As the door closed, the man standing by the window turned and bowed his head to the new arrival. As she took her seat, offering her coat to the attendant to place safely away, he closed the blinds and took his place at the head of the table.
“Thank you all for coming,” he said as he looked at the other man and two women sitting there. “I think you know why I asked you to come, so I propose we get straight down to business.”
“I agree,” one of the women said as she played with a pen. In her mid-forties, with shoulder length dark curly hair and wearing a red blouse that strained to cover her ample chest, she looked round at her fellow attendees. “I want to know if I’m the only one who has suffered from this.”
“You’re not,” the other man said with an Irish accent, “so simmer down, Baroness, and hear what we have to say.”
“Thank you, Mike” the man said as he leant back in his chair. “Allow me to start with what has happened recently at the main office of the Burglars Association.
“Or rather, with what happened a few days beforehand...”
When Deanna opened the door to her flat, she thought it was her sister or her niece. The last thing she expected to see was the two masked man who barged their way in and threw her down onto the couch in her front room.
“Not one word,” one of them said as they forced her to kneel face down in front of the couch, and pulled her wrists behind her back. She stayed where she had been told, noting what she could of the men as one of them wound coils of white rope around her wrists and pulled them together. She tried to tense her wrists up to gain some slack, but they proved too strong as they tied her wrists together.
“What on earth do you guys want?” Deanna said as they started to pull her arms against her side with more loops of rope. “You know I’m protected?”
“We’re independents,” the man said as he bound her ankles together. Deanna was about to go shopping, so she was casually dressed in a black sleeveless top and faded denim pedal pushers that came to just above her knees.
“Independent?” Deanna said her eyes wide as they turned her down so that she was kneeling on the floor. “Boy, are you guys in trouble...”
“No, you are,” the man said as he went to open the door. Deanna looked over her shoulder to see – herself. Thin, long brown hair, t-shirt and denim pants, and staring straight back at the woman.
“Surprise,” she said in a surprisingly good imitation of Deanna’s voice. “Now, I want you to call your sister and tell her you’re coming round. Keep the voice calm and normal, and don’t do anything stupid.”
To emphasise the point, the man who had stayed silent pulled a pistol out and held it to Deanna’s head while the imposter dialled a number on her cell phone, holding the handset to Deanna’s ear as she heard the number dial. A young female voice answered.
“Su, it’s Aunt De. Is your mother home?”
“No – she nipped out for five minutes. Shall I get her to call you?”
“No – no it’s all right. I’m coming round – I’ll see you in a few minutes.”
The imposter snapped the handset shut as the two men backed off.
“I don’t know what’s going on here,” Deanna said as she looked over her shoulder at the two men, “but you are in so much trouble.”
“As I said, you are,” the man replied as he pulled a rolled up bandana into her mouth, stifling her screams as the two men carried her out to the waiting van.
“Hey, Aunt De – what’s happening?”
Su held the door open to allow her aunt to come in and climb the stairs to the open area of the house. As Deanna looked round, Su sat on the couch and crossed her legs on the cushion. She was a bright eighteen years old, wearing a yellow t-shirt and denim shorts with strapped sandals.
“Are you all right, Auntie,” Su said as she looked up at Deanna. “You look a little different today.”
“Yeah, I’m not quite feeling myself,” she said as she looked at the young blonde. “Could you get me a drink of water?”
“Sure,” Su said as she stood up and made her way to the kitchen. She barely had time to place the glass on the work surface before the sweet smelling cloth was clamped over her mouth, and she slipped into a deep sleep...
“Su, are you still home?”
Anna climbed the staircase, but saw no sign of her daughter in the front area.
“Is this who you’re looking for?”
Anna turned round and stared as someone who looked like her sister frog marched Su into the front room, her wrists tied behind her back and her ankles secured with rope. As she pushed the young girl down on the couch, she grunted through the white tape gag that covered her lips.
“Who the hell are you?” she said as she looked first at Su, then the stranger, “You’re not my sister.”
“Quite right,” the dark haired girl said as she looked at Anna. “I have your sister downstairs, and you and your daughter are going to join us. IN your case, right after you do something for us.”
“They didn’t even give her time to take her grey puffer jacket off,” the man said as he leaned forward to address the rest of the room. “We found her, her sister and her daughter when we responded to the alarm a few hours later. They had removed her lower clothes, fixed her wrists together with heavy steel cuffs, and gagged her with her own woollen scarf. Whoever they were, they had cleaned out our entire cash store from that particular office.
“We thought at first it was a rival organisation, but none knew of it. Then we heard from Mike.”
The Irish man sat down at the table and addressed the other people.
“Number 10, Madame, Baroness – it was only natural the BA would suspect one of us when they were hit, but when they called us they found out they weren’t the first to be hit in this way...”
“Oh My God.....”
Jacqui continued to stare at the photograph she had been handed by the masked intruder, while her friend Claire was at on the couch, her hands on her head and a gun pointing at her. Both women were clad in bikinis, having been interrupted before they had a chance to start their session in the two sunbeds kept in her cellar.
The picture was grainy, black and white, and showed a young girl kneeling at the side of a bed, her hands handcuffed around the foot stead and tape covering her mouth. She was staring at the camera with a look that conveyed both fear and pleading.
“What have you bastards done with my daughter?” she screamed at the two men.
“She’s safe if you do as you’re told,” the man who had handed her the photo said as he pointed a gun at her. “Now, the two of you are going to stay here while a friend of ours takes your place for a little while.”
Jacqui ran her hands through her long brown hair. “I beg your pardon,” she said as the door opened, and her jaw dropped as she saw a woman who was her spitting image walk in.
“Get on with it while I find an outfit to wear,” she said as she walked back out, leaving the two men to produce several lengths of rope and force the two women to stand up, and their hands behind their back.
Half an hour later, Jacqui and Claire were glaring at the two men as they sat next to each other, their wrists and arms bound with rope and their ankles tied together. Jacqui’s mouth was covered with grey tape, her breasts under her pink bikini heaving as she tried to calm down, while Claire’s mouth was covered in white tape. They were both looking at Jacqui’s double as she put her make up on, and then smiled at them both.
“We’ll let your daughter go if all goes well,” she said as the three intruders left the women, the lights off in the cellar. They sat still for a few minutes, before Jacqui started to twist her wrists round and urged Claire to help her get free.
An hour passed as they worked their way free, until Jacqui managed to free herself and reached up to pull the tape off her mouth. As she started to peel it away, the telephone started to ring.
“Gggg” Claire said through her gag as Jacqui struggled to her feet and made her way upstairs. Picking up the receiver, she heard a familiar Irish voice say “Jacqui?”
“Boss – I’ve been....”
“Yeah, I know. What else?”
“You know – Claire’s here and they’ve got my daughter somewhere. What happened?”
“Get cleaned up and come in – I’ll explain it here.”
It took a couple of hours for Jacqui to make her way to the non-descript building on the banks of the Liffey, only for her to be greeted by Big Mike, the leading crime lord in the area, and his right hand man Dave.
“Are you all right, girl?” Dave said as she walked into the room.
“I’ve been better – what happened?”
“In here,” Mike said as he indicated a door behind him. Jacqui walked through to be greeted by the site of her double lying face down on a table. She had been stripped, and encircled with more rope than the average barge on the river used for mooring. A thick white cloth was pulled into her mouth, through which she grunted as she raised her head to look at the new arrivals.
“She was good, I’ll grant you that – and I understand why you gave her the access information you did. I’m glad you forgot to tell her one thing, though.”
“I did? More like she never asked, then. What gave her away?”
“Coffee,” Dave said with a smile. “When the boss asked for his cuppa, she brought him a latte.”
Jacqui stared at Dave, then Mike, then the trussed girl before bursting out laughing.
“The good news is, she told us where your daughter is being held, so she should be with us in the hour. We also stopped her taking anything from the office...”
Mike turned as he heard their captive laughing through her gag. “Something’s not right here,” Dave said as there was a knock no the door and one of Mike’s subordinates came in.
“Boss, we’ve got a problem,” he said as he stood there. “The Markham job – someone beat is to it. We were so busy trying to deal with this intruder that...”
“Goddamit – this was a distraction? What happened?”
“The contact we were asked to look after – they got her as she was coming to our rendezvous. They sent us this picture.”
He placed a picture in Mike’s hands, showing a red haired beauty leaning out of the window of a car, a long length of tape pressed over her mouth and a man cradling her head in his hand. Her eyes spoke volumes – anger and fear and retribution.
“Oh bloody hell,” Mike said, “what happened to Soo Lin?”
“We’ve got a team heading to the safe house now. Far as we can tell, they hit when we were preoccupied here and unable to send the usual back up.”
“Most remiss,” the dark haired woman at the table said with a voice like warm treacle toffee. “What happened to your associate?”
“We found her on a bed in the house – stripped naked and taped at the wrists and ankles. She told us she had been held captive by a fellow countryman for a good hour, then left alone until we arrived.
“Whoever is behind this must have used my esteemed friends at the BA as a kind of dress rehearsal for this attack. We still, I’m afraid, have not been able to retrieve the contact – my apologies for that, Baroness.”
The other woman inclined her head. “I accept the apology, and the intent. After Mike contacted me, I sent someone to follow up on some possible leads. As it was, they had already anticipated that and put plans in motion for my organisation as well.”
“Indeed?” The dark haired woman turned and looked at The Baroness. “I thought you had improved your security?”
“I had – they took a most circuitous and distressing route...”
“U bstrds – u hrt thm nd...”
The woman stared up at the two masked intruders as they finished securing her ankles together with rope. She had been sitting, talking to her neighbour about mutual interests while their two daughters played in the next room, when they had burst in and held all four at gunpoint. The two girls had been taken upstairs, and she could hear muffled calls for help from there, while she and her neighbour had their wrists tied together in front of them and their mouths gagged with thick white cloths. Now they were looking at their captors, wondering why they had made no move to take anything from the house.
“This isn’t a robbery,” one of them said, and they both opened their eyes wide in surprise. “We just need to take the place of you at work for a little while. Come in.”
The woman looked up at the red haired girl who came in, dressed as she was in a sleeveless black collared dress. She patted the captive on the head, grabbed her bag and headed out of the door. As she sat there, she wondered what was going on – why would anyone want to take her place at the studio today? She was only the secretary, after all – what would they want with someone having some fashion photos taken?
Hilary was asking the same question at the same time as she lay on her bed, her partner next to her. She had been making morning coffee when, as with the secretary, two men burst into the room and forced her back up to her bedroom where she was forced to remove her dressing gown.
Now, after a half hour, she was rolling around, trying desperately to find some give in the ropes that criss-crossed her naked body, securing her in the strictest of hogties. As her dark haired girlfriend looked on, she tried to scream through the thick white tape covering her mouth, only for the very large wad of cotton panties in her mouth to muffle even the slight noise that was coming out.
She heard her partner grasp, and looked up to see another woman enter, her hair streaked like hers and to anyone who did not know her well a real double. She adjusted the straps on her dress, looked down on the two screaming women and smiled, before saying “Keep an eye on them” as she left the room.
“A secretary and a hairdresser?” The representative from the BA turned and looked at the Baroness as she sat there.
“As I said, a most circulatory route. They were both involved in a photo shoot with two models who – shall we say, moonlight for me from time to time. They were the real primary targets...”
“Good, good, keep it up..”
The photographer kept snapping as Kelly and Penny posed in their “combat outfits.” Both blonde haired women were slightly more provocatively dressed than a military uniform might suggest. Kelly was wearing an olive green dress, with the buttons undone to reveal her ample chest, and a black and brown heavy vest over the dress. Her legs were encased in thigh length black patent leather boots, while Penny had a pair of knee length tan leather boots over the lower legs of her combat pants. The light grey vest top and cap completed her outfit, with a fake bullet belt around her waist.
“Take five, girls,” he said as he left the room, allowing the two women to take a drink.
“So, tonight?” Kelly started. “Yup – I have the plans for the building, and we can go in at 10 pm. It should not take too long.”
Both girls turned when they heard a thump from the outer office. “Do you think he’s dropped his bottle again?” Kelly said with a laugh. Penny looked at her friend, then walked dot the door. “everything all...” she started to say, only to back off as the secretary and hairdresser came in, holding guns in their hands and smiling.
“We need to take your place for a little while girls – hope you don’t feel too bad about it,” the hairdresser said as she held up a number of coils of rope. “Have a seat and let’s get you both secured.”
It only took ten minutes for the two women to sit Kelly down in a chair and secure her arms together behind her back, tying the loose ends to the central spar of the chair back to keep them in place. She was forced to watch as the secretary bound Penny’s wrists together, then secured her back to the chair with a length of rope that went around her waist and arms.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing – who do you think we are?” Penny said as the secretary came back in. She had changed, her hair now covered with a bleach blonde wig pulled back in a pigtail, and dressed in a grey vest and combats with a grey scarf tied over her forehead.
“Taking your place for a while,” she said as she checked the ropes around Penny’s body. “Make sure they’re properly secured and silenced before we head off.”
“They sat there for an hour, their legs secured and their mouths thoroughly gagged, before the fake secretary left them alone.”
The Baroness took a drink from her glass.
“The real target they were after was the daughter of a friend of mine, who was staying with us. The imposter infiltrated the safe house with someone else, bound and gagged the young girl, and stripped the place of everything.
“I took it as a personal insult. I looked into my and the other situations I heard of, and found a link – two, actually.”
The dark haired woman looked up. “That would explain your rather impolite call to my office. As I told you at the time, I thought it was mere coincidence – I apologise for that rare oversight on my part.”
“Apology accepted, Madame,” The Baroness said as she stood up. “Excuse me,” she said as she looked at her mobile phone, “I need to take this call.”
“As I was saying,” Madame X continued as The Baroness left the room, “At the time I figured it was just, to use the vernacular phrase, sour grapes. That night, however, the people behind these attacks tried to infiltrate my organisation.”
“My security is a tad tighter than your various organisations – but even so, it very nearly failed.”
Jennifer roughly towelled her hair as she went to the door. She had got as far as putting on a thin red camisole top and her heeled shoes, but the unexpected ring on the front door bell had interrupted her dressing.
“Car must be early,” she mumbled as she opened the door, only to be stopped short by – herself. A coat wrapped around her, but it was a woman with her height, her build, her frizzled brown hair – it was her.
And she was optioning a gun at herself.
“Inside, Jennifer,” the imposter said as she forced the woman back into her own flat. “I need to take your place for a while, and you need to stay right here and not get in my way for a while. Hands on your head, and into your front room. You may as well be comfortable in your enforced absence from work.”
The woman closed the door behind her, and drew a number of lengths of rope from the bag she had over her shoulder. She made Jennifer stand in front of her, crossing her wrists behind her back and starting to wrap a length of rope around and between her forearms to secure them together.
“What on earth are you up to – if you want my valuables, take them – my insurance will cover it.”
“Very kind of you to offer but all I need from here is your security pass,” the woman said as she started to secure Jennifer’s arms to her side.
Half an hour passed, before the woman finished smoothing the white tape over Jennifer’s lips as she lay face down on her couch, her ankles crossed, bound and secured to her wrists behind her back.
“Now, have a nice day,” the imposter said as she turned the light off and left Jennifer lying there. She lay still for a while, and then started to gently ease her way off the couch and onto her knees on the floor.
The industrial estate was clearing of traffic as “Jennifer” drove up to the large building to one end. Parking her car, she walked out and crossed the car park into the front lobby of the building.
“Good morning, George,” she said as she walked over to the reception desk. The man sat behind it looked up.
“Hello, Jennifer – you look a little different today. New hairstyle? Dress?”
“Both,” she smiled as she crossed and placed her pass to the reader at the side of the lift. As the door opened, the phone rang at the reception desk. George picked up the phone, listened for a moment and said “Understood – I’ll send someone round. We have it covered here.” Cutting the call off, George pressed a number on the keypad.
“Penelope? It’s George – we have a situation.”
It was an hour or so later when Jennifer looked up from her desk to see a tall, brown haired woman standing there. She was casually dressed, in a pink t-shirt and jeans, but Jennifer recognised her instantly, even with her hair pulled back in a pigtail and not in its customary position around her shoulders.
“Penny – what can I do for you?”
“Walk with me for a moment, Jennifer – there’s something I want you to see.”
Standing up and smoothing her skirt down, she followed Madame X’s assistant down the pool room, into a corridor and past several doors. Stopping outside one, she turned and said “How long have you worked for us now, Jennifer?”
“Three years – why?”
“I think it’s time you saw how our disciplinary unit works – your record is spotless, but it helps if you see what happens to those who break our rules. Call it an educational experience.”
Penny opened the door, and the two women walked into a room with floor length grey curtains. On a rug on the floor lay two women, naked and hogtied with grey tape covering their mouths.
“These two are amongst our more junior operatives,” Penny said as she walked over to stand beside them. “They almost failed to spot a police van at a recent task, and as such had a choice – pay the losses, or submit to punishment.”
“Fascinating,” Jennifer said as Penny kneeled down next to the blonde and slowly peeled the tape away from her mouth. “But why am I here?”
“I’m coming to that,” Penny said as she removed a large cloth from the blonde’s mouth. “Well?”
The woman coughed, looked up and said “She’s good, but she’s not Jennifer.”
Jennifer laughed nervously. “What is this?” she said as she looked around.
“That,” a deep voice like melted chocolate said, “is precisely what I would like to know. Who are you, and why have you taken the place of one of my staff?”
Jennifer turned and looked at the dark haired woman standing there, impeccably dressed in a grey silk trouser suit and looking at her with eyes of cold grey steel.
“She was most co-operative – in her own way,” Madame X said as she took a drink. “She told us that a new organisation was moving in, replacing key staff in the others to cause maximum damage. My mistake was to think it was an attempt to shut us down, and so I turned to my beloved rival.”
“That would be this Lady C we have heard about,” Mike said as he sat down. The door opened and The Baroness came back in.
“Did you tell them about Lady C yet?”
“I was about to – I dispatched Dominique to visit her domicile, but when she got there she found only her aide de camp, a lady called Cho, in residence.
“Or at least a lady claiming to be her. Dominique saw through the disguise, and subdued her. She found the real Cho in the pool behind the house, wearing a blue bikini and a rope karada over her upper body. Dominique helped her out of the pool, and discovered she had been held captive since her mistress had taken a “much earned holiday.” When Dominique conveyed this information to me, I asked Cho to convey my apologies to Lady C and suggested Mike call this meeting.”
“So,” the representative from the BA said, “Who is behind it?”
The three others turned and looked at The Baroness.
“The head partner at Kavanagh, King and Curtis? He’s one of the good guys, or so I thought.”
“We all thought that,” The Baroness said as she sat down, “which is why I had one of my operatives, Sarah, take up a position in his office and do some digging. She found Mister Kavanagh had been running a business on the side – kidnapping, extortion, and even slavery on occasions. She was about to give her report to me when he caught her and intended her to have an extended vacation in an Arab country.”
“What happened?” Madame X said with some concern.
“She managed to activate a silent alarm, and we intercepted her transport. The woman who was with her – Jodie, I believe her name is – is now enjoying a long plane flight. I just finished talking to Sarah, and she told me what she had found. Mike, I had this faxed over.”
The Baroness placed a picture on the table. It showed a man in later middle age, dressed in a conservative dark suit and white shirt, standing beside a chair. On the chair was a brown haired woman, naked except for the bottom half of a dark basque, lashed to the chair with rope and gagged with white tape. The rope made a harness for her large breasts as she looked up at her captor.
“That – that’s my sister,” the BA representative said as he looked at the picture. “I need to...”
“Go,” Mike said as the other man ran out of the room. “Baroness, where is he?”
“We’re tracking him down now – but we know where his family are at this moment.”
“Leave that to me,” Madame X said as she stood up. “As I understand it, Mister Kavanagh owes us, and I have the very person in mind to collect on this debt.”
“You sound serious,” Mike said as he looked at Madame X, who seemed slightly ruffled.
“I detest those who use children as a bargaining chip – and anyway, I have promised someone an assignment. Baroness – let me have what information you can – I will see Mister Kavanagh rues the day he crosses all of us.”