A Quiet Chat
Carina was sitting at the breakfast bar, looking at her laptop and reading on the news she was missing in her exile, when a story caught her eye. As she read down, a smile crossed her face and she looked over to where her mother was cooking the meal.
“Hey Mom did you see this?” Carina called her mother over to look at the computer screen.
“What is it?” Juliette asked as she pulled her glasses out and put them on.
“The online edition of the Daily News… Now read the story.”
“Okay.” Juliette pulled up a barstool. “Feline House Invasion,” she read the headline… “What the hell, not more copycats?”
“NO! … Read down.” Carina prompted.
“Four women dressed as Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Catwoman in the movie Batman Rising, invaded and robbed the home of well known…” Juliette read aloud
“See - not copycats.” Carina prompted as her mother read the rest silently.
“Okay I agree not copycats, but I still feel like they pimped us.”
“Don’t you see mother?” Carina asked impatiently.
“No, what am I missing?” Juliette stared at the screen again.
“Who did Sandy say she ran into?”
“Dominique and Susan… Why? … OH!” she exclaimed as the penny dropped.
“What was Sandy saying about a lot of outfits delivered for Dom?”
“Yes you could put a pretty good Catwoman outfit together from those places.”
“So Dom is in town working.” Carina looked triumphant at her discovery.
“I wonder why Madame didn’t give me a heads up.” Juliette mused.
“Probably because it was none of our business, or she didn’t want to ruin our vacation. Either way, well done to her – I wonder who else they used?”
“Who can say – Madame is setting up a New York office, maybe she’s tested out a couple of new recruits.”
Juliette’s cell phone rang, and she took it out, glancing at the screen before answering. “Yes I saw it Sandy, Carina pointed it out to me…. Yes I agree that it was probably our friends… Yes I’m a little peeved… We will see Diana later and talk it all out…. Okay… Mwah…. Love you.”
“Sandy sounding more relaxed now she’s on holiday?”
“A little- but it can be difficult to tell with her. When do you see Helen?”
“Two o’clock – You’re taking me in today, Remember – OH!”
“Something wrong,” Juliette said as she looked at Carina.
“No – just a twinge. Don’t worry Mom – I’m weeks away yet.”
Juliette looked at her daughter and smiled. “Well, if you are sure, get cleaned up, they’ll be around at ten.”
“Well I take it you’ve all seen the reports by now.” Juliette said as she poured coffee for the assembled group.
“Oui,” Diana nodded.
“Are you totally sure it was Dominique, Susan and a crew?” Abigail asked.
“It makes sense that it was.” Sandy looked round at her guests. “Cohen was very prominent at the Mazengwean consulate function, I spotted Dom and Susan there, and I sort of thought Dominique’s explanation was a little weak.”
“Well I’m not sure why you are all getting your panties in a bunch.” Carina said as she looked at Sandy hard, “it is after all what Dom does… She’s in the same business as we are.”
“There’s a certain lack of manners in it.” Heather spoke quietly. “I’m sure Dom meant the Catwoman suits as a joke, but a lot of people are going to jump to the wrong conclusions.”
“She could at least have warned me over breakfast yesterday.” Sandy sipped her coffee.
“It is entirely possible she was asked not to,” Juliette said, “and if that was the case, she would not have done so.”
“What worries me is that if I understand how Madame X operates this will not have been a one off event.” Heather again spoke quietly.
“You mean it wasn’t a one off heist lover?”
“I think I get what Heather is saying.” Juliette looked thoughtful. “As nice a score as it was, Madame usually has bigger fish to fry.”
“That’s just my point Juliette.” Heather nodded, “A job like that was probably about something more important then gems if Madame authorized it.”
“Meaning what?” Abigail looked bewildered.
“That there was something more important in that safe to Madame then mere diamonds.” Juliette closed her eyes.
“Okay who turned the… “
“Ssssssh Sandy.” Carina giggled as the other women laughed.
“Well I’m not sure why we are letting all this disturb our vacation.” Jo spoke for the first time. “Has anyone considered that Madame has kept us out of this precisely not to disrupt our holidays, and your pregnancy.” Jo glanced at Carina.
“Yeah I told Mom just that.”
“So let’s enjoy Barbara and Baby S’s visit, and just be glad for once the cops have other things then Pussycats on their brain.”
“I agree with Jo.” Abigail nodded, “I’m going to be juggling work and my vacation during this visit, and I know Jeannie is supposed to be shooting a couple of things as well. I’ve got other things to worry about then what Madame X is up to.”
“I just think we deserved to be consulted and kept in the loop regarding Madame and Dom’s plans.” Sandy poured herself another cup. “I could have inadvertently blown the girls covers at the consulate. It’s only because I bit my tongue that I didn’t.”
“Sandy is right.” Juliette opened her eyes. “I’ll give Shirley a personal call and ask her to maybe let me know if she needs her help.”
“Get her to send details on that encrypted e-mail I set-up with Susan.” Heather told her.
“Yes I will… meanwhile as the girls said we do have other things to do… Carina can you take Jeannie out tonight?”
“Good, and I’m sure John will like to take Barbara out. That means we four,” Juliette indicated, Diana, Heather, and Sandy, can discuss this further tonight… Agreed?”
“Agreed,” Sandy said as she sipped her coffee. “So when do you head off?”
“In an hour - when do they arrive?”
“The flight touches down at 2 – so I expect they’ll be through by three.”
“Well,” Juliette said quietly, “Let’s leave it at that for now.”
Juliette picked up her cell phone and dialed a sequence of numbers.
“Shirley? It’s Juliette – is it convenient to talk?”
“One moment my dear,” the familiar deep and resonant voice said, “I just need to obtain some privacy. How are you Juliette?”
“I’m well thank you.”
“And young Carina?”
“Blooming in every way. Shirley, I need to talk to you about last night.”
“Ah – yes, I have been expecting your call. I know Dominique talked to Sandy yesterday. My apologies for the fact she could say nothing at the time – the truth is, she did not know of my plans to the full extent.”
“I accept that, but the choice of costumes?”
“That was regrettable, and no insult was intended. I am sure she will tell you herself when you next see her.”
“Shirley, are you in New York purely to assist Susan, or is something else going on?”
There was a short pause, before the voice on the other end of the line said “Juliette, there were very good reasons why Dominique was a little circumspect with Sandy. I cannot however discuss them on this line. May I send you an e-mail?”
“Of course- tell Susan to use the secure e-mail system. And if we can help in anyway?”
“I suspect you are all busy with Carina, but if there is any way in which you can help, I will be in touch. I think you will understand when you read my message.”
“Of course – thank you Shirley.”
“My pleasure Juliette.”
As she ended the call, Juliette looked at the phone. “What on earth are you up to,” she said to herself before calling Heather.
“Heather? It’s Ju – you’re going to get a message.”
“Juliette? You can come in now.”
Ending the call, Juliette went into the consulting room, Carina putting her top back on as Helen Reichmann sat at her desk.
“So how is she Helen,” Juliette said as Carina stood up.
“Perfectly healthy – in fact, I think the baby may have started to drop.”
“Don’t worry – sometimes it goes there for weeks before things happen. Just keep resting and sleep regularly.”
“But what about the chili craving?”
“Not unusual – a craving is fine, so long as it is not the only thing you eat. I’ll see you next week, but if you are staying up there for the birth, it may be worth letting the local maternity unit know as well – just in case.”
“Understood – until next week Helen?”
The Richmond holiday home
Outside on the deck, Abigail and Jo had decided that since a friend had taken the kids out sailing, they might as well work on their tans. Both girls were wearing bikinis with shades over their eyes as they lay in the warming rays.
“Now this is what I call a vacation.” Jo sighed as she lay back on the recliner.
Abby giggled, “Well at least this year I’ve got something worth covering up with my bikini bra.”
“Yeah I remember that thing on the beach last year.”
“Who’d of guessed then that within months I’d be modeling?” Abigail took a long sip of the drink by her side.
“And that you are now a supermodel.”
Abigail smiled. “At least for now I’m not that Abigail, I can just relax and… “
“Oh crap, who’s that?” Abigail stood up fixing her bikini top back on properly.
“Were you just going to go topless Abs?” Joanne laughed.
“Yes.” Abby mouthed the answer as she turned to see Missy Auerbach pushing open the side gate.
“Hey Missy what are you doing all the way up here?” Joanne called out as she tried to suppress her giggles.
“Hi Missy.” Abigail walked over and kissed her agent on both cheeks. “How are you?”
“Tired from the drive up here from Manhattan., if truth be told.“
“Yeah it’s not always fun.” Abby sat down on the edge of the recliner.
“Tell me about it.” Missy looked most uncomfortable in her tight skirt trying to sit down on the low recliner next to her client.
“A drink?” Abby indicated the jug of lemonade on the table.
“No thanks sweetie.”
“Well it must be important for you to drive all this way. Want to spill Missy?” Abby asked.
“Well with two of my star models out here on the edge of civilization for a couple of weeks or so, I thought I better come up and talk to both of them.”
“A couple?” Jo looked quizzically, “Surely Cari isn’t a star.”
“She means Jeannie Boofhead.” Abby grinned at her friend.
“Oh!… hey Missy you know Jeannie isn’t here yet?”
“I know, I was sort of hoping I could find a spare bed.”
“You better ask Aunt Ju when she arrives,” Abigail thought aloud, “with Jeannie, Barbara and John we are going to be absolutely packed to the rafters here.”
“Okay then, I’d better ask Juliette, or can you recommend a good hotel?”
“No I think you’ll be okay at Carina’s.” Joanne spoke. “Don’t steal any of her chili though – she won’t thank you for it.”
“She’s still not… ?”
“Oh yeah, and it’s getting hotter.”
“Maybe I will be better off in a hotel.” Missy looked skywards.
“She says it helps her keep cool in this heat – but don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
Logan International Airport
The Department of Homeland Security official looked at the passports and documents, and then at Barbara and Jeannie. The young girl was in her wheelchair, smiling as she sat in her blue t-shirt, denim shorts, leggings and sandals, while Barbara wore a cardigan over her blouse and slacks.
“Well, everything seems to be in order – welcome to the United States, ladies. Is someone meeting you outside?”
“My father should be outside with our friends.”
“Very well then – the young man here will help with your luggage, and make sure you hand the white form to the Customs officer as you leave the Baggage Claim area. Have a nice day.”
“Thank you,” Barbara said as she wheeled Jeannie out of the room, the DHS officer accompanying them through to the baggage reclaim area and finding a trolley to load their bags on. “This way, ma’am,” she said to Barbara as he pushed the trolley to the large sliding doors.
“Here we go,” she whispered to Jeannie as they left the baggage claim, and took their first steps on their permanent new home country.
“Hey there,” John said as he came forward and hugged both of them, “I am so glad to see both of you here safe and sound. How was the flight?”
“Amazing – coming in over the harbor like that…”
“Well, you’re not going to be flying out for a good time now,” Sandy said as she and Heather came over and hugged them both.
“Thank you young man,” Heather said as she took the luggage trolley, “We’ll take it from here.”
“Of course – welcome again,” he said as he saluted Barbara and Jeannie, and left them to their hosts.
“Come on,” John said, “Let’s get you in the car and up to the Manchester house. The girls are dying to see you.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing them as well,” Jeannie said as they headed for the car park.
“Ms de Ros! Ms Brewster! Look this way please!”
“Oh great,” Abigail said as the photographers started to run over, “The last thing we need now is this lot.”
“Head to the car,” Sandy said as she and Barbara stepped forward, “We’ll run interference.” They stood between the girls and the cameras, as the flash bulbs started to go off – save for one photographer, who slipped to the side and followed John with the girls…
“Wow – a motorway under the ground,” Jeannie said as John drove them out from the airport and north through the country, before joining the I95 and heading east.
“Yeah – almost caused mayhem when the tunnel collapsed while they were building it, but it works well now,” Sandy said as they emerged into the suburbs, and then onto the freeway.
“Is it always this cool,” Barbara said as she sat back and closed her eyes.
“A little too much wine, if truth be told.”
“Yeah,” Jeannie said, “Mum was flirting with the steward a little.”
The Richmond Holiday Home
“Jo? Are you on the patio?”
“Yeah Ju – you’d better come through.”
Juliette and Carina walked through, stopping as they saw Missy lying on the bed, her blouse open at the collar at her eyes closed.
“Missy? What’s she doing here,” Juliette whispered.
“She came up to see Abby and Jeannie,” Jo said as she sipped her drink. “She’s also looking for a place to stay the night – can you do the honours?”
“I suppose so,” Juliette said as she rubbed her chin,” but we need to find something to keep her amused while you girls take Jeannie out.”
“I could offer her some chili with an extra added ingredient,” Cari said with an evil grin.
“No,” Juliette said, “I can sort something out. Hello Missy – this is a nice surprise.”
Missy opened her eyes and looked up, sitting up and wiping down her skirt. “Juliette, Cari – how wonderful to see you both. Do you think I could stay with you tonight? I can always get a hotel if…”
“No, of course you can,” Juliette said, “Come on in and we’ll talk over a pot of tea.”
As they went in, Little George and Sandy came in through the gate.
“Hey you two,” Jo said as she saw them, “How was the boat?”
“It was great – we saw all sorts of fishes,” George said.
“Are they here yet,” Sandy said excitedly.
“Not yet,” Jo said, “Go and get cleaned up for when they come.”
“Well, here we are – my home away from home,” Sandy said as John stopped in the driveway.
“Oh my – it looks even nicer today,” Barbara said as she got out of the SUV, John fetching the wheelchair from the back before lifting Jeannie in.
“Hey, Jo,” Jeannie called out as Joanne walked out of the house and hugged her. “Welcome!”
“How’s Cari – oh my!”
“Hey,” Carina said from the doorway as she waved to the new arrivals. “Come on in – everyone’s dying to see you.”
John pushed Jeannie up the ramp to the front door and then inside, where Sandy and George were waiting with a cold drink and a bag of cookies.
“We like these when we come home,” Little Sandy said as she gave them both to Jeannie.
“Thanks – can I keep the cookies for later, we can share them then?”
The two children nodded enthusiastically as Sandy said “Right you two – give them some room. They’ve had a long day and it’s not over yet.”
“Come on,” Abigail said as she pushed Jeannie along, “let me show you your room.”
“I’ll go and get some tea started for these two,” Heather said as the others headed out into the patio. Entering the kitchen, she started her laptop and scanned down through the e-mails, noticing one in particular which she opened and looked at.
Heather nodded her head as she scanned down the contents. “What the…” was the only sound she made as she did so.
“I think you need to see for yourself,” Heather said as she beckoned over to Juliette. Putting her glasses on, she scanned down it as well, before saying “Oh my – she kept us out of it because…”
“Because she wanted to keep us safe,” Heather said quietly. “The others are not going to like this.”
“No buts Jeannie- you start adjusting to EST now. So come on – we’re taking you out for a pizza.”
“All right, all right, I give in – who’s taking us?”
“We are – hi Jeannie.”
“It’s Judy right,” Jeannie said as Judy McNally came in.
“That’s right – and these two are Ally and Nell. They’ll take you and Abby in their jeep, Jo and Cari come with me.”
“See you later Mum,” Jeannie called out as she was wheeled from the house.
“Are you sure you won’t stay Missy,” Sandy said as Missy came out with John and Barbara.
“No – I have some things I have to do. I have the keys to Juliette’s place, and can work there until they come back.”
“Well, ‘ll drop you off,” John said as they left, and Sandy went back into the front room.
“Right, “ Juliette said, “I think you need to read the e-mail from Madame before we say anything.”
Heather put her laptop down and watched as Diana and Sandy read.
Firstly, Dominique has asked me to convey her own apologies that you were not informed of what was happening. She also wishes you to know no slight was meant towards you – it was purely a disguise her team used.
The reason I was reluctant to contact you before was simple. Recently, I asked Dominique and a work colleague to, shall we say, liberate some diamonds in an apartment in Geneva. What we learned that night however, led us to the discovery of a trade in blood diamonds. A trade we wished to see stopped – so when the trail led to America, Dominique, her colleague Charlotte, and I came over to investigate further.
What we have discovered since then was that the trade was far worse, and that we had evidence of the involvement of the government of an African country, which must for now remain nameless, in trade not only in blood diamonds, but also in child slavery. The former is a trade I dislike, as it exploits innocents. The latter is abhorrence to me.
If I did not involve you, it was because the danger is very real and very imminent. I have no desire to place friends as dear as you in any form of peril unless I am absolutely sure of the plan and of your role. You have a new life to welcome, and I want you to enjoy and embrace that.
But I may wish to seek your help in due course, once I have ascertained the full extent of what is involved. I have to say, however, that this involves high ranking political leaders, and we must tread carefully. Only when I am certain will I ask – and I crave your indulgence until that time.
I will bring this trade to an end, by any and all means possible. I ask you to pray for us, and for our endeavors, and wait for my word.
PS Susan would like to meet with Sandy on a separate matter, at her convenience. She can be contacted by reply.
“Goddess,” Diana said, “She’s afraid.”
“I got that message as well,” Juliette said quietly.
“It has to be Mazengwa she is talking about,” Sandy said quietly, “Otherwise why would they be at the consulate? What can we find out about it?”
“Way ahead of you,” Heather said as she put on her glasses and started to work on her laptop.
“I’ve heard of it in the news,” Juliette said as she sat back, “much like most other countries in the regions – civil war, disagreement, and they are rumoured to be involved in problems in neighbouring countries. But child slavery? That, as Madame says, is abhorrence. Start printing, Heather – we need to know more.”
The eight girls sat around the table, chatting to each other as they ate their meals. Some breadsticks and garlic bread sat in the middle of the table, while the waiters re-filled their glasses as they emptied.
the pizza?" Judy asked.
"Great." Jeannie looked tired but was determined to enjoy herself as she took a bit of her ham and mushroom platter.
“So what have you got planned between now and school,” Ally said as she looked at Jeannie.
“Well, Mum and I are staying here for a couple of weeks,” Jeannie said, “but I have two shoots as well. Then I guess it’s settling into New York, and getting ready for school.”
“We’re all heading back at the same time, I think,” Jo said, “but when do you two start at Yale?”
“Last week of August,” Cari said quietly, “My first class is on the 27th. Judi?”
“Day after – we need to… Abby, what’s wrong?”
"We are being photographed," Abigail said suddenly as she stood to attention.
"Yes we are." Jeannie suddenly became alert.
"How can you tell?" Nell asked.
"Oh believe me they can tell." Jo started
"Models develop a sixth sense with regards to
cameras." Carina explained.
"There – that guy over there." Abigail pointed.
"Bloody paparazzi." Jeannie cursed. “He was at the airport today.”
The dark haired man took a few more pictures in the time it took the waiting staff to escort him out of the restaurant. “My deepest apologies,” the manager said as he came over, “It will not happen again.”
“Welcome to America,” Nell said, “hope it’s not always like this…”
“Goddess,” Juliette said under her breath.
“Well, even a superficial search made clear that Kimba is the strong man of the regime, and definitely someone to be scared of.” Heather looked through her glasses at her friends.
“Enough to frighten Madame?” Diana asked.
“You did not see him at the reception,” Sandy said quietly, “A small man, but there was an air about him – and then the two women he was with…”
“Oh yes.” Heather said as she stretched her arms. “He’s the real deal, a true AAA plus bastard.”
“If I read between the lines correctly, he either has some key co-conspirators, or has bought off some important people at the UN.” Juliette glanced up from the printout she was reading and also removed her glasses.
“Just the number of killings he’s said to have committed himself, let alone the ones he’s ordered, make us look like pussycats.” Heather looked slightly alarmed. “And yes I know that was a bad pun.”
“If we are bad guys? What does that make people like him?” Sandy asked.
“I don’t think there is a real word for people like him Sandy.” Juliette said as she scratched an itch on her arm.
“Now I know you are alarmed darling.” Diana observed, “I’ve not seen that nervous little habit in years.”
Juliette looked down and shook her head. “I know her organization has a long reach, but if she is going after Kimba, that is way way out of our league. I can understand why she did not want to involve us.”
“Even so,” Heather said, “to sell children as servants – Goddess, this is truly a devil.”
“So what are we going to do about it, now that we know?”
Juliette looked at the other three, and said “Darlings we can either walk away…”
“Unacceptable.” Diana spoke.
“Never.” Sandy exclaimed.
“No!” Heather got unusually loud.
“Or as I was going to say offer what support we can to Madame and her girls.” Juliette finished.
“Tell Madame she can have full use of the farm.” Diana offered.
“Thanks Diana, I guessed you’d say that so I already have.”
“These people use very sophisticated torture.” Heather slipped her glasses on and looked back at her screen, “as well as some tricks I’m not sure even Carina has thought of.”
“Well I know Madame would be reluctant, but I’m pretty sure Carina would interrogate people for her if the need arose.” Juliette spoke slowly.
“Ladies we took on the Mafia and won, but these people are far worse.” Sandy looked shell-shocked as she glanced over Heather’s shoulders at the images on the screen. “Goddess, salt? THERE?”
“Any guesses how good Madame’s intelligence gathering might be at the UN Heather?” Juliette asked.
“Honestly I don’t know Ju.” Heather thought hard, “I’m guessing she has maybe one or two people, and Susan’s husband is well placed as a driver to hear gossip.”
“I rather wish my sister-in-law was already in place.” Diana thought aloud.
“Natasha is not one of us remember darling, but I’ll agree if she was, with her linguistic skills, she’d be perfectly placed to help.” Juliette smiled at her dearest friend.
“I suppose we also need to discuss just how much we can do while I have house guests.” Sandy said as she raised an obvious wrinkle.
“Well I guess we have to use my place.” Juliette spoke. “Once Missy goes.”
“Susan is driving up tomorrow with someone.” Heather spoke as she opened a new e-mail. “She needs to see you urgently lover.”
“Me? Sandy looked puzzled, “Madame said it was an unrelated matter, but I’m still totally intrigued."
“Well we will know tomorrow darling.” Heather pulled her lover’s head down and gave her a long, deeply, passionate kiss.
“All right - If you two are starting that, then I think I better head home.” Juliette laughed.
“I agree darling, I think we’ve covered everything we can tonight, maybe Susan will tell us more tomorrow?” Diana yawned lightly
“Tell her to arrive at about eleven, and then come and join us for lunch afterwards,” Sandy said as the two other women left.
“Well now,” Sandy said, “the kids are in bed, the others are not due back for a while – what shall we do now, hmm?”
“Hey,” Joanne said as she looked in at Jeannie’s room, “been awake long?”
“About an hour or so,” she said as she looked over from the television, “I was just watching what passes for the news around here.”
“The papers are a better bet – come on, I’ll help you out of bed and we can go outside to have some breakfast. I think the kids are already out in the treehouse anyway.”
“Mum not up yet?”
“I don’t think her or your grandfather got back until well after we did.” Jo pushed the wheelchair over and helped Jeanie in, before taking her through the house and onto the patio, looking out over the lawn.
“I still can’t believe I’m here, you know,” Jeannie said as Jo went into the kitchen, returning with two glasses of orange juice, “This is like a dream.”
“Yeah, well, see if you say the same thing after your first week as an Angel,” Jo said as she sat down.
“I don’t think it’s going to be quite the same for me,” Jeannie said, “Miss Tennant is apparently sending some pre-work for me, on American history so that I don’t fall behind in the class.”
“Any idea how it’s coming?”
“No – only that I’ll get it some time this week.”
“Fair enough – hey Abby.”
“Morning,” Abby said as she came in. “Want the good news or the bad news first?”
“Let’s have the bad news,” Jo said as she sat back in the chair.
“Missy’s going to be here at 10 to talk to both of us – Mom is just telling Barbara now.”
“And the good news?”
“You and I are taking Jeannie down to the beach this afternoon.”
“Not this time – at least, not with us. She’s going to keep an eye out in case that creep shows up again.”
“Good – I just want as normal a life as possible over here,” Jeannie said as she smelt something cooking in the kitchen. “What’s that – bacon?”
“Yeah – Heather’s cooking some up for us.”
A few minutes later, the girls were in Jeannie’s room, having quickly washed and changed.
"Any idea yet whose classes you'll be in?"
"It's written down somewhere in all my mess."
Jeannie started going through her bag. "I'm in Miss Palmer's homeroom if I
"She's okay." Abby nodded. "Probably
means you get her for English too."
"Okay." Jeannie found a small notebook.
"You're right her for English, Miss Kelly for Maths…
"We just call it Math over here." Abby
"Okay Miss Kelly for Math…"
"You'll like Annie."
"You call your teachers by their first
names." Jeannie said a little in awe.
"No." Jo giggled, "Annie though is sort
of a friend of the family."
"Are you ready girls?" they heard Heather
call from the kitchen.
"No time." Abby spoke as Jeannie reached for
"Yeah do your face after we eat."
"Okay well I guess I'm ready then… let's go."
“Morning darling,” Barbara said from the table as they came in, “Sleep well?”
“Not bad – but boy am I hungry.”
“Well sit down,” Heather said, “and I’ll bring the bacon and eggs over.”
“Thanks,” Jeannie said as she wheeled herself next to her mother, and the others sat round.
“So have you got any idea what Missy wants to see us about,” Abigail said as Diana came in.
“You are asking the wrong person, darling,” Diana said as she sat down, “I know less about Missy’s motives than you do. I only know for her to come out here is unusual – probably because she wants to make sure you’re back in time for the last shoot before school starts.”
“On the other hand. Mom, you can talk to her about the December show,” Abby said as Heather put a plate in front of her.”
“Yes – there is that,” Diana said with a smile.
“Oh – what show did you get,” Jeannie said as she cut into her bacon.
“The Victoria’s Secrets show.”
“Wow – I guess that’s one I don’t get,” Jeannie said with a grin.
“Not yet anyway,” Jo said as she looked at the younger girl.
“Not ever,” Barbara said quietly, “not if I have anything to say about it.”
“Relax,” John said as he came in, “I don’t think our kid’s going to be asked yet.”
“Rats,” Jeannie said with a grin as she ate her food.
“Anyway, let’s get this meeting over and done with, and then we can get on with the rest of the day,” Diana said. “John, are you all right to take the girls to the beach today?”
“Of course I am,” John said, “Where are you and Barb going?”
“Mall walk – she needs to start to see the shops she needs to know, and besides, she needs some outfits for her new job.”
“New job?” Jeannie looked over and said “What new job, Mum?”
“Oh – I got a letter delivered this morning to here, saying I had a position at a hospital as an admin assistant – Mount Sinai.”
“Well done,” Diana said with a smile, as Missy Auerbach came into the room, wearing a grey bolero jacket and trousers with a shite collarless blouse underneath.
“Oops – I’m early,” she said.
“Don’t worry – have some coffee,” Sandy said as she poured her a cup. “What are Ju and Cari up to this morning?”
“Shopping – there was an early morning chili cook.”
The girls looked at each other and started laughing.
"John have you looked into getting Barbara some
wheels?" Heather glanced up from her cooking.
"Will I need a car in New York?" Barbara looked up and said, “I thought I would be walking most days, or taking the tube, sorry I mean the subway.”
John nodded and said, "Yeah you probably will love, I guess your old dad better get on that."
"Okay dad, well I guess I’d better put getting a
driving license on my list of things to do as well."
"John,” Joanne said between mouthfuls of coffee,
“if you teach me and Abby how to lift Jeannie properly then she can come with us
"Yeah Jo and I are planning to drive alternate
"Are you sure girls?" Barbara asked
"Yeah it'll be no problem." Jo nodded.
"What about if I do after school
stuff?" Jeannie asked.
"Then either your Mum or
I will pick you up,” John said “or I know a couple of great cabbies who know
how to look after a special customer."
"Okay that all sounds like a plan." Heather spoke as she served more food.
“Thanks for the coffee,” Missy said as she set her cup down, “but I need to talk to these two.” She looked at Jeannie and Abby, before saying “Can we use your parlour?”
“Sure,” Sandy said, before Diana said “Barbara and I will join you in a few minutes.”
Abby helped push Jeannie through as Missy sat and looked at both of them.
"Okay before I start,” she said as she opened her
case, “how was Moscow Jeannie?"
"Bloody hard work."
"Yeah I meant to ask about that… for Vanity Fair
right?" Abby asked.
"Yeah wrapped up in furs, fake snow
everywhere, all in the middle of their hottest summer ever."
"Ouch sounds like REAL fun."
"Focus girls…PLEASE." Missy tried to settle things down.
"You haven't lived till you've tried to get fake
snow out of your hooha Abs." Jeannie moaned.
"And you had your birthday doing that?"
"Yeah, I heard yours in Berlin was no better
“Sorry, Missy,” Abby said as she sat back in a chair. “So what was so important you drove all the way up here to see us?”
Missy swallowed – she had a feeling this was going to
be a tough sell. "You know the Vogue thing you did with Annie Leibowitz hits the street in 10 days?" Missy asked.
"Does it?" Abby shook her head, "I lose
track, Mom is collecting all my stuff though."
"Well Anna Wintour has asked if you'll both do some TV to promote it."
"Oh no!" Abby moaned, “I'm getting too little vacation time anyway."
"Which shows?" Jeannie sounded a bit more
"Well Chelsea Handler's for one."
Abby looked hard at her agent.
Jeannie looked over at Missy.
“I’ve never heard of her.”
"She's a comedienne and her chat show is on
"She's not bad." Abby still sounded pissed.
"Jimmy Fallon as well?"
"As long as it's just those two." Abigail sighed. “I guess we could do them, but they have to be the last for the summer, Missy. I need to get ready for school again soon.”
“There s just one small thing,” Missy said, knowing what the reaction was likely to be.
Abby looked at her warily and said “what?”
"You know they both film in LA?" Missy
winced as she mentioned it.
"WHAT!" Abigail exploded, "Uuh Uuh… No Way
"What's wrong with LA?" Jeannie asked.
"We will lose 4 days vacation time, five hours getting there, five hours flying back, filming, etc."
“I know,” Missy said with her hands raised, “I tried to get them to do it by livelink or something, but they insist on you both being there.”
Abby shook her head and said “Ten days – they’re talking about a week Monday, aren’t they?”
"I can sweeten it by maybe getting your shoots
done there….You are working those days anyway?" Missy proposed.
"That would work for me,
I always wanted to see LA." Jeannie enthused.
"Trust me – you’re not going to see a lot of it, BS. Talk it over with Mom Missy." Abby huffed, "But I guess that might be okay with me."
“Talk what over with me?” Diana said as she and Barbara came in.
“Doing some talk shows to promote our Babes in the Wood spread in Vogue’s September issue – Fallon and Handler.”
“The Tonight Show? But that…” Diana looked at Missy and said “That’s a 3 or 4 day round trip. Jeannie only arrived yesterday, and she needs time to settle.”
“I know, I know,” Missy said, “We’ll move the shoots to mean she doesn’t get over loaded, and she’ll be paid extra for it.”
“But it’s the other side of the country, Missy!”
“I swear, that is it for the summer, Diana. They’ll fly you and Barbara out as well.”
“Missy, please let this be it for a while.”
“I do have another surprise for you, now that your mothers are here,” Missy said as she reached into the bag and pulled out two magazines. “Hot off the presses.”
Barbara took the magazine and opened it, stopping and gasping as she saw the picture of her and Jeannie in the Richmond mansion.
“Oh my goodness,” Jeannie said as her mother showed her the picture, “you look fantastic Mum.”
“So do you mom,” Abigail said as she and Diana looked at the pictures.
“I do look rather good,” Diana said with a smile, “Can we get a copy sent to my father – actually, send two.”
“I’ll get Anne onto it,” Missy said. “So, the chat shows?”
“All right – but we get some down time after that.”
“Nothing for September, promise.”
“Might as well enjoy the time while we have it,” Abby said as she took out her cell phone. “Judi? I want you and Tony at the beach, two o’clock, no excuses.”
“What do Juliette and Carina think,” Diana said as she looked at Missy.
“They liked it – I’ve already had to fend off calls asking if Ju is coming out of retirement on the advance copies,” Missy said as she stood up. “I’ll let you know the travel arrangements later today.”
“I’ll show you out,” Diana said as she took Missy by the arm. As they walked to the door, she said quietly “The VS show in December.”
“Diana,” Missy said as she turned to face her, “Abigail is being asked for the nightwear section – I have informed them she will do no other part at this time.”
“Good,” Diana said as she nodded, “then I have no objections.”
“Thank you,” Diana said, “Safe journey back.”
“See you soon,” Missy said as she walked out, Diana watching until she set off and then closing the door before she breathed a sigh of relief.
“I still can’t believe you talked me into this,” Annie said as Susan turned off the I95 and headed into Manchester.
“It’s important that the air is cleared with Sandy Richmond,” Susan said as they made their way along the residential streets. “Besides, you yourself said you had some things to bring their houseguest, Jeannie.”
“Well, that is true,” Annie said as she looked at the houses, “and it would be nice to see the girls for a few minutes, but why Sandy? You haven’t asked me to apologize to any of the other people I visited – apart from you that is.”
“Funny – I don’t think you’ve apologized yet.”
Annie looked at Susan, smiled and said “Sorry?”
“Apology accepted – and it’s a long and complicated story, which Sandy can tell you if you desire. Let us just say for now that Sandy is a friend, who knows my line of business. Call it a professional courtesy.”
“All right,” Annie said as Susan turned the car and then pulled into a driveway. “Well, here we are,” Susan said quietly, “shall we?”
Annie took several deep breaths, and then said “No time like the present.” She picked up her case, and stepped out of the car, waiting as Susan locked the car, before they walked to the front door and ran the doorbell.
“Don’t worry,” Susan, whispered, “leave the talking to me,” as the door was opened and Joanne Smith looked at both of them.
“Annie? Susan? I did not know you knew each other!”
“Hello Joanne,” Susan said as Jo stood aside to let them come in. “I met Annie at my new gym, and when we got talking we discovered we had mutual friends. When she mentioned she needed to come out here, I said I had to come out too, so I offered her a lift – only to discover we were going to the same place.”
“Really? What brings you out to Sandy’s place Annie?”
“I am the bearer of bad news for Jeannie Brewster,” Annie said as she held her case up. “I have the pre-work she needs to do for American History, and I wanted to find out what she had done in Math up to now.”
“Oh yeah – she mentioned it today,” Jo said as Sandy came out. “Susan,” she said, “And Annie – welcome, both of you.”
“Annie, if you come with me,” Jo said as she took the young teacher’s arm, “I’ll take you through to Jeannie. Will you stay for lunch, Susan?”
“Hopefully,” Susan said as she looked at Sandy, “unless I get called away. Sandy, we need to discuss the charity function in a few weeks.”
“Of course – is it all right if Heather joins us?”
“I have no problem with that,” Sandy said with a smile as she showed Susan into the front room, closing the door behind them. Sitting herself down, she said “So – just what sort of steaming pile of guano have you managed to land yourself in this time?”
“The worst kind,” Susan said quietly, “the worst kind. I presume you managed to deduce more from Madame’s message than she wrote?”
“We may have done a little research on our own,” Sandy said by way of acknowledgement. “Once we read the message, and we thought about where I saw you and Dom, we knew it was to do with Mazengwe. A truly frightening place, and a truly frightening situation.”
“You only know half of the situation,” Susan said as she rubbed her eyes.
“I haven’t slept much the last few days,” she said honestly, “and in a way, we have you to thank for helping us to realize how dire this situation was.”
“Us? In what way?”
“The favour you asked Dominique to do for you. When she found the safe and opened it to retrieve the files, she was shocked to discover evidence linking this man Legault with the blood diamond trail – but that was not all Dominique discovered.”
Taking out her cell phone, she brought up a picture and showed it to Sandy. The girl was young – younger than Abby and Jeannie – but her eyes were old as she looked at the camera and smiled.
“This is Ama,” Susan said, “Dominique found her at the apartment, forced to work as a servant for them. She took her out of there as well.”
“How… How old is she?”
“Not sure – but this is a red flag issue to Madame. Hence the caution, and hence the reason we could not tell you our plans – the person we raided that night was another link in the chain.”
Sandy shook her head and said “I understand her caution, but if we can help…”
“The offer of the farm is received gratefully, and it may be we need your help in other ways – but you have other matters to attend to.”
“True – but do not forget us,” Sandy said quietly. “So, what is this matter you wish to discuss with me personally?”
Susan shifted a little, and said “well, it is a little bit of a delicate matter, and I need to ask before I begin for you to listen carefully.”
“Oh? What’s wrong Susan?”
“Well, when Dominique broke into the apartment to retrieve the files for you, she discovered she was not the only person to rob the apartment that night – someone had scaled the rear wall and overpowered Angel Xantu, the partner of Francois Legault. As Dominique was emptying the main safe downstairs, a smaller safe upstairs was being emptied by the Black Cat.”
Sandy suddenly sat up at that name. “Indeed? Please, tell me Dominique taught her the lesson of her life.”
“Erm – not quite,” Susan said. “Actually, she recruited her.”
“Before you say anything,” Susan said as she saw the fire in Sandy’s eyes, “I was as angry as you were. She robbed me a few nights ago as well.”
“She did? My, she does seem to have picked some very unfortunate targets.”
“To say the least,” Susan said quietly. “But as a result, Madame had asked Dominique to track her down, so that she could be informed of the error of her ways. You can therefore imagine the surprise when, according to Dominique, she watched her coming down the stairs from the bedroom to see her and Ama sitting there.”
“I would love to have seen that,” Sandy said quietly, “but you say you recruited her? You didn’t want to kill her?”
“Oh I did,” Susan said, “but it turns out the Black Cat is an amateur, who because she was the one who bound Xantu is now very much on the wanted list of the very people we want to bring down. Madame felt taking her under her wing, and offering our protection, was the safest thing for all.”
“I’m not sure I would have been so forgiving,” Sandy said as Heather came in. “Sorry – I was delayed,” she said as she sat down. “What did I miss?”
“Madame X has recruited the Black Cat to stop her been killed by the gem and slave traders.”
Heather looked at Sandy, then at Susan, before she said “you’re serious?”
“She is,” Sandy said. “So I guess I don’t get to have my revenge just yet?”
“I’m afraid not,” Susan said quietly, “but she has told us of all the homes she has visited, and the one she regrets the most was you. Madame therefore felt, given there was a very real chance she may have to meet you, that she got the chance to apologize before you met her in character, as it were.”
“Apologize? You do realize what I may wish to do to anyone who hurt Sandy, Susan?”
“I do, Heather, but when you meet her I think you will understand why this is important, both for you and for us.”
“So I guess the person you were bringing is the Black Cat? So where is she – and does Annie know?”
There was a knock on the door, and as it opened Annie looked in, saying “Can I come in?”
“Of course,” Sandy said as she shot a warning look at Susan, “did you find Jeannie?”
“I did – and I gave her the work. A very bright young lady,” Annie said as she closed the door. She then looked at Susan and said “Well?”
Heather looked at both of them, and then at Sandy, before she said “Oh you have got to be kidding me…”
“Am I missing something,” Sandy said as she looked at Susan and Annie, while Heather started laughing. “Lover?”
“Sandy,” Annie said as she stood in front of her, her hands together in front of her, “I am truly, truly sorry.”
“Sorry for wha…” Sandy suddenly stood up and stood in front of Annie, looking at her. “You? You’re the Black Cat?”
Annie nodded slowly as Heather and Susan stood up as well.
“Do you have any conceivable idea of what I was going to do to you if I ever met you?”
“No, I haven’t, but I couldn’t feel much worse. In fact, I’m surprised you didn’t say anything at the consulate. I just picked an open window, I didn’t know it was your house.”
“At the…” Sandy suddenly sat down and started laughing. “I thought I knew Fiona Lewis,” she said, “but for the life of me I did not know where from. Susan, you have a real talent here.”
“Was that a compliment?” Annie said as she looked at Susan.
“Annie,” Heather said quietly, “have you any idea what the hell Susan is dealing with?”
“I do,” she said, “I was one of the women who raided the Cohen house, and when I found their servant, I kicked him in the guts and in the balls.”
“You did?” Sandy looked at Susan, and then nodded. “Answer me one question please – why?”
Annie looked at Sandy and said “look at what I’m wearing.” She had a red cashmere sweater under a black leather jacket and skirt, and a pair of knee length black suede boots.
“Well, at least the money was well spent,” Sandy said. “It took guts to come and say what you said, Annie – thank you. So you’ve joined Susan’s group?”
“That’s right, but I’m still going to teach. This is a sideline for me, but I am in Madame’s employ now.”
“Well, I still say thank you,” Sandy said as she embraced Annie.
“All right,” Annie said quietly, “Can I ask a question now?”
“Well, you can ask,” Heather said quietly, “but you may not like what you hear.”
“Well, you and Susan obviously know each other, but Susan also said you knew her in her professional capacity. My question is, how? You’re not exactly what I would call criminals…”
"Annie, do you remember taking this from
me?" Susan opened her handbag and took out her diamond jaguar pin.
"Yeah, it was the most valuable item, my fence nearly went apeshit
when he saw the stones."
"Well." Susan looked at Sandy and Heather,
"You might as well show her yours, she's going to
Heather took a deep breath, and then opened her purse
pulling out a similar diamond pin in the shape of a cheetah. "Lover you’d
better as well."
Sandy sighed audibly then opened her bag and held up a third diamond pin, this time a puma. Annie looked at all three of them, and then said “I don’t understand – why are you… Oh dear god, are you telling me…”
She stood up and looked at all three of them.
“The Pussycat Gang – are you telling me you’re part of that group?”
The door to the room opened and Juliette came in, saying “Hello, Sandy, I…” She stopped as she looked at Annie, and then said over her shoulder, “Diana, can you come in here please?”
“Sure, Ju, what’s… Annie?”
“Juliette, Diana,” Annie said as she closed the door.
“Ladies,” Sandy said, “meet the Black Cat.”
Juliette and Diana looked at Annie, and then both sat down. “Well, this is getting interesting,” Susan said with a smile. “Do you want to continue this conversation, Annie – because you may not like the answer?”
“If you are the one they call Miss Puma, and you are Miss Cheetah,” Annie continued quietly, “then who are the other five?”
“I’m sorry, Ju, but Annie here is more than just the Black Cat – she is under Madame’s wing. She already knows most of it.”
“I see,” Juliette said quietly. “Well, Annie, it seems we must trust you with our secret. Heather, call the girls will you?”
Heather nodded and left the room, returning a few moments later with Carina, Abigail and Joanne. “What’s up Mom?” Carina said, before she saw Susan and Annie sitting there.
“Girls, meet the Black Cat.”
“The cat burglar? The one who robbed Sandy? Susan, you’re her?”
“No,” Annie said as she looked round, “I am. But if I’m telling you all this, and you three have the pins, then… Oh my god.”
Juliette opened her purse and pulled out a black diamond and ruby pin in the shape of a panther, while Diana removed one in the shape of a leopard.
“You too girls,” Juliette said, Annie watching as they produced pins in the shapes of a lynx, a tigress and a bobcat and showed them to her.
“Annie,” Susan said quietly, “meet the Pussycat Gang.”
“All of you,” Annie whispered as she took it in and then fell hard onto a chair. “Oh shit – are you going to kill me now?”
“What, and get a worse math teacher – no,” Joanne said. “I’m just amazed you’re the Black Cat. So you work with Susan now?”
“We’re not going to kill you,” Juliette said quietly, “but you have to swear to keep this a secret as well.”
“So I can add deadly female robbers to blood diamonds and child slavery in the list of things I can’t say anything about – what have I landed in?”
“Good question,” Carina said, “what’s this about blood diamonds and child slavery?”
“We’ll explain later,” Diana, said, “the question is, what are you going to do, Annie?”
“But I don’t understand – Carina was shot at the Tuxedo event, and they say the Pussycats they did that job.”
“That was an imitation group,” Juliette said, “and they shot one of us. We took care of it. We look after our own.”
“And if Madame has taken you under her wing,” Heather said quietly, “you are one of us.”
"Who… who… who else?
"Well." Susan breathed deeply.
"Dominique has one of these as well… "
"Dominique does?" Annie looked pale.
"And Madame has the other, but she's more an honorary cat."
“But the reports – which of you have actually killed someone?”
The girls looked at each other, and then back at Annie.
“Oh my… Have any of you not killed? Abigail, surely not you?”
Abigail squirmed a little uncomfortably.
“How many Abigail?”
“Do you really want to know Annie?” Abby looked round at everyone else.
“Yes.” The look in Annie’s eyes was full of curiosity and terror.
“FOURTEEN!” Annie half screamed half whispered in shock. “Carina?”
“Twenty Nine, oh sorry I was forgetting our French friend… Thirty.” Carina tilted her head sideways and smiled a little ashamed.
“Less than Abs is all I’ll say.” Joanne looked down at her feet.
“Oh my Goddess I’ve been teaching homicidal maniacs.” Annie raised her hand to her mouth.
“Annie,” Susan said, “we all have killed at one time or another.”
“You too? ... I cannot kill someone… I just couldn’t”
“Nor would we ask you to,” Susan said quietly. “But you need to know this, now – because they are going to help us.”
“Because we find what you are facing as abhorrent as you do,” Sandy said, “and because sometimes it takes a lesser evil to stop a greater one.”
“Err – this might be a good time to remember we have guests, and lunch is waiting,” Joanne said quietly.
“True – Both of you will join us, of course, and then we can talk after the girls and Barbara have gone.”
“Yeah – I think we should,” Annie said as she stood up, Jo and Cari helping her out to the dining room.
It had been a strange few days for Annie, but this was the strangest lunch ever. All of them sitting round the table, Joanne and Heather talking, and playing with Sandy’s children. Abby and Carina talking to Jeannie about the school and the customs. Susan and Sandy talking about a charity deal, and Juliette and Diana talking to Jeannie’s mother and grandfather.
She did eat, but as she did so she slowly resolved in her mind what she had learned already. The crimes of the Pussycat Gang were well known, their violence legendary – and yet, she realized, if she had been alone at the Cohen house the other night, she would have been tempted to take the gun she had, kill all three of them, and take the girl away herself.
She then realized Dominique must have had the same thoughts in that apartment, but had not followed them through. But these women…
“Penny for them?”
Annie looked at Juliette and Diana, before saying, “I was just thinking about the new school year – not long to go now.”
A short while later, John stood up and said “Right – we need to get going girls. Ten minutes.
“See you in a few weeks, Annie,” Abigail said as she and Joanne wheeled Jeannie out, while Carina smiled at her as she followed them.
“Can you give me a few minutes and I will be with you, Barbara,” Diana said.
“Sure,” Barbara said as she went out, and the four women looked at Susan and Annie.
“Don’t worry,” Annie said, “I won’t tell anyone. After all, I work for Madame, and you work with her as well. It’s just so hard to wrap my mind around.”
“Understandable,” Diana said as she stood up, “but thank you. I just want to know why?”
“Because I came damn close to killing that guy the other night – so I have a taste of what you feel, I guess. I just don’t understand yet why.”
“Trust me,” Juliette said quietly, “it’s complicated. Diana, you’d better get going – we’ll talk to Annie.”
“Wow,” Jeannie said as she looked out over the ocean, “this is fantastic. It feels so good to be out in the sun.”
She was sitting on a blanket alongside the other girls, while John brought the food and drink over from the car. As he placed it down, he said “Someone’s waving at you.”
“Hey,” Joanne said as she waved back at Judi and her cousin, who were coming over the sand.
"Hey guys sorry we are a few minutes late, but
Bobbi caught me on the phone." Judy apologized.
"She's back from Europe?" Abby asked.
"Yeah seems like she, Becky, and their Mom had a
"Cool." Jo remarked.
"She's trying to talk her dad into letting her
and Becky come stay with me a few days."
"Now that would be fun." Jo laughed,
"Add Bobbi into the mix, no guy up here will be safe."
"Well be nice also for Jeannie to meet
"Oh of course they'll be in the same class Jude.
Smart thought." Abby smiled.
"Who's Becky?" asked Jeannie.
"The kid sister of a friend of mine and Cari's. She’s another freshman at St Angela’s, so you’ll know at least one other person on the first day."
“Very cool,” Jeannie said, “but it’s going to have to be next week, isn’t it?”
“Jeannie and I need to fly out to LA for a few days for work – we’re doing a couple of shoots and a couple of chat shows.”
“No chance of you seeing the House while you’re out there then?”
“You know,” Abby said as she sat up, “that had not occurred to me. I’ll call him later and ask.”
“See – win win,” Jeannie said with a smile as she lay back and closed her eyes.
At a coffee shop at the top of the beach, John and Carina were sitting looking at the girls and around the beach.
“Any sign of the guy from last night,” John said as he looked along the road.
“Not yet,” Carina said as she sipped on her drink, and then held her stomach.
“Are you all right?”
“Yeah I think so – that chili I had this morning may have been a little too hot.”
John looked closely at Carina, before saying “Are you sure everything is all right? It is just a stomach cramp?”
“I think so – Mom’s right, I need to lay off the…”
“What is it?”
Carina looked over the shoulder of John, and said “Photographer – black Chevy, three cars behind you.”
“Right,” John said as he stood up and walked across the road, then doubled back and knocked on the car window. As it went down, he saw the young photographer from the airport.
“Good afternoon,” he said in a pleasant manner, “Would you mind telling me why you are taking pictures of my granddaughter?”
“Your granddaughter, sir,” the young man said, “I’m just taking photos of the sea.”
“I see,” John replied presently, “so if I call that officer over, and tell him I saw you point your camera at the girls over there, then you will only be able to show him pictures of the ocean, correct?”
The man looked over at the police officer, and then said “Look, I’m just doing my job...”
“And I’m just doing mine – disappear. Now.”
As the young man started the car and moved off, John took a note of the number. “Maybe Juliette can track him down,” he said to himself, “she knows this lot…”
“Nicely done, John,” Carina said with a smile, “Why don’t we go down and join them now?”
As she held her back, John said “Are you sure you’re all right, Carina?”
“Fine, fine – come on let’s go and have some fun.”
As they approached, Judy was just ending a call on her phone.
“That was Bobbi – they’ll be at my place tomorrow, her and Becky. Hey Cari – How’s baby?”
“Kicking like crazy,” Cari said as John set up a folding chair and she sat in it. “I had an e-mail from Yale about the room today – they’ve confirmed that the bigger room will have a cot and changing equipment set up in it. I hope you don’t mind?”
“Nah – getting the suite was a miracle in itself.”
“I also heard from Alex Curran – she’s going to meet us on the morning and make sure everything is as it should be. Helps to have friends of friends.”
“Tell me about it – a History and a Literature major together at Branford!”
“So there you have it,” Juliette said as Annie nursed her coffee. “I really, truly wish we had not needed to tell you, but Susan is right – you need to know everything now.”
“My god,” Annie said quietly, “I never dreamed…”
“Annie,” Susan said quietly, “think on it this way. You carry a gun to intimidate those you visit as the Black Cat, but you do it quietly. They are the boom box to your iPod.”
“Well, I won’t tell anyone,” Annie said, “professionals together and all that, but to teach Abby and Jo next year – and Jo a Head Girl…”
“We never let the Pussycats interfere with school or work,” Sandy said. “We also support the Jamie Kirkham scholarship. We know who and what we are, Annie – but we know how to hide in plain sight. You need to learn the same skills.”
“Oh I’d forgotten about poor Jamie… how?”
“Jo and Abby executed her killers.” Juliette said quietly.
“Well those I think even the lord might justify.” Annie reflected.
“Talk to Dominique and Madame – they have much to teach you,” Heather said. Annie looked at her and slowly nodded.
“I guess I have a lot to learn,” she whispered as she drank her coffee.
“Given anymore thought to going and seeing the New York Sluts tomorrow girls?” Judy asked as Carina took a drink.
“Who’s that? A band?” Jeannie asked.
“No.” Joanne giggled, “It’s only Nell and Ally Rochermann, the New York Sluts tag is a just a bad in joke.”
“Well they seemed to be nice girls when we met last night.” Jeannie said as she looked at Judy.
“They are Jeannie, I’ve known them since we were all tiny kids.” Abby looked up.
“So why the New York Sluts?”
“Because since they discovered boys were more fun then Barbie dolls, they’ve both never been afraid of… “ Joanne struggled for a word.
“Bonking?” Jeannie threw a word out.
“If that means what I think it does, then yeah you get the picture.” Judy laughed.
“Bonking… okay I need to remember that one.” Joanne laughed out as she had a mental picture build up.
“Why do I have the feeling that while we teach Jeannie America, she’ll be teaching us Britain?” Abby said as she lay back.
“Well I understood you Jeannie.” Tony smiled. “Do I need to move you yet?”
“No I’m fine Tony, but thank you for asking.” Jeannie beamed at her fellow countryman.
The other girls exchanged glances; it was pretty obvious Jeannie was starting to get a little crush on Tony, even if he was paying equal attention to Abby.
“Well this certainly beats two weeks at Clacton in a caravan with Mum.” Jeannie said as she pulled her sunglasses back down over her eyes.
“Clacton?” the girls asked as they all looked to Tony for an explanation.
“It’s a seaside place on the English coast, old fashioned nowadays, but there are still a lot of families that like that type of holiday.”
“And caravan?” Judy asked.
“What you guys call a trailer or a RV.”
“Can you stay on all year and be my interpreter Tony?” Jeannie giggled.
“Sorry, Jeannie – I have my A-levels to start studying for.”
“Your wheelchair in a trailer must have been fun?” Abby asked seriously.
“Nope.” Jeannie said as she levered herself up on her elbows. “It was bloody lousy, poor Mum having to lift me everywhere, but it was all we could afford.”
The others for a moment had a few pangs of angst, having all at least been comfortably off all their lives it was a sharp reminder that others were maybe were not as fortunate.
“Hey why the long faces guys?” Jeannie smiled, “we’re here, the sun is lovely, come on – let’s just have some fun.”
“Agreed,” Judy said as she sat up and looked at Carina.
“Hey Cari – are you all right?”
“I’m not sure,” Carina said as she sat forward, and then gasped.
“Girl, do you need to head back?”
“I think I’d better – and get Mom to lose that chili. John,” she said, “can you take me back and then return for them?”
“Of course,” John said as he helped her to stand and walked her up the beach.
Twenty minutes later, Sandy was standing at the door talking to Susan and Annie when she saw John pull in, and then help Carina out.
“Are you okay, love,” she said as John helped her in.
“Just some indigestion,” Cari said as Juliette came over. “I just need to go to the toilet.”
“I’m going back for the girls,” John said as he went back to the car and drove off. “Well,” Susan said, ”we had better get going as well. We’ll be in…”
“Cari,” Juliette said as she ran to the bathroom door, “What’s wrong?”
Susan, Sandy and Annie came back in as Heather came through from the kitchen. “What’s wrong,” she said as Juliette came through and grabbed the phone.
“Dr. Reichmann please?
“Helen? It’s Juliette Huntingdown. Carina’s waters just broke.
“Yes, I know there’s still five or six weeks, but I’ve just seen the mess, and she’s petrified.
“I understand – we’ll get her there as soon as I can. See you there.”
Putting the phone down, Juliette looked at Sandy. “Helen says to get her to Mass General – she’s arranging a helicopter to get her up there now.”
“Go,” she said, “I’ll call Diana. Heather, call the girls.”
“We’ll go in my car,” Susan said, “and hang the speed limits. Is her bag ready?”
“No time – we need to go now. Sandy, I need an old towel.”
“Got it,” Heather said as she threw one to Annie, while Juliette helped Carina out of the bathroom.
“We’ll call as soon as we here anything,” Juliette said as she helped Carina out, Annie running down to open the rear door of the car. Helping her in, Juliette ran to the other said as Annie got in beside Susan.
“Hold on,” she said as she gunned the engine, “let’s burn some rubber.”
Dominique was sitting with Charlotte when the telephone rang. Picking it up, she said “Yes?
“Annie, slow down, what are you…”
She suddenly stood up and said “I’ll meet you there.”
“Emergency,” Charlotte asked as she grabbed her coat.
“Very much so – call the Copley Plaza in Boston, have them reserve a suite for three for three nights minimum. Inform Madame that I have had to assist Susan and Annie, and I will explain later.”
She stopped at the door and said “One other thing – tell Ama I was called away, and keep her company will you?”
“Got it,” Charlotte said as Dominique ran out of the room.
“Right – I think I’ve got the idea now of which shop is which – but why are DVDs so expensive over here?”
“No idea – I usually get them online or import them,” Diana said to Barbara as her cell phone rang. Looking at the display, she smiled and said “Sandy, how goes…
“I understand. We will be back as soon as we can.”
“What’s wrong,” Barbara said as she looked at her friend.
“Carina has gone into labour – we must go back and be there with the girls.”
Jo looked at her cell phone and sat up.
“Hey Sis – John coming back for us?”
Abby saw her face pale as she said “Goddess – yeah we’ll be ready?”
“What’s wrong,” Judy said as she stood up.
“It wasn’t the chili – Cari’s waters have broken.”
“You’re kidding,” Jeannie said as she pushed herself up.
“I’m not – we need to pack up and head back to the house when John gets here. Judy, Tony…”
“We’re coming with you,” Judy said as she started to put the drinks away, “Tony?”
“On it,” he said as he lifted Jeannie in his arms and started to carry her to the road.
Massachusetts General Hospital
“Help me,” Annie said as she ran into the reception area, “I’ve got a 34 week pregnant girl whose waters have broken.”
“Where,” a nurse said as she grabbed a wheelchair, and followed Annie out to where Juliette was helping Carina out of the back of her car. Susan and Annie followed mother and daughter in as a doctor came forward.
“What’s her name?”
“Carina – Carina Huntingdown.”
“All right Carina – how far apart are the contractions.”
“About – SHIT – about every four or five minutes,” Cari said as she gripped her mother’s hand.
“Helen Reichmann is flying up – she’s Cari’s gynaecologist,” Juliette said as she felt the vice like grip.
“Dr Reichmann? Right – call ObGyn, tell them someone’s on their way down. Are you family?”
“They come as well,” Cari said as she started panting.
Annie and Susan followed them along the corridor, and into Suite 4F.
“Carina Huntingdown, 34 weeks, waters broke?”
“About two hours ago,” Juliette said.
“Contractions every four minutes.”
“All right Carina,” a female doctor said, “I’m Juliet Wang. Helen Reichmann called to say you were coming in, and she’ll be with us in a half hour. Right now, let’s get you into a room and get the monitors set up. Mum comes with you, but no-one else.”
“We’ll call Sandy, let her know you arrived,” Annie said as they went into an ante room.”
“One hell of a day,” Susan said as they sat down for a moment.
“Tell me about it,” Annie said, “or rather, don’t. I think I’ve had my fill of surprises for today. I’m going to step out and call Sandy. We exchanged numbers earlier.”
Finding her way outside, Annie took out her cell phone and picked a contact number.
“Annie? How is she?”
Sandy looked at the girls and Tony as she nodded and listened.
“All right – keep me informed.”
Sandy put the phone down and said “they made it, and Helen is on her way.”
“Carina’s doctor,” Joanne said, “and the aunt of the previously mentioned New York Sluts.”
“She’s where she needs to be now,” Heather said as George and Sandy sat either side of her, their heads on her chest as they dozed.
As Annie put her phone away, she saw Dominique running up.
“Where is she?”
“Upstairs with Juliette – and I know.”
Dominique nodded and said “Let’s find Susan and get something to eat – this might take a while.”
“Dr. Wang? I’m Helen Reichmann.”
“Hey Helen,” Cari said as she looked up from the bed, “I guess Baby got tired of waiting.” She then grunted as she grabbed her mother’s hand.
“How are they,” Helen said as she looked at the notes.
“We’ve got a good strong heartbeat, mother is about 8 cm dilated, contractions every two minutes now.”
“Well then,” Helen said as she put the notes down, “I guess we’re in for a fun night. Everything looks fine for now, Cari, but you are early, so we’re going to go cautiously. Pain relief?”
“No way,” Cari said emphatically.
“Let’s see you say that in a while,” Juliette said as Cari gripped her hand again.
“Fair – fair point,” Cari said with a grin.
“I just need to take a quick look,” Helen said as she lifted the robe Carina had been given and examined her. “Right – things are progressing nicely, but this is always the worst bit Cari. Oh – Nell and Ally were with me when your mother called. They asked me to say Good Luck.”
“Great – remind me to thank them personallyyyllllllshhhh….”
“Short pants, Carina, remember what we discussed. Breathe through the pain.”
Carina nodded and panted, as the latest wave of contractions ended.
“Well, you would have found out eventually,” Dominique said as she picked up a bagel and bit into it, “how do you feel now?”
“Confused as hell, and with many more questions, but this isn’t the time, is it?”
“Nope,” Susan said as she looked at Annie, “but this is a different side of our work. Pray you never have to face that yourself.”
“I hope I never have to – but they’re right about one thing. What we’re looking into – that’s pure evil. And I know they are vicious and deadly, but they have some humanity. These bastards don’t.”
“We will talk with Madame when we get back – I’ve booked us into a hotel for the next couple of nights, so we can talk amongst ourselves. Charlotte can contact me as need be.”
Complete Style Offices
“I bet Diana loved that idea – that time in Europe, and now LA?”
Missy shook her head as she sat with Mary and Anna round the conference table. “Not much – but poor Jeannie. She just gets here and already she’s going West Coast.”
“An adventure for the dear,” Mary said as the conference phone rang.
“Expecting a call?”
“Nope,” Anna said as she pressed a button. “Complete Style?”
“Anna? It’s Diana.”
“Diana? What’s happened?”
“Cari’s waters broke – Ju’s with her at Mass General now.”
The three women looked at each other, before Mary said “Is she…”
“So far – Is Missy there?”
“I’m here – shall we call Fiona?”
“Please – and I’ll let you know when I know.”
As the call ended, Mary stood up.
“Where are you going?”
“To order take out – and a couple of bottles of wine.”
"Charlotte, do you mind while I make a personal call."
"That's fine Madame." Charlotte looked perplexed – Madame asking her permission? She watched as she took out a cell phone and dialed.
"Oh my God I've never heard her use her real
name." Charlotte thought as she sat there, a bit stunned.
"How is Cari? … Yes
Dominique texted me … how early is she? … Oh dear Goddess,
Suddenly it clicked in Charlotte's mind what had happened, the daughter of a friend of both Dom's and
Madame's had gone into premature labour.
"Well she's in one of the best hospital's in the
world … Yes I'll await further news … Pass on my love … Thank you … hopefully
see you soon."
"Is everything alright Madame?" Charlotte looked at Madame as she stroked her
"I hope so Charlotte, I truly hope so. Shouldn’t you be with Ama now?"
“Of course – on my way.”
Juliette held Carina’s hand tightly as the contraction passed and eased. Helen looked up and said “Well, the good news is you are fully dilated. Do you want any gas or an epidural, Carina?”
“No,” she panted, “I’m getting through this on my own stEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE”
The next contraction washed over her as Helen put on a surgical gown and gloves.
“Right, now Carina, here comes the hard part.”
“NOW comes the hard part?”
“Remember when I told you not to push?”
“How could I forget?”
“Well, when the next contraction comes, I want you to start pushing for all you are worth. Take deep breaths until you feel it coming, and then push, all right?”
Juliette wiped Carina’s brow as she said “Shit Mum – was it like this for you?”
“I’m afraid so – mind you, there was a parade on, and it was Diana and Mary with me then.”
“Oh dear goddess….”
“PUSH,” Helen said firmly, as Carina bore down and pushed with all her might, before gasping and stopping for breath.
“That’s good,” Helen said as she looked up, “I can see the baby’s head now. When it comes again, push as hard as you can.”
“Easy for you to say,” Carina panted out.
“Yup, and hurts like hell for you, but we are on the home stretch.”
“OHMYGODDESSS!!!!!!” Carina screamed and pushed down again as the contraction came, and she felt Helen’s hands.
“Great – the baby has crowned Carina. One more push and it will all be over.”
“Can I sleep after that?”
“You can sleep all you want, baby,” Juliette said as she mopped her daughter’s brow. “Ready?”
“Not a fucking chance, but let’s do it,” Carina said as the contraction started again, and she pushed as hard and for as long as she could.
“And – here we are! Welcome little one,” Helen said, and as Carina looked down she saw a tiny baby girl in Helen’s hands, a shock of dark hair on her head.
“Is she…. Is she all right,” Carina gasped, only to smile as the girl started crying.
“I think she’ll live,” Helen said as she handed her to a nurse. “We need to check her, and then I’ll bring her over.”
“You did it Cari baby, you did it,” Juliette said as she kissed her daughter, and then saw her granddaughter as she was laid next to Carina.
“Hey baby,” she whispered quietly, “I’m pleased to meet you at last.”
“Right, let’s get you sorted now. You’re going to feel one more push, and then it’s – there we go.”
“What was that?”
“The placenta,” Helen said as she passed a bowl to the nurse, and then looked at Carina. “You’ll need a couple of stitches, and the baby will spend the night in neo natal as a precaution, but you did good Carina. Have you decided on names yet?”
“Oh yes,” Carina said as she looked at Juliette, “I have…”
"Why didn't you have a shot darling?" Juliette asked her daughter as she mopped her brow.
"The Beast was relishing the pain Mom."
Helen looked up from the clipboard.
"Little family joke." Juliette smiled.
“Right, Baby Huntingdown, weighing at a healthy for five weeks early six pound and one ounce. So, all we need is the name.”
“It’s Judith,” Carina said as she stroked the baby’s cheek with her finger, “Judith Diana Abigail Joanne Huntingdown.”
“Judith it is then,” Helen said as she made a note on the file. “Right – let me find you a dressing gown, and we’ll take you down to where she will spend the night.”
“Thanks,” Carina said as she stood up with her mother’s help, and then watched as the nurse placed Judith in a crib, then pushed it slowly down the hall as Carina and Juliette followed.
As they passed the waiting area, Juliette saw Dominique sitting outside with Annie and Susan. The three of them looked at her and Carina as they smiled and waved back, before disappearing down the corridor.
“She must have given birth,” Annie said, “I hope the child is all right.”
“Have faith,” Susan said as she put her hand on Annie’s leg.
Five minutes later, Juliette opened the door and beckoned them in. They followed her down to the neonatal unit, looking through the window at Carina as she stood by the crib and looked down at her daughter.
“It’s a girl,” Juliette said quietly, “Judith. Judith Diana Abigail Joanne.”
“A lot of names,” Annie said with a smile. “Want me to put her down for St Angela’s now?”
“Ask her mother,” Juliette said as Carina gave the baby a little wave, and then came out. “Hey,” she said as each of them hugged her in turn.
"I’d better drop into school and register her for
the class of 2032 when I get a chance." Annie joked.
"Oh it's a bit premature for that isn't it, Cari might want her to go to
Sacred Heart." Juliette spoke softly.
"NO WAY!" the new Mom yelled as she yawned. "This one’s an Angel from birth."
Annie shook her head as Carina said “No offence, folks, but I am beat. Susan, Annie, thanks for everything, Mom, can I go to my room now?”
“Let’s go and see Helen first dear – she can tell us where to go. Will you be staying?”
“We will be in Boston for the next few days. With your permission, I’ll let her know.”
“Thank you – I have a few calls of my own to make,” Juliette said as she hugged Dominique, Annie and Susan. “Any chance of a lift back to Manchester? I’ll need to bring some things in tomorrow.”
“I will do that,” Dominique said with a smile. “Annie and Susan, I have a suite at the Copley Plaza. I brought a change of clothes for each of you with me.”
She threw a key to Susan, who caught it and said “thanks.”
“That is fantastic news Ju – tell her we’re all very proud of her.”
Mary looked at Anna and Missy and mouthed “It’s a girl.”
“Yes,” Anna mouthed as she hugged Missy.
Mary laughed, "Well she's a braver girl then I would have been."
"What?" Anna asked urgently.
epidurals." Mary whispered.
"Now why doesn't that surprise me?" Missy
spoke as she filled the glasses again.
"I'll let you get back to Cari
and the baba Ju, but
congrats to all of you." Ending the
call, she said “Judith – Judith Huntingdown.”
"Well she did it ladies." Anna said proudly.
"To the next model in the Huntingdown dynasty." Mary gave the
toast as they held their glasses up. "To Judith."
The Waldorf Hotel
Charlotte looked up as there was a soft knock on the door and Madame X came in.
“Is she asleep,” she said as she looked at Ama, stretched out on the bed in her pajamas.
“A few minutes ago,” Charlotte said as they slipped out of the room.
“I just heard from Dominique – a mutual friend’s daughter gave birth tonight, mother and baby doing fine. In Susan’s absence, can you help me in the office for the next few days?”
“Of course Madame – I trust this is a truly happy event.”
“It is – rest now Charlotte, I need to place a call to LA.”
Diana stirred as the telephone rang, and looked round the room. George and Sandy had been put to bed by Tony and Heather. Barbara had eventually persuaded Jeannie to go to bed half an hour earlier, while the others were sitting round half asleep.
Sandy stretched and let go of Heather before she went to answer the phone.
The others woke and looked at Sandy as a big grin broke out on her face.
“That’s fantastic news, Juliette – and they’re both fine?”
She nodded before saying “Of course – I’ll see you in the morning. She’ll be able to have visitors tomorrow?
“No, I don’t think I can stop them. Safe journey back.”
“Well,” Heather stood up as Sandy replaced the phone and came back in.
“Little Sandy’s going to be disappointed,” Sandy said with a smile, “Judith Huntingdown was born about ninety minutes ago. Mother and baby fine.”
“YES!” Abigail and Joanne said as they hugged each other, while Tony nudged his cousin and smiled.
“Judith – I like that,” Judy said as she rubbed her eyes. “I’d better call Mom…”
“It’s all right – I told her you and Tony were staying here tonight, if you don’t mind the couches.”
“Thanks,” Judith said as Barbara and John found some bottle of champagne and glasses.
“One thing – she did it without pain relief.”
“She did – why?”
"Huntingdown women are fighters, they have to be." Diana closed her eyes and offered up a silent prayer.
Abigail held her mother's hand. "Do you want me to phone France and tell everyone, you know they asked to be kept in touch."
"You call your Grandmother and Natasha darling, I'll phone Papa."
“Did she say how heavy the baby was?”
“Six pound one.”
“Wow – imagine if she had gone full term?”
“Enough,” Sandy said as she looked round the room and they each took a glass. “A toast – to three generations of Huntingdown’s.”
“Hear hear,” they said as they raised their glasses and drank.
“Right – bed, all of you. There’s nothing more we can do until tomorrow.”