Best Served Cold – Part 2







Saturday 23rd April

10 am

Vanderbilt YMCA


“Hey,” Erica said as Jess came into the changing room, “ready for a swim?”


“Oh yes – are Katy and Sands joining us today?”


“They should be – they have a race tomorrow, but they will be along later.”


“Great – hey Abby.  Got the weekend off as well?”


“For once – last time I think before the end comes,” Abby said as she put her bag down, and started to take her hoodie off.  “I have shoots the next few weekends, and a couple of trips, but then the prom, commencement…”


“And the charity event?”


“And, as you say Bones, the charity event, about which I know nothing” Abby said with a smile as Letty came in with Pepsi and Ama.


“This is good – a swim and a chance to talk over food,” Ama said.


“Is Maisha back today Ama?”


“I believe she is flying in with Shirley and Penny later this morning,” Ama said, “Mom is going to see them early this afternoon.”


“Going to see who,” Jeannie said as she wheeled herself in.


“Shirley gets back today – so I imagine she is coming tomorrow,” Katy said as she came in with Sands and Pepsi.


“I thought Adam’s mother was coming tomorrow,” Pepsi said.


“She was – but she had to travel to France at short notice earlier this week,” Katy said as she started to change, “so she said she’d have to make next time.”


“Right,” Erica said as she and Jess put on their swimming caps, “see you all in there…”



“Now this is better,” Jeannie said as Doc and Pepsi lowered her into the water, “I can just chill out for a while.”  She waited at the side of the pool as the others came in, and then lay back before she used her arms to swim off.


“So got any plans yet for the summer Bones,” Anna said as they swam to the deep end.


“I have, yes,” Erica said, “after Abby’s party…”


“Which everyone is going to,” Anna said.


“Which, as you said, everyone is going to,” Erica said with a smile, “Mom and I are going to fulfill her dream, and go to Wales for a week, then London for a week after that.”


“Sounds fun,” Anna said, “while the bulk of us have to do the round the world.”


“Yeah,” Katy said, “I’m coming with Mom for that one – but at least Orion is going as well.”


“So am I,” Poppy said, “Mom is going to meet the Australian team.”


“I guess we’ll be heading up to the summer house for a while,” Sands said, “but hopefully you can come up when you get back.”


“Count on it – we need to be back for the premiere anyway.”


“Oh yeah,” Doc said, “and the arrival of one Kylie Mitchell in New York as well.”





“Only a few more weeks and then freedom,” Letty said as she stood with Abby.


“Indeed – everything ready?”


“Yeah – we’ll meet up after school on Monday to confirm what everyone is going to do on the day.  It should be – interesting.”


Nodding, Abby said “and the Prom?”


“Ah, now that suggestion of yours was a master stroke – and they have agreed to take part on the night.  I think this will be a true night to remember…”





“They’re talking about the charity event, aren’t they,” Pepsi said as she stood with Nikki and Doc.


“Almost certainly,” Doc said, “but sorry – I have no idea what they are planning, and this time I don’t want to know.”


“That’s not like you Doc – what do you know that we don’t?”


“Seriously – I want to be surprised this time as much as you guys do.”


2 pm CET

Radisson Blu Hotel Marseille Vieux Port


As they walked into the hotel reception, Eleanor saw the receptionist signaling to her.




"Mme Ball nous avons une paquet pour vous," the girl on the front desk said as she handed over a large brown envelope.

"Merci," Eleanor smiled as she took it.

"What's that?" Veronica whispered.

"The printouts from our computer genius," Eleanor glanced inside, "she said she would get it to us."

"Type written, hand delivered, not a clue where it came from..."

"And I'll bet not a fingerprint on it." Eleanor finished, "that woman really is the best."


“Well, let’s go upstairs and see what we have,” Veronica said as they entered the lift, and then walked to the door to their suite.  As she took the keycard from her handbag, Eleanor stopped for a moment and listened.




Eleanor nodded as she drew a gun from her coat, and nodded as Veronica slowly inserted the keycard, and then withdrew it.  They looked at each other and counted to three, before Veronica opened the door and Eleanor moved in. 


She swept the room and then signaled, Veronica moving in and quietly closing the door as she walked across to the bedroom.  Now they both could hear someone on the other side of the door, as Eleanor nodded, and Veronica threw the door open. 


Eleanor looked at the man standing there, wearing a black sweater and pants, who stared at her as she saw her clothes scattered on the bed.  He reached behind himself – and then froze as Eleanor fired the dart into his body, staring at her for a few moments before he slumped to the floor.


“Tranq darts?”


“Well, I didn’t want to make a mess – try explaining that to housekeeping,” Eleanor said as she laid the gun down.  “Mind you, it still leaves the problem of getting rid of him – but first, let’s find out who he is.”


The two women searched the unconscious man, before Veronica looked in the rucksack on the floor.


“Wallet,” she said as she opened it, and took out an ID card.  “Says he is local.”


Looking at the card, Eleanor said “We need to see if we can find out who he is.  Ibrahim gave me the name of a contact in the local gendarmerie we can contact to deal with him – but first, what on earth was he looking for?”


“Who you are?”


“That’s why I had our passports put in the hotel safe,” Eleanor said, “and put these out instead.”  She handed Veronica the two passports, with their photos, but false names and details.


“Good move – so want to make the call?”


“Once we make sure he goes nowhere,” Eleanor said, “any thoughts?”


“Duct tape,” Veronica said as she nipped into her room, and returned with a roll.  “Never leave home without it…”



10.30 am

The Richmond Mansion


“All right Jo, I’ll see what I can do about that – Good luck this afternoon,” Heather said into the phone as the back door opened, and Juliette came in, wearing a v-necked sweater and a pair of jeans.  “Talk to you afterwards.”




“Yeah – she has a race this afternoon,” Heather said as she turned and put a fresh pot of coffee on.  “Sandy’s just finishing off a teleconference with Tonia, and Di should be on her way.”


“Great – I haven’t had a chance to sit and chill with the three of you since I got back, and with Klaus busy today I can do this before meeting up with Missy.”


“Hey,” Sandy said as she came in, her blouse hanging over her joggers, “is that a fresh pot?”


“It is,” Heather said, “all we need is fresh pastries?”


“You called Cheries,” Diana said as she came in, carrying a box of pastries.  “Come, let us sit and put the world to rights over coffee and choux.”


“So how are things chez de Ros,” Juliette said as Heather put the coffee pot, four mugs and four plates on a tray, and carried them into the front room.


“Well, Abby went out with Letty for the day,” Diana said as Heather poured, “and Edith is visiting her sister, so I am keeping busy.  On which note – congratulations on your award Juliette darling.”


“Thanks – although it was strange to hear me called Juliette von Furstenheim,” Ju said with a smile.


“At least they didn’t say Her Serene Highness Princess Juliette,” Heather said.


“And suddenly I realize how Carina must have felt,” Juliette said as they all laughed.


“Still, at least we can have coffee and cake,” Sandy said, “and talk.  And I want to talk about your little announcement Ju.”


“Yeah, I figured you might,” Juliette said as she out her mug down.  “Were you surprised?”


“Not really – I had suspected you may feel that way,” Diana said, “although the timing was faster than I had figured.  For my part, I understand, even though I believe we are not done yet.”


“Still, I hope when you say you’re retiring,” Sandy said, “it’s from the field.  You’re still one of the best damned planners we have.”


“Yeah – let’s see how this goes and then I’ll see,” Juliette said with a smile.


“So just what do you have in mind,” Heather asked.


Juliette smiled, and said “a spot of art – and then the corporate headquarters of a certain firm while they are holding a large amount of bearer bonds.  It’s amazing what you overhear at a party…”



7 pm CET

Radisson Blu Hotel Marseille Vieux Port


“Ah Eleanor,” Guy said as he saw the two women walk into the dining room, “come join us.  May I introduce Marie-Louise Aumont, an officer of the PMU?  Marie-Louise, Eleanor Ball and Veronica Joyce.”


“A pleasure,” Marie-Louise said as she greeted the two women, and they sat round the table.  “I thank you for the invitation to dinner today.”


“So,” Guy said, “have you had a productive day?”


“We have had an interesting day,” Veronica said as she sipped her drink.


“Guy, did you forward my request for the sample?”


“I did – but they would not comply.  They say it cannot be done without the permission of the owner.”


“Well, it is always best to pursue the official channels,” Eleanor said with a shrug.  “On the other hand, an expert I hired has looked into the betting records for the races you drew our interest to.”


“An expert,” Marie-Louise said, “in what?”


“In anything they turn their hand to,” Veronica said with a smile.  “But in this case?  Eleanor?”


“She has examined the betting patterns across the major markets for a number of races identified by Guy, including yesterday’s race,” Eleanor said as she looked at a tablet, “and has noticed a definite pattern to the betting in the hours prior to the races.”


“In what way?”


“A lot of bets on the favourite until ninety minutes before the race, and then a switch to the eventual winner.  In all cases, the performance of the favourite was suspiciously below par.”


“My own researches have shown that,” Marie-Louise said, “but the difficulty is knowing who may be placing the bets.”


“My expert recognised that,” Eleanor said, “but they have provided a list of the six major backers practising this across the list of races.”  Veronica took a sheet of paper and handed it over to Guy.  He looked at it, and then passed the list to Marie-Louise.


“Mon dieu,” she said quietly, “I recognise these names – three are far east syndicates, but the other three are home grown.”


“There’s more – this is not just happening in Marseilles,” Eleanor said, “my expert identified the same pattern in races along the South of France.  Somebody must know what is going on.”


“Leave it with me,” Marie-Louise said as a waiter whispered into Eleanor’s ear.  “Ah – Guy, Marie-Louise, will you excuse Veronica and I for a few minutes?  We have to discuss a related matter with someone.”


“Of course my dear – we will talk until you get back.”


Eleanor indicated to Veronica to follow her to the bar, where Francesca was sitting in the bar with a grey haired man.  “Ah, there you are,” she said as they walked over, “may I introduce General Pierre Ducomte, General de Brigade for the Marseilles area.  General, my good friend Captain Eleanor Bell, formally of Naval Intelligence, and Commander Veronica Joyce of the US Coast Guard Criminal Intelligence Service.”


“General,” Eleanor said as they shook hands.  “What can we do for you?”


“Francesca is working with me on her – problem,” Pierre said, “and she was briefing me on your concerns over recent activities on the race courses.  You believe the two are linked?”


“I do,” Eleanor said, “one of my contacts here was attacked last night, and an attempt made to destroy his offices.”


“And earlier today we found an intruder in our rooms – he was delivered to the local police,” Veronica said.


“All over betting fraud?”


“There is more,” Eleanor said, “we’re also trying to trace the path of supply for a new date rape drug that has been on the market in the US.  The trail leads here.”


“I see – all roads intersect here,” Pierre said, “let us trade stories.”


A few minutes later, he said “I think we have been approaching the same problem from different angles.”


“In what way,” Eleanor said.


"To me it all seems part of a larger pattern Captain," the policeman spoke, "we are seeing a major move by the Corsicans to take over more of this region’s organised crime."

"Including my problems?"

"Yes indeed Admiral,” he said with a smile, “they are certainly expanding their smuggling activities of all kinds."

"Well drugs into the US are my main concern,” Veronica said, “we thought we'd delivered a blow against them recently."

"You did Commander, with the move against the RoideMer business there,” Pierre said, “but like all criminals groups they do not give up, they just try to learn from their defeats."

"Well coming back to the betting frauds," Eleanor smiled, "I think we can maybe make some sort of move against them by at least alerting the owners."

"Agreed, and I will start my people screening all employees of the stables."

"Doesn't France Galop do that anyway?"

"It does Admiral, but quite obviously some people have escaped detection, so we will run full background checks, and look at all known associates of these people."


“I and Veronica need to return to Guy and his guest – shall we meet for lunch tomorrow?”


“Agreed – I know a nice little cafe on the waterfront,” Pierre said, Francesca nodding as they went back.


2 pm

Farmer Street Market


The crowds didn’t really notice the group of teenage girls, in hoodies, jeans and sneakers, as they followed the tall African American round.  A situation which was causing said young woman equal bemusement and annoyance.


"Why is everyone following me?" Ama complained as she stopped by a clothes stall.

"Because with your knack for binding bargains on the markets we don't want to lose out to you." Nikki stopped and looked at the display of old comic books.

"I don't buy old comics Nik."

"No, but my dad collects them, I was looking for any I know he needs."

“Not a lot of market for them these days,” Doc said, “unless you find a rare one.”


“I know that, he knows that,” Nikki said as she saw a book, picked it up and then went in.


“What did you get?”


“This – First edition of the Squadron Supreme Marvel paperback.  I heard Dad talk about it – the writer died, and in his will he stipulated her wanted his body cremated, and his ashes mixed with the printing ink for the first printing.”


“That sounds macabre,” Poppy said.


“No more so than Gene Roddenberry having his ashes shot into space on a satellite,” Erica said as she stared at a rack.


"What are you looking at so intently Erica?"

"That teapot Poppy," Erica whispered.


"Because I think it's from the Swansea pottery that my Mom collects, but I'm not totally sure...I can't make up my mind."

"How much is it?"

"Thirty dollars."

"That's not much..."

"Not on your allowance maybe, but for me that's two weeks spending money," Erica interrupted, "what if I'm wrong, I would have wasted thirty bucks."

"Sometimes you have to take a risk." Poppy shrugged.

"Or not." Abby interrupted as she spotted a familiar face. "Hey Blair, I thought you'd be studying?"

"I should be,” Blair said, “but I needed some fresh air."

"Look Blair,” Abby said, “Bones has a problem, she's not sure if that teapot is from the pottery her Mom collects. What's your opinion?"


“Hmm – let me have a look,” Blair said as she picked the teapot and looked at the base.  “Well, we have a trader mark here – see?”


Erica looked as she read “Bevington and Co.”


“Yeah – that marks it as a piece designed by Thomas Bevington, so between 1811 and 1824.  Difficult to date more than that without an expert looking at it.”


“And at thirty dollars?”


“Come with me Erica,” Blair said as they started to talk to the trader, before she returned, Erica carrying a small box.




“Got him down to twenty five in the end,” Blair said with a smile.




“Like I say, I’m no expert – but get your mom to look at it, and an expert.  Because a teapot like that was part of a set that went for $500 at a recent auction.”


“See,” Nikki said as she looked at Ama, “bargain magnet.”



2 pm

Park Avenue


“Hey,” Penny said as she opened the door to Shirley’s apartment, “come on in – we were just making some coffee.”


“Thanks,” Caroline said as she and Susan came in, removing their coats, “how was the flight?”


“Not too bad – but it’s good to be here again.  I’ve called Helen, and we’ll meet up later.”


“I heard she’s talking to Alan Kennedy about something – how is Sharon working out?”


“Not too bad – I took her to have a chat with Carina yesterday, explain their relationship, and discuss our thoughts on the young gentlemen from Nikki’s party.”


“I heard – you can tell both of us,” she said as they went through to the drawing room, Shirley standing up as they came in.


“It is good to see you both again,” she said in her deep voice as they hugged each other, “it has been a long week.”


“So I heard – how is Charlotte?”


“Ah – now there I have some news to impart,” Shirley said as Penny brought in some coffee.


“Oh – is Piet going to make an honest woman of her,” Susan said as she sat down.


“He may have to,” Shirley said with a smile.  Susan and Caroline looked at each other, before Susan said “no…  She’s not…”


“According to Dr Lucia, she is,” Penny said, “but she’s seeing a doctor on Monday to confirm it.”


“Please tell me she had made her last field trip for the duration,” Caroline said.


“She is certainly not going to repeat the last two weeks or so,” Shirley said, “on my orders, but she will visit Africa as regularly as she can.”


“Well, we have a lot to talk about when she comes over,” Caroline said with a smile.


“Right – bring me up to date,” Shirley said as she sat back.


“Well,” Dom said, “I suppose the news reached you of Juliette’s intimation?”


“Retirement – Charlotte told us,” Sarah said.  “Does she mean it?”


“She seems to – but she does have an idea of her last job, if indeed it is.”


"Do we have any insight into Juliette's thinking?" Shirley asked.

"Not at all,” Susan said.  “She has, I think, asked Heather to start some research, but all she will say for sure is that she's retiring, but that she intends going out with a bang."

"Sounds like she has something big in mind Dom," Penny smiled.

"It does, and I suspect we will all be told just what we need to know."

"I just wonder why she has asked me to put her in touch with John Jacobs privately." Shirley pursed her lips.

"She has?" Dom looked shocked, "but does he know she's..."


“No – so I am certainly intrigued.”



2 pm

Complete Style


“It’s Janine isn’t it,” Alan Kennedy said as he saw the blonde coming into the lobby from the elevator.


“That’s right Mister Kennedy – I hope you don’t mind that we’ve called to ask your advice on this.”


“Well, it’s outside my normal line of work, but I’ll see what I can do.”


“Please, come with me,” Janine said as they went into the elevator, and then headed for the conference room on the editorial floor.  As they went in, Helen turned and said “thank you for coming Mister Kennedy – Helen York, I work for Catherine Lu at Huntingdown’s in Hong Kong.”


“Of course – I have seen you with her when I was advising on the Xavier proposal,” Alan said, “so how can I be of help to you today?”


“We appear to be hitting some difficulties with the imports of silks from our Japanese suppliers into the US - perhaps if we walk you through the situation, while we have coffee?”


“Sounds like a plan,” Alan said as he opened his case, and took out a pad and pen.


A short while later, Alan nodded as he said “it does sound as if you have had a few problems.  The most recent was last week?”


“It was – and we genuinely do not understand why,” Janine said.


"As you probably know, Alan, when we promise customers delivery by a particular date and then it gets held up for weeks awaiting customs clearance they aren't very happy." Helen spoke as she sipped her tea.

"And it's happened often enough that I'm sure we are gaining something of a reputation for tardiness and are losing business because of it" Janine added.

"Well, I can understand your worries," Alan nodded.

"I also looked back at shipping records from the factory,” Janine said as she looked at her pad, “this problem with delays only started after Huntingdown's bought the place."

"So you think you are being deliberately targeted Janine?"

"Both Helen and I do."


"Okay.  Well, like most merchant bankers I do have some contacts in the bureaucracy," Alan closed his notepad and sipped from his coffee cup. "One former colleague from the bank now works in the Commerce Department in Washington. I think our first move should be for me to give Dick Wilson a quiet phone call."

"Okay at least you have someone to contact, all we've been getting is the stonewall." Helen looked concerned. "Janine and I are both worried, so we tried to sort this out ourselves without concerning the directors, and neither of us likes having to ask for help."

"Or to admit defeat I suspect," Alan smiled.

"It means a lot to both of us to prove we were able to resolve this." Janine added.

"Well,” Alan said, “I'll be in touch once I have something, and in the meantime just don't wince too badly when the bank bills you for the consultancy."

"We'll try not to." Janine laughed.


“Good – well, I’ll give you your Saturday back, and let you know as soon as I can.”


2 pm

Central Park


“Sorry to get you out here like this,” Juliette said as she handed Heather a hot dog, and then took one herself, “but I don’t want to let the others know the details just yet.”


“I’m not surprised,” Heather said as they walked over to a table, “but what you’ve told me…”


“I know it’s a lot.”


“No shit, Sherlock,” Heather said as she looked at her friend.


"Well Heather?"

"Oh it's possible Ju, very possible, but we still need to learn a lot, lot, more." Heather glanced round, "and by the way how do other people get invites to restaurants, but the nanny gets a hot dog in Central Park?"

"Because you only deserve the best food Heather," a sparkle appeared in Juliette's eye.

"Well I will agree with you on that - they are great 'dogs," Heather said as she took a bite. 


"So can you give me a list of places you want burgled, and other intelligence gathering operations I need set the girls to doing?"

Heather chewed and swallowed, before she said "Give me 24 hours."


"And can you also placate Sandy, she's not happy that I keep having to tell her that I can't say what I'm researching."

"I understand,” Juliette said, “I'll invite her to lunch on Monday..."

"You dare take her to somewhere fancy and I swear I'll quit Ju." Heather interrupted.

"But what else can I do?" the gleam was there again, "she's not the world’s biggest fan of hotdogs..."

"That is Diana, not my Lover," Heather licked her fingers.

"I know, but don't quit quite yet, I think you are going to enjoy this job."

"Oh that's for sure...but still next time I pick a restaurant...and YOU pay Ju."


“Deal – so, ready for tomorrow?”


“Well at least it’s a home race, so we go up first thing in the morning.  The new season starts here.  Where are you going next?”


“The office – a meeting with Missy.”



4 pm

The Burton Apartment


“Mom,” Erica said as she closed the door behind herself, “where are you?”


“Sorting out the clean laundry in your room,” she heard Denice call back, “do you want a drink?”


“Yeah – can you come into the kitchen a minute?  I got something I’d like you to look at.”


“Oh?”  Erica went into the kitchen and put the box down on the breakfast bar, waiting until Denice came in. 


“Well now – what do we have here,” she said as she opened the box, and took out the teapot.


"Well, I saw it at the market - I think it's Swansea Mom."

"I think you are right Erica darling," Denice said as she looked at the manufatcurer’s mark on the base.

"Well I wasn't sure but Blair was at the market and she dated it to the right period for me."

"Blair knows a lot about antiques." Denice looked carefully, "I'll check it out fully after we've eaten, but yes I think you got a find darling."

"I'm glad," the daughter beamed.


“Now, a drink, and then we can start to think about supper – I thought we could start to talk about what we can do when we visit the UK in June.”



4 pm

Complete Style


“So what do you think,” Missy said to Juliette as the tape ended.


“Well, they are certainly different,” Juliette said as she shook her head.  “What did Helen say about the last two?”


“Apart from acting the stunt double?”


“Yeah – apart from that,” Juliette said with a smile.


“Her response was ‘they were adequate’,” Missy said with a smile.


“I’ll take that as a good sign – what do the clients think?”




“Always – what do they think?”


“They start running them next week – I think we may have a real hit on our hands here.”


Juliette breathed a sigh of relief, and then said “Good – one more thing to tick off the list.”


“Congratulations on the award by the way – a total surprise?”


“Maybe, maybe not,” Juliette said with a smile, “but Klaus and I are heading up to Curragh tomorrow to have Sunday lunch with Nessa and Alex.  We have some matters on the Jane Huntingdown book to discuss.”


8 pm

New Haven


"You look exhausted Carina." David remarked as she came back from putting Judith in her bed.

"I know I do...”  Carina slumped into a chair before she said “and what is more I feel it. I have the two branches of the Wittelsbach family totally mixed in my mind, and damn it I know that stuff."

"Well a good night’s sleep will do us all good." Judy said as she brought in three cups of Ovaltine.

"Ovaltine?" David smiled.

"Your father recommended it for getting sleep while preparing for exams lover."

"Well I don't mind it at all," Cari took a long sip. "So how is your revising going?"

"Reasonably," Judy sat down, "though I'll be glad that I don't have to take a math class next year, I can almost totally concentrate on my major."

"I'm having the same thoughts about getting rid of French Lit." David smiled.

"I thought you enjoyed reading French novels?"

"I do Cari,” David said, “but dissecting them is something I'd rather not do, novels should be just for enjoyment. Anyway changing the subject how did the coxing go?"

"Better,” Carina said as she closed her eyes, “I'm actually understanding the job a little."


“So will you row with them in Munich?”


“Possibly – unless Annie drops, in which case Judith and I drop everything.”


“Oh of course,” David said with a sigh.


“I meant to ask – what has Angel decided on for next year?”


“Hmm – oh yeah, she told me last night.”




David looked at both of them before he said “Believe it or not, she is going to study History and Philosophy at Glasgow University.”


"Glasgow? as in Scotland?" Cari asked in an amused tone. "Is Missy going to like that?"

"Well it does have an international airport with flights direct to London, New York, and Paris."

"That might reassure Missy a little..."

"But yeah it’s not a real fashion industry hub." David smiled.  “It is, however, close to our Scottish estates, and in addition it gives Mum a chance to establish some contacts with the Scottish Academy of Fashion project – she was recently asked if she would act as a spokeswoman for it.”



Sunday 24th April

9 am Local Time

Hong Kong, Catherine Lu’s Apartment


“Ah good – and how was your workout this morning?”


“Invigorating, Mistress,” Kylie said as she and Marina came in, “how may we serve you today?”


“I have an assignment for you,” Catherine said.  “Come, join me at the table.”


“And that is Mistress,” Marina said as she wiped her face with her towel.


“Juliette has asked that we visit a certain business office, and take pictures of their files on a number of recent shipments,” Catherine said.  “These are the plans of the offices.  Please, peruse them.”


“If you will allow me to fetch some water first,” Kylie said, Catherine nodding as she went to the kitchen, and returned with two bottles.  Sitting next to Marina, she glanced over the papers.


"With Helen still in New York, you will have to do this alone girls." Catherine smiled as the girls perused the plans on the coffee table.

Looking up, Kylie said "In the middle of exams darling?"

"It will only take us a couple of hours," Marina spoke in her clipped Oxford accent, "and you've worked so hard that you are due some fun time."

"That might be true,” Kylie said, “but can either of you explain why Ju wants us to break into a Hong Kong Investment companies office just to take pictures of records?"

"Ours is not to ask why."

"That is true Marina." Catherine nodded. "I'm sure though it will all become clear in full time what the purpose is."


“Very well then Mistress – when do we do this?”


“Tonight – for now, relax and enjoy some down time.”


“Sadly I cannot – I have a Math exam to study for,” Kylie said, “but I will do that this morning.”


“Then I suggest we go to the club this afternoon – and then prepare for your work.”


1 pm CET



“Thank you for joining us,” Pierre said as he stood up, Francesca smiling as Eleanor and Veronica took their seats.  The three women were wearing sun dresses and linen jackets, while Pierre wore a suit with a white shirt underneath.


“A lovely little place,” Veronica said, “so have we made any progress?”


“We order first, and we toast the day – and then we discuss,” Pierre said as the waiter brought the menus over.  Veronica looked round - this was still a new way of working for her, but given she was at a table with one of her closest friend, who happened to be a former intelligence agent and currently worked for a pan-global force of women warriors, the head of Italian Naval intelligence, and the local Gendarmerie head, it was actually a very good feeling.


“Now,” Pierre said, “as to your request to access the laboratory facilities at the racecourse – I regret to say the local magistrate turned the request down.”


“As I thought they would,” Eleanor said as she took out a leather pouch, “which is why I procured these last night.  Some of the samples from the horses in the race the other day.”


“Let me take them,” Francesca said, “I will have my scientists examine.  I presume you want full composition and their comments?”


“Indeed – and what of the background checks?”


“Progressing – but, and again without saying too much, some interesting patterns are already emerging.  I would appreciate a meeting with the Duc du Grechy at his convenience.”


“I can make the arrangements for you,” Eleanor said as Veronica nodded.  “So, on the drugs front,” she said.  Pierre waited as their food was brought over, then placed his napkin in his shirt before he said "What do you know about Hashish Commander?"

"Only what is in the manuals General Sir," Veronica replied.

"Well last night,” Pierre said, “50 miles offshore of here two gangs seem to have fought an open battle at sea over the Hashish cargo on a ship called the Yahladi incoming from Algiers."

Veronica looked at the other two, before he said "A battle Sir?"

"Two small boats, carrying up to 20 people, tried to gain control of the Yahladi from its crew."

"Wow, real life piracy," Veronica smiled.

"Precisely.  The reports indicate it was a very determined attempt."

"Many casualties?"

"Our navy has so far found 17 bodies, and has arrested 21 people."

"How did you find out what was going on?" Francesca sipped her wine and looked at her colleague.

"Believe it or not,” Pierre said, “a passing cruise ship heard the gunfire and saw some small explosions and radioed out a distress call."

"Well I suspect the two sides did not appreciate the French Navy'" Veronica laughed lightly.

"No they didn't."

"Alright were our Corsican friends involved?"

"We believe the vessel was theirs,” Francesca said, “but the pirates we believe were Italians."

"I wondered how long before the Mafia started to get unhappy with the Corsicans."

"Just so," the General nodded.  “So I suspect a small war is coming.  As to the two suspects you sent our way, neither is talking – although both suggested they had their rights violated by the one who captured them.”


“Can’t understand why they may say that,” Eleanor grinned as she sipped her wine.




9.30 pm Local Time

Hong Kong – Central District


The city lights twinkled as in the street below, people went about their normal Sunday business.  If they looked up, they would have seen some lights on in the offices, but this was a quiet time, and nothing untoward was visible.


From the street level.  On the tenth floor of one of the tower blocks, one office suite was in darkness, still, quiet – until there was the sound of a door opening and closing, and then two shadows making their way silently across the floor.  Nothing was disturbed on the desks, no papers were ruffled, but if you looked closely enough you would see the two shadows moving, one smaller than the other, but both moving with grace and ease.


The taller of the two nodded towards a set of filing cabinets, the smaller nodding as from nowhere a set of skeleton keys were produced.  Swiftly, drawers were opened and searched, as the taller shadow stood by impassively.


Suddenly the smaller shadow stopped, and handed a file up.  With swift and precise movement, the larger shadow took it and started to take pictures of the contents, turning them page by page.


She returned the file, the small shadow putting it in and moving on.  Again and again files came out, were photographed and replaced – before they both stopped, and stood, melting into the background as the drawer quietly closed.


The door to the office opened, and the beam from a torch shone in, before the two security guards came in, guns drawn.  “We know you’re in here,” one of them called out in Cantonese, “come out with your hands raised.”


There was no reply, as they moved across the room, shining the torch around.


“It must have been a gust of air,” one of them eventually said.


“Impossible – the sensors went dead in this room, and that can only happen if someone has cut the connection.  There is only one way out of the room – I am telling you, there is someone here.”


“It could be a fault you know.”


“No,” the second man said as he walked round, “the system is faultless.  There is n...”




He looked at his partner as he stared straight ahead, and then dropped to his knees, the dark shadow appearing behind him.  Before he could react, he felt the hands pressing on his neck – and then his world went blank.


“What will we do with them?”


“The lift shaft,” the taller shadow said as with little effort they lifted the two men, and slipped out.  A moment later they returned, and went again about their task, before making sure all was well, and then disappearing into the shadows again...


11 pm Local time

Catherine Lu’s Apartment


Cathy looked up as the door opened, and smiled as Marina and Kylie came in.


“I take it the exercise was a success?”


“It was, Mistress,” Marina said as she bowed low and handed over the camera.


“Excellent – you may change now, and Kylie you may relax.  Marina, regretfully I have continued need of your services this evening.”


“Of course,” Marina said as she and Kylie bowed low, and Catherine removed the memory card from the camera.  Looking at the photographs, she nodded before looking again at the two letters she had received.




She looked up to see Marina, now wearing a blouse and pants.


“Please process these and ensure they are sent to Juliette by personal courier,” she said, “I will call her and let her know they are on their way.  After that, I need you to place a Skype call to Tokyo.”


“Anyone in particular, Catherine?”


“Niki Abata – but the courier first, please Marina.”


“Of course,” Marina said as she took the memory card, while Catherine turned to her laptop.



9 am

The Huntingdown Apartment


Juliette took a sip from her coffee, and smiled as Catherine appeared on the screen.


“Good evening Catherine – how are you?”


“I am well, Juliette – settled back into work?”


“Slowly,” Juliette said with a smile.  "Did the girls pick up that information that I requested Catherine?"

"They did Juliette,” Catherine said, “I'm having it couriered to you person to person."

"Thank you Catherine."

"In the meantime though,” she said with a frown, “I have some bad news to share."

"What?" Juliette felt her body tense.

"I've received official warnings from both governments in Tokyo and Beijing that acting on information from the US government they are launching enquiries into our labour practices at all our plants."

"Oh?" Juliette looked puzzled, "but we are immaculate, we've always made sure we not only meet all the legal requirements, but that we exceed them."

"Exactly...but you know the realities Ju, just a story that we are being investigated can cause a stink that is very hard to eradicate."

"I know," Juliette removed and chewed on the ends of her glasses, "both Janine and Helen are up at Watkins Glen, but I'll get Alexis over here...can you and Marina be available for a video conference in one hour?"

"We can...and what of...?"

"I'll call Alice right now and ask her to join us, she's entitled as a major customer to hear from us direct."

"If you can, also get the banker you've engaged in on it Ju, that this originated from Washington means someone is using some real power and influence to hurt our businesses."

"You are right of course." Juliette shook her head, "Just ask some questions your end Cathy, and I'll see you on here again in an hour."


“I have it in hand on two fronts – we will talk again soon,” Catherine said as she ended the call.  Juliette thought for a moment, and then made a call on her phone.


“Alexis?  Sorry to do this to you, but I need you to call Alan Kennedy on his home phone, and ask if he can join me at my apartment in an hour.  I’ll need you here as well.


“Good, and thank you,” she said as she ended the call, and dialled another number.


“Tom?  Juliette Huntingdown.  I need a favour, and possibly your help...”



Hong Kong


“Thank you Magistrate, we will talk soon,” Catherine said as Marina came in.  “The package has been sent personal delivery,” she said as she sat down, “and I have Niki Abata waiting.”


“Good – my apologies for disturbing you so late, Miss Abata.”


“Not a problem Madame Lo,” the young American Japanese said, “how may I be of help?”


“I need you to very discretely contact Oyaban Tanaka – inform him the silk factory he very graciously allowed Huntingdown to purchase is going to be inspected, and to encourage all to be open in their reporting to the inspectors.”


“I can – is there a problem?”


“Not at this end, no – but it is right and proper he is informed.”


“Of course Madame – leave it with me.”


“What’s happened?”


“That, Marina,” Catherine said as she sat back, “is a very good question, a very good question indeed.”



10.15 am

The Huntingdown Apartment


“I’ll get it – business,” Juliette said as she opened the apartment door.  “Alan – thank you for coming over this morning.”


“Well, your call was timely – I heard from my old friend Dick Wilson at the Trade Department today,” Alan said as he walked in.  “Who are we meeting with today?”


“I have two other callers on line – Alice, Catherine and Marina, this is Alan Kennedy from Penn City National Bank.  Janine and Helen met with him yesterday to ask for his assistance.  Alan, from Hong Kong we have my partner Catherine Lu, and her personal assistant Marina Sowkowski, and from Boston Alice MacKinnon, CEO of APCO.”


“Pleasure ladies – especially to see you again Miss Lo.”


“The pleasure is mine, Mister Kennedy,” Catherine said.  “I wish this was under better circumstances.”


“Indeed,” Juliette said, “Catherine, what have you found out?”


“I received official notification of an investigation by the Chinese and Japanese authorities into conditions in our silk factories, based apparently on requests from the US Government.  I have spoken with my contacts in Beijing and Tokyo, and while they understand there is nothing to find in our establishments, under international trade law they are required to follow through on the requests.”


“I see,” Alice said, “and why are these requests originating in our government?”


“I may know something of this – I talked to an old friend in the Trade Department,” Alan said, “and officially he cannot comment on possible ongoing investigations.”


“And unofficially?”


“Unofficially – there has been a very large lobby from the Textile Industry to impose sanctions on incoming imports of cloth.  Under the Trans-Pacific Partnership, however, the tariff levels are not only fixed, but due to be phased out over the next few years.  So some of the backers of the lobbyists are resorting to – other methods.”


“Such as putting blocks on our imports and raising questions of the conditions in our factories,” Juliette said.


“Precisely – not illegal, but definitely getting the message over.  He has agreed to look from his side to see what can be done to clear the blocks, but his hands are somewhat tied as well.”


“I see – and does he say who those backers are?”


“Over the phone, no.  In person – with your permission, I’ll fly to Washington tomorrow for lunch with him.”


“Alice, you’re one of our biggest customers.”


“I know – and I’ll do what I can, positive PR and so on.  Put some statements out.  But someone really does not like you to pull this, Ju.”


“For my part, I have informed the owners of the plants, and asked them to ensure there is nothing for the inspectors to find,” Catherine said.


“I’ll brief Janine and Helen, and see what I can discover from my contacts,” Marina said, “and I’ll also ask my Russian friends.  Just in case.”








2 pm

The Burton Apartment


“Oh come on – you have got to be kidding!”


“What’s wrong,” Erica called out from the front room.


“The two for one deal at Pronto Pizza doesn’t apply to a Sunday – want to split a large?”


“See if they will do a half-and-half.”  Erica listened to Poppy talking, and then putting the phone down.


“Okay – half-and-half Pepperoni and Hawaiian.”


“Good stuff,” Erica said as the phone rang, and she went to answer it.  “Burton Residence?”


“Hey Erica...”


Watkin Glens International Track


Denice smiled as she heard Erica say “Hey Mom – taking a break?”


“A short one,” Denice said as she looked at the screen.


"So how is the race going Mom?" Erica spoke into the phone.

"Rather boringly darling," Denice smiled, "we are winning our class very easily."

"Well that's good." Erica laughed.  “A nice easy Sunday for you then.”

"How is your studying going?"

"Fine,” she heard Erica said, “we just ordered in pizza for a late lunch."

"Hi Aunt Denice," Poppy yelled out, "we are actually working despite the pizza."

"Good.  Work hard, and I’ll see you later tonight."


Ending the call, she smiled and shook her head as Henri said “All right Princess – bring her in next lap and let Jan take over.”


“Roger that,” she heard Jeanne say as Sands and George brought more mugs of coffee round, while Katy was collecting the dirty sandwich plates.


“Let’s get the seat ready guys,” Clint said as Jan came out and put on her racing helmet.  They watched as Jeanne brought the car into the pit lane, and stopped by the entrance.


"Well darling how did it feel back behind the wheel?" Henri asked as Jeanne jumped out of the car.


“Wonderful – how was Adam?”


“Your mother says he is fine – Shirley and the other mothers upstairs are making a real fuss of him,” Henri said as the seats were swapped, and Jan was strapped in, giving a thumbs up before she drove off.


“Just how far ahead are we,” Jeanne said as she grabbed a bottle of water.


“Very comfortably,” Henri said as Janine passed him some printouts.  “Good, good – come, rest...”





“So far so good,” Shirley said as she sat with Susan and Gale in the sponsors’ box.  Allan and Adam were fast asleep in their chairs, while April played with Maisha, and Penny and Helen sat in the corner.


“Indeed – the race is going extremely well,” Susan said, “judging by the fact nobody is screaming from the pit area.  So where is John?”


“Working – he is finishing his book off.  Which means I enjoy the race for myself.”


“The medal was a surprise – but convey my thanks for the honour,” Helen said as she sat with Penny.


“You’re welcome – it was my pleasure,” Penny said before they kissed...



4 pm


"I always enjoy racing up here at Watkins Glen." Sandy smiled as she sipped one of Katherine's special Italian coffees. "The track is so well maintained."

"That it is," Henri smiled. "How is the traffic looking Tonia?" he spoke in the mike.

"I'm guessing it's at least 4 laps before Jan sees anyone ahead of her Henri."

"So I'm just concentrating on keeping it smooth Henri," the driver spoke.

"Yeah - we don't want to blow up another engine and lose a race." Clint spoke.

"Hey what happened in Jersey wasn't my fault," Jan laughed, "you said yourself that the component gave way."




"We are winning our race," Katy typed into her tablet, "where are you?"


"What are you doing in Morocco Orion?"

"Working...what else?" the Irish teen model typed back.

"I don't know,” Katy typed, “you finally persuaded your family to take a decent vacation."

"Fat chance! lol."

"So what are you shooting?"

"Sharemel jeans...they are the latest Italian designer brand."


"Yeah but they've had us trudging round desert locations, climbing rocks, sitting in sand...NOT FUN!"

"Yeah I get that," Katy chuckled as she sent the reply, "but just think you'll be back in school Tuesday."

"UGHHHH! Don't remind me."


“Say – did you get an invite to the awards show?”


“I did – I need to get time off classes, ‘cos school won’t be over for one month, but it should be all right.




"How is Jo doing?" Denice asked Heather.

"Knee deep in her Biology revision...and cursing that she ran a PB yesterday that was too late to get her a run at Nationals."

"I could hear her even with her being on the phone and me having my ear cans on." Denice smiled, "that must be pure frustration."

"It is...talking of revision?"

"Mine has been going VERY well," Denice grinned, "Summer school and hard work and I can maybe amass enough credits to graduate next January."

"Six months ahead of schedule...well done that girl." Heather high-fived her friend.




“So how was your Irish friend,” Sands said as the youngsters took a break.


“Tired – she’s been in Africa shooting ads for Sharamel jeans,” Katy said as she sat back.


"Orion is shooting ads for Sharamel?" Sands whistled, "if I had half her luck..."

"What do you mean?" Katy tilted her head.

"For a girl works in modelling you don't know a lot about clothes bestie.”  Shaking her head, Sands continued “they are only going to be THE hottest brand this year, and as yet they are still not on sale over here."

"Oh.  Now that I did not know..."

"Yeah I bet EVERY GIRL you know would kill for a pair right now, and that includes ME and all our posse."

"You can include the adults as well." Janine smiled as she joined them in sipping from the cans. "They are going to be so big."

"What is this girls obsession with having designer brands before anyone else?" George asked as he sat on a set of used tires.

"Because every girl wants to be seen setting trends, not following them dumbhead." Sands smiled at her brother.

"Since when has fashion concerned you?"

"Duhhh since like forever..."

"This from the girl who was still wearing bunny pj's only a year ago," George laughed and ducked as Sands threw an empty can at his head.

"Shit, I missed..." Sands looked frustrated, "But I'd still pay for a few pairs if Orion could get them to us asap."

"I suppose I can ask." Katy reached for her tablet.  “See if I can get a dozen pairs or so...”





“Okay Sandy we have thirty minutes to go – you’re doing good,” Henri said into the microphone.  “Maintain speed and direction...”


Janine glanced over to see Helen pointing at her and Jan, and motioning to come out for a moment.  “Henri, Jan and I need to step out for a moment,” she said, “problem?”


“”So long as it is not for too long, the race is coming to a climax,” Henri said as the two women slipped out.


“You need to know,” Helen whispered as they met in the corridor, “that the Chinese and Japanese governments have launched an investigation into the factories.”


“WHAT,” Janine shouted.  “Why?”


“A question Catherine and Juliette are looking into – Alan Kennedy is going to Washington tomorrow, to pursue another line of inquiry.”


“So someone there has been causing us problems.”


“Precisely – but leave it for now.  Go back to the race – you are both needed there.”


Looking at each other, Janine and Jan went back in, as Helen went back up to the sponsor’s room.  Stepping in, Shirley said “Is everything all right Helen?”


“Yes Shirley – business to deal with,” Helen said as she went to sit with Penny again.


“I think we’re home free,” Heather said as she and Denice looked at the monitors.  “No problems this time round.”


Katherine came out and joined the group that was gathering at the entrance to the garage. 


“Come on,” she whispered as they watched the cars drive past, and then cheered as the chequered flag waved.


“Well done everyone,” Henri said, “Sandy, bring her in, and we can celebrate.”




9 pm

The Huntingdown Apartment


“I see – so someone is putting you in a difficult position?  And this is a new feeling?”


“Yeah – and it annoys the hell out of me,” Juliette said as she looked at the ceiling.


“I can see it is distracting you.”


"Sorry was I being boring darling?" Juliette rolled onto her side and smiled at her husband lying beside her under the silk sheets.

"No...Not really."

"I’m sorry.  It's just Huntingdown's business reputation means an awful lot to me."

"That I know," Klaus smiled.

"I was and am a top girl because of the looks I was blessed with by nature. My writing came and comes easily, but building up my company has required me to really use my brains and education, and I'm very proud of both it, and myself."

"You've worked very hard."

"Thank you darling," Juliette pressed her nude body next to his, "so I'm sorry if I can get a bit obsessive."

"Oh you aren't that bad," Klaus slipped his right arm under her body and pulled her closer.

"Well tell me when I need shut up please..."

"Shut up Juliette," he chuckled as he started to kiss her.


Monday 25th April

6 pm Local Time

Catherine Lu’s apartment, Hong Kong


Kylie was sitting at a desk, idly doodling on the pad in front of her and smiling as she made some notes.  She was aware someone else was in the room, but she knew there was nothing to fear.


"What are you doing Kylie?" Marina asked as she looked over her shoulder.

"Oh just doodling some more ideas for Nikki's dress.”  Kylie smiled as she turned the pad round.  “I'm forcing myself to take a break from revising darling."

"That's sensible.  A change of focus can be good at times"

"It was my orders actually." Catherine joined them, "she would have still been hard at it, but she needs the odd break."

"Agreed, your brain can get overtired Kylie."

"I know darlings...”  Kylie smiled as she continued “and thank you both for being concerned."

"I'm just glad that my diploma is done on continuous assessment."

"Well you are passing with truly flying colours Marina...I am going to miss having your services to hand."

"Thank you Mistress," Marina stood and bowed, "this humble servant does have a suggestion though."

"Oh and what might that be?"

"Taking on another apprentice from Madame's organisation."


“Oh,” Catherine said, “and do you have someone in mind?”


“Actually I do – I will explain later…”



7.45 am

West Central Park


“Morning,” Katy said as she came into the kitchen, smiling as she saw Adam cooking on the stove.


“Morning – hungry?”


"You bet.  So how is Gran enjoying France?" Katy asked Adam as he served breakfast.

"I haven't heard a lot from her,” Adam said, “but she's with Veronica so I suspect they are both doing lots of shopping…"

"With maybe a jaunt to Monaco to gamble?" Katherine asked as she came in wearing her dressing gown. "You know I always fancied trying to break the bank at Monte Carlo."

"You wouldn't with the little bets you place Katherine," Adam smiled as he kissed her on the cheek.

"True - but I wouldn't break my own bank doing that."

"True," Adam went back to the stove. "Bacon and eggs?"

"Please," Katherine nodded.

As Katy ate her eggs, she said "So remember I am going to Aunt Diana's to practice after school..."

"And I have my re-election committee meeting," Katherine broke in.

"Well it's probably a good thing then that Adam and I have a light day then." Jan came in wearing her latest suit.

"Lunch with the girls?" asked Katy.

"Yes...and how can you tell?"

"Because when you wear a tight, short skirt, and stiletto heels Mom I know its not for Uncle Adam, it’s to compete with your friends."

"She has you there," Adam laughed.


“True,” Jan said as she shook her head.



8 am

Park Avenue


“I will answer that,” Maisha said as the telephone rang.  Picking up the receiver, she said “Xavier Residence?


“One moment,” she said as Shirley looked out, coffee mug in hand.  “A call from Marseilles, Aunt Shirley.”


“I’ll take it in the den,” Shirley said as she went in, locking and securing the room before she picked up the telephone.  “Good afternoon Mermaid.”


“Good morning Madame – my apologies for the early call.”


“Not a problem – what can I do for you?”


"Madame how good are your contacts within 'This thing of ours'?"

"Reasonable Mermaid...Why?"

"Because as of last night I think it's fair to say they and our Corsican friends have started a war down here."

"Damn, I haven't seen the morning report yet...What happened?"

"The Italians tried to seize a cargo of Hashish coming across the Med."


"Plenty, and what made it worse was the French Navy was on scene quickly."

"Alright," Shirley fidgeted with her glasses, "how does this affect us? And why did you ask about my Italian connections?"

"It affects us so far as taking down the Corsicans is I think a real priority, and the Italians might just be better off leaving it to us and the authorities this time."

"They won't see it that way you know?"

"I do, but Veronica is working her contacts with the families on the East Coast to pressure their cousins, it can only help if you talk to them as well Madame."

"I understand.  Let me make some calls and I will see what I can do."


“I cannot ask more than that Madame – and thank you.”


“We will talk soon Mermaid,” Shirley said as she put the telephone down, and thought for a moment before she picked the phone up again.  “Susan – can you clear a slot in our calendars for one this afternoon please, and inform Don Carlucci that I will be seeking an audience with him please?”




8.50 am

St Angela’s


“There is one further announcement for this morning,” Miss Tennant said as she looked round the hall, “Mrs Brand would like to see Ama Jameson, Nicola Broadhurst, Anna Colman, Rebecca Morse, Jeannie Brewster and Nicola Carlton in her office after the assembly has finished.”


The six girls looked at each other as Miss Tennant said “and now, let us sing the school song.”


“All right,” Doc said as they filed out of the room, “what have we done to upset the powers that be?”


“I have no idea,” Becca said, “Jeans?”


“Hey don’t look at me,” Jeannie said as she wheeled herself along, “I’m as surprised as you lot.”


“Well, then, I suggest we find out,” Ama said as they entered Grace’s office – only to stop as they saw Missy Auerbach waiting in the office.


“Morning,” she said as she looked at them, “Grace should be along in a few minutes.”


“Okay, now I’m worried,” Jeannie said, “you in here as well does not bode well for three of us.”


“Relax, Jeannie,” Grace said as she came in, “you’re going to enjoy this.”


“Now I really am worried – where’s the exit?”


“Okay,” Grace said as she leaned against the desk, “as you know, some old classmates of Jeannie visited when it was her birthday, and spent a few days in the school.  We have had a letter from my successor as the headmaster of Downwood School, asking if we would be interested in a return visit.”


“In addition,” Missy said, “I have some requests for shoots from UK based companies for Jeannie, as well as Anna and Nikki in relation to the MagniLash campaign.”


“Which is a nice way of saying,” Grace said, “that I have discussed with Missy and your parents a little proposal.  Miss Tennant, Mrs Hardistay and I feel it is right and proper that we return the favour, and an offer has been extended for six of our sophomore year to visit the school in June for a fortnight.


“Congratulations – you six have been selected.  Both Caroline Jameson and I also have modelling commitments in the UK that fortnight, so we will come as two of the responsible adults, alongside Miss Nightingale and Mrs Craig.  You will leave on June 10th, and fly directly from there to Abby’s party, to meet the rest of your families there.”


The six of them looked at each other, before Doc said “but we will have finished school…”


“You will not be spending the whole fortnight at the school, but you will join them in some activities.  At any rate, your parents have agreed, so they will share more details later.  You may go to your classes now.”


The six girls looked at each other and then walked out.  “You’re the only one who hasn’t been to Britain, aren’t you,” Jeannie said as she looked at Doc.


“Yeah – should be interesting…”


As they walked down the corridor, Grace came out with Missy.


“Just remind me what we are doing this for, Grace?”


“Fun – or a sense of masochism, not sure which yet.  Ah – my next group of visitors for today.  I’ll talk to you later.”


As Missy looked at the young, tall blonde girl and her parents, she smiled and said “see you soon.”


“Melinda, I am so glad you and your parents were able to come today,” Grace said as she shook their hands, “please, come with me.”


“Thanks for inviting us,” Andy Eckholm said as Melinda looked round, “this is an impressive school.”


“Well, we try our best.  Come into my office and we’ll have some coffee before I take you round.”


“Thank you,” Eva Eckholm said as she sat down, the hem of her long skirt rising as she did so.  Andy was wearing a casual jacket over an open necked shirt and a pair of dark trousers, while Melinda had on a polo shirt and jeans.


“How was your journey up this morning?”


“Truth to tell,” Andy said, “we came up last night.  The younger kids had a sleepover with a neighbourhood friend.  We stayed at a little hotel off the main path.”


“Possibly for the best,” Grace said as some coffee was brought in.  “Now, the point of today is to have a look round, see what we have to offer, and for Melinda to meet a couple of the current students.  But first, have you had a chance to consider the offer?”


“We have,” Eric said, “and, provided the question of accommodation can be answered, Melinda would love to accept the honour of the scholarship.”


Melinda nodded as Grace smiled “Excellent.  Well, while we have our coffee, let me go through the details for you…”



An hour or so later, Melinda and her parents left Grace’s office, as she closed the door behind themselves.


“Well now,” Grace said, “as I said, I act as Dean of Students, while Wilhelmina Tennant is the Principal, and Kate Hardistay the Deputy Principal.  The main school offices are on this corridor, as is the Faculty room, while along here is the main assembly hall.”


She took them through the double doors – only to see Letty Kinsman and Annabelle Petrie talking quietly.  Letty looked over and said “ah – Mrs Brand.  Annabelle and I were just discussing some arrangements for the Senior Prom.”


“Of course you were,” Grace said with a smile, “but it allows me to introduce you to Melinda Eckholm, the next Kirkham Scholar.  Melinda, Letty and Annabelle are two of the Head Girls.”


“Good to meet you Melinda,” Letty said as they shook hands.  “Perhaps Annabelle and I should…”


“Get to your next class?  Very good idea,” Grace said as they walked quickly out.


“So how many Head Girls are there,” Eva asked.


“Three as a rule – we should know next year’s soon.  Now, why don’t we go through to the library…”


4 pm BST

Charlotte’s apartment, Knightsbridge


“Well, here we are,” Charlotte said as she opened the door to the flat, “home sweet home.”


Sarina Van der Bilt smiled as she came in, and slipped off her coat, revealing the blue jersey dress.  She was only a little shorter than Piet, but had long dark brown hair to her shoulders, and was thin as a rake.


“I like it,” she said with her soft accent, “so how are you both?”


“Funny you should ask,” Piet said as he put her case down, and removed her jacket.  “Why don’t you call home and tell them you’ve arrived safely?”


“You want me to call Mum and Dad?  Okay then,” Sarina said as she took her phone from her bag.


“No – use our phone on speaker,” Charlotte said as she went into the kitchen.  Sarina looked at her brother, and then used the flat phone.


“Hello?”  The voice was that of an older female, with the same accent as Piet and Sarina.


“Mum?  It’s Sarina, Just calling to say I’ve arrived safely, and…”


“Hey Mum,” Piet said as he sat down, “is Dad there?”


“He’s in the office, why?”


“Get him on the phone as well will you?”


Sarina raised an eyebrow as the phone went silent, before a man said “Piet, Sarina – what’s happened?”


“Nothing bad, both of you,” Piet said as Charlotte came in, “but you might want to open a bottle of the ’57.”


“Oh?  Is Charlotte going to make an honest man of you,” his mother said.


“Well, not in that way – but we do have an announcement to make.”


There was silence for a moment, before Sarina said “You’re not…”


“We are – it was confirmed this morning.  You’re going to have a grandchild.”


The silence rained for a moment, before the female said “We’re coming to see you next month, no questions asked.  We’ll call back once we have the details sorted out.”


“And I’m bringing a bottle of the ’57 – after we open one here.  Congratulations both of you,” the man said as Sarina stood and hugged Charlotte.


“Thanks Dad – we’ll see you then,” Piet said as his sister suddenly shouted “YES!!”




11 am


As the bell rang, Melinda watched the girls walking past, talking quietly to each other – and then saw a small group approaching round a girl in a wheelchair.


As they got closer, she heard one of the girls say “so we get to watch you modelling and relax?”


“I think they’ll find something for you to…  Oh, hello Mrs Brand.”


“Girls,” Grace said, “Anna, a moment please.”


“I’ll catch you up,” the blonde said as she looked at the group. 


“I’d like you to meet Melinda Eckholm, the newest recipient of a Kirkham scholarship.  Melinda, this is Anna Carlton, the first recipient – and this young lady approaching is Erica Burton, this year’s recipient.  Erica, meet Melinda Eckholm.”


“The latest Kirkham girl – welcome to the whirlwind,” the young black girl said as they shook hands.


“I have been showing Melinda round - would you keep her company for a few minutes while I introduce her parents to Miss Tennant.”


“Of course - so what do you think so far Melinda?" Anna asked as she and Erica talked to the latest winner of 'their' scholarship.


"It's pretty awesome...”  Melinda smiled as she said “especially the library."


"I know, I go goosey every time I go in." Erica smiled, "so much to read and learn."


"So how long is your morning break?"


"We only get 10 minutes Melinda, but we wanted to meet you and to invite you to share lunch with our respective groups of friends."


"I'd like that Anna," the tall blonde youngster nodded.


"And that particularly includes Ama Jameson, and Jess Murchado. They both are sure you are the starting goalie on the soccer team for next year."


"I saw them both play at the city all-star game,” Melinda said.  “I'm not sure I'll start as a freshman, but I'm looking forward to being on the same team as them."


“They’re looking forward to meeting you as well,” Anna said as the bell went, and Erica smiled.  “Mrs Brand will take you on from here,” she said as Grace came over.


“Melinda, come with me please – I want to introduce you and your parents to some of the teachers.”



“Andy, Eva, I’d like you to meet Sarah Nightingale and Harriet Craig.  And this is Melinda, the next Kirkham scholar.”


“Pleasure,” they both said as they shook hands.


“Sarah played football, sorry soccer, for England." Grace smiled as she introduced the coach.


"Don't worry, I'm still Swede enough I think of it as football too," Andy extended a hand to shake the coach's. "And I'm impressed that you have such a former star coaching at the school."


"Let me guess you played in central defence...right?" Sarah looked him up and down.


"Actually I did...but how...?"


"Your physique, your height, and knowing you are a policeman in real life...I took a guess. You seemed to be a natural to have played at the back."


"Well you are right."


"He won a Swedish junior cap before his parents emigrated, and he played in college for Hofstra," his wife spoke proudly.


"Hofstra?" Grace mused, "you don't happen to know Janice Carter do you?"


"Actually I do," the big blonde man smiled, "It was me who introduced her to Al."


"She's a friend of mine," Grace shook her head, "You know this really is a small world."


"Janice was a freshman while we were both seniors," Mrs Eckholm smiled. "We both liked going to watch her race."


“Well, you may get the chance to see her again…”


"So what do you actually do Andy?" Harriet made small talk.


"I run the computerized operations room from which we manage traffic flows in and out of our end of Staten Island."


"Oh so you aren't out in a patrol car?"


"Only rarely, I'm one of a team of three sergeants who rotate on 8 hour shifts principally watching the Outerbridge crossing and traffic on both 440 and the parkway...we go unnoticed most of the time, but catch the blame when traffic gets all snarled up."


"I understand," Harriet nodded, "my late husband was a policeman. He was trained as a grief counsellor, a large part of his job was informing relatives after traffic accidents what had happened to their loved ones."


"Our force has people doing the same, not a job I'd ever really want." Andy looked saddened.


"So what happened to your husband Harriet?" Eva asked.


"He had a heart attack, only a month after he retired from the force."


"Oh Jeez that sucks."


"Well I was lucky enough to have great friends like Grace and Sarah.  They helped me pull through – and now we’re all out here."


Looking over, Sarah said “Annie, come over a minute.  Andy and Eva Eckholm, meet Annie Kelly, one of our Math teachers.  Their daughter Melinda is hopefully the new Kirkham scholar.”


“It’s a real pleasure to meet you,” Annie said as they shook hands.


“If I can ask…”


“End of May or beginning of June, and believe me it cannot happen too soon.  Grace I need a quick word at lunchtime.”


“No problem – come and see me then.  Now, shall we go and look at some of the classes.”




12.30 pm


“Melinda – come and join us please.”


“Do you mind Mom,” the tall pre-teen said.  As her parents nodded, she walked over to where Erica and Anna were sitting while her parents went to sit with Grace.


“Have a seat,” Erica said as she put her tray down.  “This is Jess Muirchado, and the tall girl there is Ama Jameson.  Girls, meet your potential new goalkeeper, Melinda Eckholm.”


“Nice to meet you,” Ama said as she shook hands, followed by Jess, and then they all sat down.  “I understand you live down on Staten Island.”


“Yeah,” Melinda said as she looked round, “so where do you live?”


“I live in the Village,” Ama said, “with my Mom and Miss Kelly, and Jess lives in Manhattan.”


“You live with the Math teacher.”


“Well, I suppose technically she rooms with me and my Mom, but we prefer to think of it as sharing an apartment.”  Ama took a sip from her drink as Melinda looked at her.


“So who is the father?”


“I do not know – Miss Kelly is the partner of Carina Huntingdown, and they will both be the parents of the new baby and Carina’s daughter Judith.”


“Wow,” Melinda whispered.  “I’ve heard of – is that Jeannie Brewster?”


“It is indeed,” Anna said, “hey Jeannie – come and meet Melinda.”


Melinda watched as the teenager wheeled herself over to join them.  “Hi Melinda, I’m…”


“Jeannie Brewster – it was amazing enough to meet Abby last week, but now…”


“She’s starstruck isn’t she?”


“Just a little… Jeans, Melinda is next in line after me and Erica.”


“Oh great – I hoped we would meet,” Jeannie said with a smile.  “I’m the other patron of the fund with Abby.  Welcome to St Angela’s – I hope?”


“So do I,” Melinda said, “if the accommodation can be sorted out.”


“Well, we can hopefully sort that out in the next few days,” Jeannie said.  “So do you like the place?”


“I love it – have you always come to school here?”


“Since I moved here two years ago – before that I was in an ordinary school in North London.  This is Nikki Colman and Pepsi Broadhurst.  Girls, meet Melinda.”


“Hey there,” the other two said as they sat down.


"So just how many famous girls go to school here?" Melinda whispered to Doc.

"Oh a few..." Anna looked amused.

"Are they all models?"

"Well some of us are?"

"You are a model too, as well as a scholar?" Melinda asked in awe.

"Yes, and so is Nikki, she acts a little as well."


"Well I wouldn't put it that strongly," Anna giggled, "but watch out for the new Magnilash TV ads when they start running."

"You both advertise Magnilash? Oh I can't wait to tell Mom that."


“It tends to happen round here,” Erica said as another girl sat with them.  “This is Poppy Ashley – her mom’s the new editor of Complete Style.  Poppy, meet Meilinda Eckholm.”


“Hey – first Freshman of the year – welcome,” Poppy said as she sat down.  “So what does your mom do?”


“She’s a librarian – dad’s a cop.  What about the rest of you?”


“Well, my mom’s a florist,” Pepsi said, “and Ama’s mom is a security consultant…”


“And part-time model,” Jeannie said with a grin.


“Jameson…  Not Caroline Jameson?”


“Well, yes,” Ama said with a smile.  “I think you’ll fit in very well here…”




“Well, she certainly seems to be making friends,” Andy said as he looked over at the girls talking.  “And I think you’ve answered one of the big questions.”


"I suppose the other question is how, do the scholarship and the rich girls mix Mrs Brand?" Eva Eckholm asked.

"Very well...just look at the group round Melinda." Grace said as they looked over.

"Alright.  They look a nice bunch of kids.  What is your point?”

"Well,” Grace said, “Rebecca Morse is the daughter of a congressman, Nikki Colman's mom is a prominent real-estate saleswoman, Ama Jameson has a top model for her mom, but among the others there is Nicola Broadhurst, her father works for the transit authority and her mom owns a florists shop. Anna Carlton, her Mom works as a receptionist, and even Jeannie Brewster her mother works as a clerical worker in a hospital."

"That is a mixed bunch," Eva looked impressed.

"And it's a pattern that's duplicated in other social sets in the school, but the one thing most girls have in common is that they are bright, hard-working, and enjoy life."

"Their unofficial motto," Sarah broke in is that they "work hard and party harder."

"Oh my!" Eva let a giggle escape.


"And among the freshman over there, Jess Murchado's father is a billionaire banker, but Erica Burton's mom works in IT for an engineering company. Poppy Ashley is the daughter of the new Editor-in-Chief of Complete Style, The Chinese girl Dawn has parents who run a restaurant in the Village, and Lynn’s father is in the Diplomatic Corps.”


“So there is no snobbery?"

"There is a bit,” Grace said, “the girls aren't perfect, but we are lucky enough that the Head Girls as a rule spot them early and work to polish the edges off the girls who are snobs."



1 pm

The Tavern on the Green


“Well now, this is interesting,” Juliette said as she looked at her phone.


“What is,” Jan asked as she looked over.


"I got a tweet from Grace saying that you know the Eckholm family Jan?"


"The family of the new winner of the Kirkham. Her name is Melinda Eckholm."

"Eckholm?" Jan thought hard, "Oh you never mean she's Andy and Eva's girl?"

"Yes, I think those are the names Grace used."

"Oh Lord, I was in college with both her parents, I haven't seen either of them in ages."


“Well, perhaps you will get the chance to do so in the next few weeks,” Juliette said as Gale came in.  “Is that a new outfit Gale?”


“It is – we’ve been sorting out my gram’s estate, and I felt I had earned myself a little reward.”


“You go girl,” Tonia said with a smile.  “That does look good on you.”



1 pm

Ristorante Rafaele

7th Avenue South


“Good afternoon Madame,” the Maitre D’ said as he looked at the tall, attractive brunette, “do you have a reservation?”


“I am having dinner as the guest of Mister Carlucci – Miss Xavier?”


“Ah of course,” he said as he waved a waitress over.  “Mister Carlucci is expecting you – Ruth will take you to him.”


“Thank you,” Shirley said, smiling as the server showed her to a table at the rear of the restaurant.  As she came closer, the rather large gentleman she was meeting stood up, smiling as he pulled out her chair and held it till she sat down.


“Madame – thank you for meeting with me here today,” he said as he sat down, admiring the cut of Shirley’s jacket and skirt.  “I trust this is not a business meeting?”


“Yes – and no, Roberto,” Shirley said as she accepted the menu and glanced down.  “Capreze, then Branzino.”


“My usual,” Carlucci said as the waiter nodded.  “So can I take it from your answer this is not a local matter?”


“It has a local factor,” Shirley said as he poured some wine, “in the sense of a new drug that has come onto the market.  As you know, I play no part in the drug trade, but this is a particularly unpleasant one.”


“In what way?”


“A new date rape drug – which has been used on minors.”


“Ah – that one I have heard of,” Carlucci said as the starters arrived.  “I would certainly wish to see that one off the market.  So why are you interested?”


“It was linked to certain other activities my associates are looking into – this is excellent by the way.”


“I do like this restaurant – so you are looking into related activities.”


“Don Carlucci,” Shirley whispered, “in this, all roads lead to Marseilles, and to the Corsicans.”


“Rey?  I have heard rumours my cousins have head some recent altercations with him.  So he is behind this new drug?”


“We believe he is planning to make a major move in Marseilles – and we are going to stop him.  I need you to pass a message on to your cousins on a formal basis.”


“And that message is?”


“I have unfinished business with Rey, going back to the recent problems at Fulton Fish Market, but for many years before.  I am going to put this to an end, and in so doing deal with their problems.  I ask them to allow me this indulgence and to gain resolution.”


Nodding, Carlucci said “and if they do?”


“Then I will be in their debt, and will repay that debt at a place and time of their choosing.”


“I will convey your message back – the way you dealt with the problems in Buffalo speak volumes for your determination in these matters.  More wine?”


1.30 pm

The Tavern on the Green


“So how goes the search,” Juliette said as Diana sat down.


“Slowly, but we make progress.  We have a few families in mind now.”


"I know you were looking for someone with a slightly older daughter Diana,” Juliette said, “but how about Melinda boarding with Janice?"

"With Jan,” Diana said as she raised an eyebrow, “but why?"

"Well,” Juliette said as she smiled across the table, “it turns out she's an old college friend of the parents."

"Well I'll admit that would probably be a plus for them if it’s someone they know...But what about Jan's 'slightly unorthodox' lifestyle?"

"You mean as a Pussycat, or her relationship with Adam?" Juliette whispered.

"Actually,” Diana said, “I was thinking more about Pepsi?"

"Oh I'd forgotten about her..."

"And she doesn't have all that much in the way of spare bedroom, Melinda would have to room with Katy."

"That is true." Juliette paused, "maybe it’s not such a great idea."


“Oh it would be a good idea if they had the room,” Diana said, “but I will get this sorted out.”


“Are you talking about me again,” Jan said as she returned from the rest room.


“Guilty as charged,” Diana said with a smile.


"Changing the subject completely…  Who needs get rid of some pent up aggression this week?" asked Tonia.

"What?" asked Rachel.

"I'm renovating a loft downtown before it goes on sale, and we are knocking out the non-load bearing walls on Wednesday with sledgehammers. Believe me, it’s a great way to work off some frustration."

"Sounds fun," Kelly smiled, "count me in."

"I'll give it a go," Gale laughed, "who knows I might buy the resulting space?"

"That's an idea." Tonia laughed as well.

"Oh if she's looking I had better be there as well," Elaine looked up, "I'm not missing out on a possible sales commission."

"You mean separating Gale from part of her inheritance?" Kelly giggled.

"Hey am I that mercenary?" Elaine laughed as she looked at her friends round the table.

"No comment," Frieda grinned, "but count Puss and me in, we are seeing the Head of our research institution that morning about funding, we might just need to hit something."

"Oh well if they are doing it I will as well," Liz sipped her wine. "What about you and Nessa mom?"

"At our age,” Paulie said, “I think we will just come along to cater the event....but Diana?"

"If I can get out of a meeting I can probably make it." Diana nodded.


“Count me out,” Juliette said, “I have a meeting with Pippa.”


“Well, mass smashing at noon Wednesday then,” Tonia said with a smile.


1.45 pm

St Angela’s


As Grace stood to the side with her parents, Melinda stood in the goal, jumping and catching the ball as the members of Ama’s class took turns to hit the ball at her.


“She is good,” Grace said as Sarah shouted some instructions, and then smiled as Wilhelmina Tennant joined them.


“So - subject to finding a mutually suitable family for Melinda to board with, can we welcome her properly for the class of 2020?” Miss Tennant asked.


“I think you see your answer out there,” Andy Eckholm smiled as his daughter stood in goal while the Angels tried to get the ball past her.


“She seems to fit right in.” Kate Hardisty remarked.


“That she does, she told me she’s felt that way all day,” Eva smiled like her husband.


“I think she will be very happy here.”


“Well the teachers she has talked with are all impressed with her knowledge,” Grace looked up, “and you can see what Sarah thinks out there,” she pointed out to the field.


“Yes she does seem to be happy.”


“Well with Sunny Adamson moving to Germany with her parents, the team will need a starting goalie next season, and as good as Sunny is, I think Melinda is already better Eva.” Grace nodded.


“I’d say it was close,” Andy smiled, “but yeah I think my girl is better…just.”


“Of course he’s not biased,” Eva laughed.


“So, are you happy for us to proceed while Diana and others find a place for Melinda to stay?”


Andy and Eve looked at each other and nodded as a cheer went up.


“What happened?”


“Jess scored – which is to be expected…”


1.45 pm

Ristorante Rafaele


“So Madame,” Don Carlucci said as he swirled his wine, “on a more general level, how is business?”


“I cannot complain,” Shirley purred, “although we do not trade in the same markets, I hear you are doing well as well.”


“Well, since you dealt with the little issue at the fish market, I cannot complain,” he said with a smile.  “Are you happy?”


“Now,” Shirley said with a smile, “you know I cannot answer that question directly.  But yes, I am happy.  I am also busy – so I thank you again for your help in this.  By the way, if I mention a name to you, I would be interested in your reaction.”


“Pertinent to this situation?”


“Potentially – Bartholomew Kingman?”


“Ah,” Carlucci said, “an interesting gentleman, but not a personal friend.  Does that reassure you?”


“Very much so,” Shirley said with a smile.




2 pm

Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar

223 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC


Alan Kennedy smiled as he stood up to greet his lunch guest.  “Dick,” he said as he shook hands, “thanks for meeting me here.”


“Not a problem,” Dick Wilson said as he sat down.  His dress spoke politics, but with Alan they did not look out of place in the haven for lobbying.  “Although I will admit, I was surprised to hear from you.  I thought you weren’t into the lobbying side of things?”


“Only when it is in a professional capacity,” Alan said as they perused the menus, “but time enough for that in a while.”


“True,” Dick said with a smile, “the salmon please?”


“Chicken club with parmesan fries,” Alan said, “and a bottle of chenin blanc.”


Dick raised an eyebrow as he said “This sounds serious.  I thought you were in the world of mergers and acquisitions in New York now.”


“I am,” Alan said, “but a recent client has referred a friend to me for some advice, and I wanted to see if you could help me get some background.”


“Oh yes?  We can talk in a moment – how are the kids?”


“Good – Sharon got a place at Simmons, to study Business, and is interning with a security firm in the city over the summer, while Andy and Dawn have settled into their schools.”


“Sounds good – and you?”


“I’m happy,” Alan said, “and busy.  Your girls?”


“They’re good,” Dick said as the wine was poured.  “So come on Alan – why the trip to see me?”


“All right,” Alan said as he sipped his wine, “I recently worked with Xavier International to see off the AMININCO bid for their niche insurance business.  As a result, I got to know their CEO, Shirley Xavier, and the board members fairly well, as well as some of their friends.”


“I’ve heard of Ms Xavier – not surprised she sought help with rejecting that approach.  But how does that lead to you buying me lunch?”


“One of those friends,” Alan said, “is Juliette Huntingdown – and two of the staff from her company came to ask my help to clear a problem they’re having with imports from the Far East.”


Dick looked at Alan, and then took a drink.  “Huntingdown Silks, right?”


“Got it in one.  I said I’d ask around, but yesterday they had notice at their Hong Kong office of official government inspections of conditions at their plants.  Inspections arising from information sent from the US, and after they have experienced blocks on Customs clearing their shipments.”


Dick looked round, and sat silently for a moment as their meals arrived.  “I know the firm,” he eventually said, “and I know for a fact their conditions more than exceed the legal requirements.”


“So my question is – and strictly on the QT – why is this happening?”


“Strictly on the QT?”


Alan nodded as Dick cut into his salmon and ate it.  “What I’m hearing is that, although that company should not be having problems, pressure is been put on US Customs by the Federal Trade Commission to make sure the shipments meet standards.  A pain, but they’re not telling the trade.”


“Well, that happens from time to time – but why Huntingdowns?”


“Because they cannot find anything wrong – and believe me they are looking.  I think the ones putting the pressure on are pursuing their own protectionist agendas – and when they got nowhere that way, they raised objections.”


“Politics?  In an election year?  Never,” Alan said as he shook his head.  “So if I wanted a name?”


“Senator Newton of Georgia would be a good place to start – he is up for re-election.”


3.30 pm

St Angela’s


“Thanks again – I can’t wait to start here,” Melinda said as she and her family left, Grace waving after them before the girls started to come out.


"This place is like my idea of heaven," Melina waved last goodbyes to a couple of girls as she climbed in the rear of her father’s car.

"I think you've made that pretty obvious," her Mother smiled broadly, "and they certainly seem to like you as well."

"I know, isn't it dolls?"

"Dolls?" her father enquired.

"Sorry - it's slang the Angels use for something that's amazing. I guess I picked it up."

"She's already using their slang." Eva shook her head.


"So are we heading home?"


"Later, kiddo," Andy said, "we're dropping in on a friend first."


“Out early?”


Abby smiled as she looked at Caroline.  “I have a shoot later – nothing major.”


“Good – so, what news?”


"We have infiltrated a girl into that group of boys," Abigail whispered as they stood by the cars waiting for their passengers.

"Oh,” Caroline said, “who?"

"The Cyborg..."

"The who?"

"Celia Zyborg aka Zyborg the Cyborg."

"Haven't I heard some really bad things about her?"

"The Cyborg isn't as bad as she is portrayed,” Abby said, “and besides she has two kid sisters she's very protective of. Date rape drugs on under age girls is a big no-no for her."

"Well if you trust her?"

"I trust her completely...she's been sort of round with those guys and she finally got Billy Beasley to ask her out."

"Which means The Cyborg should be privy to all they have planned." Doc joined the very quiet chat.


“Indeed – she’ll report back through me.  Agreed?”


“Agreed.  I want those bastards on a pike – head or butt.”


“Amen,” Doc said quietly.




9 pm CET

Le Crystal, Marseilles.


Alain Rey came into the bar and looked round, smiling as his two men stood behind him.  Making his way across the floor, he took a seat in a corner booth, the two men standing either side as the waiter brought over a bottle of champagne.


Pouring himself a glass, he sat back and looked at the people in the bar.  The 1950’s décor of the bar attracted a certain group of people, and they were the very people that it was important he was seen with.  It may be a quiet night, but he preferred it to be quiet – he needed time to think, to reflect on recent events.


Despite that, he could appreciate beauty – and the two blondes sitting at the bar certainly attracted him.  He could see one was older, but maturity was no barrier in his eyes – indeed, it was a positive virtue in some aspects.  The younger of the two was thin, with a very shapely body, wearing a short yellow dress and high heeled sandals, while the older had a - fuller body, but the white blouse was open to reveal some of her chest, and the pants left little to the imagination.


They both turned in his direction, and for a moment he thought they smiled at him, but he could not be sure.  Maybe he would be lucky…


"He's a leg man I see," the older woman crossed her legs giving him a free show.

"I had noticed,” the other blonde said as she crossed hers too, making a huge show of it.

"You know what you are doing still."

"Heh it’s like riding a bike...”  She sipped her cocktail and said “picking up guys is easy if you have the right equipment."

"Which I'm certain he thinks we BOTH have," the older woman said as she smiled invitingly at the man.  “We may have something about to happen as well.”


As they watched, Rey motioned to one of the men behind him, who nodded before he walked slowly over to them.  “Good evening ladies,” he said in French, “my employer was wondering if you were here on your own this evening, and if not may he buy you both a drink?”


“Well, since he asked so nicely, he may do so,” the older of the two women said, as the barman brought over two glasses of champagne.  They picked up the glasses and raised them in thanks, Alain smiling as he nodded.


“Would you care to join him?”


“Will it be worth our while,” the tall blonde said.


“Let me put it a different way – you will feel much better if you do not refuse.”


“Well, when you put it so nicely,” the older woman said as they walked over.


“Ladies, welcome,” Alain said as they sat down, “may I know your names?”


“I’m Janice, this is Sandy,” the older woman said, “may we know yours?”


“Call me Alain – so are you visiting our fair town?”


“Indeed – just a couple of old friends on holiday.  So how can we help you?”


“Sit and talk for a while – nothing more, nothing less.”


“Oh, I think we can manage that,” Janice said with a smile, “tell us about yourself, Alain…”


Before Alain could reply, the second man leaned over and whispered in his ear.


“Ah – sadly, I have to meet with someone else, but please, remain and enjoy the champagne.  Perhaps we can meet again before you leave?”


“I would like that,” Jan said, “perhaps you can take us out to dinner tomorrow night?”


“I will meet you both here at seven,” he said as he slipped out, the two woman watching as he walked to where a casually dressed woman was standing at the bar.  Jan and Sandy looked at each other, as he stood and talked to Marie-Louise Aumont…




4.45 pm

The de Ros Mansion


Diana stood by, watching with the ear protectors as Katy stood in her school uniform.  The young teenager took several deep breathes, then raised her hand and fired at the target at the far end of the range, taking her time with each shot before she lowered the pistol after ten had been discharged.


She placed the pistol down and watched as Diana pressed hard on a button, the motor whirring as she did so.


"You are improving Katy...and very quickly," Diana remarked as they removed their earphones and the target came back to them.

"Thank you Aunt Diana, but look at that one I jerked on...”  Katy pointed to the left of the target and said “only an 8?"

"Well you diagnosed it yourself,” Diana said quietly, “you squeezed a little hard on the trigger."

"I know. Just for a second I let my concentration slip."

"Exactly,” Diana said quietly, “it proves what I've told you, 98% of this sport is about controlling yourself totally and being highly disciplined."

"Yes," Katy said as she looked at her phone, "damn – sorry Diana, I have to leave early..."

"Oh why?" Diana raised an eyebrow.

"Mom has invited old friends to eat this evening."

"The Eckholm's?"

"How in hell did you know that Aunt Diana?"

"Oh let me just say it was an informed guess," Diana smiled to herself.  “Go – we will practice again on Thursday as usual.”




6 pm

West Central Park


“Gotta say, Jan, you have done well,” Andy said as Katherine handed him a mug of coffee.


“I got lucky – a friend offered me this apartment as a special deal,” Jan said as she smiled, “but I have to admit, it is good to see both of you again.  When I heard your name at lunch, I was amazed.”


“No more amazed than we were,” Eva said.  “We thought you were on your way to Law School.”


“Fate intervened – I fell pregnant, and Dad died, so a job became the imperative.”


“It happens,” Andy said, “so what did you have?”


“A daughter – we named her Katherine after Mom.”


“Katherine Carter…  Oh lord, not Katy Carter, the Lolita girl!”


“The one and only – and that might be her now,” Jan said to Melinda as the apartment door opened and closed, and Katy looked in.


“Hi Mom – have I got time to go and get changed?”


“Sure – don’t take too long,” Jan said as Adam came in as well.  “This is my partner Adam Ball.  Adam, meet Andy and Eva Eckholm and their daughter Melinda.”


“Pleasure,” Adam said as Katy left, returning a few minutes later in a t-shirt and shorts.  “Sorry – needed to get out of the uniform.  So you’re old friends of Mom?”


“Knew her at college,” Andy said.


“Want to come and see my room Melinda,” Katy said, the young girl nodding as they left the main room.


"You know when Moletti first told me whose daughter was winning the Kirkham it went straight in and out of my head that her name was Eckholm." Jan smiled, "I apologize for not making the connection."

"You are forgiven Jan, and I must say that you've certainly gone up in the world." Eva glanced at the apartment.

"Oh don't let looks fool you, I got lucky."

"I would like such luck..."

"Well I'm sure you'll meet Sandy...sooner or later." Jan smiled.

"Do you live here Adam?" Andy said as he took a beer from the FBI man.

"Not full time..."

"The idiot still maintains the cost of his own place," Jan interrupted.

"Why not just move in?" Eva asked.

"I've told him that," Jan sipped her wine.

"Because,” Adam said, “I guess I like having a private retreat."

"And by his own code, he'd need make an honest woman of me if he moved in totally." Jan's eyes danced.

"Uhh I see," Eva smiled along.

"But pardon my thick Swedish head," Andy looked concerned, "even I've read about you in the papers, they call you the socialite FBI work together...sleep together you really need a wedding to show how committed to each other?"

"Great question Mr Eckholm. One I ask them." Katy came in from showing Melinda her bedroom.


“Dinner’s ready,” Katherine said as Adam and Jan looked at each other.


“Saved by the bell – let’s eat…”


As they sat round the table, Eva said “so what happened between you and Al in the end?”


“We disagreed on how to handle some cases – and we just fell out with each other.  We had to work together recently, however, and we’ve reconciled a little bit.  At least to the point where we can talk to each other.”


“Yeah, he always was a bit of a hothead,” Andy said.  “But a good cop nonetheless.”


“Oh we agree,” Katherine said as she sat down, “he led the team that freed Katy from her kidnapper after all.”


“That must have been so frightening,” Melinda said as she looked at Katy.


“It was – not sure where I was or why I had been taken,” Katy said, “but I knew Mom and Adam would be looking for me, and they were – or at least Uncle Al and the others were.”


“So where do you go to school Katy,” Eva asked.


“Bishop Walden – but I have one more year, and then hopefully I’ll be going to St Angela’s after that.”


“It’s an amazing place – I fell in love with it today,” Melinda said, “do you know many of the girls?”


“Quite a few – Anna and Erica are good friends, as are Abby and Jeannie.”


“I met them all today – well, I met Abby last week, but the rest today.”


“You know,” Jan said, “if I had the room, I’d say Melinda could stay here, but I really don’t and Katy doesn’t go there yet.”


“It’s all right Jan,” Andy said, “I know they’re looking for a family with a girl at the school.”


“I do have a thought,” Jan said, “but I want to talk to the person in question.  I‘ll let Diana know later as well.”


“I hope we do get to see a bit more of each other, no matter where Melinda stays,” Eva said.


“Oh I think we will,” Adam said, “I think we will.”


“So how are RCM doing this season,” Andy said.


“One disaster when the car engine failed, but we’re holding our own again this year,” Jan said with a smile.


“This is delicious, Mrs Carter,” Melinda said as she swallowed some of the stew.


“Why thank you,” Katherine said with a smile as there was the sound of the doorbell.


“She smelt the stew Gran,” Katy said with a smile as Katherine stood up and went out of the room, returning a few minutes later with Pepsi.  “Sorry to drop in unannounced,” she said with a smile, “but Mom wanted me to make sure you got the invites for the Derby.”


“We did, Pepsi,” Jan said with a smile as she looked over, “would you like some stew?”


“No thanks,” Pepsi said, “I need to get round to Ama’s.  I’ll let Mom know – it’s Melinda isn’t it?  I saw you talking to Doc – sorry, Anna Carlton today at the school.”


“Yeah – nice to see you again,” Melinda said as Katherine showed Pepsi out – and then Jan looked at Andy and Eva.


“What’s up?”


“She looks like a younger version of you, if you want the honest truth,” Eva said.  “I remember you after a few drinks one night…”


“Ah,” Jan said quietly as she wiped her mouth, and looked at Adam.  “Well, given you will find out eventually – I’m her biological mother.  I had her when I was barely older than Katy, and she was put up for adoption.”


“Good lord,” Andy said, “and she lives nearby?”


“In the Village – and all our friends know as well.  We just don’t publicise it too much.”


Andy nodded as he said “Fine by us – when did you find out?”


“A year and a half ago – and believe me, I was as surprised as she was.  But she knows, and her adoptive parents both know as well.”



7.30 pm

The de Ros Mansion


Diana looked up as Edith appeared in the doorway.


“Miss Burton is here with Erica to see you, Madam.”


“Show her in,” Diana said as she stood up, Edith nodding as she left and returned with Denice and Erica.  “This is an unexpected pleasure,” she said as she indicated the seats, “can I offer you both a drink?”


“Coffee would be nice,” Denice said, “and some soft drink for Erica?”


“Coffee for two and some coca cola for Miss Burton,” Diana said, Edith nodding as she left the room.  “So,” Diana said as she sat down, “to what do I owe the honour of this visit?”


“Well,” Denice said as she sat forward, “Erica and I were talking earlier, about everything that has happened in the last year, and how grateful we are to all of you for the way you’ve accepted and supported us.”


“I think it is more a case of you both fitting in with us,” Diana said with a smile as Edith returned, placing the tray on the low table and stepping out as Diana poured. 


“Well,” Denice said, “whatever we wish to call it, we are grateful – and we both think it’s time we repaid that in a practical way.  Erica was telling me that she met the next Kirkham scholar today.”


“Ah yes – Melinda Eckholm.  From what I have heard from Grace, she was very impressed as were her parents with the school.”


“I think she was, Aunt Diana,” Erica said as she took a drink, “but I remember how scared I was when the time to come came closer, and how meeting some of the other girls and being with them helped me to feel more accepted.”


Diana sat back and looked at both of them.  “So, if you wish to repay how we helped you, what do you see as the best way of doing that?”


“Simply put,” Denice said, “by offering Melinda the spare bedroom in our apartment.  We’ve been where she is going, so I think we can best help her as she becomes an Angel.


“Unless you have a better plan?”


Smiling Diana said “I cannot think of a better decision, if you are both happy with that, and if Melinda’s parents are in agreement.  Why don’t I arrange for them to meet with you in a week or two, and you can discuss it between yourselves?”


“That’s a plan,” Denice said with a smile.  “So where is Abby?”


“She went to see Letty – a fact that worries me greatly, given time is running out for something to happen.”


“Something to…  Oh, the charity stunt,” Erica said, “all of us were wondering what they were going to do.”


“As are the faculty, I suspect,” Diana said as she sipped her coffee.


7.30 pm

Park Avenue


“Hey,” John said as he sat down, “you look as if you have had a good day.”


“I have – Charlotte called when I was in the office this afternoon.  She and Piet went to visit the doctor recommended by Lucia today.”




“Seven weeks – apparently Piet’s sister nearly screamed the place down when they told her.  We should send them a congratulations card.”


“Sounds like a good idea,” John said as Maisha came in.  “And what have you been doing tonight?”


“Ama asked me to call round to discuss something for the upcoming visit to Kentucky, and she helped me with the essay I have to write for social studies,” the young girl said as she sat down.  “Caroline asked me to tell you she would be in the office tomorrow morning, Aunt Shirley, and that Penny was meeting with Helen tonight.”


“Excellent,” Shirley said with a smile as the telephone rang.  “I’ve been expecting this call – I’ll take it in the den,” she said as she went through, and closed the door before picking up the handset.”


“Shirley Xavier speaking.”


“Good evening Madame.”


“Mermaid – do you have news for me?”


“It does appear the Corsican is behind the drug – but we have other problems.  It would appear the contact in the racing fraternity is Marie-Louise Aumont.”


“The contact from PMU?  That is worrying, but does confirm my thinking he is laundering profits and payments that way.  Have you informed Guy?”


“A job for later.  My concern for now is that she knows me and Veronica – we met her with Guy, and I saw her with Rey tonight.”


Shirley thought for a moment, before she said “I am going to send a specialist your way to assist with the racecourse side – someone with experience in chemical analysis and interrogation techniques.  I will tell her to meet you at your hotel at 2 tomorrow afternoon.  She will use the usual call sign.”


“Understood Madame – and thanks.”


“Not a problem Mermaid – good hunting on the other aspects.”


Shirley ended the call, and then dialled a number.


“Icicle?  This is Madame – the Sisters need you.”


10 pm

The Richmond Mansion


“You look like you are having fun there?”


Sandy brought in their late night drinks as Heather sat on the couch with her computer propped up on her knees.


“Actually I am…”


“…But I suppose it’s for Ju and you can’t tell me what it’s about?” Sandy sat next to her and tried to sneak a peek.


“No,” Heather said as she grinned, “this you can look at, I finished ‘that’ earlier.”


“So what are you up to then?” Sandy snuggled up to her lover,


“Giving Stephen Hawking the beating of his life playing three-dimensional chess.”


Sandy slowly turned her head and looked at Heather.  “THE Stephen Hawking?”


“As if there is another…and that is CHECKMATE!” Heather laughed then typed, “you owe me a decent bottle of wine Stephen.”


“Agreed,” the reply popped up on the screen, “anyway I need my bed…sweet dreams Heather.”


“Sweet dreams to you Stephen.”


“Dear Goddess,” Sandy said with a look of exasperation, “why didn’t you ever say you Stephen Hawking lover?”


“I guess it’s never crossed my mind, I’ve known him online since I was at Yale.” Heather turned her computer off, “I suppose I just think of him as an old friend.”


“Only you could be that modest that you never name-dropped lover.” Sandy kissed her girlfriend. “But you still haven’t told me just what Ju is planning.”


“All in good time,” Heather smiled as she kissed back.  “Let’s just relax for the rest of the night…”




Tuesday 26th April

2 pm CET

Radisson Blu Hotel Marseille Vieux Port


“So what are we going to do about what we saw last night,” Veronica said as she and Eleanor sat in the bar.


“For the moment nothing – I’ll meet up with Francesca and the General in a short while.  But before that, we need to…”


“Manhattan, extra shot of Bourbon.”


The two women looked at the newest arrival in the bar.  She stood about five foot ten tall, and wore a grey jumper and slacks with black heels.  Her light brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she was looking intently at a guide book.


“Just arrived an hour or so ago – and it’s at times like this I wish my French was better.”


“I can understand that,” Eleanor said as the new arrival accepted the drink.  “Fortunately, my friend and I are reasonable fluent.  May we offer assistance, sister?”


The younger woman turned and smiled as she said “No – but the offer is well received.”


Eleanor nodded and said “Still – will you join us at a table?  It’s always good to make new friends when visiting a city.”


“Gladly,” the woman said as she followed Eleanor and Veronica to a quiet corner.  As they sat down, she said quietly “An honour to meet you – I was told you had need of my skills?”


“We do – Captain Eleanor Ball, USNR, and Commander Veronica Joyce, CGIS.  You are?”


“Captain Jo Frost, formerly British Army – and forgive me if I decline to say what unit.  So, how can I be of help?”


“We have an issue with two types of drug related problems – Equine and Human.  I was told you can offer expertise in both areas?”


Jo nodded as she said “and they are interrelated?”


“The same source – but for the Equine problem, both Veronica and I know the suspect, hence your arrival.”


“Well,” Jo said as she sipped her drink, “you’d better bring me up to speed…”




As Veronica finished, Jo slowly nodded.  “Well, I can see why we are interested.  I have young nieces, so the idea of a drug been used for date rape is something I personally would stomp on from a very great height.”  Looking out of the window, I said “it’s been quite a while since I’ve been here – it hasn’t changed that much.  So, allow me to make my suggestions.


“For the horseracing side, I need to pay a visit and get those samples.  If you can delay notification for twenty four hours, that will be all I need.  That will also give us time to invite the person of interest for a little – chat.”


Eleanor and Veronica both nodded as Jo sat back.  “The wider issue – it is plain to me from what you have said the source is here, so count me in on any actions you deem necessary.  Who else is involved?”


“Italian Naval Security and the local Gendarmerie commander is on our side.  One or two other contacts – for the Racing fraternity, the Duc du Grechy is our main contact.”


Jo smiled as she said “him I have heard of.  Don’t worry – I’m immune to his charms.  Keep me in the background until you are ready.”


“Agreed – we’ll leave you to make your preparations, and talk later.”


8.30 am

The Faculty Lounge, St Angela’s


“It’s really not fair,” Annie said as she held up the latest edition of Vogue, “I start to look like a round barrel on legs, and there are Grace and Carina looking so fantastic modeling the latest Tom Ford.”


“I know, it isn’t right is it?” Eve Nixon from the Alumnae Office looked over the teacher’s shoulder. “I’d KILL to have legs as good as Grace’s and a body like Carina’s.”


“Wouldn’t we all.” Ingrid Mueller laughed.


“Oh like you are deficient in either of those departments Ingrid.” Annie shook her head.


“Well it’s not long now,” the German teacher patted her friend on the head.


“That is true Annie.” Kate Hardisty said as she sat down with her coffee.


“I know…but just look?” Annie held Vogue up for the rest of the staff to see.


“Yeah, she’s still ‘Glorious Grace’,” Sarah came and sat down wearing her track suit. “And what are you complaining about Annie, she’s MY roommate, I have to introduce her to my boyfriends…and then take the comparison.”


“Ouch!” Eve laughed.


“You don’t seem to lose many men though Sarah.”


“That’s because my virtue is easy,” Sarah laughed, “they know they’d never score playing with Grace.”


“Playing at what,” Grace said as she came in.


“The Dating Game,” Helen said, “or is there something you’re not telling us?”


“Nope – although I did hear from an old friend he would be visiting New York next month.  We’ll be getting together then…”



8.55 am

St Angela’s


As Abby passed the toilet door, she heard a voice say “Abby – in here.”  Looking round, she slipped inside and watched as Celia Zyborg locked the door.  The Cyborg was a stockily built girl, with round steel rimmed glasses, but she smiled as she said “I spent an interesting evening with Billy Beasley last night.  I thought we’d be alone, but his ‘friends’ tagged along.  When I asked why, he said they wanted strength in numbers.”


“Doesn’t surprise me – from what I heard, they were taught a lesson.  Anyway, what did you do?”


“We spent most of the evening in the park – but I did hear Kingsman say he had got some more ‘happy pills’ from his father.”


“So Kingsman is the source?”


“Looks like it – what the hell happened to them to make them so afraid anyway?”


“They met some girls who fought back – as I understand it.  Anyway, thanks – let me know if you hear anything else.”


Celia nodded as she unlocked the door and slipped out, while Abby took her phone out.  “Heather?  It’s Kingsman senior – let Caroline know will you?”



9 am

Xavier International


“Hey,” Susan said as she looked up, smiling as Pamela showed Juliette in, “what can I do for you this morning?”


“Well, I wanted to drop in and ask if you would do me a favour,” Juliette said as she sat down.


“Sure – is this linked to anything in particular?”


“It is – but I’m compartmentalising everything for the moment,” Juliette said.  “I need someone to extract some files from a company in the city.


“Sure,” Susan said as she sat back, “what and where?”


“The where is Nordic Oil,” Juliette said as she passed over an envelope, “this is the what.”


Susan opened the envelope and took out a sheet of paper, raising an eyebrow as she read it.  “Okay,” she eventually said, “when by?”


“As soon as possible – I need to get to the office.  You will call me later with the timings?”


“Sure,” Susan said as she walked her to the door, smiling as Juliette walked to the lift.




“Yes boss?”


“See if Tanera is in the office, and then get her up here – I need to speak to both of you.”


Pamela nodded as she picked up the phone, Susan shaking her head as she read the request again.


4 pm CET

Marseilles Borely Racecourse, VIP Enclosure


As Eleanor pulled up in the car park, Jo slipped out from the back seat.  “Give me an hour or so,” she said as she walked off, wearing a black dress and heels.


“Why do I get the strong feeling that is not her normal garb,” Veronica said as they both got out.


“I got that feeling as well – especially when she said not to ask her which unit she was in.”


“You noticed that too?  That usually means a very limited list of options.”


“Doesn’t it just?  Still, let’s go and join the meeting.”  The two women made their way to the main building, smiling as they saw Guy standing inside.


“Good afternoon ladies,” he said as he doffed his hat, “I fear I have to inform you of a development.  My assistant trainer has been arrested – one of several at stables across the country.  It would appear we have started to uncover a most devious scheme.”


Jo smiled at the racecourse staff as she walked past, and then slipped into the Vet Laboratory, looking from side to side as she closed the door and made her way quietly down the corridor.  The door was locked, but Jo merely smiled as she took a small set of skeleton keys out, and slipped into the area.


The room was clean, sterile, and she could see the refrigerated units where the samples were stored.  She looked inside, and then sat at the computer terminal, switching it on and smiling as it went straight into the tracking system.


“Thank the lord this isn’t a WADA facility – it would all be in paper,” she said to herself as she searched for the recent race, and looked at the relevant serial numbers.  She then went back to the refrigerated units, and pulled out the relevant tray.


“Hmmm – someone has been at work here,” she said quietly as she looked at the empty holders where the blood samples should have been.  She then heard the sound behind her, and smiled as she turned round and closed the door.


“May I ask what you are doing in here,” the young man said as he pointed the gun at Jo.


“Good question, may I ask who is asking?”


“I am Doctor Guillemont, the Veterinary Officer for the course.  This is a restricted area.”


“I know,” Jo said quietly, “I was asked to check some samples – but they appear to be missing.”


“Hmm – did du Grechy employ you?  No matter – Monsieur Rey will wish to know.”  As he reached for the telephone, Jo said “before you pick that telephone up, may I ask a question?”


“Go on…”


“Do you have any children?”


“No – why?”


“Good - makes me feel better,” Jo said as she suddenly ran forward, taking him by surprise as she drove her knee into her groin, and then hit his chin with her other knee.  As he fell senseless to the ground, she straddled him and held in a choke grip, waiting until he slumped to the ground.


“Okay – that confirms Rey is involved,” Jo said as she looked in the unit, and then removed a bottle of clear liquid from the back.  “Now what on earth are you, and why are you with the blood samples?  Let’s take you back for a little looksee…”


She wrapped the bottle in a cloth and slipped it into her handbag, before making her way out of the lab, and walking down the corridor.


10.30 am

Complete Style


“Well, I can understand why it seems that way, but honestly my dear, just think of it as if you are in Chinatown – turned up to eleven.”


Mary Thomas opened the door and looked in as Juliette waved her in.


“I’ll talk to you tomorrow – and don’t forget to phone home after I put the phone down.  Have fun.”


As she put the telephone down, Juliette leaned back and looked up at the ceiling.


"Who was that Juliette?"

"Hmmm…  Oh, it was Mary Clarke Merlin. She's in Bangkok shooting ads and pictures for her Cadeau Aphrodite campaign."

Merlin smiled as she asked "How is she liking it?"

"She's not sure..." Juliette smiled in return, "you know Mary - anytime she's out of the Bay Area it’s an adventure, but this is a particularly strange one since she's never been anywhere near the Far East."

"I heard you though saying to her to think of it as just being like Chinatown back in San Francisco."

"Yeah, I hope that sort of reassured her.  Life is for living and learning anyway – so long as the minders keep her in the main areas."

"Well,” Mary said as she sat down, “with young Mary's problems sorted, can I get your opinion regarding mine?"

"Oh,” Juliette said as she sat forward, “and what might they be?"

"Two words - Carlin Kardecki."

Juliette looked at her old friend for a moment, before saying quietly "and what has Carlin done now?"

"Well, she's shown me her new mid-season collection..."

"Will somebody explain why that woman can't show at fashion week like everyone else," Juliette moaned as she looked skyward.

"Be that as it may - and I agree with you - I went and saw a preview yesterday, and Ju - we are definitely going to have to get it in the magazine."

"Okay, so why bring that to me, it's a subject for the Editorial board surely?"

"I know,” Mary said, “but I'm here as a friend, this has more to do with the models she wants to use."

"Oh whom?"

Looking at a paper, Mary said "Our Lolita, young Orion, Sly’s daughter - plenty of other underage talent."

"I can see where this is going,” Juliette said as she put her fingers under her chin. “Let me guess - the collection is stunningly out there...right?"

"Well let me put it this way Ju darlin' even I might complain at seeing 13 to 15 year old models wearing it." Merlin twisted awkwardly in her chair. "Carlin has offered us exclusive rights to preview the show, but as long as she gets the models she wants...What do we do?"

"The Shock Queen is up to her usual tricks."

"Well you know Carlin, even such bad publicity as this would generate she regards a something to encourage."

"Yes, but those girls in her clothes…”  Juliette closed her eyes for a moment, before she said “I think we need bring in both Anna...AND...Pippa to talk about it before you take it to the Editorial Board for a decision."

"Alright," Merlin played with the end of her cardigan, "When?"

"Well Pip is in the building let me suggest right now."  Picking up the phone, she pressed some of the keys and waited.  “Anna?  It’s Ju – I have Merlin with me, and we have an issue that we need input on from both you and Pippa.


“Normally I’d agree, but for a moment, imagine Lolita in an outfit designed by Carlin Kardecki.


“Well, that’s the opening gambit – it gets worse.  Can you and Pippa come down to the editorial boardroom and see what Mary has?


“Okay – ten minutes,” Juliette said as she nodded to Mary.  “See you there.”  Putting the phone down, she said “you’d better get everything you’ve got – I’ll get the sponges and towels.”


4.30 pm CET

Marseilles Borely Racecourse, VIP Enclosure


“How many,” Philippe said as he looked at Guy.


“Certainly all my contacts have had at least one senior assistant arrested,” Guy said, “by the local Gendarmerie.  We have a major scandal on our hands gentlemen – and ladies.”


Robert Donat shook his head as he looked at Eleanor.  “We are grateful you brought this to our attention dear lady – have the arrests become public knowledge?”


“No – we have agreed to keep it quiet.  Madamoiselle Aumont, any news from your side?”


“Nothing as yet,” Marie-Louise said as Veronica looked at her, “but I will update tomorrow.”


“Well, we will order an immediate investigation into events here,” Philippe said, “we will talk again tomorrow.”


Marie-Louise nodded as she left the room, taking a mobile phone from her handbag as she did so.  Before she could dial a number, she heard an English female say “Marie-Louise Aumont?”


“Yes – who…”


“I do so hate to make mistakes,” Jo said as she pressed gently on the side of Marie-Louise’s neck, the young woman fainting as Jo held her up.  “You look tired,” she said quietly as she half carried her, “let me take you somewhere to rest…”


11 am

Complete Style


They sat at the table, Ju in her jacket, blouse and skirt, Mary with her grey cardigan over her jumper and skirt, and looked to the other side of the table.  Anna Mitchell looked through the sketches again, her glasses perched on the end of her nose, while Pippa looked through the list of names.  While Anna has on a grey blouse and skirt, Pippa was wearing a blue jumper and black leather trousers.


“Dear lord,” Anna said as she put the papers down, “I don’t know whether to book it now or scream at her face.  Probably both, if I’m being honest.  And she’s offering us exclusive access?”


“If – and it’s a big if – we use the names she has stipulated,” Mary said.  “But let’s break this down a moment – I can see Katy in these outfits, but her mother and grandmother are not going to be happy given what happened recently.”


“Neither is Orion’s family,” Juliette said quietly, “but I think we could talk them round.  Having said that, given Abby is probably the oldest name on that list…”


“So I see,” Pippa said, and then she looked closely at one name in particular.


“Saints bless us,” Mary whispered to Juliette, “she just found the elephant in the room.”


“She wants to use her?” Pippa pointed to a name on the list, “but she’s not even a model.”


“Oh my God, no she isn’t.” Anna Mitchell looked down the page.  “But I know that name.”


“And she’s INSISTING that we use every one of these girls, or no deal?”


“She is,” Merlin looked sheepish.


“If you ask me,” Anna said as she took her glasses off, “this is more about Carlin getting revenge for Cannes then this is about her merely wanting to shock the world.”


“Having looked in detail at her list I agree,” Juliette said as she drank from her teacup, “but Mary has shown me her sketches, this is the best Kardecki collection ever.”


“Oh on that we can certainly agree,” Pippa nodded as she again picked up a couple of the sketches, “but as Anna said, this has more than a tinge of blackmail and revenge about it.”


“Is Carlin really that immature about events that happened twenty years ago?”


“You were there Anna,” Juliette looked heavenwards.


“Why else would she want that particular girl?” Pippa again pointed.


“I know, I know,” Anna closed her eyes, “but after over 20 years?”


“You know what they say about revenge being best served cold?”


“Pippa,” Mary said, “we might just be drawing conclusions, after all she’s been seen in a few places these past weeks…Carlin might just merely thinks she looks right for this?”


“And the fact that Carlin has always blamed that girl’s mother for what happened that night is irrelevant I suppose?”


“It might be…?”


“FAT CHANCE Merlin,” Pippa interrupted the venerable style editor strongly.


“Look most of these girls are professional models or actresses,” Juliette looked serious, “they’ll do it for the prestige of working with Carlin Kardecki. Maybe she will agree to do it even without this girl…right Merlin?”


“I can but try,” the Welshwoman fidgeted.


“And in the meantime I’ll have a word with the mother.”  Pippa rubbed her eyes before she said “and I’m glad it will be over the phone, I get the feeling she might just kill me if it was in person.”

“Get Tufty in on the call Pippa, after all she was there as well.” Juliette paused, “and I suppose I’ll phone her after you have.”


“So, I go back to Carlin, say we’re interested but that name is a problem.  And if she insists?”


“Tell her we need to get family permission first, and if that’s a no-no we won’t do it,” Anna said, Pippa nodding in agreement.


“Lovely,” Juliette said, “when are you going to call?”


“Ordford first,” Pippa said as she stood up, “and then I’ll put the call in to Dublin…”




Complete Style




As her PA came in, she saw Juliette looking at her screen, tapping her chin with her pen.


“You yelled Boss?”


“Yeah – close the door, and then get Mandy Carrow on the phone for me please.”


“Sure – everything all right Ju?”


“Ask me when I come out,” Juliette said as Janine closed the door, and Juliette sent a message.  Taking several deep breaths, she picked up the telephone as it rang and said “Hello Tufty – how is the weather where you are today?”


“It’s April in England darling – damp and sunny at the same time,” Mandy Carrow drawled, “what can I do for you?”


“I need to give you a storm warning,” Juliette said, “but before I begin, I just sent you an email.  Open it please, and have a look at the attachments.”


Juliette sat back and waited, counting down in her mind as she heard Mandy hum to herself – and then the line went quiet.


“Well now,” Mandy eventually said, “May I ask why you are sending me HER designs?”


“Scene setting, Tufty,” Juliette said quietly, “Carlin has offered CS exclusive preview rights to her new collection – if we agree to her submitted list of models.”


“We are not on the list, are we Darling?”


“No,” Juliette said, “She wants the next generation.”


“NO way, Juliette…”


“No, not Angel or Maggie, thank the goddess – I mean the next generation.”


There was a silence again, before she said “and when you tell Janice, may I order tickets for the absolutely guaranteed explosion?”


“Right now, Mandy, that’s not the big problem.”


“You surprise me,” Mandy said in an angry voice, “what has she asked for that means you’re calling me.”


There was silence, before Mandy said “why do I get the feeling you don’t like this either.”


“I don’t – Tufty, she wants Eve Lardarn to walk the show, and unless Merlin really can weave a magic spell, it’s a deal breaker.”




“Forgive me, Juliette darling,” the cultured English voice said, “did you just say Carlin Kardecki is insisting that Paula’s daughter walks her show.”


“I did,” Juliette said as she took off her glasses, rubbed her eyes and counted down mentally, before Mandy Carrow shouted “There is no way on this earth she will ever agree Ju - You know very well darling what my opinion is of that woman. It’s why I never wear her clothes, and even though she’s 19 why I’d never let Angel model for her.  And I am being temperate – when Paula hears…”


“I know that you dislike Carlin totally…”


“And I’m far from being the only person who does Pelican.”


“Stop interrupting Tufty. Be that as it may, but you have to admit she is a genius…”


“I have to admit no such thing darling.  And when you tell Paula, she will be more forceful than me.”


“Look Tufty,” Juliette said quietly, “as an employee of Complete Style just let me say I’d be derelict in my duty to my employers if I didn’t get everything done that I could to get the magazine exclusive rights to show this collection.”


“Well I know that it’s your duty darling,” Mandy drew a sharp breath in, “all I’m saying is that you know just as well as I do what happened in Cannes.”


“That was over 20 years ago Tufty.”


“Well she’s obviously never forgiven, nor forgotten.”


“I agree, but I’m duty bound to ask Paula if she will let her daughter model for the show, and all I’m asking is that you join the call and help deflect some of the flak.”


“How do you know I won’t totally take her side darling?”


“I don’t but it’s a risk I have to take.”


There was another silence, before she said “You’d better get her on the line, while I get some coffee brought to me with a little something.”


“This early?”


“Juliette, you are about to do a very dangerous thing – I need the courage.”


“Okay – get what you need while I get Janine to add her,” Juliette said before she pressed a button.


“Yes Boss?”


“Round two Janine, get Paula Lardarn in on the call will you please?”


“Okay Boss,” Janine said as Juliette went back to Mandy.  “Got your fortification,” she said quietly.


“Oh yes – Will asked what was going on, and when I told him he poured me a double.”


“A double what?”


The soft Irish lilt made Juliette smile as she said “Good morning Paula – sorry to call you so early.  I have Tufty on the line as well.”


“Good morning Sister Virtue,” Mandy drawled, “I hope you’ve had a coffee already.”


“I have actually, why?”


“Because you’ll need something after this, Paula – Carlin Kardecki?”


“What about her,” Paula said, suddenly sounding very serious and very dangerous.


“Well, hear me out – she has been in touch with my masters to offer exclusive access to her new collection, but she has very particular wishes as to the models.”


“How young?”


Sighing, Juliette said “If I told you Lolita and Stargirl were on the list?”


“Katy Carter and Orion O’Ryan?  Who else?”


“Well let’s see…  Anna Carter…  Sly’s daughter…  Abby to play mother…  Eve Lardarn…”


“Whoa whoa whoa,” Paula said, “that last name sounded awfully like my daughter Eve.”


“That’s probably because it is,” Juliette said, holding the handset away as a string of Irish Gaelic came out.  Eventually, she said “Paula?”


“Juliette,” her old friend said quietly, “you expect me to forgive the unforgivable?”


“Not forgive,” Juliette said, “but maybe just forget for a minute and consider?”


There was quiet on line for a minute or so.  “Alright,” Paula eventually said, “I’ve considered, and the answer is still OVER MY DEAD BODY!”


“Darling,” Mandy drawled, “Juliette is caught in a cleft stick…”


“I know that Amanda.”


“She will do whatever she can to secure this exclusive for CS…and having seen some sketches I can understand why.”


“Mandy I know that,” Paula said, “but I still refuse to let my daughter be photographed wearing THAT woman’s ‘shock and awe’ designs…  My God Mandy, it’s not like she’s even ever wanted to model, why of all the names of girls in this world did she pick her if her intent wasn’t to hurt and humiliate me?”


“Darling, I’ve told Ju that.”


“And I’ve listened,” Juliette paused to get the words right, “but dear old friend, you must at least owe us all that you ask her if she’d like to do it?”


“I will do no such thing Juliette Huntingdown, and that as far as I’m concerned is it, conversation over…” Suddenly the line from Ireland went dead.


“Well, it could have been worse,” Mandy eventually said, “but really Pelican – can you blame her?”


“No – no I can’t, and thanks for not saying I told you so Tufty.”


“I wish you luck darling,” Mandy said as the line went dead, and Juliette sat back.  “Go on,” she said out loud, “bring it…”


“Ooh that woman!” Pippa came bursting into Juliette’s office.


“More trouble with Carlin?”


“Yes,” Pippa said as she sat down, “she’s only gone and added my Poppy to the list of girls she wants.”


“Crap…and what did you say?”


“I haven’t replied yet, the request came via Missy…I came in here to shout and vent before I go ring Missy and tell her to tell Carlin where she can stick the offer.”


“So I take it this is you responding as a mother Pippa,” Juliette said quietly, “not as the new editor of CS?”


“Meaning what Ju?”


“That you were reasonably happy earlier about using other women's daughters earlier to get exclusive publishing rights darling…but now?”


“Alright I’m being a HYPOCRITE!” Pippa shouted, “sue me.”


“Can I come in?” a slightly timid voice asked from the office doorway.


“If you don’t mind taking some of the blast from an explosion Grace.”


“Well I’d come to collect Pip to take out to lunch…”


“The cheek of that bloody woman…”


“Who me?” Grace asked looking perplexed.


“No not you Gray,” Pippa fought to control herself, “that bitch Carlin Kardecki.”


“Oh dear Lord, what’s she done this time?”


“Want to make it a threesome,” Juliette said, “and I’ll explain…”




1.30 pm

The Tavern on the Green


“Okay,” Grace said as she, Pippa and Juliette sat at a quiet table, “What exactly has the Witch Queen done to get you two upset?”


“It’s not just us,” Pippa said, “it’s Anna and Mary, it’s Mandy, it’s…  Trust me, we’re just the start of the fun.”


“Well,” Grace said as she poured herself some wine, and then the other two, “I may have only been back a little while, but even before I left the business she was known to be a bit of a handful.  Even more so now – I presume she has a new collection coming out at a different time from everyone else.”


“Correct,” Juliette said, “and we’ve seen the sketches.  It’s easily up there with the best of her work, and that’s where the problems start.”


“I’m presuming lots of low cuts, flesh showing, very close to what is acceptable?”


“Very much so,” Pippa said, “and Merlin went to see her for a sneak preview.  Carlin then says she would be prepared to let Complete Style have exclusive access to the show, and a preview.”


“Well, you did say you wanted to make CS a bit more daring, Pippa,” Grace said as she sipped her wine.


“Yes I did – and Missy also said Jo and Maggie would not become Top Girls.  She was wrong than – and I may have been wrong to be enthusiastic earlier.”




“Because,” Juliette said as she took her glasses off and rubbed her eyes, “Carlin is insisting that we use the list of models she has produced – and they’re all younger girls.”


Grace put her glass down, stroked her chin and said “define younger girls.”


“Abby is the oldest on the list,” Pippa said quietly.


“Abby?  She’s not yet eighteen – on of her designs?”


“She’s done Victoria’s Secrets – Diana would raise the roof, but that’s manageable.  It’s who else is on the list – or at least, on the first version of the list.”


“Well,” Grace said, “if Abby is the oldest…  Oh come on, who else?”


“Well, she named Scarlet Rose Stallone…”


“From St Angela’s she didn’t name Jeannie – so count your blessings on that one – but Anna is on the list,” Pippa added


“And then there’s Katy Carter and Orion O’Ryan…”


“And, as of a couple of hours ago, Poppy – but that isn’t the real reason we’ve all got upset.”


Grace looked at both of them and whispered “you have got to be kidding me – especially Katy, after what happened, in HER outfits.  What could be more heartless than that?”


“Are you sure you want the answer to that question?”


Grace held her glass in her hand, and said “there is worse?”


As she watched, both Juliette and Pippa nodded before Juliette said “she wants Eve Lardarn to take part.”


“Eve?  Paula’s daughter Eve…  Oh dear lord, this hasn’t got anything to do with Cannes has it?”


“How do you know about that?”


“I know that twenty years ago, her collection she was planning to show at Cannes was cancelled, and that she was less than complementary about the models at that show – wasn’t Mandy there?”


“Oh yes,” Juliette said, “I was busy expecting Carina at the time, but you were there weren’t you Pippa?”


As she nodded, she said “oh yes – we were both there, but I was one of the lesser lights.  Stella had just passed away, and a group of us had been to her funeral – so this was the first time we had been together since then.  Karen was in rehab, but Carlin managed to persuade enough of us to get there.  And so was Sister Virtue – and that was when the fun really started.


“Anyway, we had gathered a couple of days before the main show to see the outfits – and they were right out there.  Do you remember the photos that ear of Eva Herzigova in the rubber corset on the balcony of the Hotel Martinez?”


“I remember seeing them a while later,” Grace said as their food arrived, the three of them falling silent as the plates were put down.


“Right – so if I told you that wold have been a demure evening dress in Carlin’s collection?  Without needing to add anything?”


“Then I would get the idea,” Grace said quietly.


“I’ll tell you how bad it was – Mandy, the punk model, the darling of Alexander McQueen – Mandy threatened to walk there and then, but Carlin said if they did, she would make sure all our names were mud in business by the time she was finished.”


“Sheesh – what did Mother have to say about it?”


“Well, she was flying out to support the girls when one of them basically did something that has ever been done before or since.  She got the senior Top Girls – Mandy, Elle, Jeanne Beckmann, a few of the others – as well as myself into a room with the press, and said in effect if Carlin Kardecki thought this was the right collection to show when one of their closest friends had just died in horrible circumstances, than she had another thing coming – and all of them were refusing to take part in the show.


“It made the headlines that night, the rest of the models joined in – and Carlin was left with a collection and nobody to walk the show.  Before she even could get on the phones, Mother had arrived and read the riot act to her, and she had to cancel the show – but not without making it very clear how she felt about the matter, and about Sister Virtue in particular.”


Pippa picked up and drained her glass, before refilling it.  “So, when she says to CS you can have exclusive access if, and only if, the oldest daughter of the woman did that twenty years ago is in the show…”


“You’re a little behind the times,” Juliette said as she looked at her phone, “Mary just texted me.  Before she got the chance to raise the question about Eve, Carlin added another name to the list – Aileen.”


“Oh dear god,” Pippa shouted out as the rest of the restaurant looked round.  “How did Paula take the news when you called her?”


“Not well – if she hears that Aileen is wanted as…  Oh Goddess,” Juliette suddenly said, “has anyone told Missy?”


“Missy?  Why?”


“Because Missy may not know about Cannes – and if she’s contacted you about Poppy…”


The other two looked at each other as Juliette’s phone went off.  “Missy,” she said as she answered, “I was just talking about you to Grace and Pippa.  Have you called…






“Okay then – I’ll clear time and meet you tomorrow,” Juliette said as she ended the call, and rubbed her head.


“She called Paula, didn’t she?”


“Oh yes – and Lady Lardarn is coming in tonight, desiring words of import with me and Missy, and then a quiet chat with Carlin.  This day just gets better and better…”


“Still, was Carlin really that angry at Paula,” Grace said as Juliette put her phone away.


“Well – there was also the small matter of Tom.”  Poppy smiled as she said “as bad as I felt when you and Christian got together, Gray, that was nothing to what was going on between Carlin, Paula and Tom.”


“I thought they were engaged at the time,” Juliette said.


“They were – but after that show, Carlin really started to try and get Tom away from her.  Every time Tom and Paula went to a party or an event, Carlin seemed to be there, and somehow always managed to get between them.  Now you both know Paula – do you think she would have taken well to that?”


“Oh no she would not,” Juliette said, “how long did that go on for?”


“Until the end of October that year – and this one I do know because I saw it.  Tom and Paula had been invited to a Hallowe’en costume ball at Le Cavendish in Cannes, and I was doing a shoot nearby, so when we met a few days before I found myself invited along – with just time to get a costume before the night.  I managed to get a Georgian dress sorted out in time to turn up on the evening.


“It was been hosted by Johnny and Vanessa, and everyone who was anyone was there – including a fair number of the modelling community.  I was standing talking with Paula and Titi, and Paula was wearing this amazing French Courtesan outfit, complete with high wig and mask – so imagine her shock when Carlin walks in, wearing, and I’m not joking, exactly the same outfit.


“Now, it’s not like there weren’t a number of women wearing similar outfits – I’d taken particular note of two young women, one American and one Italian, standing together and talking in low whispers – and if you know the ballroom in that hotel, you know how difficult it can be to stand out when at the side of that room.”


“So I take it there was a lot of tension in the air?”


“To say the least,” Pippa said to Grace.  “Tom only wanted to be with Paula, but somehow Carlin always seemed to be there instead of her.  Anyway, it all came to a head when Tom thought her had been dancing a slow waltz with Paula, leaned in to kiss her – and then heard Paula screaming as she walked over”


“It sounds like the sort of party I would have liked – except I was busy,” Juliette said with a smile, “I take it Paula let rip?”


“And then some – it might have ended up in a catfight if the two other women hadn’t stepped in and separated them, but Paula still managed to get some slaps in and told her if she ever saw Carlin again, she was a dead woman.”


“And it all stemmed from that?”


“Well, that and the knife attack.”


“The knife attack?”


“You know the scar on her left cheek?  Later that night, she was coming out of the restroom when someone went for her with a switchblade.  She tried to defend herself, but the attacker managed to cut her cheek before Carlin’s screams brought the security guards.  All she could say was it someone dressed as a courtesan – and I know I saw the two other women running out when they heard the screams – but Carlin is convinced to this day it was the Duchess of Lardarn who did it.”


“And was it,” Grace asked.


“Impossible – because Paula was with me and Titi in the bar when it happened.  Of course, she just said we were covering up for her, but still…”



8.30 pm CET

Radisson Blu Hotel Marseille Vieux Port


Marie-Louise groaned as she slowly opened her eyes – the last thing she remembered was someone at the racecourse asking if she was Marie-Louise Aumont, and then there had been something like an electric shock – and now she was here…


Wherever here was – the room was in semi-darkness, and something else was wrong.   Her arms felt like lead, and as she tried to life her hands she found something was locking them in place – something that clanged when she twisted her wrist.  Looking slowly down the side, she was shocked to see her wrist was locked to the side of the chair she was sitting in by a pair of cuffs – and her other wrist was secured in a similar manner.


“Hey,” she called out, “is there anyone there?”


“Ah – good, you’ve woken up,” she heard an English voice said, as a light went on behind her, and she saw a tall brunette standing in front of her, wearing an olive green t-shirt and army combats.  Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she wore short leather gloves.


“Who the hell are you,” Marie-Louise said, “and do you know who I…”


“Marie-Louise Aumont, thirty six years old, born in Lyons, currently employed by Pari Mutuel Urbain in their betting fraud department.  Graduate of the Institute of Statistics at Universite Pierre est Marie Curie, very highly regarded in her field.  Which would normally explain why you were invited to look into the recent betting activities in this area.”


“Of course I would be sent to look into this,” Marie-Louise said, “and you have illegally detained a duly appointed legal officer.  Do you know how much trouble you could be in?”


“Actually, I do,” the other woman said, “but I think you are missing the importance of one little word there?”


“I am,” Marie-Louise said, “and what word is that?”


“Could – as in if I was found to have done this, I would be in trouble, but I will not be found to have done this.  You see, nobody saw me take you, and nobody will see me return you.  In fact, that is also the wrong question.”


Marie-Louise looked at the woman as she smiled and said “the right question is, how am I going to return you?  You see, Mademoiselle Aumont, I have been brought in to ask you some questions about recent events.  As I see things you have two choices – you can simply answer my questions and unburden your soul, or answer my questions with a little help from me.”


“You do not scare me,” Marie-Louise said.


“I should – I have experience in some of the less savoury cesspits of the world, but I do not use physical violence.”  She unwrapped a cloth and picked up a bottle with clear liquid in.  “I found this today in the Veterinary Office at the racecourse today – I have conducted a basic analysis of the contents, and it is some form of mild tranquiliser.  Obviously what they used to make sure horses lose at the racecourse – I have also heard of drugs with the same ingredients been used as date rape drugs.  Which I find – upsetting.”


“I would not know anything about that,” Marie-Louise said, but she had a worried look as the woman took a syringe, and put some of the liquid inside.


“So,” the woman said as she came over, pulled up the sleeve of Marie-Louise’s blouse and swabbed the inside, “I think this would be the right dose to make you more – open to answering my questions.  Of course, I could be wrong, but I guess there is only one way to find out.”


Marie-Louise stared at her, before she said “please no – that is ten times the strength in those tablets, I…”


“You may not be aware those tablets were used to rape several underage girls,” the woman said, “but then, that will soon be immaterial.  Ready…”


As she placed the needle near her arm, Marie-Louise shook her head and said “he will kill me!”


“Who will?”


“Rey – he’s forcing me to turn a blind eye to these betting patterns!”


“Why?  I and my associates know he is behind the money laundering these activities cover, but why is he forcing you?”


“Who are you?”


“I serve the Heart and the Strength – we are the Sisters of Maisha.  Now, why is Rey forcing you?”


“I…  I have heard of you, you fight for those who cannot fight back.  If I tell you what I know, will you protect me from him?”


“That depends on whether I accept what you say as the truth – let us begin with why you have been covering for Alain Rey…”




9.30 pm

Alain Rey’s apartment


“Please, come in ladies,” Rey said as he opened the door, “this is my home, such as it is.”


“Very nice,” Eleanor said as she came in, “What do you think Sandy?”


“You have good taste Monsieur Rey,” the older woman said, “business must be good for you.”


“I have had a few setbacks, but look all businessman, I have contingency plans in place.  May I offer you ladies a nightcap?”


“Do you have any brandy?”


“From the cellars of Napoleon himself,” Alain said as he went to the drinks cabinet, and poured some of the amber liquid into three glasses.  He brought two over to the ladies, who had removed their wraps and were now sat on a couch, the skirts of their dresses rising up as they crossed their legs.


“This is good,” Sandy said as she took a sip.  “You must tell us how we can repay you for your hospitality tonight, Monsieur Rey.”


“Oh, I am sure we could think of something,” he said with a smile, “you strike me as ladies with a lot of real world experience.”


“You could say that,” Janice said with a smile.  “We have certainly both had some – interesting times.”


“But you have learned the lessons,” Alain said as he smiled, and took a sip from his glass.


“Oh yes, we have,” Sandy purred as she put her glass down, and walked over, looking at Alain.  “Would you like us to show you?”


“If you wish to,” Alain said quietly as Sandy removed his tie and started to open his shirt, Janice putting her glass down as she walked over and knelt next to him.


“Ladies,” he said quietly, “you should be aware I prefer to receive than to give, if you understand my meaning.”


“I think we both do,” Janice said quietly as Sandy leaned over and started to kiss his neck, Alain closing his eyes and moaning as he felt her lips on his skin.  He smiled as he said “please, continue…”


As Sandy looked at Janice, she slowly unbuttoned his shirt and slipped it down his arms, along with his jacket.  As she did so, she noticed a long jagged scar on his abdomen, in the shape of a Latin S.


“How did you get that,” she asked as she traced her finger down the shape.


“Hmm – oh that.  A gift from a spurned lover, many years ago.  She was most creative.”


“So I see,” Janice said as she leaned over and kissed it, “I hope I was not taking liberties in doing that?”


“Oh no – I find it quite stimulating,” Alain said quietly as Janice slowly unfastened his trousers, and then pulled them down, smiling as her hands stroked his legs.  “So I can see,” she said as Sandy continued to kiss his neck and chest, then moved up and kissed him gently on his lips, her tongue easing into his mouth as Janice stroked her hand down his legs and removed his shoes and trousers. 


Alain nodded as he felt the bulge growing in his pants, and then felt Janice’s hand as she stoked over it.  “Would you like her to see it,” Sandy whispered into his ear before she started to kiss it, blowing air in as Alain nodded, and he felt the hands pulling down his boxer shorts.


Her hand gently stroked his cock, as Sandy kissed and nibbled his ears and chest, his groans increasing as she felt it start to throb.  “Yes…  Yes… That is good,” he moaned as Janice looked up, then began to kiss it, hearing his sigh before she started to take it in her mouth.


“Hmmmm…”  He felt he was in control of them, as he pulled Sandy closer and kissed her as well, then used his hands to massage his chest as he grew larger in Janice’s mouth, her lips forming a seal over it as Sandy started to moan as well.


Suddenly, he jerked and came, sighing as he squeezed Sandy’s chest hard and Janice swallowed as much as he could.  “I…  I hope you liked that thank you present,” Sandy whispered as he finally came out.


“I did – it was very generous of you ladies,” he said quietly, “perhaps you would care to pour some more drinks while I freshen up.”


“I’d like that,” Janice said as she stood up, watching as he went into the bathroom.  She them moved to her handbag, taking out a metal case and oening it to reveal some play putty as Sandy took a card reader from her bag.  They worked quickly, Sandy retrieving his wallet and scanning access cards while Janice took impression of his keys, before returning them and leaving his pants where they had fallen.


“I need this,” Janice said as she poured three more brandies, Sandy nodding as Alain came back in.


“I apologise that I cannot return the favour,” he said as he took the glass, “but you were very good at what you did.”


“Oh that’s all right,” Sandy said, “you have more than rewarded us…”





3.30 pm

St Angela’s


“Carlin Cardecki wants you for her show,” Jeannie said as she went to the lockers with Doc, “that’s certainly different?”


“From what Missy said, she’s going for a younger look,” Anna said, “but Mom is going to have to say yes first.”


"Hey - I want to know why I got left out?" Jeannie laughed, "am I suddenly 'old'?"

"No, but I guess she doesn't think a disabled girl can add to the sexiness of her clothes."

"Now I'm just INSULTED!" Jeannie giggled.


“Abby – got a minute?”


“Sure Poppy – what’s up?”


“I had a text from Mom saying she needs to talk to me – if I say Carlin Kardecki…”


Abby stopped and looked at Poppy.  “She wants you to walk her show?”


“What about you?”


“Missy wants to talk to me and Mom about it,” Abby said, “but if she’s approaching you, who else?”


“Anna by the looks of things, but not Jeannie, from what I just heard them say.”


“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” Abby said quietly, “talk to your mom Poppy, and do nothing without her say so.  I’ll see what I can find out.”




11 pm

Radisson Blu Hotel Marseille Vieux Port


As Jo looked up from her seat, Sandy and Janice came in, taking their coats off and hanging them in the wardrobe before they removed their wigs and sat down.


“So did you have an interesting evening,” she said as she opened the bottle of scotch and poured three glasses. 


“Define interesting,” Veronica said as she took a glass, “but we have moulds for his keys and copies of his access cards.  I had to pay a price, but we got them.  What about you?”


“Ah – well Marie-Louise is currently resting in my room, and I’ll check on her shortly.  We had an – interesting conversation, and confirmed a few things as well as obtaining the salient details.  This, for example,” she said as she held up the clear bottle, “is the sedative they used on the horses.  She knew – she certainly did not like it when I threatened to inject her with it.”


“You didn’t did you,” Eleanor said. 


“No – I left this in here, and took a bottle of saline solution in, but she didn’t know that.  She did sing however – Rey is blackmailing her.”


“What with?”


“Some rather less than tasteful photographs of her when she was a student.  I suspect they weren’t that bad, but in her position?”


“Rechechrche la dame nue?”


“More like Recherchez la dame nue ligoté et bâillonné,” Jo said.  “At any rate, she has been turning the same blind eye as some others.  But she has agreed to confess all, in return for seeing him going down.”


“Always look out for the worm that may turn,” Eleanor said quietly.


“That scar on his body – you recognised it, didn’t you Eleanor?”


“Oh yes – the mark of Francesca, Marchesa di Cambrello.”


“Captain Cambrello, Italian Naval Intelligence?”


“She’s Admiral now, Jo – you know her?”


“Of her – her name came up in briefings before.  Why – is she here?”


“She is – her contacts are currently engaging with the Corsican’s forces.  Anything else she can give us?”


“Depends,” Jo said, “want to know where they are making the drugs?”


Veronica and Eleanor looked at Jo, as she smiled and said “I thought around 4 tomorrow morning?”


“I applaud your enthusiasm,” Veronica said, “but we’re not in a fit state.  I do suggest we cut Marie-Louise free tomorrow morning, with a promise we will protect her is she helps us.”


“Another day will not hurt – but we will pass the location to the local Gendarmerie captain, to keep an eye on.  He can at least intercept anything coming out now.”


"Alright ladies,” Eleanor said as she put her glass down, “what is the picture we are getting from all this so far?"

"Well personally I think he's a small-timer with delusions of grandeur," Jo smiled, "this is all just too public, it was bound to attract notice."

"I agree, he's over reached and now he has the world after him."

"How many soldiers can he deploy in case it comes to a full-on gang war?" Veronica asked.

"Enough to cause a lot of carnage...”  Eleanor leaned back and said “as much as anything it’s our job to make sure it doesn't come to that."


"So,” Eleanor said, “I think it's time I asked my local contact to divert some of his attention here in the city and give us time to hold a council of war in which all interested parties in Monsieur Rey can get to state their objectives."


“Sounds good – I presume you do not wish to see her?”


“No – talk to her, then let her sleep.  I’ll make the calls first thing.  For now, we all need some rest – good work Jo.”







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