The Netterton Jewels - Part 7
Mary sat there, watching as Coco continued her systematic search of her bedroom, unerringly finding all the places where she had carefully concealed her jewellery. As Coco removed a set of boxes from under the false bottom in her wardrobe, she closed her eyes and remembered a conversation with her mother some years before.
“Maria, remember our business is our special secret – you know that no-one must ever know about it, not even your husband if you marry.”
“Yes, Mama, I understand. It's just between us and the special people we trust. I know you never told Papa.”
“That's right and when you're older, you must choose some people you trust who can work for you and make sure you stay safe.”
“Penny for them?”
Mary looked up to see Coco standing by her bedside table, a string of pearls in her hand which she quickly placed in a small velvet bag. She was looking at her with her head tilted to one side, an expression of mild amusement on her face.
“Ah – you’re probably wondering how long it will be before the two men in the car outside come in to find out why you haven’t made your lunchtime appearance at the door. Well, I have to confess, I think they may be a little preoccupied at the moment.”
She walked quickly over to the window and glanced out at the car parked opposite, a young girl in a tracksuit standing beside it. As she looked on, the girl nodded and started to walk away, the scarf over her hair blowing slightly in the wind.
“U kn?” Maria mumbled as she looked at Coco, her eyes wide in surprise.
“I like to know a lot about the people I visit,” Coco said as she turned back to look at Mary. “I know that car is not an official one, and yet there it is, so I suspect it is a relic of your dear father or mother. At any rate, do not worry about them – they will be just fine.”
On the pavement, Soo glanced back briefly as the two men leaned back, their eyes closing as their heads hit the headrests. The capsule of gas that she had dropped in their car when asking directions would only work for a half hour or so, but that was all that would be needed for their purposes. Picking up her stride, she made her way towards Knightsbridge underground station.
Mary tried to throw herself forward, a mixture of anger and frustration fuelling her, but the ropes held her firmly to the heavy chair. She had counted on her employees' arrival to rescue her from this nightmare and, more than that, to avenge the wrong done to her family so many years ago, but now she knew she had been outwitted and foiled. As she watched La Cioccolata gathering her jewellery into her rucksack, she took a mental note of everything about her – her height, her build, her colouration, everything that she could possibly remember.
“Well, I believe that I am just about finished here,” Coco said as she went back to the wardrobe and took out a large dark brown shawl, “but I think I need to return to your daughter’s room and check that out as well – oh, and there is the small matter of your safe.”
Mary looked up sharply at her captor at the mention of the safe.
Coco stood in front of Mary, carefully folding the shawl into to a thick band. “Oh yes, I know about the safe hidden behind the false wall in your reception room; it shows up very well with a magnetometer. I’m sure your husband will be very interested to find out about it when he returns.” As Mary’s eyes widened, Coco deftly pulled the material over them, cutting her vision and light as she tied the ends tightly together under the knot from her gag.
“Try not to hurt yourself,” she whispered into her ear before picking up her rucksack and walking out of the room, leaving Mary alone with her troubled thoughts. I was so careful – how can she possibly know all this?
Coco made her way quickly down the corridor, stopping and looking in on Caroline. She was still lying on the bed, apparently asleep. Putting her rucksack down, Coco slipped in and looked at the ropes around her wrists. She noticed a little slack; Caroline grunted as she tightened them.
“Lie still and it will be over soon,” Coco said as she left the young woman on her bed, and made her way down to the reception room.
Closing the door behind her, she placed her rucksack on the long coffee table and looked around. Everything was just as the photos taken by Soo had shown them – the ornate furniture, the bay window looking out onto the main street with the heavy lace curtains, and the bookcase lining the opposite wall. On the wall between, hung a family group portrait, Sir Desmond and his wife standing behind Caroline.
“A remarkable likeness,” Coco thought to herself as she went to the wall. “Also an obvious place to hide a safe, so let’s make them think I looked there.” She moved the portrait slightly to one side, before turning her attention back to the bookcase.
“Now then,” she said to herself as she ran her gloved hands along the book faces, “I know the panel must be here somewhere – ah, here we are.” Her sight alighted on a copy of a book – Queen of the Adriatic: A History of the Venetian Republic 810-1797 – that had a well-worn and indented spine. In itself that was nothing unusual – all the books on the shelf had a similar worn feel – but Coco smiled as she pressed on the centre of this one and heard a small click.
A panel came out very slightly, but before she opened it Coco took a dentist’s mouth mirror from a pocket and passed it inside the crack. Satisfied there were no hidden light sensors, she opened the panel to reveal a numeric keypad and display. From another pocket, she fetched a small silver rectangle and pressed it against the keypad, depressing a switch on the side as she stood back and waited.
Carol opened her eyes to see her grandmother looking back at her, the cotton headscarf that had covered her eyes now up on her forehead like a headband in her sweat-covered grey hair. She glanced down to see the striped scarf that had covered her own eyes now lying loose around her neck.
“Hw lng?” she mumbled through her gag, her mouth aching.
“Dnt kn,” Agnes said through her own soaked cloth. “m gng t trn rnd – shfl dn, pt.”
As Carol watched, Agnes turned herself round, before looking over her shoulder and motioning to her granddaughter to move down the bed. As she did so, Agnes reached out as far as she could with her hands, her fingers probing until they felt the edge of the bandanna. “St,” she called out before gently starting to ease her fingers under the blue band.
The soft ping alerted Coco to the fact that the device had done its job, as a sequence of numbers appeared on a display at the front of the box. Removing the device, Coco punched the sequence into the keypad, stepping back as a buzz sounded and a concealed door swung open beside the portrait.
“Well now, Maria, what are you hiding in here,” Coco whispered as she pulled the door open and shone a torch into the area behind. The light revealed what looked like a small office, with a computer set up in one corner and filing cabinets against a wall. Looking to one side, she saw a light switch, and as she flicked it on a ceiling lamp flickered into life.
In one corner of the room stood an old iron safe, the polished brass dial gleaming on the front. Smiling, Coco took off her rucksack and retrieved a stethoscope from it. Pressing it against the safe door, she listened carefully as she slowly turned the dial, paying attention to any change in the sounds of the tumblers turning inside.
Carol took several deep breaths as Agnes managed to ease the rolled up bandanna out of her mouth. The two women lay still for a few minutes, before Carol slowly started to squirm her way back up the bed, the wet cotton lying on top of the other scarf around her neck.
“Lie still, Gran,” she said as she finally got to Agnes’ head and looked at the knots lying on top of her hair. “I’m going to try and undo this scarf with my teeth.” She got as close as she could to Agnes and started to pull at the brown edges of the knot, her grandmother lying still the whole time.
It seemed to take an eternity, but to Coco this was spice of life, the thrill and excitement of not knowing how something would turn out. Eventually she heard what she wanted to hear, a dull thud as the tumblers fell into place. Taking hold of the brass handle, she pressed it firmly down. The bolts withdrew with a satisfying clunk and she swung the heavy door out, revealing the contents of the safe.
There were a number of documents which she took out and laid to one side. To her surprise, she also found a small black case, which contained a set of gold coins laid on a velvet inlay. Coco took one out and examined it closely. It appeared to have been hand struck, which made it very old indeed. On one side was a figure of Christ enthroned surrounded by a Latin inscription, ‘Sit tibi Christe datus quem tu regis iste ducatus’. On the other side, there were two figures and the inscription ‘S M Venet’. “Sancta Moneta Venetae – Venetian ducats,” she said to herself, “and at least 16th Century by the looks of them.” Placing the case to one side, she looked back into the safe and found what she was looking for. Very carefully, she removed three old jewellery cases and placed them on the table beside the computer, opening the top one to examine its contents.
The gold of the diadem glistened as she carefully took it out of the case and held it up to the light. “Such a beautiful piece of work,” she said to herself as she examined the craftsmanship, “and a true beauty as well. I never thought I would hold something like you in my hands.” Replacing the diadem in the case, she closed it and fastened the hasp, before emptying the gold coins into a velvet bag and replacing the empty case, and the documents, in the safe. From her pocket she withdrew a small rectangle of cardboard, and left it on top of the coin case. The card showed the silhouette of a masked woman walking away Coco smiled as she looked up from the drawing.
Coco left the room for a moment and went outside, picking up her rucksack and carrying it into the room. Placing the coins in the bag, she pulled the rucksack onto her back and carefully picked up the three jewellery cases, before leaving the hidden room. She left the concealed door open just for the mischief that might cause.
Leaving the reception room behind, Coco listened for a moment to see if there were any other indications that her captives had managed to escape. There were no sounds, but she still was not sure, so she left the cases and bag on a table by the phone and quietly made her way back up the stairs. As she opened the door to Caroline’s room, she mentally congratulated herself that she had done so.
Caroline had somehow managed to get out of her hog-tie, and was sitting on the edge of the bed. Her blindfold had been pushed up over her eyes, but as she looked towards the door the look in her eyes was unmistakable.
“Dear me, Fräulein, your mother did teach you a few tricks, didn’t she?” Coco said in her German accent as she walked into the room and pushed Caroline onto her side again. “I need to make sure you stay here for a little while longer.”
“Sht,” was all Caroline said as Coco took the ends of the rope dangling from her ankles and passed them around the post that Mary Wolverton had sat against, tying them so that Caroline was unable to move her feet more than a few inches either way. As she checked the ropes around her elbows, Coco made sure those knots were secure too. She slid Caroline’s blindfold back down over her eyes and tightened the knot a little before stepping back and giving the ropes a last visual check.
Caroline rolled onto her back and listened as Coco walked out of the door and closed it behind her without a word.
Coco returned to the main bedroom, where Mary was still sitting securely bound to her chair.
“Auf wiedersehen, gnädige Ritterfrau,” she said as she closed the door behind her and walked back to the bottom of the stairs, picking up the cases and bag and making her way to the kitchen.
Placing the boxes delicately on the table, Coco removed her mask and her elbow-length gloves, before opening two small plastic boxes. She took out her green contact lenses and placing them in one, she quickly put in a normal uncoloured pair before pulling the short leather gloves she had worn earlier back onto her hands. Coco then put the mask and lenses in her rucksack, followed by the brown wig as she passed her fingers through her own short grey hair.
Picking up the large shopping bag, she carefully removed the bag with the dress and placed it to one side as she slipped out of her corset. Packing the jewellery cases into the bag, she then placed the other items on top before slipping the dress back over her head.
Opening a pack of wipes, she quickly cleaned all the surfaces she might have touched, placing the used wipes in a clear plastic bag that went into the large bag as well. Checking to make sure she had collected everything, she closed the bag and put back on the scarf, hat and coat. Picking up the bag, she quietly let herself out of the kitchen and into the main hallway.
There was no sound of any movement, so Coco let herself out of the front door, closing it firmly behind her. Glancing down the street, she saw the two men sitting in their car, rubbing their eyes and looking slightly sheepish. As she turned and quickly walked away from the house, she made a mental note to thank Soo when she saw her. Soo had made her getaway via Knightsbridge underground station, so Coco went in the opposite direction, taking the slightly longer walk to South Kensington station to return to Muswell Hill by a different route.
“Uh... Uh... Oh my god, are you all right Carol?”
Agnes turned and looked at her granddaughter, the sodden mass that had been the scarf in her mouth behind her as the gag that had held it in place hung loosely around her neck.
“I don’t know, Gran,” the young girl said as she started to cry, “I don’t know...”
“It’s all right, dear, it’s all right,” Agnes said as she looked at Carol. “This is all going to be over soon.” She turned and looked at the clock that sat on her bedside table. “My god – half past two,” she said quietly to herself. “Carol, how easily can you move?”
The young girl looked down her body. “A bit – why?”
“Can you get off the bed and crawl over to the phone on my dressing table?”
Carol looked over Agnes’s shoulder and located the phone. “The private one that connects to the Wolvertons’ house?”
“That’s the one; do you think you can get to it?”
There was a thud as Carol slid herself off the bed then a succession of grunts as she wormed her way across the floor to the dressing table.
Agnes watched as her granddaughter made her slow progress across the room, wondering what had happened while they had been held captive.
Once Carol had reached the dressing table, she realised that the task was harder than anticipated as she tried unsuccessfully to get herself into a kneeling position.
“Gran, I don’t think I can get to it with my hands tied to my feet like this, and even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to dial with socks over my hands.”
“You don’t have to, dear. Just find where it’s plugged into the wall and pull the cable out. If you do that, help will come.”
Carol squirmed her way around to the phone socket at one side of the dressing table. She grasped the wire between her teeth and pulled hard. There was a sharp snap as the plug gave way and the lead came loose.
“Three o’clock – so do you think she saw us sleeping?”
“Who knows? If she did, she might just be in a good mood. If she didn’t, no problem.”
“And if she did and she isn’t in a good mood?”
“Well then, we may have to...”
He stopped talking as both men’s mobile phones sounded out the same alert tone, Beepbeepbeep beeeep beeeep beeeep beepbeepbeep.
“Shit, that's SOS!”
Both men jumped out of the car and sprinted towards the front door of the Wolverton residence.
“Lady Wolverton?” one of the men called out as they entered the house, but there was no reply. “You check down here, Albert,” he said as he pulled a pistol out from his jacket, “I’ll go up and check the bedrooms.” As his colleague made his way to the drawing room, he sprinted up the stairs and burst into the master bedroom.
“Oh my god,” he said quietly as he saw Mary Wolverton lashed to the heavy wooden chair, gagged and blindfolded. Without a moment’s hesitation, he holstered his gun and ran across to his employer. He removed the blindfold, to see Mary staring up at him, her eyes burning with anger.
“One moment, my lady,” he said as he fumbled with the knots that held the scarf in her mouth, finally managing to release the cloth that had been stuffed into her mouth.
“Idiota! Con te non c'e proprio niente, ma niente da fare!” Mary snarled as she looked up at him. “Why did you not come when I did not appear at noon? You do not deserve this job.”
“Forgive us, dear lady,” he said as he looked at the ropes, “but we were... busy. Had we known, we would have come without hesitation.”
“What about my daughter and Agnes? And my room downstairs?”
“I will look for Miss Caroline and Agnes as soon as I free you. Albert is checking your room now?”
Albert entered the bedroom as his colleague spoke. He looked worried.
“Joseph, never mind me; go and attend to Caroline. Albert, what news?”
“My lady, there is no sign of Agnes, and your room has been breached.”
“What was taken?”
“The boxes you had us bring, and the ducats. This was left.”
He showed Mary the small brown card, as the sound of police sirens came down the street.
“Leave that there and secure the room quickly, then you can come back and free me. You and Joseph should give the police full co-operation – the story is that you came when Caroline set off the alarm. Make sure she knows that too.”
“Of course, my lady,” he said as a loud banging at the front door announced the arrival of the police.
Coco walked up the path from the street and opened the front door to her house.
“Welcome back,” Soo said as she came into the hallway from the rear office. “I trust all went well.”
“Very well thank you, and thank you for taking care of the car outside. Anything to report?”
“Well, there is a report coming in on the radio of police attending an incident in Knightsbridge, but no further details. May I take your bag?”
“Thank you, Soo - if you could start to sort out the contents, then I will be with you once I have...” Coco’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the phone ringing.
Soo picked up the receiver. “Aldington Associates.”
“Good evening, “ a voice like a hot stream flowing over a rock bed said. “May I speak with Miss Aldington please?”
“Who shall I say is calling?” Soo said as she looked across to catch Coco’s eye.
“Suffice to say I commissioned her most recent piece of work,” the voice continued.
Soo blanched slightly. “My apologies, Madame,” she said quietly, “I will pass you on immediately.”
Handing the receiver to Coco, Soo stepped back and watched as her employer said “Aldington. How can I help you?”
“My congratulations on today,” Madame X said. “I complement you on your approach, most original and effective.”
“I am pleased that you are pleased,” Coco said as she nodded and gave a thumbs-up sign to Soo. “I have managed to secure the items you requested, and we need only discuss delivery arrangements.”
“I would be honoured if you and your associate would join me for dinner tomorrow – I will arrange for a car to collect you at seven. We can take delivery at that point.”
“We would be honoured to accept, and I and we both look forward to joining you,” Coco said in reply. “Would you care for the items to be re-packaged?”
“That will not be necessary. Tomorrow night then?”
“Tomorrow night,” Coco confirmed before she replaced the receiver. She looked at Soo, who was still staring straight ahead.
“You can relax now,” she said quietly. “Let’s go and sort this out, and then we’ll call it a day. Come in late tomorrow – and you may need to go and buy yourself a formal gown.”
“Why?” Soo said as she looked at Coco.
“An invitation to dine with Madame X is always a formal occasion.”
“Madame, I have the honour of introducing you to my associate, Miss Susan Angarrack.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Miss Angarrack,” Madame X said as she took Soo’s hand in greeting.
Soo stood transfixed, feeling slightly self-conscious in a newly-purchased black silk dress, that came to just below her knees. “The honour is all mine, Madame,” she said when she found her voice, inclining her head as if addressing royalty.
George quietly placed three old jewellery cases on the coffee table before making a discreet exit.
“Ah – the Netterton Jewels,” Madame said as she carefully opened one case and removed the necklace, the rubies glittering a fiery red as they reflected the light from the open fire. “My thanks and congratulations to you, Coco. I trust you were suitably recompensed as well.”
“More than satisfactorily, thank you Madame,” Coco said as she looked at Soo. “I must say, however, I was surprised at what I did see there. I had expected some form of security, but there were one or two surprises.”
“All of which you dealt with most admirably,” Madame said as Penelope walked into the room. “For now, let us sit and eat, and talk of small matters.”
“A most remarkable woman, Penelope, and a most able apprentice she has employed.”
“Indeed, Madame,” Penelope said as she stood by the desk. “I think we will hear a lot more of young Susan in the future.”
“I am sure we will,” she replied softly as she held the tiara in her hands. “do you know, I never thought I would finally have these in my possession, but now that I do I find I can only stare and wonder.”
“I beg your pardon, Madame?”
“Forgive me, Penelope, I was lost in thought. I do not think there is anything else we need to take care of tonight, so you may retire now.” She stood up as Penelope collected her wrap.
“Good night, Madame,” she said as she bowed slightly before leaving, while Madame X made her way to a side table.
As Penelope left the room, Madame X poured a glass of brandy and walked to the window that looked out over the river. Smiling, she turned and looked at a portrait on the wall. It showed a tall, handsome man in a formal Victorian suit, standing behind a young, blonde haired woman in a full dress. Around her neck was a necklace made of 21 carat gold, with pearls hanging from the front of the necklace before reaching a large cross, with four small rubies set into the four arms and a large blood-red ruby in the centre. Madame X looked at the portrait for a few minutes, before raising her glass and taking a deep, long drink. "Rest in peace," she said quietly as she closed the boxes and carried them carefully to the strongroom.