Best Served Cold – part 3
Wednesday 27th April
11 am CET
Gendarmerie Nationale, 171 Avenue du Toulon, Marseilles
“Good morning, Ladies, Gentlemen,” the grey haired man said as he sat at the table “Allow me to start this meeting by introducing myself – General Pierre Ducomte, General du Brigade for the Marseilles region. If we can go round the table?”
“Philippe Aquillon, Chief Steward at the racecourse, and wondering what we have been involved in. My colleague Robert Donat, France-Galop.”
The tall blonde smiled as she said “Admiral Francesca di Cambrello, Italian Naval Intelligence.”
“Commander Veronica Cabot, US Coast Guard Intelligence Service.”
Eleanor smiled as she said “Captain Eleanor Ball, US Naval Reserve, and here as a private consultant asked to look into the racing issues by Guy, Duc du Grechy – and other matters.”
Finally, the room looked to the brunette as she said “Captain Joanne Frost, former British Army Special Forces. Eleanor asked me to come to share my expertise in chemistry.”
“And finally,” Pierre said, “we welcome Guy, Duc du Grechy – as it was his questions that have led us to this meeting. We asked you to join us this morning, your grace, so we can brief you on our findings on the racecourse problem, but must respectfully ask you leave after that while we discuss other related matters.”
“As is only right and proper,” Guy said with an incline of his head, “but why is Mademoiselle Aumont not here today?”
“Because,” Pierre said, “she is helping my officers to gather further information. With deep regret, I have to tell you she was aware of what was happening in the racing fraternity, and turned a blind eye.”
“And what was happening,” Guy said, “one of my assistant trainers was arrested two days ago, and I know I am not the only one that has happened to.”
“Guy,” Eleanor said, “the evidence we covered suggest there was a wide ranging conspiracy to fix races by doping favourites and second favourites, and then use the fixed results to launder the proceeds of smuggling to interested parties.”
“Mon dieu,” Guy said quietly, “we have all been used for this – and Madamoiselle Aumont?”
“She was been blackmailed to turn a blind eye, but she has confessed and is now helping us. Captain Frost?”
“I visited your veterinary clinic yesterday, Monsieur Aquillon,” Jo said, “and obtained this bottle.” She reached down and opened her bag, placing the clear bottle on the table.
“What is it?”
“A combination of various drugs – this is my chemical analysis,” Jo said as she also placed a report on the table. “The individual doses are small, and would not be detected by normal tests, but in combination they would be very effective.”
“How many other courses?”
“We do not know,” Robert said, “yet, but with this we will start an immediate search of all courses. The veterinary officer must have known, Pierre.”
“He did – he was arrested last night, Monsieur Aquillon.” The General smiled as he said “I advise you to begin the search immediately and with no warning. We will provide support.”
“Of course,” Phillipe said as he and Robert stood up, and left the room.
“I must also go and consult with the owners. Eleanor, my thanks for your help in exposing this – it is important this sort of thing is ended.”
“My pleasure Guy – I will see you in a few days in Kentucky?”
“We will toast the success of Sants’N’Sinnerz together,” Guy said as he walked round, kissing the woman on the cheek and shaking the General’s hand. Bowing, he took his cane and left the room.
“Now,” Pierre said, “to more serious matters. Captain Frost, Mademoiselle Aumont has told me of your talk yesterday, and we will offer as much protection as we can.”
“Thank you General – she is as much a victim in all this as the others. It is true, however, this is the same sort of combination as I believe you have found in the date rape drugs Admiral.”
As the men had taken the report, she took another copy and passed it to Francesca, the blonde reading and nodding.
“So the race course was the way of laundering and getting payment out for the drug smuggling,” Pierre said, “I have teams watching the address given by Marie-Louise, and discretely stopping anything that comes out.”
“So who is behind it – the Corsicans?”
“A Corsican – one you have met before Francesca. He has a very definitive scar.”
“He does – oh, Monsieur Rey?”
“Indeed – as I stated before, we had to stop his operations in New York,” Veronica said, “and he is now supplying this drug through different means in that city.”
“So we need to deal with Monsieur Rey in a way which is mutually beneficial.”
“Indeed – and without a war breaking out,” Francesca said. “Eleanor, what else have you done?”
“Arranged to get access to his home and office – and I can call on some special resource for additional research.”
“Do we get to know who,” Pierre asked.
“It may be best if you do not – let me assure you, however, ask and it will be done.”
Nodding, Francesca said “I accept your assurances. Are you saying what I think you are saying?”
“I am – Pierre, we need to contain his downfall between ourselves. Let’s discuss how…”
“Coffee first,” Pierre said as fresh supplies were brought in.
"Something I've been meaning to
ask you Eleanor, What did you mean when you talked of that scar being the trademark
of the Marchesa?"
"Do you really want to know
"Well yes,” Veronica said, “I'm
"Francesca likes to cut people, in
fact she's an artist with a blade...it's her kink I guess." Eleanor
shrugged her shoulders.
"Her kink? You mean she's done it often?"
"Oh yeah, if they could be got
together plenty of prisoners who Francesca has 'questioned' could compare
"It's something very Italian I guess," Eleanor smiled.
“And very personal,” Francesca said as she sat down. “I remember him now – Cannes, twenty years ago. You remember Eleanor – when you and I attended that Hallowe’en party to try and intercept the files that had been stolen.”
“Oh now I remember,” Eleanor said with a laugh, “there was that huge catfight that we had to intervene in between a model and a designer, and you had to run out to intercept the swap.”
Veronica shook her head as Jo sat down as well. “I have heard of you, your ladyship. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“And yours, Captain Frost. Do you still partner with Captain Craig?”
“We are partners, but both retired – we are both teachers now, believe it or not?”
“In the same way Eleanor here is retired and a security advisor,” Francesca said as she raised an eyebrow.
“No comment,” Jo said quietly.
Missy look up from her seat in the reception as Juliette and Mary Thomas walked in, Juliette wearing a black soft leather jacket over a collarless blouse and grey pants, Mary on her usual cardigan and dress.
“Well,” Juliette said, “have you seen her?”
“She was heading to the restaurant when I came in, but she had her back to me. I was in no mood to see her on my own – and this needs safety in numbers.”
“I know the feeling,” Mary said as she looked at the agent. Missy was wearing a black skirt and jacket with a blue blouse, and looked very un-Missy like with a harried expression.
“Have you heard from any of the others?”
“A few,” Missy said, “but I haven’t dared approach Katy and Jan about this yet. That’s also on the list for later today.”
“Well, we could wait for Pippa, or we could start this off,” Juliette said, “and I for one am not in the mood to prolong this. Shall we?”
They walked to the entrance, talking to the waiter before he showed her to where Paula Lardarn was sitting, wearing a white Fitzstuart sweater and leather pants. As she looked up, she nodded as they all sat down.
"Alright Missy, Merlin, Juliette,
explain just what is going on please." the Duchess of Lardarn
sniffed as she stared at them, "I have a bad cold, I'm jet-lagged, and I'm
downright angry at all of you."
"You have a cold Paula?"
Missy said in a sympathetic voice.
"Stop trying to distract me
Missy..." Paula paused to sneeze into a delicate lace handkerchief,
"I want to know just why the wicked bitch has decided now of all times to
return and haunt my life?"
“Well…” Juliette looked over as they heard the approaching footsteps.
"Sorry I'm late," Pippa kissed each woman as the waiter showed her to the table. “Have I missed anything?”
“No – we were just about to answer Paula’s very reasonable questions.”
"Whose side are you on Philippa?" Paula's upper crust English accent overrode the slight Irish brogue she usually cultivated.
"Everyone’s," Pippa whispered
as she looked unhappy. "I'm caught between the proverbial rock and a hard
"Oh?" the duchess sneezed
"Yes, like you I'm an outraged
mother trying to protect her daughter, but I'm also a fashion magazine editor
who knows the importance of this collection."
"Yes,” Juliette said, “and
unfortunately Paula, Merlin was right in getting excited about it, it is a work
"I'm just unhappy that she's so
obviously using it as a way settling old scores." Mary nodded.
"That’s not your fault Mary,"
Paula patted her hand,
"And honestly Paula I did not know about all this background stuff." Missy looked chastened.
“Look,” Paula said, “I understand why you have to pursue this, but you have to understand just how passionately I cannot give in to this woman. And to want Aileen as well – that is just twisting the knife.”
“Unfortunate choice of words, Paula,” Pippa said, “given what she thinks you did?”
“It would be my nails, not a knife, but you know I would not do that Pippa,” Laura said as she sniffed again, and took a drink of her hot tea. “So Poppy is modelling?”
“She just started – and she’s on the list.”
"What do other parents of very
young models say about their daughters wearing her rags?"
"Well Charlotte McCormick's mother
couldn't be happier..." Missy replied.
"And who in the world is
she?" Paula interrupted.
"She is a cute fourteen year old.
She stars in a sitcom that's been a big hit this past year," Juliette
spoke quietly, "Madeline represents her."
"Okay… What about Orion's
"Her agent is trying to see it as a big thing," Merlin answered, "but I hear her aunt blew a fuse when they showed her some of Carlin's designs."
“Having met the woman, I’m not surprised,” Laura said as she smiled for the first time. “And Lolita’s mother?”
“Well,” Juliette said, “to be honest, we haven’t approached them yet, given the recent kidnapping. That’s on the cards for later today – I’m meeting Janice for lunch.”
“Mind if I join you – it might be interesting,” Paula said with an evil smile, “a dual Irish explosion.”
As their food arrived, Paula took
another drink and then said "Is Baby Gia going to let Kaia model?"
"Cindy says probably yes
Paula," Mary said as she bit into her bagel.
"Really? You surprise me."
"Well BG sees it as a big new
opportunity for Kaia's career."
"But what does Mother think
"She should be joining us, you can ask her yourself."
“Ask me what?”
They all turned to see Linda Evangelista standing with them. “Welcome Mother,” Juliette said as she stood up, “join us please.”
“So,” the supermodel said as she sat down, “why do I get the feeling I am witnessing a perfect storm?”
“Because you are,” Juliette said, “and at the centre is Sister Virtue vs Carlin Kardecki.”
Linda looked at Paula as she said “still? I thought that was in the past?”
“Sadly, no,” Paula said, “and it looks as if she wants to use my girls to get her revenge.”
“Hmm – where is she based at the moment Merlin?”
“Oh no,” Paula said, “don’t tell me she’s in this hotel?”
“All right, I won’t tell you,” Mary said with a smile.
“Tell me where I can find her,” Mother said, “let me talk to her, and I’ll see you later today. For now, I think you two need to stay well away from each other – unless you want to give her your cold.”
“Don’t tempt me,” Paula said as she sniffled, “don’t tempt me…”
Abby smiled as Jeannie pulled her van to the kerb and parked in the Disabled spot.
“Hey Stick – what did you find out?” Doc asked as she opened the passenger door.
"Well having phoned a few friends
I have a larger perspective on this Kardecki
"Did you find out why I wasn't
asked Abs?" Jeannie asked as she descended from her van in her chair.
"The more I hear, the more insulted I get at being left out."
"Oh Wednesday morning at
school...what Joy?" Becca moaned as she helped Jeannie.
"Why did I get asked to do the Kardecki preview?" Doc asked.
"One word," Jeannie smiled as
she picked up her bag. "Magnilash."
"But why not me then?" asked
"Your ads are still not out there
yet Nik, she probably doesn't know about you."
"Jeans is probably right," Doc nodded.
“Anyway, there is history in this – and Kardecki sets out to shock. From what I’ve learned of the designs, they are provocative – and she wants to shock. Hence going for the younger models.
“Is that why I’m on the list,” Poppy said as she walked past. “Mom went off to have breakfast with Juliette and others – she said the Duchess of Lardarn would be there as well.”
“Paula Lardarn? Now why would she be there,” Abby said to herself as they went in.
“Well,” Linda said, “perhaps it would be best if…”
“Mary – well, this is quite an unusual editorial meeting you have gathered here.”
Juliette raised an eyebrow as she saw Paula stiffen, and Linda slowly put her cup down, as Mary said “Good morning Carlin.” Carlin Kardecki, for a fashion designer with a reputation for near to the edge designs, was rather conservatively dressed, wearing a black waistcoat over a white granddad shirt, black leggings and over the knee black suede boots.
“Good morning Carlin,” Mary said quietly, “well, when you made your offer yesterday, and your terms, I knew I would have to clear it with my elders and betters.”
“And instead you…”
“Carlin – play nice. You know this is Juliette Huntingdown, the Fashion Editor of Complete Style, and Missy Auerbach, who represents a lot of the girls ye asked about.”
Carlin nodded as Juliette looked at the scar on her cheek, shaped like a Latin letter S, before saying “Mary brought your offer to me, and I had to take it to my editors – both the outgoing and the incoming editor.”
“Of course – I would expect no less. But Anna is not here, which means…”
“Hello Carlin,” Pippa said as she wiped her mouth and turned round, “it has been a long time.”
“Philippa,” Carlin said quietly, “you are looking well. Have you given consideration to my request to use your daughter for this show?”
“One of the reasons we wanted to meet,” Pippa said, “after all, we would not want a repeat of Cannes, would we?”
“No we would not – but I hope you will agree my request was not unreasonable?”
“That’s for me to decide,” Pippa said quietly, “both on Poppy’s involvement, and whether or not we accept the offer. There are – other considerations.”
“Oh,” Carlin said as she smiled, “and they would be?”
“Me.” Paula stood up and turned round as she stared at the designer.
“Your Ladyship,” Carlin said coldly, “I did not know you were in town?”
“I would not be,” Paula said as she sniffled, “I would be at home with hot water bottles and lemon tea and Tom by my side, but your – invitation had to be answered.”
Carlin smiled – a thin, dangerous smile as she said “and you came personally – how considerate. I did not think you would have the guts.”
“Paula,” Linda said as she stood up, “sit down. Carlin, I think you and I need to talk, and then we both need to sit down with the CS team and Paula. Over here.” She indicated the lounge, Carlin nodding as the two women walked off.
“I need a hot toddy, hold the hot water,” Paula whispered quietly.
“We can’t get one – here. Missy, you need to go and talk to Jan before Katy starts to hear the rumours from others. I wish you luck.”
“Thanks – but I think you’re going to need it more than I do,” Missy said as she left the table, the other three woman looking at Paula as she sneezed.
“Well,” Mary said, “at least you didn’t try to kill each other.”
“Yet,” Paula said darkly.
“All right,” Linda said as she sat in a corner with the designer, “what is really going on here?”
“I have a new collection out, and I want to announce it in a straightforward way – that’s what’s happening Linda.”
“With most of the models underage? I’ve seen the list Carlin – seriously? Abby has done something like this before, but the others?”
“So I wanted to give the opportunity to rising stars. What’s wrong with that?”
“Seriously? The sixteen year olds I understand, but the likes of Orion O’Ryan? And Katy Carter, given what recently happened to her?”
“She is a professional, or so she says – she can get past it.”
Shaking her head, Linda said quietly “you saw how angry Pippa is – never mind Paula. Her girls are not models.”
“No, but they are not the only non-models on the list.” Rubbing her head, she said “Can I ask a question Linda?"
"Why when I was modelling was I
never asked to join your beloved sorority?"
"Because to be honest you weren't
good enough Carlin," the Canadian supermodel smiled. "You found your
true vocation designing dresses, it was never displaying them."
"You never gave me a chance...you
and your friends."
"Oh we gave you plenty of chances to impress us, but just like Pippa you were never going to be a top girl." Linda paused, "and at least Pip has always accepted it, and just look at her now...just like you she's risen to the peaks in another part of the industry."
“She’s not me.”
“Oh I know that,” Linda said, “and it took her a heck of a long time to get to where she is. Carlin, the problem now is, either you are truly still blaming her for Cannes, and what happened, and this is your revenge, or it is just a monumentally controversial idea. Which is it?”
“And you insist the list has to be as it is, or no show?”
"Carlin,” Linda said as she rubbed
her eyes, “you know that will cause a lot of people a lot of trauma and angst,
and that if it becomes public then the publicity will be awful...the press will
"It's a risk I'm willing to take
"Dear God Carlin do you see a
shrink? Because I'm telling you that you oughta."
"Linda darling, the state of my
mental health has nothing to do with this. If Complete Style wants exclusive
access to both photograph, and show my show on its website, then it agrees to
"And if Paula for example will not
let her girls appear?"
"Then I'll simply take my business
elsewhere, and I will tell everyone just why CS turned me down. I'm sure the
Conde Nast board would be most unhappy to lose out here just because its
editors couldn't fulfil the designer’s desires."
"You truly are a bitch aren't you?"
"It takes one to know one Linda."
“Okay…” Linda stood up and said “time you talked to Juliette and Pippa. I’ll talk to Paula – but you know there is no way to avoid this.” As she walked away, she turned back and said “one question – why not Jeannie Brewster?”
“I do not think she is suitable for this collection.”
Paula looked up as Linda came back into the room, and sat down – and she was not happy.
“I knew there was a reason I had avoided that woman for years – she’s refusing to budge.”
“Well, you tried,” Juliette said, “but her reasons?”
“Are truly impossible to fully determine.”
“But this is revenge,” Paula said quietly, “on all of us?”
“And Carlin being Carlin – controversial and provocative,” Pippa said quietly.
"Oh I can add another reason," Mother slumped back, "I think she thinks that we conspired to prevent her having a top girl’s career when she was a model."
"Oh come on!" Juliette's eyes rolled, "she was a fair runway walker, but just ask someone like Jack how bad she was to photograph?"
"I wasn't great, but I was
certainly better then Carlin."
"Yes you were Philippa." the
"You were also far better than her
Paula, but you destroyed your career with your lack of self-confidence."
"So everyone tells me Mother. So what now?"
“Pip, Ju, you’re up. Good luck.”
As they walked off, Paula said “so why is Jeannie not on her list?”
“Her answer or the truth?!
“Both.” Paula watched as Linda looked at her, and said “because she is not suitable in her eyes.”
“Not… Not… Because she’s in a wheelchair?”
“You said it Paula, not me,” Linda said as she waved the waiter over. “Fresh coffee please – and keep it coming.”
4 pm CET
The building looked like any other warehouse on the waterfront – with the exception of the security guards patrolling the inside of the high wire fence. From his vantage point, the officer was watching, taking notes as his partner spoke on the radio.
“They intercepted the last truck that left – I wonder why word hasn’t got to them yet?”
“It may have to do with the fact we’re jamming their communications.”
“General,” the two man said as they snapped to attention and saluted Pierre Dumont.
“At ease gentlemen – you have performed an admirable job, but I am here to relieve you. Your notes?”
“Complete and up to date,” the second man said as he passed the pad to Pierre. He looked at it, and nodded as he said “excellent – thank you gentlemen. I will see you in my office at 0800 tomorrow – for now, enjoy the rest of the day.”
The two gendarmes looked at each other, and then nodded as Pierre sat by the camera. Looking through the viewer, he smiled as he saw two women dressed in combats cut through the wire fence at the back of the warehouse and slip through.
They stopped by the rear of the building, looking at each other through the eyeholes of their balaclavas before one of them held what looked like a credit card in their gloved hand, and swiped it down through the card reader. For a moment, nothing happened, and then the red light turned green as they heard a soft clock, both of them entering the building and closing the door noiselessly behind themselves.
Inside the women could see a set of stairs leading to a gantry – stairs they took quickly and silently and then made their way noiselessly along. Looking down, they could see the production lines for the tablets, the workers wearing surgical gowns, gloves and face masks as they watched carefully, and armed guards roaming the floor.
At the far end of the gantry was an office, which the two masked women made their way swiftly along to. As they stood each to the side of the door, they nodded and drew from the inside of their suits pistols, to the barrel of which they attached silencers. The taller of the two counted down silently from three, before they ran inside, shooting the men sitting at the desks before they could react.
Walking over to one of the computer terminals, the smaller of the two women plugged a USB stick in and started to type on the terminal, before she whispered “White Lady to Clouseau, White Lady to Clouseau, transmission is underway. Do you copy?”
Pierre looked at a hand tablet he was holding, and nodded. “Clouseau to White Lady – ignoring the choice of codenames for the moment – transmission acknowledged. Where did you get this device?”
“Friend of a friend,” the woman said as she heard “Transmission complete. Execute next stage.”
She looked over to her taller companion, who nodded as she finished setting the charges. “Charges set. See you on the flipside.” She watched as the stick blinked, and then removed it before the computer systems started to go haywire. The two women nodded to each other as they slipped out of the office, and then made their way back to the rear of the building.
As they left, they saw the two guards at the cut fence, but didn’t hesitate as they ran forward, shooting both the guards in the head before escaping. As they ran, the explosion in the building blew the upper windows out, people running as the warehouse was engulfed in flames…
From his position, Pierre watched, nodding grimly as the escaping workers ran into the side streets. “You allowed them to escape,” he said as the door opened and closed.
“We have his records – I’d be amazed in personnel records were not there,” Eleanor said as she pulled her mask off.
“Retired or not,” Francesca said as she removed her own mask, “you haven’t lost your touch Eleanor. It’s good to work alongside you again. Pierre?”
“My technical colleagues are examining the records now – we’ll move to intercept the dealers as soon as we have the info. And Rey?”
“Rey is about to have his office visited,” Eleanor said, “and we’ll take care of him later tonight.”
6 pm BST
Benenden School, Cranbrook
As the girls took their trays to the deposit line, they talked to each other, all wearing some variant of the blue uniform. Eve Gaunt was in her track suit, while Kit was wearing a sweatshirt and tracksuit bottoms, and Aileen her school uniform.
“Time for Prep, worst luck,” Kit said as they turned and headed for the door. “What news from home?”
“I don’t know. Any news why Mummy dropped everything like
that and flew to New York?" Aileen asked her sister as they emerged from
eating their evening meal.
"Not a damn clue...” Eve said,
“Though I get the feeling Aunt Eve knows why.
If she does, she won’t say."
"It seems a genuine mystery,"
Christine said as she walked alongside them, “especially as my mother told me
that your mother has a stinking cold."
"Now if she's not well why would
she fly across the Atlantic?"
"I don't know Eve," Aileen
looked puzzled, "could it be she's got worse then a cold...that it's
"No in that case she'd go to
London...so don't worry about Mummy's health Aila. If it was that, we would not be here."
"Alright, but if she's not
seriously ill? What then?"
"Maybe we need to work the rumour
mill in the new world?" Christine asked. "I'll ring Jo and ask what
she knows, Aileen you ring Katy..."
"Good idea," Eve broke in, "and it should be about lunch time there, so do it now."
“Let’s go outside to do this,” Aileen said as they all went outside.
Bishop Walden School
As they walked to their spot, the ringing of the telephone had them all looking at each other.
"Who's that?" Shawnee asked
as Katy looked at her phone.
"It says Aileen Gaunt...I wonder
what she wants?"
"Well answer it and you'll find
out." Sands jumped up on the wall.
"Hi Aileen," Katy spoke as she answered the call, "to what do I owe this pleasure?"
“Hey Katy – how’s your school today?”
“Winding down for the year – you’ve got a few more week haven’t you?”
“Two more months,” Aileen said with a groan. “Listen – I need to ask if you’ve heard anything happening in your neck of the woods that might be of interest to our family.”
“Apart from your cousin’s film coming out you mean?”
“Yes, apart from that,” Aileen giggled.
“Well, I have heard rumours from a few people of a show coming up that has a very specific list of models invited to walk – the likes of Anna Carlton, Poppy Ashley and I even heard from Orion last night she had an invite.”
“I don’t know, but Mom texted me earlier to say Missy was seeing her round about now. From what Orion said, it’s a very out there collection as well, but she wouldn’t tell me who the designer was.”
“Intriguing – but it doesn’t explain why my mother flew over last night.”
“Your mother is over here? Well, I’ll see if I can find out, but I can’t do much until I get home. When’s lights out for you?”
“Five your time – but don’t worry. Text me and I’ll call you back.”
“Okay – I’ll talk to you later,” Katy said as she ended the call – and a text came through.
“Popular aren’t you,” Laura said as she looked at her phone.
“I hope so – Mom wants me to come straight home and see her and Gran. Something is up…”
Hobart William Smith
“Oh how I hate math,” Jo said to herself as she made another notes, and then looked at her cell phone, smiling as she answered the call.
"Hey Kit, how are you?" she
said as she lay back on her bed.
"I'm fine Jo,” the voice replied,
“and how are you?"
"Wrestling with calculus ahead of
my year finals," Jo looked at the pile of books beside her on the bed.
"Well I do know of more
pleasurable ways to spend time."
"I bet," Kit giggled. "Look Jo have you heard of anything going on in New York that might cause Her Grace of Lardarn to drop everything and suddenly fly over there?"
“Paula is in New York? Well, I talked to Abby last night, and she did tell me she’d been invited to do an unusual collection show.”
“Unusual? In what way?”
“She’s the oldest model invited so far.”
“Abby? Who else do you know that is on the model list?”
“That I’m aware of? Orion O’Ryan has been asked, so has Anna Carlton and Poppy Ashley. I’ve heard a few other names, but I do know one name that is not on the list – Jeannie Brewster.”
“Teenagers? What is this collection – junior prom dresses?”
“Hardly – have you heard of Carlin Kardecki?”
“Not really – why?”
“Google her – look at her designs. As to what that may have to do with Paula coming over – maybe she was planning to?”
“Nope – this was a very sudden decision. Look, if you hear anything let me know, all right?”
“Right – I’ll let you get back to differentiation. Thanks Jo.”
As the call ended, Jo looked at her phone, thinking for a moment, and then dialling another number.
“Hey Jo,” Abby said as she looked at Letty, “what’s up?”
“I was going to ask you the same question – have you heard any more about this Kardecki show?”
“Mixed things – some models are for it, others against, and Ju was meeting with Missy and Mary first thing for a breakfast meeting with Pippa. Why?”
“Because I’ve just had Kit of the Red Hand on the phone – Paula Lardarn apparently dropped everything and came to New York last night.”
“Paula is over here? I smell a rat – and I know just who to ask,” Abby said as she looked across the refectory, “call you later.” Putting her phone away, she walked quickly over and said “Jeannie, I need to put that history of fashion brain of yours to the test?”
“Oh a challenge,” Jeannie said with a smile, “go on.”
“What would link Paula, Duchess of Lardarn, to Carlin Kardecki?”
Jeannie looked at Abby, and said “Nothing good, to tell the truth. Why?”
“She’s apparently in New York, at very short notice, at the same time this show is rumoured.”
Jeannie nodded as she said “Okay – some things are starting to make sense. Those two have a grudge going back over twenty years, and Kardecki is not exactly the most loved designer out there. You got a free period?”
“Yeah – why?”
“So have I – let’s hit the library.”
6.30 pm BST
“So,” Eve said as Aileen and Kit came back in, “what did you find out?”
“Katy said there’s some sort of buzz around a collection show, and younger models such as Orion and Pippa Ashley’s daughter been asked to walk.”
“I know a bit more,” Kit said, “the designer is someone called Carlin Kardecki, and Abby has been asked to walk – as the oldest model. They haven’t asked Jeannie either.”
“I’ve heard that name before,” Eve said, “what else did Jo say?”
“That I should google the designer – I did, and this is the sort of thing she designs.”
“Oh dear lord,” Eve said as she looked at the screen, “and Jo says Abby is the oldest model to walk this show.”
“So far – but there’s something else. Apparently Carlin Kardecki and your mother have a history – and so does she and Pippa Ashley. Come with me and I’ll show you on the computer…”
“The great model revolt of 1996,” Jeannie said as she showed Abby the scanned paper report. “Looks like Pippa Ashley and Paula Lardarn were involved big time in that.”
“I’ve heard stories of it, but never seen it,” Abby said quietly. “Titi would know more – I’ll ask her about it. But is there anything else?”
"Let’s see… This is testing my French big time."
Jeannie scanned the pages of Nice Matin on the
"If you need help just ask,"
"What?" Abby looked closely at the screen.
"November Second edition, I can't read this all but it refers to an incident at a Halloween party in Cannes."
"Here let me see, and I'll translate," Abby shifted her chair over. “Okay – big party in Le Cavendish, hosted by Johnny Depp and his wife… A fight broke out between designer Carlin Kardecki and model Paula Morgan…”
“That’s Paula Gaunt’s maiden name,” Jeannie said, “so the Cannes walkout still needled.”
“I think it might still do so… Then Miss Kardecki was attacked and left with a scar on her cheek – that’s that the photo is.”
“Strange scar – almost beautiful,” Jeannie whispered. “Okay – so Paula and Kardecki do not get on. But why would she fly over to see someone she hates?”
“Good question,” Abby said as the door opened.
“There you are,” Grace said as she looked in, “Miss Tennant wishes to see you Jeannie.”
“I’d better go – can you do a print out for me?”
“Hm-hm,” Abby said as she watched Jeannie wheel herself out, and then took out her cell phone.
“Hey Abs – what did you find out?”
“That there is very very bad blood between Paula Lardarn and Carlin Kardecki,” Abby said. “This is a long running feud, but it makes it all the more strange she would come over - unless…”
“Sorry – a silly thought. One thing, however, is Kardecki
blames Paula for a knife attack on her.
Jo I'm texting you the story...I'd like an expert opinion on this
"You mean from Curt? Or me?"
"Neither of you really...” Abby
said “I'm thinking more our mutual friend."
"Friend?" Jo sounded
"Carina might be able to tell us
"Oh now I get you," Jo smiled, "I'll call her as soon as I have that text."
“Thanks – let’s all talk later tonight. I have to go see a man about a dog.”
8 pm CET
Roi de Mer, Marseilles
“Totally destroyed, you said? Hmm – that is regrettable, but we are sufficiently ahead on orders we can cope until the new factory is ready.”
Ending the call, Alain Rey stood up and headed to the door, accompanied by his bodyguards. “I shall be at home for the rest of the evening,” he said to the three people in the outer office, “do not disturb me unless it is absolutely essential.”
“Yes sir,” one of the men said as he headed out, and then slumped into the chair, looking at the ceiling.
“So, when do we tell him?”
“That every shipment today has failed to make it to the customer? I think I’ll hold on that one and call him to tell him – say, from the other side of the Mediterranean?”
“I don’t think Outer Mongolia would save you,” the third man said as the door to the office opened and two women walked in. They were of similar height and age, one with long brown hair and wearing a tight jumper and jeans, the other with shorter light brown hair and wearing a black leather coat and boots.
“May I help you ladies,” one of the men said as he walked over.
“I hope so,” the taller woman said, “are these the offices of Roi de Mer?”
“It is,” the second man said, and then reached for his holster as the second woman produced a gun from her pocket – only to drop to his knees with a red dot in his head as the taller woman shot him.
“Do you two wish to join him,” she said, the other men shaking their heads as they raised their hands.
“If I was you,” the second woman said, “I’d be running for my life right about now.”
The two men looked at each other and then ran out, as the two women laughed.
“Nice shooting,” Veronica said as she walked to the computer, and plugged in the USB stick. “Let’s put the virus in and start the information extraction.”
“I’ve got his office,” Jo said as she holstered her gun, and went through to the inner sanctum. Veronica shook her head as she typed on the keyboard, and watched as files were transferred.
“Okay,” Jo said as she came out, “I left a little present. We done here?”
“We are now,” Veronica said as she removed the stick, watching as the screen pixelated. “What now?”
“Back to the hotel for some dinner – we have a visit to make tonight.”
7.30 pm BST
“Okay,” Eve said as she and Aileen looked at Kit’s laptop screen, “well, I can see why she and Mum don’t get on well. Time to ask the Oracle of all knowledge.”
“This is getting interesting,” Aileen said as Eve dialled a number on her phone and waited.
“Eve my dear, this is an unexpected surprise. What can I do for you?”
"Aunt Eve, why might a new
collection by an American designer called Carlin Kardecki
be enough to get Mummy, bad cold and all, on a plane to New York?"
There was a silence on the other end of
the call, before the voice said "It's really not your business Eve
darling...and shouldn't you be doing prep?"
"I should, but don't change the subject...Do you know what is going on?"
"You are a terrible liar Aunt Eve, just your tone says you know something."
"Darling I have a visitor...must
hang up...Love you all."
"She's being tres suspicious," young Eve looked serious, "why did she just hang up on me like that?"
“Who else might know,” Kit said quietly.
“Someone who was a model at the time and we could talk to…” Eve dialled a number and waited. “Angel? Eve Lardarn – could you ask your parents something for me please?”
“Well,” Carina heard Jo say on the phone as she looked carefully at her screen.
"Jo whoever did that was an
artist," Carina sighed as she looked at the picture of Carlin online,
"they left just enough of a cut that it looks like an old-fashioned
"Well other than admiration,” Jo
said, “what else can you tell me?"
"Oh it was a woman did this...a
man would have just slashed, this person as I said is an artist with a switch
"A relative of yours?"
"Probably not,” Jo said, “Miss Kardecki lived. No this is someone I've never seen the work of. She is a true artist however…"
West Central Park
“Come in here please Katy,” Jan called out as Katy put her bag on the floor, and then walked into the front room, where Janice and Katherine were sitting.
“What’s going on? Your message said we needed to talk.”
“Sit down,” Katherine said, “we have a couple of things we need to talk to you about. The lawyer wants to talk to you tomorrow.”
“The bastard’s defender?”
“Yes – you need to come to my office tomorrow after school. Uncle Tom will be there, and so will I – she is going to try and upset you, but just tell the truth about what happened.”
“I wasn’t going to do any different Mom,” Katy said, “but how bad can this get?”
“That depends,” Janice said, “they’re going to do everything they can to make it look as if you are a Lolita in real life, and you’re not, but lawyers are paid to do this. There is, however, something else we need to talk to you about.”
“Oh – is this anything to do with why Aileen Lardarn called me at school?”
“Oh? What did she want to know?”
“If I knew anything that might affect her family. I told her I’d heard rumours of most of the younger models in the city getting invites to a collection show from an out-there director.”
“Her name’s Carlin Kardecki,” Katherine said, “Missy met with me and your mother today to invite you to walk as well.”
“And her designs?”
“Well, that’s where it gets to be different – Missy left these for you to look at.” Janice passed Katy some pages, watching as the young girl looked at them, her eyes opening wide.
“Oh goddess,” she whispered, “there is out there, and then there are these. If that lawyer saw these…”
“That’s the problem,” Jan said, “I wasn’t prepared to say yes to Missy for that very reason. I think…”
The telephone ringing broke Jan’s line of thought as she stood up and walked over.
"Hi Sandy, I'm sorry but you've
called at a bad time."
"I'm sorry about that, but I have some bad news, the lawyer for that scumbag kid has had an investigator come to the Trust asking questions about your lease...And worse I overheard him saying they are going to take a close look at your bank accounts."
“Oh great – thanks for letting me know Sandy. There’s nothing there to hide, but still…” As she ended the call, Katy looked over and said “if we say no to this, Mom, they’ve won.”
“Morgenstern, the lawyer, that radio shock jock – all those who think I do this to titillate people. I don’t – we need to stand up and tell them that.”
“Now that’s the Carter spirit,” Katherine said with a smile.
“Well she’s right on this one, Jan.”
“I know, I know, I… Oh no.”
“What is it?”
“Sandy said they’re digging into the lease on this place, and into my finances… I need to go to the village, now.”
“You think she’s going to drag Nicola into this?”
“I know she is – I’ll be back as soon as I can, and Katy you’re right – I’ll tell Missy yes. If the show goes ahead.”
“Why would it not?”
“Because Aileen and her sister are also on the list, and their mother is breathing fire.”
9.30 pm BST
Eve looked at her phone as it went off, and smiled as she said “Angel – what did you find out?”
“Well,” the cultured English voice said, “turns out your mother and this designer have history – a lot of history. The sort of history that runs very deep and very dark. Carline Kardecki is not exactly well liked in our world either.”
“Really? I’ve never known Mum to hold a grudge.”
“Well, while my mum didn’t go into details, apparently Kardecki holds your mother responsible for a lot of things that happened to her.”
“So they hate each other – why did she come over here?”
“Now that Mum would not tell me, and I haven’t been able to get in touch with Abby to ask. Who else have you asked?”
“Aileen talked to Katy Carter earlier – she may call back later.”
“There is something going down, that much is certain,” Angel said. “If I hear any more, I’ll let you know.”
“Curioser and curioser,” Eve said as she looked at her phone, and then over at Kit. “Did you find anything else on this woman?”
“Her picture,” Kit said as she turned her laptop round. Eve looked at the picture, and said “Wow – dye her hair and you have Cruella de Vil.”
“Nice scar on her cheek as well,” Eve said. “You know, I’m almost tempted to ring Dad and ask. Almost.”
“Because if Mum won’t talk, he won’t either…”
The two girls looked over as there was a knock on the door, and Aileen looked round.
“Want to hear the reason Mum flew over?”
“Katy got back to you?”
“Yeah,” Eve’s sister said as she slipped in. “This Carlin Kardecki is apparently a shock and awe artist – and she want to show this collection using teenage models. Katy’s mother told her tonight she’s been asked to walk as well.”
“Okay – but if Mum hard about it, why would…”
“We were on her list of proposed models – you and me Eve.”
Eve and Kit looked at Aileen, before Kit said “If Carlin Kardecki is blaming your mother for what happened…”
“Then we’re the revenge? I don’t know about Mum – I’d want to slap her one!”
As Paula sat looking out of her room window, a hot drink in her hand, she wiped her nose again and then turned as the telephone rang. Walking over, she pressed the hands free button and said “hello?”
“Paula – how are you?”
“I feel terrible Eve,” Paula said as she sat down, “how are you?”
“Better than you I suspect. Tom came round to see me and Stephen today, and he explained what’s happened.”
“So you can understand why I dropped everything and came over, especially when Aileen’s name came up.”
“I understand – I had to cut Eve off when she rang me earlier and asked me what was going on.”
“Oh wonderful – she must have heard I had flown over.” Paula rubbed her eyes and said “this is turning into an absolutely perfect day – she’s here as well. We talked at breakfast – Mother is here too, and she can’t get her to see sense. I’m going to leave it with Ju and Pippa to sort out.”
"Paula,” Eve said over the line,
“you need to ring the girls and tell them just what is going on."
"I'd rather not Eve,” Paula said
quietly, “you know very well what happened back then."
"Well I think they have a pretty
good idea,” Eve said, “based on what Eve asked me - and I'm also sure that by
now they've talked to enough of their own friends that they have found out that
the Bitch Queen has them on her list of models."
"Oh surely not?"
"They are smart girls Eve, and they know a few people who might well have put this all together...Like Abigail perhaps? Or Katy?"
“Oh lord – the model network,” Paula said as she looked at her mobile phone.
“My beloved oldest daughter is asking me to call. Well, I guess there is no avoiding it any more – I’ll call you in the morning Eve.”
“Do that – and good luck,” Eve said as the line went dead, and Paula pressed the call button. Taking a deep breath, she dialled a number and waited.
“Hello Eve,” Paula said, “is there something wrong?”
“You tell me – is this bitch really trying to use Aileen and me to get her own back for something she thinks you did before we were born?”
“Well, when you put it like that…”
“We do Mummy,” she heard Aileen say, “and we want to know exactly what’s going on.”
“Okay then,” Paula said quietly, “listen carefully…” She took a sip from her drink, and then said “you know that I was a model when your father and I met and fell in love.”
“Yes mummy,” Aileen said, “we’ve heard that tale every year on your anniversary…”
“Well, just before we got married I was meant to talk at the first collection of – well, her first collection. Now, we had just lost a very dear friend to a drug overdose, another had gone into rehab, and a third disappeared – so it was a tense time, and then she wanted to show this incredibly provocative collection of designs. All low cut designs, leather, and absolutely nothing to the imagination. Well, for a lot of us, it was the last straw, and we complained to her.
“She refused to budge, and in the end we publicly said we would not do this show. Mother came out and supported us, and she had to cancel the show – at a lot of expense. She never really forgave me for being one of the public leaders, and as the youngest she then did all she could to break me and and your father up.”
“You’re kidding,” Eve said. “So what happened in the end?”
“My true nature came out at a Hallowe’en party later that year – she had been hounding me and Tom, turning up where we were, trying to take over from me, and that night I let rip into her.
“And I mean let rip – I went for her, nails and all, while dressed as a courtesan. Anyway, we were held apart by a couple of other ladies, and she screamed as she walked off. Later, however, someone attacked her with a knife.”
“That scar on her face?”
“That’s right Eve – and she’s always claimed it was me who did it.”
“And was it, Aunt Paula?”
“No it wasn’t Kit – but we haven’t spoken or seen each other since then. I retired, and then you kids came along.”
“So why did you fly to New York Mummy?”
“Well – Juliette and your Aunt Mandy called me yesterday, to tell me she had a new collection, she had offered Complete Style exclusive rights to the collection and the show – if, and only if, she could use her list of models.”
“Okay – and we were on the list?”
“At first, it was only you Eve darling – but then she heard how I reacted, and not only did she add Aileen, she added your Aunt Pippa’s daughter as well. These designs – they are as shocking and provocative, if not more, than the one in Cannes. I’m sorry darlings, but it looks as if she’s using you to get her own back on me, Pippa, and everyone she thinks has wronged her.”
“So you flew over to confront her?”
“Yes – and so far she has refused to budge. In fact, if Juliette and Pippa back off now, she’s threatening to ruin them as well.”
“She really doesn’t know Gaunt women does she?”
Paula looked at the phone and said “What do you mean Eve?”
“Nobody uses us as a weapon – when the need comes, we are a weapon,” she heard Eve say quietly. “What’s the current position?”
“We’re taking a break – why?”
“Good – Mum, you need to authorize a break for me and Aileen. We’re coming over on Friday – and we’ll explain everything then…”
11 pm CET
Radisson Blu Hotel Marseille Vieux Port
Francesca was checking her equipment when her telephone rang. Looking at it, she smiled as she accepted the call, saying “well now, this is an unexpected pleasure.”
"Francesca cara, come stai?"
"I am doing very well
Natalya," the Italian woman replied in English, "and to what do I owe
this phone call?"
“Can an old friend not call?”
“Indeed – but when it is you, I am always intrigued.”
"Well,” Natalya said, “I need to confirm something for a member of my family."
"Yes – I just sent you an email, can you look at the attachment and tell me if that is your work?"
"Hold on...let me look."
Natalya opened her laptop and checked her mail, and then stared at the picture on the screen.
"Natalya why are you interested in
this person?" the Marches'a voice had changed
"Because a friend of a friend, of my niece is having some trouble with this person...Did you leave that scar Francesca darling?"
“I did – but it was twenty years ago now. Another old friend and I were – working in Cannes, and we attended a party where she caused the most frightful of scenes. I felt she needed a little – chastisement, so I gave her something to remember the night by.”
“And that was all? She was not involved in anything you were investigating formally?”
“I assure you, my dear Countess, this was pure pleasure – but what is she doing now?”
“Nothing that need concern you Francesca – where are you anyway?”
“Marseilles my dear – some business I need to take care of. Perhaps we can meet when I am next in Munich?”
“I look forward to it, my dear Francesca. I wish you luck with your work.”
“Thank you old friend,” Francesca said as she ended the call, and looked at the photograph. Picking up her phone, she said “this is Admiral di Cambrello. I need a report on one Carlin Kardecki, within twenty four hours, complete with all activities currently underway.”
Ten minutes later, she stepped out to meet Eleanor, Jo and Veronica in the hallway, all four dressed in black.
“A blast from the past – it may be when we are done here Eleanor I come back to the US with you to take care of something. For now, let us be about our business.”
“Oh come on April,” Caroline said as she sat with Pepsi’s mother at the dinner table, “you’re having trouble picking an outfit for Kentucky? Give Mary a call.”
“I tried to today,” April said, “but she was out of touch all day. Apparently she, Juliette and Pippa were in conference.”
“I think it was to do with this offer the magazine had,” Barbara said as she sipped her drink, “It’s certainly got Jeannie worked up.”
“Oh? Is it something she doesn’t want to do?”
“She’s not even invited – Apparently Abby is the oldest model, and both Doc and Poppy Ashley have been invited, as well allegedly as Katy – but not her.”
“I met Mary this afternoon, and she said it’s caused an absolute stink, but not why. Apparently Linda Evangelista is in town as well.”
“What are they talking about,” Pepsi asked as she sat with Ama and Jeannie, looking at their books.
“This blasted fashion show,” Jeannie said, “everyone I know locally below the age of seventeen seems to have been invited, except me – and I would love to know why? Did I upset the designer somehow?”
“I am sure there is a reason,” Ama said, “after all, you get to go to Rio with Abby when none of the others will.”
“Still, I really am worried about why,” Jeannie said as the doorbell rang, and Pepsi went to answer it. “Hey there,” they heard her say, and then she came back up with Janice.
“Hey,” Jeannie said, “what brings you round?”
“I need to talk to your mom Pepsi, if she’s free?”
“Come through Janice – Barbara and Caroline are in here as well,” April called out, Jeannie looking at them as she came in.
“What’s wrong,” Caroline said as she looked at her friend.
“Well,” Janice said as she closed the door and sat down, “there is a storm coming, and the name of that storm is Rosie Perez.”
“The defender appointed for Daniel Morgenstern? Her investigator was at my place earlier today to ask some questions.”
“Yeah – Sandy called me to say he had also been to the Richmond Institute, and has been looking at my lease and my finances. It looks as if she’s going to try and paint me as a mother who is only interested in money – and it means she may also turn over some ugly stones.”
April looked at Janice, before she said “you mean Pepsi?”
“I mean Pepsi – you need to be warned in case anyone comes snooping April. And then there is this blasted collection Katy’s been asked to walk for – have you heard of Carlin Kardecki Caroline?”
“Only by reputation – it’s not a name you heard spoken of with… Oh lord, she’s the one who wants the kids to walk her collection?”
As Janice nodded, Caroline shook her head. “From what I hear, this is one collection Katy should not walk at the moment. Problem is, there’s another story going round.”
“And that is?”
“She’s offered Complete Style the exclusive access rights if, and only if, all the models on the list walk. Now I know why Mother is in town – she senses trouble ahead.”
“But why has Jeannie not been asked?”
“She hasn’t Barbara? Now that is interesting…”
“Anyway – Katy and I talked with Mom tonight, and she wants to do it, to show she’s not afraid. So what do I do next?”
"Well the first thing none of us do is panic." Caroline stood up and started to pace. “We need someone to handle damage control – Jane?”
“Only if we have to,” Janice said, “but if she can advise us, that’s fine. Let’s play the worst case – if she finds out, she’s going to have to admit how she found out isn’t she?”
“Depends on if she uses it as a threat or not. But if she does, there is the question of sealed church records and so on. However, this may be one of those occasions when, if it looks like she would do it, we come clean first.”
April and Janice looked at each other, before they heard Pepsi say “is she really going to blow our secret?”
“She may at that, Nikki,” Caroline said, “how would that make you feel?”
“How I would feel isn’t important – it’s how the rest of you would feel. I have nothing to be ashamed of, although…”
“Peps,” April said quietly, “what is it?”
"There are a few other people who
we need talk to if the secret of my parentage is going to come out," Pepsi
smiled weakly, "Jack for one, and then Mandy and Will."
"Oh I'd forgotten them, the
British press would love linking them all to this." Barbara looked up.
"Especially in light of this," Pepsi said as she opened the neck of her blouse, lifting up the gold chain she wore round her neck.
"What's that?" April asked as she saw the glinting ring with the large shiny stone that hung from the chain.
"My engagement ring...Jack asked me to marry him at Nikki’s birthday party and I said yes."
Barbara and Caroline looked at each other as both Janice and April stood up. “He… He asked you to marry him,” April eventually said.
“Well yeah – but we wanted to keep it secret until he had finished at Cambridge, and I had finished at St Angela’s.”
“Forgive me Mom, but… Ah, I see I was right,” Ama said as she looked in.
“How did you guess?”
“Right about what,” Jeannie called out.
“Perhaps you should come and show her,” Ama said, Pepsi nodding as she walked out and closed the door. As they sat down, Janice shook her head and said “Well, that puts a new twist on things.”
They looked at Barbara as they heard Jeannie say “WHAT!”
“Hey don’t look at me,” she said as she put her hands up, “I was sixteen when I married.”
“Okay,” Caroline said, “I think we all need a drink of something. Are you going to tell Grant?”
“I have absolutely no idea,” April said quietly.
“Right – then it’s time to get a legal perspective.” Taking out her cell phone, she picked a contact and waited.
“Brooke? Caroline Jameson – you’ve followed the Katy Carter case, right?
“Good – because we need your help now. Can you come round to the Broadhurst’s apartment? I’ll explain when you get here…”
The Huntingdown Apartment
“Well, it’s a pretty kettle, and no mistake,” Juliette said as she looked at Carina on the screen.
“What’s the state of play now?”
“Mother got me and Pippa some time, but what it really needs is Carline and Paula clearing the air between both of them. And that is not going to happen without some thinking.”
“Well, looking at some stuff Abby and Jo sent me, I’m not surprised – Carlin really thinks Paula is the one who scarred her.”
“I know,” Juliette said as she accepted the drink from Klaus, and watched him walk to the kitchen. “Whoever did that knew what she was doing, and that is not Paula.”
"This woman is an artist because
she hasn't disfigured the bitch totally, just given her enough of a scar that
every time she looks in a mirror she's reminded what happened."
"And since Carlin thinks Paula did
it Cari, that's why she still holds a grudge?"
"Oh undoubtedly Mom...you know I'd
love to meet this woman and compare notes."
"Me too," Annie looked at the
screen over Juliette's shoulders.
"You need to invite her to the
next psycho torturers convention then..."
"Mom, you are on dangerous
ground," Carina's eyes flashed.
"Be that as it may, have you
shared any of this with your Aunt Natalya?"
"Yes I have. It’s not a cousin – of that she’s certain. But she is aware of someone who is known for, if you will forgive the phrase, ‘leaving a mark’. She’s going to place a call later and ask – apparently, said person is rather busy at the moment."
The de Ros Mansion
“Come on, come on,” Abby said as she sat at her table in her room, tapping her foot impatiently.
“Jeanne Beckman – Abby, is that you?”
"Aunt Jeanne,” Abby said with a smile, “I'm glad I caught you."
"Well you only just did Abigail darling...and what is up? You only call me Aunt nowadays when you want something."
"What am I keeping you from?"
"Reporting on the fashions at a
film premiere here in LA...Work in other words."
"Well okay,” Abby said “and you
are right when you say I want something, but it can wait if you do need to
"No I have 10 minutes,” Jeanne
said, “what’s up?"
Sitting back, Abby said "You know
Carlin Kardecki don't you?"
"Well… She's got what I'm assured is a magnificent new collection coming out, I've been asked to model for it..."
"...Congratulations," Jeanne interrupted.
"Well keep those congratulations
for another time,” Abby said, “Because you’re in LA you haven't heard the shit
that she's caused to fly."
"Oh? Like what?"
"Like I'm by far the oldest girl
she wants to walk..."
"Oh and that's not the worst of
it, she's made it a give me EXACTLY who I ask for deal, or Complete Style can
kiss an exclusive goodbye."
"An exclusive...that bitch
"Now no journalistic competition Aunt," Abs giggled.
"I seriously doubt I would cover it anyway… Alright, so other than her using jail bait models, what is the problem?"
"Who some of that jail bait are
that she wants to use."
"Names please Abigail?"
"Oh Charlotte McCormick, Orion O’Ryan, Melissa Steel, Katy Carter, Eve and Aileen
"WHO!" the voice practically
exploded down the airways.
"The Duchess of Lardarn's daughters..."
"I know very well who they are
Abby,” Jeanne screamed, “I'm Eve's godmother for heaven sakes."
"Oh this gets BETTER!" Abigail could sense that Jeanne was rolling her eyes.
“And one notable absence – Jeannie Brewster.”
“She’s invited all of them and not Jeannie? What is she playing at?”
"And what is worse she is threatening to go to the Conde Nast board and tell them why they lost a blockbuster exclusive, if she doesn't get her way."
“Oh is she now? I wonder if she knows the press can work two ways?”
“Spike her with a rumours story?”
“Or reverse the threat. Abby dear, leave this with me will you? I’ll call Mother and Ju in the morning.”
“In the meantime, Auntie Jeanne – what happened in Cannes?”
“I’ll have to tell you tomorrow – the film crew just buzzed me. Talk to you tomorrow Abby.”
The Broadhurst Apartment - The Village
Brooke closed her eyes and took a minute to think over what she had heard.
“Okay – bear in mind I cannot comment on whatever Miss Perez may have planned, or what her motives may be,” she finally said, “but Caroline’s right – we need to be prepared for the worst.”
“Can we stop her saying anything,” Janice asked.
“Then you say you have something to hide,” Brooke said. “The best we can do is localise this – tell Katy not to say anything about Pepsi tomorrow unless Perez asks it. In the meantime, I can see about getting a court order that will protect Pepsi’s true family lineage from disclosure. We can argue lack of relevance, and as you say the fact she would had to have hacked sealed church records to get to the truth.”
“Eventually – let’s get Jane in to advise on the best way of doing that, once we know what she’s after. I cannot be seen to be helping you in this – so you need to approach the judge with your attorney tomorrow and sort this out Jan.”
Cari pulled the cover over Judith as she lay sleeping, then smiled as she heard the soft ping on her laptop. Walking over, she accepted the incoming call.
“Good evening Carina,” she heard Natalya say as she appeared on the screen, “how are you?”
“Tired and I have more revision to do,” Carina said as she smiled.
“Well, I managed to talk to my friend.”
"And Aunt?" Carina said as she looked at her computer screen.
"It turns out I was right in recognising
the scar...It is the mark of someone I've known a very long while."
"No she is not 'one of us' as you
might put it, but she is both an artist with a blade, and a cold-blooded
"Yet she's not one of us?"
Carina looked puzzled.
"No, she has made a career of
doing it legally."
"You mean she's a cop?"
Carina checked herself, "but cops don't kill...do they? Even in
"No she's not police."
"But then what," Carina
thought hard, "OH DEAR GODDESS! This killer is a spy?"
"I could not possibly say."
"A female James Bond," Carina shook her head, "that is the work we really should have been in Aunt." Cari giggled, "just imagine being licensed to kill?"
“Tempting, but she is dedicated – from what she said, it happened some years ago, when she upset a very pleasant party.”
“Which means she was at the October party in Cannes. Intriguing…”
Thursday 28th April
1 am CET
Alain Rey’s Apartment, Marseilles
It was the aroma that first made Alain Rey twitch. He had a memory for scents, especially those which evoked strong memories for him – and this was one he could never forget. He’d encountered it some years ago when he had business to conduct in Roma – and in fact was one of the major reasons he had never visited that place since.
“It cannot be,” he thought to himself as he slowly opened his eyes, reaching over and turning the light on by his bed. As he did, he saw a woman standing there, dressed in black, and with greying brown hair. Next to her was a younger woman, with shoulder length dark brown hair, also dressed in black, and both looking very serious as they stared at him.
“Good evening Monsieur Rey- before you ask, your men are… Indisposed.”
“I see – and who do I have the pleasure of addressing? I recognise the scent of at least one of you – that is you, isn’t it?”
“It is – it has been a few years, Monsieur Rey,” he heard another woman say as he sat up, and looked to the other side of the bed. The tall blonde he recognised, the equally tall brunette he did not.
“Let me guess – you are all agents of various agencies?”
“Indeed,” Eleanor said, “we crossed paths recently in new York Monsieur Rey.”
“Ah yes – a most unfortunate business. But why are you here?”
“Drugs Monsieur Rey – a most potent drug that has been put to use here, and in our home countries. Mademoiselle Aumont was most helpful once we provided her with security.”
“We saw her talk to you,” the older woman said, “at dinner the other night?”
Alain suddenly turned and looked. “Sandy? Janice? Oh well played ladies, well played. So what else am I being accused of?”
“Selling the same drug,” Veronica said, “in my country and theirs, for the purposes of making women unable to say no.”
“Only,” Eleanor said, “they were used to make underage girls more amenable. Date rape is a crime, Monsieur Aumont – but when it involves the hurting of children, the organizations we represent take action?”
“You do not scare me,” Rey said quietly, “you have to act within the law.”
“Did we say we represent legal groups this time? Legal agencies?”
Francesca glanced at the other three as Eleanor said “Oh no Monsieur Rey – on this occasion, you are dealing with a group that operate outside the legal parameters, to right the wrongs inflicted on the innocent. I also bring a message, on their behalf, from one of their supporters.”
“And that message is,” Alain said quietly.
“You were warned in New York – now there will be no further warnings.”
“We speak, we act, for the Heart and the Strength,” Jo said, Francesca looking at her as Eleanor and Jo grabbed Alain’s wrists, and secured them to the top of his bed with zip ties. “We have destroyed your drug factory, and as we speak your network in this city is been dismantled by the Gendarmerie.”
“All your contacts in the racing world are under arrest,” Veronica said, “and all your records have been forwarded to the correct authorities. You, little man, are finished. All that remains is payment for your crimes.”
She looked at Eleanor and nodded as she said “Marchesa?”
“Ladies, leave him to me – I wish to renew our acquaintance,” Francesca said as she picked up a cloth, and stuffed it into Alain’s mouth, the other three walking out and closing the door.
“Now,” Eleanor said, “his personal safe…”
8.30 am BST
The Aldwych, London
“Good morning Madame,” her secretary Angela said as Shirley stepped out onto the executive floor. She was wearing a camel great coat over her grey dress, and high heels.
“Good morning Angela,” Shirley said as she went into her office, removing her coat and hanging it as Angela waited. “May I have some coffee please?”
“Of course Madame – Charlotte wondered if she could see you as soon as you arrived this morning. She said it was urgent.”
“Very well then – ask her to step in please,” Shirley said as she sat down and looked at the paper. A few minutes later, Angela knocked and brought in her coffee, as Charlotte stood in the doorway, wearing a grey cardigan over her white blouse and knee length skirt.
“Thank you Angela,” Shirley said as her secretary left. “Now, what can I do for you Charlotte?”
“Madame…umm Shirley,” Charlotte said as she sat down, “I need to ask for some personal time off work please.”
“Why Charlotte?” A quick thought hit the auburn haired woman, “there isn’t something wrong with the baby is there?”
“No, no,” the young redhead said, “according to the doctors all is developing well.”
“Well that is good news…” Sipping her coffee, Shirley asked “But why the time off then?”
“You know my father in his later years was largely working for the Monaco based Institut pour l'Etablissement des pratiques minières éthiques en Afrique?”
“Yes. It was that work that first brought him to my attention.”
“Well,” Charlotte said, “he kept an office come bedsitter at the institute as his base. Well, it has not been disturbed since his death, but they now need the space and they have asked can I go and clear it out.”
“Ah,” Shirley said as she sat back, “I understand.”
“It’s not a job I’m looking forward to doing,” Charlotte said, “but they have been very patient, so I guess that it is about time to do it.”
“Will Piet be going with you?”
“He can’t,” Charlotte replied, “the paper wants him in Addis Ababa reporting on the OAU meeting.”
“So you are going alone?”
“No,” Shirley stood up, “you really should take someone with you. I remember when my father died – it was a terrible time, but I got through it with good friends.”
“Perhaps, but all my friends are doing other things.”
“What about someone from here at the office?”
“Who is free? We are pretty snowed under, it’s why I was worried about taking time off.”
“Hmmm,” Shirley reached for the intercom, “Angela, are the team from the Farm here for the meeting?”
“Yes Madame – they are having coffee just now.”
“Excellent - can you ask Beverly Martello if she’d please come and see me?”
“Indeed Charlotte,” Shirley said as she put the phone down, “she proved her abilities in that business with Katy Carter, and I think she will be of use to you.”
They both looked round as there was a knock on the door, and Shirley called out “come in.”
“You wished to see me Madame,” Bev said as she came in, wearing a black jumper and knee length skirt.
“I did – I wish you to accompany Charlotte on a trip to Monaco for a few days. I know you were due to go on the team building exercise – do you have your passport?”
“Well, yes Madame, but why Monaco?”
“Charlotte will explain on the flight,” Shirley said as she picked up the phone and dialled a number. “Denice – have my jet prepared for a flight to Monaco in one hour, and arrange a booking for two rooms at the Metropole, both timed to return Monday.”
“Madame, I cannot…”
“You can and you will. Trust me, you will appreciate the time afterwards. Beverley, you will accompany Charlotte to her flat to collect her bag – I will get the driver to take you there, and then to Northolt.”
“Thank you Madame,” Charlotte said as she stood up and took Beverley by the arm. “Come on – the decision has been made. Grab your bag and tell Tracy what’s going on.”
1 pm CET
L’Hotel Metropole, Ave de la Madone, Monaco
“You will be in here Miss Gordon,” the bellboy said as he opened the door to the suite, “and Miss Martello will be next door.”
As the porter took Charlotte’s case to the bedroom, Bev looked round the ornately decorated room.
"Do I even want to know 'ow much
this is costing?" Bev looked round the suite in astonishment, "this
place sure aint in Tott'num."
"It's courtesy of Shirley, I'd
booked into somewhere far cheaper, but you heard her."
"Well if the boss is payin'..."
"We still aren't here to break the
bank in Monte Carlo Bev."
"Pity,” Bev said as she went to
the windows, “and I especially luv dressin' up and goin' ta the casino."
"Well maybe to look..."
"And not gamble...” Shaking her head, Bev smiled and said
“Charlotte you aint any fun at times."
"Your bags are in your rooms
ladies," the boy smiled as Charlotte tipped him 20 Euros, "welcome to
"'Ere look at this view?" Bev
looked out at the terrace as the door closed, "Did you ever see so many bleedin' yachts in all your life?"
"Bev remember,” Charlotte said, “I have to clear out my father’s room, we aren't here to sightsee."
“I know – but if we’re here until Monday…”
“All right, all right – go and unpack, and we can get straight to work…”
West Central Park
“Hey Aunt Ju – what brings you over here,” Katy said as she opened the door, her satchel over her shoulder.
“I need to talk to your mother about business,” Juliette said, “have a good day at school.”
“I will,” Katy said as she ran to the lift, Juliette shaking her head as she came in.
“Hello Juliette,” Katherine said, “Jan’s in the kitchen.”
“On your way out?”
“Eventually – need to get changed,” she said as Juliette went into the kitchen.
“Hey,” Jan said as she looked over, “coffee?”
“Thanks – I can guess what you want to talk about.”
“Yeah – Sandy told you?”
“The attorney representing Katy’s kidnapper is digging around your lease and financials?”
“Yeah – so I have an obvious question.”
“Heather has the same level of encryption on those accounts she has on our system, so he’d have to find them first,” Juliette said as she accepted the coffee. “When you’ve done transfers to your personal account, what have they come up as?”
“Payments from an inheritance fund – and I know the paperwork is there to back that up as well. So he should not get very far?”
“Not unless he has a hacker on a par with Heather – know anyone like that?”
Smiling, Janice shook her head. “Well, that’s one less thing to worry about – save that she will try and twist things round. I need to be prepared for that.”
“What about other matters?”
“We talked to Brooke last night –April, Caroline and me. She’s advised I see a judge to put a stop on her approaching any member of the Broadhurst family if she threatens to do so. She actually said today, but I’ll hold off until after this afternoon. We’re also going to seek some advice from Jane in case we cannot stop her, and we need to go public first. If we do, it may cause a bit of a stink in certain places.”
“Jack and Pepsi are engaged.”
Juliette stared at Jan, as she said “it happened at Nikki’s party apparently, but they’re keeping it secret for now. The first either April or I knew was last night – and I think Jack is telling his parents today.”
“And the show?”
“We talked about that last night as well – Katy says she’ll do it, if only to spite those who thinks she is too young.”
“Well, hold that thought – the battle continues today.”
“Hey Stick,” Jeannie said as she came out of her van, “what’s the word?”
“Things are getting stranger,” Abby said as she waited for Jeannie to lock her van, “Kardecki has apparently added more names – including Aileen Gaunt. Mama is meeting Paula with Aunt Juliette for brunch later.”
“Eve and Aileen Gaunt? But Paula will hit the roof.”
“Apparently, she already has,” Abby said as they approached the school gates.
“I still don’t understand why she hasn’t asked me though.” Jeannie looked at Abby, and saw the cloud on her face. “All right – what do you know that I don’t?”
“Mother is in town, and tried to talk her round yesterday. She asked Carlin.”
Abby stopped and looked at Jeannie, before saying “the exact quote is ‘because she is not suitable for my collection’.”
“Not suitable for… Why the bitch… No wonder everyone hates her! Well, she’s in trouble now…”
“Hey,” Pepsi said as she appeared with Ama.
“Oh lord,” Abby said as she looked at Pepsi, “don’t tell me you’re on her list now as well?”
“Whose list? No – family matter,” Pepsi said quietly. “Let’s go in…”
“Hi,” Paula said as Juliette and Diana came into the restaurant, “how are you this morning?”
“We are fine, cherie,” Diana said as Paula stood and kissed her on both cheeks, “how are you?”
“Well, the cold is easing,” Paula said as they sat down, “but my temper is not. I spoke to the girls yesterday, and told them what was happening.”
“How did they react?”
“Well, I’ve sent a note to their headmistress to ask them to be excused, and they’re both flying over tomorrow.”
“They surely are not thinking of actually doing this?”
“No I don’t think so, but they’re planning something. I’ll book them a room to share here. How about with you?”
“Pippa and I are meeting with her at lunchtime – but I hear she may have added more names, and created more enemies.”
“Oh dear lord,” Paula said quietly, “who?”
“Well, I need to talk to Missy,” Juliette said, “but if what I hear is correct she may have just made her first big mistake.”
“Oh? In what way?”
“The rumour is she has added Ama Jameson’s name to the list.”
“Ama… Caroline’s Ama? She’s seriously going to challenge Caroline?” Paula smiled as she said “can I have some tickets for that?”
“What’s happened now,” Linda Evangelista said as she sat down.
“Carlin added Ama Jameson to the list.”
Linda looked at the three women, and then shook her head as she said “Oh that I would like to see.” As her phone went off, she looked at the caller ID, then put the phone on speaker and put it down.
“You’re up early Titi.”
“Well, not really slept Mother,” they heard Jeanne Beckmann say. “I hear there’s a storm brewing in New York.”
“You heard right, Titi.”
“Sister Virtue – Abby told me you were caught up in all this. Right – want to hear my plan?”
3 pm CET
Institut pour l'Etablissement des pratiques minières éthiques en Afrique
“Well,” the fair haired man said as he unlocked and opened the door, “this is it. How long has it been…?”
“A few weeks before he died,” Charlotte said as she came in, Beverley carrying some boxes with her which she set on the floor.
"We have left it as it was the day
he left for Mazengwe Charlotte, I haven't even
allowed cleaners to come in."
"Thank you Andre," Charlotte
suppressed some emotion with a deep breath.
She saw the picture of her with her father on the desk, and looked at it
as she smiled a little.
"Are you sure you are up to
this?" Bev whispered in her ear.
"This could wait till tomorrow
Charlotte?" the Comte d'Arno looked concerned.
"No Andre,” Charlotte said as she put the framed photograph down, “I've left this far too long. I need to do this.”
“Very well then – I will leave you to it,” Andre said as he bowed and went out, closing the door. Charlotte looked round, and said “Right – how do we do this?” as she went over to the small internal room, and opened the wardrobe, dropping to her knees as she took out a pair of brown walking boots. She stroked her finger over them as a tear started to form on her cheek.
"Charlotte… Charlotte there's a system fer doing this you know?"
"What?" Charlotte looked up.
"We put fings
in these boxes," Bev pointed, "the big one is for all the crap you
want to just chuck. The second is bits you'd like either to donate to this
place or to charity."
"Okay," Charlotte nodded.
"The third box is for his work stuff that Madame wants us to take back to London – his personal notes and anything on the areas she is interested in - and that last box is for the bits you yerself wanna keep...Gotit?"
"I get it Bev." Charlotte smiled as she stood up, and put the boots into the second box. “Let’s make it easy then – clothes and shoes in there, except for underwear, socks and hankies. They go out, so do toiletries.”
“Right – so we start with this room,” Bev said as the two women got to work.
4 pm CET
“Well, that’s that sorted out,” Charlotte said as she put the shirt in the box, “now for the photos on the wall and the room.”
“Who’s this Charlotte?” Bev asked as she held up a framed photo of a very attractive blonde woman. Charlotte looked at the photograph, smiling as she said “My mother.”
“Didn’t I ‘ear she died when you was born?”
“You did,” Charlotte again stifled some tears.
“Cor she really was a looker weren’t she?” Bev handed Charlotte the photograph, watching as she put it in the personal box, before she looked at an old wooden bureau. Opening it, Bev opened one of the drawers and took out a file of photos. As she examined them, she noticed they were all of the same woman.
“So I was told,” Charlotte eventually replied before she looked at some papers on the desk, and started to sort them out.
“Why don’t you ever talk about her?”
“Because,” Charlotte said quietly as she placed some files in the box for Madame, “I never knew her. Nothing really to talk about.”
“Do you even know ‘ow they met?” Bev smiled at a picture clearly showing Mount Vesuvius in the background. “My old man was from Naples you know,” she held the picture up.
“She worked at a foreign embassy in Pretoria, they met, they fell in love, they got married, I was born, she was gone.” Charlotte shrugged her shoulders.
“Is that a romance or a tragedy?” Bev paused for a second, “I suppose I’d ‘ave to ask Kyles, she knows all that Shakespeare shit.”
“More in the vein of The Tempest,” Charlotte said as she placed some more papers in the box. She worked on this for a few minutes, as Bev said “want me to sort through these?”
“Yeah – see if there are any of them together, will you?”
Bev nodded as she sorted through them, and then stopped for a moment as Charlotte put the photos of her and her father into the personal box. Bev stared at one photo in particular, and then looked at the redhead.
“’Ere?” Bev held up some of the photos, “if your Mum died when you were born, ‘ow can she be in pictures taken at the London Olympics?”
Charlotte suddenly turned, a strange look on her face as she said “you must be mistaken…”
“Nope – dat’s the Stratford stadium,” Bev said as she looked at one. “You was born in 1991 Charlotte, but a lot of these pictures I can tell by the clothes are after that.”
“How can you…”
“For example,” Bev held something up, “a magazine picture from Rome on the Millennium.”
“Shit!” Charlotte suddenly tried to grab the box away, “He never told me that he had collected pictures of her…”
“Whoa, whoa,” Bev said as she pulled the box back. “Charlotte if you don’t tell me wot is goin’ on ere, I’m goin’ to ring Madame and get ‘er to get Dominique on the first plane to come ask you questions.”
To her surprise, Bev saw Charlotte shake for a moment, and then sit on the bed, burying her head in her hands as she started to cry loudly. Eventually, she raised her head.
“Look Bev, this goes no further,” Charlotte blubbed out a river of tears.
“My mother… My mother didn’t die giving birth to me, she did far worse. Less than a week after I was born she left me with a wet nurse, packed her bags, left South Africa, and flew back to Europe to resume her life.”
“Bleedin’ ‘ell!” Bev was genuinely shocked as she looked at Charlotte.
“She divorced my father, giving him full custody of me, she asked him for no money, admitted full guilt so the divorce was easy, and she just left.”
“Your poor old man…”
“Yeah,” Charlotte said as she looked over, “according to Uncle John, and Uncle Fergus it devastated him.”
“So do you know who she is?”
“I do, I know her name, and I know what she does.”
“Shit that must be ‘ard Charlotte…Does Piet know?”
“No,” Charlotte said as she looked over, “and you must promise me you’ll never tell him she is alive Bev.”
“I promise,” the Londoner crossed her heart.
“Thanks – I mean that,” Charlotte said as she accepted a tissue.
“But didn’t she stay in touch, ‘e must ‘ave ‘ad some way of talkin’ to get these pictures?”
“Well if ‘e did, ‘e never told me,” Charlotte said in a Cockney voice, “and she certainly never has communicated with me, not a letter, not a Christmas card, not a birthday card. For my purposes she did die when I was born.”
“So what are these?” Bev held up a thick bunch of envelopes bound in a pink ribbon, “these have never even been opened Charlotte.”
She handed them to Charlotte, who looked at them, addressed to her care of her father, and whispered “what on earth…” Before she could do much more, however, her phone rang and she fetched it out of her purse.
“Good afternoon Madame – we arrived safely, and you catch me…”
She looked at Bev as Shirley said “Charlotte?”
“I’m sorry Madame – I was just sorting through some photographs.”
“Well, as important as it is you do that, we have a matter of the Sisterhood to attend to. Mermaid and others have completed their investigations, and I wish you to go and debrief them. They are in Marseilles, and the jet will have you there in an hour. I am sure Beverley can be trusted to amuse herself in the hotel tonight.”
“I understand Madame. May I have the address?”
“I will text it to you now. I suspect you could do with the distraction.”
Nodding, Charlotte looked at the letters, and handed them back to Bev. “Of course Madame. I can be there and back before getting some sleep, and we can complete this tomorrow.”
Bev raised an eyebrow as Shirley said “excellent. Call me when the debrief is completed.”
“Of course Madame,” Charlotte said as she ended the call.
“Charlotte, I’m sorry if…”
“It’s all right Bev – Look, I think we need to complete this tomorrow. Let me fetch Andre and get him to lock up. Besides, Madame wishes me to do some extra business while I am here – I’m afraid you’ll need to amuse yourself tonight.”
“No problem – hot bath, room service and a film.” Looking at the letters, she said “and these?”
“We’ll take them back with us – keep hold of them for me for now.”
“Sure thing,” Bev said as Charlotte left the room for a moment.
9 pm CET
Alain Rey’s Apartment, Marseilles
As Veronica looked over to the door, Jo handed her a coffee.
“You would think we had everything, but you forget sometimes there are things they do not commit to a memory bank,” Jo said quietly.
“And that is when the Sisters call in people like Francesca?”
“She is not a sister, as far as I know – but there are those who are skilled in interrogation techniques. How long have you…”
“Believe it or not,” Veronica said, “I only just got recruited. I’ve known Eleanor for years, but she introduced me to the Sisters at their training base. We went to attend a funeral.”
“The recent activity in Zimbabwe? I heard about that.”
“So what’s your story?”
“Oh I was approached – they heard about some of the things I did with the disadvantaged in Afghanistan with my partner. I usually do undercover protection for them, but this call played to my skill set.”
“Trading stories,” Eleanor said as she came back in with some food.
“Yeah – any word from the General?”
“A lot of arrests – in there?”
“I’m not asking,” Jo said, Veronica nodding in agreement as there was a knock on the door. All three looked at each other as Eleanor went to the door, and said “Yes?”
“I come from the Heart and the Strength.”
Nodding, Eleanor opened the door as Charlotte came in, like them dressed in black. “Greetings,” she said, “Icicle, thank you for aiding us in this.”
"Hello Little Mother what brings you here?" Eleanor smiled.
"Shirley asked me to come and debrief, and to offer her congratulations. She asked me to say she is impressed with the work here – and she is especially impressed with your official help. May I speak to her?"
“Of course – Francesca, we have someone here who wishes to meet you.”
"We do?" The blonde emerged from Rey's office cleaning a switchblade, and said “he is unconscious anyway, so who is the unexpected…” Charlotte stared at her as she let the blade drop to the floor.
“Francesca?” Eleanor looked at her old friend as Veronica stood up.
"YOU!" the blonde woman suddenly went as pale as a ghost as she stared at Charlotte. The young redhead stared at her, a mixture of anger and pain in her eyes, before she very quietly said "Hello Mother!"
Eleanor stared at her friends as Jo and Veronica joined her. “Francesca, what is going on here?”
“Allow me, Mermaid, Icicle, Commander Joyce,” Charlotte said quietly, “this is Francesca, Marchesa di Cambrello, an admiral in Italian Naval Intelligence – and the woman who abandoned me when I was barely a week old.”
“Oh so you do remember my name? That’s nice to know.”
“You… You lead this group, these sisters? You led the fight to free those slave girls in Mazengwe and Mogola?”
“I carried on Dad’s work,” Charlotte said, “after all, he gave his life for it. Not that you would know that, given you didn’t even come to the funeral!”
“Perhaps we should leave these two alone for a moment,” Veronica said as she looked at the other two. “No,” Charlotte said, “there is no need.”
“But what are you doing in France anyway,” Francesca quietly asked.
“I was in Monaco, clearing Dad’s office out,” Charlotte said quietly. “I found a few things – things that surprised and shocked me. After all, I never heard from you, and Dad said he never did either.”
“Look,” Eleanor said quietly, “fascinating as this conversation could be, you want to know what we’ve found out, correct Little Mother? Francesca?”
“We will learn no more from him.”
“Good – let’s all go back to our hotel, and we can talk there.”
“Agreed,” Jo said. “I think we all need a drink.”
“Very well,” Charlotte said, Francesca nodding as she picked up and folded the switchblade. “We can talk just as well there as here.”
”You had best inform Pierre,” Veronica said as she looked at Eleanor, the older woman nodding as Eleanor walked slowly out, Jo following with Charlotte. As they left, she whispered “did you know?”
“I didn’t even know Francesca had been married,” Eleanor said quietly as the apartment was plunged into darkness.
FBI Field Office, New York
Katy walked into the office, holding her bag as she looked nervously round, still wearing her school uniform. As she did so, Adam came out of Tom’s office and smiled.
“Hey kiddo – ready?”
“No,” Katy said quietly, “but I know I have to do this. Where do I go?”
“In here first,” Adam said as he held open the door to Tom’s office. Jan was waiting inside, wearing a grey jacket and blouse over a light blue blouse, with Tom and another man.
“There you are,” Jan said quietly, “Katy this is Bernard O’Dowd, our family attorney.”
“Nice to meet you at last Katy,” Bernard said with a smile, “you are a very brave girl to agree to do this.”
“I need to do it,” Katy said as Tom picked up a pad and pen. “All right,” he said, “Katy, we’re going to go and meet Miss Perez in one of the interview rooms. Your mother attends because you are still a minor, and Bernard is there to represent you. I’ll be taking notes, just as I did when she interviewed your mother.”
“Katy,” Bernard said, “be honest in your answers. If you are unsure about anything, ask me to explain and I will say what I understand, to see if it makes it clearer. I may also ask her to stop at times – if I do speak, remain quiet. If you cannot answer a question, just say so.”
Katy nodded as Jan came over and put her hand on her shoulder. “Ready?” As Katy nodded quietly, Tom said “one other thing – under state law, we are required to record any interviews with minors on video tapes, but you won’t see the cameras. Take a deep breath, and we will begin.”
“Let’s do this,” Katy said as they left the building, Erin and Jeanne watching as they walked to the interview room. As they went in, Rhoda Perez looked up, putting her pen down as she stood up.
“Hello Katy,” she said, “I’m Rhoda Perez. Has your mother explained who I am?”
“You’re representing the man who kidnapped me,” Katy said quietly. Rhoda smiled, and then said “take a seat please.”
“Thank you,” Katy said as she took a seat, Bernard sitting next to her and taking out a pad and pen as Jan and Tom sat to the side.
“So – we’re taking this interview so that I can ask you some questions about my client, who is charged with kidnapping you and holding you against your will. Can you confirm that you are Katherine Janice Carter, and you are thirteen years old?”
“I am,” Katy said quietly.
“And you go to school at Bishop Walden?”
“Again, that is correct,” Katy said as Jan smiled.
“All right Katy,” Rhoda said, “do you mind if I ask you a few questions first about how you became a model.”
Nodding, Katy said “well, it started when Uncle Jack – Jack Linklater – agreed to take a picture of me as a birthday present for my boyfriend.”
“George Richmond. Anyway, he took the photo and then Mary Thomas, who was chaperoning, asked me if I would like to try on some outfits and have my photo taken. The next thing I knew, I was being offered a modelling contract.”
“And your mother was not present at that shoot?”
“No – Mary Thomas came to talk to her with Juliette Huntingdown after that, and at first she was very reluctant to allow me to model. Eventually, and only after she and my grandmother had assurances in place did they agree to sign the contract on my behalf.”
Making a note, Rhoda said “and can you tell me how you came to model the Lolita outfit at the charity show?”
“Sheer luck,” Katy said with a smile, “the outfit was a late arrival to the show, and normally it would be someone like Carina Huntingdown who would model that. She was not there however…”
“Do you know where she was?”
“I believe she was at a seminar for her course – but the fact was, she was not there, so I was asked if I would model it instead. It was an unexpected surprise.”
Smiling said “but the reports said you were a natural fit.”
“That was one report true, but I only did what Miss Lyons did in the film – I acted the part.”
Tom smiled as he made some notes, and Rhoda looked carefully at Katy. “Since then, you have appeared in a few shows, sometimes wearing adult clothes.”
“As have other models my age, such as Orion O’Ryan Miss Perez,” Katy replied, “and they did not have to face what I did.”
Rhoda smiled, as she said “you are represented by Norstar, correct?”
“That is correct.”
“Do you know your current earnings?”
“I do not – you would have to ask my mother, but I am sure Missy Auerbach can present the full story if you ask her. All my earnings are placed in an investment fund to pay for my future education, although I am allowed some pocket money, to buy clothes and other things.”
Nodding, Rhoda looked at a sheet and said “so if I told you that you had made approximately one hundred and twenty thousand dollars in fees?”
“Then I would expect my fund is getting bigger – although like other models, I have the Jameson clause in my contract.”
“The Jameson clause?”
“A percentage of my net earnings goes to the fund that supports the girls who were released from slavery over the last few years – Again, Missy can provide the details.”
“Smart move,” Jan whispered, “paints a different picture from the one she wants.”
“Now Katy – when did you first become aware someone was following you?”
“I cannot say exactly when – but it was that feeling I was being watched. I’d say some time in February, and more so in March.”
“Is that when you approached Jameson Security?”
“It is,” Katy said, “without the knowledge of my mother or my grandmother at first. Caroline Jameson listened to me, and arranged for someone to stay with my family for a few weeks, posing as my cousin.”
“That would be… Beverley Martello,” Rhoda said as she looked at another sheet of paper.
“Correct – she stayed for a couple of weeks, both here and when we went to Sebring, and then stayed while I went to Ireland, and from there to Munich.”
“Why did she not go further with you?”
“Caroline had made arrangements for security in Ireland, and was handling security personally for the wedding.”
“So she felt you were sufficiently protected there?”
“I think she must have,” Katy said with a smile.
“Did you meet or see my client, Daniel Morgenstern, at any time in that period?”
“Personally, I have no recollection,” Katy said, “the first time I can definitively say I met him was when I woke up in that cellar, and he came in.”
“And has your mother ever asked to you to do anything in your modelling career you did not want to?”
“No – in fact, at times she has had to be persuaded to let me to do some shows.”
Bernard nodded as he said quietly “can we move on Miss Perez?”
“Very well then – Katy, my client says
that he and you shared intimate moments?"
I'd like to know how since I never met him...That just sounds plain
"Did you EVER talk to him?"
"Let's put it this way Miss,” Katy
said with a smile, “if I did he was just another fan in a crowd when I was
signing autographs or shaking hands. I usually ask people if they want me to
scribble a message for them."
"Like this?" the lawyer held up a handwritten note.
“May I,” Bernard said as he took the note, reading it before he showed it to Katy.
“Would you read that for me Katy?”
“To Daniel, the one true white knight of my life. Love, Katy Carter.”
“Did you write that message to my client, Katy?”
Looking carefully, Katy said, “well, I did sign this paper, but I did not write the top part. Whoever did it tried to copy my handwriting, but it’s not mine.”
"And can you prove this
"Easily, when I'm signing autographs, I have taught myself to do it left-handed. When I write normally I use the right... Let me show you," Katy said as she reached for her school bag and took out an exercise book, "look at my writing normally, it's completely different. I wrote that left handed, it means it was done for a fan at a signing somewhere."
“And you maintain you did not write the top lines?”
“May I have some paper, Mister O’Dowd,” Katy said as Bernard tore a sheet from her pad and handed it to her. Holding the pen in her right hand, she wrote out “To Daniel, the one true white Knight of my life,” then transferred her pen to her left hand and wrote the message out again.
“Compare this to the sheet,” she said as she handed it over, “and tell me if they are the same – in either hand.”
"Oh she has her there," Tom whispered in Jan's ear. Rhoda was clearly flummoxed, as she shuffled her papers.
“You live in a nice apartment,” she finally said, “how does your mother pay for it?”
“We are friends with the Richmond family, and when I was offered a place at Bishop Walden they offered us the apartment to be closer. More than that, you need to ask Mister O’Dowd or my mother.”
“And the fees at your school?”
“Again, you need to ask my mother, but I do know some are paid from my college fund.”
“And do you get on well with your sister?”
Katy cocked her head to one side, and then said to Bernard “Mister O’Dowd, I don’t understand the question, or how it relates to this interview.”
“Neither do I,” Bernard said quietly, “Miss Perez?”
“I withdraw that question,” Rhoda said quietly. “When you were in Munich, you posed for photographs at the wedding, correct?”
“Did you call out ‘I love you too’ at any point?”
“I did – a number of people called out they loved me, and I replied in a general sense, not to anyone in particular.”
“So you never met my client before he allegedly…” Rhoda looked at Bernard as he raised an eyebrow, and said “the presence of my client in the cellar of the Morgenstern home has been proven beyond reasonable doubt, Miss Perez.”
“So you never met Daniel before you woke up in the cellar?”
“Did he threaten you at any time?”
“Apart from holding me against my will, and not allowing me to call my family? Only when he thought I was trying to seduce him.”
“And were you?”
“No – I was trying to find out where I was.”
“You escaped by assaulting my client?”
“I admit I used force to get past him, but I believe the only thing I did was knee him in the groin, and then run out.”
Shaking her head, Perez said “and after that?”
“I was taken to hospital, allowed home, and then I was invited to spend the weekend with Adam’s mother.”
“Adam Ball, Miss Carter’s partner,” Bernard said, Perez nodding as she made another note.
“So you were not present when my client allegedly broke into your apartment?”
“I was not there when he fired shots into my bed, no.”
“You had no idea who assaulted him later that night.”
“How could I? I was in Chesapeake Bay.”
“Very well then,” Rhoda said as she put her pen and pad back into the case. “Thank you for your time Katy.”
“My pleasure, Miss Perez,” Katy said as the attorney walked out, and then breathed out.
“Well done,” Bernard said, “Tom, can you make sure copies of this page are sent to the DA, me and Miss Perez, as well as the transcript and recording?”
“You’ll have them tomorrow,” Tom said as Jan and Katy stood up. “Jan, you and Adam take Katy home – we’ll talk tomorrow.”
The de Ros Mansion
“Telephone call for you Miss Abigail,” Edith said as she appeared at the door of the drawing room. “Miss Beckmann.”
“Thank you Edith,” Abigail said as she came into the hallway and sat by the telephone. “Hey Aunt Jeanne – how was work?”
“It had to be done,” Jeanne Beckmann said quietly. “How are things there?”
“Well, right about now,” Abby said as she looked at her watch, “Carlin Kardecki is about to meet one obstacle she cannot overcome – Caroline.”
“I heard this morning – how did she react?”
“Apparently, she called her and said to meet her in the hotel lobby at four. So, what happened in Cannes?”
“The first time or the second time…”
“Jeannie did some research and told me about the Great Model Walkout.”
“Okay – so the second time. Well, after the cancelled show, Carlin seemed determined to blame someone, and Paula was that someone. She seemed to follow her around, and tried to get Tom off her – then at Halloween they all went to the same party, and Paula ripped into her.
“Later that night, someone attacked her with a knife, and left her with that scar. She claimed it was Paula, despite the fact Tufty and I were with her at the time, and ever since then it seems she’s been plotting her revenge.”
“So what can we do about it?”
“Well, I told Mother and the others this morning – watch the Beckmann Report this weekend. It’s time people were reminded…”
Carlin turned from the bar and looked at the blonde haired amazon who had appeared beside her, wearing a fawn jumper, knee length leather skirt and matching boots. With her was a younger brunette, wearing a blouse and trouser suit.
“I’m Carlin Kardecki,” she said quietly, “and you are?”
“Caroline Jameson – my intern, Sharon Kennedy. I had a very interesting call from Missy Auerbach this morning, which I felt I had to come and answer in person.”
“Well, you have some presence, I grant you,” Carlin said quietly, “may I offer you a drink?”
“No thank you – this will not take long. The answer is no.”
“No? You are aware that if I do not get all the names I have given for this show, there will be consequences.”
"Go ahead and threaten Miss Kardecki,” Caroline said with a smile, “but there is no way
that Ama would want, or that I would allow her to model...especially your
"Oh I'm sure that your
non-cooperation will raise eyebrows in certain important quarters..."
"And cause what?" Caroline
interrupted, "me to lose my modeling career? If
you'd done some real research you'd find out I never really wanted one. I
already have my own very successful business as a security consultant,
modelling is only a secondary career to me."
"Well then,” Carlin said, “what
about the harm it might do to your friends at Complete Style?"
"Go ahead, I'm sure they'll
quickly forgive me."
Carlin had not expected such a strong,
measured reaction, and Sharon had to stop himself from giggling at the look on
the scarred face. Eventually, she said
"What about me exposing some of the secrets of your sorority?"
"Oh like PTA is such a well guarded secret." Caroline smiled, "you've overreached yourself Miss Kardecki I'm immune to your threats."
“Yes… Yes I can see you are. Well, I will not take any punitive action, and I will drop Ama’s name.”
“Sensible,” Caroline said, “now you could show the same consideration to Paula Lardarn.”
“Oh no, they stay on the list – they are the potential stars of the show,” Carlin said, “good day Miss Jameson.”
“Worth a try,” Sharon said as they walked off.
“Yeah – pity it didn’t work,” Caroline said.
“I could always…”
“No – there are other ways to be tried…”
10.30 pm CET
Raddison Blu Hotel
“Okay,” Eleanor said as she poured whisky into five glasses, Francesca and Charlotte staring at each other, “you agree we have closed off the supply line for the drugs, all personnel are under arrest or – cannot hurt the innocents anymore.”
Charlotte nodded as she picked up the glass and took a sip.
“We burned down both the factory and his office – and as for Rey himself?”
Francesca shook her head and took a drink.
“I think we call this mission a success,” Eleanor said as she stood up. “Jo, Veronica, let’s go and have a drink in the bar. I think Little Mother needs to speak to Francesca alone.” She put her hand on Charlotte’s shoulder and squeezed it, whispering “I know how she and you both feel” as they left the room.
After a few minutes, Francesca said “Little Mother?”
“My title in the Sisters of Maisha,” Charlotte said quietly. “I won’t insult your intelligence by asking if you have heard of us.”
“Oh I have heard of them – they got Fergus MacLean out of Zimbabwe by all accounts. You’ve done some good work there, Carlotta.”
“My name is Charlotte.”
“Sorry,” Francesca said as she saw the anger building in the younger woman’s eyes. “But I mean it – the Sisters are necessary to bring justice to this world.”
“I will convey your thanks, but they are the real heroes – I just support them, act as their mother – probably because mine never wanted to know me.”
“Now that is…”
"You just fucking abandoned me
bitch," Charlotte screamed across the table, thumping her fists down as
she stared at the Italian noblewoman.
"Is that what he told you?"
Francesca looked at the redhead.
"Yes,” Charlotte exploded, “and
it's the truth isn't it?"
"Only in part Carlotta..."
"And what part isn't true?"
Charlotte screamed again, "and don't call me Carlotta, my name is
"Alright Charlotte,” Francesca said quietly, “sit down. I think you need to at least hear my side of this.”
“Why not – I’m dying to hear this,” Charlotte said quietly.
“Didn't anyone ever tell you why I had
to leave South Africa?"
"I think it’s obvious, MOTHER…
Because you preferred life as a high-flying secret agent, and leading European
aristocratic socialite, to being the wife of a humble mining engineer."
"Actually, that’s not true," Francesca paused, "You obviously know what I do on behalf of my government?” She watched as Charlotte nodded, pouring another drink and holding the glass. “Well…”
“Well – go on, justify yourself.”
Francesca paused before she said “the
South African Intelligence Service caught me doing something I shouldn't have
been doing, they declared me Persona non Grata, and I was given 24 hours to
leave the country."
"LIES!" Charlotte screamed
"NO,” Francesca shouted back, “I swear Carlotta, it’s the truth… I asked your father to come with me and you, but he wouldn't...His work, his friends, his life were in Africa," the Marchesa sniffed back tears as Charlotte stared at her. "I could either go to prison there for a long time, run away taking you, or leave you with the father who even then idolised you... So yes, I'm guilty of taking that last option. At the time…"
“So why did Dad have all those photos of you? My friend and I found them all today.”
“What photos?” Charlotte was shocked momentarily to see she had surprised the older woman.
“He had photos of you from the last twenty five years…”
“Car…” Seeing the anger build again, Francesca quickly said “Charlotte, I could not even come back for his funeral, as much as I wanted to. Then I saw you in the society pages…”
“You saw me?”
“Head of IT for Xavier International, and seen at so many important events – I was so proud of you, and now to find you do this as well… Carlotta, it broke my heart leaving you like that.” Taking a drink, she said "I'll never forget John Vosloo's eyes when he uncuffed me once I was on that Alitalia flight at the airport."
“Uncle… Uncle John was the one who took you on the plane?”
Francesca smiled sadly, "John was
doing his duty, he had caught me fair and square
paying off my contact in your Ministry of Defence."
"You mean Uncle John knew you
hadn't just left me?"
"No, that was a story I think he and your father dreamed up so you'd not know your mother had been a spy for a foreign power." Francesca paused and cried "but why did you never acknowledge any of my letters or your birthday and Christmas presents Carlotta?"
“I…” Charlotte suddenly remembered the bundle of letters. “I never got them – but I think I found them today.” Taking a drink, she said quietly “you wanted to come back for the funeral?”
Francesca nodded as she refilled Charlotte’s glass. “I know what I did was inexcusable, but I genuinely had no choice.”
"And for over 24 years,” Charlotte
said as she took the glass, “you just left my life."
"I did what I thought was for the best Carlot...I mean Charlotte, and it's not true that you never saw me.”
Charlotte stared at Francesca, before she said “What do you mean?”
“Fergus arranged that I got to see you in Zimbabwe when you were three, he made sure your father was out at the mine...I got to play with you for three whole hours." Francesca cried again "the happiest three hours of my life, followed by the worst moments when once again I had to leave you."
“I remember that,” Charlotte said, “Uncle Fergus said you were his sister…”
“Which is why I am so proud of you for getting him out,” Francesca said, “were they really going to kill him?”
Charlotte nodded as she held the glass. “I am going to kill them – both of them – when I see them…”
"I also tried to be there for some
of the big points in your life...”
Francesca smiled as she said “I was smuggled in and out of South Africa
by the CIA, at my behest to see you graduate from both Roedean
School, and from university?"
"Stop lying Marchesa, you never cared!" Charlotte spat the words in her mother’s face. Francesca said nothing, but took out her phone and searched for a moment, before handing it to Charlotte. Looking at the screen, she saw the photo of her as an eighteen year old, and then at her graduation.
“I hurt your father and you a great deal,” Francesca said quietly, “and I have to live with that, and I am truly, truly sorry, but what your father did, he did to…” She watched as Charlotte drained the glass, and then stood up violently, walking to the wall.
"You… You have no right… He cared, he raised me, he I loved, to me all you've ever been is a name and some slightly faded photographs...and I HATE YOU!" Charlotte beat her fists on the wall as she started to cry further. Francesca stood up and walked over, nervously putting her hand on her daughter’s shoulder as Charlotte turned round and started to pound her chest with her fists. The older woman said nothing, simply taking the blows and then wrapping her arms round the smaller woman, her head falling on Francesca’s chest as the tears came.
Eventually, Charlotte raised her head, eyes red and tears still coming, as she said “How… How can I know this is true?”
“Call John – ask him, tell him you have seen me. Then you can decide what you want to do. Let me say one thing though, whatever else happens – I am honoured to have helped you deal with this evil.”
Looking round, Charlotte moved to where Eleanor’s laptop was, and switched it on, starting a Skype call. “If we’re going to do this we’re doing it now – with any luck…”
“Charlotte,” John Vosloo said as he appeared at the screen, “I was just going to bed… Are you all right?”
“No, not really Uncle John. I was in Monaco, finally clearing out Dad’s old office, and I discovered he had been keeping a few things from me.”
“Your father? I find that hard to believe Charlotte…”
“Letters, Uncle John – letters and photographs.”
“Well, if he did, I am sure…”
Charlotte struggled to control herself before she said “Is Aunt Marianne there Uncle John?”
“Would you ask her to join you please, there is something I need to ask both of you.”
“All right,” John said as he looked off screen. “Marianne, it is Charlotte on the call. Can you join me for a minute please?”
As she waited, Charlotte glanced at Francesca, who was also struggling to control herself.
“Charlotte,” Marianne said as she appeared on the screen, “this is unexpected, what can I…” She then paled as she and John stared at the woman who sat next to Charlotte.
“Hello Colonel, Marianne,” Francesca said quietly, “guess who Carlotta just met?”
John regained his composure, and said “Francesca? Where… How…”
“Madame asked me to come to Marseilles to debrief on the action our American friends were taking – and Francesca had been drafted in by them as well. Believe me, I was as shocked as you are right now – but there is a question I need to ask. Is it true,” Charlotte said quietly, “that she was forced to leave me behind?”
John swallowed for a moment, and then slowly nodded.
"I will NEVER forgive you Uncle
John, nor you Aunt Marianne," Charlotte sobbed as she looked at the
"Charlotte,” John said quietly, “it wasn't my fault, Francesca was a pro, she knew the penalties if she got caught."
"I did," the Marchesa nodded.
"When she left the house that day,
leaving you with the nurse, I guessed she was going to see someone...I followed
her and caught her red-handed...But it was nothing personal or malicious, I was
doing my job, she was doing hers."
"Uncle John she had a five day old
baby...ME!" Charlotte screamed again.
"Oh believe me Charlotte, I was
painfully aware of that! I knew she had
diplomatic immunity,” John said quietly, “and that we'd end up deporting
her...her contact was executed for treason." He rubbed his eyes for a moment
and blinked back tears, "I thought your father would follow her to Italy,
I didn't know what a mess I was creating.
When he elected to stay, the only thing Marianne and I could do was be
there for both of you."
"You only did your job John,"
Francesca managed a smile. "I knew the risks I was taking."
"Well…” A rueful smile played on John’s face as he
said “It’s why I never went after you when our American friends slipped you in
and out of the country for Charlotte's graduations."
"Oh you did know then?" the Marchesa could not help but smile.
"Of course we did – Marianne
recognised you even though you were disguised - but by that time I felt
completely guilty at depriving you of your daughter."
"And I've always tried to give her the love and advice I knew you would have Francesca." Marianne Vosloo too tried a smile.
Charlotte looked at them, and then said “I may forgive you, and I may forgive Uncle Fergus, but we will talk more about this.”
“Just don’t be mad at your mother, Roo,” Marianne said kindly, “this was not her fault.”
“Thanks,” Charlotte said as she ended the call. Looking at Francesca, she said “before you ask, yes – they both know. When we were dealing with the problem in Mogola last year, Uncle John worked out what I was doing, and we now have a working agreement.”
“Well, she’s also just joined the Sisterhood – she’s helping to set up a mounted patrol stick.”
“Hah,” Francesca said as she burst out laughing, “I bet she tore a strip off John when she found out.”
“Him and me… I have news Mother that even you may not have
"That you are pregnant, and am
going to marry that huge rugby playing journalist of yours?"
Charlotte stared at her as she screamed
"HOW THE HELL?"
"I told you I am a top-class intelligent agent."
Shaking her head, Charlotte said “Uncle John…”
"He had caught me red-handed
Charlotte, what was he supposed to do?
Say forget this ever happened, wait till Carlotta is a few years older,
then we will meet back here and I'll arrest you then Francesca?"
"No, of course not – but why did
you take the risk?"
"Because my contact was getting unhappy, he hadn't got the money I had promised him and was threatening to stop passing me intelligence, so I thought well who is going to be watching a new mother? I slipped out of the house to go into downtown Pretoria and pay him...also collect what he had fresh on South African arms buys."
Francesca sniffed back tears. “John had always joked that in my job at the embassy he wouldn't be surprised I was a spy...I should have realised that the 'joke' was actually his way of saying that he knew I was, and that he was warning me off. I still remember the interrogation – I had to be honest with him, and he with me.”
“That’s Uncle John – I think I’ve only seen him surprised a handful of times, and they have all involved the Sisterhood.”
"Charlotte I have never stopped
loving you, nor did I ever stop loving your father." Francesca paused.
"He didn't know I was a spy when we married, in fact he never found out
till John told him after I had been caught."
"You should have told him
"Does Piet know of your activities
on behalf of the sisterhood?"
"Okay fair point taken, he
"Well I made the mistake of
falling in love with a man who was wed to his life, his continent, and his home
country," the Marchesa sniffed back tears.
"I got the most awful letter from him saying that he would never forgive
me for spying on South Africa, and deceiving him that I was just a clerical
officer in the embassy."
"Yes he threatened if I ever came
near you that somehow he would extract vengeance upon me..."
"But how did the two of you?"
"I genuinely did not know he had
photographs of me… I think now that
Fergus played both sides, getting me pictures of him, and news of you, and
doing the same about me for him." Francesca sniffed again, "that one
day at Bavaria Ranch he arranged for me was as I said the most special of my
"Why didn't you tell me then who
"As a three-year-old, do you think
your brain could have coped with some strange woman telling you that she was
"Probably not." Charlotte shook her head and looked at her watch. “I… I need to get back to Monaco, I still need to finish clearing Dad’s office.”
“May I… May I come and see you there? I do want to talk some more, when we’re both a bit more sober.” She looked at Charlotte as she nodded, and left the room, Francesca sitting in the chair and sobbing. After a few minutes, Eleanor came in and sat down.
The Italian looked at her old friend, and put her hand on hers.
“Oh lord Eleanor,” Francesca sobbed, “how can I make it up to her?”
“One step at a time, my friend, one step at a time. Trust me, I know what this is like…”
Friday 29th April
12.30 am CET
L’Hotel Metropole, Monaco
Bev suddenly sat up as she heard the soft tapping on the door of her suite. Walking slowly over, she looked through the spyhole, and then opened the door.
“Charlotte? Wha’ the hell happened to you girl?”
“Can I come in a minute Bev,” Charlotte said, the younger girl nodding as Charlotte came in, took off her jacket and slumped into a chair. She let her head fall back, and let out a deep, long sigh.
“Okay,” Bev said, “what happened in Marseilles?”
“Oh I did the business for Madame, talked to a couple of people, met my mother…”
“Whoa – you met your mother?”
Charlotte nodded as she looked at Bev. “Do you have that set of letters?” She waited as Bev took them forma drawer, and then held them in her hands, looking at the handwriting. “Dominique told me about the time she was handed a set of letters her mother had written to her as a girl,” Charlotte finally said, “all the things she had always wanted to hear from her, the advice a mother gives her daughter, things like that. Suddenly… Suddenly, I think I know how she must have felt.”
“I don’t understand – your mother was there?”
“Yeah – Dad must have intercepted all these, and yet he kept them… Hold on to these a while longer will you,” she said as she handed them back over. “I’m not ready to open them just yet.”
“Are you sure you’re all right?”
“I don’t know…” Standing up, Charlotte said “I’ll see you in the morning for breakfast Bev. Let’s finish clearing the office out tomorrow, and then we could both use the down time.”
“Sure – you get some sleep,” Bev said as she opened the door, watching as Charlotte walked to her room and let herself in. Closing her own door, she went back to her bed, wondering what had just happened…
9 am CET
Institut pour l'Etablissement des pratiques minières éthiques en Afrique
“Right,” Charlotte said, “to work.” Both women were wearing short sleeved tops and jeans with ankle boots, Bev kneeling on the floor and looking under the bed as Charlotte started to open a filing cabinet.
“I’m glad you’re feelin better,” Bev said, “even if you won’ tell me wha’ happened?”
“It’s a family metter Bev,” Charlotte said with a smile, “but thanks, just for being there.”
“No problem,” Bev said as she brought out an old case, and set it on the bed.
“How did you spend last night anyway?”
“Well, I ordered some food and a half bottle of wine, and then watched an old comedy film – reminded me a lot of Mister Bean?”
“That’s the guy,” Bev said as she opened the case, and then said “old clothes…”
“See if any can go to the charity shop, and throw the rest,” Charlotte said, “I need to sort through these papers.”
“Sure thing,” Bev said as she started to check the clothes, and then said “Charlotte?”
“There are some wrapped presents with your name on them.”
Charlotte turned and looked at one, before she said “put them in my personal box. I’ll deal with them later.”
9 am CET
Radisson Blu Hotel Marseille Vieux Port
“So, that’s the story,” Francesca said as she sipped her coffee, “I was caught, had to leave Charlotte and her father behind – and I have only seen her once to talk to between then and now.”
“And she was too young to know who you are?”
“And she was too young to know who I was,” she said as she looked at Veronica. “I just hope she finds it in her heart to forgive me – and them.”
“It’s like I said last night, Francesca – you have to give her time. Trust me, I’ve been through something similar recently with Adam.”
“That wasn’t the only shock yesterday though – I have heard of the Sisters of Maisha, and the work they are doing, but to know you are involved Eleanor…”
“I serve because it is the right thing to do – we all do,” Eleanor said, Jo and Veronica nodding as they glanced at the entrance to the lounge. “General – what news?”
“Good morning ladies,” Pierre said as he came in, “you may be interested to know that Alain Rey was found dead in his apartment this morning. Someone had searched his files, and also according to our medical examiner taken great pleasure in torturing him. Of course, none of you would know anything about that?”
“Who us? We’re just four ladies preparing to leave after a few days holiday,” Jo said, “on which note I need to leave for the airport.”
“Are you sure you cannot join us for the next few days Jo?”
“Sadly no, I need to get home – but it has been an honour ladies. I hope we meet again.”
As they stood up, she embraced each of them, and then walked off to retrieve her bag.
“So,” Eleanor said, “fancy a couple of days in Monaco before we head back, Veronica?”
“Oh why not – I always wanted to visit the casino anyway,” Veronica said with a smile.
3 pm CET
Institut pour l'Etablissement des pratiques minières éthiques en Afrique
“Right,” Charlotte said as she closed the last drawer, “That is everything. What do we have?”
“One large box for disposal,” Bev said as she wrote on the side with a marker pen. “Then this one for the Comte to organise as either donations or to the centre.”
“This box,” Charlotte said as Bev closed and sealed it, then wrote on it.
“Madame is sending a courier to collect this from the hotel at five tonight – and then there is your box. Are you sure this is all you want to take?”
“Yeah,” Charlotte said as she wiped another tear away, looking at the box of photos and other items. “Yeah that’s it…”
“Charlotte,” Andre, Comte d'Arno said as he appeared in the doorway, “how are things?”
“We are done Andre,” Charlotte said as she turned round. “We’ll take these two boxes in the car, that one is for disposal, and that leaves one for you to make a decision on.”
“Of course,” Andre said. “But I think you should take this.” He picked from the box an old leather hat and placed it on Charlotte’s head, smiling as he said “he’d have wanted you to take it.”
“You look like a proper outback girl,” Bev said with a smile as Charlotte shook her head. “All right, I’ll take this too – and thank you for letting us do this Andre.”
“Charlotte, it was my pleasure – I just regret you had to come to do it. Did you find anything interesting?”
Bev and Charlotte exchanged a glance, as she said “I’ll tell you some other time Andre. See you around.”
“I look forward to it,” the tall man said as two porters came in and picked up the boxes. “Your car is waiting.”
4 pm CET
“May we assist,” the doorman said as Charlotte and Bev got out of the car, and the driver opened the trunk.
“Please take this box to Miss Martello’s room, and this one to mine,” Charlotte said, “and thank you.”
“At once,” the doorman said, signalling as two porters came out and he instructed them where to take them. “Come on,” Charlotte said as she and Bev walked into the hotel, “I’ll buy you a…”
The two women looked to the café where a grey haired woman was waving to them. “On the other hand,” Charlotte said, “I’ll buy you that drink later. I need to go and talk to her.”
“Who is it,” Bev asked.
“My aunt – I’ll see you in the bar at six?”
“Right – I’ll get the box ready to be picked up,” Bev said as she headed to the lift, and Charlotte walked slowly to the woman. As she did so, she saw the man sitting next to her, both standing as she came off.
“Uncle John, Aunt Marianne,” she said as she hugged both of them, “what in the name of everything are you doing here?”
“Why do you think,” John Vosloo said, “we were worried about you after your call.”
“You weren’t the only one – I was worried about me,” Charlotte said as she sat down. “Coffee please – and a whisky on the side,” she said to the waiter, who bowed as he went off.
“Madame asked me to go and debrief on the Marseilles mission – which has come to a successful conclusion – but she was there in her role as an Italian Naval Intelligence officer, dealing with stopping a war between the Cosa Nostra and the Corsicans. She knows our Sisters, they invited her in to coordinate efforts – and when I arrived, she came out.
“Given I’d spent the day in Dad’s old office, and had discovered not just all the photos he had of her, but a bunch of letters in a ribbon which I think were from her… Let’s just say I let rip, before I called you. It just… Did you know she had visited me at Uncle Fergus’ ranch?”
“He told me – a few years later,” John said as the coffee and drink arrived. Charlotte signed the slip, and then took a drink. “She also said she had sent presents – what happened to them?”
“Your father sent them to us – I kept them in storage. They may be a little young for you now Charlotte…”
“Well, the Sisters may be able to find a use for them. Let me look next time I’m over,” Charlotte said quietly. “Listen – there is a very real chance she’s coming here for the weekend. How long are you staying for?”
“The weekend – don’t worry, we’ll meet as friends hopefully. As I said last night, however painful that was, we’re both professionals.”
“Good, good,” Charlotte said quietly. “One thing I still need to know – why did he keep them from me – the letters, the gifts?”
“He was hurt and angry still,” John said, “but he did not want you to see that, and know how upset he was. It was just his way of coping, Charlotte – like the hat you’re still wearing?”
Charlotte suddenly reached up took off the old leather hat. “I’d forgotten I had this on,” she said quietly, “Andre insisted I take it…”
“Hello – I hope I’m not interrupting?”
All three turned to see Francesca standing there, wearing a cream jacket over a white dress. At the desk, Charlotte could see Eleanor and Veronica checking in. John stood up, walked over and put his hands on her shoulders.
“Are you going to behave yourself for the next few days?”
“I promise, I am off the clock,” Francesca said with a smile. “How are you John?”
“We’re both good,” Marianne said as she stood up. “You?”
“I’m not sure I can say – it is Colonel Vosloo now, right?”
“It is, Admiral,” John said.
“So what happened after – after you left,” John said as they all sat down.
"Having been outed like that,”
Francesca said, “I was unable to continue in gathering intelligence, every
foreign intelligence service now knew who I was. When I got home my bosses gave
me an ultimatum - I must either quietly resign, or I could re-train to act in
counter-intelligence." Taking a long breath, she continued “at first I
still hoped your father would bring you and come to me in Italy."
"Which is what we told him to
do." Marianne broke in.
"But when I got the 'horrid'
letter, and it became painfully obvious that he was cutting you and he out of my life, then I took re-training as a 'dirty
operations' officer...John you know what that means?"
"I do," the colonel shook his
"Publicly Carlotta,” Francesca
said, “I was this gay socialite, privately I was an assassin and a
“Good God Francesca." Marianne
clasped her hand over her mouth.
"My 'expulsion' from South Africa had made me something of a celebrity, I played a role as this slightly dizzy, frivolous, naval officer who really didn't appear to do anything other then flit from party to party..."
"Something Dad told me about." Charlotte shook her head, "and it was just a cover?"
"It was Carlotta darling... All that time, I’ve been doing wetworks for my country. You should ask Captain Ball about it. She and I worked together when I was supposedly just the military social secretary at the Paris Embassy, and she was a military attache at the American Embassy."
"So that's how your paths crossed. But why do that?"
“I guess,” Francesca said, “I viewed it as my penance for what I had done. I had abandoned the man I loved, the child I loved, and there was no way back, so I volunteered to become what I am – and I am good at it. I buried myself in work, did my duty, and still that ache was still there…”
“So you know Captain Ball – and when you met in Marseilles, you agreed to cooperate?”
"Indeed,” Francesca said, “and it
was something that happened then that is causing a mess in New York, which I
should also be paying attention to."
"Mother you aren't deserting me again just like that."
“I do not intend to Carlotta, but we have the weekend to consider that. I have discovered you again after so long, and we have so much to talk about – both personally, and about the Sisterhood. Having been a killer for my country, perhaps that is the next stage of my penance.”
“Good,” Marianne said, “because I am not letting you go again either.”
"Marianne, I have so missed
you," Francesca sobbed as the two women hugged, "you know you were
the best friend I ever had."
"As you were mine," Marianne
"I just hope you never thought that I was close to you both just because John was an intelligence officer, because every bone in my body was screaming in panic, but sincerely I loved you both so dearly."
"It's why I was trying to warn you that I knew you were in intelligence Francesca." John spoke sadly, "but you had to keep active didn't you?"
"As you said yourself John, it was
my job." she paused, "in that down-under summer of 91-92 Nato was desperate to know what
could be found out about the new military situation, who would be training and
supporting the new military, post apartheid? Who you
were buying weapons from? What alliances the military might be making with
people NATO didn't like. You only caught poor Giancarlo, but I was actually
running a network of 6 agents inside your civil service, all people either
ethnic Italians, or with links back to my country."
"That I suspected, but the only proof I could ever definitively get was you paying off Pietri that day in Pretoria."
“That was then,” Charlotte said, “this is now. I still do not understand why he was so cold…”
"Your father was a patriot
Charlotte," John shook his head.
"But he abhorred both apartheid
and the corruption that the new government bought in."
"True, but for all that he was
proud to have been both a Scot, and a South African, and he had genuine hopes
back then that at last the country was on the right path."
"That is why he hated that I was
spying on 'his' country...I was an 'enemy' I suppose to his ideals for what the
new South Africa might be." Francesca sipped from her drink.
"You know he loved you with all
his heart Francesca," Marianne spoke softly, "but for all his love,
and all our urging, he could never see beyond what he saw as both your betrayal
of his country, but also personally of him."
"So he collected pictures of
"But never let you communicate
with me Mother." Charlotte looked sadly into her wine glass. "How
could you both have let things end so badly when you loved each other so
"For the very reason even the CIA would not try and get me to his funeral Carlotta, I was that enemy of all good people, the snake in the grass spy who the South Africans even now would love to get their hands back on...Right John? Especially since his spider senses are tingling that he now knows I had further contacts in SA and he's wondering if they are still alive...and still passing intelligence."
“Oh you really do know me too well – are you going to tell me?”
"John you are a spy-catcher, I'm a
spy...It's as simple as that." Francesca looked at him and smiled,
"but here we are on my turf, we aren't in South Africa where you can just
arrest and question me."
"Not that you answered back
then...you clammed up and claimed your diplomatic immunity, but at least I had
caught you paying him, and him passing you documents."
"I should have used a cold drop, but Giancarlo had been so on edge whist I was pregnant that I risked a face to face meeting...Silly really, I knew better."
“Okay – enough of the past,” Charlotte said quietly.
“Well,” Francesca said, “I need to go to my room and meet my friends – but I wanted you to know I’m here and ready to talk when you are.”
“Thank you,” Charlotte said, “I have dinner plans with my work colleague tonight, but breakfast tomorrow – and we can work from there?”
“I’d like that,” Francesca said, “and thank you. I’ll see you all later.”
“You and your friends should join Marianne and I for dinner tonight – if you want to.”
Francesca nodded as she said “Meet here at seven?”
“That sounds good,” John said, as Francesca went to join the other two women. Sitting down, Charlotte picked up her drink and drained it.
“Oh don’t remind me,” Charlotte said with a grin, “I go on the soft drinks after the weekend.”
“And?” Eleanor said as Francesca came back over.
“The rebuilding begins – you have met John and Marianne Vosloo I believe?”
“Oh yes – that’s why we did not want to interrupt,” Veronica said.
“Well, we have a dinner invite tonight,” Francesca said as the lift doors opened, and Bev came out with a young man.
“To be delivered personally,” she said, the man nodding as Eleanor saw her. “I’ll see you all later – I need to report in, but I have something to do first,” she said as the other two headed for the lifts. She smiled as Bev came back in and said “excuse me – are you Beverly?”
“Yeah – who’s askin?”
“My name’s Eleanor Ball – Katy Carter is sort of my granddaughter. I saw some pictures of you when you were helping Katy before – and I wanted to thank you for all you did.”
“Oh – right,” Bev said as she rubbed the back of her head. “Well, I was glad to ‘elp.”
“Are you here with Charlotte?”
“Yeah – I’m ‘elping ‘er wif clearing ‘er dad’s office out.”
“Well you must let me say thank you for all you did.”
“There is one way…”
4.30 pm BST
Xavier International, Aldwych
Shirley looked at the phone as it rang, and then pressed the speaker button. “Good evening Mermaid – how is Marseilles?”
“Actually Madame,” Eleanor said, “we have joined Charlotte in Monaco for the weekend. When she came to debrief last night, events took an – interesting turn.”
“Do tell,” Shirley said, “I have not spoken to Icicle yet, but Charlotte assured me when she called this morning all had gone well.”
“Did she mention the additional person we cooperated with?”
“Ah yes – your Italian friend. I have heard of her, but I did not know you knew her personally.”
“Well, I have made some interesting friends in my time, Madame – but last night she shocked even me.”
“Oh? I have seen the reports of the late unlamented Mister Rey, but how would that shock you.”
“No,” she heard Eleanor say, “what shocked me was the meeting between Admiral Marchesa Francesca di Cambrello, and Charlotte Gordon.”
“In what way?”
“They’re mother and daughter.”
For a moment, Madame stared at the
phone. "She is what Mermaid?"
Madame finally spoke as she shook her head, "you are telling me that not
only is Charlotte's mother alive, but she is your friend Francesca, aka, 'Il Pesce Diavolo'?"
“Yes, that's just what I'm telling you
"Oh dear Goddess!"
"You know Shirley,” she heard
Eleanor chuckle, “that's the first time I ever heard you completely
"Well...even I...” Shirley sat down and said “look are you
"Perfectly," Eleanor paused,
"look Shirley I don't know if you know about this mess going on in New
York with regard to CS magazine and my granddaughter among others?"
"I had heard rumours,"
Shirley tried regaining her composure.
"Well Francesca believe it or not
has a role in the root causes of that."
"Yes...look Shirley on Monday can I 'borrow' your jet and fly Francesca, Carlotta... Sorry Charlotte, Beverly, Vanessa and me to NYC?"
"I suppose so, but why wait?"
"I think mother and daughter need some down time...and besides I've promised Beverly I will take her to the casino."
“Oh dear – I should tell you Tracy informs me she is a mean poker player. But yes, I will inform the pilot. Enjoy your down time Eleanor – and my thanks again for what you did…”
“Thank you Madame – Mermaid out.”
As the call ended, Shirley shook her head. She had a lot to talk to Charlotte about. She then opened her laptop up and placed a call.
The Huntingdown Apartment
“I swear, after that… That questioning of Katy, I may add Perez to my list,” Jan said as she held the mug of coffee.
“I could always have a word,” Carina said as Judith played on the floor.
“No thank you,” Jan said as Juliette shook her head, and then looked at her screen. “Shirley,” she said with a smile, “how is London?”
“Warm – I wanted to let you know we have terminated production of the drug, and cut off the source – literally. The sisters we dispatched had help for an acquaintance – she is known as Il Pesce Diavolo.”
“The Devil Fish – who is she?”
“Black ops for the Italian services – you have seen her handiwork I understand recently.”
“Her handi… You mean SHE is the one responsible for Carlin Kardecki’s scar.”
“Indeed – and she is coming to New York on Monday when the sisters we despatched return.”
“You mean Eleanor and Veronica,” Jan said, “that explains their trip.”
“Indeed – they should be back early Monday afternoon.”
"This mark she carves into people
Shirley...what is it?" Carina asked.
"It's supposed to represent a
swimming fish, that's why it is sort of an S shape."
"You are the only person I know
who could call disfigurement cool," Shirley shook her head.
"And you say she's coming into
town Monday with Charlotte?" Jan asked.
"Yes,” Shirley said, “so Juliette
can you and all the others play for time?"
"I'm not sure if Paula can restrain herself that long Shirley." Ju shook her head, "especially with Eve and Aileen currently in the air as we speak."
“Ah – that could be a complication, unless you know a way to distract her.”
“I’ll put Diana and Abby on it,” Juliette said with a smile. “And as for our end of the problem.”
“I leave that in your capable hands, ladies – I will see you this time next week.”
5.30 pm CET
L’Hotel Metropole, Monaco
Charlotte closed the door to her room, holding the bundle of letters wrapped in a pink ribbon in her hand. For a few moments, she debated what to do with them – the shock of discovering not only her mother, but also the real reason why she had left her and her father was still sinking in. Not just that her mother was a spy, or that her role as a spy was interrogation, torture, wetworks – but that her father, the man she held above all others, has done this?
With a sudden impulse, she sat on the bed and untied the ribbon, flipping through the envelopes as the paper and ink faded. Putting the pile down, she picked up the oldest card, the postmark just legible as December 1992, and opened it as she read the message.
To my darling Carlotta, who I miss more every day. Happy Birthday. Mamma.
“Oh Goddess,” Charlotte said. A simple message, but somehow she knew it was from the heart. Trembling, she looked through the letters again, and picked one postmarked 1996. As she opened it, she laughed at the card, and then unfolded the sheet of paper inside.
I know you are still very young, and that you probably still do not understand why I had to go, but I want to say a very simple thing. Your papa is a good, and kind man who I am sure loves you very much, and I know he is making sure you grow up a good and wise girl.
But please, never forget me – I yearn for the day I can talk with you again, so if you do read this, ask your Uncle Fergus if he can help. There is so much I wish to tell you.
But you will soon be at school. Work hard, learn, make both your papa and me proud.
I love you Carlotta.
Charlotte could feel the tear again as she read the note. She remembered her first day at school, all the other boys and girls with their parents, and her with her nanny. She could still feel how lonely she felt.
Looking through some more letters, she found one dated just before she went to Roedean. Opening it, she read
Naples, September 2003
My darling Carlotta,
If I am right, soon you will be going to boarding school, there to start on a path I hope will bring you success and happiness. But I also know you do that without me – a pain I have to bear, and even though you have not replied to my other letters, I wanted to share a few things with you.
First, I remember when I went to my school in the Alps – I was far from home, alone, and scared, but I found in my bag when I unpacked a letter from my parents, telling me they loved me and would be there if I ever wanted to talk.
“Dad put the same letter in for me,” Charlotte whispered as she read on.
I know I and your father talked of where you would go to school, and if all has gone well you are going to Roedean. It is a wonderful school, Carlotta, and I am sure you will do well there, and go on to great things. I do hear from your Uncle Fergus from time to time, and he has told me of some of your adventures, how you were oh so brave with your father. You are a Gordon, a fighter, and that is part of your heritage – but my darling. Never forget you are also a di Cambrello – a noblewoman.
My dear, I want to say this – I wonder sometimes if you have never received my letters, if your father was so hurt, so upset still he wishes me to have no part of his life and yours. One day, I pray we will meet, and I can tell you why I did what I had to do. Do not hate your father if it is true he is not letting you see these – I broke his heart, and I still hope one day he will forgive me enough to allow us to meet.
What else should a mother tell her daughter at this time? Make friends, good friends, friends who will be there when you need them. It doesn’t matter if they are boys or girls – but remember, a friend is more than a lover - they will be someone you can rely on.
Your body will also be changing – when it happens, do not be afraid to ask a house mother or the nurse for help. While your father will understand, some things are best dealt with by someone who has a sympathetic ear, and a feminine approach.
“You got that right,” Charlotte said as she remembered that first period, and the night talking to the nurse…
Above all, always, always remember I have loved, and never will stop loving you, and I am watching you from afar. Think of me when you are sad or lonely, and I will be there.
Good luck, Carlotta, and take care.
Charlotte was crying softly now – that her father’s hurt had deprived her of so much. She understood why, she knew why, but still…
Her cell phone ringing distracted her for a moment, as he answered it and said “yes?”
She recognised the voice instantly, as
she stammered…“Dom...I mean Caroline, sorry I feel a bit shaky after clearing
out Dad's place."
"Don't fib Charlotte, Madame has
been told and we got the message," Caroline said before she paused for a
second, "Heather is with me, do you need us to talk on the private face to
"Or we can fly over."
Heather's voice came on.
"You know...” Charlotte wiped a tear away as she said “crap
- I wanted to keep this contained."
"We only got told because we are
your two best friends Charlotte,” Heather said, “and only a few other discreet
"I know, Madame would have assured
"So can we help Charlotte?"
"Not unless among your many
inventions you have a time machine Heather and we can go back and sort all this
"Sorry, that I don't yet have. But I do have a sympathetic ear."
“And I’ve been where you are now,” Caroline said.
“Well… I have Uncle John and Aunt Marianne here as well as Mother, as well as Eleanor Ball and Veronica Joyce.”
“And Bev – I take it she knows.”
“She does – I’m meeting her for dinner soon. Can I… Can I call you guys after dinner tonight? I think I can talk then.”
“We’ll be waiting,” Heather said as the line went dead, and Charlotte looked back at the letters.
6 pm CET
L’Hotel Metropole, Monaco
Charlotte was sitting on her bed, smiling as she looked at a birthday card addressed to her for her tenth birthday, when there was a knock on the door. Going over, she said “You ready Bev,” but then smiled as she saw Francesca standing there.
“I know you’re going out with your friend,” Francesca said, “but I hoped… I remember that card?”
“Come in,” Charlotte said as she opened the door, “I was going through the cards we found – doing a little catching up. What can I do for you?”
“There is something I probably need to
say darling...?” Francesca looked at the
letters, and said “you know I have done some horrible things in the years since
I left you?"
"I understand that Mother."
"What you probably don't
understand though, is that every time I've killed someone or scarred them, I've
actually in my own mind been trying to kill and disfigure myself as part of my punishment
for leaving you back then."
"Oh dear Goddess Mother...that is
horrible...” Charlotte sat down and said
“all everyone is telling me is that it wasn't your fault totally."
"But I do blame myself Carlotta,
and I always will."
"I guess I also should take part of some blame."
The two women turned to see Marianne Vosloo standing in the doorway. "John would never have
caught you if I hadn't rung him after you rang me to arrange to go shopping
after you did something down town...” Walking
in, she stopped and said “but at the time I was simply worrying that you were
getting up and trying to do things too early...I had no idea that he was
watching you, I was simply sharing my anxieties.”
"Ah,” Francesca said quietly,
“that answers a question I have long held, I wondered how John was alerted
because I knew I hadn't been carrying a tail, I have thought for years that he
had the house bugged."
"Can you ever forgive me? Either of you?" Marianna started to sob again
“Of course I can,” Charlotte said as they stood up, and hugged each other.
"Another thing Charlotte darling,” Francesca eventually said, “I have a well-earned reputation as a slut, for having slept with a lot of people. Please don't judge me for that?"
"I maybe should,” Charlotte said, “but I won't...I know the stories hurt Dad, you know he never even dated a single woman?"
"He buried his sorrow in
abstinence Charlotte," Marianne smiled slightly, “while..."
"I tried to fill that hole in my heart with any man who wanted me, but it was never right, and yes I pretended...to them...but inside I knew just what was wrong, and that was they weren't your father."
“While Dad went the other way,” Charlotte said quietly.
"And you know I was hoping your
father might hear that I was sleeping round. I guess I really wanted to hurt
him for not bringing you to me...and himself."
"It was why he never passed on
your letters or presents to Charlotte Francesca, depriving you of her was his
way of hurting you back." Marianne again gulped back tears.
"Oh dear lord, whoever said revenge was sweet?" Charlotte burst into more crying.
"My title tends to disarm people, and so do my looks Charlotte, I use both to my advantage.”
“I know something of that,” Charlotte said quietly.
“Yes, I can imagine you do, Little Mother… By the
way you know you will become the next Marchesa one
"I hadn't thought that out...You
have no male heirs?"
"No just you Carlotta
darling...it's why your father agreed to that being the name we registered at
"I've seen my birth certificate,”
Charlotte said, “but I guess to get back at you he had me christened Charlotte,
and as a Presbyterian."
"I know, not as a Roman Catholic
like he'd promised," Francesca shook her head. "Carlotta was your
"Now that I did not know."
“Err – want me to come back later Charlotte?”
All three women turned to see Bev standing in the doorway.
“No, we’re good,” Charlotte said as she wiped her eyes. “Mother, Aunt Marianne, this is Beverly Martello. Shirley asked her to accompany me for this trip, and we have a dinner to go to.”
“As do we,” Francesca said with a smile, “I’ll see you tomorrow Carlotta.”
“Sure,” Charlotte said as Bev moved to let them pass.
“Are you good now?”
“I’m getting there…”
"What I wanna
know?" Bev asked, "is 'ow did a great tall
woman like 'er, and a big man like yer dad, produce a runt of a red'ead
"What do you mean runt?"
we all know one good wind blow and you'd fall over." Bev giggled, "by
the way of you fought what you are goina tell
"Oh Christ I'd forgotten all about him. Come on – let’s plot together."