Annie sat quietly in the anteroom of Madame’s hotel suite, dressed in a cream blouse, knee length brown skirt and jacket. Since the events of the previous evening she had done a lot of thinking, and precious little sleeping. Her little hobby, as she had always thought of it, had suddenly become a desperately serious matter, with implications that would change her life forever. She had only wanted to get enough to buy the fashionable goods she desired, and now – well, she had her eyes open for the first time.
On the positive side, she had to acknowledge that Madame X and the people who served her were formidable and impressive. Dominique had been on the one hand commanding and calm, and on the other tender and gentle when it came to the girl called Ama. Charlotte, the redhead, was one of the most knowledgeable people she had ever come across – to be able to tell where a diamond came from just by looking at it was more than she could ever do. Susan – Susan she was still unsure of. She had been nice enough eventually, and her husband had driven her home, but still – she had robbed her as well.
On the negative side though, she knew now that her involvement in the criminal underworld could become the central part of her life, and she still wasn’t sure if that was what she really wanted.
“Blood diamonds and Slavery.” Annie thought to herself, those were both issues on which she knew she probably saw eye to eye with Madame and her staff on, but what role she could play in helping expose those responsible remained unclear to her. She was just a humble Math teacher, whose greed for some beautiful things in her life had led her into a life of crime, what good would she be in all this?
“Still,” she thought as she caressed her new boots, “I got to keep all that cash, and Madame has promised me a far better return on the jewelry then any fence ever did.”
Suddenly her thoughts were interrupted as a smartly dressed woman came out from the inner part of the suite.
“Madame will see you now Miss Kelly.”
“Thank you,” Annie said as she stood up and followed the woman in. Madame X was sat on a long couch, several papers spread out in front of her on a low table. She wore a long skirt, spilt up the side, an open necked black blouse and a folded scarf tied round her neck. Annie could see the style in the way she sat.
Opposite her sat Dominique, dressed in a black jersey dress and high heels. Annie began to wonder if they were judge and jury, when Madame said “Please, sit Annie,” indicating a chair at the end of the table. Her voice was calming, and it seemed to spread warmth through her.
“How are you feeling,” Dominique said as Annie sat down.
“Honestly – nervous and scared,” Annie said as she looked at both of them.
“Understandable – it was a trying night.”
“May I ask how Ama is?”
“She slept for hours,” Dominique said quietly. “Charlotte is with her now – she is from South Africa, and is best placed to hear her story. After that, she will be taken shopping - she requires a full wardrobe.”
Annie nodded at that – she had seen the squalor the young African girl had been forced to live in by the person she had ‘visited’.
“What happens after that?”
“We will take it one step at a time,” Madame said, “but this afternoon, we wish to talk about you. Firstly, may I compliment you on your choice of footwear?”
“Thank you,” Annie said quietly, “but I realize I am in somewhat of a – difficult position. I’m just a teacher, not a professional thief.”
“Indeed,” Madame said as she sat forward, “but you demonstrate remarkable skill in several areas. Dominique has testified to your athletic ability, and you have some taste and discretion in the items you do take.”
“On the other hand,” Dominique said, “you made some classic errors, and in choosing some of your targets you have left yourself vulnerable and in danger of capture from the authorities.”
“So I understand,” Annie said quietly “and I want to thank you for offering me protection. What I do not know is if this is what I wish to do all the time – I love teaching as well.”
“Well,” Madame said with a smile, “there is no reason why you cannot do both.”
“I don’t understand.”
“A good friend of mine is a consulting engineer, and also one of the finest jewel thieves the world has ever seen. Another is a renowned antiques expert, and a security consultant, but still occasionally practices his skills as a cat burglar. It is perfectly possible, with a little organization, to combine your career with the training to make you a better thief.”
“In fact,” Dominique said, “many of the skills - planning, control, and fast response to changing situations - are interchangeable. You may find yourself a better teacher as a result.”
believe you teach at St Angela's Academy?"
yes I do."
"Oh nothing I just have heard of the school from some friends."
Annie was amazed – it had never occurred to her that this might be possible. “So what would be involved?”
“”I have no doubt as to your physical agility and strength,” Dominique said quietly, “so for that part, I suggest a gym buddy – namely, myself.”
Annie smiled and nodded at that idea. “I can also teach you other skills – skills you will find useful. Alarms, scouting, how to be more effective in binding – things like that.”
Annie nodded again as Madame sat forward. “I am a strong believer in developing talent on both sides of the fence – and you are a talent, Annie. I would be willing to sponsor you and, with Susan’s help, guide your development. In return, you give a percentage of your takings to a fund of my choosing, and you check in with the local Burglar’s Association.”
“Our trade union,” Dominique said with a smile. “They offer a level of protection, as do we. Discretion guaranteed.”
“So, what do you say, Miss Kelly – will you accept our help?”
“It sounds tempting,” Annie said, “but what about our current situation?”
“Well, I was coming to that,” Madame said as she stood up, walked to a desk and picked up the telephone.
“Ask Susan and Charlotte to join us when they are available,” she said, and then replaced the receiver.
“Now, Annie, let us discuss your training schedule…”
Half an hour later, Charlotte came in with a slim Manila file. She smiled at Annie, before saying “Ama is sleeping again – her story corroborates our initial thoughts, however. It seems she has no remembrance of anything other than service, but she is highly intelligent – she taught herself to read.”
“Really? I am impressed,” Madame said as she looked at
we start Madame can I ask a few questions of Annie for our records
"Go ahead please Charlotte."
“Records?” Annie looked at the three women.
“We run our business like a company, Annie, so we keep personnel files. Proceed, Charlotte.”
Annie, you went to school in St Louis?"
Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School?"
that just one school?" Madame asked.
"From there to Brown University, high honors in Math."
Annie nodded again.
"Then to teaching at St Angela's where you've been two years?"
both dead, no siblings."
sorry to hear that" Madame added. "When"
"My mother just last year from breast cancer, Dad six years ago – a heart attack.”
“My condolences – but I interrupt. Continue, Charlotte.”
“I found a clipping from a recent event – you were one of the two adults involved in the charity kidnapping of the shock jock?”
Annie blushed and said “I was – you might say that was what set me on this path.”
“Explain,” Dominique said as she sat back and crossed her legs.
“I realized I liked fashionable clothes – and the planning and execution of that challenge excited me. I realized I wanted both – the excitement and the clothes, and so I began.”
“I can think of worse reasons for entering this profession,” Madame said quietly. “At any rate, how many visits, including last night and that to Susan, have you made?”
“Half a dozen.”
“Good,” Charlotte said as she made a note. “I think that is all for now, Madame.”
“Excellent – good afternoon Susan.”
Annie turned to see the smaller blonde walking in. She nodded to Annie before saying “Good afternoon, Madame. Are we in a position to begin the debriefing?”
“I think so, Susan. Annie, please stay – you have a contribution to make to this discussion.”
Annie nodded as Susan sat next to Madame X, and Charlotte to Dominique.
“The initial assessment of the files Dominique retrieved confirms Francois Legault is the French diplomatic contact we were warned about. The diamonds, which come from the same source as the Geneva set, confirm that. And the forensic accountants are poring over the records. What is more disturbing, however, is the other information we found.
“We have discovered that this Legault, along with others yet to be identified, have been involved in the transfer of child slave labour from Africa to other countries. Initial assessments suggest contacts in the Middle East, Europe, Australasia and the US. It has gone on for some time, and happens alongside the trade in diamonds.”
Madame closed her eyes and sighed, as Annie shook her head. “I thought this was a thing of the past,” she finally said.
“Sadly, no,” Dominique said quietly, “Ama is living proof of that.”
“And we cannot bring him to justice?”
“He will claim diplomatic immunity, as will his partner, one Angel Xantu. I know her family – they have a great deal of influence.”
“I cannot abide the mistreatment of children,” Madame X said quietly, “and so it falls to the likes of us to deal with the problem. Annie, will you help us in this – call it a way of paying Susan back.”
“OF course – if you think I can be of help,” Annie said quietly.
- It would seem that Clint taking a job driving at the UN could not have come
at a more fortuitous time Susan." Madame smiled.
ask why Madame?"
it's an old rule of thumb that in any organization the drivers somehow seem to
know what is going to happen 24 hours ahead of their principals."
"I saw that in that old British comedy show 'Yes Minister'," Charlotte said with a smile. “They knew who was going where in a Cabinet reshuffle because the drivers were re-assigned.”
Dominique added, “the analogy in an office is if you want to know the truth,
ask the cleaners.”
Clint to keep both his eyes and ears open please Susan, and report to you every
scrap of information and gossip he hears."
will do Madame."
for you four girls as a group. I want you to crash a reception being held
tonight for Albert Kimba, the Mazengwean Vice-President at their consulate."
The four of
them looked at each other, Annie slightly shocked at the matter of fact way the
suggestion had been made. She looked
down at her feet and said "Madame that's a bit above my social level…"
knows me by sight." Charlotte added.
"I've taken all that into consideration." Madame paused, "we are preparing cover identities for you all, and I leave it to Susan's skills in disguise to create appropriate looks, for four high level party guests."
“We can also supply suitable gowns for you and Charlotte Annie – you may even find them to your liking.”
Annie smiled at Susan’s barbed comment.
task,” Madame continued, “is to mingle with the other guests and listen….
listen hard…. at such functions alcohol can make tongues loose."
are we listening for Madame?"
on Mazengwa and Burinda, anything on diamonds, political views, etc. You girls
tonight will be my eyes and ears."
“We will reconvene tomorrow and share what we have found. Good luck ladies – Dominique, a word.”
“Come with me,” Charlotte said as she took Annie by the arm and led her out with Susan.
“Like a company?”
“Indeed – Susan is Madame’s field office manager in New York, Dominique is head of security.”
“A specialist – want some coffee?”
“Sounds good – where can we go?”
“Let’s try the lobby – they can be discrete there.”
They left the suite and went down to the lobby, finding a coffee shop and ordering two coffees.
Finding a quiet booth, they sat on opposite sides and stirred their drinks.
I like about hotels of this quality is that the coffee shops always serve REAL
coffee." Charlotte smiled.
I'm American," Annie grinned, "I like even instant coffee."
rolled her eyes. "Never let Madame hear that."
"Yeah I caught on that she has rather sophisticated tastes. What is her story anyway?"
“You’d need to ask Penny – sorry Penelope, her aide, that one. Maybe you’ll meet her one day. All I know is she spent some time in France some years ago, that might have something to do with it.”
“Does she always speak that way?”
Charlotte nodded before she sipped her hot drink. "So do you think you can adapt to life as one of our associates?"
Susan doesn't put a knife in me….Then yes I think I can.”
"Don't let Susan get to you, I hear her bark is worse than her bite."
Annie sipped her cappuccino, before saying “Dominique and Madame talked about doing this part time – pursuing my teaching career as well. She mentioned a couple of people she knew who did that?"
“Yeah – I’ve met one of them. Actually, you’d be amazed at some of the people I have met.”
we… are you… allowed to talk about our real lives?"
to some extent, but don't get too inquisitive about Dominique, I'm led to
believe it's a sensitive subject."
can I ask how you?"
part of Madame's organization." Charlotte finished the sentence.
"Well yes… I mean, forgive me for saying this, but you do not seem like a criminal to me."
smiled as she put her cup down. "My
father was a crusader against the exploitation of children in Africa's diamond
regions, after his murder a representative of Madame approached me with an
offer, outlining Madame's stance on such things."
you became a crook to do good?"
a bit strange when you say it like that, but yes it's why."
smiled, she liked this quiet well mannered South African a lot.
you are a specialist in diamonds?"
"That she is." Dominique smiled as she slid into the booth. “She’s not bad with computers either.” She stirred her mint tea, and said “So, we need to make you two unrecognizable for the reception tonight.”
“Tough job – as I said, I know the Honorable Albert Kimba. Will his usual security entourage be there?”
“I would imagine so – I advise you steer clear of him. Leave him to me and Susan. Annie, you need to know that Miss Xantu will also be at the reception – so if you see her, remember that discretion is the better part of valour.”
“In other words, avoid her at all costs?”
“Indeed – tell me, Annie, how are you in heels?”
“I can cope – why?”
“A trick I learned from a friend – we will get you some very high heels, make you look taller. Above all, both of you, if you sense you are in trouble, find me or Susan – that is an order.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice,” Annie said quietly.
“Cheer up,” Charlotte said with a smile, “It’s already happened.”
Annie looked at both of them, and then burst out laughing.
“Drink up,” Dominique finally said, “we need to go and get ready.”
I speak both Zemba and Awahli but I guess I better not let on about that?"
Charlotte asked as they walked towards the elevators.
No. Just listen and don't let them know you understand every word."
funny I know some girls say that." Annie smiled at the coincidence.
Dominique smiled, one day Annie would know they had mutual friends, but not for now. She just hoped when the time came Madame had helped cool Sandy Richmond's temper.
entered the lift, Charlotte said "Oh and Dominique - watch out for the two
women who look and act like Kimba’s mistresses, they are in fact
two nasty bitches who used to be – inquisitors, shall we call it for the
Mazengwean special Security Branch. I heard once that they LIKE killing."
"Oh wonderful." Annie gulped.
“Worry not,” Dominique said as the lift doors closed, “They have not met me before.”
“Stand still, Charlotte – it’s important this looks natural.”
“Okay - my name is Kathy Stratton, and I’m from Cape Town,” Charlotte looked at the briefing document as Susan fixed the long dark wig into position. “I have connections with the South African ambassador, and I’m attending as his guest and in his absence.”
“Well?” Susan asked as she stepped back.
Charlotte looked at her reflection in the long mirror, the dove grey brocade suit looked chic and dressy, but not overstated. “It’s more makeup then I’m used to,” she observed.
“Try the glasses.”
Charlotte put on the wire rimmed spectacles and looked again - certainly the reflection looked very different to the one she normally saw. “I’m not sure even Piet would recognize me like this,” she laughed. “Far, far sexier than usual.”
“That’s the idea – to look attractive and get some attention from the right people,” Susan said as the door to the room opened and they both turned to look.
“Hi.” Charlotte asked the tall girl with the long blonde curls and dark glasses as she came in. “Is that you Annie?”
“Yeah, or to be more precise it’s Fiona Lewis from Chicago.” She glanced down at her brief. “Is this cocktail dress a bit much?” she asked as she looked at the other two.
“No,” Susan ran her eyes down the tight maroon dress clinging to Annie’s body.
“I feel like a giraffe on these heels.” Annie complained.
“But who’s going to be able to calculate your real height.” Dominique said as she came in, wearing a deep dark green evening dress that highlighted and contrasted with the red wig she wore.
“This damn push-up bra makes my boobs look enormous.” Annie again checked her reflection, “I look all legs and tits.”
“Well it means no one will be looking at your face I guess.” Charlotte laughed. “All you need to do is smile and walk round, talk to people, and listen.”
Susan adjusted her own auburn wig and checked her makeup. “Well how do I look?”
Dominique looked appraisingly at the pale green gown, “Hmmm.”
“That bad?” Susan put her glasses on to check. She checked her makeup, it was flawless, the hair looked beautiful, the dress wonderful.
“Hmmm.” Both Charlotte and Annie looked long and hard at Susan.
“Okay I give in.” Susan looked round, “What’s wrong?”
“Absolutely nothing.” Dominique burst into laughter. “But you should have seen your expression while you tried working it out.
“Bitches!” Susan laughed as she applied another coat of mascara to her long lashes. “I owe you all one.”
Dominique brushed another coat of the deep red gloss onto her lips. “Miss Shandy Winters is one sexy lady,” she said as she wolf whistled at her own reflection.
Annie turned and checked the seams of her dark tinted stockings were straight. “Well ladies I think we all look wonderful, but I just hope and pray I don’t crack up and fail you all.”
“You won’t.” Charlotte said as she hugged her. “Just think of yourself scouting for information.”
“Okay your new id’s are in your purses girls, remember who you are and that we don’t know each other.” Dominique looked round as Charlotte and Annie both applied a last coat of mascara. “You all know your routes to the consulate, have fun, but stay alert.”
The other three women all nodded as they made one last check in the mirror.
“Let’s go,” Susan said as she led the way out, the others following after her.
The Mazengwean consulate stood proud, an old Colonial mansion that had been converted for the purposes of a diplomatic office. It was a joke on the part of the resident government, to cock a nose at their former masters by using their building. Tonight, however, the steps to the main entrance were lined with torches, and burly security men stood at the gates as well as along the stairs.
Annie swallowed as she stepped out of the cab and looked at the wrought iron gates, before she presented the invitation card to the security man. She had no idea how Madame had even got ahold of one, but it stood up to the glance as the guard said “ID please, Miss Lewis.”
She offered her driving license, the man nodding as she said “Welcome – please proceed to the security check.”
She walked through and allowed the second security man to search her clutch bag, while she herself was patted down by a formidable looking woman. Eventually, she was waved through, and she climbed the stair case, walking into the entrance hall with a slight wiggle of her hips.
There were a number of people mingling round, as she accepted a glass of champagne and made her way into the main entrance hall. She was slightly taken back by the men and women there, dressed in their finery and tails, but walked confidently forward, smiling and exchanging pleasantries with others as she did so.
Charlotte arrived next, looking through her glasses and recognizing some of the staff from the embassy. Accepting a drink, she made her way over to a small group of women and introduced herself, chatting about the old country after the death of Tata.
Susan’s arrival was a little later, as she travelled to Long Island before catching a cab back. As she deposited her coat with the cloakroom, she looked round and recognized several figures from the gem and import/export business. She also recognized some of the local family heads – that made sense to her, as in New York politics had to have an understanding with the crime lords.
Finally Dominique walked in, making some male heads turn as she stood there. She thanked the waiter as she took the glass, and then walked round the reception hall, admiring the hangings as she listened to the conversation.
Annie was looking at one particular portrait when she heard a voice she recognized saying “It was a most harrowing experience, but fortunately I survived.”
From the corner of her eye, she saw the tall form of Angel Xantu standing beside her, talking to two other women.
“So what does this woman look like anyway?”
“Small, insignificant – I could have taken her easily, but I played along, hoping to find an opportunity to stop her.”
“That’s not how I remember it,” Annie thought to herself.
“Did she take much?”
“She cleaned my safe out, and then disappeared into the night. I finally managed to free myself and call the authorities, but… Will you excuse me a minute, there is someone I need to talk to.”
Annie turned and watched as Angel walked over to where a tall African man was standing in white tie and tails, and took him off to one side.
“Indeed – the world is a sadder place without Madiba,” Charlotte said as she noticed the couple walking to a quiet corner. “Will you excuse me,” she said, “I must go and sample those crab cakes.”
She walked over to the buffet table, listening to the conversation between Angel and the man as they talked in Zemba.
“I heard – was it a great ordeal?”
“No,” Angel said shaking her head, “but there are complications. When I finally got free, I could not find the servant anywhere – I fear she may have taken the opportunity to finally escape.”
“Worry not – if she shows up here, we will assist her return to you. You have my word. What of the other items?”
“I do not know – the safe does not look as if it has been opened, but I have been unable to contact Francois.”
“We are getting a message to him – for now, relax. Do you require a new servant?”
“I will – even if she is foolish enough to show her face, I will dispose of her.”
“Very well – she will be with you within the week.”
Charlotte walked slowly away, her blood boiling as she struggled to maintain her composure.
“So tell me Miss Winters, what brings you to our little reception?”
Dominique smiled as she said “My employer conducts a great deal of business with your country – he asked me to attend as a mark of respect for your Vice-President.”
“Yes,” the junior clerk said as she sipped his ninth glass of champagne, “that would be a wise thing. After all, he is the real power.”
“Of course – President K’gala is merely a figurehead. It is Kimba who controls the army and the police, so he is the real leader of our country.”
“Ah – then it is indeed fortunate he sent me,” Dominique said with a smile. “I have a small present for him,” she then said as she patted her clutch bag.
“Good luck with that – you need to get past the shecats first.”
“Oh? Who are they?”
“Alexander, my old friend, how good to see you again!”
Susan nibbled on a canape as she saw the corpulent man walk over, extending a hand to the dark skinned gentleman she was standing near.
“Oliver, my friend, how are you?”
“The better for seeing you,” he whispered, “When will the latest consignment from Burinda arrive?”
“Keep your voice down,” the dark skinned man said, “you never know who is listening. You should have received it today, but Legault was called away on business. When he returns, we will arrange delivery.”
“My contacts will not appreciate the delay.”
“Tell then we will pay a bonus by way of compensation – they may take an extra five percent.”
The fatter of the two men nodded, before he said “We will hold off on delivery of payment to the suppliers in that case. I will pass on your good wishes to them.”
They parted, Susan slowly sipping her drink before she walked off.
Annie was mingling with the crowd, picking up what gossip she could. Most of it was office small talk, but she heard enough to discern the civil war in Mazengwa was not in the state of stalemate the western world would like to believe. Like a certain Middle East country, what she heard convinced her there was great suffering, and the rebels were doing all they could to end the suffering of the people.
As she turned, she almost ran into a woman dressed in a blue satin evening gown. “Oh I am sorry, I hope I did not…” Annie started to say, only to find herself looking at Sandy Richmond.
“No harm done,” Sandy said with a warm smile, “Miss…”
“Lewis – Fiona Lewis,” Annie said, “I represent a Chicago firm that provides school equipment to the country. I do not believe I have had the pleasure?”
“Alexandra Richmond – and the pleasure is all mine.” Sandy extended a glove covered hand, which Annie shook firmly. “My family foundation supports charity work to the Mazengwean people – free school places and such like. It would appear we are in the same line of business.”
“So it would seem – I have heard of the Richmond Foundation. They do a lot of good work.”
“Thank you – forgive me, but have we met before?”
Annie and Sandy stared at each other, sizing each other, before Annie said “No – I am sure I would remember if we had. Have you seen the star of the show yet?”
“Vice-President Kimba – not yet, but I presume….”
“Ladies and Gentlemen!”
The room turned and looked to the great double doors, where a liveried man stood.
“Please welcome the guest of honour this evening, The Honourable Albert Kimba.”
There was a loud round of applause as Albert Kimba walked in, dressed in traditional tribal garb and accompanied by two women, tall, almost Amazonian and wearing black halter neck evening gowns.
From the side of the room, Dominique assessed the two women. Charlotte had not exaggerated – their body strength was obvious, and although they moved with grace and ease she could see they were wary for any wrong move. They carried no weapons, but she was sure they did not need any.
Susan had followed the corpulent half of the partnership she had overheard, and discovered ‘Oliver’ was Oliver Cohen, one of the best known gem dealers in the city. He was also something of a pervert, given the way she saw him ogle at the women in the room.
The real surprise to her was as Kimba stopped and greeted him, and said in perfect English “How are your wife and daughter, Mister Cohen?”
“They are well, Your Excellency, and regret they were unable to attend tonight. They had an engagement elsewhere.”
“A pity – tell them I look forward to seeing them soon.”
Susan filed this piece of information away as she glanced over, then stopped as she saw Annie talking to Sandy Richmond. She was about to go over, in case she was needed, when Annie shook the hand of the Pussycat and then walked away, nodding in her direction.
Charlotte had also been watching, at the same time listening to the conversation amongst the junior consulate officials. She had heard enough to know that the leader of the mission there was unaware of what was really going on, but not who may be the diplomat responsible for the handling of the blood diamonds.
BBC journalist who got killed last week was on the track of what was really
happening in NorthWest province." Charlotte overheard two members of the
embassy staff from Washington talking in Zemba, to someone from the consulate.
security services made it look like the rebels got her and her cameraman."
the woman from the consulate replied.
man nodded. "She was looking at both our stone and flesh traffic."
would not have been pleased if she had got the news out." The first man
gestured towards the Vice-President.
"I will never understand the morality of these people." the woman gestured at the various foreign guests in her consulate. "Our people accept service as part of the normal course of life. It's only exposure to their so-called culture has put dangerous ideas in peoples head about freedom and democracy.”
She was about to head off when she heard one very drunk member of staff say “there’s the Xantu bitch – I heard she got robbed last night.”
“So did I – serves her right. The word is their girl also escaped.”
“I hope she ran far and fast – and she comes nowhere near here, or she won’t leave alive.”
Charlotte walked off, mentally processing all she had heard and walking towards the doors.
Susan and Annie followed soon after her, collecting their coats and waiting as the security guards at the gate hailed them a cab each.
As Dominique waited for a cab, a black limousine pulled up and she saw Sandy Richmond come out of the consulate. She turned and looked at the tall red head, before nodding and saying “Good party?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“I hate these events as a rule, but you meet the most interesting people,” Sandy said as she looked round. She then whispered “Thank you, for what you returned.”
Sandy nodded and said “Why are you interested in these people anyway?”
As John opened the car door, Dominique whispered “tell you later” and then watched as Sandy drove off, climbing into a cab herself and heading off.
Ama looked up as Dominique came in, whispering a few words to the other woman who had been sitting with her before she left.
“Oh my,” she said as Dominique sat down, “do you always wear such wonderful outfits?”
“When the occasion demands, yes,” Dominique said with a smile as she slipped her shoes off and looked at the young girl. She was wearing a grey t-shirt and pants, and looked much better than she had the previous evening – the result of a long sleep, a hot bath and a change of clothes.
“I cannot thank you enough for what you have done, my lady,” Ama said as she blushed. “I have never seen such things, and yet you give me such fine things to wear as well.”
“Ama, please, call me Dominique, I am not your lady,” she said as she removed her wig, and stood up, placing it carefully on a stand. “Have you had a good day?”
“Yes – your friend listened to my story, and then I was given these clothes to wear. What happened to my old ones?”
“Destroyed – that life is in your past now. Tired?”
“No – I do not think I can sleep. May I ask why the other lady stayed with me?”
“To keep you company, and to help if you wish it,” Dominique said as she stood up. “I need to shower and change, and then step out for a little while. Why don’t you watch some television, and then when I return we can talk some more?”
“I would like that – and perhaps we can eat as well?”
“We shall see – for now, relax, and allow me to become myself again.”
Charlotte and Annie looked up as Dominique joined them in Madame X’s suite. Both had changed into track suits and trainers, while Dominique wore a white polo top and grey joggers.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you dress down,” Charlotte said with a smile.
“It happens on occasion,” Dominique said as she sat down. “Susan and Madame will join us shortly. How are you both?”
“Shaking,” Annie said honestly, “I met three different people I have visited recently – Angel Xantu been the worst. She painted herself as the big heroine – my recollection is she whimpered as I left her.”
Dominique smiled as she said “I think you both conducted yourself admirably in a very tense situation. Did anyone recognize you Charlotte?”
“No,” she said as she shook her head, “but I did learn a few things. We can discuss them when Madame and Susan arrive.”
“Our apologies for keeping you waiting,” Madame X said as she entered with Susan. Susan, like the others, was wearing a track suit, but Madame wore a white roll neck sweater and brown slacks. “I asked Susan to find a file before we began the meeting. “
“Okay now you are all here, let’s begin.” Madame glanced at each woman in turn. “Well did you all enjoy yourselves?”
“In a way.” Annie looked serious, “some of the people were quite nice and a few I met were VERY interesting.”
“In what way Annie?”
“Oh they lead such high powered lives Madame, a big contrast with my life as a schoolteacher… “
“And part time burglar.” Dominique interrupted.
Annie smiled back shyly.
“I think we all learned a few useful things,” Dominique said as she sat forward, “But before we start Madame there is something I need to raise. Sandy Richmond was at the function.”
“I saw her too.” Annie quaked slightly as she looked round the room.
“Did she recognize you?” Madame asked quietly.
“No I don’t think so.” Annie paused, “but she’s one lady for various personal reasons I’d like to avoid for a while.”
“I understand perfectly dear.” Madame smiled reassuringly.
“Madame, maybe Annie and Charlotte need to wait outside whilst we talk about Miss Richmond.” Susan spoke slowly.
“I think that might be for the best… Ladies excuse us for a few minutes.”
“Yes Madame.” They both answered as they stood up, exchanging puzzled glances as they left the room.
“Alright Dominique, what do you have to share about Sandy Richmond?” Madame asked as the door closed.
“Sandy recognized me.”
“Well she is a close friend,” Susan remarked, “I’m surprised she didn’t pick me out as well.”
“She might have for all I know, she only told me outside when we were both waiting for our rides.”
“Oh dear, I was hoping to keep our feline friends out of this.” Madame looked disturbed. “It may be we have to call on their help, but not at this early stage.”
“Well it was probably just a coincidence Sandy being there, she is a fixture on the New York social scene.” Susan remarked. “I bet she gets invited to all these functions. The Richmond Foundation supports a lot of projects in Africa – it would only be natural if she was invited to recognize that work.”
“Besides, my understanding is they are in their summer residences, waiting for the happy event,” Madame said quietly.
“Well I said I’d talk to her later,” Dominique volunteered. “I can say we have some interests in that part of Africa, and I was there to meet discretely with some contacts.
“Be discrete dear.” Madame tried to sound authoritative, but both girls could detect a slight edge to her tone. “See what she knows, and then I’ll decide if I need to talk to Juliette or not.”
“Very well then – we should recall them.”
Outside Annie and Charlotte were talking urgently.
“What is so all fired important I’m suddenly excluded?” Charlotte pouted slightly.
“I hope it’s nothing to do with me having turned Sandy Richmond’s place over?” Annie looked frightened, “I knew it was a huge mistake, I should have run straight away, did not pass Go, did not collect $200.”
“You burgled this woman?” Charlotte looked inquisitively.
“Yes.” Annie paused. “I actually know her socially as well – when we were involved in that charity kidnapping the sister of her nanny was involved. We had this big party afterwards were we all met up.”
Looking at the closed door, Annie said “It’s funny that those three seem to know her as well.”
“There are a lot of secrets in this organization.”
“I get that.” Annie looked at the closed door. “I guess this is all above our pay grade.’
“I guess so.” Charlotte sighed.
The door opened and said “Forgive us for that – please, come back in.”
Annie and Charlotte returned to the room and sat as Madame said “My apologies for that.
“Well turning back to last night.” Madame brought the meeting back to order. “What can you tell me?”
“I recognized some rather borderline honest people there.” Susan opened.
Dominique nodded, “Lots of bling trade people, lots of import/export types, and a few people whose ancestry certainly traces back to Sicily.”
“People we do business with?” Madame asked.
“The odd one or two.” Susan nodded.
“Susan if you give me a list I’ll set some people to the task of picking their brains.”
“I’ve already done that Madame.” Susan withdrew a sheet of paper from her file and handed it to her.
“Impressive Susan. Nice to see my New York office headed by someone can use her own initiative.” Madame smiled.
“Thank you.” Susan blushed slightly.
“I overheard plenty of gossip and some interesting things I don’t think were intended for my ears.” Charlotte smiled. “It was interesting listening in on conversations people presumed I couldn’t understand because of the language.”
“I bet it was.” Dominique glanced round. “So what did you hear?”
“For one thing, they are indeed involved in the provision of child slave labour. There is a cultural element involved, but from what I overheard, Ama can never return either to the consulate, or indeed home.”
The others looked at Charlotte before Dominique said “Are you saying…”
“I am – she would never leave the consulate alive. Madame, I believe we must formally offer sanctuary to her.”
“So noted Charlotte, I had already come to a similar decision. So, in your professional opinion, what is your view on the level of involvement of the consulate.”
Charlotte thought for a moment, before she said “Madame, I think these activities are very compartmentalized within the Mazengwean diplomatic corps.”
“Yes Madame, Kimba himself is a member of the Ngota tribe. Before colonialism they dominated and got tribute from the other tribes in the region. Though reasonably numerically small they have always regarded themselves as an elite.”
“And that means?” Dominique asked out of curiosity.
“Most of the Mazengweans I caught talking out of school last night were I think Ngota, if not all of them.”
“So you think this is being done by only a minority?” Madame asked.
“I think so Madame. The president is from the majority Nzengwe tribe, but everyone knows he is only a figurehead. Real power lies with Kimba. He’s a man my father both disliked and was afraid of.”
“You think he might have been concerned in your father’s death?” Dominique asked again.
“He or his security goons… Yes.” Charlotte nodded. “I overheard he ordered the murder of Jane Addison.”
“The BBC girl who was killed?”
“But why does all this tie to Burinda?” Dominique asked.
“Well maybe I can help with that.” Annie finally spoke. “I overheard some overweight and sweaty guy complaining that the government in Burinda would still not let his company in to work some mines.”
“Now that is interesting.” Charlotte mused.
“Sweaty guy was complaining to the Mazengwean, asking why the hell the rebels were not in charge yet.”
“A picture is forming.” Madame stood up and started to pace. “We are looking at a situation where the Mazengwean’s. The Burindan’s, and these unsavory business types are working in tandem.”
“So it would appear,” Susan said, “but what is unclear to me is whether the Mazengwean staff are in sole charge, and act as agents for Burinda, or f they are equal partners.”
“Something to consider – what else?”
“Angel Xantu,” Annie said. “I think her contacts at the consulate go higher than we had realized, but that is resented by some of the staff.”
“I concur,” Charlotte said, “she is not held in high regard by some of the more junior staff.”
“I also do not believe she is aware of Legault’s involvement – she seemed to think her safe was the only one that had been emptied.”
“Interesting – can we find out when Legault is expected back?”
“I will make enquiries,” Susan said. “Dominique?”
“If the vice-president is indeed the top man, he will be extremely difficult to get to. Charlotte informed me he had two highly professional bodyguards, and I can confirm that is the case.”
“The two models?”
“A carefully constructed cover,” Dominique said quietly. “We need more evidence before we could think of moving.”
“We do however have one very promising lead – Oliver Cohen.”
“Cohen? The gem merchant?”
“The same Madame,” Susan said, “I overheard a discussion between him and a consulate official, which suggested he was expecting the diamonds we liberated yesterday. He also knows Kimba – personally.”
She handed Madame a file, saying “Our file on him.”
“Excellent – so any information you can get from him would prove extremely useful.”
Susan nodded as Madame stood up. “You have all done very well – go home, rest. Annie, can you join us again tomorrow?”
“I have some business to take care of St Angela’s, but I can be here for eleven?”
“Excellent – we shall re-convene then.” Madame stood, the others following suit as she left and Susan closed the door.
“And – breathe,” she said. “A nightcap?”
“Oh yes,” Annie said as she sat down, “Thank you.”
Dominique looked up from the table as Sandy Richmond walked into the restaurant, and waved her over.
“Thank you for joining me, Sandy,” she said as she stood up, watching the heiress walk over. Sandy wore a black waistcoat over a white roll neck sweater, and grey pants, while Dominique was in her usual black sweater and pants.
“Thank you for inviting me,” Sandy said with a smile as she sat down. “I need to get back up to Manchester later today, but at least I do so on a full stomach.”
The waitress walked over and poured fresh orange juice into the glasses, as Sandy perused the menu. “So, how are Heather and Joanne,” Dominique asked as she sipped her drink.
“Both well, and they send their regards as well as their thanks,” Sandy sad with a smile. “They’re bust getting the spare rooms in the house ready for our guests.”
“Indeed – John’s daughter and granddaughter arrive tomorrow. Most of their personal effects are arriving today – John is at their new house now to supervise the delivery – but Barbara and Jeannie are coming out to Manchester for the first two weeks of their time here.”
“A fine way to start a new life in this country,” Dominique said as the waitress returned. “Eggs Benedict and black coffee.”
“I’ll have the Spanish omelet with Canadian bacon, and black coffee,” Sandy said as she handed the menu back over. “So,” she said with a smile, “I wanted to thank you as well for the favour you did for us.”
“It was my pleasure,” Dominique said as she sat back. “I trust everything was there?”
“We believe so, yes. Did you look at them?”
“No – I was not asked to, and I do not need to. I am curious, however, as to why you asked for my assistance instead of taking care of the matter yourselves?”
Sandy sipped her fruit juice and replaced her glass, before saying “There were complicating factors. Rest assured your approach was the best.”
“You flatter me, but I thank you,” Dominique said quietly.
“Out of curiosity, did you profit personally?”
“There were certain items of interest that I liberated from the person. More than that I cannot say.”
“Of course,” Sandy said with a smile as the food was delivered. She took a slice of the omelet and chewed on it, before saying “So, why were you at the reception last night?”
“A professional matter,” Dominique said as she ate a piece of the bagel and egg. “As you know, Madame has many business interests, and several were at the reception. It provided an ideal opportunity to meet with them – even if I had to, well, crash the party.”
“Hence the disguise,” Sandy said with a raised eyebrow.
“Hence, as you say, the disguise. What of yourself?”
“I was invited – we support some of the education programs in Mazengwa, and I wanted to thank Vice-President Kimba for his support.”
Dominique looked at Sandy, wondering what else was going on behind the smile, so she decided to test the waters.
“By the way, I heard you were a victim of this Black cat recently. I trust you were not too badly treated by her?”
“Not really, no,” Sandy said with a smile, “but if I ever have the fortune to meet her again, I will share my displeasure with her- personally.”
“She did not steal that much surely?”
“No – it is the principle of the thing. Talking of surprises, did I see Susan last night as well?”
Dominique considered for a moment, and then nodded. “She had another matter to deal with concerning a local contact. You know she has now re-located to New York?”
“No, I did not – do you have her address? I must invite her to dinner some time, with her husband.”
Dominique produced a pen and paper, and scribbled a phone number down. “I suggest you call her here – she is not quite ready yet to receive visitors.”
“Of course,” Sandy said as she folded the paper and placed it in her bag, before drinking some coffee. “So you conducted your business successfully?”
“Yes, I did,” Dominique said with a nod. “Did you manage to meet His Excellency?”
“Briefly – he seemed concerned with maintaining his public face.”
“So, do you have any work planned?”
“Not in the immediate future,” Sandy said. “Carina is due to give birth soon, and with our house guests…”
“Of course,” Dominique said as she wiped her mouth.
“One or two projects, but I am here mainly to deal with a trifling matter of discipline.”
“Of course – but if we can assist in any way?”
“Then Madame will call, I am sure.”
“Excellent,” Sandy said as she stood up, and reached for her purse.
“No, this is on me,” Dominique said quietly. She asked for the slip, and signed it as Sandy said “Thank you.”
“My pleasure. I hope to see you soon.”
“Come out to the house when you have a day or two free – I’m sure they will be delighted to see you.”
“I’ll see what I can do. Safe journey.”
“You too,” Sandy said as she walked out of the restaurant with Dominique. As they passed the reception desk, the clerk said “Miss Dominique – your order has just been delivered.”
“Thank you,” she said as she collected the bags. Sandy noted the names on the bags – Little Miss Matched, Gap, Uniqlo and others.
“Not your usual retailer,” Sandy said with a smile.
“Presents for a friend,” Dominique said with a smile. “Until next time, Sandy.”
“Until then,” Sandy said as she walked out of the hotel, the parking attendant bringing her car round. As she drove off, she saw Annie Kelly approaching the hotel, wearing a polo shirt and new jeans.
“Now why is she going there,” she thought to herself, before joining the traffic.
“Thank you for joining us, Annie,” Madame X said as they sat round the coffee table again. “My staff have now had a chance to assess the information more fully. Charlotte, any further thoughts on what the government officials may be up to?”
“Apart from lining their pockets?” Charlotte sat back and said “I wonder if there is a deeper connection between Burinda and the rebels. Is it possible the rebels are playing both sides against each other, trying to escalate the instability?”
“It had crossed my mind- which is why what we need to know is what role Oliver Cohen is playing in this affair, and who exactly he is brokering for. We also need to know quickly – I want this situation to be resolved, and I am frustrated that we still do not have all the necessary information.”
“So how do we get what we need to know,” Charlotte said, “rob Cohen?”
Annie looked at Madame, before saying “Are you asking us to rob a known criminal?”
“A suspected criminal at this stage – Susan would lead the team, and each of you would take on a specific role. Dominique, you would handle the alarms. Charlotte, examining and removing the relevant contents of their safe, as well as anything we may usefully parlay in there. Annie, you take the rest of the house and use your judgment.”
“I presume we will require to be armed for this?”
Annie looked at Dominique as Madame nodded. “Susan?”
“Cohen lives in the Heights. His wife, Suzanne, is in her late forties, and there is a nineteen year old daughter, Rebecca, who lives at home with them. No servants. The proposal is we do a home invasion scenario – enter at force, subdue and restrain the family, and force Cohen to open his safe by threatening violence against his family. We do this quickly, we do this neatly.”
Susan spread out on the coffee table a floor map of the house. “Study carefully – we depend on speed and surprise for this. With luck, we will find what we need.”
“Annie,” Madame said, “as this is our operation you work as part of the team, to our rules and regulations. You will get a share of any profits, but the game here is far greater than you usually work for. Do you understand?”
Charlotte looked at her as she said “In for a penny – one question. We can’t go as we were at the party last night. What will we wear?”
“I have an idea,” Dominique said, “one I think you will all like…”
“I’ll get Clint to requisition a van for our purposes,” Susan said quietly, “we meet at my apartment at six. I believe you know the way Annie?”
“Oh my – you look like you did when we first met?”
Dominique smiled as Ama watched her apply the dark mascara around her eyes. She wore a black leather bodysuit, which hugged her figure as it zipped up the front, and over the knee tight black leather boots.
“I suppose I do,” she said as she stood up, “but it is a little different.” She picked up a pair of long black leather gloves and slipped them onto her arms, before clipping a belt with several pouches around her waist, and then putting an old raincoat over the top of the costume.
“Before I go,” Dominique said as she fixed her black hair up onto her head and then place a long chestnut coloured wig over it, “Ama, I need to ask how you would feel if you were asked to remain in this country?”
“As a servant again?”
“No – as a normal young lady, to grow up and be yourself. It would not be with me – my work means I travel too much – but with a friend.”
Ama looked at her and said “When we met, you were robbing master and mistress, were you not?”
“I was,” Dominique said as she sat next to Ama, “and that is part of what I do, but I also want to stop other girls like you Ama from being made to work as you did, and from being treated as you were. This is why I am going out tonight, and this is what I do. Do you understand?”
“I think so,” Ama said as she nodded. “Will you be long?”
“I do not believe so – tomorrow, we will talk more of what we can do for you. Please, wait up for me.”
Ama nodded as Dominique gave her a hug, and then walked out of the room and along the corridor. As she got into the lift, Charlotte joined her, her black boots peeking out from under her white coat.
“Seriously, like this?”
“It is a little joke,” Dominique said with a smile as they walked out of the hotel and hailed a cab.
As they arrived at Susan’s apartment block, they were surprised to see Annie standing outside. “Hey,” she said as Charlotte paid the cab, “I was hoping you lot would arrive before I went up.”
“Still afraid she’s going to kill you?”
“A little,” Annie said as Susan and Clint came down. “The rest of the equipment is in the van,” Susan said as she adjusted her own chestnut wig, “Let’s get in and get going.”
The quartet walked over to a grey van and climbed into the back, Clint getting behind the wheel and driving off.
“There it is,” Susan said as she looked up at the townhouse, “and it looks as if the family are at home. Good – suit up.”
The four women placed the masks over their eyes, and checked the Glocks they were carrying, before Charlotte and Dominique picked up a canvas bag each. Annie took several deep breaths, suppressing the excitement she was beginning to feel at what they planned to do.
“The pavement’s clear,” Susan said quietly, “Let’s go.” She opened the side door as the four Catwomen walked out, their heels clicking as they walked quickly up the stairs and Susan opened the front door of the house.
The hallway was well lit, and they could hear music coming from a room to the right as Annie closed the door. Susan counted down with her fingers.
Throwing open the door to the room, the four of them walked in as Susan said “Nobody move – this is a robbery. Stay where you are, do as you are told, and nobody gets hurt.”
Oliver Cohen was standing by a drinks cabinet, a bottle of single malt in one hand and a glass in the other, as Dominique walked quickly over and pressed her gun into his back. “Put them down,” she snarled, “and put your hands on your head.”
“Dad, what’s happening?”
Rebecca Cohen was sitting on a chair, her feet curled up under her and a book on her lap. She was wearing a white blouse with a high collar, and black leather trousers, her white ankle socks just peeking out with her feet.
“Hush,” Annie said as she put her gun against Rebecca’s head, “Keep quiet, keep calm.”
“Find the wife,” Dominique said as Susan and Charlotte left the room. “You,” she then said as she looked at Rebecca, “on your knees on the floor, hands behind your back.”
“Why do you think – now do it!” Annie pressed her gun against Rebecca’s side as she moved to do as she was told, and then drew a length of rope from the bag Dominique had placed on the floor, using it to bind the young girl’s wrists tightly together behind her back. A second length went around her waist, forcing her wrists against her back.
“Halloween isn’t for months,” Cohen growled. He wore a pale blue v-necked sweater over a matching shirt, dark trousers and dark blue slippers.
“We’re not cosplayers,” Dominique purred as she stroked his belly, “we’re robbers, and we want the contents of your safe. Now, play nice and everyone has a good time. Play nasty and…”
She nodded at Annie, who swallowed as she pulled Rebecca’s head back by tugging on her hair. “Daddy,” she yelped with fright as Annie stroked her cheek with the barrel of the gun.
“Oh my god – there are four of you?”
Susan and Charlotte pushed Suzanne Cohen into the room, wearing a cornflower blue dress with a brown suede waistcoat and matching knee length boots. Her arms were already bound behind her back, and lengths of rope held them in place above and below her chest.
“Is Mister Cohen going to behave,” she said as Suzanne was forced to kneel next to Rebecca, and Annie started to tie the young girl’s arms to her side.
“I believe he will,” Dominique said as she pushed him forward. “Sit down and watch – I’ll go and take care of the alarms.”
“Good,” Susan said as Dominique left the room, watching from the fireplace as Annie and Charlotte bound the ankles and legs of the two women. “Now then, Mister Cohen, you are going to tell us where your safe is, and how to open it, aren’t you?”
“Go to hell.”
“Oh dear oh dear,” Susan said as she looked at the fat man, “I can see how much you’re sweating. Please, ladies, show Mister Cohen what the price of his disobedience is likely to be.”
Charlotte looked at Annie, and then knelt in front of Suzanne, smiling as she placed the tip of her gun barrel against the bound woman’s lips.
“no,” Rebecca whispered as Annie stroked the side of her cheek with the gun, and then placed it against her neck.
“Oliver, for the love of God…”
“Well, Mister Cohen?”
Oliver Cohen looked at his wife and daughter, shaking as they knelt down, and then said “All right, all right – I’ll show you.”
“Good – ladies, silence and complete restraining these two.”
Nodding, the two masked women laid their guns down while Charlotte produced two sponges, two lengths of cloth and a roll of black tape from the bag. Handing a sponge and a length of cloth to Annie, they both compressed the sponges in their hands as Susan said “open wide now.”
Looking at each other, Rebecca and Suzanne allowed the masked intruders to push the sponges into their mouths, the material expanding and pressing their tongues down as well as filling the space behind their teeth, while the cloths were used as cleave gags to keep them in place, The black tape was then wound tightly round their heads, trapping their hair against their necks as it further silenced them.
As Dominique walked back in, Annie and Charlotte removed the rings, earrings and necklaces from the two women, depositing them into a small velvet sack.
“Get on the floor,” Susan shouted as Rebecca and Suzanne were pushed over, lying on their stomachs as their ankles were pulled back and tied to their chest ropes. Looking at Dominique, she said “bind him,” the other three watching as Dominique bound Cohen’s wrists behind his back, and then his arms to his side.
“Now,” Susan said literally purred as she leaned forward and stroked up his chins with her gloved finger, “you will come with me and my friend and we shall have a look at your safe. You – guard them.”
Charlotte nodded as Susan looked at Annie. “You go and search the other rooms, see what else you can find.”
Annie nodded and left the room, climbing the staircase as Susan and Charlotte frog marched Cohen out of the room.
He nodded to a door, Dominique going over and slowly opening it in case there was a trap waiting. Satisfied nothing was going to happen, she opened the door and Susan pushed Cohen in.
“Where is it?”
“Behind the bookcase, pull Of Mice and Men forward.”
“Sit,” Susan said as she pushed Cohen towards a chair, Dominique brushing her fingers over the bookcase. As she felt along the edge, she said “wait” and removed a thin blade from her belt, working it up a gap until she stopped.
“You are a clever man Mister Cohen,” Dominique said as she turned. “Where is the switch?”
“The one to turn off the silent alarm that will go off if this door is opened.” Dominique pulled her gun out and aimed it at his head. “I will not ask again.”
“Under… Under the desk,” he said, the sweat pouring down his head, “right hand side.”
Susan walked over and looked under the desk, before she pressed the switch. “Thank you,” Dominique said as she walked over and pulled the book out, the false case swinging out to reveal a large walk-in safe
“Hmm,” Dominique said as she looked at it. “Bring him over here.”
“this has a retinal recognition lock. Now, I suppose we could cut his eye out, but…”
“No – no, I’ll come,” he said as he stood up, and placed his eye against a small camera. There was a soft click, and a message saying “Enter Access Code” appeared on the screen.
“Now, we have two choices,” Dominique said as she looked through her mask at Cohen,” we spend a little while to allow a device I have to get the code, and we pass the time in fairly imaginative ways of torturing you, or you give us the code – the correct code, mind you, and we open it now. If you give us the wrong code – the one that deadlocks this type of safe – we torture and kill you, torture and kill your wife and daughter, and then use the device. So, which shall it be?”
She looked down at the damp patch between his legs, and smiled as he said “the code is…”
Annie closed the door to the bedroom and smiled. It was obviously the daughters, and she had good taste, as the items in her sack testified. Trying the next door, she opened it and found herself in the master bedroom, but that was not all she found.
The young dark skinned girl looked at Annie, terrified for her life. She could not have been more than twelve, but wore a similar outfit to that she had seen young Ama wearing the other night. Fighting back her revulsion, and realizing this was a time when she could not free this poor young thing, she showed the young girl her gun and said “You’re going to do exactly what I say, aren’t you?”
As the young girl nodded, Annie smiled and said “I’m sorry, but I need to make sure you cannot raise the alarm. Please, lie face down on the bed and put your hands behind your back.” As she said this, she drew a roll of black tape from one of the pouches on her belt, and started to bind the servant, at the same time promising herself she would show Cohen what she thought of this.
“Thank you,” Dominique said as she pushed Cohen onto the floor, making him lie face down before he bound his legs, and pulled his ankles back to secure them to his arms. As Susan knelt down and started to gag him, Dominique returned to the front room.
“Go to work,” she said to Charlotte, who left her guarding the two women as she went into the office.
Looking in the office, she placed the second canvas bag they had brought in on the table and started to examine the trays of gems, loading them into sacks and placing them into the bag as Susan blindfolded Oliver Cohen. She then started to search quickly through the papers, returning personal items such as wills and deeds but placing other documents, as well as rolls of bank notes in various currencies, into the safe.
They turned as Annie walked in, and went straight to Cohen before rolling him over with her foot and then kicking him in the groin. They heard him groan out through the tape as Annie kicked him again, and then looked at her with questioning eyes.
“Ask me later,” she said as she placed her finds in the canvas bag. “We done?”
Susan looked at Charlotte, who did a last sweep of the safe and then nodded.
“Right – don’t move,” Susan said to Cohen who was still groaning on the floor, before the three of them left, Dominique joining them as Susan opened the door and looked out.
Clint jumped out of the van and opened the door to allow them to get in, before closing it and getting behind the wheel. As they drove off again, Susan and Charlotte looked at Annie and said “Well?”
“Well what,” Dominique said as she looked at Annie.
“They had one as well – barely thirteen I’d say. There was no way we could do what we did with Ama, not without compromising the entire mission, so I had to tape her in the bedroom, gag her and leave her there – for now.”
“Ah,” Susan said, “Well, I guess that does justify two kicks to the groin. I may have used the heel myself in that case – admirable self restraint…”
Susan stopped, then sat and put her arms round Annie as she started to cry. “It’s all right,” she said quietly, “they’ll pay for that another day, but not today. You did good, kid, you did good…”
Ama jumped up and hugged her savior as she came back in, and sat down.
“I have been thinking of what you said earlier,” the young girl said, “and I would very much like to stay here, even if it is not with you.”
“Good,” Dominique said with a smile, “We will talk more in the morning. For now, let me shower and change, and then we’ll have a girl’s night in…”
“So the documents prove the link?”
“I believe so, Madame,” Charlotte said as they sat round the coffee table the following afternoon. Annie was wearing a white v-necked jumper and dark chinos, Dominique a grey sweatshirt and pants, while both Charlotte and Susan wore blouses and skirts. “The forensic team are working on the laptop and memory sticks we retrieved, but the paper trail is obvious. Cohen is the dealer for the gems, and the money goes to known heavy weapon suppliers for orders to Burinda.”
“We retrieved several hundred thousand in notes, and a substantial amount of gems and jewelry,” Dominique said, “and – well, Annie has told you of the other discovery.”
“Indeed,” Madame said as she looked at Annie. “I do not normally broach such things, but in this case I am prepared to forgive and forget. I think the picture begins to…”
The sound of a cell phone ringing interrupted the talk, as Madame looked at the screen. “Excuse me a moment,” she said as she left the room.
“Who would have her private number?”
Dominique and Susan said nothing – they could guess who.