I believe I can do that for you, Madame - what would you have ne do?”

 

 

 

It is a matter of record that Peneloipe acquitted herself ina n exemplary manner, and accepted ym offer to become my personal assistant an dchief strategist.  In early 2001, Madeline relocated to New York, and I paid a number o fvisits to her - until the final one in September.

 

Soon after, she moved the head office of our organisation to California, and began to sit up a mirror orgainsation over there.  In her stead, Penelope proved a most effective administrator, organising the teams and taking a lead role in the planning of various campaigns we preformed.  The most famous of those was th subject of a speech I gave at the time to a charity dinner, which I believe was reported in the trade magazines at a later date.

 

It has been ten year snow that she has worked with me, and I have recently taken on a number of new staff members.  One in particular intrigues me - a young lady by the name of Lillian Harmond.  I believe Penelope sees something of herself in her - and I have to admit I agree.

 

Does this mean she is planning to move on?  I dearly hope not, but if that is the case I will not stand in her way.

 

As for me - I look otu at my organisation now, and I see only hope for a bright and prosperous future.  Penelope runs the office well, while Madelien does the same in the United States.  Dominique has trained a most effective security team, and I know we are prepared for any eventuality.

 

Whatever form that may take.

 

I’m looking again at the portrait of my ancestor, paitned by Gainsborough.  I never held a title, never met royalty, but I feel a link eith her that goes beyond names and formal arrangements.

 

After all, we both are ladies of sophistication, and I intend to remain that.

 

 

 

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