It started With a Big Bang – part 1
Sunday 27th September
10 am local time
Baromba International Airport, Mogola
The name had been devised in the colonial days to welcome visitors, but the airport three miles outside the city limits of the Mogolan capital was more like a small city airport in the US. There was a terminal building, and a runway, but much of the air traffic that went through the area was freight rather than commercial.
Even with that, however, the airport was busy – just not with commercial flights. One or two people were flying to neighboring states and countries, but the security staff outnumbered them, so that the terminal looked more like a paramilitary staging area.
What scared most of the residents of Baromba away, however, was the presence of so many Orientals. They seemed to be everywhere – walking through the terminal, checking flights, and standing guard alongside their African colleagues.
The airfield itself was large – it had been designed with heavy military aircraft in mind, and there were two blocks of buildings. On one side was the main terminal, with one or two gates and a few planes coming in and out. On the other side of the field were several aircraft hangers – and at this point in time, six large aircraft with red stars painted on the tail.
This section of the airfield was fenced off, and if anything even more strongly guarded with armed Chinese army personnel. There was a large chain mail fence running around the edge of the airport, and gates from the public area to the secure section.
“Nice,” Charlotte said as she looked through the field binoculars from a hill overlooking the airport, “I can see why they did not want anyone round here?”
“Indeed,” Margaretha said as she lay next to her, “which is what makes your friend’s plan the most feasible way forward. But how did they manage to get a team here so quickly?”
“Where the need is, we will meet it,” Charlotte said quietly as she took out a radio. “Silent Death, this is Little Mother. Are we ready to move?”
A mile from the main compound was situated a set of Nissan huts, with three lorries parked outside. The brown haired white skinned woman looked out from the drivers’ seat of one of them as two men climbed in the back.
“Little Mother, we are ready to move out on the mark. The usual workers have been – replaced.”
“Excellent – mark.”
“Hǎo ba - ràng wǒmen bānchū,” she said over her shoulder as the first truck moved off, and she fastened the black scarf over her face. As they drove off, she thought about a meeting in the early hours of the morning…
Helen watched carefully as the car came to a halt, and then gave the signal that had been pre-determined. She moved slowly out, as the blonde photographer got out of the car.
“You are Blondie?”
“I am – it is an honour to meet you,” she said with a low bow. “I have the supplies you require.”
Helen nodded, signaling as two men came out and began to unload the boxes.
“There was no problem in retrieving them?”
“None - the explosives came in via the South African diplomatic pouch.” Margaretha explained, “I picked them up from a dead drop.”
“So no one knows you work for the Sisters still?”
“No they don’t.” the tall Swedish photographer smiled.
“Well I’m sure that’s the way you prefer it.” Helen started glancing round. “You probably ought to head back to your hotel you know?”
“And miss the fun?”
“It might be better.” Helen looked serious, “if things go wrong this could get very messy.”
“Okay maybe on reflection I might be better off watching the fireworks from a distance then.”
“It would be best,” Helen said as she bowed. “For the Heart and the Strength.”
“For the Heart and the Strength,” Margaretha said as she bowed and returned to the car, heading off as Helen turned and walked in.
“We have all we need?”
“We do,” the older Chinese man, said, “we are preparing the packages as we speak. What of our mode of entry?”
“We move out at 0700,” Helen said as she consulted her watch, “be prepared.”
The compound guard had seen the trucks approaching, on time as always, and raised the gate that guarded the road into the small group of huts. To him, everything looked normal – he had no idea the drivers had been ambushed on their way, the dead bodies hidden in the dense grass on the side of the road.
As the first truck approached, he waved it and the other two through, watching, not feeling the blade that ended his life as Helen let him drop to the floor. The Intel on the compound had been accurate – minimum security, certainly not enough to match the skilled crew she had brought.
And now they were on their way to the airport, only one objective on their minds…
“You see what I see,” Blondie said as she passed the glasses to Charlotte.
“Sure looks like it,” she said as she saw the three trucks approach along the road to the airstrip. Taking her cell phone, she dialed a special number.
“Marina, it’s Charlotte – put me through please.”
A few moments later, she heard Catherine Lu saying “Charlotte – you have news for me?”
“Helen’s team is going in Catherine.” Charlotte said over the secure link. “Are you ready to feed what we are doing to the prosecutor and police in Beijing?”
“I am Charlotte. I’m hoping this will speed things up in the investigation.”
“We are dealing though with powerful people so the evidence will need to be overwhelming.”
“I know, but I am hoping they move soon, we lost another girl in a skirmish today near the mine.” Charlotte swallowed, “I take each death very personally, and so do their sisters.”
“I know, well as you said fingers crossed this is a tipping point.”
“We can but hope so Catherine.”
“Here we go,” Margaretha said as she watched the trucks stop at the entrance gate.
“Where’s the usual driver,” the armed soldier said to the first driver.
“Stomach bug – this damned foreign food,” the driver replied in Cantonese.
The guard laughed and waved them through, the trucks approaching the planes as he went back to his hut. With his back turned, he didn’t notice the black clad figure slip from the last truck and approach the first plane.
The guard was having a cigarette – strictly against the rules, but he didn’t care. So when the hand went over his mouth, it was already too late.
The man’s body went limp as Helen drew her knife from left to right across his throat.
Gently, silently, she eased it to the ground. For a minute she stood watching and listening in case she had been overheard.
Stealthily she moved closer to her target, her footfalls as light as a feather.
Quickly she ducked into the shadows as she heard an airport vehicle moving. From her hiding place, she watched as the workers came out of the back of the trucks, carrying their bags as they made their way towards the six planes under armed guard.
“Move it,” the armed guards shouted as they approached the stacks of supplies and equipment, “these have to be loaded in the next two hours.”
Helen kept her own counsel as she slowly eased her way around and towards a small building behind the hangers. Two armed soldiers were standing guard outside, their eyes fixed straight ahead as they guarded the door. The first one of them knew of her presence was when the thin wire was wrapped around his throat, his eyes bulging as the other guard slowly sank to his knees, the small knife protruding from the throat.
Moving the two bodies out of the way, Helen removed her bow from her back and drew an arrow from the quiver at her side, smiling grimly as she moved swiftly round and entered the small building.
“Move it, move it!”
The guards were encouraging the work gangs to load the six planes as quickly as possible, focusing purely on the securing and loading of the supplies, not noticing inside the planes as several small packages were left in situ.
On the far side of the compound, several tankers of fuel were standing, waiting to fill the planes. These too were under guard – although one by one the armed guards were seen to be walking to a small shelter to the side of the field, returning a few minutes later. All seemed calm, all seemed right – and as other guards walked past, the men waved and smiled at them.
“Big Brain, this is Little Mother. Come in please?”
“I am going to kill you for that,” Heather said as she sat with Shirley in the New York offices of Xavier International, watching the satellite feed on her laptop. “We have visual – all looks normal.”
“As it should be – fifteen minutes to launch party.”
Shirley sipped her coffee before she said “Goddess grant you all victory.”
“… And I am telling you, the strip is ready. We need those planes in the air today!”
The two officers were talking as they moved towards the hut, their conversation in muted tones.
“I understand, sir,” the younger officer said, “and I accept what we are doing is as per our orders. What I question is the reason for those orders.”
“We do not question orders from the Supreme Council, lieutenant – we obey. And where the hell have those guards got to?”
“No time – we need to check in with the colonel,” the older officer said as he and his companion walked into the building. As the lieutenant closed the door, he suddenly stiffened, his body taut as he tried to process what had just happened.
The other officer turned to see him fall to the floor, his lifeless eyes staring out as the black clad woman aimed a second arrow at him.
“Silent Death – then the rumours are true? Your master has turned his eye on us?”
“He – and others. On whose orders have you established this stronghold?”
“Why should I answer you?”
“Because if you do, I will allow you to live long enough to see what is about to happen. If not, you will not. On whose orders have you established this stronghold?”
“On… On the orders of Colonel Dong Yun, Supreme Commander, Southern Autonomous Military District.”
“This is very south, even for him. What is his interest here?”
“I do not know – I merely follow orders.”
“And the planes? When they are loaded and fuelled, where are they to go?”
“To… To a military camp the Mogolan government has allowed us to set up.”
“It is not a good idea to lie – where are they going,” Helen said as she pulled the bowstring further back.
“A mining complex under Colonel Dong – I swear, that is all I know.”
“Did you receive that information Mistress?”
“I did indeed,” a female voice said from nowhere, “and the honorable magistrate has heard it as well. The other evidence?”
“Forgive me for one moment Mistress,” Helen said as she released the arrow, the tip travelling through the officer’s heart and killing him instantly. “I have the information from their computers, and it has already been sent to our secure store. You will have it within the hour.”
“You have done well – complete your mission.”
Helen nodded as she looked out of the window, watching as the Chinese crews retreated with the guards from the planes.
“And in five… four… three… two… one.”
Charlotte and Margaretha watched as the first of the planes exploded into a fireball, the guards turning and staring as the other planes followed suit. At the same time, half of the support crews ran for the fence around the outer perimeter of the airstrip, while the other half turned on the guards, attacking them with knifes and machetes before they grabbed their weapons and opened fire on any who came to try and stop them.
In a watch tower, three soldiers realized what was happening, but before they could open fire their throats were cut, and they fell from the tower, the men using their guns to strafe the approach road from the other side of the airfield as vehicles tried to approach.
Helen ran out, firing arrows at other soldiers as one by one the other planes exploded, screams now coming from inside the huts around the area as the armed invaders opened fire inside them. The other members had now started to cut an exit in the high fence, as Helen shouted “NOW!”
“Goddess, this is truly magnificent,” Margaretha said as the fuel tankers exploded, the fire spreading around the compound now as armed men stopped rescue and other vehicles from approaching, while Helen led the rest of her team to the fence, making sure they all escaped while signaling to the others to retreat and escape.
One or two fell to the gunfire from Chinese and Mogolan forces, Helen noting them as the last of her team escaped into the nearby brush.
“Well, that is one way to start a Sunday morning,” Shirley said as she and Heather watched the satellite pictures of the fireball. “The files?”
“Safely transferred and encrypted copies stored safely. It’s over to Catherine and her contacts for the next stage. The word on Helen?”
“We’ll know in a few minutes.”
“Fancy some lunch,” Charlotte said as she and Margaretha walked to their jeep, “I know a great place a few miles outside the city.”
“Perhaps the hotel would be better – I’ve got a reservation for one thirty. Give us both a chance to shower and freshen up?”
“Sounds good to me,” Charlotte said as they climbed in and set off across country.
11 am Local Time
SAIS Headquarters, Pretoria
John Vosloo looked up as his assistant came in.
“Sir, General Botha is on his way – we’re getting reports of a massive explosion at the airport in Baromba.”
“What sort of explosion?”
“I’ll get a briefing together, but from what I heard in the room, half the airport is up in flames – the half apparently under extra security control. The satellite pictures show people running from the security fence into the bush, but whatever was there has been destroyed.”
“Sir,” John said as he stood to attention, “I take it you have heard the news.”
“Indeed,” Hendrik Botha said as he looked at the lieutenant. “Go and collect the briefing materials.”
“Sir,” Abel said as he saluted and left the room.
“Yes,” John said with a grin, “the endgame is coming, Hennie – would it be wrong of me to admit I wish I was there?”
“Not at all – I just hope the news of what has happened does not make those at the mine panic before Liz and the others have moved into position. Any word on that?”
“I understand they’re getting into position over the next few days – right now, we need to ensure the appropriate diplomatic messages are sent.”
“Quite – leave that with me,” Hendrik said as he turned. “If you speak to them, pass on my congratulations.”
“Sir,” John said as General Botha closed the door, before he sat down. “Thank them? I’m going to buy them dinner after this…”
2.30 pm local time
“Nice little place, I must visit more often,” Charlotte said as she sat at the table with Margaretha, sipping on a beer. She noticed something on the television, and beckoning a waiter over she asked, “Where is the fire?”
“An airport some miles away – apparently terrorists have blown up a number of buildings and other facilities.”
“How awful – thank you,” Charlotte said as Margaretha sipped her drink.
“I think I will be heading down to Pretoria tomorrow,” she said with a smile, “will you join me?”
“Sadly, I have to be elsewhere.”
“I understand - can I take a message to anyone?”
“Yes – tell Teacher I’ll see her in a few days, and tell them all good luck.”
7 pm local time
“Any word yet,” Kylie said as she returned from the Royal Yacht Club with Marina.
“I am expecting a call…” Catherine stood up and raised a hand for silence as she picked up her cell phone.
“Helen – it is good to hear your voice. I am informed you were most successful?”
“Indeed – at a cost. Six of the Honoured Father’s servants did not make it out alive, but they gave their lives ensuring our safe departure. We will be flying back in an hour, and arrive at the agreed time.”
“I am unharmed. I trust the information arrived safely?”
“As always, you have performed your duties admirably. Return now – you have earned your rest. The Honoured Father and I thank you.”
“Thank you, Mistress. May I request that you pass a message to my students?”
“Of course,” Catherine said as she looked at Marina and Kylie.
“Please, inform them I will be looking forward to our training session tomorrow evening.”
“With pleasure,” Catherine said as she ended the call. “Helen is fine and on her way back – she looks forward to seeing your progress tomorrow.”
“Good,” Kylie said with a grin. “Now, I must finish the assignment for tomorrow and print it off.” She headed to her room as Marina and Catherine sat down.
“She is excelling so far in all areas,” Catherine said, “Susan will be very pleased. With both of you.”
Hirshon Hall, Hobart William Smith
“Hey,” Hope Jackson said as Jo came into their dorm room, “Good run?”
“It’s getting better,” Jo said as she opened their icebox and took out a bottle of water, “what are you working on?”
“I’ve got a paper on survey theory to finish up. I think your sister rang while you were out – your phone went off and her name came up.”
“Probably wanting to check the arrangements for next Saturday,” Jo said as she looked at her cell phone and pressed on the screen. “Hey Sis – sorry, I was out for a run.”
“Nothing changes that much does it,” Heather said as she sat in the kitchen in New York. “Listen – we’re still all coming next Saturday, so I hope you have something lined up for the kids.”
“Don’t worry – some of the departments here are setting up junior events. What have you been up to today?”
“Watching an amazing early morning fireworks display – you may see something about it on the news if you put CNN on.”
“Well, let me hit the shower and then I’ll have a look,” Jo said as she looked out of the window. “I’ll call you back later to sort the details out, all right? Give me love to Sandy and everyone.”
Ending the call, she grabbed a towel before saying “Hey – I’ve got nothing else on until tonight. Fancy going and grabbing something to eat once I’ve changed?”
“Sounds good to me,” Hope said, “we haven’t really spent that much time as roomies, have we?”
“Blame our schedules – give me half an hour, and I’ll be ready.”
7 pm Local Time
“Welcome back Little Mother,” Liz said as Charlotte got out of the jeep. “We hear it was a complete success.”
“It would appear to be. Okay - we need an intelligence assessment asap Liz.” Charlotte ordered. “Liaise with Catherine please, Uncle John, and with our electronics brains The Hidden Hand. I want to know the reactions to what happened today from literally everywhere.”
“I’m on it Little Mother, and I was never so glad to have Petra here as now. We’re monitoring the airwaves and military bands, and Uncle is looking forward to speaking with you. The Hidden Hand is also assisting.”
”Have Little Teacher tell you what she can regarding morale among the workers, and the ordinary soldiers at the camp.”
“She’s already on her way with the others.”
“Any more casualties?”
“Three dead, ten wounded I’m afraid to say, Doctor Lucia and her team are still working on them.”
“Damn!” Charlotte thought, “We can’t afford though to pull back our patrols.”
“That was what Leader says.”
“Good. Where is she?”
“In conference with Razzie. She has thoughts on the final push and wished to check on whether we could mount guns on the helicopters.”
“What? We’d need to knock out their anti-aircraft guns first.”
“Shelby has an idea on that – but let’s get you something to eat first.”
Hirshon Hall, Hobart William Smith
“That’s better,” Hope said as she and Jo entered their room again. “I didn’t realize quite how hungry I was. I need to head to the library anyway – see you later?”
“Sure,” Jo said as Hope grabbed her bag and headed out, waiting until the door closed before she opened her own laptop and went online.
“Well, well – what does Yale want with me today,” Jo said as she answered the video call – only to see Judith on the screen.
“Ant Jo,” she said with a big grin as she waved at the screen.
“Hey there little one,” Jo said with a smile, “is mommy there?”
“Momma,” Judith said as Carina appeared on the screen. “Hey Jo – sorry, I needed to get something. Do you want you go and play with Poopie Judith?”
“Please,” Judith said as Jo watched her disappear from the screen.
“That’s what she calls her bunny rabbit. So recovered from Friday?”
“Just about – I had an early night last night.”
“Oh yes – with Curt?”
“A lady does not tell,” Jo said with a smile. “So what are you up to?”
“Finished my paper for German Studies, so chilling for a while in the peace and quiet.”
“No Jude then?”
“For some strange reason, she’s spending all her spare time with a neglected boyfriend,” Cari said with a smile.
“Aw – so you and Judith are all alone?”
“Didn’t say that,” Carina grinned as Annie appeared in the background and waved.
“Should have guessed – so having fun?”
“What do you think? Listen, before I forget – invites are coming out for the Halloween party at Jeannie’s place. You’ve heard the theme?”
“National dress – Big sis and I are going to discuss our approach next week.”
“And you’ve seen the reports from Mogola?”
“In passing – was a certain acquaintance of ours in action?”
“Well – six planes and a fuel dump destroyed. I think it’s fairly certain she’s in there somewhere.”
“Hey Jo,” Annie said as she sat down and handed Carina a coffee. “Having a good day so far?”
“Can’t complain – although I won’t see Curt until later. After that…”
10 pm local time
“I’ll let you know Uncle – sleep well, and thank you for the gifts.”
As she sat back, Charlotte grinned and said “We do appear to have…”
“Little Mother, this is Blondie. Do you hear me?”
“Go ahead Blondie,” Charlotte said as she sat by the set.
“National Radio is reporting that the President has ordered the army to move against what he is describing as terrorists and mercenaries Charlotte.”
“He is?” Charlotte turned her radio on and listened to the announcement.
“Looks like the trouble at the airport finally prodded him into action.’
“It was about bloody time Margaretha!”
“Well I think he was clean personally, but a lot of people were getting kickbacks from the Chinese.”
“Well, if K’Gala could manage it when the opportunity arose – hang on.”
Charlotte looked at her phone and said “Now how the hell?”
“How the hell what?”
“I just got a text from Piet, somehow he got himself invited along with the Mogolan troops…I wasn’t even aware he was in the country!”
“Well, that explains why you couldn’t find him to take back to the mine – is he going to be safe?”
“As safe as he would be with us,” Charlotte said as the Leader came in.
“The Mogolan army has been mobilized – let the stick leaders know to be on the lookout for them, provide support if required, avoid otherwise.”
“Understood – we need a meeting at first light. Shelby and I have some ideas to run past you…”
Monday 28th September
“Monday morning, bright and clear,
Lovely flowers decorate the market square…”
“That sounds like an old song, Mom,” Ama said as Catherine pulled up outside the school gates.
“Ah yes – a blast from my past,” Catherine said as Erica got out with Pepsi and Ama. “See you all later.”
“Thanks Miss Jameson,” Erica said as she heard Poppy say “Hi.”
“Hey,” Pepsi said as she saw the young freshman, wearing her large framed glasses. “Ready for another week?”
“I think so – especially if it means I hang out with you guys instead.”
“What are your other friends going to say?”
“Their problem – not mine,” Poppy said as they headed through the gates, and into the assembly room.
“Hey, it’s the oldster,” Doc said as she high fived Pepsi, “hell of a party girl.”
“Oh yeah – and what do we come back to? Chaucer!”
“Don’t remind me,” Jeannie groaned as Miss Tennant came in.
“Good morning ladies – I start with good news. The Evening with Eve Stone has sold out, but we need volunteers for the night itself. If you are able to help, please see the Head Girls and let them have your names…”
“Miss Tennant? Juliette Huntingdown to see you?”
“Show her in,” Wilhelmina said as she stood up, welcoming Juliette with a kiss on both cheeks.
“I see we have made a very nice sum from hosting Eve Wilhelmina?” Juliette said as she sat down.
“Yes a nice healthy boost to the fund.” Wilhelmina offered her guest a glass of sherry. “But it wasn’t the Kirkham Fund that was the reason I invited you to come see me today Juliette.”
“Oh?” Juliette sounded quizzical.
“Well not directly anyway…the class of 1990, in honor of all you have done for the school, wish to make you an honorary alumna. I’ve been asked to sound you out if you’d be willing to accept?”
“Oh dear Goddess…” for a moment Juliette stared into space. “I’d be delighted, but I’m not sure I deserve…”
“Nonsense,” Wilhelmina interrupted, “and as many of your friends were in that class, I think it’s just perfect.”
“Well, tell them I’d be more than happy to accept.”
“Good…now when can we set up a ceremony?”
“We need a ceremony?”
“Of course, and at least according to Tonia, a graduation party to beat all graduation parties…ever.”
“You did a magnificent job, Helen. My congratulations to you and your team.”
“This one thanks you for the compliment,” Helen said quietly, “but we mourn those who gave so we escaped.”
“Indeed – Catherine will explain how we will honour them. For now, rest.”
Helen bowed as Shirley ended the call, and then looked up as the door opened suddenly.
“Madame we have heard from some friends in the Czech Republic that some mysterious businessmen are trying to lease 6 STOL planes and have them delivered to Southern Africa…like yesterday.” Susan rushed in glancing down at a printout.
“And have they?” Shirley looked over the top of her glasses.
“Not yet,” Susan said, “but these people are businessmen, if we want them not to lease these planes we need to come up with a better offer.”
“Alright,” Shirley took her glasses off and cleaned them, ‘we are going to need planes to take in relief supplies, and extra people once the mine and the area are liberated…Make them a better offer please Susan.”
“And tell our people to stay on the alert for more attempts to acquire aircraft.”
As Susan left, Shirley looked at her watch, and then opened a Skype window.
“Good morning Madame,” Penny said as she appeared at the other end.
“At home Penny?”
“Having the drains cleaned – not a pleasant task, but a necessary one.”
“I understand – Penny, we need to put the word out. Any information on groups looking for short term lease on aircraft capable of use in Mogola to be passed on, and contingency for stopping them.”
“Oh and Penny – I wish to have some information conveyed to Catherine in Hong Kong.
Penny grinned as she said “I understand Madame – I will make the arrangements.”
“Have you seen the dirty looks we’re getting from your posse, Poppy,” Erica said as she looked over at the other table, where her former friends were talking quietly,
“Look, I may have realized I was an idiot,” Poppy said with a smile, “but all I can do is hope they realize it’s their problem, not mine.”
“I like this new Poppy,” Jess said, “anyway, have you lot volunteered to help with this Eve Stone event?”
“I have – mom’s coming to cover it anyway, but I want to help out,” Poppy said as she stood up. “Back in a minute.”
She walked across the refectory to the washroom, taking care of business before she went to the washbasin.
“How’s Poppy fitting in,” Doc said as she came over to join the Freshmen.
“Like a glove – although her old friends don’t seem too happy,” Dawn said as she looked across at the other table. “Huh – wonder where they went?”
Looking round, Doc frowned and said “where did Poppy go?”
“Little girls room, why?”
“Nothing,” Doc said as she stopped Letty.
“Could be – can you find Mrs. Brand?”
“Well, well – if it isn’t our friend Poppy Ashley.”
Poppy groaned as she saw her three former friends standing behind her at the sinks.
“Yeah – figured this might happen,” she said quietly as she turned round.
“Ye gods – she’s a glasses wearing geek now.”
“I’ve had bad eyes for years, Alesha – and to be honest, contact lenses were never me. It’s one of the things I’ve woken up to over the last week or so.”
“So what’s this, Poppy – planning to befriend them and then show them up at the Freshmen prom.”
“Nope – planning to be myself, as they are. If you don’t like that idea, then nothing I can say will change your mind.”
“That’s not on the table,” Alesha said as Poppy tried to leave, only to find herself pinned to the wall by the other two girls.
“You don’t understand,” Alesha said, “we are going to be in charge, and we thought you wanted to be in charge as well.”
“Maybe once – but I realized what we heard on the first day was right. We’re all Angels – and we need to look after each other.”
“And we thought you were special…You’re just another geek like them.” One of the girls holding Poppy against the wall in the ladies room spat in her face.
“Well,” Poppy said quietly, “it didn’t take me long to realize that I’d rather be a geek then a stuck up little bitch like you.”
“You moaned about them ruining the school for people like us.”
“Oh wake up Ashley - I realized that all we were doing was moaning and complaining while they enjoyed themselves…and I can tell you that geeks or not I have far more fun with them then I ever did with you.”
“How dare you,” Ashley whispered as she drew her hand back…
“And what is happening here?”
The girls bullying Poppy turned round and saw Grace Brand standing behind them.
“Mrs. Brand – how did you…”
“All three of you – my office, now,” Grace said quietly, watching as they let Poppy go and moved quietly out of the washroom. “Are you all right,” she said as she looked at Poppy.
“Yeah – I should have expected that,” she said as she wiped her glasses. “But how did you…”
“We look out for each other,” Doc said as she and Letty came in.
“Letty, come to my office in fifteen minutes. I wish to talk to all three of them before I decide punishment.”
“Yes, Mrs. Brand,” Letty said as the Dean left. “Doc, you all right to stay with Poppy?”
“No problem,” Doc said, “Come on – you still have your lunch to finish.”
The de Ros mansion
“Well then,” Diana said as she sat at the head of the table, looking at the small group of men and women, “I believe we have everything in place for the luncheon. An announcement will appear in the relevant papers tomorrow, and with luck and your help, we shall make this a success.
“Edith, will you make sure these ladies and gentlemen have some refreshment before they leave?”
“Of course – when you are free, Madame, I have a message for you.”
“Of course,” Diana said as she stood up, Natasha joining her as the others moved to the front room.
“Thank you for helping to organize this committee to help those poor bastards in Mogola.” Natasha smiled at her sister-in-law.
“Well,” Diana said, “with what has been in the papers and on CNN how can one not feel for them?”
“It’s just good of you to have persuaded the Under-Secretary from the UN to be one of our featured speakers at our little charity luncheon along with Tom Morse.”
“Little!” Tasha laughed, “at five thousand dollars a table?”
“Well we both know plenty of people who can afford that, and it is for a very important cause.”
“Why do I think you get pleasure from taking from the rich dear sister?” Willy said as she came in and kissed his sister on both cheeks.
“Who me?” Diana replied with a twinkle in her eye. “Edith, how are our guests?”
“Miss Abigail is keeping them entertained, Madame – I have that message I mentioned to you.”
She handed a piece of paper to Diana, who raised an eyebrow as she read it. “Thank you Edith,” she eventually said, “I will reply personally.”
“That sounded mysterious,” Natasha said as Edith left the room.
“Not really – an old friend from Paris is visiting New York with his family, and wishes for me to meet them.”
“Oh,” Willy said, “anyone I know?”
“An art dealer called Antoine…”
Tuesday 29th September
APCO, 5th Avenue
The assistants turned to the door as the group of St Angela’s students came into the store, looking round.
“Betsey,” one of them called out, “someone to see you.”
“Who is it – ah, hello Anna. How may we serve you today?”
“Hi Betsey - we were told to drop in and pick up the blouses and skirts we are to wear at the Eve Stone thing.” Doc said as she led the girls further into the store.
“Of course,” the manageress said as she signaled to two assistants, “I hear you are working the front of house girls?”
“That’s the idea…” Doc paused as she looked round. “Oh, by the way, this is Poppy our latest recruit.”
“Poppy Ashley - I know your mother of course.” Betsey smiled.
“So what is Alice donating?” Pepsi asked.
“I think you will like these,” Betsey said as the assistants returned with several clear clothes bags.
“Ooh these are NICE!” Nikki cooed as the assistants brought the garments through.
“The boss was VERY specific in what to give you,” Betsey said as Erica opened a bag.
“Oh this blouse is silk,” Erica caressed the article.
“As I said, the boss was quite insistent.”
“Well I think we’ll all look brilliant.” Poppy smiled at her friends.
“Yep, as uniforms go these are pretty great.” Pepsi held a skirt and top up against herself.
“Well, we’ll hold them until the night before,” Betsey said.
“Great,” Doc said with a smile. “Right – onwards and upwards.”
“Are you sure you’re all right to come back to my place with me,” Erica said to Poppy.
“Yeah – call it part of my making up for being a bitch. We taking the subway?”
“Only way to get to the heights,” Erica said as the girls headed out of the door.
The Richmond Mansion
“Hey Ju – fresh coffee in the pot,” Heather said as Juliette came into the kitchen.
“Thanks – all sorted for the weekend?”
“Just about – we’ll head up Friday with the kids and stay locally. So what brings you here?”
“Heather,” Juliette said as he took the mug, “what do you know about Toronto?”
“It’s in Canada, it’s where my grandparents were from, it’s a huge metro area…Why Ju?”
“Because I’m thinking of taking the Pussycats international.”
“Oh?” Heather’s eyebrows shot up.
“It was something I was reading, and I am so tempted.”
“The Toronto International Fur Festival.”
“By a lot of animal skins?”
“No, by over 250 million dollars worth of animal skins, and that is US dollars…NOT Canadian.”
“Ouch,” Heather said, “that’s a lot of mink…”
“Not to mention sable, artic fox, ermine…”
“Okay I get the picture.” Heather giggled.
“Our target wouldn’t be the convention itself, but the cold storage facility in which every exhibitor’s furs are being stored.”
“Do you have a name and location?”
“I do…” Juliette laughed as Heather reached for her laptop.
“So this is the Heights,” Poppy said as she walked down the stairs from the subway station. “It doesn’t look so bad.”
“Says the girl who’s lived near the park all her life,” Erica said as they walked along the street. “Actually, it’s not that bad, honestly.”
Poppy looked round as they walked down the streets, before she said “so why are those two girls following us?”
“Oy,” Erica said in an exasperated tone, “don’t tell me…”
“Rochelle,” Erica said quietly as the black girl stood in front of her and Poppy, “for the love of everything, can’t you let bygones be bygones?”
“No way, homegirl – you need to remember where you came from,” Rochelle said as she looked at Poppy. "So who is the four-eyed whitey?"
"Sorry Poppy,” Erica said with a sigh, “meet the other side of my
fitting in problem."
a problem Bones."
this bitch carry a gun like your other whitey friends when she cums down ta ghetto?"
talking about me perchance?" Poppy grinned at Erica.
good, just let me inform you, as I'm required to by law, I have a martial arts
black belt." Poppy smiled at the black teens and tweens.
and ahm the Queen of New York."
One of the girls pulled a knife and looked at her.
"Oh and I thought visiting your place would be dull Bones."
“Well, what do you say Whitey?”
Rochelle’s answer to Poppy was lost as she threw her over her shoulder, and then hit the girl with the knife in the chest with her foot, making her throw the knife across the street.
“Well,” she said as she took a fighting stance as the other girls helped Rochelle up, “anyone else feel like dancing?”
The girls shook their heads as they melted away, Erica looking at Poppy as she said “damn, what is it with you girls?”
“We have to protect ourselves – now, shall we go to your place?”
“Hey – how’s life in the higher leagues?”
“That’s enough Jo,” Ingrid said with a smile as she sat in her dorm room, “I’m working just as hard as the rest of you.”
“Never said you weren’t – but I prefer where I am, thank you very much.”
“So what are you and Heather wearing for Halloween?” asked Ingrid.
“Sexy Mountie uniforms, I know it’s corny and clichéd but how else do you represent Canada in national costume?”
“Nah – too much like what I wear normally.”
“That’s true Jo.” Ingrid nodded at her computer. “But then so is Bavarian national dress for all of us except Juliette.”
“Yeah - I heard she’s coming as a sexy Pilgrim Mother to reflect the fact she had ancestors on the Mayflower.”
“That’s her plan.”
“Did you hear any other’s ideas?”
“I did hear something about Pussy looking into colonial dress. What about you?”
“A rumour that Adam was researching what mediaeval Rabbi’s wore.”
“Well that will be a big contrast with Janice in her Irish costume.” Ingrid nodded.
“Ama and Maisha are wearing costumes from back in Africa, while I hear Shirley, reflecting the fact that the Xavier’s were originally Russian is having a Russian court dress made.”
“NICE!” Ingrid whistled appreciatively.
“And then there’s Abby and her family…”
Wednesday 30th September
10 am GMT
The UK Farm
“Morning boss,” Tracy said as Lily came into the staff room, “what’s on the agenda for today?” The young woman was wearing what had become the accepted uniform – a black roll neck sweater, leggings and short boots.
“Showing our new head of security round,” Lily said as a tall blonde followed her in. Lily was dressed in a grey trouser suit and white camisole top, while the new arrival was wearing a long sleeved top, tight jeans and knee length brown boots. “Where’s Beverly?”
“Just doing a security check on the current guests,” Tracy said as her brown haired friend came in. “Hey Lily,” Bev said as she looked at her boss, “showing someone round.”
“Oh yes – Tracy Cocker, Beverly Martello, I don’t think you ever formally met Natalya Kosolov. Officially, Natalya has joined Xavier International to head up the European Insurance group.”
“I will be the head of security for Madame at the London office, working alongside Dominique,” Natalya said as she shook their hands. “I remember seeing both of you when we were entertaining the young ladies from Harlow. I presume you work here now?”
“They do indeed – team leaders for the permanent staff based here, as well as overseeing any guests we have here. Who’s staying at the moment, Bev?”
“Three guests – We have the daughter of the chairman of Sports Fashions, we have Lady Rebecca Woodcock, and finally Dame Arabella Commons.”
“And how many of them were invited to stay?”
“Believe it or not, only Her Ladyship – the other two paid for us to look after them for a day or two. We’ve found a lucrative sideline in those who wish to be kidnapped for pleasure – and it helps train the staff here as well.”
Natalya raised an eyebrow as Lily chuckled. “Surprising, but true – and they pay very well. Now, let me show you the shooting ranges…”
The de Ros Mansion
“Madame, your visitors are here.”
“Thank you Edith – please, show them in,” Diana said as she set the paper down and stood up, smiling as the tall, thin Parisian art dealer came in, dressed impeccably.
“Antoine – it is a pleasure to see you again,” she said as she embraced and kissed him on both cheeks.
“And you Diana – you look wonderful as always. You remember Yvette, of course?”
“Of course,” Diana said as she embraced the woman who came in. She had short black hair, and was wearing a green jersey dress and heels.
“It is a great pleasure to see you again, Countess,” she said as she gave a small curtsey.
“Please, we do not stand on formality in my house – it is Diana. And who is this?”
She looked at the young boy who came in, looking round with a sense of wonder clear in his eyes. He was dressed casually, and suddenly stopped as Yvette said “Hugo, it is only polite to greet your host.”
“Forgive me, Countess de Ros,” he said with a low bow, “thank you for allowing us to visit you.”
“It is my pleasure – Edith, some coffee please.”
“Yes, Madame,” Edith said as Diana said “sit, sit – I have not seen you for many years Yvette.”
“Indeed, Diana – but when Father suggested we do a tour, and show my son some of the sights of the world, New York was always on the list, and we could not visit the city without paying our respects.”
Shirley was walking back to her office when she saw Susan approaching.
“Problem Susan,” she said as she opened her office door, and they both walked in.
“Madame,” Susan said as she consulted her notes, “I have some information that I think you need to see - it’s still pretty sketchy, but I think it’s serious enough that we need act upon it.”
“All right,” Shirley said as she sat down, “what do you have?”
“It originates with some diplomatic chatter that Jill saw in the Embassy in Tokyo. A man calling himself Deng Bo has hired a suite at the Savoy in London, and is asking for asylum from the Chinese government.”
“And this interests us because…”
“Well, the signal Jill saw was routine traffic asking what was known on this man, but Jill had a little thing go off in her head that this was one of the Chinese she saw at a meeting with the Death Dragons.”
“Alright Susan,” Shirley said as she leaned forward, “now I’m very interested.”
“I wonder if one of the rats is trying to jump off a sinking ship Madame?”
“The same thing occurs to me.” Shirley looked at her watch. “It’s too early to wake Catherine, but get London on to this, and book me a call to Hong Kong at their breakfast time please.”
“Isn’t today Natalya’s first day?”
“Yes, but she is visiting the farm. Call Penny, have them call me the moment they are in the same room.”
Susan nodded as she left Shirley with her thoughts…
Martin Luther King Community Centre
“And… one two three, one two three, one two three…”
The young couples made their way across the dance floor, Erica concentrating hard as she was led by the young dark haired girl.
“All right - ten minute break,” the instructor finally said, Erica and her companion making their way to their bags.
“Okay,” Erica said as she took a drink, “I am so glad you volunteered to be my dance class partner Poppy, at least you know what you are doing out there.”
“As long as I remember I’m supposed to be the man.” Poppy giggled.
“How do all of you know how to do this stuff so well?”
Smiling, Poppy said, “Dance classes are one of those so-called cultural enrichment things moms force their kids to do. We are all forced to learn this crap.”
“Well I have a lot of catching up to do.” Erica whispered as the instructor again showed the basic waltz step.
“So what is your Moms story?” Poppy took a drink before continuing “my mom reckons she’s far too clever to be just doing data entry.”
“She is - she had a full scholarship at Columbia to study Mechanical Engineering, but when my dad just blew, and my Gran died, she decided that she needed a job, so she saw a vacancy on the bulletin board, applied and got it.”
“Oh God,” Poppy said, “That sucks the big one.”
“I know…it’s why I’m making the most of my opportunity to make up for her losing hers…”
“And then you ran into a bitch like me saying you didn’t belong.” Poppy shook her head. “I’m just so sorry.”
“Well what with you girls at school, and the girls back here accusing me of selling out, it was getting a bit fraught for a while.” Smiling, Erica continued “but at least I have one less battle on that front.”
“Yeah – tell my former friends that. I don’t think they appreciated been put on clean up duty after lunch all week.”
“Well, they should not have threatened you,” Poppy said. “Come on – let’s try this again.”
10 pm Local Time
“Welcome back Little Teacher,” Charlotte said as Marigold appeared at the entrance of the tent, “what news do you bring?”
“Those in charge are apparently in a panic – food and water is rationed, even more so for the workers, so they are helping those who need it most. I fear we need to move quickly before the captors decide to cut their losses.”
“We agree – which is why we’re starting, very quietly, to move some specialist teams to the mine. Their road is ours, they have no transport – it’s time to deal with this once and for all.”
“This is good news,” Marigold said with a smile, “how can we help?”
“By resting,” the Leader said, “we will outline the plan in the…”
“Leader,” a soldier said as she came in, “Red is coming in – they have news.”
Leader and Charlotte went outside, as Red saw two of her girls taken to the medical area.
“We met a patrol – they did not survive, but they had also encountered a Mogolan patrol. We assisted to end their assault, so they now know we are in the area. They are camped nearby, and wish to parlay.”
Looking at the Leader, Red continued “they have the big white man with them.”
“Piet – oy vey,” Charlotte said as she rubbed her eyes. “He cannot know I am here.”
“He will not – Red, take Liz and Petra with you tomorrow to parlay. The reporter can vouch for her. Rest and tend to your stick now.”
“Well, it was going to happen sooner or later,” Charlotte said, “all we can hope for is Piet manages to keep them all calm.”
Thursday 1st October
8 am local time
Near the firebase
The Mogolan lieutenant came out from his shelter and walked up to the sentry post.
“Three women approaching under a white flag. One is the soldier leading the group we encountered yesterday.”
He nodded as he said “send two to escort them to here. And wake the journalist.”
“Sir,” he said as he signaled to two men, and gave quick orders. As they went towards the approaching trio, he looked under a tarpaulin.
“Mr. van der Byl?”
Piet opened his eyes and looked over as the soldier said “The lieutenant wishes you to join him – the female soldier from yesterday is approaching with two others.”
“Sure,” Piet said as he slipped out and stretched, then went to find some water.
“You kept your word,” the officer said as Red approached.
“We are women of our word,” Red said. “I come with two of our senior command.”
The lieutenant looked at Liz and Petra, before he said “and you are?”
“Former Lieutenant Elizabeth Egwegwe, South African Intelligence Service.”
“Hello Piet,” Liz said as the man mountain walked in, “we had heard you were there yesterday.”
“And you ended up where I suspected you had. This is?”
“Petra is an intelligence specialist we have brought in to help with this. She comes highly recommended.”
“You vouch for them?”
“I do,” Piet said, “Red was one of those who escorted me, Liz and two others to the mine. If she vouches for Petra, I vouch for her.”
The lieutenant nodded as he said “very well, so the stories of a guerilla force stopping the real enemy were true. How many?”
“Until now, too few,” Liz said, “but we are ready to strike. We have the capability and the resource – but the support would not be unwelcome.”
“Who is your commander?”
“We are a team, each supporting the others. We have helped you – will you help us?”
He looked at the three women, before he said “we’ll patrol this area, try and keep them off your back. When the time comes, call.”
“Thank you,” Liz said.
“Stay for breakfast – if that is allowed?”
“We thank you,” Petra said as Piet folded his arms and smiled.
“Liz, Liz, Liz – I’m glad you found them, and are working with them now.”
“And you, you big ox,” Liz said as she poked him in the chest with her finger, “what the hell are you doing here? Does Charlotte know?”
“Haven’t been able to talk to her for a couple of weeks – any idea where she is?”
“No comment – but I’m glad you’re here. Did you speak to John?”
“Before I came here. He told me a few things – and he sends his regards.”
“I’m sure he did,” Liz said with a smile. “Come on, let’s eat.”
10 am local time
Xavier International, Aldwych, London
“How’s the office, Natalya?”
“I cannot complain, Penny,” the young Russian said as she came in, her long boots visible under the peach skirt. “So what is the purpose of the meeting?”
“Conference call with Tokyo and Hong Kong – and then we may need your expertise,” Penny said as the top left corner of the plasma screen lit up.
“Good evening, Jill,” Natalya said with a smile as the young consular official appeared on the screen, “Is Niki with you?”
“Not tonight, but I briefed her earlier. Congrats on the new position.”
“Thanks,” Natalya said with a smile, “so who…”
“Hello, Penny – and Natalya, a pleasure to meet you at last on a formal capacity.”
“Catherine,” Natalya said as she sat down, “so this concerns our recent visit.”
“In a way – Penny.”
“You may recognize this man,” Penny said as she passed Natalya a photo.
“Well, well – Colonel Deng. Where is he currently?”
“London – the Savoy in fact, just round the corner from you. He’s seeking political asylum from the UK government. The question is, should he be allowed to do so?”
“An excellent question,” Natalya said as she looked at Catherine’s picture. “What is his current position with the Chinese government?”
“They believe he is in London as part of a trade delegation. We could inform them of the truth, but that would mean his recall – and our lack of satisfaction.”
“So are we considering an extraction?”
“It is a possibility – but we need some reconnaissance in his hotel suite, today if possible. We have someone to go in and plant the necessary equipment.”
“Sounds like a plan – I’ll start looking at the hotel layout for his suite, consider extraction methods and routes.”
“Excellent – Penny, I look forward to seeing you next week. Jill, please liaise directly with Natalya if you or Niki get further information.”
“Of course,” Jill said as the two screens went blank.
“How do I get plans of the Savoy?”
Penny pressed a button and said “Ask George to pop up will you. It’s about time you met our front of house head of security anyway.” Ending the call, she said “You have a call with Shirley at 1 our time. You should brief her on what we’re doing. I have a call to make.”
“See hello to Helen for me,” Natalya said, Penny smiling as she left the conference room.
Natalya looked to the door as she saw the gray haired head of public security look in.
“It’s Natalya, George – I believe in first name if possible. Penny says you can help with layouts for the Savoy?”
“Of course – any chance of some coffee while I get them up?”
Shirley sipped from her mug, before saying “I think you have things well in hand, Natalya. I approve – make sure this is him first. If it is?”
“We can prepare a suite at the Farm for him instead – I’ll formulate ways of doing so, but the priority is information gathering.”
Shirley nodded before she said "if you are going to attempt a reconnaissance at the Savoy Natalya, can I suggest you ask our South African friends to do it for you. They do owe us a favour."
least according to Dominique their principle burglar is extremely good."
"Okay I'll send a message asking them to do this."
“Excellent – keep me posted,” Shirley said as she ended the call, and John came in.
“Business with London concluded?”
“Indeed – so when do you have to head off?”
“My flight leaves at two – how shall we pass the time until then?”
“Oh I’m sure we’ll think of something…”
The Colony Club
564 Park Avenue
“My god, when was the last time so many of us were gathered in the same place,” Brooke Hatton said as she walked in with Clare Morse.
“I have no idea – when do you think Kelly?”
“Probably May 1990,” Kelly Rochermann said as she kissed them both on the cheek. “But I am so glad we could pull this together so quickly. And that so many could come and join us.”
The three women were dressed in knee length dresses, with matching blazers and heels, designed to co-ordinate with each other. Around them women were renewing old acquaintances, sharing stories of what had happened to them over the last few years.
In a corner of the reception room, Juliette was standing with Tonia Razinski, looking round the room. She had chosen to wear a blue jacket and skirt with a cream top for the event, blending in with the others.
“Why Juliette Huntingdown, if I didn’t know better then I’d swear you are actually nervous.” Tonia smiled as Juliette sipped her pre luncheon drink.
“Ton,” Juliette said quietly, “to tell the truth I’m petrified.”
“And why would that be?” Rachel McNally asked.
“Because,” Juliette said quietly, “while I have walked more shows then I can remember and given many speeches, this one somehow seems to mean so much more to me.”
“Oh my God, no tears please.” Liz van Roon smiled.
“It’s going to be hard.”
“Juliette you’ll be fine.” Tonia gave her a hug. “Just remember, it could be worse.”
“In what way?”
“Our daughters could be here as well, instead of safely ensconced in Yale,” Rachel said with a laugh. “Imagine what tales they could tell if they were here.”
“Bad enough with Tonia, Liz and Kelly here,” Juliette said with a smile.
“Oh, before I forget,” Tonia said, “my husband and his partners are having a big pow-wow regarding Saintz and Sinnerz’s race at the Breeders Cup, they are thinking now of running him in the Juvenile Sprint.”
“Well that helps get us all home in plenty of time for the party on the Saturday evening.” Rachel observed.
“Yes even with private planes it was going to be a rush on the Saturday.” Liz remarked.
“Well according to my husband, they aren’t sure Saintz is ready for a mile and an eighth so they opted for the 6 furlong race instead.”
“Alright so everyone in their best finery on the Friday,” Juliette smiled.
“Indeed,” Rachel said as a toastmaster said “Ladies, please take your seats for the luncheon…”
The smaller of the two ballrooms had been fitted out with large tables, the ladies taking their named places as Juliette was escorted to a large table at the side. The conversation descended to a low hum as the meal was served, before a tall brunette stood up as the coffee and drinks were served.
“Can I have your attention please?”
“That would be a first,” Clare called out, causing a ripple of laughter.
“And suddenly the years slip away,” Tonia said out loud as the brunette looked at her.
“As I was saying… As head girl for the class of 1990 I would like to thank so many members of the class for making the time to attend today.” Rebecca Slater paused. “We are here today to accept into our midst someone whose work on behalf of both St Angela’s and the Jamie Kirkham Memorial Scholarships have made her an ornament to the community of angels.”
Rebecca paused while the ladies all applauded.
“Juliette Huntingdown is both a role model, and a real life model. She may have actually graduated from a high school in Massachusetts, but in spirit and friendship she has long been one of us. Her daughter is an Angel, her granddaughter has already had her name put down for the school, and I’m sure that come the day Little Judith’s descendants will also find their way to St Angela’s.
“She has been a staunch supporter of St Angela’s since Carina started to attend, and as many of you will remember, their last year proved traumatic in more ways than one. To speak to that time, please listen for a few moments to Rachel Calloway as was, now Rachel McNally.”
“Don’t let her get away,” Rachel whispered to Tonia as she stood up, Juliette watching as she went to the microphone and said “Don’t worry, my fellow Angels, possibly for the first time you can remember, I’m going to be brief.
“I’ve known Juliette for more years than I care to think of, ever since she and Judy, my daughter, started together in nursery, and through all those years I have come to know her as a true and steadfast friend – but when two years ago there was the tragic events that led to the death of Jamie Kirkham, Juliette stepped forward to ensure that her memory was never forgotten, even though Carina was gravely ill in hospital.
“Thanks in part to her drive and determination, the Jamie Kirkham scholarship fund has become one of the most sought after scholarships in the city, with two amazing girls now enjoying the benefits of the funds which Juliette helped to set up. For that alone, I am happy to be one of the sponsors for this honour – but there are other reasons we wish to praise Juliette today. Fellow Angels, please welcome Pulitzer Prize winner, Jane Molloy.”
The girls applauded as Rachel sat down, and Jane came to the microphone.
“Rachel alluded to the horrific events two years ago – and that was not the only crisis that happened that year, but the girls showed what it means to be Angels – and that was reflected in the charity stunt for that year, where Wilhelmina Tennant found herself the slightly unwilling guest of three daughters of women here – one of whom was Carina Huntingdown.
“What happened later that week was an example of putting a male chauvinist in his place, and for me a reminder that St Angela’s still produces remarkable young women, as we raised an astounding amount for good causes. It showed me the person Carina Huntingdown was – and much of that was due to the example set by her mother.
“I may have won prizes for more recent work, but that week was still one of the most personally satisfying things I have ever done – so this is my chance to say thank you to her.”
The room applauded as Rebecca said “To complete the sponsors, please welcome two thirds of The Party Girls - Liz van Roon and Tonia Razinski.”
The room applauded as Liz and Tonia came over.
“We would ask Kelly to join us,” Liz said, “but we’d just end up spilling too many secrets. So let us just say this – Juliette is a treasure for many of us, and not just as a leading sinner, but as a personal friend.”
“So with that in mind,” Tonia said, “We wish to ask you, the class of 1990, one question. Do you accept Juliette Huntingdown as one of us?”
“In that case, can I ask Juliette to come and accept this special Commencement certificate, on behalf of all of us, and welcome her to our band of sisters? Fellow Angels, your new classmate, Juliette Huntingdown.”
The applause was deafening as Juliette stood up and shook Rebecca’s hand, and accepted the framed certificate, before she held it high, smiling as photos were taken,
“All right, Angels,” Rebecca said, “perhaps Juliette would like to say a few words?”
The room applauded again as Juliette stood in front of the microphone.
“Ladies…Friends…and now I guess classmates, can I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for bestowing this honour upon me.” Juliette stopped and paused. “This probably means more to me then virtually anything because it comes from all of you.”
For a second Juliette looked round the room.
“As many of you know, my own high school life was interrupted by my career as a young model, and because I was at first often away, then later I had a degree of fame that seemed to frighten people away I don’t think I was ever really one of “the gang’ as they say. Now however I feel like at last I do have classmates to whom I can relate, and who I hope understand a geek like me, with looks like I have.”
The room laughed and applauded.
“But I also accept this on behalf of two very special ladies, one an Angel, another an angel in real life and an Angel to be – Carina and Judith. I am so proud of both of them, and I am proud to be in a position to say thank you on behalf of myself and of them.
“The Jamie Kirkham Scholarship Fund is a lasting memory, both to a much missed girl, and to the spirit that makes St Angela’s so important. I hope I can live up to all that means, and thank you again for this honour.”
As she sat down to great applause, Rebecca said “and now, class of 1990, I have one thing to say to you – LET’S PARTY!”
8 pm local time
Charlotte was surprised to see a number of small loudspeakers been unloaded from the helicopter. Shaking her head, she made her way to the mess tent and sat down.
“Who ordered the portable loudspeakers?” she asked as she put some food on a fork.
“I did,” Liz looked up from her food. “Petra wants to try broadcasting messages into the troops compound asking them why they are here, urging surrender, and so on.”
“Well it’s an idea, but risky if their patrols catch the broadcasters.”
“We can do hit and runs,” said Petra, “two minutes of messages, then move on.”
“And I think it will undermine their morale even further.” Liz added.
“What do you think Leader?”
“I like the idea in principle Little Mother, but as you said yourself there is a high degree of risk.”
“That is a large space of jungle round there and I can actually broadcast from quite a good distance.”
“Rassie, what do you think?”
“I think its worth a try Charlotte, undermining their morale even further could just be what we need.”
“It will also provide cover for something else we’re going to do,” Shelby said as she sat down.
“And that is?”
“Lay some plans in place to deal with the anti-aircraft guns. Essential for the final push.”
“All right – but Goddess, be careful,” Charlotte said quietly.
Friday 2nd October
The Richmond Mansion
The brown haired woman walked nervously up the stairs, pulling her coat around her as she knocked on the door.
“Hey – Glad you could make it,” Heather said as she opened the door.
“Thanks – I think. I’m just curious why you invited me though.”
“Letty has become a good friend to many of the girls – and we felt it was time we got to know you better. You know Sandy?”
“We met at the meet last year, right?”
“That’s right – come through and meet the others,” Sandy said as she took the new arrival through, to where Denice and Pippa were sitting with April and Caroline.
“Okay ladies, for those of you who don’t know her this is Mercy Kinman…Mercy is Letty’s mother.” Sandy made the introductions.
“Hi I’m Pippa Ashley, Poppy’s mom.” Pippa held out a hand.
“Hi.” Mercy shook it.
“I’m Denice, Erica’s mom…”
For a couple of minutes each woman introduced herself and shook hands.
“Well welcome to the Friday Afternoon Coffee Club Mercy.” Heather smiled when they’d finished.
“It’s nice to be here. Letty speaks a lot of the girls, and it’s nice to put names to faces – at least, those I don’t see in magazines.”
“Did someone start talking about magazines already,” Barbara said as she came in. “That smells good. Hey Mercy – how are you doing?”
“Not too bad Barbara,” Mercy said as she sat down, running a hand through her graying hair. “I should have realised you were part of this group.”
“So has anyone spoken to Ju today? I heard they had quite a party yesterday,” Caroline said as she sat back.
“By all accounts,” Sandy said with a smile.
“So let me get this straight – you all meet for coffee while the girls come here?”
“That’s how I understand it,” Pippa said quietly, “a chance to kick back quietly and start the weekend in a good way.”
“Precisely,” Caroline said, “and the girls plan their weekend at the same time.”
“Well, Poppy is going for another lesson with Erica later, and Grace is coming round for dinner.”
“So you and Grace are building bridges again?”
“Yeah – we can only start on something new…”
“Hi everyone,” Abby said as she looked in. “Pippa, Poppy’s here with me and Erica.”
“Thanks, Abby,” Pippa said as Mercy looked round.
“Is it always like this?”
“We’re just getting started,” April said with a smile as a text message on her phone caught Pippa’s attention, her face blanching slightly as she did so.
“Pippa? What’s wrong?”
“I think my whole weekend is going to be fun,” Pippa said as she stood up. “Sandy, I’m sorry, but Poppy and I need to go now.”
“Family crisis,” Pippa said as she went into the front room. “Pippa, we need to go now. Erica, can you call round and collect Poppy for the lesson later?”
“Sure,” Erica said as Poppy collected her bag and followed her mum out. “What’s happened?”
“Your grandmother is in town, and will be at our apartment for six.”
“Gran? Oh boy…”
The Ashley Apartment, 4th Avenue
Pippa looked at her daughter, and said “Ready” as they both heard the ring on the apartment doorbell. Poppy had changed into a skirt and blouse, and nodded as her mother went and opened the door.
Lady Amelia Ashley was standing on the other side, her blonde hair arranged in a hairstyle held in place by a ton of hairspray, and wearing a grey jacket and skirt, blue top and black heels. As she walked in, she looked around and then saw Poppy standing there, smiling as her glasses framed her eyes.
“Hello, Gran,” she said as Pippa closed the door, “may I get you something to drink?”
“Thank you, darling,” Lady Ashley said in a cultured, Thatcher like voice, “some chamomile tea would be nice.”
“Why don’t you make some coffee for both of us as well,” Pippa said as she kissed her mother. “Come and sit with me, mother.”
Poppy watched from the kitchen as her mother and grandmother walked through, shaking her head as she put the kettle on.
“You are looking well, Phillipa,” Lady Ashley said, “at least you have recovered from that dreadful robbery?”
“It has not been easy, but I am getting better, and I learned a few valuable lessons,” Pippa said as she sat down.
“Well, you both seem to be well.”
“Well Mother what brings you to New York?” Pippa asked quietly.
Amelia smiled and replied “Aren’t I entitled to come see my only relatives?”
“Have you fallen out with Aunt Margaret…AGAIN?” Pippa sighed as she asked the question.
“Don’t ever mention that woman’s name again in my presence please dear.” There was real venom in her voice as she continued “she betrayed me and as far as I’m concerned she and I are no longer related.”
“And what did she do this time Gran?” Poppy asked as she brought in the coffees for she and her mother, and her grandmothers herbal tea.
“Thank you Poppy,” Pippa said as her daughter sat down.
“Why are you wearing those absurd glasses child?” Lady Ashley said as she looked at Poppy.
“Because they are more comfortable then contacts, and most of the girls in my group wear them…”
“They make you look plain.” Lady Ashley interrupted.
“They are cool Gran.” Poppy smiled back sweetly. “Honestly, they are the real fashion trend these days.”
“Anyway returning to Aunt Margaret?” Pippa tried changing the conversation.
“She had the damn cheek to put it round that I dye my hair…”
“But don’t you?”
“That is besides the point Philippa,” Amelia said with a stare at her daughter, “she had no right telling the Barkly’s and the Grout’s that, and just as Lady Barkly was saying how nice my hair looked.”
“Oh!” Pippa swapped an amused smile with Poppy. “And just where did this offence happen?”
“At our Conservative Club luncheon…and there were TWO members of the cabinet there!”
“Oh dear,” Pippa was finding it hard not to giggle.
“Exactly…I knew you’d understand darling…there are certain things that one doesn’t do in decent company.”
“Well Aunt Margaret doesn’t necessarily agree with your…” Pippa paused to get the right words that wouldn’t offend her mother…”shall we say high standards?”
“Standards? That woman is still as common as muck!”
“Well I wouldn’t say that Mum.”
“Well I would, and then she got invited into the back parlour of the club for private drinks…”
“Whilst you didn’t I take it?” Pippa covered her mouth with her hand to suppress a giggle.
“NO!” Lady Ashley sipped her tea, “Lady Barkly apologized so nicely afterwards, but Maggie…I mean Margaret…should have said something, I am after all a former Lady Mayoress of the borough.”
“That you are Mum, as I’m sure… As I’m sure you reminded everybody.” This time Pippa couldn’t keep the laughter inside, Poppy giggling as she saw the look on her grandmother’s face.
“Oh,” Amelia said as she set her cup down, “and my social humiliation is amusing is it Miss?”
“Oh not really Mum,” Pippa laughed as she tried to put a straight face back on, “but honestly in the greater scheme of things does all that really matter?”
“Philippa!” Lady Ashley said in shock.
“Gran it does sound snobbish.” Poppy said very softly.
“I do not have a snobbish bone in my body, as you very well know…”
“OH MUM!” Pippa just had to interrupt. “You’d die rather than admit Granddad Harker was a wholesale coal merchant, or that Dad was basically a scrap metal dealer…”
“Your father was an industrialist Philippa.”
“Only because you pushed him and pushed him to acquire more yards and the factories mum, you know very well he was only really happy with his mates down the old yard.”
“Your father needed guidance or else neither of us would have got anywhere in life Missy.” Lady Ashley smiled, “and there’d have been no fancy school, or fancy friends for you either if I hadn’t pushed to get us all out of Leeds…AND that includes that ungrateful bitch Maggie.”
“You judge too quickly mother,” Pippa said as she heard the doorbell ring. “I manage to make my way in this industry, after all.”
“It is an impressive view,” Lady Ashley said as she looked out of the window.
“We like it Gran,” Poppy said, “and we’ve come to appreciate it even more these last few weeks.”
“Was it that frightening?”
“Yes – yes it was,” Poppy said as they heard Pippa say “Hello Erica – come in. I need to find those shoes for you.”
“Hey Erica – my gran is visiting. Gran, this is Erica Burton, one of my friends.”
Lady Ashley stared at the young dark skinned girl in her school uniform, as she said “hello Lady Ashley – Poppy, we’re going swimming as usual tomorrow.”
“Great,” Poppy said as Pippa called out “would you come with me please Erica.”
“Excuse me, your ladyship,” and walked off.
“Poppy, you – you are friends with her,” Amelia said as she picked her jaw off the floor.
“Of course. I’m Erica’s dance partner.” Poppy smiled. “She’s taking lessons at the community centre.”
“Cute, talented, a great laugh…”
“No – Poppy she’s…”
Looking at her grandmother, Poppy folded her arms, put her head to one side and said “Black, Gran?”
“Well yes…” Lady Ashley looked more then slightly horrified as she turned to the window.
“Oh Gran you are terrible.” Poppy laughed. “Erica is in my class at school…”
“I thought your mother said St Angela’s was an elite school darling?”
“It is, but not just socially Gran. Erica is a huge brain.”
“Oh she’s a scholarship girl?” Lady Ashley gave Erica a look up and down across the room. “Are there many other…?”
“If you mean Blacks, say Blacks Gran, and yes there are - both on and not on scholarships. St Angela’s is proud of its diversity.”
“Oh!” It wasn’t the sound of surprise – it was the sound of someone who was realizing an uncomfortable truth.
“Damn now I know where I got my attitude from.” Poppy thought as she shook her head. She turned round as Erica came back, carrying a pair of black dance shoes.
“Thanks for the dance pumps Miss Ashley.” Erica said as she came back with Pippa by the windows, “I hope I can do them justice.”
“Well they have about the right sized heel to learn in Erica, and Poppy long since outgrew them.”
“Hey I get these flipper feet from you and Gran.” Poppy looked down at her shoes and laughed. Amelia stared out of the window, determined not to look at the new face.
“Do you have everything?” Pippa said as she checked her daughter’s bag.
“We do Mom…Come on Bones let’s leave the oldies to discuss grown-up things.”
“Sure. Nice to meet you, Lady Ashley.”
“Hmm,” Amelia said, both Poppy and Pippa looking at each other.
“Bye,” both girls waved as they left the apartment.
“Well I never thought I’d see the day…” Lady Ashley spoke as soon as the girls were out of range, “my granddaughter, friends with a… a soap dodger.”
“Well you know what I mean Philippa.”
“Dear God, I didn’t know you were both a snob, AND a racist mother.” Pippa shook her head. “I’ll let you know Erica is a truly nice kid, and I’m friends with her mother as well…”
“Yes Mum I have non-white friends, and actually Denice and I have a lot in common, we are both single mothers bringing up bright daughters who want to be doctors for starters.”
“Oh come on, since when did my granddaughter want to be a doctor?”
“It seems for quite a long while. We had a long talk after the home invasion, and I learned a lot I never knew about my daughter…and I guess about myself as well…”
“Really? Did this home invader look like Boycott – because he…”
“I beg your pardon?”
“She – three women, who were as quiet as Ilkley Moor on a December night. They terrified us, Mum – I think they’d even shut Aunt Maggie up. Maybe you’d like them to visit her – contrasts if you like.”
“And what has happened to give you this attitude, lass?”
“A dose of fear induced clarity, Mum – and realising I didn’t like who I was.”
Just at that minute the doorbell rang.
“Talking of which, you may want something a little stronger in a minute. Hey Gray,” Pippa smiled as she answered it.
“Hey Pip,” Grace answered her and kissed her on the cheek. “I brought something to share, and…” As she walked in, she stopped and looked at the other woman standing there.
“Look who’s here Mother – I’d arranged for us to have some dinner tonight. Care to join us?”
“Lady Ashley,” Grace said quietly, “it’s been a long time.”
Amelia Ashley looked at the former model, her long blonde hair flowing, before she said “Grace – you are living in New York now?”
“You haven’t told her yet?”
“I didn’t know she was in town until a couple of hours ago,” Pippa said. “Mum, Grace Brand is the Dean of Students at St Angela’s.”
“Well, that explains a few things,” Amelia said with a smile – a thin, evil smile. “What happened, Gracie – career change?”
“In a few ways – you look well, Amelia.”
“Let me get a couple of glasses,” Pippa said as she went to the kitchen, the other two women sitting and facing each other.
“I saw your return – it came as a great surprise,” Amelia said quietly.
“Believe me, I tried to avoid it – but it happened, and I’m glad it did.”
“Really,” Grace said with a smile as Pippa came back with three glasses.
“I was going to order Thai – is that all right with you Mum?”
“Why not,” Amelia said with a smile, “so long as we eat with plates and cutlery. Excuse me – I need to freshen up.”
As she walked slowly out of the room, Pippa and Grace looked at each other.
“You had no warning?”
“None – she says she had a falling out with Aunt Margaret.”
“Do you believe her?”
“I don’t know – but I’ll call her tomorrow, get her side of the story.”
“She seems unchanged.”
“She is – in fact, she’s worse. Erica came round to collect some shoes and head off with Poppy, and…”
“Let me guess – the inner Arthur Scargill came out?”
“In some ways, yes.” Sipping her wine, Pippa said “Gray, what if she starts talking about…”
“Let’s pray she doesn’t – Margaret is the only other person who knows the truth. But if she does…”
“If she does what?”
“We were talking about Poppy – she’s helping with a charity event at the school next week, and Grace wanted to be sure I had given my approval.”
“Is that correct? I am surprised to see you living and working here Grace – I thought you were so settled in Harlow.”
“Well, time and circumstances change,” Grace replied as Pippa went to place an order, “and with me becoming a model again, if only part time, I felt it was time for a completely fresh start.”
“So where do you live?”
“In Greenwich Village, with two of my colleagues who decided to make the break as well. It has proven to be one of the best decisions we have ever made.”
“Indeed,” Amelia said as Pippa returned. “The food will be a short while Would you care for some coffee while we wait, Grace?”
“No, thank you - I’ve had more than enough today. I was wondering if you would be coming as well a week tomorrow Pippa – we could do with some help behind the scenes with handling donations and so on.”
“I’d be more than happy to – with Poppy helping front of house, it gives her a chance to meet some famous faces.”
“And what is this august event?”
“We are holding a charity event to raise money for the Jamie Kirkham scholarship and Muscular Dystrophy research – an evening with Eve Stone.”
“Eve Stone? She was a leading model in her day, and the daughter of the Duke of Lardarn.”
“Yes, Mum,” Pippa said with a sigh, seeing the wheels turning in her mother’s mind. “The Kirkham scholarship pays the fees for a young girl to attend St Angela’s and then go on to study medicine – young Erica is one of the two current scholars.”
“Indeed,” Amelia said quietly, the two women looking at each other.
“Eve’s husband, the photographer Steven Stone, is also suffering from Parkinson’s disease, so we feel the MS society is a worthy joint cause.”
“And you are happy to allow Poppy to be like a common guide?”
“There is nothing common about it,” Pippa said quietly, “not when she will be mixing with lords, countesses, princes and some of the greatest models of all time.”
“Oh,” Amelia said, “Well, if that is the case, how could I possibly object. Who are the patrons of this scholarship fund?”
“Two of the students,” Grace said, “Abigail de Ros and Jeannie Brewster.”
“Models and schoolgirls. How times have changed…”
“Indeed,” Grace said, “A lot has changed over the last twenty years, Amelia.”
“I can believe that…”
“Ah - the food,” Pippa said as the doorbell rang. “Why don’t we go to the table?”
As they sat
round the table, the food decanted into serving dishes, Grace took a sip of the
wine and asked "How did the Friday Afternoon Coffee Club go today
to leave early when Mum notified me she was here, but I met Mercy Kinman, she seems very nice."
"The what club Philippa?"
"It's just a group of St Angela's moms Mother. We meet each Friday afternoon to have coffee, and the kids make their weekend plans."
"And are you a member Grace?" Lady Ashley asked.
"No!" Grace laughed, "The last thing I think the kids want is the dean hanging out with their mothers. I know many of them socially, but this is one meeting I don’t attend. They meet at the home of Sandy Richmond."
“Richmond – I remember meeting a Vanessa Richmond once, many years ago, at an event in Paris. Are they related?”
“Sandy – sorry, Alexandra is her daughter,” Grace said as she swallowed some noodles. “She lives there with her children and their nanny Heather, as well as Heather’s sister Jo when she is home from college. I believe they’re heading up there tomorrow morning to visit her.”
“She is not married?”
“Divorced,” Pippa said, shooting a warning look to Grace not to say anything. “Quite a few of the club are single mothers as well.”
“So mutual support?”
“In a way – would you like some more of the Pad Thai, Mum?”
“So who else as there?”
“Apart from Mercy? Caroline and Denice were there, and Barbara arrived just as we had to leave.”
“Some of the mothers?”
“Indeed,” Grace said, “Denice is Erica Burton’s mother, Barbara Jeannie’s, April Broadhurst’s daughter is called Pepsi, and she plays on the school soccer team with Caroline’s adopted daughter Ama.”
“And what position do they hold?”
“Allow me,” Pippa said as she looked at Grace. “Denice is a data entry clerk at Columbia, Barbara an administrator at Mercy Hill, April a florist and garden designer, and Caroline is Caroline Jameson, the model and security consultant.”
Both women watched as Amelia tried to process this information, while they sipped their wine.
“And they are all single mothers?”
“All except April – they live near me, as do Caroline and Ama” Grace said as she looked at Amelia.
“A very – diverse collection,” Amelia said as she sipped her own wine.
coming to Kentucky for the Breeders Cup Gray?"
probably going to,” Grace said as she sat back.
“That Friday is a Teacher Development day, and Juliette has chartered a
plane to take a few of us...what about you?"
flying down with the Razinski's - it should be fun. I
need to find outfits though for both Poppy and myself
– after all, it’s going to be our first big Sinners outing."
"Sinners?" Lady Ashley looked perplexed.
“We are both part of one of the most exclusive social groups in New York Mum – the Saints and Sinners. The Saints are the men, the Sinners the women.”
“Oh,” Amelia said as she smiled, “how exclusive?”
“Invitation only – Poppy and I are the latest members. We don’t have a clubhouse…”
“If you don’t count the ski lodges.”
“True – ski lodges?”
“Tell you about that later.”
“Well, that sounds most delightful,” Lady Ashley said, “and who were the last people to be invited to join?”
“Denice and Erica, and Mercy and Letty Kinman.”
The smile was frozen on her mother’s face as Grace looked at Pippa. “We have our fair share of New York Elite as well – after all, you cannot claim another group where mothers and housewives rub shoulders with socialites, top models and royalty.”
“I’m sorry – royalty?”
Pippa groaned as Grace smiled and said “Oh yes – His Serene Highness Crown Prince Klaus von Furstenheim. In fact, Pippa and I are due to have lunch with Klaus and Juliette Huntingdown tomorrow, as well as Stephen and Eve Stone and a few others.”
She could see the smile grow on Amelia’s face as she said “How fascinating…”
“Actually – if you have no plans, why don’t you join us?”
“Well, I do have some plans,” Lady Amelia said, “but I can re-arrange. I would be delighted to come with you Philippa.”
“Why don’t I make some more coffee,” Pippa said as she stood up. “Grace, could you bring the plates in for me?”
“Of course, Pippa,” Grace said. “Shall we have our coffee in your lounge?”
“Why not – make your way through Mum,” Pippa said as she walked to the kitchen, Grace watching as Amelia closed her eyes and said “A pleasure, your highness…”
“Well, at least you’re still breathing,” Grace said as she loaded the dishwasher, and then looked at Pippa. “What?”
Brand you are a BITCH!" Pippa hissed as they
made fresh coffee. "Now I'll never get rid of her."
I did was mention that Klaus would be..."
know my damn mother, knowing that even minor royalty would be there would set
it as doing something for your Aunt Maggie, who by the way I always
her too...I like her even more though when she's the one having to deal with
apologise Pip...but something wicked in me wanted to see how she'd react to
knowing just whom some of your friends are nowadays."
"Well if I end up killing her Gray, then you go down as well for aiding and abetting."
“I’ll go down smiling – come on, let’s give her her favourite, get her ready for bed early.”
“Gotcha – one Russian coffee coming up…”
Saturday 3rd October
“Here we are – thanks for bringing us here Mom.”
“No problem,” Pippa said as she pulled up outside the main entrance. “With your mom going with Mary today, it made sense for me to bring you both here.”
Amelia looked at the group of girls gathering outside the entrance, many wearing glasses as well, some older, one or two younger, but all pleased to see each other. Her eyes gravitated to the two tallest girls, and the African girl who waved at the new arrivals.
“Another black girl Philippa?” Lady Ashley raised an eyebrow as Poppy and Erica joined their friends.
“Another?” Pippa looked at the group, then smiled as she said “Oh you mean Ama… She’s Caroline Jameson the model’s adopted daughter, the poor child was one of those poor slave girls who was rescued last year. I know it was covered by the BBC after all – that Viscount, Stonemark, was found to be involved as well as the UN ambassador.”
“I knew Gerald Stonemark – we had met at social occasions,” Lady Ashley said quietly. “So she was one of those girls - and who might I ask are some of the others?”
“Well Abby de Ros obviously, you can’t mistake her, the other tall girl is Letty Kinman, one of St Angela’s head girls. Jeannie Brewster in her wheelchair of course, Jess Murchado is the dark haired girl, the blonde with the ponytail and glasses is Anna Carlton, Becca Morse, the two Nicola’s, the youngest girls are Katy Carter and Sandy Richmond, oh and the others are Angels classmates of Poppy’s. They all come swimming here on Saturdays when they can.”
“One big mixed group…”
“Lay off it Mum,” Pippa said as she eased her car back out into traffic, “they are all, or will be, Angels one day, and yes they come from a mixture of backgrounds, but I’m happy that Poppy is enjoying herself with such nice girls.”
“Did I say anything?”
“You know you were damn well about to Mum.” Pippa stopped at a light, “You know I’d forgotten all about this crap…”
“Darling,” Amelia said with a sigh, “I’m simply saying that just as I encouraged you, that Poppy should really just associate with the best people.”
“And who are the best people Mum?” Pippa drove away as the light changed.
“Important people, people who can be valuable in later life…”
“Mum don’t you realize it was crap like that which made me the awful person I became?”
“I did not think you were, as you so bluntly put it, an awful person, and what crap are you talking about?”
“Thinking you’re better than someone because of your background, when they’re just human as well. As I said, having a gun pointed at you gives you a sense of perspective. I realized I was wrong – and…”
“Never mind,” Pippa said, “I need to concentrate on the road. Let’s see how you feel after lunch.”
Hobart William Smith
“Hey – welcome to my home away from home,” Jo said as she picked George up, making him blush as she hugged him.
“Sandy says she’s sorry to not be here,” Nessa said as she looked round, “but the invite to spend the weekend with Katy came, and she said they had a lot to talk about.”
“Hey it’s cool,” Jo said, “I’ll see her next weekend anyway.”
“On which note, thanks for volunteering to babysit next Saturday. We both want to go to the event, but Abby and others will be there as well, and George is away.”
“No problem – right why don’t I show you my room?”
“If you want to,” George said as they walked to the hall, passing the groups getting ready for the parade.
“I thought you only had eyes for Katy Carter, George,” Jo said with a smile as George blushed.
“There are times, like these, when I remember my days with Paulie at Smith - you do seem to have settled here,” Nessa said as they went into Jo’s room.
“Nice room – where’s your roomie?”
“Gone shopping with her dad…”
“Now this is the way to spend a Saturday morning,” Poppy said as she slipped into the pool, “especially with Gran around.”
“Your gran’s here?”
“Oh yes – and Mom is going to have fun today…”
“Where are the youngsters?”
“Not sure,” Abby said as she and Letty sat at the side of the pool, before Katy slipped out. “Hey – what’s happened?”
“Abby we have a problem,” Katy pulled the model to one side. “Sandy is back in the changing rooms freaking out.”
“Why?” Abby looked concerned.
“She’s just started her first…”
“Her first…Oh Goddess you mean she’s having her first period?”
“Yes…and she’s panicking.”
“Letty!” Abby called over the other older girl. “Sandy just came on and she’s freaking. Do you have…?”
“In my bag…Look Katy have a quiet word with Doc so everyone knows where we are please.”
“Why does something like this always happen when someone’s Mom is out of town?” Abby asked as the two tall girls hurried into the locker rooms.
“Hey,” Anna said as she and Pepsi watched Katy slip into the pool, “what’s happened?”
“Sandy has – well, it’s the first time she…”
The two older girls looked at each other before Pepsi said “gotcha – I’ll spread the word.”
“Abby and Letty have gone to help, what do we do?”
“Swim – the worst thing you can do for Sandy is make a scene of it. Leave it with the other two,” Doc said as she kicked off, Katy joining her.
“All right,” Abby said as she and Letty sat with the young girl, “Katy told us what was happening. Here.” She handed Sandy a tissue and looked at the twelve year old.
“Sandy you know what is happening don’t you?” asked Letty.
“Yes, I’m having my period,” the young girl sniffled.
“It’s nothing to really worry about.” Abby put her arm round the young girl. “We’ve all been through this.”
“Did your Mom talk to you?” Letty asked. “About what’s happening?”
“Yes.” Sandy looked up, “She thought though it would be a couple more months though yet.” Looking down, she said “oh - I have blood in my swimming costume.”
“Just a little bit.” Letty smiled reassuringly. “Abby and I will help you clean and I have something for you to use.”
“My little titties only just started growing, and I did get some white discharge last month, but Mom said it would be a while yet…Abby am I going to be alright?”
“You are going to be fine…Here let me ring your Mom and you can talk to her.”
Taking her cell phone from her locker, Abby dialed a number…
“Now what does Abby want,” Sandy said as she looked at her phone.
“Hey Sandy it’s Abby,” she heard as she answered the call, “we have a little crisis.”
“WHAT’S WRONG?” Sandy shouted and gripped Heather’s arm.
“Nothing major,” Abby said as she took little Sandy’s hand, “we are at the pool, and Sandy has started her first period, she’s freaking a little.”
“Put me on to her.” Abby could hear Sandy relax as she handed the phone over.
“Hi Mom,” Little Sandy sniffled as she spoke.
“Hi Princess, Abby said you are having your period.”
“Mom you said it wasn’t supposed to start yet?”
“Darling,” Sandy said quietly, “I got it wrong, but just listen to the girls, I’ll get Abby to phone Aunt Jan and she’ll come take you home.”
“Mom I’m bleeding…”
“You know that’s normal darling, it’s like we talked about.”
“Mom can you come home?”
“I’ll be there tomorrow darling. Now put Abby back on please.”
“Okay…I LOVE YOU MOM!”
Little Sandy passed the phone to Abigail.
“Abby if I could get home today I would…”
“I know, but we can look after her.”
“Phone Jan please and get her to come collect the girls.”
“I’ll take care of it – call her later,” Sandy heard Abby say as Jo looked at her.
“Let’s go and get a drink, George,” Nessa said as she ushered the young boy out of the room.
“What happened,” Jo said as Sandy ended the call.
“It appears Sandy is growing up.”
“Oh – OH. Well, I’m glad Abby was there as well.”
“I agree – but we have a fun chat coming tomorrow.”
“So do I have to go into the pool?”
“Why don’t you come with me,” Letty said, “we’ll get you cleaned up and make you good, and then you can decide.”
As she led Sandy off, Abby dialed another number and shook her head.
“Jan? It’s Abby. Listen, I need you to come and pick Katy and Sandy up from the pool. Sandy had her monthly gift arise for the first time today…”
“Oh boy,” Jan said as she looked at her mother. “Yeah – I’ll swing round and pick them up, and bring them back here. Just give me time to get what I need first.”
“Problem,” Katherine said as Janice put the phone down.
“Not really – it’s just Sandy growing up without warning.”
“Ah – we need to get something in?”
“Yeah – I won’t be long,” Jan said as she grabbed her coat and headed out.
The Tavern on the Green
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Lady Ashley,” Klaus said as he bowed and kissed her hand. “Your daughter is a most delightful woman.”
Pippa looked at Grace and rolled her eyes as Amelia nearly simpered, and said “Well, it is always a pleasure to meet people of importance, your highness…”
“Come – it is Klaus. Tell me about your home, my dear lady…”
“I see Klaus is acting the perfect host,” Guy said as he and Diana stood with Juliette.
“Well, I for one am glad,” Juliette said quietly. “I do like Pippa, but when you meet her mother…”
“You see what may have influenced her,” Diana said as Nikolai walked over.
“And who is the vision talking to Klaus my dear?”
“That,” Diana said quietly, “is Lady Amelia Ashley, Pippa’s mother.”
“Indeed – a fine looking woman,” Nikolai said as Jan and Adam stood talking to Jeanne Marais.
“He didn’t,” Jan giggled as she looked over to Juliette’s group.
“Hm-hm,” Jeanne said, “and let me tell you…”
“Will you excuse me your highness,” Amelia said with a curtsey, “I need to powder my nose.” She followed Pippa over to the ladies room, looking round as she slipped in.
“So that’s Pippa’s mother Grace?”
“Oh yes – can’t you tell she’s in her own personal heaven?”
“Well, she is a most – attentive woman,” Klaus said with a smile. “Perhaps a little too much so…”
“Alright Philippa darling - who relates to who, how and why?” Lady Ashley said as she cornered her daughter along in the powder room.
“Mum,” Pippa said as she checked her lipstick, “you know you are getting insufferable…”
“Enough of the long words Philippa,” Amelia said as her accent slipped into her negative Yorkshire, “WHO are your friends?”
“Why don’t you just hire a private detective Mom? I’m sure they can do a better job of telling you.” Philippa checked her makeup.
“Well, from the modeling world we have Juliette Huntingdown, as well as Diana, Countess de Ros with her father, brother and sister in law. So four counts and countesses. We also have a baron, a clutch of law enforcement personnel, some mothers – oh and the florist and real estate agent I told you about last night.”
“And yet there are so many handsome men - I do take it Prince Klaus is taken?”
“Juliette is the mother of one of his daughters. Truth be told, they should have been married years ago when I knew them in Paris…” Pippa suddenly looked at her mother, and rolled her eyes as she said “Mother you aren’t husband hunting for me again…ARE YOU?”
“Well,” her mother said with a smile like a tiger, “I always hoped you’d find a father for my granddaughter.”
“Really? So you think there may be an eligible man here?” Pippa smiled and looked at the mirror, before she said, “all right – come on, you can ask.
“But scratch Guy du Grechy off your list,” Pippa decided to tease her mother, “far too old, and his consort Valeria de Ros would scratch my eyes out.
“And talking of scratching, scratch Nikolai Barskov, even at his age he’s still a skirt chaser.”
“Philippa, are you mocking me?”
“You aren’t taking me seriously…”
“Of course I am Mum,” Pippa barely concealed the mockery in her tone as they sat at a table.
“Indeed,” Amelia said as she looked round. “Who is the rather charming, tall and muscular, but mature man? Alexander I believe his name is?”
“Oh Alex is well off bounds Mum…”
“I checked,” Amelia said as she licked her lips, “he has no wedding ring.”
“Take it from me, he’s completely off-limits.”
“You mean he’s gay?” Lady Ashley asked in a shocked voice.
“Worse,” Pippa giggled, “he’s a priest.”
“Pity – he would suit Poppy as a father…”
“He does – as a Father,” Pippa said quietly.
“So let me see – What of those two younger men over there?”
“Well let me see Clint the tall one I think would disappoint you socially Mother, he’s a driver.”
“No - limousines.”
“You mean he’s a chauffeur?” Lady Ashley sounded outraged.
“Not exactly, he works for the United Nations in Diplomatic Protection. He was the hero in getting that British representative away from the terrorist ambush last year. But Susan his wife is an Insurance executive and I’ll definitely not chance her claws and steal her man.”
“And the other?”
“Not married, but as good as to Jan Carter. Adam Ball is an FBI agent, a former marine, but Jan is even tougher, he’s a mile off limits, and besides given your prejudices Mother…he’s also Jewish.”
“Such a pity,” Amelia said as she shook her head, totally missing the look of desperation on her daughter’s face as Grace walked over.
“Enjoying yourself Amelia,” she said with the sweetest of smiles as she sat down.
“So far so…”
“Forgive me – may an old man buy you a drink?”
“Lady Amelia Ashley, Prince Nikolai Barskov.”
“Charmed,” Amelia said as she took Nikolai’s hand and stood up, “tell me all about yourself…”
“Okay, who did the rescue?”
“You’re welcome,” Grace said with a smile. “You look like you needed some down time.”
“Thanks,” Pippa said as she accepted a drink, and looked to the door, as George Graham came in, Alex coming over and greeting him with a handshake.
“Isn’t that George Graham? I’ve seen him around the office meeting our finance people.”
“I think so – I met him in passing at the end of the summer. He was married to Sandy Richmond – Little Sandy and George are his kids.”
“Oh God – I read about his wife. The poor man – how is he doing?”
“Slowly getting on with life,” Grace said quietly as George stood talking to some of the other men.
“Oh, now he looks good.”
“Mother,” Pippa said as Lady Ashley came back, “what are you talking about?”
“The man who just walked in – I wonder if he’s married.”
“He’s not, but…”
“Thank you, Grace DARLING,” Amelia said as she stood up and walked towards Alex and George.
“Gray, if she starts trying to match us up…”
“Don’t even go there, Pip – where’s…”
“Forgive me for interrupting – I just wanted to introduce myself. Lady Amelia Ashley, Philippa’s mother. And you are?”
Alex smiled as he shook her hand and said “Pleasure to meet you – I’m Father Alexander Richmond, and this is George Graham.”
“Charmed – tell me, George, what do you work in?”
“The financial sector – mainly handling large accounts. I am one of the executors for the Jamie Kirkham scholarship, for example.”
“Oh yes, Philippa was telling me about that. I must say, it does seem to be a noble endeavour – she says it helps those who wish to pursue a career in medicine through school and college?”
“That’s right,” Alex said, “and the two recipients of the scholarships so far have proven the usefulness of that support. Their mothers are over there, talking to Natalia and Willy du Grechy.”
Lady Ashley looked over to where Emma Carlton and Denice Burton were talking with Mary Thomas, Natalia and Willy. Alex watched her as a brief look of contempt passed over her face, before she smiled and said “well, I am sure the scholarship only goes to truly deserving candidates.”
“Oh yes – Wilhelmina Tennant and Kate Hardisty ensure they are academically suitable, but that is the only real criteria alongside the willingness to help others.”
“Indeed,” Amelia said, “so egalitarian.”
“So what do you do for a living, Lady Ashley,” George said, sensing that Alex was getting a little uncomfortable.
“Oh, I chair a number of committees at home, and I am active in the local Conservative Party – I was Lady Mayoress of my home town several times.”
“What on earth is Pippa’s mother doing,” Diana said as she and Juliette listened to her loud laugh.
“Ju, we may need an intervention.”
Grace looked over and said “because her mother is in husband hunting mode for her, and that never ends well.”
“She can’t seriously believe Alex is available.”
“It’s not Alex I’m worried about…”
“Non,” Diana said as she looked over again, “surely…”
“You don’t mind if I borrow George for a few minutes, do you Father? I would love him to meet my daughter.”
“Of course not,” Alex said, smiling as Amelia led George away. Pippa groaned as she came over and said “Philippa, this is George Graham. George, my daughter Philippa.”
“Nice to meet you,” George said as he sat down.
“Now, you two have a nice chat, while I go and talk to some of the other ladies,” Lady Ashley said as she walked over to the bar, watching from the far side.
“Look,” Pippa said quietly as she turned her back to her mother, “I am really, really sorry about this.”
“She’s trying to matchmake for me, and I’m afraid…”
“Oh… OH! Look, you seem like a nice enough…”
“It’s all right – even if I was looking for a husband, I know what happened to your wife. I would never, ever seek to intrude on you after you went through that.”
“Thank you – it’s not that I’m not flattered, but my life is my daughter now.”
“I can understand that – and thank you for understanding. I just feel like I should crawl under a rock somewhere,” Pippa said as she felt her eyes burning into her back.
“Look – if it’s any consolation, it’s not your fault,” George said quietly as they whispered to each other.
“There we are, Grace – don’t you think they make the perfect couple?”
Grace had the most acute look of exasperation on her face as she looked at the others, who in turn were looking at Lady Ashley, blissfully unaware of their shock at what she was implying.
“Ju,” she whispered, “for the love of Pete, think of something to do. We need to find a distraction?”
Grace looked at Klaus as he took Juliette’s hand, and said “Juliette, over twenty years ago I was forced to make a terrible decision, and I know if I had chosen differently, I would only have had one daughter instead of two. I thank the Lord above for Renate, for Ingrid, and for Carina, but those last words of Renate as she lay dying are still within me, to follow my heart and let Ingrid do the same.”
“Mon dieu,” Diana whispered as Klaus dropped to one knee, looked up at Juliette and said “so today, I follow my heart. Juliette Huntingdown – will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?”
The room was all looking at Juliette now, as she stared down at Klaus, for once totally lost for words.
West Central Park
“Come on in and sit down,” Janice said as Katy and Sandy came into the apartment.
“How are you feeling,” Katherine said as the two girls sat down.
“Not as scared as I was earlier,” Sandy said with a small smile, “I was just taken by surprise.”
“We stopped off and had some lunch on the way back – I think a quiet night in is the best thing we can all do,” Jan said as she sat down. “I’m just glad I didn’t go to the lunch thing today…”
The telephone rang as Katy and Sandy looked at some of their homework.
“Adam? Don’t tell me there’s…”
Jan stood in silence, and then looked at her mother as Katherine stared back.
“What? What’s happened?”
“Well, that was wonderful,” Sarah said as she pushed the plate away. “Thanks for inviting us round, Annie.”
“Hey – with Ama out with the girls, and Caroline at this lunch thing, I could do with the company,” Annie said as she cleared the plates away. “So, all ready for the Freshman prom on Friday, Harriet?”
“Well, the jazz band can at least put a few numbers together,” Harriet said with a smile, “so long as everyone else likes it.”
“Gotta start somewhere Harriet,” Sarah said with a smile, as Annie answered the phone.
“Caroline – slow down, what are you…
“No,” Annie suddenly said as she sat down and looked at the other two teachers. “And?”
Hobart William Smith
“I do see what you love about this place, Joanne – it really an oasis of calm.”
Jo nodded as she stood with Nessa on the shores of the lake, while Heather and Sandy helped George to feed some of the birds swimming on the water.
“It is my own little slice of heaven,” Jo said with a sigh, “only interrupted by the occasional unexpected call.”
Taking out her cell phone, she looked at the caller ID, and then said “Missy? I didn’t think I had anything…”
She then listened in silence, looking at Nessa and the rest of the family before she said “No…”
“Sis? What’s happened?”
“No they’re here, I’ll tell them – do they know yet?
“Yeah, yeah I understand – I won’t say anything if they call me. We’ll all talk soon.”
“Jo,” Nessa said quietly, “what’s happened?”
“Shirley – where are you darling,” John said as he came back in, placing his travel bag on the floor. He looked in the drawing room, then in the kitchen where Maisha was making some coffee.
“Welcome home Uncle John,” she said as she poured a mug and handed it to him, “how was your journey?”
“Tiring – have you seen Shirley anywhere?”
“She was taking a telephone call in the den,” Maisha said as John took a sip.
“Back in a minute,” he said quietly as he sat the mug down, and made his way to the room. As he went in, Shirley was standing, looking out over Central Park.
“Hey – what have I missed?”
He watched as Shirley turned round, looking into her eyes as he said “seriously – what did I miss…”
“Oh John,” Shirley said with a smile before she walked over and hugged him…
7.45 pm local time
“Oh my dear Goddess,” Charlotte re-read the message as she emerged from the communications tent, “I don’t believe it!”
“Something bad?” Leader and Liz said as they ran over.
“No,” Charlotte shook her head, “It’s a personal message about two friends of mine…”
“Oh?” Liz asked.
“Yes it seems like while we have been fighting our little war, the rest of the world has gone on turning.”
“You are being obtuse Little Mother.” Leader stood hands on hips.
“Read it for yourselves,” Charlotte passed the two other women the communication.
“Ah – I see,” Leader said with a smile.
John Hammond’s Studio
“Sorry we are late Stephen, Mum’s car got stuck in traffic.” Jeannie said as she rolled herself into the studio.
“Have you heard the amazing news?” Eve yelled out.
“No! What news?” Barbara spoke.
“Haven’t either of you checked your phones?”
“I have them turned off when I’m driving Stephen…Why?”
“Oh I think you better look at your messages girls while Jeannie is in hair and makeup, you are not going to believe it.” Eve laughed happily.
Jeannie looked at her mother as she went into the area, while Barbara took out her cell phone and looked at the messages.
“No… No… NO WAY!”
“Yes Way,” Eve said as she hugged Barbara, “I wonder what Cassie will say?”
8 pm Local Time
Somewhere near Hereford
“Nice place you have here, Penelope,” Natalya said as she sat in the lounge, sipping her vodka. “You must be very pleased with it?”
“I am actually – and I’m reconnecting a bit with the local people,” Sandy said as she sipped her wine. “Do you girls want to watch a film?”
“Not one from your personal collection – please,” Lily said with a smile, “I can do without the blood letting tonight. So when do you fly to Hong Kong?”
“Tomorrow – Gonna be good to…”
The telephone ringing made Penny look round, saying “hold that thought” as she went to answer it.
“Oh hi Susan – what’s…
“You are KIDDING me!”
Natalya and Lily looked over as Penny grinned, and said “Yeah, I got it. Yeah – I’ll talk to them tomorrow.”
They watched as Penny put the phone down, went to the kitchen, and re-appeared with a bottle of champagne and three glasses.
2 am local time
Closing the door quietly behind herself, Kylie sat down in the sitting room, slipping off her shoes as she looked at her cell phone.
“Oh my,” she said quietly as she read one message in particular, and then whooped in delight as she danced round the room.
“Kylie are you only just getting back in?” Marina said as she wandered into the sitting room, rubbing her eyes.
“Yes, the party ran late…Sorry!” Marina was taken by surprise as Kylie wrapped her arms round her older friend’s neck and hugged her.
“But what’s got you so hyped up? Nothing you took I hope?”
“NO! You know I don’t approve of drugs darling…No just look at this!” She thrust her cellphone into the older girl’s face.
“What am I looking at?” it took Marina’s eyes a moment to focus.
“Did you hear?” Catherine said as she came running out of her bedroom.
“I’m just reading it,” Marina laughed with happiness.
The Economics seminar was in full swing as the lecturer looked out over the small group.
"Do you believe,
Ingrid, that either the IMF or the World Bank has really been effective in
fulfilling the goals that were set up for them at their creation?"
totally Peter, but can any institution ever be considered totally effective. Is
perfection ever possible?"
“A fair point – but do you think they have an important contribution to make?”
“That depends on how you interpret their mission…” Ingrid paused as she felt her mobile hum. "Sorry, it's my father it says urgent," she said as she apologized to the group and moved to the side.
"You really should turn your devices off Ingrid," Dr. Kraczyk reminded her before Ingrid shouted out "YOU DID WHAT PAPA!"
“My apologies Peter – I’ll call later,” Ingrid said as she put her phone away.
“No – no problem at all,” Ingrid beamed, “now, about the way political groups try to influence the goals of the IMF…”
“Carina, you think that the current problems in Europe could be addressed by looking at the way the Holy Roman Empire flourished?”
"All I'm saying is that the pan-national element of the Empire may be seen as a model for a united Europe of the future." Carina said as she argued her point. “But for that to happen, all parties need to buy into the common vision as the areas did then.”
“Expand on that please – I’m sorry, does anyone know who that is at the window?”
David shook his head as Carina looked over to see Judy tapping on the window of the classroom, holding up Judith, and with a huge smile on her face.
"I'm sorry Professor, I think I'm wanted outside."
“Very well Carina,” the professor said as Carina stood up and left the room, David watching as she walked round and started talking to Judy. A moment later, she screamed, and then started dancing round with Judith as Judy watched them both.
“I think it might be good news, sir,” he said, “I’ll make sure she gets her books.”
“Ingy, have you heard?”
“Yeah – Dad just called me – they finally did it!”
“I’m heading down with Judith tomorrow. You come up – we’re taking them to lunch, whether they like it or not!”
Poppy looked up as the apartment door opened, and she saw her mother and grandmother walk in.
“I still think he would be a velly… A velly… A bloody good match for you dear, but it’s too late now,” Lady Ashley said in a broad Yorkshire accent, slurring her words as Pippa looked at her daughter.
“Give me a minute,” she said with a grin as she escorted her mother to the spare bedroom, Poppy watching as she heard her grandmother start to sing a choice rugby song, Pippa coming out and closing the door behind her before she flopped into a chair.
“What’s wrong with Gran,” Poppy said as she put her book down,
“She had a few drinks – as did I,” Pippa said with a smile. “The lunch turned into an impromptu celebration. Your darling grandmother tried to get me married off again.”
“Oh boy – so she drowned her sorrows?”
“In a way – but she got blindsided. You’ve met Miss Huntingdown and her partner, Klaus, right?”
“Miss Huntingdown yes but not Klaus – why? Did he propose to her?”
“Actually – yes,” Pippa said as she stretched her legs out.
“And did she say yes?”
Pippa smiled and said “been here alone long?”
“Been back a while, but not alone. We have a visitor?”
“Who,” Pippa said before a woman said “Ee lass that’s some bathroom – oh, there you are young Pips. So where’s that mother of yours?”
1 pm Pacific Time
Maddie Moore’s apartment
“Hey,” Emma said as she came back in, placing the brown paper bag on the table, “Who’s on the phone?”
“Yeah, I’ll tell her,” Maddie said as she looked at Emma, beaming from ear to ear. “I’ll pass on the news, and congratulations, both of you.”
“I ask again – who was on the phone?”
“Ju Huntingdown,” Maddie said as she replaced the handset, “we may have another wedding to prepare for soon.”
“Her prince finally asked?”
Maddie nodded as Emma smiled. “Well, that would be something worth going to…”
The Huntingdown Apartment
“I’m curious,” Juliette said as she sat with Klaus, his arm round her shoulders, “what would you have done if I had said no?”
“Borne it with good grace and fortitude,” Klaus said, “and then asked you again a few weeks later.” He leaned over as they kissed, and then said “the girls seemed to be excited about it.”
“I can imagine – Sigi?”
“She and Dieter are flying over on Tuesday – I believe she said something about demanding to arrange the bridal shower?”
“Oh wonderful – does she know what she’s letting herself in for,” Juliette said as she shook her head. “So does this mean I have to move to Furstenheim?”
“No – I think we’re old enough and mature enough to trust each other and continue as we are – save for the name change.”
“And the wedding?”
“We’ll discuss that once the shock has died down,” Klaus whispered as he kissed her again. “So, why don’t I take you out to dinner – you can pick the place?”
“Nah – I’d rather just sit here with you,” Juliette said as she put her head on his chest.
Sunday 4th October
“Come in,” Poppy said as she opened the apartment door to her Aunt Margaret.
“Thank you, poppet,” she said as she smiled and came in. Standing a few inches taller than her great-niece, Margaret Harker had short grey hair, and was wearing an open necked blouse and jeans.
“So where is your mother?”
“Sorting out some food – come away in,” Pippa called through from the kitchen. As Margaret came in, she looked at Pippa and said “I have to say, Pippa lass, you’re looking well all things considered.”
“You mean with Mother coming over as well? Thanks for saying so.”
“Where is she?”
“Back at her hotel, which gives me the chance to ask the 64,000 dollar question. What happened this time?”
“What usually happens, love – my sister sees her social position under threat, she blames me, and off she goes.”
“Yeah – I’d heard that part. What caused it this time?”
“What did she tell you?”
“She said it was something about you revealing she dyes her hair…”
“Oh for the love of… She goes to the same flaming hairdresser as Constance Barkley. They all know – she’s just too much a Hyacinth Bouquet to admit it!”
“A what,” Poppy said as she sat down.
“It means your beloved gran is too much of a snob to realize everyone knows her secrets,” Margaret said as she accepted a coffee. “Well, that was part of it, but I didn’t tell them. I think she’s more miffed that IDS and Theresa spoke to me rather than her.”
“Well, why did they want to talk to you rather than her – apart from the obvious reasons?”
“I’ve been campaigning for the rights of some of the local estate families to be maintained while all the cuts were going on – so I was lobbying them. It’s what I do, as you well know Pippa.”
“Your aunt Maggie is a bit of a thorn in the side of politicos,” Pippa said with a smile as she put some bread and pastries out. “Probably why she and your gran don’t get on that well.”
“Look, enough about us – how are you two? I haven’t spoken to you since you had those intruders in the house.”
“We’re getting there,” Pippa said as she sat with Poppy, “it made a few home truths clear to both of us, and meant we finally cleared up a few longstanding things.”
“Oh – such as?”
“Grace Gresham lives in New York now – we’ve rekindled our friendship.”
“Oh does she now?”
“Yeah,” Poppy said, “she’s Dean of Students at my school.”
“I saw the fashion show where she reemerged – I’m glad you two cleared the air. I like her – do you think she’d mind if I dropped in to see her?”
“Nope – she lives down in Greenwich Village. I’ll give you her address.”
“Thanks – and I’m sorry she landed on you again. From what I heard through her mumblings last night, you’ve upset her a bit as well.”
“Depends – does telling her I won’t let her drag me back down the path I was walking count?”
“Yeah, that might do it,” Maggie said with a grin. “And good for you – both of you. Those glasses really suit you Poppy – brings out the colour of your eyes.”
Poppy blushed as her great aunt sipped her coffee. “And I must say, you seem a lot happier Pippa – that’s good as well.”
“You two need to talk, sort this out – I can’t play piggy in the middle forever, you know.”
“I know, I know,” Margaret said as Poppy headed to the toilet, before she whispered “but she’s never ever forgiven me for how I helped you back then. Especially…”
“I know – and someday I need to tell Poppy that. But if that’s what is the problem, let’s start to sort it out tomorrow.”
“Why not today?”
“She needs some space to lick her wounds – and I think Gray would like to see you.”
Grace was working through her lesson plans for the week when she heard the apartment doorbell. Putting down her pen and papers on the coffee table, she walked down to the door and opened it.
“Well now this is a sight for sore eyes,” she said with a smile as she opened the door, “Come away in Maggie.”
“Why thank you, Grace,” Maggie said as she came up, “it’s been a long time. You’re looking good.”
“So are you – tea?”
“Yorkshire Tea,” Grace said as they went through to the kitchen. “The fact you’re here suggests you’ve seen Pippa.”
“Shocked the heck out of her yesterday,” Maggie said as she sat down, “and now I need to make up with my sister.”
“Amelia? Did Pippa tell you what she tried to do yesterday?”
“Fix her up with an eligible young widower – yeah she told me. You’d think she’d know by now…”
“Does she? Does she know?”
“Who Poppy’s dad is? No, I don’t think so – if she did, we would all have heard about it.”
Nodding, Grace poured the hot water into a pot, rinsed it out and then added the tea bags with more water. “You know, I never got the chance to thank you for helping me out then. It wasn’t easy having to move at such short notice.”
“Well, I knew the opening was there at Downwood – and I still had some pull on the board then. It was a damn shame what they did to you, Grace.”
She watched as Grace poured two mugs, added milk and passed one over to her. “Eee that’s good,” Maggie said as she sipped the brown liquid, and then followed Grace to the front room.
“What happened happened – after Amelia got her oar in in Devizes, and tried to out me…”
“There are times,” Maggie said quietly, “when I could throttle Amy, but what can you do?”
“Well, then I just wanted to disappear again – now…”
“You’ve rediscovered your gift – no more hiding for you. By the way,” Maggie said as she sipped her tea, “I met Fiona MacKenzie the other day. Did you know?”
“Juliette told me – poor woman. I’m heading over next month, so I’ll catch up with her then…”
The Huntingdown Apartment
Juliette looked up from her seat as the apartment door opened, and Carina came in, carrying Judith in her arms. Carina was wearing a black leather jacket over a jersey dress, while her daughter was wearing a blue dress with pink leggings.
“Well this is a nice surprise,” Juliette said as she stood up, “I wasn’t expecting to see you until next weekend.”
“I know, but this funny thing happened yesterday,” Carina said as Judith reached out to her grandmother. “I was sitting in my history seminar when Jude came tapping on the window. Seems her mother had called her with this crazy story that my mother had got engaged.”
“Well, I cannot imagine where she heard such a story from,” Juliette said as she tickled Judith.
“Well, I asked a little more, and it seems she heard it from some people who had been at a lunch with you yesterday – so you can imagine my great surprise when I call you, Pops answers the phone and says you’re in a state of shock, and, oh, by the way – you accepted?”
“I cannot tell a lie,” Juliette said as she looked at Carina, “I was that woman.”
“Okay. Good. Fine. Then I have only one thing to say on the matter.”
“And that is?”
Carina hugged her daughter and mother, before saying “so where is he?”
“Right here,” Klaus said from the kitchen, “I just wanted to wait until you finished talking.”
“I am so happy for both of you,” Carina said as she ran up and kissed him.
“So am I,” Ingrid said as she came in, hugging and kissing Juliette before she came over. “My Economics tutor is not happy with me, but I am ecstatic.”
“History in my case,” Carina said. “So come on – we are going out for lunch and you are going to tell me everything.”
“What’s there to tell? Klaus asked me to marry him, I said yes…”
“Thus throwing the entire Sinnerz collective into whoops of euphoria – but we get first dibs on you today, so grab your coat – we’re going out!”
“Just out of interest,” Ingrid said as she tickled Judith, “how have the others reacted?”
“Well, Diana is over the moon – but Sandy and Nessa are not due back until later today. We’re meeting up at their house tonight, so I guess we will find out then…”
West Central Park
“Welcome back,” Katherine said as she opened the door to Sandy, “you missed an eventful day.”
“So I am led to believe, in more ways than one,” she said as she followed Katherine into the front room, where little Sandy was sitting with Katy.
“Hey princess,” she said as she knelt down to hug her daughter, “Jo says to send her love. How are you feeling?”
“Better – Aunty Jan and Katy have looked after me,” little Sandy said.
“Has there been much?”
“A little more. It just really scared me Mom.”
“Okay then – you go and get your things. Heather and Granny are waiting for you, and George has promised not to tease you.”
As she went to get her bag, Sandy looked at Jan and said “well?”
“Come on – did he really get down on one knee?”
“Oh yes he did – I tell you, Ju was struck dumb for a good couple of minutes, before she just nodded. I think Diana almost lifted her out of the room after that.”
“It must have gone round like wildfire after that. When Jo told us, I think the cheer almost sank a rowing boat on the lake.”