It Started with a Big Bang – Part 2
Sunday 4th October
The Richmond Mansion
“Hello,” Carina said as she opened the door, “anyone home?”
“In the drawing room,” Heather called out, Carina walking in to see her sitting with Alex and Nessa.
“Well – where are they?”
“You’d better come in Mom – there’s no avoiding it anymore.”
“In here please, Your Highness and Miss Huntingdown.”
Klaus and Juliette looked through the door as they said “yes?”
“I just want to say one thing,” Nessa said as she stood up. “If you do not let me organize the bridal shower…”
“You may have a battle with Sigi,” Klaus said as she kissed both of them, Alex hugging Juliette and shaking Klaus’ hand.
“I will fight with honour,” Nessa said, “I take it the girls approve.”
“Of course we do,” Ingrid said as she came in with Judith, “How did Abby take the news?”
“No idea – we haven’t seen her yet. Sandy and Sandy should be back in a few minutes.”
“We’ll toast the happy couple later,” Alex said, “but right now, just sit and tell me how you feel.”
“I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet,” Juliette said, “Klaus was on the phone this morning to his estate manager and one or two other people in Furstenheim.”
“Including Aunt Natalya – I think she is pleased. Very different from…”
“Klaus, we agreed – that was then, this is now.”
“True – forgive me,” Klaus said as he held Juliette’s hand.
“All right – where is she?”
“Here we go,” Juliette said as Sandy came in, looking at both of them.
“Just so I get this clear – someone tried to fix my ex-husband up with Pippa Ashley?”
“Well, that did happen – but it didn’t work…”
“And I had an emergency call from my suddenly growing up daughter?”
“She did – where is Sandy?”
“Upstairs in her room.”
“I’ll go and talk to her,” Heather said as she left the room.
“So, I wonder – did I miss anything? Oh yeah – you go and try to make an honest woman of my best friend?”
“Well, that’s not quite true,” Klaus said as he stood up. “I do not need to ask Juliette to be a honest woman, but she will be my wife.”
“Good – good, just wanted to be clear on that,” Sandy said before she hugged and kissed him, doing the same to Juliette. “Jo can’t wait until she gets back on Friday.”
“Shirley called to say she will call later as well,” Nessa said, “so for now, we will have coffee and cake. Later – that is another matter.”
“Come sit with me,” Alex said as he sat back down. “You must still be on a cloud somewhere.”
“I think so, but I’m slowly coming back down to earth,” Juliette said.
“So have you considered a date yet Juliette?” Alex asked.
“We are thinking in early spring.”
“Ah, that should be lovely.”
“Alex,” Juliette said, “there is one thing I need to ask you…”
Smiling, Alex said “I can certainly conduct the service if you wish.”
“No – No, that’s not what I want to ask you…”
“Oh then what?” Alex for a second looked slightly hurt.
“The Archbishop will marry us…but I was wondering…?”
Smiling, Juliette took Alex’s hand and said “would you give me away?”
“Oh I’d be delighted to do so,” a huge smile spread on Alex’s face. “By the way which Archbishop did I lose out to?”
“Munich,” Juliette smiled a bit in relief, “we did at first think about asking you, but I then realized I had no one I really wanted to ask to give me away other then you.”
“Well I’d be deeply honoured, it’s been a long while since I stood in front of a wedding.”
“Good, then that is agreed…”
“So have you two come down yet?”
“You have got to be joking,” Carina said as she and Ingrid stood in the kitchen, where Heather was making coffee. “I still can’t believe he finally did it.”
“I spoke to Aunt Sigi this morning,” Ingrid added, “she’s even higher then we were. She was seriously talking about having Ute Lemper booked now to sing at the wedding breakfast.”
“She might do it as well,” Heather said as she put some mugs on trays, and a pot of coffee. “Can you take this through? I’ll bring the rest in a minute.”
“Sure thing,” Carina said as Juliette appeared, holding the door as the two girls went out.
“How’s little Sandy?”
“She’s fine – now the initial shock has worn off, we can keep an eye on her and George. Anyway, forget that – who tried to pair George up with Pippa?”
“That would be the creature known as Lady Amelia Ashley – I’d forgotten what she could be like,” Juliette said as she helped Heather put some more mugs out. “Grace asked for a diversion – and by the Goddess, she got one.”
“So come on – what was going through your mind when he asked?”
“I cannot honestly remember – I remember him kneeling, and saying something, and then I just froze. I could not even say yes, I could only nod and start crying. Next thing I remember, Caroline and Diana were hugging me and everyone was cheering.”
“Well while you’ve had your head spinning because of a certain proposal, I’ve been working on the idea you had.” Heather sat at the counter as Juliette poured the coffees.
“I think it’s not only possible, but really - their security is terrible.”
“Any problems that you see?”
“The biggest one is that we will need truck drivers to take the merchandise away. Fur is a lot bulkier then cash or bling.”
“Alright, so your solution?”
“We need some of the girls to learn how to drive big rigs.”
“Seems logical,” Juliette closed her eyes for a few seconds. “Who do you suggest?”
“Well myself for one, Sandy for another, and I was thinking maybe Susan.”
“That seems fine. We can find a school to teach them.”
“Our biggest problem will be disposing of the damn things.”
“No, the furs. Shirley can sell them for us, but we need get them to a place that her people can take over. Although the trucks could be fun too.”
“We can’t just drive back across the border?”
“With three truck loads of hot furs?”
“Sorry I wasn’t thinking straight for a second.” Juliette shook her head.
“Shirley thinks an old air force strip 75 miles north of Toronto might be what we need, and I’m researching it.”
“The other problem is weapons, can I have your permission to speak to Tommy the Fish and pick his brain?”
“I’ll set up a meet with him for both of us.” Juliette nodded. “What else?”
“I’ll let you know as it comes up.” Heather whispered as they heard Klaus in the hallway.
“There you are – let me help you with those.”
“I’ll bring the cake,” Heather said as she picked up the coffee cake and carried it behind them.
“Oh – chocolate cake,” George said as he came into the room, “can I have some?”
“Of course you can – and then get your homework finished,” Heather said as she handed the two children a slice.
“So spring in Munich?”
“Indeed – we hope to settle the date soon,” Klaus said. “It depends on when the Frauenkirche has a suitable opening, given the early Easter.”
“Unless you wish to do it over Holy Week?”
“As I say, it is the archbishop who will advise,” Juliette said as Nessa went to the door, returning with Diana and Abby.
“Congratulations,” Abby said as she kissed them both, “you almost got me thrown out of the Farmer’s Market when I saw the text and screamed.”
“That’s nothing,” Juliette said, “I understand Alice nearly stopped the traffic in Boston, according to Karen.”
“Well, there are a few people who want to talk to you,” Diana said, “but they are going to wait until tomorrow. For now, let us just spend a reasonably quiet afternoon together.”
10 pm GMT
“There is something spectacular about London on an autumn evening,” Gretchen Mitchell said as she walked across the road and turned onto the Strand.
“Indeed,” Mike Viljoen said as he held his knapsack over his shoulder, “especially when it is dry and the sky is clear.”
“So why exactly are we doing this again,” Josias Swart said as they passed the Trafalgar Studio.
“A favour for our new partners,” Gretchen said. “The Colonel trusts them, and I trust the Colonel.”
“Well, they did return us as they said they would,” Josias said. “So I am willing to do them this is return. Plan of attack?”
“Problem with the Savoy,” Gretchen said, “is you cannot just walk in the front door. The concierge there is legendary, but it has one thing no other hotel has – its own theatre.”
“Original home of the D’Oyly Carte opera company, and Gilbert and Sullivan operettas,” Mike said, before the other two looked at him. “Hey – I have a private life too, you know.”
“Fair enough,” Gretchen said as they turned into the road that led to the main entrance of the hotel. “After me.”
The trio went into the entrance to the theatre, smiling at the staff as they made their way to the box office.
“Good evening,” Gretchen said, “do you have any tickets available for the show on Tuesday?”
As she talked to the clerk, Josias and Mike walked to a curtained door, slipping through and making their way to a door at the end of the corridor. Josias worked on the lock before they heard a soft click, and they entered the staff area of the ground floor.
“Okay Mike,” he said, “there is an office in there. Go find our man’s suite.”
Mike slipped into the office, returning a few minutes later with a smile as he said “Sixth floor- Ambassador Suite.”
“Your department – I’m texting Gretchen. She’ll meet us at the window.”
Ten minutes later, the two men were walking along the corridor, looking like two of the guests as they stopped outside the suite doors.
“No one at home – you can enter.”
“Roger that,” Josias said as he worked on the card lock, eventually opening the double doors as both men slipped in. The door opened onto a large sitting room, Mike walking over to the window and opening it to allow Gretchen to come in.
“Right, let’s get to work,” she said quietly. Josias, search the other rooms, see if you can find anything pertaining to what he’s up to here. Mike, we need bugs correctly placed here, bedroom and bathroom. I’ll look at their laptop, see what I can find, and if I can leave them a little surprise.”
“What sort of surprise?”
Gretchen smiled as she opened a laptop, and started typing. “One of the advantages of this alliance – we can call on the services of the very, VERY best.”
“I thought you were?”
“I bow to very few, but the Hidden Hand is one of them.” Holding up a memory stick, she said, “This little beauty allows us to examine the laptop activity from afar, with no trace.”
“How do you know it works?”
“Enjoy watching that Nashville box set last week?”
“The one on your laptop.”
Mike shook his head as Josias looked in and said, “Now how did you… Never mind – Gretchen, when you have a minute?”
“Coming now,” Gretchen said as she plugged the stick in, and went into the bedroom.
“Some useful looking files here – and check out his diary,” Josias said as he looked at the documents on the bed.
“Right – photographs of everything, and everything back exactly where you found it.” Looking at the page for Tuesday, she grinned as she said “Good luck getting him to help. Mike?”
“Just need to do in here,” Mike said as he came in and started to place listening devices.
“Right then,” Gretchen said as she walked into the front room. Dialing a number, she said, “This is Team Vosloo. How’s the transmission?”
“Loud and clear,” Natalya said as she sat in her office at the Aldwych. “Madame thanks you for your assistance in this.”
“We’re good,” Josias said as he came out, and then went to the door. “Company coming.”
As Deng Bo and his entourage came in, the three spies made their way down the fire escape, and slipped into the evening crowd…
The Richmond Mansion
“I’ll get them to bed,” Heather said as she took Sandy and George up with Abby, while Alex sat talking with Nessa and Klaus. Carina and Ingrid were talking to Abby, while Sandy took Diana and Juliette into the kitchen.
“One hell of a weekend,” Sandy said as she took a bottle of wine from the fridge, while Diana took down three glasses.
“Indeed – and I for one cannot believe it has finally happened.”
“Tell me about it – On which note… Diana, Sandy, we need a quiet word.” Juliette poured her two best friends a glass of wine each and handed it to them.
“This sounds serious.” Sandy sipped her drink.
“Well it’s going to hurt you both slightly I think.” Juliette took a pause, “As I said, Klaus spoke to the Cardinal-Archbishop earlier today.”
“And he is rather a traditionalist. I had wanted to have you both as my principal bridesmaids, but the Archbishop has insisted on the old rule that bridesmaids can never have been married…I’m sorry.”
“Juliette I’d already guessed that might be the case.” Diana smiled, “It was the rule at my own wedding.”
“Juliette I’m a little disappointed…” Sandy tried to smile.
“Well I was hoping in compensation Sands that little Sandy might?”
“Oh she’d adore that.” Sandy instantly brightened up.
“Any ideas who else?” Diana asked.
“Well Carina and Ingrid obviously, and I’ll fight the church tooth and nail if Carina is objected to because she has had a baby.”
“I’ll pay to see the fight.” Sandy laughed.
“Then I was thinking, of Abby, Jo, Angel, Doc, and little Katy…”
“Or not so little Katy depending on your point of view darling.” Diana laughed.
“I was also hoping for Judith, if she’ll behave with Katy and Sandy holding her hands.”
“Well if the cardinal doesn’t blow a fuse then I say go for it.” Sandy joined in the laughter.
“Good – but I want you both by my side every step of the way, because – this is the scariest thing I have ever done.”
“Which is saying something…”
“By the way,” Juliette said, “I never did ask - I presume your Mother won the pool?”
“Well you’d presume wrong,” Sandy said, “she was out by a week.”
“So who did?” Diana was now interested.
“Eve Stone, she was right on the nail.”
“Well she did say back at Shirley’s party in London she had an insight.” Juliette smiled again.
“Irish insight I imagine – so who gets to design the gowns?”
“The argument – sorry, the discussion probably begins tomorrow, when I get into the office.”
“Hey – how did Mary react?”
“I have no idea – she and Denice suddenly started talking in Welsh.”
“If I was you,” Diana said, “I would be prepared for a very different day at work tomorrow…”
“How are you feeling Juliette?”
“Shirley,” Ju said as she hugged the latest arrival. “I still can’t quite believe it.”
“I hear Penny called you today before she went to the airport.”
“She did – and I got a huge bunch of flowers from the girls today.”
“Intriguing – but isn’t it going to look suspicious if we all sign up for truck driving school?” Sandy asked.
“Not really lover.” Heather snuggled up close. “We are going to have to take the car down to Florida for the Sebring race by truck. It’s just a nice coincidence that this next job needs truck drivers.”
“Okay, so when?”
Sandy looked at Heather, an eyebrow raised as she said “I do have other work you know.”
“I’ve scheduled both of us around the lessons and the test.”
“What would I do without you my love?” Sandy pulled Heather close and kissed her as George appeared in the door.
“Ummm Mom.” He laughed as he said, “Remember me and Sandy live here as well.”
“I thought you’d gone to bed.” Sandy sat up.
“I had, but then I decided I wanted some milk. What is this job needs trucks?”
“Oh just collecting some furniture for a project.”
“Okay,” George shrugged, “Night night again.”
“We have got to learn to be more careful.” Heather breathed out.
“I know…and in more ways than one way.” Sandy resumed kissing her girlfriend.
Monday 5th October
The Huntingdown Apartment
“Yes this is Carina Hunt…”
“No she will not be doing any interviews.” Carina hung up impatiently.
“Which paper?” Juliette asked as she poured them both small cups of dark Turkish coffee.
“The Daily News, my damn phone hasn’t stopped ringing since you turned yours off.”
“Turn yours off as well…”
“Then they’ll simply start ringing me.” Ingrid came in wearing her dressing gown.
“I’d better warn Janine – I have an out of office meeting this morning, and they’ll try her next.”
“Oh this is what I miss most down at Princeton,” Ingrid said as she sipped the coffee Juliette poured for her.
“In all the excitement I forgot to ask - how things are going?” Juliette sat down.
“Very well,” Ingrid smiled, “though I think my moderate Christian Socialist/Keynsian political views surprise a lot of people.”
“David has the same problem, people can’t understand how a lord can be a liberal either.” Carina looked up from her coffee. “The discussion he had with our tutor about his ancestor – a masterclass in reasoned argument.”
“Hundreds of years of having responsibility for other people,” Klaus walked in, “aristocrats are genetically programmed sometimes I think to look after others and help defend them.”
“Well I can’t believe how proud so many Americans are of being selfish individualists.” Ingy shook her long blonde hair. “And no offence,” she looked at her sister and Juliette.
“None taken, I’ve lived outside the US long enough to see some of its faults.” Ju smiled. “Right, I need to get ready – I’ll see you all later.”
“Where is your meeting today,” Klaus said as Juliette headed to the shower.
“Out of town…”
West Central Park
“Mom, now Sandy is starting her periods, do you think her attitude will change?” Katy asked as she got ready for school.
“Probably darling,” Jan said as she stood up, “but it won’t just happen overnight, you’ll need be patient with her.”
Katy nodded as she put her shoes on, before saying “Do you think she will turn out like her Mom?”
“Almost certainly, she’s a very pretty girl.”
“No I meant sexually, do you think she will only like girls?”
“Oh!” for a moment Jan was forced to think. “You know I really have no idea.”
“It will be a pity if she doesn’t like boys…”
“And why is that?”
“We won’t be able to double date.”
“You can still double if she’s a lesbian, it will just mean though she brings her girlfriend.” Jan blotted her lips with a tissue then applied her lip-gloss.
“Let me guess… You are having Monday lunch with the girls.” Katherine came into the bathroom.
“What gave me away Mother?”
“Oh the designer suit, the ultra high heels, means you are impressing either a man or other women, and since I know this is Adam’s day off…well then…”
“Can I wear my four-inch heels for school?” Katy asked as she applied a little mascara.
“NO!” her mother and grandmother replied in unison.
“You two can be killjoys.” Katy laughed.
“Get your bag,” Jan said as she went to her room, “we’re running late.”
“So, yeah – I spent most of the weekend listening to both sides of Mum’s family. Quite an eye opener – and my grandmother turns out to be slightly to the right of Enoch Powell.”
“She sounds worse then some of my relations.” Jess shook her head as the girls walked into Annie’s classroom.
“Thank God I can always call on one of you to come rescue me.” Poppy rolled her eyes. “And to think until recently I believed what she said. Thanks for pulling me out last night – another ten minutes of her saying Nigel Farage is right and I’d have killed her.”
“I thought nobody could be more snobbish then Spanish grandees…now I know better.”
“Your Aunt Maggie is nice though.” Erica spoke. “She really complimented me when we met her last night.”
“To use an old expression,” Poppy said, “Aunt Maggie is the salt of the earth.”
“She doesn’t pretend like your Gran.” Erica added.
“No she’s just herself.”
“Just one question - if you are from Essex originally, why do they sound so different from you?” Dawn asked.
“Because they were originally from Leeds in Yorkshire, Gran though insisted they move south when my Grandpa started to get rich, and that was why I was born in Stortbourne. It’s a rather nouveau riche outer London suburb, not far from where Jeannie came from in Harlow.”
“A whole suburb full of people like your Gran?” Jess asked in shock.
“Thank God no,” Poppy said, “but there are quite a few like her that live there.”
“To quote a well known Chinese phrase…OY VEY!” Dawn rolled her eyes.
“All right,” Annie said as she stood in front of the class, “Time to stop talking and start working. We’re going to look today at surds.”
“Now who hasn’t picked a theme for her paper on Chaucer?” Sarah asked as she looked round the room.
Pepsi put her hand up along with a handful of other girls.
“I thought you were interested in writing about courtly love Pepsi?”
“I am Miss,” Pepsi said, “but I’m also getting interested in the historical overlay after I watched a show on PBS last night about the Hundred Years war. Can I see you at lunch to discuss it please?”
“Certainly, and anyone else who wants to talk out her essay idea I’ll be in here all lunchtime.”
“Miss, is the book on the War of the Roses necessary?” Raylene asked.
“Unfortunately yes,” Sarah said as she leaned on her desk, “I know it’s history rather than literature, but you’ll need the background as we move on to Shakespeare.”
“I was reading that Wycliffe’s translation of the bible into English is the next important step in English literature miss.” Doc held her hand up.
“It is Anna, and for the rest of you don’t worry I’m not going to assign you to read the whole bible.”
“Thank God,” Jeannie said loudly.
“But I do want you to read some extracts,” Sarah pulled some sheets of photocopies from her case, ‘so Nicola can you pass round these pages round please…Read them for your homework and I’d like your comments on how Wycliffe’s English has evolved from Chaucer’s in our next lesson.”
“Wonderful,” Nikki said in a whisper as she handed them round.
It had been some time since Tommy had driven down this road, but as he approached the turn to the barn the familiar ache returned. He may be on friendly terms with them now, but some things never went away.
Then he saw it, the small track that led to the barn. Turning, he made his way down – the old fear still there. Tommy the Fish had not survived so long in his business without showing respect and fear where it was due – and these ladies commanded both from him.
As he drove into the barn, he saw the black Daimler waiting. Pulling up alongside, he stepped out and waited, playing with the gold band over his ring finger.
Then he heard them – two sets of footsteps, as he turned and looked at them. As always, they were impeccably dressed – dark blue blazers and knee length skirts, dark stockings and three-inch heels, their blue scarves tied stylishly round their necks, and the hems of the black stockings tucked under their scarves.
Their black hair was pressed down, as they stood and looked at the older man.
“Miss Panther, Miss Cheetah,” he thought to himself as the taller of the two women walked forward, smiling as her skirt rippled with each step.
“Hello Tommy.” The voice of Miss Panther was just as smooth as silk as ever.
“Hey to you as well Ma’am,” Tommy had to bite his tongue to avoid saying congratulations on your engagement. “What can I do for youse ladies?”
“Tommy,” Miss Panther said, “we have a logistics problem, it seems we may need to acquire some weapons on the Canadian side of the border…can you be of any help?”
“Shit!” Tommy was jolted back to reality as he looks at them, “you ain’t askin’ this rhetorically is yer?”
“No Tommy, I only ask questions that I require proper answers to.” Miss Panther walked slowly towards him, hips swaying, her voice almost a purr. “And can you help?” she ran her gloved hand over his face.
“Not from here I can’t…I aint stupid enuff ter try smugglin’ weapons over no border…but…” he paused, “I might knows a local can help yers out.”
“That was rather what I was hoping you might say.” Miss Panther slowly walked away. “Miss Cheetah will give you the details as to what we require.”
“If I does dis, he may decide not to help youse – I hope dat isn’t held agains me?”
“Of course not Tommy – we will talk with him, and make him aware of our rules.”
“Well – it’s more of a her. Let me ask if she’s interested, then ahll contact youse.”
“Indeed? Very noble of you Tommy, but do so with haste – we wish to proceed soon on this.”
“Youse got it. I go first.”
“You go first – and thank you Tommy.”
Tommy nodded and got into his pickup, the two women watching as he headed out, before Miss Cheetah closed the barn doors.
As he went along the road, Tommy glanced to the side and saw a green Ford parked to one side. Stopping a short way down the road, he slipped out and walked back down the road, reaching into his back pocket as he did so.
“Do you think he can do it,” Juliette said as she looked at Heather.
“If anyone can, its Tommy,” she said as she looked at her laptop, and then at Juliette.
“Wig and mask on, we’re needed outside,” she said as she pulled the stocking back over her head, Juliette fixing her hair and stocking mask as they both slipped out of the back of the barn.
Making their way round, guns drawn, they saw the green Ford, and the dead man slumped over the steering wheel.
“What the hell?”
Heather opened the passenger door and took out a camera, looking at the display as she swore.
“He’s got shots of you all day today – and picking me up. Let me have a look at his tablet.”
“He must have been tailing me,” Juliette looked at the dead man. “How comes we didn’t see a tail?”
“I don’t know, but I’m glad I got to see this before he sent it.” Heather pointed to the part written story the journalist had been writing on his computer.
“Diana we need you…URGENTLY!” Juliette spoke into her phone.
“What is up?”
“I can’t say just get out here urgently.”
“On my way Cherie.”
“That is two near misses.” Heather pulled the man’s wallet out. “Oh the National Enquirer…I should have guessed.”
“Okay – I need to get the press off my back. Heather, can you do a sweep of the house, make sure I’m not being bugged.”
“Better idea – get Caroline to do it. She’s working at the Broadhurst house today on their system. I’ll call her.” Looking round, she said “We owe Tommy for this…”
“Who else would have done this? Ju, we need to discuss both security and roles for this.”
“Yeah – and I need to call Tommy. Have a little chat…”
Heather looked closely at Juliette as she dialed another number.
“Jeanne? Yeah, thanks. Listen – remember when Klaus and I got together again, and you did us a favour? Well, time to get the reward – ready for an exclusive?”
Twenty minutes later, Juliette and Heather looked up as Diana drove in.
“What happened,” she said as she jumped out, “has Tommy…”
“No – Tommy had our backs,” Juliette said. “Show her Heather.”
The two women walked out of the rear of the barn, before returning a few minutes later.
“I moved everything to the boot – leave it with me, it will be disposed of today. How did you miss him?”
“He’s a hack – probably thought he was covered, but for future meetings, someone follows us as well and keeps an eye open.”
Nodding, Diana said “It does raise another question, however.”
“I know – not one I want to ask, so we’ll all talk later. For now, Heather, you change and drive Diana’s car. Can you make lunch?”
“Please, pass on my apologies. Tell them I was detained at a business meeting – but you need to be there.”
Tavern on the Green
“Sorry I’m late,” Juliette said as she sat down, and placed her bag by her seat, “so what did I miss?”
She looked round the table, where Claire Moss, Rachel McNally, Kelly Rochermann, Pussy van Roon, Tonia Razinski, Gale Callaghan, Shirley, Jan, Paulie, Nessa and Sandy were looking at her.
“What? Do I have something on my nose?”
“No,” Pussy said, “but we were talking before you came, and we need to know where is it?”
“And it is?”
“Come on, soon to be Princess Juliette – where is it? Third finger, left hand, that enough of a clue?”
“OH THAT – We need to go shopping for that,” Juliette said, “So you’ll have to wait.”
“My apologies, ladies,” Diana said as she sat down, “have I missed much?”
“Nope – let the celebrations begin,” Pussy said as she signaled to the waiter, three bottles of champagne coming over.
“I hate you,” Gale said as she sipped her water.
“Just think of the baby,” Diana said as she handed the pregnant woman some ginger ale.
“You know,” Pussy said, “I wish I had been there to see the look on your face.”
“Nothing compared to the look on Pippa Ashley’s mother,” Nessa said. “It was only this morning I realized where I had seen her before.”
“You know Lady Ashley,” Sandy said.
“Well, she wasn’t Lady Ashley then. Amy Harker – she was there with her father attending a trade fair your father was organizing. A very precocious ten year old.”
“Not that I could tell – so something changed her. Her older sister, Margaret – she was more outgoing. Wonder what happened to her?”
“Never mind that now – ladies, let us toast the woman of the hour. Juliette!”
An hour later, Juliette was talking quietly with Kelly and Pussy when a suited man walked over.
“Miss Huntingdown, there are some reporters outside,” Thomas the head waiter whispered in her ear, “someone must have tipped them off you were here.”
“This is getting tedious,” Juliette sighed.
“Problems?” Asked Jan.
“Reporters stalking me.”
“Any chance you and your FBI badge can run protection for me please Jan?”
“I can try. But at least for a few days you are better off laying low, at least till some other celebrity grabs their attention.”
“I’m beginning to believe that as well. If nothing else, it may give me time to lay some plans more firmly.”
“Something I may want to know about?”
“Unsure - I’ll consult later. Right now, I need to get out of here.”
“That’s where I come in – Thomas?”
“Yes, Miss van Roon.”
“We need the discrete exit.”
“Of course – I’ll have the car brought round to the rear entrance. I will inform you when it is ready.”
Complete Style Magazine
As one, the office stood and clapped as Juliette walked in, her cheeks growing steadily redder as she walked through to where Janine and Alexis were waiting. Janine had chosen to wear a polo neck sweater and pants, while Alexis had on a patterned minidress.
“Welcome back Boss,” Janine said, “coffee on the way.”
“Girls I owe you BIG TIME!” a more then slightly flustered Juliette smiled as she reached the sanctuary of her own office and sat down. “After the last couple of days, I need a little peace and quiet.
“That’s what we’re here for Boss, but…”
“The phones have been a little busy,” Alexis laughed as she and Janine followed Juliette in.
“These are your important calls.” Janine handed her boss a stack of notes, “the top ones are congrats from people I know are friends of yours, the ones below are business.”
“I can see,” Ju glanced at the notes. “Oh did Tom actually phone in person?”
“He did,” Janine said, “and as you can see he not only wants to discuss his new collection, he wants to do your wedding dress.”
“Well there are a few other offers as well,” Juliette said as she looked through the notes, “but I do need to see Tom about his collection, so can you make an appointment for us to go see him Janine?”
“Will do,” Janine said as she made a note on her pad.
“Now,” Juliette said as she sipped on her coffee, “what else is absolutely urgent?”
“Well, the art department wants your okay on more of the layouts for the Tribute issue.”
“Alright Alexis,” Juliette said as she sat back, “say I’ll be down at three thirty please.”
“Mary and the girls want to invite you to drinks in the cave at five.”
“I’ll be there Janine.” Juliette smiled again.
“And right now, I need you to sign off on the travel plans for the Toronto Fur Show.”
“Okay – sit, let’s talk.”
St Angela’s – the music room
Harriet Craig put her lips to the reed, and started to play as the band in front of her provided the rest of the music.
“Blue Moon, You left me standing Alone.
Without a tear in my heart,
Without a love of my own…”
“She is GOOD!”
The girls sat and listened while Melody Hardy crooned ‘Blue Moon’. As Dawn launched into a trombone solo, Doc spoke appreciatively, “I wish I sang half as well.”
“Now we just need the right boys to slow dance to it with.” Poppy smiled at Jess and Erica.
“Well I asked Simon Lodge to the dance,” Erica smiled.
“First YOU asked him? And second he accepted?” Poppy shook her head.
“Yes and yes.”
“Why sit around and wait for a boy to ask, they can be awfully slow.” Doc smiled.
“If you have someone in mind Poppy, just ask him.”
“I suppose so, but I think even my mom will have a fit at me asking a boy out.”
“You’re fourteen Poppy – gotta start somewhere.”
“I suppose so – there’s this guy in my apartment block. I’ll see if he wants to come…”
“What are you girls reading?” April asked as she set the table for supper.
“Some extracts from the Wycliffe translation of the bible.” Ama glanced up and said “I think this is from one of the gospels.”
“For your English Lit class?”
“Yes Mom, it’s interesting - it’s not yet modern English, but it’s not Chaucer’s Middle English.” Pepsi underlined a passage. “I thought when it was assigned it might be boring, but between us we have found a lot to say.”
“It’s certainly different in a lot of ways to studying the Bible with Father Alex. Look at this - Oure fadir that art in heuenes, halewid be thi name; thi kyndoom come to; be thi wille don in erthe as in heuene: gyue to us this dai oure breed ouer othir substaunce; and forgyue to us oure dettis, as we forgyuen to oure gettouris; and lede us not in to temptacioun, but delyuere us fro yuel.”
“Well, it sounds like the Lord’s Prayer,” April said.
“True - but here you are looking at the language not the meaning,” Pepsi reminded her friend.
“True,” Ama smiled.
“Did you discuss your essay with Miss Nightingale darling?”
“I did, and we worked out a title that brings in both Courtly Love, and the historical aspect.”
“What are you writing yours on Ama?”
“I’m looking at the Millers and the Knights tales and contrasting them Mrs. Broadhurst.”
“Well I know very little about it.”
“One is bawdy farce, the other a gentlemanly love story Mom.”
“Okay now I can see what you are getting at.”
“As Caroline says it’s like comparing Benny Hill and Love Story.” Ama smiled.
“I never knew Caroline was so into this sort of thing. I’ll have to ask her about it when she’s here tomorrow…”
The Huntingdown Apartment
“You’re good to go Ju,” Caroline said as she signed off on the report. “No sign of phone taps or bugs, but we’ll monitor your line for a while, make sure nobody is listening in. George is also going to be your personal chauffer for the next week, just in case.”
“My pleasure,” George said as he sat in the armchair.
“Thanks, both of you – sure you can’t stay for dinner.”
“Not tonight – I have to pick Ama up, and make sure everything’s ready for tomorrow.”
“And I need to call Lily – something she wants me to sort out,” George said as he stood up. “Enjoy your evening.”
“I intend to – Klaus has driven down to see Ingrid, and Sigi arrives tomorrow, so this is my night off all week.”
“You sure you’re going to be all right,” Caroline said, “I heard about the press hassle today.”
“You didn’t hear the best bit – but that can wait until later. Call me and I’ll explain everything.”
“All right Philippa,” Lady Ashley said as she came in, and removed her coat, “I am here as you – requested. Now what is this all about?”
“Well, mother,” Pippa said as she hung her mother’s coat up, and watched her remove her gloves, “I feel it is time that you and I had a heart to heart.”
“Oh? Now why would I want to do that?”
“Because we all need to you daft wassock.”
“OH deep joy,” Amelia said as she rolled her eyes. “Margaret – not flown home yet?”
“Not yet,” her sister said with a smile as she looked up from the couch. “I think we both need to have a little chat on neutral territory.”
“I believe Philippa said she wanted to talk?”
“Right,” Pippa said as she put her coat on, “I’m taking Poppy for pizza. By the time I get back, I want you two to at least be talking civilly. Then I can talk to both of you.”
“See you later Gran, Aunt Maggie,” Poppy said as she waved before they walked out, the sisters looking at each other.
“Well,” Amelia finally said, “I guess I do owe you some sort of apology over what happened.”
“What,” Margaret said as she poured some coffee, “that you took offence at me bending the ear of those Tory grandees – but was it because I wanted to help those who cannot help others, or was it because you were not invited as well?”
Amelia shifted uneasily in her seat, before she said “A little of both possibly. I didn’t expect you to follow me out here.”
“Well, I needed the break,” Margaret said as she sipped her coffee, “but I also wanted to make sure Pippa and Poppy were all right. Seeing Grace was an extra bonus.”
“I don’t like Grace.”
“You used to.”
“Yes, I did – but she has been a bad influence on my girls.”
“Well, we’re going to disagree on that as well. She was there when we weren’t Amy – she was there for Pippa and for Poppy.”
“The last thing I expected to do when I made sure she left that school was for her to end up here…”
“Excuse me?” Margaret sat forward and said “How did you make sure she left that school?”
“I saw her on that show – I did not mean to watch, but I did. So I called a few friends in the local Conservative Association – George Dalton, a few others…”
“Shit Amelia,” Margaret said, “I’ve known you do some underhand things, but… Why?”
“To show Philippa I care enough about her to make sure she can’t be hurt by her again. After all, I did it before in Devizes…”
“I knew it,” Maggie said as she stood up. “Amelia, you cannot control Pippa. She is her own woman, and she has never been happier.”
“But the people Poppy is mixing with – those coloured girls, and the Chinese friend…”
“Have you listened to yourself? Amy, this isn’t Leeds when we were girls – the world has got better since then, changed, accepted far more.”
“And not necessarily for the better.”
“So you tried to ruin Grace to what – protect the family.”
“Yes – is that so wrong?”
Margaret sat down and shook her head. “Amy, Amy, Amy – How the hell did we get into this position?”
“Well, if you would only listen to me…”
“No – believe me, you have no idea what you’ve done this time. Would you like to know?”
“Never mind,” Maggie said as she shook her head. “I think despite yourself, it worked out for the best – but do me a favour? Lay low for a couple of days and come back with me. I need to talk to a couple of people, and then to you.”
Tuesday 6th October
The girls were chatting amongst themselves as they made their way to the first class of the day.
“Oh Joy! Tuesday morning chemistry,” Jeannie wheeled herself to her lab desk and put her books on the bench.
“Well at least it’s not Math first thing Mondays,” Becca reminded her.
“Yeah, I guess I should at least be thankful for that.” Jeannie smiled and yawned all at once.
“A late night Jeans?” asked Doc.
“A bit, we were working on finishing up the pictures in the Avedon style for CS.”
“Did your mother freak like you predicted?” asked Ama.
“A bit, but Granddad was close by, and I was able to hold the poses pretty well. This is pretty muscular,” she tapped her stomach.
“It still beats me how you can control yourself that way.” Becca shook her head.
“Practice, Becca, practice…”
“Alright girls…Silence please.” Harriet stood at the front of the laboratory. “I have marked your papers from last week, and I think you should all give yourselves a pat on the back…no one actually did badly.”
“No not even you Jeannie.” Harriet smiled.
“Well now I believe in miracles,” Jeannie looked at the B+ grade. Then stuck her tongue out at Becca when she pointed out her own A-.
“Now if you can all calm down, let us today start considering the properties of metallic elements. Can anyone, whose name is not Anna Carlton, give me a defining aspect of a metal?”
The Richmond Mansion
“Hey Ju,” Heather said as she let Juliette in, “come away in. Where’s George?”
Juliette indicated with her thumb where George was sitting in the car, looking at the paper.
“Well, that’s what she said he would do,” Sandy said as she showed Juliette into the front room.
“Hey – need to work as we work,” Sandy said as she looked up from her perch on the couch, sitting cross legged in old sweat pants and a t-shirt. Caroline was sitting next to her, smiling as she talked to Susan.
“How are you feeling this morning,” Shirley said as she put the paper down.
“Not too bad – any word on Penny?”
“She arrived safely this morning, and I believe Helen is looking after her.”
“I can imagine she is,” Diana said with a smile.
“So, what exactly happened yesterday,” Caroline said as Juliette sat down.
“That is an excellent question – somehow, I and Heather failed to notice a hack from the National Enquirer following me out of the city.”
“Did he find the barn?”
“I don’t think so – Tommy saw his car when he left, and then – well, he took care of it.”
“Tommy? Not his usual line of work – do you think he wanted to spare him your tender attentions?”
“I’m not sure – the tablet the reporter had had got to him following me out of the city, and then he lost us. He had speculated why I was with Heather – maybe a ménage a trois?”
Shirley looked at Sandy, who shook her head without lifting it from her work.
“Hey Juliette,” Heather said as she came in, “bringing them up to speed?”
“As far as I can – anything on the missing reporter?”
“No – nothing major anyway. Where did you lose it Diana?”
“Out in the sounds – should be discovered soon.”
“I still don’t understand why Tommy killed him rather than alert us, though…”
“Is George alright outside?” Heather asked as she poured the coffees.
“He said he wanted to watch the traffic and see if he could spot anything.” Juliette answered.
“That’s probably good,” Shirley sipped her drink. “Given what happened.”
“Look,” Juliette said as she looked round, “I’m sorry to have dragged you all over here, but we needed to talk, and a morning coffee group seemed the best way to not look suspicious.”
“We understand Ju.” Sandy looked up from the sketch she was working on.
“Yesterday’s events have proved that while my engagement is gossip column subject number one, I need to be doubly careful.”
“Yes you do,” Caroline nodded.
“So I need all of you to be similarly careful as well, from past experience with the paparazzi and other hacks, they aren’t above following and pestering my friends.”
“Paris!” Diana and Sandy laughed as they said the word at the same time.
“Exactly,” Juliette smiled.
“Well, we’re monitoring your calls – with your permission of course – and Janine is screening at the office. Campus security has agreed to watch Cari and Ingrid – from a distance – and we should be covered otherwise.
“If you’re planning something, however, do it from here for now. Use the secure network to contact others – including Tommy.”
“What do we do about Tommy though?” asked Susan.
“Yes that is a problem that has been exercising my brain I must admit.” Shirley took another pastry. “Why would he do that to protect you?”
“Because he wishes to show his loyalty?”
“Possibly,” Shirley said as she looked at Susan, “he does owe a lot to you, and does show the appropriate amount of respect. I wonder…”
“What are you thinking Shirley?”
“I am thinking that Thomas Morgan had something in common with George Simpson outside, John Jacobs and John – I trust them with my life. I don’t think sanction is what you want here – you need to ask another question.”
Juliette looked at Shirley, and slowly nodded. “I see what you’re getting at – I will consider that.”
“So what exactly is it you are considering for the ladies,” Susan asked.
“Furs – lots and lots of fur.”
“I still can’t see how Mercury can really be called a metal.” Ama spoke as they all found a table for lunch.
“Do I need to explain again?” Doc asked as she sat down.
“NO!” her friends spoke in unison.
“All right, all right – onwards and upwards…”
“Oh the joys of chemistry,” Abigail laughed at the girls sitting a couple of tables away.
“Not my strongest subject either.” Letty looked round. “You can tell though when school is really underway, girls are discussing work and not boys.”
“True.” Abby smiled, “and talking of boys, Tony tells me a certain basketball player from Cornell has been keeping in touch…”
“A little,” Letty blushed, “he’s really nice and he’s not just a jock either. He really helped with my American History paper.”
“So is he taking you to the Halloween party?”
“Well,” Letty said as she put her drink down, “since I suspect you asked Tony to ask him to ask me, I suspect you already know the answer Miss de Ros.”
“I do,” Abby giggled, “but I wanted to see your face.”
“Mom and I need to find something appropriately Scottish to wear…how is your costume hunt going?”
“Mama is having dresses made up in traditional Gascon style.”
“Is there such a thing?”
“Oh yes, like most French regions Gascony has its own style of costume.”
“Well I live and learn,” Letty sipped her drink. “Given our ancestral homes are around Glencoe, I just hope we don’t end up in blue woad.”
Toni’s Diner, Times Square
“So you got home last night, and they had both gone?”
“Yeah – Mum hasn’t called me yet, but – well, you got the call as well?”
“I did indeed.” Grace sat back and stirred her coffee, her black boots under the long grey skirt of her jersey dress. Pippa was wearing a trouser suit and blouse – her usual office attire. “Are you sure she didn’t kill your mother and flee the country?”
“Nope, no chance?”
“Because she’s standing behind you.”
“Hello Maggie,” the blonde said as she stood and kissed the older woman on the cheek.
“I still can’t get used to you fashion people doin’ that.” Maggie smiled.
“Sorry it’s just reflex. Sit down – do you want a drink?”
“No chance of a tea?”
“Some English tea,” Pippa said to the waitress before she walked off.
“Look,” Maggie said quietly, “the reason I asked you and our Pippa to meet me here is we need do someutt about our Amy before she blows the lid off of all our secrets.”
“Agreed,” Pippa grimaced, “she’s got worse then ever.”
“Well I’d better start with the bad news, she confirmed last night she was behind getting you fired both in Devizes and in Harlow Grace…”
“SHE WAS WHAT?”
“Calm down lass,” Maggie said as the waitress brought the drinks, “folk are looking.”
“My fucking mother did that?” Pippa looked at Grace who was now in a state of silent shock. “I knew she hated Gray, but even so…”
“I can’t believe it,” Grace shook her head….”But why?”
“Because among other things she knows you know the secret of our Poppy’s father, and she doesn’t…she hates that.”
“Have you ever told anyone about what happened?”
“No – not even my housemates, but if you’re ready, I can tell them some of it, not all.”
“We’ll talk later,” Pippa said.
“That’s not the only thing.” Maggie paused, before she continued “she also hates that when you invited Pip to your parent’s place she and Sam were never invited…that’s where all this started you know.”
“Back when we were 14?” Grace asked.
“God there are times I hate my own mother.” Pippa shook her head.
“I still can’t believe… How did she justify it?”
“Protecting her girls.”
“I am going to kill her,” Pippa said quietly.
“No – we can’t allow that. You know she is a member of the Stortbourne and South Harlow Conservative Association?”
“Yeah,” Pippa said, and then she looked at Grace.
“So is Doctor Dalton and half the board of governors.” Grace threw her head back and laughed. “I should thank her when I see her – coming here is the best move the three of us could have made.”
“Well, I need to tell both of you something now, before we discuss how we deal with my sister. There was another reason I went into the back room with the two ministers. John Wentworth is getting kicked upstairs.”
“Wentworth – the MP? Going to the Lords?”
“It will be announced in the New Years Honours – and when he goes up, there is a vacancy. They asked me if I would fill the candidacy.”
“You? You hate what the Conservative Government are doing?”
“If you want to fix something, get involved – but imagine how she’s going to take that news?”
“She’ll be apoplectic,” Pippa said with a grin. “Fun as it will be to watch that, though, how do we stop her in the here and now?”
“I’ve got an idea – but you’re not going to like it…”
“Hold that for a moment,” Pippa said to Grace, “Margaret Harker, MP? They must be open to new ideas.”
“They also think a very moderate woman candidate might attract enough crossover votes to hold off UKIP.”
“Well that is true I guess, but Aunt Maggie you are a very pale pink Tory.”
“There are still a few of us left Pippa…anyway that little meeting was to sound me out, which was the real reason our Amy wasn’t invited into the back room.”
“So as usual she got completely the wrong end of the stick?”
“That she did.”
“Well I think you’d make an excellent MP Maggie.”
“Thank you Grace, I might be a bit of a shock for the right wing, but I think my record on the council means I have friends across the political spectrum.”
“Well, I’ll need to watch out for that – but Mum. What are we going to do about Mum?”
“Like I said,” Grace said, “I have an idea, but you’re not going to like it.”
“Go on – what are you thinking?”
“When are Poppy and Erica having another dance lesson?”
“Tomorrow – why?”
“Take her with you to pick her up – I’ll come with you, because I need to take tickets for Saturday to Denice anyway. And then, after that…”
Grace leaned back and smiled, as she said “we take her to my place, and we introduce her to Ama Jameson…”
The Huntingdown Apartment
Juliette heard the apartment door open and close, drying her hands with a towel as she walked into the front room.
“Klaus is tha…”
“Shut up,” Sigi said as she enveloped Juliette’s body in her arms and hugged her, “shut up and let me do this.”
“Nice to see you as well,” Juliette said as Dieter and Klaus stood in the doorway. “Keeping well, Sigrid?”
“She’s been holding that in since we took off,” Dieter said with a smile. “You should see what she did to Klaus when we cleared security.”
“I’m going to have the bruise for weeks,” Klaus said as he rubbed his back.
“I am just so happy you finally did it,” Sigi said as she stood back. “I mean, I loved Renate, but fate has to be satisfied at some point, right?”
“Don’t look at me,” Juliette said as Klaus raised an eyebrow, “she’s your sister!”
“Anyway,” Sigi said as she finally let go, “I bring good news. I got confirmation yesterday the IRS have accepted my action plan – Norstar is now under our control.”
“Now that is good news,” Klaus said, “not as good as Saturday, but…”
“Shut up, big brother,” Sigi said, “we’re going out tonight, and I am paying. Arguments?”
“I’m going to hide the knives,” Juliette said as she backed towards the kitchen.
“Oh shut up and let me hug you again,” Sigi said, “and then let me make the coffee.”
“If I was you,” Dieter said as he sat down, “I’d go with the flow…”
“Just tell me this ends some time,” Klaus said as Juliette went into the kitchen.
“Have you seen Natalya,” she asked as she leaned on the breakfast bar.
“I spoke to her yesterday – she hopes you and Klaus will be visiting soon to discuss matters with Cardinal Marx, and she will entertain you both then.”
“It’s on the list of things to sort out – I want Carina as a bridesmaid, and I already understand he is a traditionalist.”
“He is – but Aunt Natalya can assist with that.”
“I bet she can,” Juliette said as she watched Sigi pour the coffee.
“So come on – on a scale of 1 to 10, how excited are you?”
“I have a dial that goes to eleven.”
“Good – I’m right there with you,” Sigi said with a smile. “Now, what is this Klaus told me about him stepping in to save that poor George Graham from a matchmaker?”
“Oh that,” Juliette said with a smile. “You remember Grace Gresham?”
“How could I forget her – I heard she was in New York now?”
“She is – and so is Pippa Ashley, and so is her mother.”
“Lady Ashley? The biggest social climber I have ever come across? Well, then Klaus did a good thing twice over.”
“I didn’t know you had met her.”
“Long, long story, and I do not want to tell it tonight.”
“Yeah – let’s enjoy tonight. Tomorrow we’re going to see Ingy – and we have tickets for Saturday?”
“You have tickets for Saturday.”
11 pm Local Time
“All right,” Leader said, “Marigold, how is the propaganda plan going?”
“So far, we are keeping one step away of the patrols, and broadcasting as much as we can, but they are getting edgy.”
“Very well then – Petra, we continue. Shelby?”
“I think we can get the firepoints in place to take out the helicopters and stations from the far side,” Shelby said as she looked at the map. “It’s dangerous, but if that is the only way we take them out, then we use it.”
“Unless we can find a way to get into the compound and plant bombs, that’s it – and I talked to my contacts. That is not feasible – they used Chinese nationals at the airport, and they have no way to get them in there.”
“So,” Charlotte said, “we know we need to end this, as clinically as possible. Here’s the plan. We start by keeping the loudspeakers broadcasting in one place – draw some of their patrols away, and use the time to get the word across the fence to get ready.”
“So we take out the radar stations and the helicopters,” Razzie said,” and then you do what?”
“The filter approach – we cut the wire here, here and here, and we use the leaders on the inside to start to guide them out with covering fire from half the sticks. At the same time, the rest of the force come through the main gates – which we will also blow out – and box the troops inside.”
“There could be casualties – actually, there will be casualties,” Lucia said, “we’ll need to get supplies in.”
“Already in hand,” Liz said. “But we need to end this.”
“Have you spoken to Uncle?”
Charlotte nodded. “We also have supply planes standing by – seems certain friends have been laying plans as well. Marigold – leave with your colleagues now, let the word be spread.”
“Forty eight hours – tell them to be ready, and tell them we honour them. Liz, get word to the Oracle – she will wish to be here.”
Liz nodded as she stood up. “This is really it, isn’t it?”
“Yes it is – I want all stick leaders in here at 0800 tomorrow for final briefing before they move out. Get some sleep folks – the hour is now.”
“Hey,” Harriet said as she looked up from the couch, “how did the meeting go?”
“Interesting,” Grace said as she took her coat off. “Where’s Sarah?”
“Gone to see Annie.”
“Let me call her a minute, while you get a bottle of wine and two glasses – I need to talk to you,” Grace said as she went to the phone. Harriet went to the kitchen, fetching a bottle of Chardonnay and two glasses.
“Great – we’ll see you all tomorrow then,” she heard Grace say as she came back in.
“Did you just invite Annie round for dinner tomorrow night?”
“Actually, there will be nine tomorrow – we need to do an intervention on Lady Amelia Ashley and it could get ugly.”
“Oh dear – things coming to a head?”
“Let’s just say some ugly secrets could come out,” Grace said as Harriet opened the wine, “such as the truth about Poppy’s father.”
“Oh – that sort of ugly. And you volunteered our apartment because we can clean the blood up quickly?”
“Nope – semi-neutral ground. I discovered something tonight, and I want to be here when she learns a few home truths.”
“And what did you discover?”
“That Pippa’s mother was behind my troubles – twice.”
Grace simply nodded as she sat down.
“So what is this great scandal concerning Poppy’s father…don’t tell me she’s Tony Blair’s love child?” Harriet laughed as Grace poured the wine.
“No!” Grace smiled, “though can you imagine Amelia’s reaction if she was?”
“She’d probably drop dead on the spot…or at least pretend to.”
“Yes the histrionics would be off the scale.” Grace smiled, “but no - the true story is far worse then that…”
“Rape or incest?” Harriet asked baldly.
“Well those are the two worst things I could think of as to why Philippa might have covered this up for all these years.”
“No it’s not quite that bad, though it’s getting up there.” Grace acknowledged.
“Am I prying Grace?”
“A little, but I do need tell someone before this explodes, and I don’t have a better friend then you in this world Harriet.”
“Thank you Grace.”
“Look,” Grace said as she held her glass, “if I tell you, can you promise this goes no further, and that until Pippa says it may be discussed, it isn’t?”
“Cross my heart.” Harriet made the sign of the cross.
“Well, Pippa had an affair with a married man…”
“So it was Tony Blair?”
“No,” Grace grinned again, “nor was it a member of the royal family, or any politician past or present.”
“So discount Cecil Parkinson and Jeffrey Archer?”
“Yes…it wasn’t a politician who let his cock do his thinking for him Harriet.”
“So then who?”
Grace watched Harriet as she sipped her wine, before she said “Did you ever wonder why Margaret is Margaret Harker?”
“I assumed she’d never been married.”
“Oh dear God,” Harriet said as the penny dropped, “Pippa never had an affair with her own uncle?”
“Well, affair may not be the right word,” Grace said quietly, “let me back track a bit.” She took another drink before she put her glass down and sat forward.
“Margaret was married to a man called Martin Peverell, and she loved him with all of her heart. I knew Martin and he was everything that the Ashley’s and the Harker’s weren’t. He was a slick, utterly charming, upper middle class, Home Counties, handsome bastard.”
“Okay,” Harriet said, “that gives me a mental picture.”
“If he wasn’t screwing around on Maggie from the day of their marriage, then he probably was from the day they got back from their honeymoon.”
“Well even I as a teenager locked up in a girls school must admit I wasn’t immune to him when I was aged about 14 and 15, but it didn’t take me beyond that age to see him as he really was.”
“He sounds like a piece of work.”
“Totally, well anyway, he had latched on to Margaret when the Ashley’s moved south. She wasn’t short of brass, as they say up in Yorkshire because Sam Ashley had given her a share of his business early on when she worked for him.
“Anyway he zeroed in on Maggie, romanced her, married her, and Sam took him into his companies, and Martin eventually became Assistant Managing Director. And all the time, he was screwing around with Sam and Maggie in every way you can think of.”
“Just how bad did it get?”
“I only learned about a lot of this later, but he treated the position he had as if he was the lord of the manor. There were a string of very beautiful, very personal assistants who were paid both in salary and in kind very well.”
“And Margaret never caught on?”
“Like I said, she was hopelessly in love with him, and worse – Amelia was looking after him, using him to work her way up the social ladder. She did everything she could to avoid a scandal – a few of those personal assistants left with a very generous maternity payoff, put it that way.”
“All handled by Amelia on the quiet?”
Grace nodded as she said “I suspect he was also taking kickbacks for contracts, and cooking the books a little. But that was all background – until I had my one brush with the modeling world, and crossed paths with Amelia Ashley for the last time until last week.
“I was working at the time, as you know, at Devizes School as a languages teacher. I’d managed by then to bury my past as Grace Gresham, ditched the bastard of a husband, and had established myself, when fate played the curve ball, and I ran into the Ashley family again.”
“So what happened?”
"For all that I had problems with Amelia, I really liked Sam Ashley. He was one of those men whose only fault was he gave into his wife on everything because he loved her, and it was also easier than putting up with her tantrums."
"I'd got that impression. The sort of man who will take anything if it means a quiet life."
Grace said as she sipped her drink, “Amelia was determined that Sam was going
to be a big businessman, so Sam became one. One of the companies he owned was a tractor
manufacturer down in Devizes."
Harriet said, “now the story starts getting closer to you."
Pippa and I were still enemies at that time because of Christian, but among the
jobs she was doing, she was asked by Sam to put together an advertising
campaign for the tractors. She'd quit
actually modeling by this time, and she was feeling her way round in
journalism, PR, and advertising."
"At that time I was dating the Assistant Manager of the tractor factory...and I hope it doesn't need explaining how Pippa and I ran into each other, and that despite the hair and glasses she recognised me?"
“That must have been a painful experience – what happened?”
“Nothing – she turned round and walked away without a word. I let out a silent prayer of thanks, and thought that would be the end of it – and then the next night, Pete – the manager – and I were out for dinner, when I saw Pippa eating alone at another table. I was going to go over and say hello when I saw two things. The first was that she had already consumed the best part of two bottles of wine, and I was in no mood for a fight.
“The second was Martin Peverell walking over and sitting at the table, taking her hand and talking to her. A little while later, they went off together, and I went back to talking to Pete.”
“He walked me home, we shared a drink, and then he left – and I started to get ready for bed. I was about to turn in when there was a thumping on my door. I went down – and there was Maggie with a very disheveled Pippa.”
“Maggie? How did she find out?”
“Well, the first priority was Pippa – she was in a dreadful state, slurring her words and rolling around, so I got her into my bed, and then made some coffee, while I asked Maggie the obvious question.”
“What she was doing there?”
Grace nodded. “Sam had been tipped off as to some of the things Martin was doing on the financial side, so he had a word with Maggie to see if she knew. He did it quietly, discretely, and obviously Maggie knew zilch – but that lady, despite her love for him, is no idiot, and she realized something was up. She called his office, found out he’d come down here to do a spot inspection at the factory.
“So she followed him down to Devizes, arriving just after I left the restaurant at the hotel, but found out where Martin was staying. She went to his room, got a maid to open the door – and found Pippa passed out on the bed, and Martin in the bathroom. Let’s just say it was fairly obvious what had happened.”
“Ouch – no wonder she didn’t want it revealed.”
“It’s an open question if Pippa was aware of what was going on – but Martin certainly knew what he was doing – and so did Maggie. She got Pippa into some clothes, and as she did so she mumbled something about the fact she knew Grace Brand would do her again. Maggie made a call, found out it was me and where I lived – and there she was.”
“Dear God – what happened after that?”
“Well, Maggie asked if Pippa could sleep in my bed, while she made some phone calls – to her lawyers, and to Sam. She didn’t call Amelia, but when Martin got to the head office next day, Sam called him into his office. He left an hour later, having been fired, and then was arrested on charges of fraud and embezzlement.”
“When Pippa woke the next day, she had no idea what had happened – but I agreed to keep stumm, and Maggie left with her that morning. I heard about Martin later, at the same time as the reports came out that Pippa was pregnant. I think you can guess the rest.
“Maggie never blamed Pippa – she had learned a lot more about him by that time, and realized she had been taken advantage of. She kept in touch with me, though – and I think that was when Amelia found out I was in Devizes, and that was where her daughter fell pregnant. Next thing, I was fired.
“Maggie found out, and told me of the job at Downwood. She pulled some strings, got me the interview, and I got the job. The rest, as they say, is history.”
“So where is Martin now?”
“Still in prison, as far as I know.”
“What did he get?”
“Twenty years minimum security.”
Wednesday 7th October
The de Ros Mansion
Diana looked up as Abigail sat down, grabbing a muffin and pouring some coffee as she looked in her diary.
“Mama,” she said between bites, “you know I’ll be late tonight?”
“You will Abby darling?” For a moment Diana had to think before she said “Oh yes - your yearbook committee meeting.”
“Yep, hence why I’m taking my diary so I can see what dates I’m free to take photographs because I’m not being photographed myself.”
“Your life is revolving round cameras.” Diana smiled.
“Pretty much,” Abby said as she gulped down some coffee, “but it’s fun…and I have to say that Stephen Stone having once been a sports photographer gave me some great tips on that particular specialty.”
“Good for Stephen.”
Diana paused before she said “have you given any more thought towards college and what you wish to study?”
“Well I’d always assumed something involving Math…”
“It is a subject you’ve always found ridiculously easy darling.”
“But as I get more and more into the craft of photography the more it fascinates me.”
“I had noticed Cherie.”
“So, last week I went with Blair to visit Cooper Union…”
“I understand she’s doing very well?”
“She is,” Abigail nodded, “Anyway they have a programme that would enable me to study photographic arts, and it includes a year studying in Paris…”
“Aha,” Diana said as Abby stood up, “pleasing everybody that you at least spend a year at the Sorbonne.”
“It was rather important to me,” Abby hugged her mother.
“Well I must admit it does sound interesting.”
“It’s awfully hard to get into though, so I’m looking at backup plans just in case I can’t get in.”
“Yes, even a full degree in Math at the Sorbonne Mama.”
“Well,” Diana said as she finished her cup of coffee, “let us just hope it doesn’t come to that…but what happened to Cambridge?”
“It’s still in my mind, let me just say it will depend on how my photography develops.” Grabbing her car keys, Abby said “right, I need to go and collect the girls – see you tonight Mama.”
“Work hard,” Diana called out as Edith came in.
“I am expecting a delivery of groceries today, Madame. Shall I tell them to bill you?”
“Please, Edith – I need to meet with others over the charity luncheon today.”
Times Square Diner
“Well now – I see even hospital administrators get to leave the bowels of Temple Hill once in a while.”
“Hello Puss, Hello Frieda,” Barbara smiled as she saw the two women who had slipped into the booth with her, “not quite the sort of place I ever imagine you two eating lunch in.”
“Oh we usually eat far worse,” Frieda groaned, “the food at our institute is appalling.”
“”Yes it’s like they think scientists have their heads so far in the clouds that they never even notice mundane things like food.” Pussy shook her head.
“How are you doing Freida,” Barbara asked as she saw the small bump in the blonde’s midriff.
“Doing well – we have the first full scan tomorrow.”
“Anyway,” Barbara said, “good dining aside, what can I do for your girls?”
“We wanted to know how the guest list is going for the Halloween party?”
“Pretty well Puss…other then the perpetual shortage of men.”
“Can you do with some help inviting a few?”
“Oh that hard!” Frieda giggled.
“That silly book that said men and women on the Upper East side move in different worlds… The author knew what she was talking about, so few of the girls know any single men…”
“Other then poor George Graham?”
“Oh yes,” Barbara said as she shook her head, “I heard about Lady Ashley’s appalling behavior trying to fix him up with Pippa Puss.”
“It was pretty damn embarrassing…but going back to what we were talking about, if you give me your guest list I’ll try match appropriate men and invite them.”
“Well that would help me a lot…Oh by the way are Bobbi and Angel still dating those boys Tony was at school with?”
“Yes,” Frieda nodded.
“I had better invite them both then.” Barbara made a note.
“Can you also add Augie and Tracey,” Pussy said as she sipped her drink, “they will be in New York.”
“With pleasure, I like them both.” Barbara smiled. “And I can invite young Chet as well, to please young Anna.”
“Good,” Pussy said, “then leave the rest to us. Now, let us dine like royalty!”
“Two cheesesteaks and fries.”
“Well, like Burger King,” Barbara said with a laugh.
FBI Field Office
“Right,” Adam said as he sent the message, “I am done for the night. Got plans for tonight Jan?”
“Sorry – I promised Katy and Mom a girl’s night in. You’re on your own tonight Big Man.”
“Well, I’ll just have to cope,” Adam said as he looked to the entrance to their office, and then stood up.
“Harry? What brings you to the big city?”
Jan smiled as Harry Fairchild walked in. Adam’s nephew, he was a sophomore at Yale, majoring in History as well.
“Uncle Adam – I was wondering if you were free tonight?”
“Well, apparently, I am,” Adam said with a smile, “Why?”
“I have a visitor too,” he said as a thin woman with long brown hair, wearing a black coat and pants came in.
“Hello Adam,” she said quietly.
“Eve,” Adam said quietly as Jan stood up. “What brings you back to the city?”
“It’s Harry’s idea – you look well.”
“So do you,” he said quietly.
“Oh, sorry – Eve, this is my partner Janice Carter. Jan – my sister, Eve Fairchild.”
“A pleasure,” Eve said. “Adam, if you’re free, can we go and grab a coffee somewhere – I need to talk to you about something.”
“Sure – Jan, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
As they walked out, Jan watched them, one thing on her mind. Why was Eve nervous – more nervous than a person seeing her brother for the first time in years?
“Thanks,” Annie said as she took the mug of coffee from April, “so Caroline all done here?”
“Yup – safe installed, and a hotline to the local precinct as well. I still can’t believe we need it, but…”
“You do know that Grant is technically a millionaire at least twice over April?” Annie remarked.
“Well when you consider how much Sinnerz’s has made and is worth, yeah.”
“Well his share of the winnings are forming Pepsi’s college fund…”
“And when and if he is syndicated for stud duties?”
“We’ve never really talked about it…” April sat back for a moment, sipping her own coffee before she said “to be honest Annie the way things are currently, neither of us really wants them to change. Our jobs keep us anchored, they remind us who we really are.”
“So money will never spoil the Broadhursts?”
“Oh I hope not. I think Grant and I are just happy that Pepsi will have all the things that neither of us had growing up.”
“Well she’s a wonderful girl,” Annie said with a smile. “We were discussing her in the teachers lounge just yesterday…”
“Nothing bad I hope?”
“No we were thinking she’s the type of girl will probably make a very good head girl one day.”
“Well I know she’s very caring for others.”
“That she is.”
”Was that my name being taken in vain?”
Pepsi smiled as she, Ama and Jess all came in covered in mud, followed momentarily by a not much cleaner Sarah Nightingale.
“Alright I don’t want to know,” April rolled her eyes, “everybody hit the showers, I’m sure I can find you clean clothes.”
“I’m glad I am just a mathlete,” Erica smiled as she too came in, “soccer is just far too muddy for my taste.”
“Sorry – I wanted to make sure they got back safe before I went back to my place.”
“How did you do?”
“Beat Sacred Heart 3-1. I understand that is a good thing, given the cheers from the sideline.”
“Oh yes,” Annie said, “that is a good thing.”
“Right – I need to go and hit my shower,” Sarah said as Erica sent a message on her phone.
“Is it all right if Pippa and Poppy pick me up here? I have a dance class.”
“No problem Erica – let me get you a drink,” April said as she went to the kitchen.
“We’re coming round to your place for dinner tonight, Sarah. Any idea why?”
“Not really,” Sarah said, “all I know is she wants us there.”
“Maddie – how are things on the west coast?”
“I cannot complain Shirley,” Maddie said as she sat in her chair in her office. “And other matters?”
“Friday will prove decisive. So, what can I do for you?”
“Tell me, have you watched the movie ‘Miss Congeniality 2’ Shirley?”
“I have,” Shirley said, “it’s not a patch on the original.”
“Well remember right at the start the ‘Housewife Bandits’?”
“They ring a bell…Oh now I see what you are getting at Madeline. When and where?”
“We were thinking the ‘National Bank of the Golden Coast’ this Friday morning.”
“Is everything prepped?”
“Yes, I’m not inviting Cassie on this one, but I was wondering if you might like to fly out for a long weekend?”
“Sorry, I’m otherwise engaged, but Susan’s not.”
“You think she’d be interested?”
“After a year’s maternity leave…to say she is chaffing at the bit…”
“Okay I’ll ask her.” Maddie laughed. “I want to do this one before JD flies east with the film crew.”
“I had heard she had impressed the director and producer.”
“So it seems.”
“On a related topic how are things proceeding on the Ladydown movie?
“Surprisingly quickly, the girls have okayed the outline, and Rick is starting to put together individual scenes.”
“How big a tell all will it be?”
“Allowing for a little artistic license to make it work better as a movie,” Maddie said, “I think it pretty much tells the story of a group of young women who found fame and fortune and ended up unable to cope with it.”
“Fair enough – so long as the four of them are happy with the story.”
“As I say they seem to be – anyway, I’ll call Susan, see if she fancies a quick trip out west. Keep safe Shirley.”
“You too Maddie…”
Susan looked up from her paperwork as she heard the soft ping, and then accepted the incoming call.
“Maddie – what can I do for you this fine day?”
“Hi Susan – do you think Clint would mind watching over April for a long weekend?”
“Oh? Why would he want to do that?”
“Got a little thing going down here Friday morning that might interest you…”
Lady Ashton looked round the neat, if small apartment, as Erica and Poppy went to Erica’s room, and Pippa handed Denice the ticket.
“Thanks – I’m glad you were able to get one for me,” Denice said as she placed it on the bookcase. As Amelia looked over, she saw the history and technical books neatly stacked there.
“Well, I’m glad you could make it, should be a good evening.”
“Are you sure you can’t stay for coffee?”
“No thanks – we need to get back to the village. Grace invited us to join her for dinner. I’ll see you on Friday.”
As they walked out onto the street, Poppy noticed Rochelle and some of the other girls looking from across the street.
“I presume they are friends of this Erica,” her grandmother said as she looked over.
“Nope – not really,” Poppy said as they got in and drove off.
“It always amazes me how different the various parts of this city are,” Amelia said as they got out of the car.
“When did you last go into the centre of London, mother?”
“I try not to if I can help it,” Lady Ashley said as Poppy rang the doorbell.
“Ah good – welcome, come on up,” Grace said as she opened the door, allowing them to come past as they went up the stairs.
“Don’t worry, Poppy, this is a school free zone tonight,” Harriet said as they came in, and took their coats off.
“Allow me to make the introductions – Sarah, Harriet, you know Poppy and Pippa, but this is Lady Amelia Ashley. Amelia, my colleagues Sarah Nightingale and Harriet Craig.”
“A pleasure,” Lady Ashley said as she shook their hands. “It was very kind of you to invite us to dinner.”
Harriet exchanged a glance with Grace as she said “May I offer you a small drink before the others arrive?”
“Oh – who will we be joined by,” Amelia said as she sat down.
“I invited another colleague to come round with her flatmates for dinner – and that will be them now,” Grace said as she went to answer the doorbell. Pippa watched her mother’s reaction as Grace returned with Caroline, Annie and Ama.
“Right – Lady Ashley, may I introduce Annie Kelly, my colleague from St Angela’s. I believe you met Caroline on Saturday, but this is her daughter Ama.”
“It is a great pleasure to meet you Lady Ashley,” Ama said as she smiled.
“Charmed,” Amelia said as she smiled back, unsure of how to react.
“Well – I have a buffet set out, so why don’t we help ourselves, sit round and talk…”
“Phillipa, darling, why have you brought me here tonight,” Lady Ashley whispered.
“To give you a chance to learn a valuable lesson,” Pippa said as Ama and Poppy made their way to the kitchen.
“A lesson? What sort of lesson?”
“That it is entirely possible that you are wrong – want a glass of wine?”
“So what subjects do you instruct in at St Angela’s,” Lady Ashley said as she sat with a plate perched on a napkin over her lap.
“Well, I take a Spanish class in addition to my other duties,” Grace said quietly, seeing the disdain in her face.
“I teach Math, and coach the track team,” Annie said with a smile.
“English Literature, and Soccer,” Sarah said, “while Harriet teaches Chemistry and Jazz.”
“An eclectic mix,” Lady Ashley said quietly, “and how long have you lived here?”
“Only a few weeks in our case,” Harriet said, “but a lot longer for you isn’t it Caroline?”
“Actually, it will be a year on Saturday,” Caroline said as she sat down. “That was when Ama and I moved in with Annie.”
“So Ama is your adopted daughter?”
“That is correct, your ladyship,” Ama said, “Mom adopted me after the events of last summer, when I was freed from slavery.”
“From… From slavery?”
“You’re joking,” Poppy whispered.
“No – I was one of the young girls taken from my home country and brought to this country to work as a slave. When I was freed, I told my story to a journalist, and it was through her I met Mom.”
“I’d just appeared in public for the first time in years,” Caroline said, “and Jane Molloy, the journalist, interviewed me before she introduced me to Ama.”
“I… You were related to Stella Jameson?”
“She was my mother,” Caroline said quietly.
Amelia sat silently for a moment, as Poppy said “Can I ask… How long…”
“Over three years – and then, as I said, I was rescued and Mom offered to adopt me.”
“Just like that?”
“I felt Ama and I had a lot in common – when my mother died, I hid away and had to reinvent myself. I could see her personality and strength, and – well, I wanted to help in any way I could.”
“Including taking her on as your daughter?”
Caroline nodded as she hugged Ama.
“Mom! You’ll embarrass me.”
“Good – comes with the job description.”
Amelia wasn’t sure what to make of this – these strong, confident women at total ease with each other.
“You played a brilliant game today as well Ama.”
“Thank you, Poppy – but as Coach Nightingale will say, it is the team that wins, not a person. We all played our part.”
Ama fascinated Amelia. This was a young woman who by her own admission had been treated like dirt, and yet was striking out on her own? She could almost admire her, but there was still that flaw in her eye…
“Don’t say it Mum.”
“Say what Phillipa?”
“Whatever it was you were going to say.”
“I was going to say that I am amazed young Miss Jameson…”
“Her name is Ama, Mother – please use it.”
“That young Ama is doing so well, given the disadvantages she has had to face.”
“Well, she has been given a chance to be herself, and grasped it with both hands.” Taking a sip from her glass, Pippa then said “and so did we, after the robbery. We had the chance to see our flaws, and decide to deal with them, not live in them. Grace, Sarah, Harriet – they also got the opportunity to make a fresh start, and Caroline – she has embraced all her mother would have wanted for her.”
“I was thinking more of…”
“I know exactly what you were thinking,” Pippa said as she turned to face her mother, “but given what you saw of where Denice and Erica live, of Ama’s background and story, can you accept the remotest of possibilities that you are wrong?”
Lady Ashley stared straight ahead as Grace said “Amelia, I wonder if you could give me a hand with something in the kitchen.”
“What – Yes, yes of course,” she said as she stood up and followed Grace into the cooking area.
“The three of us wanted to give you this,” Grace said as she handed Amelia a bottle of champagne.
“What… Why are you giving us this?”
“To say thank you – leaving Downwood and coming out here has been the making of all three of us, and I heard you had a part to play in it, so we wanted to show our appreciation.”
Amelia looked at Grace, completely lost for words as she looked at the bottle.
“I don’t understand,” she eventually said, “I did what I had to do to give Pippa the best possible chance…”
“Amelia, can’t you see she has made a success of her life anyway?”
“She could have done so much more…”
“I think that is half the problem Amelia,” Grace said quietly, “you’ve never given Pippa real credit for her achievements in life… I wish I had achieved just half the things she has done.”
“But you went to Oxford, you were a supermodel…”
“I had a drink and drugs problem that Pip never had, and I’m so proud of her for that. She has single-handedly brought up a daughter any mother is going to be proud of. She rescued one of what was the greatest of fashion magazines from dying and has made it both popular and relevant again…do I need go on Amelia?”
Looking at Grace, Lady Ashley said “Perhaps you and I need to talk to Phillipa.”
“Perhaps – let’s make our excuses and head back to her place.”
As they walked back in, Poppy said “Wow – champagne? What is that for?”
“Ladies,” Grace said, “I wonder if you would excuse Pip and I for a little while.”
“You may stay here for a while longer Poppy, if you wish.”
“No – I’ll come back with you. Thank you for dinner.”
“I will see you tomorrow,” Ama said as the four of them left, Amelia’s eyes never leaving the bottle…
4th Avenue, the Ashley Apartment
Maggie looked up as the door opened, and the four women came in.
“Hey,” she said, “how was your evening?”
“Thought provoking,” Amelia said as she put the bottle of champagne down. “Poppy, would you mind if the adults talked for a little while?”
“I’ll grab some milk and head to my room,” Poppy said, Maggie looking at her sister as she did so. When she had gone to her room, Amelia sat back and said “I don’t get it – you say I did you a favour?”
“Yes – well, you and being found out at that fashion show,” Grace said. “Forgive me for saying it, Pip, but it gave me the same insight facing a gun gave you – just not as dramatic.”
“Mum,” Pippa said quietly, “I love you to bits, but you can often be the most infuriating person on the face of the earth.”
“I only do what I do for you, Phillipa…”
Pippa sat back and sighed, rubbing her forehead before she said “Mum, seriously – why do you think I moved to New York in the first place? I had to get away from how I felt in the UK – and I wanted to give Poppy the best possible life as well.”
“Which is all I ever wanted for you, Phillipa darling!”
“My life though has never really been about me though has it Mother?”
Amelia stared at the other three women as Maggie smiled. “She has you there our Amy. This has always been about you living the kind of life you dreamed of when we were growing up in Leeds.”
“I was to be a ‘real lady’ because you could never be one Mum.”
“So you plotted, schemed, blackmailed, bought…every little thing you could think of to give Pippa the life we never had. That life you read about in the Tattler, Harpers & Queen, and Horse and Hound.”
“And what was so wrong with that?” Amelia looked hostile. “What is so wrong with wanting the best for her?”
“Nothing,” Maggie said, “if everyone had grown up and lived happily ever after Amy.”
“But we didn’t grow up happy Mum.” Pippa added to her aunt’s words.
“Pip thought you were setting her these impossible targets as you continually compared her to me.” Grace looked up sadly, “If only I’d known what you were doing at the time I might have been a far better friend to her.”
“I did what I had to to push her down your pathway!”
“Oh Amelia, I told you,” Grace said as she sniffed back a tear. “I was a lousy role model for her then, just because my grandfather was a lord didn’t make me automatically a great person.”
“She’s right, Mum,” Pippa said quietly. “Back then, Grace Gresham was on a very dangerous path – one that nearly claimed Karen Boyd, and did take the life of Caroline’s mother. I will say this though – when I heard her story earlier this year, I realized she was a truly strong woman.”
“As witnessed by the fact,” Maggie said, “that you twice tried to ruin her career, and she bounced back each time.”
Pippa looked at her mother as Grace wiped away a tear. “If you were looking for a model, Amelia, then you need have looked no further than your own sister. Margaret is a wonderful woman and I wish I was half the person she is.”
“Our Maggie?” Amelia looked amazed.
“Crusading local councilor, social activist, smart businesswoman…do I need go on?”
“Hang on Grace you’ll be swelling my head.” Margaret smiled.
“Grey’s right Mum – look at everything she’s done, quietly, without fuss, without drawing attention to herself.” Shaking her head, she picked up the bottle of champagne and said “I’ve got a cold one in the icebox.”
“Was I really that bad,” Amelia said as she shook her head.
“Honestly? That man you tried to match Pip up with the other day is a widower – his wife killed herself last Easter, and he’s still getting over that.”
“Your problem, Amy,” Maggie said as she took her sister’s hand, “is you are so determined to get everyone to fit your ideals, you don’t notice they’re doing just fine on their own. Seriously – aren’t you proud of Poppy?”
“I am,” Amelia said, “and I suppose a doctor is a worthy thing to be.”
“Do you miss Sam at times?”
“Yeah – what about you and Martin?”
“I’m afraid not Amy – once I found out he was robbing you and Sam, I cut him out completely.”
“But I always thought Pippa came out because she was a failure…”
Grace said quietly, “do you even realise that were either of the Anna's to
somehow walk under a bus on Fifth Avenue tomorrow, that Pippa would be one of
the top three candidates to replace them. She is THAT GOOD, and that HIGHLY
mean she could be either editor of Vogue, or of Complete Style?"
"If you want a little bet on it?" Grace pulled a hundred dollar bill from her handbag.
“I’ll take some of the action,” Maggie said as she put a hundred down as well.
“All right,” Amelia said as she added to the pile.
“Why is there three hundred dollars on the table?”
“A little wager,” Grace said as she picked them up and put them on the table.
“Well, who is for a glass?”
“One glass – I have work tomorrow,” Grace said.
“Yeah – yeah, I’d like that,” Amelia said, slipping into her Leeds accent. “Maggie, you and I need to talk.”
“We do – lunch tomorrow?”
you,” Amelia said. “So, one of the most
respected figures in the fashion press?
Well sommut as important as that ought to be recognized, I'll have to
nominate you for an OBE..."
Mum, that isn't possible."
not,” Amelia said, “when you consider some of the riff-raff that get
“Does that include Mary Thomas?”
Amelia looked at Pippa, and said “no – I know she is a true expert. But why can’t I nominate you, Phillipa?”
one of those things that maybe we should have talked about, but I gave up my
British citizenship a few years ago, I travel as an American nowadays. I can't
get an honour from the queen."
GAVE UP WHAT?"
"That was maybe not the best time to mention that Pip," Gray smiled.
“Possibly not, but better you know.”
Thursday 8th October
The Huntingdown Apartment
“Here they come now,” George said into his phone as he saw the couple coming out of the side entrance, “Pass the word round, we should be there in fifteen minutes. I’ll confirm the location when we arrive.”
“744 Fifth Avenue please George,” Klaus smiled as he and Juliette sat in the back seat.
“Oh!” George laughed, “Can I take pictures afterwards, you know I could make a fortune with it?”
“No,” Juliette laughed, “not at least until the girls and my friends have seen it.”
“I selected the stones weeks ago,” Klaus said as George moved out, “but Lady Ashley’s rudeness caused me to get ahead of my timetable, so I can only give it to her now.”
“Well I’m sure Juliette will love it.”
“Oh I know I will,” Juliette said as she snuggled up next to her prince.
“Anything out there George?” Klaus asked as he looked backwards.
“Not that I can see, but this being a hired car, hopefully it threw them off the scent.”
“Darling isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?”
“Klaus,” Juliette said with a mock expression of hurt, “you know damn well I do not stalk people for stories.”
“Since when?” Klaus and George both asked.
“Alright - I may have been known to pester designers for early looks at collections, but I’ve never stalked them…”
“Tom Ford once told me different.”
“Tom doesn’t count…he was being shifty.” Juliette laughed.
“Alright you two lovebirds, we’re here,” George said as he pulled up at 744 Fifth Avenue, and a doorman opened the car doors.
“Welcome to Van Cleef and Arpels your Highness, we were expecting you.”
“Thank you,” Klaus said as he and Juliette went in, and George moved to a parking space before he found his phone.
“Van Cleef and Arpels,” he said quietly before ending the call.
“May I say, it is an exquisite choice, your highness?”
“You may – but the real question is, what do you think of it Juliette?”
“I love it,” Juliette said as she looked at her finger.
“Will the bride to be wear the ring now?”
Juliette nodded slowly as she carefully pulled her glove back on, while Klaus finished the transaction with the clerk, and placed the small white box in his pocket.
Juliette nodded as she took Klaus’ arm, and smiled at the doorman as he opened the exit.
As they stepped out, however, she was stunned to see the welcoming committee outside.
“Here she comes!” Diana called out as Klaus and Juliette emerged from the store.
They stood there looking at Jan, Jeanne, Diana, Clare, Kelly, Rachel, Tonia – as many Sinners as could be mustered. Standing in front of all of them was Mandy Carrow, her arms folded as she looked at her old friend.
“Alright who ratted us out?” Juliette laughed.
“I cannot tell a lie, twas I” George grinned. “I was informed I had to let them know the moment you walked in. In fact, the boss insisted.”
“Gloves off darling,” Mandy said impatiently, “I flew a long way to see this.”
“I’m not sure I want to show you…”
“If you don’t Ju, you’ll get a forest of expensive stiletto’s stuck in your derriere, and neither Jeanne or I will arrest anyone.” Jan spoke.
“I guess I have no choice then.”
“It would appear not,” Klaus said as Juliette withdrew her arm and looked round.
“Wrong glove JU!” Tonia giggled, “it’s what is under the left one that we are interested in.”
“Damn – all right, but if Carina or Ingrid complain they did not get to see it first, you can tell them why…”
“Oh my!” there was a collective gasp as Juliette took her left glove off. The ring was made of platinum, and in the centre of the setting was a large pure diamond, glistening in the autumnal light. It was surrounded by a circle of smaller diamonds, each as pure, and each side of the setting also had diamonds set into the ring itself.
“Ces’t magnifique,” Diana said quietly as she looked at it.
“With all due respect ladies,” George said, “I need to get them back to the apartment. Of course, if you all choose to follow them…”
“Oh no,” Clare said, “we are going to my home now. This requires proper inspection…”
“Finally,” Juliette said as she walked into the office, “I have a chance to…”
“Hold it reet there lassie.”
“What the,,,” Juliette turned round to see Fiona McKenzie standing behind her, a blue scarf tied over her head.
“Let me guess – you flew over early with Mandy?”
“Aye, ana few oofers. Now, come wi’ me lass.”
“Nae talkback,” Fiona said as she escorted Juliette to one of the photographic studios, where Mary was waiting.
“Excellent,” she said as she took Juliette by the arm, “sit.”
“This amounts to kidnapping Merlin.” Juliette complained as she was forced to sit in the chair.
“Look Anna wants the girls to write a story on you.” Mary nodded towards Janine and Alexis, “it will be their first byline in the magazine, and we are going to need an accompanying photo-shoot, so I hired Antonio to do it.”
“You do know Klaus and I have given Jeanne the exclusive?”
“Aye – and I’ve cleared it so this appears later.”
“Alright, but this is only to help the girls,” Juliette looked round as the hairdresser started assessing her hair.
“That is a hunk of ice by the way,” Mary whistled as she held up her friend’s finger.
“The main stone is from Alexandra Malverino’s engagement ring…”
“That was Klaus’s great aunt or something?”
“Yes it’s very much a family heirloom, and the smaller stones symbolise he and I and the two girls.”
“Oh that is so romantic.” Janine smiled.
“I think that the old lady is smiling somewhere that her stone has been reused.”
Juliette paused for a second as she thought she overheard a voice with a strong English accent say, “I approve overwhelmingly Juliette.”
She glanced round, but there was no one there. “Did you hear that Mary?”
“Nothing,” Juliette smiled to herself. She would have to tell Carina…maybe the ghost had just visited her as well.
The Richmond Mansion
“She seems to have dropped off now.”
“Yeah, she does. Thank you for inviting us both over Sandy.” Clint said as she settled April in her carrier.
“Well,” Sandy said, “with Susan away on business, we thought we ought to take pity on a lone bachelor for the weekend.”
“And we have an ulterior motive,” Heather smiled.
“Now how did I guess that?” Clint grinned as he sat down.
“The first lesson with the truck was hard,” Sandy grimaced, “we are going to need a LOT of practice to pass the test…”
“So we were wondering if we hired a truck and found some private roads, you could give us additional lessons?” Heather finished.
“Well, if I can fit it in with work and the upcoming race Sandy, I’d be happy to.”
“That’s what we were hoping.”
“Is she asleep?” little Sandy asked as she came in from the kitchen.
“So don’t wake her up please darling.” Sandy spoke softly to her daughter.
“Okay well I guess I’ll do some more homework, call me when we eat please,” young Sandy left again.
“Did I notice something different?” Clint cocked his head.
“Yes,” Sandy smiled, “her first training bra. We got it today.”
“She’s not sure yet if she likes it or not.” Heather smiled as well.
“A joy we men avoid,” Clint said with a smile. “so when does Jo get back?”
“Later tomorrow night – and I am really looking forward to having her around for a few days,” Heather said with a smile.
“So when is Susan due to land?”
Clint looked at his watch. “She should be joining Maddie about now.”
3 pm Pacific Time
Xavier International, LA
Looking up as Tracey looked in the office, Madeline smiled as she said “your three o’clock is here.”
“Show her in. Hi Susan, welcome back to LA,” Maddie smiled as the Englishwoman was ushered into her office.
“Hi Maddie, it’s nice to be back,” Susan said as she hugged her former mentor.
“So it seems I missed out on some big news?”
“Yes indeed,” Susan said as Maddie handed her a coffee, “Klaus getting down on his knee like that was a shock to everyone I think.”
“He didn’t inspire a certain photographer yet?”
“No, but if you want some action, Sandy has started a pool on when he does ask Madame.”
“I’ll have to ring her and get my bet on.” Maddie smiled.
“So how is married life treating you Maddie?” Susan sat down.
“Pretty damn well, we are happier then ever…and how is little April?”
“Not so little any more, I bet she will have even grown while I’m out here.”
“Well if she could, she’d realize Mummy will have been making a nice addition to her trust fund while she was away.”
“That is what her Mummy is hoping.”
“You got the outline I sent Shirley?”
“I did, it looks pretty easy.”
“Again it has a movie inspiration…”
“The Housewife gang from Miss Congeniality 2?”
“Yes,” Maddie nodded, “wigs, scarves, dark glasses, plenty of firepower.”
“Well the plan looked fine to me.”
“You know most of the girls don’t you?”
“I should do – I gave them hell, after all. I heard you bought a specialist in last time?”
“Consumpta? Indeed, but she is unavailable, so I figured you would enjoy the opportunity…”
The Huntingdown Apartment
“I’ll be up in a few minutes,” Juliette said as she looked at Klaus, “I need to check an article first.”
“Don’t be too long,” he said as he went up the stairs, Juliette waiting a moment before she opened her laptop and went onto the secure system. Jo was talking to Abby and Cari, but someone else was online.
“Tommy,” she typed, “how may we help you?”
“I got dat contact youse ladies asked about – says she can supply, and wants to meetcha when she pays us a visit Saturday.”
“I think that is acceptable – 10 am, the usual place, and I will inform Miss Cheetah.”
“Tommy,” Juliette typed, and then waited for a moment.
“Thank you for your intervention on Monday Tommy, it was much appreciated.”
“Yeah well I never had much time for snooping journalists Miss,” Tommy typed back.
“Well it went above and beyond the call of duty.”
“It was my pleasure.”
“Changing the subject, how are Annie and the little one doing?”
“Fine, she’s starting to crawl, the club is a little gold mine, and the fish biz isn’t too bad at the moment either.”
“It’s nice to read that you are prospering, and your other business?”
“Oh I only really just keep my hand in so I can help out you ladies. Otherwise I am pretty legit.”
“Tommy, had you ever before Monday…?” Juliette left the question half unsaid.
“Once, that was my second.”
“I need to ask why?”
“Because as I said I can’t stand snoops, and besides I need to sometimes look out for my customers, I don’t need the feds knowing I do business with you ladies after all.”
“As I said…THANK YOU!”
“Oh it’s not a problem, you and the ladies looked after me, I was just repaying some of the debt I owe you.”
“Tommy you don’t owe us a thing.”
“Miss, your mask is slipping,” Tommy laughed as he typed, “Just remember you are the ferocious Miss Panther.”
“I know, but I am also a real person underneath, and the real she is glad that you covered her backside.”
“Now you are making me blush.”
“Tommy, do you ever wonder who we really are?”
“That’s a subject that aint healthy to think on if you get my meaning Miss.”
“You know we once came close to whacking you?”
“When the feds and that thing of ours got a bit personal?”
“So why didn’t you?”
“Miss Tigress and Miss Bobcat pointed out how good you’d been to them.”
“Well that was my pleasure as well.”
For a few moments, Juliette stopped typing, as she started fitting pieces together in her brain. Suddenly an idea hit her… Oh no, it couldn’t be… It was too ridiculous…
“Miss is you there?” the words appeared on Juliette’s screen.
Would a criminal like Tommy really be that loyal? Would he do it because he was scared? No, Tommy didn’t scare easily… Should she ask? DARE SHE ASK?
“Miss are you there?”
Juliette took deep breaths, and then typed in the words.
“YOU KNOW DON’T YOU?”
For at least two minutes there was no reply, it was probably longer, then one word appeared on the screen.
Juliette stared back at the screen, unsure of what she should do. Eventually, she typed “You have truly earned my respect Tommy. Have no fear – we consider you part of the family, but I wish to discuss this with you face to face with another person. I will see you on Saturday, and let you know then.”
“So I don’t haveta check my insurance?”
“No Tommy – you do not. You have trusted me, I will trust you. Sleep well.”
As she watched him sign off, Juliette rubbed her head. “There truly is honour amongst thieves,” she said quietly to herself, “I just hope I’m doing the right thing.”
7 pm Pacific Time
Maddie and Emma’s Apartment
“So let me get this straight,” Emma said as she sat back, “you came out here from London, worked alongside Maddie, then went to New York? Why?”
“Promotion? More Money? All of the above?” Susan laughed as she said “seriously, it was because I was asked to consider heading up the East Coast offices, and I felt I wanted the challenge.”
“And she has prospered under it,” Maddie said as she stood up. “Right – I need to get to the kitchen and finish preparing supper…”
“Would you like a hand?”
Emma went to answer the phone as Susan went through.
“I’ll drive you to our rendezvous point – give you a chance to get ready.”
Friday 9th October
4 am local time
Near the Firebase
Piet suddenly opened his eyes and looked at his cell phone, which had started vibrating.
“Charlotte,” he said as he answered the call, “where the hell have you…”
“No time to talk Piet, just listen. Tell the company you are with to get ready to move to the location of the mine. The balloon is about to go up.”
“What do you…”
“Trust me Piet - see you soon.”
6 am local time
The Mine, Southern Mologa
“Why in the name of creation have we not been able to stop that,” the camp commandant said as he heard the rhetoric from the bush surrounding the camp.
“Every time we manage to find the speaker, a new one starts, sir,” the lieutenant said.
The commandant looked to the far side of the bush, and stood still for a moment. “Is it me, or are they getting louder?”
“They do appear to be sir.”
“Right – take half the men and get that silenced once and for all.”
“What about the workers?”
“They are weak, starved – they will not give us any trouble,”
“Sir.” The junior officer saluted and left the barracks as the music and chanting started again.
“This is not a good day,” the commandant said quietly as he looked again out of the window.
6.30 am local time
The line of soldiers approached the grove of trees, their rifles pointing forward as the sound grew louder and louder.
“Maybe it is the Jungle Beast making those noises,” one of the soldiers said as he looked at the forest, the sun starting to rise over the trees and making them look even darker.
“Nonsense – we go in and we silence this caterwauling,” he said as he led the men in, the soldiers disappearing into the darkness.
It was difficult to hear anything above the sound of the music and the chanting, but if anyone had been around, they may have heard the occasional muffled cry, and gunshot – and then there was silence.
Total, complete silence, as the tall grass swayed from side to side between the bush and the high fence…
7.30 am local time
“Stick leaders at the fence, check in,” Leader said as she watched from her position.
“All in position Leader.”
“Good – hold position, but prepare to move swiftly when the signal is given. Little Teacher?”
“The word has been given – it will take time, but they know to head for the fence after we go in.”
“Excellent – we are depending on you to oversee them when they head into the bush.”
“All Firepoints are in position with targets in sight. I just hope the wind is not too strong.”
“We’re ready to fly – two initial, the rest when you give the word.”
“All right then – Doctor?”
“We’re ready,” she heard Lucia say, “the Goddess be with you all.”
Nodding, Leader looked to Charlotte. “Little Mother, you have the honour.”
“As Lucia said, Goddess go with you all. For The Heart and The Strength.”
“For The Heart and The Strength. Fireball, light up the morning.”
“Understood,” Shelby said as she looked down from the bluff that overlooked the camp. “Firepoints, take aim, on my mark.”
Shelby took several deep breaths, before she whispered into her headset “mark.”
It was the sound they heard first in the compound – the Mologans diving for the ground as the soldiers looked up to the sky. They saw the smoke trails first, then the increasingly loud sound as the missiles came down on the helicopters, causing three to explode on impact, the others catching fire as the flaming debris hit them.
Other rockets hit the radar stations, killing the soldiers manning them as well as some of the nearby guards. At the same time, the Sisters at the fence rose from the grass, cutting the fence away and coming in, making their way inward as some of the older women appeared from their barracks.
As the Sisters came down, they saw the Mologans start to make their way to the fence, those who could helping others, older men and women. Blue wondered what had happened – before she saw the younger men picking up rocks and other weapons.
“Behind them,” one of Marigold’s team called out, “through the fence and to the bush.”
“What is it,” the patrol leader said as Piet looked up.
“We’ve heard explosions up the path – the assault has begun.”
“Get the men together,” he shouted out, “we need to assist.”
“What the hell is going on,” the Commandant called out as he looked at the flames.
“We’re under attack sir,” one of the soldiers said, “the helicopters and radar is down, and the she-demons are pouring through the fence.”
“Dammit – take them out,” he called out, before there was another explosion at the gates that led into the compound. Looking in that direction, he saw a hoard of armed women running in, firing at his troops as they screamed.
“You, fan round and take care of the troops there,” Leader called out as Liz fired her semi-automatic into the guardhouse. “You, work round to the rear compound.”
“YOU!! You are the ones who have caused so much trouble, killed so many more of my…”
“And many more,” Leader said as she shot the commandant in the heart. “No prisoners – show them the same mercy they showed those they stole away.”
“KILL THE WORKERS!”
Leader heard the shout, but did not understand it until Petra shouted “NO! GET DOWN!”
She saw the troops firing on the escaping prisoners, before two things happened. The first was Blue and White’s sticks opening fire on them. The second was a wave of Mologan young men and boys, who charged the soldiers, using whatever they could find to club them.
“Keep going,” the women called to the slaves as they made their way through the fence, joined by young women who were making their way from the rear of the compound.
“Razzie, time for you to join in.”
“Roger that,” Leader heard, Charlotte watching as the two helicopters flew low in over the trees, firing on the troops in the compound and the buildings.
The fight was short, but bloody, as Charlotte looked to the road, and saw the Mologan army patrol approaching.
“You have company Leader,” she said into her headset.
“Roger that, Little Mother,” Leader said. “All Sisters – evac procedure. Make sure every captive who can gets to the bush.”
“Copy that Lead…”
“Red? Someone give me a sit rep on Red?”
“We lost Red Leader,” Blue said, “we have taken appropriate vengeance.”
“Damn – all right, we have a target to meet. Little Teacher, Firebird, join me please.”
“Razzie, bring the copters in to land, we need to evac any wounded and dead.”
“White, Blue, converge on me. Green take Red’s Stick. All other Sisters, protect the captives,” Leader said as the two helicopters came in to land, Charlotte running in.
“I’ll be with Razzie – I want to be on the first flight back,” she said, Leader nodding as she sprinted for the landing site, while the Mologan soldiers came in, Piet riding with them.
“Greetings,” Liz said. “As you can see, we have liberated the mine. The men and boys you see here aided us in this – can you tend to them?”
“We can, what of the wounded?”
“We have helicopters coming for them and our dead. Allow us the privilege of seeing to them. We will also tend to the wounded from the camp. Be assured, they will be reunited with their loved ones.”
“I accept your terms – my compliments on a clean operation. Perhaps, one day, we can meet and talk?”
“Maybe – for now, we have work to do. Gather our wounded, take them to the helicopters.”
“My god,” Piet said as he looked round the compound, and at the men and boys watching them, “it looks even worse when you come in.”
“Radio – inform HQ of the liberation of a terrorist compound. Ask for reinforcements.”
“Sir,” the radio operator said.
“You other men, sweep the buildings – just in case.”
Leader stood with her head bowed for a moment, before she said “take note of the fallen – Mologans and ours. We will honour them all later.”
9 am Local Time
SAIS HQ, Pretoria
“Sir,” John said as Henrik Botha came in, “I was just getting the information now.”
“So, in brief?”
“Our contacts have liberated the mine. They took out the air support, breached the fences, got as many of the captives out as they could, and killed their captors. A Mologan patrol is now in charge, while an evac of wounded and dead takes place.”
“Unknown, but – our specific contacts are unharmed. I have just spoken with Liz and the one known as Little Mother.”
“Good – tell them congratulations on a job well done. What now?”
“They’re getting the captives to a safe place for treatment.”
9.30 am Local Time
Lucia looked out as the nurses gathered behind her.
“All right ladies - we rehearsed this. Immediate triage, get the most seriously wounded into the field hospital. Walking wounded to be treated over there.”
“Yes Doctor,” they called out as Razzie landed, the side doors opening as Charlotte jumped out.
“Six in here, six more behind us. We’ll run a shuttle service all day. Marigold and the others are walking those who can here, under escort.”
“On our side?”
“Seven – including Red. Later tonight, we will honour those who died to liberate all. Right now, I need to place some calls.”
Walking to the radio room, Charlotte nodded to the operator as she said “give me the room for a few minutes, will you?” She waited until she was alone, before bowing her head in silent prayer.
A few minutes later, she picked up the headset and said “Right – Hong Kong first.”
4.30 pm Local Time
Huntingdowns, Hong Kong.
Helen and Penny looked up from the conference table as Marina looked in.
“Catherine would like to see you in her office, now.”
Looking at each other, they walked to the office of Catherine Lu, entering as she said “Thank you, Magistrate. I will make arrangements to inform my other contacts, and I wish you well with your endeavors.”
Catherine smiled as she replaced the handset and looked at them. “The mine has been liberated, and the boil lanced. There have been casualties, but Charlotte and her senior team are unharmed.”
“I need to call London,” Penny said, “if you will excuse me?”
“Of course,” Catherine said as she left the room. “Helen, we shall dine out tonight – make the necessary arrangements.”
8.45 am GMT
Xavier International, London
“Niki – inform the honorable Tanaka that the mine has been liberated, and we will provide full details in due course.”
“Understood – and pass on our congratulations to the team,” Niki said before the link to Tokyo went dead.
“I will go now to see if he has heard anything yet. I have a team ready to move and intercept him.”
“Good – I hope Madame excuses the early call.”
“Who’s calling at this hour,” John mumbled as Shirley got out of bed.
“I have no idea – you go back to sleep, I will deal with it,” Shirley said as she walked through to the den, and picked up the telephone.
“My apologies Madame,” she heard Charlotte say, “but you asked to be informed at the earliest possible opportunity.”
“I did indeed Charlotte – what is the word?”
“Target achieved. We have losses, and when they are catalogued we will mourn and honour.”
“Of course. So now?”
“The women and girls who are injured or too ill to move are coming in now – the Oracle and local leaders are here to welcome them. I will stay to ensure all is well, and then make my way back.”
“Of course – I look forward to seeing you again Charlotte?”
“And you Madame. I will call later, when we are ready.”
“Go and thank them, Charlotte.”
Nodding, Charlotte ended the call as Shirley went to the drinks cabinet, and poured a brandy.
“To those who gave so they may live,” she said as she raised the glass, and took a sip.
10 am Local Time
The Training Compound
Sunburst McCabe looked out from the kitchen as Helga walked over.
“It’s over – they have liberated the mine, and while they have suffered losses, it’s over.”
Sunshine nodded as the trainees looked on.
“Well, I’d better get a feast sorted for their return,”
“There’s time – the job is now to make sure the survivors get what they need. But, if you can spare a minute, I have some fifteen year old.”
“Fair does – I’ll raise a glass in their honour.”
The Richmond Mansion
“You’re up and about early,” Sandy said as she came into the kitchen, finding Heather at her laptop.
“Yeah – they moved in this morning.”
“Who moved… Goddess, Charlotte?”
“Safe – and the captives have all been freed. I was looking at the satellite images.”
Sandy looked at the computer screen, helicopters landing and taking off as quickly as possible, while fires burnt elsewhere.
“Dearest Artemis - and now we have to make sure the big fish don’t get away…”
“Not our problem this time,” Heather said as she closed the lid down. “I’ll start to get breakfast ready. Clint should be up soon.”
10 am Pacific Time
National Bank of the Golden Coast
The bank was fairly busy, with a number of well dressed men and women conducting business with the tellers, while the security guards looked round. They were older men, but smiled as they talked to one or two customers, while people walked in and out.
When the two women walked in, wearing long tan coats and their heads covered with large patterned scarves that were wrapped round their necks as well, the guards did not pay them much attention. Both had large dark glasses on, and walked to the counters towards the rear of the floor, looking through the leaflets as they held them in their gloved hands as their large handbags rested on their arms.
A few minutes later, two more women walked in, pushing baby buggies. They were wearing leather jackets over floral print dresses, coloured silk scarves tied over their hair and dark glasses over their eyes as well.
As they looked in their buggies, another two women walked in. They were dressed in long sleeved dresses, with red and blue hijabs covering their heads and shoulders, again with dark glasses covering their eyes. Both had large dark glasses covering their eyes, as they went to stand in the service lines for the tellers.
Finally, two women walked in, one taller than the other. They wore smart trouser suits, with scarves tied in the old style over their hair, the ends secured under their chins, and once more dark glasses over their heads.
“Excuse me,” the taller of the two women said as she approached one of the security guards, “I wonder if you could point me in the direction of something?”
“Certainly madame,” the guard said with a smile, “how may we be of assistance?”
“You can get your hands in the air,” she whispered as she produced a gun and stuck it into his belly, “and march in there like the good little mother fucker that you are.”
He looked over at the other guard, who was looking back as the smaller woman pushed a gun into his side, before they walked in in front of them.
“Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen,” Maddie called out as she and Susan walked in, “this is a robbery, so if you fucking well want to leave this building alive, get on the floor now.”
“Touch those silent alarms,” Daisy and Rose said as they produced Mausers from their bags and aimed them at the tellers, the people in front of them dropping to the floor, “and you all die, now.” Rose jumped onto the counter and shouted “Get onto your bellies you fucking worms!”
“You heard them,” JD and Darlene said as they produced semi-automatics from the buggies and fired them into the air, “the next person who refuses to do so gets killed.”
At the rear of the building, two more security guards ran out, only to be cut down as Rene and Tracey fired their guns, hitting them in the stomach as the customers screamed.
“Night night,” Daisy said as she and Darlene shot out the security cameras.”
“You,” Rose said as she pointed her gun at one of the tellers, “open the door.”
“Too slow,” she said as she killed the woman, “you – open the door.”
The young man walked quickly over and opened the door to the teller’s area, four of the women walking in as Rene said “We told you all to keep the fuck down, didn’t we?”
“Fill this with the cash from the tills,” JD said as she held a bag open, working her way down the tills as Maddie, Susan and Tracey surrounded the manager, the balding man looking at them through stunned eyes.
“The vault,” Maddie said as she stroked the barrel of her gun down his cheek, “now.”
“Listen,” Susan growled as she grabbed his ball sac, “you open the vault, you live. You don’t, you live – as a eunuch. Clear enough?”
He nodded as he walked with them to the rear of the area, and opened the vault, Susan and Tracey going in and emptying the contents into bags.
“Now listen and listen well,” Darlene said as she walked around the silent hall, “we are only here to take the money. Keep your heads down, and don’t move an inch, or…”
She stopped and looked at one young man who was holding his phone at a strange angle.
“Are you filming this?”
He didn’t respond, keeping his head down as Darlene looked at him.
“Well, you obeyed our instructions in that respect, but…”
The shot destroyed the phone, as well as most of the bones in his hand as she fired her gun at him.
Rose walked up and down the teller’s counter, looking at the crowd before JD forced the tellers into the centre of the floor, making them lie face down as well.
“We done,” she said as she looked round – and saw the manager reaching for his desk.
“We told you,” she said as she fired her gun, almost ripping him in half with the shot, “no fucking alarms.”
“Dealt with,” Susan said as she poured some liquid over a set of computers, smoke rising from the banks.
“All right,” Maddie said as they walked out, “stay face down on the floor for the next fifteen minutes. No heroics, and have a nice day.”
The eight women walked quickly out of the bank, carrying a bag each as they got into the waiting minibus, Susan driving off as quickly as she could without attracting attention.
“Oh that feels so GOOD,” JD said as she took off her scarf. “I feel like I can enjoy New York now.”
“Well, we may find something to distract you there as well,” Maddie said. “Susan?”
“Oh baby,” Susan said with a sigh, “that is so much better now…”
“The last of the wounded are coming in now,” Charlotte said into her laptop as she looked at Shirley. “We expect the main group of rescued Mologans to arrive at midnight.”
“I understand – how are Lucia and her team coping?”
“They were well drilled, and well rehearsed. They coped magnificently.”
“Very well – the first of the supply flights for your guests will be coming in within forty eight hours. I also hear from Catherine there have been arrests in China. As for the UK…”
“So far he has remained in his suite,” Natalya said in a second window. “We are monitoring the situation.”
“Then we can do no more at this stage. Charlotte, we are there with you in spirit later.”
“Understood – and I will see you all soon.”
As the screen went blank, Shirley looked at Natalya. “I would prefer it if the General was unable to disappear – invite him to enjoy our hospitality.”
“Of course, Madame,” Natalya said as she ended the call. She looked up as she heard the knock on the door, and said “come.”
“My apologies Miss Xavier,” Pamela said as she came in, “but I have a message for you from Mrs Walker.”
She walked in and handed over the slip of paper, waiting as Shirley looked at it and noting the smile as she nodded.
“Excellent – would you please arrange a call to the LA office at five our time, to Madeline Moore?”
“Yes, Miss Xavier,” Pamela said as she turned to leave.
“One moment – Pamela, isn’t it?”
“Yes Miss Xavier?”
“I think I need some coffee – why don’t you join me and we can have a little chat,” Shirley said as she stood up.
The Richmond Mansion
“So what happened with your mum and aunt,” Caroline asked as she sat at the kitchen table with Pippa.
“Well, we all had dinner last night,” Pippa said, “and they’ve made up again. They’re flying back tonight, and peace may descend again over the Ashley home.”
“Sorry to see them go?”
“Would it sound strange if I said yes – and no, Mercy,” Pippa said with a smile. “Once Mum got over the shock that Poppy and I have US passports, she started talking about honorary awards…”
“Some things will obviously never change,” Caroline said with a smile.
“Hey,” Denice said as she and Barbara came in, April and Emma following them, “is that fresh coffee?”
“Just brewed up,” Sandy said as she poured the hot brown liquid into mugs.