Best Served Cold

by KP and Doctor George

The events here take place some six months after the conclusion of ‘What’s In A Title?’

Twenty-eight days to K Day

The April sun was shining through the windows of the home office of Aldington Associates, the renowned engineering firm based in North London. At her desk, Colette Aldington was working on a large plan, checking and re-checking her calculations on her computer as her associate Soo sat at a nearby desk typing. Their current project was a proposal for a new hydroelectric plant in the former Soviet republic of Nakhezistan, involving the laying of pipelines through several areas of outstanding natural beauty – the sort of challenge Colette, or Coco to her friends, had built her career on.

Coco looked up from her desk, saying “Pass me the geological survey, would you, Soo?” As this was an office work day, with no visits from clients expected, she was fairly casually attired, in a long-sleeved white silk blouse, an open grey waistcoat over the top, and grey slacks. The clothing complemented her body shape, as she looked at her assistant picking up a large manila file.

Soo was rather more colourfully dressed, in a multicoloured v-neck sleeveless top over a white t-shirt, a short blue denim skirt over dark leggings, and black leather ankle boots. As she handed Coco the file, she glanced at the clock, saying, “Time for a coffee break, I think,” as she did so.

“Three o’clock already?” Coco said as she glanced at her watch. “I forget sometimes how quickly time can pass here. All right – put the coffee on. I need to rest my eyes anyway.” She replaced her horn rimmed glasses on the bridge of her nose as Soo made her way into the kitchen.

In the street outside, life was continuing as normal, with the traffic flowing and people walking by. A non-descript grey van pulled up outside Coco’s house, the doors opening to allow three women to step out, rucksacks flung over their shoulders. As they opened the front gate and walked into the bush lined front garden, they paused for a moment to raise the hoods of their jackets over their heads, before making their way to the front door.

The doorbell rang once as Soo poured the water into the top of the filter machine. “I’ll get it,” she called out as she walked down the hallway, noticing the silhouettes through the frosted glass of the front door. Brushing down her jumper, she pushed her hair away from her face before taking the handle and pulling the door open.

“Hello, can I help you?” Soo said as she looked up, only to be stopped by the sight of the three women who were standing before her. All three were dressed identically, in grey body-fitting jumpsuits with hoods that covered their heads, leaving only room for their faces. At least, Soo knew that was where their faces were, as they had them covered by white featureless masks with thin slits for eyes. Their hands were encased in grey gloves and they had soft grey shoes on their feet.

Soo took this all in in an instant, as well as the fact that the woman at the front of the trio was pointing a small, but very real handgun at her. Her head was cocked to one side as she looked at the young woman standing there, before she walked in, pushing Soo into the hall way as the other two followed and closed the door behind them.

Soo walked backwards, watching the masked woman as she gestured that she should back up, before colliding with and hitting the ornately-carved wooden newel post at the foot of the stairs. As she stopped, her hand, hidden by her body, reached back and her fingers found a particular indentation in the woodwork and pressed the concealed panic button firmly. She had a portable alarm button in her pocket but was uncertain whether she could use it without the action being noticed. As it was, her hand had been out of sight for less than a second and Soo was fairly certain that none of the intruders suspected what she had done as they stood there looking at her.

The woman at the front cocked her head to one side again, before twirling her finger in a clockwise direction. “You want me to turn round,” Soo said a she looked her in the expressionless face, noticing as the woman slowly nodded and one of her colleagues handed her a coil of brown rope. As Soo turned, she looked over her shoulder to see the woman shaking the rope loose, doubling it over and making a small loop in the centre before stepping forward to stand behind her.

* * *

As she sat at the computer, Coco’s concentration was disturbed by an insistent vibration in a pocket of her waistcoat. Her first thought was that it was her mobile phone, but that was lying inert on the desk, its screen dark. She frowned slightly as she reached into the vest pocket and drew out a small black box, a red light winking on and off on the top of it.

As she pressed a button on the side, Coco listened carefully for any noise from the hallway, but she could hear nothing discernable. Glancing at the computer screen, she saved the document she was working on, before setting the computer to standby. Opening a drawer at the desk, she took out a small object, and palmed it in her hand as she silently pushed her chair back and stood up.

* * *

“For god’s sake, say something,” Soo said as she looked over her shoulder. Her wrists were bound together so that her hands were palm-to-palm, the rope firmly cinched between them. Her upper arms were pressed tightly against her ribs by a coil of rope wound tightly around her just above her elbows. The faceless intruded said nothing as she systematically added to her already secure binding with more rope higher up so it ran above her bust. She went on to cinch the chest ropes between her arms and body, locking her into a completely immobile position.

Apparently satisfied with her work, the grey-clad woman turned Soo round, revealing another of the trio standing there with a knotted black and white bandana held taut between her hands. She stepped forward and held the knot in front of Soo’s mouth, her head cocked to the side again as she did so.

“Oh no, you can’t be sergfmdfmgmgf,” Soo said as the woman pulled the knot into her open mouth, swiftly taking the ends round her head and tying them together at the base of her neck. The woman stood back, looking at Soo through her white mask, before nodding to her side. She felt her arm being pulled as the three women forced her to walk towards the office at the back of the house.

As they walked in, Soo could see the office was empty, the screen saver showing on her monitor. As she was pushed down onto the leather couch where she and Coco sometimes had business meetings, the three intruders walked towards the main desk, one of them sitting n the chair as a second stood behind her. The third woman turned and looked at Soo, her fingers to her lips to indicate she should stay silent, before she turned back to watch her colleague. Soo sat impassively, trying to twist her hands free behind her back as she watched the woman try to hack into the computer.

Phut.

Soo watched, her eyes wide as the woman standing with her back to her put a gloved hand to the back of her neck, before silently crumbling to the floor. The grey-clad and armed intruder looked round as she heard her colleague fall, in time to see a pair of grey trouser-clad legs running swiftly out of the room.

She looked at Soo, who stared ahead with her face a mask of fear, before coming round and looking at the prostrate woman on the floor. Palming the revolver in her hand, she looked to the masked woman at the computer, than to Soo, before standing up and walking out of the room. The third intruder stood up and walked round the desk, her masked face fixed on the captive young woman.

The masked woman slowly crept along the corridor, listening for any sound that might give away where the other person was. As she approached the door to the front room, she turned the handle and slowly pushed the door open, waiting to see if anybody would try to jump her.

The room appeared to be empty as she walked cautiously in. There was a three piece suite made of leather, the couch to one side of her and two chairs in front of her, a television and music centre, and a standard lamp. To the back of the room was a large display cabinet, and a set of bookcases.

Her eyes were drawn to the long couch, and she moved cautiously over, her gun extended as she looked round. There was nobody there, and from this position she could see there was nobody hiding behind the chairs either.

She turned slowly, looking round the room, but there was no sign of any other person inside. Looking towards the open doorway, she wondered if the other person had gone upstairs, but there had been no sound of footfall on the stairs. She turned again to look towards the front window, wondering to herself where the person had gone.

As she did so, Coco slipped out from her hiding place beside the display cabinet and raise a dart gun, taking careful aim at the masked woman standing in front of her...

* * *

The audible thud made the masked woman watching Soo stand up fully. Putting a finger to the mouth of the mask, she walked slowly towards the door, looking out to see what had happened.

Soo was up in an instant, clutching in her hand a small injector pen that she had managed to slip out from the back pocket of her skirt. She moved silently behind the final intruder, spinning round to bring her hands into range of her captor.

The woman stiffened for a moment, as she felt the prick of the injector pen, and turned to see Soo standing there grinning triumphantly around her gag, before she fell silently to the floor. As her masked face rolled to the side, Soo turned round to see Coco standing there, the dart gun raised in her hand.

“I was looking forward to that coffee,” Coco said as she placed the dart gun on the table and turned, walking back to Soo and reaching up to untie the gag from her mouth. As she pulled the sodden cloth out, Soo smiled and said, “I think coffee will have to wait until we tidy up a bit.”

“These are really tough knots work, I think even the Harman girls might have trouble getting out of this,” Soo said as she began to unravel the ropes holding Soo’s upper body.

“Who are these three anyway?”

“You don’t recognise them?” Coco said as she slowly unravelled the complex knots. “Grey suits, white faces – not mean anything?”

Soo looked at the woman lying on the floor in front of them, as Coco continued to unravel the ropes. Eventually, she looked round at her boss and said “Oh – them. I didn’t think we would fit their usual profile.”

“We don’t – so once you’re free, let’s get these three under control and then we can make the coffee while they’re coming round. I want to have some serious words with them.”

* * *

“Mmmggmmmmmm...”

As the woman slowly opened her eyes, she saw Soo sitting in a chair in front of her, leaning on the back as she smiled. She looked to her left, then to her right, and saw her two colleagues sitting either side of her, their heads slumped down. Both had their masks removed, their hair falling over their faces and the hoods of their jumpsuits pulled down behind them. She quickly realised that the same had been done to her, her blonde hair falling slightly over her eyes as she looked round.

Looking down herself, she could see her hands tied tightly together, palm to palm, in front of her, and then secured down to her legs above her knees. As she tried to move her arms apart, she soon realised that they too were bound tightly to her sides, and as she raised her legs she saw the ropes encircling her crossed ankles.

There was a pulling sensation on the skin around her mouth, and looking again at her colleagues she realised they had each been gagged with a three inch wide strip of brown sticking plaster, which very effectively held her lips together. As the other two began to stir, she turned her attention back to Soo, who was still just sitting there, smiling as if she was enjoying this.

Eventually, she stood up and said, “Good, you’re awake. My boss would like to talk to you. Don’t go anywhere.” The bound woman watched her as she left the room, realising that this ‘boss’ was probably the woman who managed to shoot her, and wondering who it could be.

So when a grey-haired, rather stout woman walked in and turned the chair round, sitting on it and fixing her with her staring periwinkle blue eyes through her glasses, she felt a little disconcerted. The feeling did not diminish as the woman looked at each of them in turn, the other two stirring and looking at her, then their colleague, eyes wide and questioning.

“So,” Coco eventually said, “You are the famous China Doll Gang. I have had some august visitors in my time, and have paid visits to even more famous people, but I should be flattered that you decided to pay me a visit. There is, of course, just one small problem with that – I like to know who visits me, and give them the appropriate welcome.

“What you did to my assistant was – disrespectful, and you needed to be taught a lesson in manners. More to the point, however, is that I have absolutely no idea why you are here, and I would very much like to learn that. I don’t have a lot of personal jewellery, or many valuable things, so what is here that would interest the world-famous China Doll Gang?”

Standing up, she walked forward and leaned into the face of the Doll in the centre. She returned the stare, wondering who this woman was who overpowered her and her friends so easily, when no-one else had ever done so.

“I’m going to ask you a few questions,” Coco eventually said, before reaching over and pulling the tape away from her mouth with one swift jerk. Returning to the chair, Coco sat down and watched as the Doll worked her jaw, before eventually saying “What... what did you hit us with?”

“A mild anaesthetic of my own devising – you’ll be fine in a while, but I need to know what you thought you would find at Aldington Associates.”

“Are you going to call the police?”

Coco smiled as she heard this. “Perhaps, perhaps not. I have my own reasons for wishing to keep this private for the moment. Let’s see – now, what were you after?”

She looked at Coco, realising this was a very different woman from the impression her appearance gave, before saying “We were paid to get some information from your files – some project you are working on in the former USSR.”

“That sounds plausible,” Coco said as she nodded, “I am aware that you have been known to do such work in the past – that recent episode with the book. No, don’t ask how I know – I may tell you later. The question is, who put you up to this?”

“She was a tall, dark haired woman, who said she had an interest in making sure you did not succeed in this bid.”

“Her name?”

“Foscari. Maria Foscari.”

The Doll watched as Soo and Coco both looked at each other, then back to her, before they did something completely unexpected by her. They burst out laughing, Soo turning as Coco shook her head and regained her composure.

“Foscari? Are you sure that was the name she gave?”

“Yes – why?”

“Stay there,” Soo said as she left the room, returning a few moments later with a teleconference unit. Plugging the unit in, she fed the cable out to a wall socket, plugging it in before returning and pulling over another chair. Coco dialled a number into the unit and sat back, saying “I advise you to let me do the talking – just listen.”

A female voice with a Scottish accent eventually answered the call, saying “Yes?”

“Colette Aldington for Lady Wolverton – please tell her it concerns the Venice project.” The quintet sat silently for a moment, before a cultured voice said in an accent that could cut glass “Miss Aldington – I did not expect to hear from you again.”

“My apologies, Your Ladyship – I trust you and your daughter are well?”

“We are, thank you, as is my mother – now, what can I do for you?”

“I have some unexpected houseguests, who claim you asked them to visit me to obtain some information.”

“Really? I thought we had an accord on that matter?”

“That was my understanding too. It is my belief they may have been misled – would you like to confirm that to them? They can hear you, but will not answer.”

“I can imagine – but no, as per our accord I have not asked anybody to visit you. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“I have one other question – does the name Viktor Kosolov mean anything to you?”

There was silence for a moment, before the voice changed and a series of Italian expressions came over the speaker. “I do love the Italian language – you get a feeling for the sense even if you don’t understand the words,” Coco commented in an aside to Soo before continuing “I see it does. If you would let me have any pertinent information, I assure you he will pay for this insult on both our houses. My associate will be on hand to receive your transmission shortly. Good day, Lady Wolverton.”

Ending the call, Coco sat silently as she watched Soo unplug and remove the unit. Eventually, she looked directly at the three Dolls sat on the couch.

“Lady Mary Wolverton was born Maria Foscari. I have had the pleasure of meeting her personally on three – no, four – occasions, and each time it involved family business. The most recent was last year – you may have read about it.”

The two Dolls looked at their leader, their eyes wide as they realised who was addressing them, and just what they had walked into. She returned their astonished glances the turned to Coco and said “So you must be...”

“Yes – and it is a sign of my professional respect for you three that I am prepared to admit it, and I ask you to keep it to yourselves.”

“Of course, but who is this Viktor Kosolov?”

“Russian oligarch, head of a mining company that I outbid for the contract. As with most Russian oligarchs, he came from the murkier side of the post-Glasnost era. Soo, check if a message from Lady Wolverton has arrived yet please?”

Soo nodded and returned to her desk.

“If I’m right,” Coco continued, “you met his daughter Natalya – a very good actress in her own right, and a fluent Italian speaker. Very good finishing schools they have in the Alps – ah.”

Soo returned with a laptop in her hand, which Coco took, putting her glasses on her forehead as she scanned through the documents on the screen. “It appears Lady Wolverton also had some recent business dealings with this man – some Orthodox icons he wanted to place in other hands. The deal went slightly sour. I think there was an element of revenge in using Lady Wolverton’s name to engage you three.”

As Coco spoke, Soo removed the tape gags from the other two Dolls, watching as they too worked their jaws before thanking her.

“So,” Coco said as she handed the laptop to Soo and sat back, looking at the trussed trio in front of her, “I think we should do something about this. How about you?”

“I agree,” the leading Doll said with a smile, her colleagues nodding their approval. “Any ideas what we could do?”

“One or two,” Coco replied, “but it’s getting late. Soo, untie our guests while I fix some drinks – we can discuss this in a slightly more civilised manner.”

K Day

“What do you mean you have not been able to get an answer from my mother? If nobody is answering any of the phones, you send someone round to investigate. Right now, if you wish to see tomorrow!”

Viktor Kosolov slammed down the receiver and sat back, a black look in his eyes and his brow furrowed. He was a worried man – some of the things he had heard recently had bothered him, and he had added extra security to ensure nobody was going to hurt him.

The door opened and one of his associates came in, his face pale as he held a large brown manila envelope in his hand. “Sir,” he said with a trembling voice, “this was just delivered by hand – I think you need to see it.”

“Give it to me,” he said quietly, and as the associate handed Viktor the envelope he stood back, unsure of what his reaction was going to be. As he opened it and drew out the pictures inside, he looked through the set, his eyes widening and narrowing as he whispered, “How did they...” He threw one down on the table, sitting with his head in his hands as the associate looked.

The photo was of a room somewhere, with three old wooden chairs set in a row. In the first was a woman in her mid sixties, her grey hair pulled back in a ponytail and covered in a headscarf as she sat in her long blue silk nightgown. The second was a woman in her forties, dressed in a grey silk evening gown, the hem raised slightly to reveal her matching leather shoes, and a pair of long white opera gloves on her arms. The third was in her twenties, her long dark hair falling over a cream coloured silk blouse, a tight fitting dark grey skirt as well as sheer black stockings and three-inch patent heels completing her outfit.

All three had strips of brown sticking plaster covering their eyes and mouths, and were held to the chair by lengths of rope around their waists, chests and shoulders, their arms reaching behind the chairs. Their ankles were tied tightly together and secured to one of the front legs of each chair, while their legs were bound below the knees. As the associate looked at the photos, they showed the women from behind, their elbows and wrists bound and then secured to the back rung of the chair.

In a number of the shots, a tall needle like structure could be seen through a window, a large globe fixed near the top. He looked at Viktor, whose head was still in his hands, and said “This is Berlin – it looks like it is near Alexanderplatz. Tell me, sir, are these...”

“Yes – my family,” Viktor said as he looked up. “But how, how did they take them and bring them together?” There was a single sheet of white paper in the envelope, which he opened and looked at.

“BACK OFF – OR ELSE. GRAVITAS.”

“Gravitas?”

“I have heard of them recently – this is a warning, that much is certain. I cannot – I will not have my family threatened by this, and yet I had no warning, no indication...”

He stood up and looked at the associate standing there. “I cannot allow this – put the word out.”

“What is the message?”

“Kosolov says... Kosolov says ‘you win.’”

Twenty-five days to K Day

As she walked into the café, she saw Soo and Coco sitting at a table near the back. She walked towards them, her blonde hair falling over the floral summer dress she was wearing, and sat down beside them.

“More tea please, Bessie,” Coco called out as the waitress looked at them. “Thank you for coming today – perhaps we should start with some proper introductions. I’m Colette, but you may call me Coco, and this is Susan.”

“Soo,” she said as she shook the arrival’s hand. “No hard feelings?”

“None whatsoever – and I’m Kay,” she said as she put her bag to the side. “Thanks for the files – our ‘client’ seemed most satisfied.”

“It’ll take her some time to work out they’re completely bogus – by which time we will have done what we need to do.” Coco feel silent as the waitress brought the tray over, leaving it and walking away.”

“Why meet here? I would have thought your area would have been more convenient?”

“I have some business here with a friend – part of our plan, if you will. Shall I pour?”

As Coco poured the tea, Kay looked round the room, before accepting the cup and raising it to her lips.

“I have been talking with certain people,” Coco said as she picked up her cup, “and a very well-placed contact is going to make sure the message gets out of a new, highly-placed group showing interest in the Kosolov family. I’ve also agreed with my friend, Lady Wolverton, to use some of her own contacts for our plan.”

“And what plan is that?”

Soo smiled as she leaned over. “We’re going to send Viktor a clear message that we can hit him whenever, and wherever we want to. Interested?”

“Could be. What would be our part?”

“We know that his daughter, Natalya, is currently travelling in Italy on business. His wife, Dimitvia, resides in Belgravia, while his loving mother Alexia is in his home town of Kaliningrad. We’re going to pay them all a visit, and show Viktor Kosolov the error of his ways.”

“As ourselves?” Coco smiled at Kay as she ehard this, before nodding to Soo.

“Not quite – the reason we’re here is to procure three very specific sets of items. After that, I need to co-ordinate three teams to take care of things with pinpoint timing – we want you to be one of the teams, if you’re up for it.”

“And who is going to co-ordinate this?”

“Soo here is a most efficient and capable administrator as well as an up-and-coming talent in our field,” Coco said with a smile. “Now, here’s what we’re going to do...”

K Day + 1

“And she is unharmed? They have not hurt her in any way?” Viktor let out a sigh of relief as he listened to the conversation. “Thank you – tell her to be on a flight to London as soon as possible.”

He replaced the receiver and turned to the men standing in front of his desk. “My mother has been returned safely – which means all three have been released. Gravitas, whoever they are, were as good as their word.”

Fourteen days to K Day

Coco stood to the side of the Berlin apartment, looking out of the window over the streets below.

“I don’t know what you’re doing, Coco,” the tall man standing next to her said as he watched Soo and a group of three women setting up a line of three chairs, “but somebody must have really upset you to go to this expense.”

“Oh come on John,” Coco said with a smile, “You know you can sell these on at auctions across the country. How did you find them anyway?”

“They’re part of a set of twelve – two more sets have been sent on as requested, and the third is waiting for delivery. I’ll make sure these are shipped back with me.” As they talked, they watched Soo taking careful measurements of the positions of the chairs, the alignment of the room and the setup of the lighting.

“All right,” Soo finally said, “That’s all the measurements taken. Now for some photographs.”

Soo set up the digital camera on a tripod and adjusted it so that the viewfinder was at a comfortable eye level for her. “Now you three sit down on the chairs. Kay in the middle, please, as you’re the tallest. Put your arms behind your backs but in front of the backrests as if you’ve been tied up and then tied to the chairs afterwards. I’m just using you as lighting references and to see if you cast shadows on each other, so it won’t matter if the poses aren’t exact.”

The women sat down as instructed. “That’s perfect,” Soo confirmed. She pressed the shutter release then instructed the women to stand up and move out of shot without disturbing the chairs. She took another photograph of the empty chairs, then carefully measured the distance and angle between the chairs and the tripod.

Soo moved the tripod to a new position and repeated the whole process, taking photographs of the chairs both empty and occupied. When she had completed four sets of photographs, she transferred them to a laptop computer and reviewed the results, showing them to everyone present.

“General view from the front and obliquely along the row from front and back – looks perfect,” Kay commented.

“What the hell are you up to anyway?” John asked Coco.

“The less you know, at this stage the better,” Coco replied. “How much longer do you think you will be?” she asked Soo.

“Another hour or two, I think,” Soo replied. “I want to go through the whole process again to check that the procedure for setting up the camera is going to be reliable at the other locations.”

There was a groan of dismay from the three women.

“You didn’t think a free trip to Berlin would be completely free did you?” Soo asked.

Coco glanced at her watch. “Time, I think, to book a restaurant for dinner, John. I need to talk to you about the trip we’re taking in a few weeks.” The two old friends walked to the other side of the room while Soo rallied her reluctant photographic models and went back to work..

Two days to K Day

Soo finished reviewing the photographs, before dialling a number on the phone.

“Albert? This is Gravitas – have you made the preparations?”

In a room in Venice, Albert looked at the row of three chairs and the white sheets under and around them.

“Confirmed – all set up according to your instructions.”

“Excellent – we will give the go in due course. Stand by.”

Soo replaced the receiver and turned to look at Kay. “How about you three – ready?”

“For some fun – of course. It’s a bit strange though.”

“What is?”

“Not going in character – it feels liberating, in a strange sort of way.”

Soo smiled as she stood up and picked up a rucksack. “You should see what I do sometimes,” she said as she opened the door. “Come on – I have a train to catch, and I don’t want to be late meeting up with Coco.”

One day to K Day

London, 8 pm GMT

The dark grey van pulled up in the back street, Kay looking up at the lights in the house as she turned the engine off.

“This is weird,” one of the other two women said as she tugged at the tight black sweater she was wearing, “and it feels strange not having the usual mask on either.”

“Those plastic masks can get pretty sticky. These are actually quite comfy,” another of the women commented, experimentally pulling a black knit mask down over her head, leaving just her eyes visible through the two holes in the front.

“Yeah, but woolly balaclava masks? It’s so retro.”

“Retro can be cool. And these are classier than the average balaclava.”

“True – you could have knocked me over with a feather when I realised that girl Soo hand knitted these herself.”

“She has a scarily broad range of talents,” Kay agreed, turning to look at her companions.

“I still think it’s weird not being us for this job.”

“I know,” Kay said smiling, “but look at it this way. We get back at this idiot who played us for a bunch of patsies, and we get to have a little fun along the way as well.”

“I can’t get used to the idea that we’ll have to speak during the job so they don’t know we’re the Dolls,” one of the women commented.

“What are you supposed to say to someone when you’re robbing them anyway?” her companion asked.

“I think ‘Stick ’em up!’ is traditional.”

All three women burst out laughing until Kay restored order, saying, “Calm down, girls, this is going to be a tricky job and we need to focus. We move in thirty.”

Kaliningrad, 11 pm (8 pm GMT)

“Nice dacha – wonder who it used to belong to?”

“Probably a KGB operative – many of them have done business with me in the past,” Coco said as she looked at the building through her binoculars. “At any rate, we need to make our final checks – we go in thirty.”

Venice, 9 pm (8 pm GMT)

The men watched as the tall, thin dark haired woman walked through the hotel lobby, stopping at the reception desk to see if there were any messages. As she headed for the lift, one turned to the other and said, “Is that her?”

“That’s her – Natalya Kosolova.” He glanced at his watch. “We have half an hour – go and make sure the car is ready.”

London, 8.30 pm GMT

“Let’s go.”

The three women stepped out of the van, carrying a rucksack each, and headed for the gate in the wall. As the other two kept guard, Kay picked the lock, opening it inwards to reveal a well-manicured rear lawn with lights shining onto the grass.

“Keep to the sides,” she said as she pulled the balaclava mask down over her head, the other two following suit as they made their way around the edge of the lawn, keeping to the shadows as they approached the patio area. There was a large picture window, with the curtains drawn across it, and a door that led to the kitchen. Signalling to her colleagues, Kay waited as they ran forward and slowly opened the door, allowing the three of them to slip inside into the open plan cooking area.

As they closed the door, the sound of heels clicking on a wooden floor came towards the other door at the far side of the room. With a hand motion, Kay sent the other two to stand either side of the doorway, waiting as the door started to open inwards.

Kaliningrad, 11.30 pm (8.30 pm GMT)

The two black-clad women made their way swiftly up the driveway, rucksacks on their backs, as they approached the single-storey building. The lights were off downstairs, save for a single light that shone from the side of the building. Coco looked at Soo as they approached the doorway, nodding as she gripped the door handle and slowly opened the door.

The room inside was a small living area, with a television set on, and sitting with her back to them watching it was a seventeen-year-old girl, her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. There was a bowl of popcorn to the side, which she reached lazily into and removed a handful of as Soo silently closed the door.

Coco smiled as she walked up behind the girl, grabbing her from behind as her glove covered hand was firmly clamped over her mouth. “Not a word, devushka,” Coco said as the young girl reached up and tried to pull her hands away, “just stay calm and allow us to be about our work. We mean you no harm.”

The girl looked at Soo as she stood in front of her, smiling through the mask as she held a length of doubled over rope taut in her gloved hands. “Now, little one, lie face down on the couch and don’t move,” Coco said as she gently pulled the girl over onto her side, looking to the open doorway the whole time and waiting for the next person to arrive.

Venice, 9.30 pm (8.30 pm GMT)

The two men stepped out of the lift, looking from side to side as they walked slowly down the corridor. Stopping outside one room in particular, they checked again before pulling the side of their woollen caps down, covering their faces with the black balaclava mask as one of them produced a small handgun from behind his back.

London, 8.40 GMT

The door swung open and a young African woman walked in, carrying a tray in her hands which she placed down on the table. She was wearing a grey shirtwaist dress, with a white apron tied over the front of it, and white soft-soled shoes on her feet. As she straightened up, she ran her fingers through her thick black hair, stopping only when she felt the cold pressure of the muzzle of a gun against her back.

“Don’t say a sound,” Kay said as she slipped off her rucksack and took out a length of rope, “very quietly, put your hands behind your back and stare straight ahead.”

“What is this,” she said as she looked to her side to see Kay standing there, dressed in black with the mask over her face.

“We have business to discuss with your mistress, and we need you to be out of the way while we do it. Just do as you’re told, and you’ll be just fine.” As she said this, she watched as he colleague tightly bound the maid’s wrists together, and then used a second length of rope to bind her arms together below her elbows. Her other friend said “Where is your mistress,” as the maid grunted at the way the ropes were tightening.

“She is due back in half an hour,” the maid said quietly, “and do you know who she is? What she is capable of doing?”

“We know the gravity of the situation,” Kay said with a smile as the maid felt more rope going around her, pulling her arms tightly against her back as it went around her waist, “and we are prepared for what comes next. The question is, are you?”

The maid stayed silent as she watched the rope going round her upper body, forcing her arms into her chest before it was passed between her arms and her chest to tighten the coils into place. “I take it I am going to be confined here,” she said as she watched Kay smile at her.

“I don’t think so,” she said as she looked at her two colleagues. “Why don't you take her to her own room and make her comfortable – I’ll get things ready down here.”

As the two others dragged their captive out of the room, Kay looked at her watch, before putting her rucksack on the kitchen table and removing a number of items.

Kaliningrad, 11.40 pm (8.40 pm GMT)

Coco watched quietly as Soo pulled the last knot into place, pulling the young girl’s ankles up towards her wrists as she lay on the couch. She was casually dressed, in a t-shirt and jeans, around which Soo had used plenty of rope to secure her like a salami. Her arms were tied together behind her back and secured to her upper body with several layers of rope, while her legs were bound at the thighs, calves and ankles, before she had been placed into the strict hog tie she was now in. A wad of cloth had been pushed into her mouth, and a strip of white fabric used to hold it in place.

The two women could hear heavy footsteps coming down the corridor, and as the young girl struggled on the couch Coco and Soo took up their positions either side of the door, watching as a stout middle aged woman walked in, dressed in a house-coat with a scarf tied over her hair.

“Nanochka, it is long past your... My God, who has done this to you?” The older woman ran forward when she saw her daughter on the couch, looking over her shoulder with eyes that darted back and forth, desperately trying to warn her of the two intruders there.

The warnings went unheeded, however, as her mother ran to her daughter and looked at the ropes around her. As Soo grabbed her from behind and pulled her back, Coco stepped forward and placed the barrel of her gun to the young girl’s head.

“Unless you wish your daughter to meet a most unfortunate end,” she said quietly, “You will shut up and get on your knees, with your hands behind your back. Choose – quickly.”

“Mmmmmdt” the young girl said as her mother looked at her, before slowly dropping to her knees and placing her wrists together, crossed behind her back. Coco nodded to Soo, who produced a length of cord and started to bind her wrists together.

“Where is Alexia Kosolova,” Coco said as she pressed the metal barrel closer to the frightened girl’s forehead. The mother looked up at Coco, a defiant look in her face as she said “Why? What is she to you?”

“She is the other person who lives in this house, and we wish to make sure she is also kept out of the way as we rob it,” Coco said in a quiet, determined voice. “So I will ask again – where is Alexia Kosolova?”

Letting out a cry as she felt Soo pulling her arms into her side with more rope, the older woman looked at Coco and said “she has retired for the night, but she is an old woman – please, leave her alone.”

“We will do what we have to do – our masters demand no less,” Coco said as Soo tugged once more, forcing the housecoat into the older woman’s body as she knelt there. “Now, on your stomach – and don’t resist.”

Venice, 9.40 PM (8.40 GMT)

“Room service.”

Natalya Kosolova looked to the door, saying to herself “That was fast” as she walked quickly towards it and pulled the handle down. It was to her credit that, as soon as she saw the two black-clad and masked men standing in the doorway, she tried to shove the door closed.

It was also to their credit that they forced their way in, Natalya backing off as they walked in and closed the door behind them. As they reached the open area, Natalya took a defensive stand, using the karate training her father had paid for to try and project an air of confidence and strength.

“My dear Miss Kosolova, that skirt and those heels do not lend themselves well to martial arts,” Albert said as he stopped with a smile on his lips. “I suggest you calm down and sit down, with your hands on your head – then this will be a much more pleasant experience.”

“Do you have any idea who I am,” Natalya said as she watched Joseph slowly walk round towards her.

“You are Natalya Viktorovna Kosolova, daughter of Viktor Petrovich Kosolov and Dimitiva Yurevna Kosolova, and a very wealthy woman in your own right. We, on the other hand, are two men who are here to rob you – and I promise you, we will. Be a sensible woman and sit down. We have no wish to harm you, but...”

The click was the first sound to reach her ears, and then as she glanced to the side she saw Joseph holding the flick knife in his hand, smiling as he took hold of her arm.

“Well, when you put it so nicely,” Natalya said as she sat herself down on the bed, her hands raised as she placed them palm down on her head. “What now, you prevent me from raising the alarm and take my things?”

“Exactly – I’m so glad we see eye to eye on this. If you would?”

Natalya slowly lowered her hands and allowed them to be guided behind her back, where Joseph placed them together palm to palm and started to tightly wrap a length of cord round them. “You know my father will have your hides for this,” she said as she grimaced, the rope biting into her skin.

“Your father,” Albert said as he watched, “Has earned the disfavour of our organisation, and we need to teach him a lesson.”

“Organisation? What organisation?”

“Gravitas.”

London, 9.00 pm GMT

“Amanda? Where are you?”

Dimitiva Kosolova looked up the empty hallway, listening for the sound of her maid, but there was no response, no call, no footfall. “Probably preparing supper,” she said to herself as she looked in the mirror, slipping the mink stole off from her shoulders and placing it on the coat rack. The shoulder straps on her long grey silk gown were perfectly placed on her shoulders, as she started to take off one of her elbow length opera gloves.

“Please,” she heard a female voice say beside her, “Keep those gloves on and slowly, slowly raise your hands in the air.”

Dimitiva turned to see Kay standing there, the creases either side of her eyes hinting at a smile on her face behind the balaclava mask, and a gun pointing at her. As she raised her arms in the air, she turned to see two similarly-garbed women, all in black with balaclavas over their heads, come down the stairs carrying a bag each, which jangled as they put them on the floor.

“You have picked the wrong house to rob,” Dimitiva said as she stared at the trio, a steely look in her eye that matched her hair. “You have no idea who I am.”

“We do,” Kay said as she stepped forward, “You are Dimitiva Yurevna Kosolova, and we have a message to pass to your husband.”

“What sort of message?”

“Do not mess with Gravitas – ah, I see you have heard of us.” Kay could see the way Dimitiva raised her eyebrows at the mention of the word.

“Viktor has... mentioned that name. What do you want with him?”

“All in good time, first be assured your maid is quite safe. Now, hands behind your back, slowly, and do not move.”

As the grey-haired woman slowly moved her hands behind her back, one of the other two intruders took some rope from her pocket and began to bind her wrists together, the white cord barely visible over the grey silk. “So, you are robbing us to repay some sort of debt he has inflicted? You know Viktor will not let such an insult lie?”

“It is Viktor who has insulted us,” Kay said as she took a roll of brown plaster from her pocket. Tearing a strip off, she held it in her gloved hands, saying “Any last words,” as she stood in front of Dimitiva.

“I am not afraid of you,” she said as she stared defiantly back.

“You should be,” Kay said as she pushed the tape over her mouth, sealing her lips together as the last of her colleagues took a small silver case from her pocket, removing from it a hypodermic syringe.

“Good night, Dimitiva Yurevna,” Kay said as her friend swabbed the older woman’s arm, and injected the fluid in the syringe into her body. Dimitiva’s eyes opened wide, before slowly closing as the two Dolls helped her to fall onto the floor.

“Right,” Kay said as they produced more rope, “Let’s get her secured and head to the apartment. That should keep her out, according to Coco, for thirty-six hours – enough time to get the job done.”

Kaliningrad, 12 Midnight (9 pm GMT)

Alexia Kosolova stirred in her sleep. Something had caught her ear – a muffled call, sounding as if it had come from somewhere far away. There was something unsettling about it, something strange, and she opened her eyes, wondering what was about to happen.

What happened was the sensation of pressure on her mouth as a soft gloved hand was placed over it, and as her eyes adjusted to the light she saw a black-clad woman standing next to her, her face hidden by a woollen mask except for the pair of dark grey eyes staring down at her.

“Good evening, babushka,” Coco said, speaking in Russian in a strong English accent with a crisp hint of Received Pronunciation to it, “Do not struggle or call out. Your comrades have already been restrained while we discuss our business with you.”

Alexia looked from her to the other side of the bed, where there stood a second woman dressed in black, slightly taller and much thinner than the first, holding a length of rope taut between her gloved hands.

“Whru,” she mumbled as she looked back at the woman with her hand over her mouth. Coco looked over at Soo, before smiling and saying “You are coming with us, as a lesson to your son Viktor Petrovich. He has upset some very important people, who wish to send him a message.”

With her free hand, Coco took a length of sticking plaster from her top. “I am going to remove my hand – keep your mouth closed, dear lady.” Alexia nodded and lay still as Coco smoothed the gag in place over her mouth, before pulling the covers back to reveal her blue nightdress. She nodded to Soo, who rolled her over, showing the pigtail her grey hair had been pulled back into under the headscarf on her head, and quickly crossed and bound her wrists together.

“I promise you, Nanochka and her mother will be safe. They are secured, but unharmed, so do not worry for them.” As Coco said this to Alexia, she felt Soo binding her ankles tightly together, before rolling her back over and lifting her legs slightly, passing more rope under her legs and pulling it around her nightdress above her knees.

As she lowered her legs down, Soo nodded silently at Coco, who took a small metal case out and produced a syringe from within it. As she injected the drug into Alexia’s arm, the old woman watched her, her eyes closing as she heard Coco say “sleep well, babushka – it will soon all be over.”

As Alexia slipped into unconsciousness, Soo left the room for a moment, returning with a small laundry basket from the utility room. The two women lifted Alexia gently into the basket, rolling it out of the house past the two women struggling and calling through their gags on the floor of the sitting room.

“Pass the message on – Gravitas has called,” Coco said as they wheeled the trolley out, the calls following them into the night air.

Venice, 10 pm (9 pm GMT)

“Ngggmmfdmmsfdmfsmdf!”

Natalya looked over her shoulder as Albert pulled the rope tightly around her arms one more time, forcing them into her side as he pulled it through the loops behind her back and passed the rope back round.

She was sitting on the bed, her wrists tightly bound behind her back and her ankles and legs lashed together with white rope. A strip of brown plaster was smoothed over her mouth, the shape of her lips visible under the material, as Joseph prepared a second strip of plaster with two cotton wool pads stuck to the inside. Picking it up, he turned and smiled as he walked towards Natalya, saying “Time to make sure you do not see where you are going. It will be better if you close your eyes at this point.

The young woman looked at both of them, her eyes taking in every detail, before nodding and closing her eyes, allowing Joseph to fix the pads over her eyes as the plaster went over her upper face.

“Tell your father that Gravitas does not take threats lightly,” Albert said as he pulled up the sleeve of her blouse and pushed the needle of the hypodermic syringe into her arm. He heard her yelp as the needle penetrated, before she relaxed and fell over onto her side, the drug taking effect quickly.

“What did you say this was,” Albert asked Joseph as he pulled the balaclava off his head.

“I’m not sure, Her Ladyship only said it would keep them semi-comatose for thirty six hours. Enough time for us to be about our work and return her to the hotel.

“We have a few minutes before we need to take her to the van – let’s make sure her bags are packed and ready.”

K Day

Kaliningrad, 11 am (8 am GMT)

Soo stretched and yawned as she walked into the room, looking at Coco as she was checking the arrangement of chairs and lighting in the room.

“Did you ever imagine, when you did Media Studies at school, you might end up doing something like this,” she said with a smile as she looked at Soo pouring herself a coffee. The row of three chairs was set up in front of the white sheeting, Alexia secured to the left hand chair of the trio, held in place by the ropes around her arms and chest to the chair back. The other two chairs stood empty.

“Well, no, I don’t remember my teacher suggesting anything quite like this as a possible use of the skills she taught us,” Soo said as she studied the pictures previously taken in Berlin and now displayed on a laptop, cross checking one of the model in the chair with the way Alexia was sitting. Walking over to the bound, gagged and blindfolded woman, she moved her body slightly and adjusted the ropes, Alexia grunting slightly and moaning as she did so.

“That’s better,” she said as she looked from their captive to the picture on the screen. “You look as if you need a few hours rest as well.”

“Not until we get this first stage done,” Coco said as she took a drink from her own mug. “I have complete faith in your skills in this area, but I need to know we got the this bit right.”

“Well then, let’s get to work,” Soo said as she set the digital camera on its tripod and took the first picture of Alexia. She moved the tripod to a new position, carefully measuring the distance to the chairs and comparing the view with the reference photograph she had taken in Berlin. Once she was satisfied with that shot, she moved on to the next until she had reproduced the full set of angles. She worked quickly, but kept referring back both to the shots on her computer screen, as well as the notes she taken. She connected the camera to the laptop and transferred the images. She flicked back and forth between the Berlin photographs and the ones she had just taken. The room in Alexanderplatz vanished and Alexia Kosolova appeared as she did so, but the chairs appeared not to move by so much as a pixel.

“Right, Soo announced with satisfaction, “we’re done.”

“Now for the tricky part?” Coco asked.

“Now for the tricky part. You need to go and get some rest – the cafe at the station doesn’t open for another two hours.” Soo raised her voice as she said this, having seen Alexia raise her head erect for a moment, before letting it drop again.

“Close call,” Coco whispered. “Let me know when you receive the photographs from the other teams.”

London, 9 am GMT

“Are we ready yet?”

“Just about, Kay,” her friend said as she adjusted the last lamp, the light shining across Dimitiva as she sat in the chair, her head slumped slightly as the ropes held her body in place. An empty chair sat either side of her, and her eyes were now covered in a second strip of plaster that matched the one currently over her mouth.

“How’s that for positioning, Sue?”

The third woman looked up and said, “Perfect, Jane – leave it...” She noticed Dimitiva starting to raise her head, so changed her vocal tones and said “Alexandersplatz is beginning to get busy – we barely made it here in time.”

Kay looked over and replied “Still, we have two here, and the third is on her way. Soon Gravitas will send a message he will never forget.”

They watched as Dimitiva’s head dropped forward again, before Susan locked the last lamp into place. “Right – give me the camera, and let’s get to work.”

Venice, 10.30 am (9.30 am GMT)

“I never knew you had photography as a hobby?”

“Who else do you think used to take the photographs for – you’d better answer that,” Joseph said as he saw Albert’s telephone vibrating by the computer.

“Yes... yes, My Lady, all is proceeding according to plan.

“We merely await the arrival of the third person here, and we will prepare to take the photographs as per Gravitas instructions – ah, excuse me for one moment.”

Albert looked up as Natalya started to stir, nodding to Joseph who walked to the door of the room. Opening it, he said “What kept you – the board are most unhappy. Bring them in and bind them to the two remaining chairs.”

“Whtsgnngn,” Natalya mumbled before her head fell forward again, as Joseph closed the door.

“Of course, My Lady – the other item will be delivered upon our return. We will contact you in due course.”

Albert switched off the phone and looked at Natalya, securely roped to the end chair of the row of three.

“Right,” Joseph said as he picked up the camera, “Let’s get to work.”

London, 12 noon GMT

“Dimitiva? Amanda?”

Viktor Kosolov looked round the hallway as he removed his greatcoat. There was no reply, which concerned him greatly. He nodded to his bodyguard, who walked quickly up the stairs as Viktor fingered the grey fur on the coat stand.

“Sir!” Viktor turned as the guard came back down the spiral staircase.

“I have found Amanda – she is trussed up in her room. Your safe has been opened, and Amanda says the women who attacked her may have taken your wife.”

Viktor looked round. “Did they give a name?”

“Gravitas.”

“My god – so they are looking for me...”

“You have heard of them, sir?”

Viktor looked to the man beside him. “Free Amanda, then contact my mother’s house – I need to go back to the office and call Natalya.”

Kaliningrad, 3 pm (12 noon GMT)

“Good afternoon – did you sleep well?”

Coco nodded as she watched Soo working on the computer screen.

“I have the photos from our team in London,” she said as she looked over at Alexia, her head slumped again with a set of headphones covering her ears, “and I just need – ah, there they are.”

She opened the e-mail and looked at the photographs of Natalya, sitting on the right hand one of a row of three chairs, bound and gagged as their guest was.

“If I had known he was such a good photographer, I may have been tempted not to gas him that time,” Soo said as he lined the photo of Natalya against a composite shot showing Alexia and Dimitiva apparently sitting side by side in a room in Berlin.

“How much longer do you think?”

“Another hour or so, I think. I’ve already cut out the pictures of Alexia and Dimitiva and layered them onto the background image from Berlin. I just need to cut around Natalya’s image and introduce her into the composite. There’s a bit of shadowing to be faked between the women and then I’ll be about done. What about her?” Soo nodded towards Alexia.

Coco glanced at her watch. “We have plenty of time. Besides, we can’t move until we get the word.

London, 3 pm GMT

“Penelope? You have news for me?”

The thin, dark haired woman looked up as her personal assistant walked in, her face showing an expression of curious interest.

“I have, Madame – it appears that Viktor Kosolov has asked that a message be sent by all available means to Gravitas?”

“How very interesting,” the other woman said, her voice deep and rich like a single malt whisky, “and what is that message?”

“You win.”

“Very well – pass the message on, and alert the crews to move on the mark.”

Kaliningrad, 6.30 pm (3.30 pm GMT)

“Thank you, control – the word is given.”

Coco switched off the mobile phone and nodded to Soo. “Job well done,” she said in her PR accent, “We may prepare to return our guest to her home.”

Soo smiled as she shut down the computer and walked over to help Coco release Alexia from the chair. “It is a long trip back from Berlin,” Coco said quietly, “But you will soon be safe home in your bed.”

Venice, 4.45 pm (3.45 pm GMT)

Albert and Joseph lifted Natalya up between them and carried her out of the room, nodding to the three people clad in white overalls who were standing by the door.

“Her Ladyship thanks Madame for her help in this matter,” Albert said as they left the room, making their way to their waiting van.

London, 6 pm GMT

“Put her down on the mat.”

Jane watched as Susan and Amy laid Dimitiva down on the mattress in the back of the van, making sure she was still out before sitting next to her.

“We don’t need to return her until after midnight,” Amy said as they stood and looked down on her, “But we need to establish our alibi. Ready?”

Susan held up a large grey canvas bag and nodded. “There’s a very nice house in Hampstead – owned by one of the main jewellers in the area – that would be perfect.”

“Good,” Amy said as she opened the back and drew out a grey catsuit, “Let’s get to work.”

K Day +1

London, 6 am GMT

Dimitiva slowly opened her eyes, blinking as the light from the ceiling lamp hit them. She looked round, taking a moment to try and understand where she was, and tried opening her mouth to speak.

To her surprise, she found the gag that had been stuck over her lips when she was last awake had been removed, as had the rope she had been bound with. She was in a bare office, lying on an old tattered mattress, with a cell phone left beside her.

Standing up, she held her hand to her head for a few minutes, as the attack of nausea wore off, before walking over and looking out of the dirty window. As she took in the scene, she could see the BT Tower in the distance, and from her vantage point she could see a Eurostar train coming out of a station.

Walking back to the mattress, she knelt down and picked up the cell phone, dialling a number and waiting.

“Viktor? It’s me – what happened? The last thing I remember was being bound and gagged by these masked robbers, and then...

“No, no I understand – I can see St Pancras station from my window. I will try and make my way to the side of the station and wait for you to collect me.

“I don’t know – I must have been knocked out, but I heard them say something about waiting for two others...

“What – Dimitiva and Natalya? All right – I will make my way there and see you soon.”

Venice, 7.30 am (6.30 am GMT)

“Signorina Kosolova? Signorina Kosolova, are you all right?”

Natalya moaned slightly as she felt the hand on her shoulder, opening her eyes and looking up to see the hotel receptionist looking at her.

“Wh... where am I?”

“You’re in the hotel lobby – when we saw your packed suitcases yesterday, we thought you were checking out, but when you did not come to the desk, we put them in storage. Would you like them now?”

“No,” Natalya said as she tried to stand up, “What I need is a drink of water – and a telephone, quickly.” The young blonde-haired lady went off, returning with a bottle of water and Natalya’s handbag. She grabbed the water, draining it in one drink before switching on her phone.

“Father?

“Yes, I’m fine, but I’ve no idea what happened. Two masked men in black grabbed me from my room, and said they were from something called Gravitas?

“Mother and Grandmama? Who are these people?

“I understand – I will be on the first flight home.”

Kaliningrad, 10 am (7 am GMT)

“Mother!! Come Quickly!!”

“What is it, Nanochka?” As the older woman walked into the master bedroom, she stopped, putting her hands to her mouth as she stood beside the young girl, looking at Alexia lying on her bed. It was as if they had never seen her taken, as she rolled onto her back and opened her eyes.

“Where... my god, I’m back,” the older woman said as he looked at her housekeeper and the daughter. “Are you both all right?”

“Yes,” the housekeeper replied as she hugged her daughter. “We managed to free ourselves, and then we sent word to your son.”

“The police?”

“Have not been informed.”

“Good – call him, let him know I am back – and ask him who or what Gravitas are.”

“Where did they take you?”

“I’m not sure,” Alexia said as she sat slowly up, “but I seem to recall them mentioning the others coming to – was it Berlin?”

London, 6 pm GMT

“Your mother will fly in tomorrow, and Natalya has called from the airport.”

Dimitiva sat down next to her husband and accepted the large glass of brandy he offered her.

“My staff have been looking at the photos they sent,” Viktor said as he raised the glass of vodka to his lips, “and they confirm that you all were taken to Berlin.”

“Why Berlin?”

“It’s central to all three of you, and still reasonably easy to slip in and out of unnoticed.”

“And you know it is there because?”

Viktor handed his wife the photograph of the three of them sat side by side, the tall globe visible from the window behind them.

“The television tower at Alexandersplatz – it is clearly visible. My men found the apartment you were held in an hour ago – would you like to know what they found?”

“What?”

“Nothing – the place had been stripped bare and wiped clean. Whoever Gravitas are, they are skilled, efficient, and clearly ruthless.”

“So what do you do now?”

“Now? I thank the maker all three of you are safe and well, I take you all out to dinner tomorrow – and I stay well clear of them.” Viktor took another drink. “Some enemies, it is best not to confront.”

K Day + 7

The door to the tea room opened and Kay walked in, smiling as she joined Coco and a well dressed, red haired woman at the table.

“Hello Coco, Penny,” she said as she sat down. “I trust all is well?”

“It is, thank you,” Penelope said as she sipped her tea. “I hear a certain trio struck last week in Hampstead – the family very securely bound and gagged, even the visiting friend.”

“Well, we have to keep busy,” Kay said with a smile. “I trust Madame was satisfied with the tribute?”

“She was – she also felt Mister Kosolov needed to learn a lesson. At any rate, we believe,” she said as she smiled at Coco, “that we will not hear from him again.”

The door opened and a tall, well-built man in a blue blazer smiled and waved at Coco.

“My ride,” she said as she stood up, “John and I have business elsewhere. I’ll leave you two friends to talk – and Kay?”

“Yes?”

“Next time you call, let us know beforehand, all right?”

 

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