Calm Before the Storm
Sunday 21st September
The Waldorf Hotel Grand Ballroom
The guests were milling round, talking in small groups as an army of waiters and waitresses carried round trays of glasses and canapés. One of the biggest groups was the band of Angels gathered round Carina as she held Judith in her baptism gown.
“She’s grown so much in the last month,” Bobbi said as she tickled Judith under her chin. “But she’s just as beautiful.”
“So how’s Yale treating you two?”
“No complaints,” Judy said as Janice and Katy went past.
“Hi Sandy, Hi George,” Katy said as she ran to her friends, Sandy in a white sundress and George looking decidedly uncomfortable in a suit, white shirt and tie. Vanessa Richmond smiled as the three of them went off to join some of the other children in one corner of the room.
“It was a beautiful service, Uncle Alex,” Sandy said as she came over with Heather.
“I do like to put on a good show,” he said as he saw Janice take a glass. “Is she all right? I heard her shout out, but wasn’t sure why?”
“I’m sure she’s fine,” Heather said as the doors opened and an army of technicians came in.
“I know this is a little unconventional as a way to start such an affair.” Carina smiled as the people from the Waldorf wheeled in the large screen televisions, “but since so many of you were there, I thought we’d all be interested to see Jeanne’s piece on FTV.”
“Okay it should be time guys.” Judy glanced at her watch and signaled for the lights to be dimmed.
As the guests gathered round the sets, they went on and a couple of minutes of commercials ran before a familiar face appeared on screen.
“Hi I’m Jeanne Beckman. And this is the Beckman Report.”
For thirty seconds the titles ran, and then the star appeared back on screen.
“Well,” Jeanne said from her seat in the studio, “for at least a few months, the chaos and glitz of New York fashion week is over. It’s a time of drama, and spectacle as designers and models combine to put on the best shows they can.”
The screen was filled for a few minutes with film from the recent shows, as Lily nudged Abby and said “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera.”
“For many though,” Jeanne said, “this year the highlight came not from the big official productions at their grand venues, but last night in a school gymnasium on the Upper East Side, when models Abigail de Ros and Jeannie Brewster organized a small charity show to benefit the Jamie Kirkham Memorial Scholarship Fund.”
“From many of the world’s top models, to eager young girls, from mothers to retired supermodels, the fashion world and the community of St Angela’s Academy came together to put on a night of nights.”
There were oohs and aahs from the people at the Christening Reception as a montage of runway and crowd shots filled the screen. Alex looked suitably embarrassed as he saw himself in the dinner suit, introducing the models.
Claire Morse blushed as Bobbi saw her walking down the catwalk with Stephanie Seymour.
“A personal highlight for me, however” Jeanne resumed saying, “was when former supermodels Charity Royce, Juliette Huntingdown, Mandy Carrow, and Alice MacKinnon were joined on the catwalk by the daughter of the late Stella Jameson, Caroline, in an emotional tribute both to some of our industries success stories, but also to salute some of its casualties.”
Dominique looked round, her blonde wig hiding her dark hair, and blushed as the room cheered when she walked out, and embraced the other four.
“Watch out,” Karen Boyd said as she looked at her, “the CS crew are looking at you.”
Dominique shook her head as Susan and Charlotte looked at her. “I keep telling you, Karen, I’m not a model…”
“Lord Ordford, the husband of Mandy Carrow was among many spectators in tears at the scene… “
The camera switched to Lord Ordford in the interval of the show.
“Well your Lordship, an emotional moment indeed?”
“Yes,” Will replied. “I knew Stella, she was a close friend of my wife, and I haven’t seen Caroline since she was a child. It was quite a shock seeing her up there looking so much like her mother.”
Jeanne smiled, “Now tell me how it felt to see Mandy up there on the catwalk again?”
“Well it was certainly different to seeing her in her old Barbour, jeans and green wellies feeding the pigs each morning.”
Jeanne smiled again, as in the hall Mandy punched her husband. “Flatterer – and for that you get to muck them out for the next two weeks.”
“Come on Mum,” David said as he stood with them, “you know he loves you really… I think.”
“The event managed to raise over a million dollars for the fund, which is dedicated to helping promising students who wish to pursue a career in medicine to study both at St Angela’s and for a medical degree. After the show, I talked to Charity Royce, and asked her why she felt it was so important.”
“Well,” Karen said, “as a doctor myself, I know how difficult it can be with the college and other fees, so anything that helps has to be applauded. We need more young women to consider becoming doctors, and if this removes the barriers, so be it.”
The gathered guests applauded as Jeannie said “the last word, however, goes to Abigail and Jeannie, and they said it best at the end of the show.”
The scene showed the two friends on the stage at the end of the show, as Alex kissed them.
Jeannie came up with this crazy idea I wasn't sure it was possible, but thanks
to the hard work of ALL our volunteers, I hope you all think you've seen a
great show tonight, and I think, from a quiet corner somewhere Jamie is
watching and smiling."
"Thank you all SO MUCH! You have raised an incredible amount tonight, but there is still time if you wish to contribute. For now, from Abby and me, THANK YOU!”
“Coming up next – the news from Milan as the models work there.”
“Not today we don’t,” Cynthia called out, as the group clapped and cheered.
Adam Ball walked over to where Janice was standing, looking at the screen.
“Hey – are you all right?”
“Hmmm?” Janice realized she was playing with her earrings, and smiled as she stopped. “Sorry – I’m still a little embarrassed about earlier.”
“What on earth made you swear like that?”
“Honestly?” Janice looked at Adam and said “I realized just how handsome you were, and I felt so embarrassed about the times recently you’ve had to literally carry me. Thank you.”
She gave Adam a kiss on his cheek and walked over to where Sandy and Heather were standing with Juliette.
“Fantastic ceremony, Juliette,” Janice said as she stood with them.
“Thank you, Janice,” Juliette said, “and may I compliment you on your outfit. It must have been expensive.”
“Well, I came into a little extra money in the last couple of days, and what better opportunity than Judith’s christening to use it for? By the way, I’d love to meet Caroline – I did not know she was a friend of yours?”
“Caroline? She handles the security for our offices and some of our shows. I’d be more than happy to introduce you.”
“I look forward to meeting her – and her friends. Something tells me we have a lot more in common than we think.”
As she walked off, Sandy whispered into Juliette’s ear “She’s figured it out, hasn’t she?”
“I believe so – spread the word to watch her, and if it looks as if she is going to say something – intercept her.”
At another table, Abigail sat with her mother and aunt. Diana was stunning in her coral coat and skirt, while Abigail wore a white sheath dress and blue jacket. Natasha was dressed in a high collared blouse, blue leather skirt and high heels.
“A beautiful ceremony, Diana,” Natasha said as she looked at Carina with the other Angels, “it does my heart proud to see her coping so well. And as for you, Abigail – you did an amazing thing last night.”
“Well, Jeannie did a lot as well,” Abby said as she sipped her champagne. “Thank you for coming last night, ma tante, and also please thank grandmamma for the most generous donation.”
“It was her pleasure, and mine,” Natasha said with a smile. “Besides, it appears I may be taking on more responsibilities soon.”
“Oh,” Diana said as she looked at her sister in law, “why is that?”
“Francois has handed in his resignation – he’s invited me to a party at his apartment on Tuesday, and he says he’s returning to France at the end of the week.”
“I do not know – he has been distracted since Tuesday, and I heard yesterday I would have to pick up some of his portfolio on Monday. Of course, it is all very quiet, but I fear we may not be able to meet quite so often Diana.”
“A pity – but so long as you are happy in your work, than Abigail and I are happy to wait for those times when we can get together.”
“Still, it seems so unusual for this to happen so quickly…”
“Do not let it concern you, Natasha – I am sure there is a very good reason for his decision.”
“Like his private account had been cleared out of over ten million dollars,” Abby thought to herself as she waved Joanne over.
“Well, I am always to see a fellow countryman leave, but I wish him well for his future,” Diana said as she stood up. “Excuse me one moment – I require to powder my nose.”
“Enjoying it so far Natasha,” Jo said as she sat down.
“Indeed – such an illustrious gathering,” Natasha said as Jo whispered into Abby’s ear. She looked over at Janice and nodded to show she had heard.
“Mum, Dad, do you have a moment.”
Lord and Lady Ordord turned to see their son standing there with Judy and her parents. “I wanted you to meet Mister and Mrs. McNally, Judith’s parents. Mister and Mrs. McNally, my mother and father.”
"It's nice to meet you Lord and Lady Ordford, our daughter hasn't been exactly talkative about
young David here." Judy's father shook hands.
"Call us Will and Mandy." Lord Ordford smiled. "Everyone does."
“George and Rachel, if that is all right?”
“More than all right, George,” Mandy said with a smile. “David has been equally reticent about this beautiful young lady – who, may I say, looked radiant at the font today. Carina chose wisely to have you as a godmother.”
“Believe me, I was shocked,” Judy said, “but now I just want to be part of her life.”
“I can understand that,” Mandy said as she sipped her champagne.
"Where does the surname Fitzstuart
Will laughed as he looked at George, "My revered ancestor, the first Lord Ordford, was one of Charles the Second’s many
"You never told me you were royal."
Judy glanced sideways at David.
"Strictly wrong side of the blanket." David laughed. "It's no big deal."
“So, how long will you be staying?”
“A few more days,” Will said, “we’ll go up and see David tomorrow, and I understand Mandy is going to meet with Juliette, Alice and Karen on Tuesday night for dinner.”
“That’s right – a real old girl’s night. We’ll compare notes and trade stories – such as the photo David does not seem to want us to show.”
“Photo?” Judy looked at David and said “what photo?”
“Mother, please don’t…”
“Oh, come now David – what could be cuter then you next to Carina on a rug…”
“Oh dear – the embarrassing baby photos,” Judy giggled.
“Well now, if you’re going to talk about them, how about the one of you skinny dipping up in the Hamptons as a two year old…”
“You must tell me more about this Rachel,” Mandy said as she took her arm, the two fathers looking with sympathetic eyes at their offspring.
“Just be glad she doesn’t have the home movies here,” Will said as he put his hand on David’s shoulder.
“True – but…” David took Judy off as their fathers started talking.
“Mother could always have them on DVD or a memory stick…”
“You look stunning,” Kate Hardisty said as she saw Annie Kelly walk over in her stilettos and designer dress.
“Why thank you Kate,” Annie said, “I felt this deserved something special.”
“Look at them,” Wilhelmina Tennant said as she looked at the girls gathered around Carina. “Three months ago we saw them leave, and now they seem to have grown up so much.”
Miranda Jones was in the dress uniform of a West Point cadet, while Bobbi was in a grey and gold dress with a grey jacket. The other girls were all in their finest, and talking as the old friends they were.
“I know,” Annie said with a smile, “and Carina a happy and devoted mother. It’s been a very strange summer.”
“So what do you think of the new students?”
“Studious, a couple of trouble makers – I’m particularly impressed with Jeannie though. She seems to be adapting very well.”
“Indeed – and our head girls?”
“So far, I haven’t seen any problems. In fact, Joanne in particular is very popular.”
“Now Annie, we all know she is a favourite of yours,” Kate said quietly. “Star of the track team and all that.”
“Well, I don’t deny it,” Annie said with a smile.
Dominique looked across the room as Penny and Madame joined her.
“How are you feeling, Caroline,” Penny said as she put her arm on Dominique’s.
“Happy – how strange does that sound?”
“Relax,” Madame said as Juliette came over, “it’s just being a very long time since you were Caroline and not Dominique. Ama was delighted to see you smiling earlier – Juliette, a truly fantastic party.”
“Indeed – the food should be ready soon,” she said as Diana walked over.
“I bring news – Legault has resigned the commission.”
“Indeed,” Madame said with a raised eyebrow. “We had deduced as such, but we do not believe he has told the others yet. It is time to turn that to our advantage.”
“And how do you intend to do that?”
“With a little help from Heather, and the addition of a very well placed new player.”
“I don’t see who.”
“You will, Diana, you will…”
“Jane! Thank you for coming today!”
Carina passed her baby over to Joanne for a moment as she hugged the NY Times reporter. “I’m so glad you could make it,” Carina said with a smile.
“Well, I could not let my favourite kidnapper miss my presence on this most special day – and with such a beautiful child as well,” Jane said as she looked at Judith.
Carina laughed as she said, “Well, I’m glad you came Jane. Please, enjoy the rest of the party.”
“I intend to,” Jane said as her phone sent out a message. “Excuse me,” she said as she went to a quiet corner, and looked at her phone. Her face paled slightly as she looked round, and then put the machine away.
“Gotcha,” Heather said quietly before returning to help looking after the younger children.
Janice looked up at Adam, feeling the warmth of his smile as he handed her a glass.
“I thought you were trying to keep me off the sauce?”
“I won’t tell if you don’t,” Adam said as he sat down. Sandy walked over and sat with them.
“Quite a get together, isn’t it,” she said as she looked at them. “I am so glad that Katy has made friends with my two – she seems to have settled so well, and I love her outfit.”
“Yes – I decided to treat her as well,” Janice said as she put her champagne glass to one side.
“Had enough, Janice?”
“For the moment yes,” she said with a smile, “over the last few days, I think I’ve come to realize that it is better to enjoy things in moderation.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” a voice boomed out, “luncheon is served.”
“Come on,” Adam said as he took Janice’s hand, “you’re at the same table as me and Mary Thomas.”
The guests made their way in and helped themselves to the lavish buffet, taking their places at tables where their names were embossed on gold cards. Carina and Juliette had agonized over the tables for hours, making sure guests from the fashion world mingled with friends of the family and others.
A few tables were laid aside for certain groups, such as the one where David and Judy found themselves with their parents, Karen Boyd, and Dominique.
"So David will you be Lord Ordford
one day?" George asked.
"No my brother Jack will have that dubious honour." David smiled, "His penalty for being a year
"So where is your brother?"
"He's at Cambridge, doing a degree in Estate
Management. David opted for Yale to
obtain a more rounded education – as well as a charming girlfriend" Will replied.
"Yes Jack gets to look after the pigs one
day." David laughed.
"My father's true love in
life." David smiled as his mother sipped her wine.
"Damn straight it is." Mandy coughed,
"my husband has a passion for saving rare breeds, the children and I come
"Not true," Will laughed as he embraced then
kissed his wife, "The kids come before her."
"Bastard!" Mandy pretended to kick her husband, "It's a good thing I do know better."
Turning to her side, she then said to Dominique “I was amazed when you walked out last night, Caroline – where on earth did you re-appear from?”
As she smiled, Dominique said “I’ve been working here for some time as a security consultant – and then when I was in Boston recently, Karen and I literally bumped into each other. We got talking, and then – well, she persuaded me to make a single appearance last night.”
“You really are the image of your mother, God rest her soul,” Will said as he looked at her. “I’m glad you managed to get out of that world eventually.”
Dominique swallowed her salmon, patted her mouth and said “Well, I will be just as glad to slip back into obscurity – if Fiona MacKenzie and Mary Thomas can be kept out of my way.”
“Leave them to me,” Karen said as she put her hand on Dominique’s arm, “I’ll run interference.”
“So who were the people you were with today?”
“Shirley is one of my clients, and a friend of Juliette’s – it’s how I met her. The others are, believe it or not, my gym buddies.”
“So you go to the gym with Annie Kelly? Any embarrassing stories?”
“None I can share in polite company,” Dominique said as she smiled at Judy. “After all, today is for celebration, not embarrassment.”
"Quite right,” Mandy said, “Now if I really want
to embarrass David and the other children in front of their friends, I put a safety
pin through my nose."
"Oh I remember seeing pictures of you and other
models with those." Rachel smiled.
"Seems David and the others hate that their
mother was once a punk."
"It’s not the safety pin that worries me, mother," David looked pleadingly, "It's you showing people your other piercings."
“Don’t worry dear,” Mandy said quietly, “only your father gets to see them now…”
“This beef is exquisite,” Penelope said as she sat with Charlotte, Susan, Clint, Heather and Jo. “I must find out what they used for the crust.”
“So you’ve abandoned your plans to turn vegetarian,” Charlotte said as she sat back with her glass in her hand.
“For now, yes,” Penelope said with a smile as they were joined by Abby and Lily.
“Lily, this is Charlotte, Susan and her husband Clint, and Penny. Ladies, meet Lily Cole.”
“A pleasure,” she said as she shook their hands, and then sat down. “So you’re all friends of Carina and Juliette?”
“In different ways, yes,” Susan said with a smile. “It’s actually an honour to meet you, Lily.”
“The pleasure is mine,” Lily said with a smile. “With the fashion weeks on, it’s a real pleasure just to have some time with my feet on the ground.”
“Lily and the others are monopolizing the transatlantic flights to Milan tonight – Jeannie’s father has mobilized an army of cars to take them there as soon as this finishes.”
“The life of a supermodel,” Lily said with a smile, “Abby and Jeannie don’t really know how lucky they are their mothers have laid the law down.”
“Amen to that,” Abby said with a smile.
“So Missy failed to persuade you two to come over to Paris?”
“No way – but we’re going to…”
“Abby,” Missy Auerbach said as she walked over to the table, “Got a minute?”
“And she starts paying the price now,” Lily said with a laugh as Missy took Abby over to one side and whispered in her ear. Abby’s eyes opened wide as she talked to Missy for a moment, and then returned to the table.
“What’s up,” Lily said as she sat between her and Jo.
“Mother is not going to like this one,” Abby said as she shook her head. “It took long enough to persuade her to let me do the VS show in December.”
“Do what,” Jo said as she looked at her.
Clint had a glass to his lips as Abby said that, but he put it down and looked over the table. “The annual issue?”
“That’s the one,” Abby said as she stood up, “Jo, if you see mother in a foul mood, heading for Missy – try and stop her.”
“Friends, if I can have your attention for a moment?”
The room turned to see Carina standing with a microphone.
“I just wanted to say thank you to a few people. Firstly, can I say thank you to Father Alex, for the beautiful ceremony today, and also to Vanessa for making all the arrangements here at the Waldorf today?”
The room burst into a round of applause as Vanessa and Alex smiled.
“Speaking of which, can we give a big hand to everyone at the Waldorf, who have made this such a wonderful event.”
There was an even bigger round of applause at that, Alex whispering “Quite right too” into Vanessa’s ear as they did so.
“Now, Judith can’t say a lot at the moment,” Carina said with a smile as the guests laughed, “but if she did, she would say she is incredibly proud to have three such wonderful godparents as Adam, Mary and Judy, so on behalf of her, thank you for agreeing to take on that role.
“Before I do one last thing, thank you to all of you as well. I know you all have busy lives, and some of you need to be elsewhere very soon, but you make me, Mom and baby very happy by coming today. So please, take your glasses, and join me in making a toast to the real star of the day – Judith!”
“JUDITH!” the guests said as they toasted the baby, and then turned and talked at the tables, Judith being carried round the room by Carina.
Janice was talking with the Rochemann family as she looked at Adam. She still felt some guilt over the role she had played in the events last Tuesday, but the fact was still there – she had felt empowered in a way she had never felt before. She knew the job was only half done, but the earrings – that meant all of them were in the room, but which one was which?
“Oh sorry,” she said as she looked round, “What were you saying, Kelly?”
“I was saying, have you considered yet whether or not to put Katy down for St Angela’s? I mean, it’s a few years away, but you can never move too early on these things.”
“St Angela’s? I don’t think I can ever afford the fees for there.”
“Well, there are scholarships – and she might even be a Kirkham Scholarship student if she wanted to study medicine.”
Janice thought for a moment – the funds that were in the account, properly invested, would cover the fees, but it would also ask too many awkward questions of how she could afford it.
“We’ll have to wait and see – but she has a bursary for her current school, so maybe… Maybe I will. I could always ask at any rate.”
“Good,” Kelly said, “Because Sandy already has her little one down for there.”
“Why not,” Janice thought to herself as she saw a dark haired woman walk over.
“Sorry to interrupt,” she said quietly, “but are you Janice Carter?”
“That’s me,” Janice said as she looked up, “you are?”
“Jane Molloy, New York Times – I’m doing an article on the Pussycat Gang, and I was wondering if I could take a few minutes of your time to ask a couple of questions – when it’s convenient to you of course.”
“Well, Adam and I are partners on this, so perhaps you should interview us together?”
“No offence to you,” she said as she looked at Adam, “but I prefer to interview you separately. Perhaps we could meet for a drink one night this week?”
“Fine by me,” Adam said, “but let Tom know. Maybe a fresh pair of eyes on both perspectives will help us out.”
“All right then – how about tomorrow night?”
“Sounds good,” Jane said as she took a card out and scribbled on it. “Call me on this number.”
“Thank you,” Janice said as she took the card, and held it while Jane handed one to Adam as well. As Adam fished in his jacket for his wallet, Janice glanced at the scribbled note.
“The Hand said we should meet.”
Putting the card away, she said “I need another drink – what do you want Adam?”
“I’ll take another glass of wine if one is available – you?”
“I’m just getting water – Katy,” Janice said as she walked to the door, and out to the bar, where she saw Juliette and Shirley talking to Dominique. Walking over, she held her hand out and said “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you Caroline, I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“Oh,” she said as she raised an eyebrow, “nothing bad, I trust?”
“No – I Goggled your name and found the website of your consultancy service. You have some very famous and well placed clients.”
“Well, someone in my line of work does deal in testimonials,” she said as she looked at the agent. “I understand you work with the FBI – nothing too dangerous I hope?”
“One long running case, but I don’t seem to be making much headway with it,” Janice replied with a smile. “By the way, I was admiring your earrings – I was sent a pair just like them.”
“So I see – I bought these from a private dealer, but the resemblance is remarkable.”
Janice smiled and nodded, before she said “Juliette, I was wondering if we could meet for lunch tomorrow – there is something I wished to ask you.”
“Well, it would have to be tomorrow – I fly out to Paris in a few days time. Why don’t you come by the apartment at one – I have some paperwork to do there in the morning anyway.”
“Good – I’ll see you then. Shirley, Caroline.” Janice nodded to the other two and then walked to the bar.
“Would you like me to be there as well?”
“I would yes,” Juliette said to Madame, “I could use the moral support.”
Taking her drink she walked back into the main room, to see a familiar quartet sat round a table. As she approached them, she began to make out the low whispers.
“Well do we all agree?” Mary said as she nodded to her fellow conspirators.
“Aye we do.” Fiona nodded in reply.
“Absolutely.” Anna smiled as she sipped her champagne.
“I’m an agent, anything makes me money I like.” Missy whispered as she saw Juliette approaching.
“Okay Hubble Bubble Toil and Trouble… What are you four witches up to huddled up together in the corner.” Juliette asked accusingly.
Mary stood up, smoothed down her skirt and stood by her old friend. “Darling how many years have we known each other?” she said as she put her arm round Juliette.
“Oh, Oh!” Juliette said as she looked round for support. “Why do I suddenly feel trapped?”
“Because ye are.” Fiona smiled.
“Juliette darling… “
“Okay,” Juliette said quietly, “that’s twice you’ve called me darling Mary, That is a sure sign of danger.”
“Ju sweetie,” Anna smiled, “How would you feel about modeling an evening dress spread with Mandy, Karen and Alice?”
“Uhh Uhh… No Way!” Juliette said as she tried to sound assertive, “I keep telling everyone I’m retired.”
“It was you hae wrote aboot 45 bein’ the new 25.” Fiona said as she smiled slyly.
“Yes, yes I know - and why does everybody keep reminding me of that?”
“Well, because it’s true… and besides you are all still stunning women.” Anna spoke. “With Missy’s approval we want to make an offer to all of you… “
“And young Caroline.” Missy reminded the group.
“Aye and Caroline tae.” Fiona agreed.
“To model a 16 page spread for the Christmas edition of CS.” Anna continued.
“I don’t stand a chance, do I? Have you spoken to the others?”
“Ye’re the ferst,” Fiona said.
“Well, no way you will get Caroline unless you first, do it privately, and second get Kate to do it. She was the one who persuaded her to do last night.”
“She’s next on our hit list,” Missy said as she stood up.
“We’ll talk about it on Tuesday after you talk to them – no promises.”
“Sure, sure,” Mary said as Juliette walked away, but she heard Merlin say “Got her – now for Charity…”
The meeting room was in one of the most private parts of the UK section, with access restricted to a select few. Sir Winston Twining was sat at the table, idly tapping the top with the pen between his fingers before the door opened and Madame Chen came in.
“All gone,” Twining said as he stood up. “I had the final report from the auditor this morning – over ten million gone in one hour, as part of that damnable Pussycat Gang raid. I would imagine the same at the other vault. What do we know of them?”
“Very little,” Chen said as she sat down. “They are ruthless, and they had help from equally ruthless partners, but beyond that, nothing.”
“I do NOT accept that,” Twining said as he banged his fist on the table. “What about him?”
“Mister Cohen? He did not know where the money was kept, only that it was secure. If he could get into here, he would say the same thing – but then you would have to apologise to him, and I know how much you English hate to lose face.”
Twining glared at her, before he said “how can you remain so bloody calm? Our working capital cut off just like that? How the hell did they find it anyway – we all covered our tracks.”
“That, my dear Winston, is a very good question,” Madame Chen said quietly as the door opened and Angel Xantu came in, accompanied by Vice President Kimba of Mazengwe.
“We have a problem,” Angel said as she sat down and crossed her legs.
“You don’t say,” Winston said as he stared at the young African woman.
“Please, curb your English sarcasm,” Kimba said, “are we any closer to knowing if this was a targeted attack or just another example of our recent bad luck?”
“Unknown,” Angel said, “this gang of women are notorious, and the statements from the two families corroborate that it was the Pussycat Gang – or rather, Gangs.”
“Explain,” Madame Chen said as she put her fingers together under her chin.
“Two groups of seven women – and a variety of accents. English, French and South African as well as American.”
“So they brought in outside help,” Madame Chen said. “It was a most carefully planned raid – but if it was targeted specifically at us, they would have done it differently.”
“We only have their statements it was these Pussycats – it could have been a copycat. From what I understand, their raids are very bloody – usually multiple corpses. But this time there was only one – and that was a security guard.”
Kimba looked at Twining as he said this, and nodded. “A similar thought occurred to me when I read the reports – but if that is the case, then it was a targeted raid by someone who knew the funds were there. That would suggest…”
He looked round the room as the others nodded. Twining suddenly stood up and said “you’re not suggesting I would rob my own bank?”
“I do not know,” Kimba said, “but the only one of us who did not know where the funds were kept was Cohen. Rice had disappeared – could it be him?”
“Possible,” Angel said, “but, and I deeply regret saying this, I think the mole is closer to me.”
“Francois? What makes you say that,” Kimba said as he looked at her.
She looked round the room before saying “he has resigned from the commission, and intends to return to France next week with me. He has asked me to tell you that he has had enough, and wants no further part in this.”
“I knew it,” Twining shouted, “ever since that raid on the courier in Geneva, I have said he is the weak link.”
“And I have protested his innocence,” Angel said with eyes downcast, “but I fear my faith was misplaced. I wish to consult with the Walrus as to his views on the matter, and possible sanction.”
“And in the meantime?”
“I will watch him closely – I gave him a sedative in his coffee before I came here, and he should sleep until tonight.”
Twining nodded, and said “I will arrange a consultation. And Cohen?”
“I will speak to him,” Madame Chen said, “and determine what actions need to be taken next.”
“Do it quickly,” Angel said, “Francois is hosting a farewell reception on Tuesday night. I need a decision by then.”
“You shall have it,” Twining said. “When is the next shipment of arms due to go out?”
“Next Friday,” Kimba said, “from the docks. They are being packaged as part of a shipment of relief supplies.”
“We may need to advance our plans,” Twining said, “in case this turns very sour.”
“Be calm, old friend,” Kimba said, “we will weather this storm. My country has precious few resources, but I will not see them fall into the hands of those who cannot use them most effectively.”
“Good,” Twining said as he opened a cupboard and took out a bottle with some glasses. “Let us have a drink and then I will establish contact with the Walrus.”
The Waldorf Hotel
“NO! I am sorry, Abigail dear, but I will put my foot down on that one.”
“But mama, you allowed the Victoria’s Secrets show in December,” Abigail said quietly, looking round as she sat with Diana at the table.
“I did, yes, because I was assured of certain things, but this – this is not something I feel I can condone.” She reached out as Missy Auerbach came past and said “a moment, Missy.”
“Certainly, my dear Diana, what can I do for you?” she said as she sat down.
“Missy, I put my foot down on Sports Illustrated.”
“I had anticipated that would be your response,” Missy said with a smile. “Are you free on Tuesday for lunch?”
“Possibly,” Diana said warily, “why?”
“Meet me at the offices – I’ll talk to you then – ta ta for now.”
“What is she up to,” Diana said as she watched Missy stand up and walk to Carina, who was standing with Judith and Judy.
“No idea – but I accept your judgment, Mama – for now.”
“Carina darling,” Missy said as she came over, “A truly beautiful day, and Judith is so divine a child.”
“She’s perfect, isn’t she,” Carina said as she held the baby in her arms. “What can I do for you Missy?”
“Now can’t an old family friend admire a new baby?”
“She can – but I know that look Missy. What’s the offer?”
“Well,” Missy said, “I had a call from Pronovias. They wish to shoot their 2015 bridal catalogue, but they want to show the breadth of their designs and styles, to illustrate the range of women they cater for. Your name was mentioned as a possible model, but it would mean you giving up a couple of weekends next month.”
“Well, I might be interested, studies allowing,” Carina said with a smile. “What do you think Jude – would I make a beautiful bride?”
“Hey,” Judy said with a smile, “I always thought you wore the white dress BEFORE the baby came along?”
“Too late to change my mind about you as a godmother, right?”
“Oh, much too late,” Judy said as she took Judith in her arms.
“Carina – we want a photo with the family and godparents. Can you oblige?”
“Tell them yes, and let me see the contract Missy,” Carina said as the three of them joined Adam, Juliette and Mary in front of a screen.
“Now smile,” everyone said as Carina sat, Judith on her lap next to Juliette and the three godparents behind. Janice took a few snaps as well, as Mary said “Look – she’s starting to pose already!”
John slipped in and whispered to Carina “The first group of models need to leave in fifteen – can you come to say thank you and goodbyes?”
“Be there in a minute,” Carina whispered back, “when the photos are done…”
Janice walked back to where the younger kids were being entertained by a magician. She looked at Katy, smiling as she talked to Sandy and George, and wondered how she would feel if her new best friend’s mommy was…
No – she had to take that thought from her mind. If she was right, then there was a reason why Alexandra Richmond did what she did, and she wanted to know that reason. Partly for her own satisfaction, and partly… Partly because she had felt that power, and suspected that had a lot to do with it.
“Juliette, would you and Carina join me in my suite after the event is over for a drink?”
“We’d be delighted to,” Juliette said as the guests started slowly to make their way out. Lily and others said their goodbyes to Jeannie and Abigail, and made their way towards John, who directed them to the cars.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Janice,” Sandy said as she collected Katy and put her hat back on.
“Of course you will,” Janice said with a smile. “Adam, why don’t the three of us go for a walk in the park and then back to my place?”
“I would like that very much – two beautiful ladies on my arms,” Adam said as he escorted them from the room.
“Well, I think baby and I need to head back to the workface,” Carina said as she put Judith in her chair. “I’ll see you all soon.”
“Safe trip darling,” Juliette said as she kissed her daughter, and Dominique escorted her out, before Juliette sat down, removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes.
“What do you think she’s going to say when Karen tells her the plan for the shoot,” she said as she looked at Madame.
“I honestly have no idea,” Madame said. “So, tomorrow – I will come to your apartment for half twelve?”
Juliette nodded. “I have the feeling it is a pivotal moment, but after last Tuesday – I think she is going to be more of a help than a hindrance.”
“Well,” Madame said as she stood and went to pour two drinks, “you have a mountain of christening presents to sort out as well – you may as well take your time getting home.”
Monday 22nd September
West Central Park
Janice ran her eyes over the contents of her closet, flipping through the polyester pant suits, blouses, skirts and casual wear. What was the fun in being a bad girl if you didn’t get to dress like one?
“No,” Janice thought to herself, “my style is going to change, from now on I only buy and wear the best, I can afford quality, and I’m sure if I need extra money my fellow pussycats can help me replenish my bank account. Just take my time and…”
For a second Janice stood there in shock. Had she just thought of the bitches as her fellows? Mentally she gave herself a shake, but as she dreamed of walking into the office in a tight designer suit, wiggling her ass for all to see, the last of her moral reservations seemed to disappear.
“Dammit,” she said to herself, “why shouldn’t we have the best?”
“Did you say something, Janice?”
“No Mom,” she said as she pulled out a grey blouse and knee length skirt, “just talking to myself.”
As she put the blouse on, she looked at the card Jane Molloy had given her. She would call her later – as soon as she had talked to Juliette.
The Waldorf Hotel
“Good morning ladies,” Madame said as she came in, “I trust you all enjoyed yesterday?”
“Very much so,” Charlotte said as she handed over the summaries from the Listening Post.
“Hmmm – they were off the grid for two hours yesterday?”
“Regretfully so Madame – they must have been in a room Dominique could not reach.”
“Well, no system is perfect,” Madame said, “what of Legault?”
“He slept most of yesterday, while his ‘partner’ was meeting the others,” Susan said as she flipped through the notes.
“I sense a weak link – he has a farewell party tomorrow to which Diana has been invited with Natasha. We will see what happens there. How are we progressing on the guests at the auction?”
“We are preparing lists of the celebrities to pass to the like of the NY Post at the appropriate moment,” Charlotte said. “I also noted Molloy talking to Janice yesterday.”
“Excellent,” Dominique said, “Heather sent Ms Molloy a file to pique her interest. We will know later today if Janice will talk to her on our behalf.”
“On what basis?”
“We think she caught the hint yesterday with the earrings. I and Juliette will meet her for lunch today and report later.”
“Well, after Tuesday morning…”
“Precisely, Dominique, precisely. Charlotte, what of the political angle?”
"Two of the three Senators Madame filmed at the
auction are up for re-election in November." Charlotte looked at her
notes, "Senator Boyd, Democrat, Maine and Senator Morris, Republican, New
York. I'm sure the last thing either of
them wants is a scandal like this so close to the election."
"Especially given their public
stances on such matters." Penny thought aloud.
"Bloody damn hypocrites."
Dominique looked at some press clippings of speeches. “It would serve them right – and serve our
purpose as well.”
"Well I think it's time we applied some
pressure." Madame smiled. "We need really full workups on them."
"I'll co-ordinate with Heather on that."
"I'll take the Democrat." Susan gritted her
"I guess that leaves me with the Republican?"
Dominique looked again at the clippings.
"We also need to start surveillance on both of
them." Madame ordered.
"Again I'll talk to Heather," Charlotte looked round. "Once she's devised a plan for bugging, I'll feed it to Dom and Susan."
“Fine for Morris and possibly Boyd at home,” Dominique said, “but if we’re talking bugging Senate offices, that’s a whole new league and we will need an in.”
“Again, I will discuss with Juliette this lunchtime,” Madame said. “Now, what is next...?”
FBI Field Office.
“Ball! Carter! In here!”
Janice and Adam looked at each other before they walked into Tom’s office. Sitting in a chair on the other side of the desk was Rupert Brooks.
“Good morning,” he said as Adam closed the door, “I was in the area and thought I would drop by.”
“Your timing’s actually quite good – I had another message from the women last night, after I got back from the christening.”
“Oh,” Tom said as he sat down, “What did they say?”
Janice took a folded piece of paper from her inside jacket pocket and opened it out.
“Agent Carter, we have attached to this message two files, both of which contain information we wish you to pass to your colleagues on two of the inner circle in this conspiracy. We are aware you know of one, the other is one you may not have heard of. Take this and do as thou wilt. We shall contact you again soon.”
“Phil Majewski is checking the files now for any hidden surprises before we look at them,” Adam said, “but Janice was promised information. Looks as if they might have come through.”
“We’ll review it when it becomes available, and pass it on to you as well Brooks,” Tom said.
“One other thing – I suspect they have contacted someone else. A reporter from the NY Times approached me and Adam yesterday, saying she wanted to do a story on the Pussycat gang and asking to interview us – separately.”
“She’s a good investigative journalist,” Brooks said as he nodded, “it may be they plan to use her as well. Talk to her – but nothing official, understand.”
“Yes, sir,” Janice said, “is there anything else?”
“No – good work Janice,” Tom said as she and Adam walked out of the office.
“So what did you promise in return,” Adam asked them as they returned to their desks.
“To let them know if I heard anything on the wires – and so far, I haven’t.”
“Jo! Hold up a minute!”
“Sure, An… Miss Kelly,” Joanne said as she stopped with Abigail, “what’s wrong?”
“Saturday – want to take a trip down Baltimore way?”
“Oh? What for?”
“The Bull Run invitational – we got a late entry for a team in the small school girl’s division. I’m pulling a team together, now, and I want you to be team captain.”
“I would be honoured, Coach,” Jo said as she did a low bow to Annie.
“All right, all right – meet after school today.”
“I’ll work with Ally to get the girls back to Jeannie’s place,” Abby said as her phone went off.
“Don’t you sometimes just wish for the peaceful tones of Def Leppard,” Jo said as Abby answered her phone.
“Missy? Yeah, I’m free Saturday – why?
“In the Capitol itself? Well, I can’t see my mother objecting – we can call it educational as well as work. Let me talk to her and call you back?”
“A job,” Jo said as Abby put her phone away.
“Yeah – Saturday in Washington.”
The Huntingdown Apartment
Madame was sitting in a chair, her legs crossed as her grey silk skirt fell over them, and a paisley scarf tied as a cravat under her silk blouse. Juliette was sat in a white jumper and slacks, looking at some papers and making a few notes when the telephone rang.
“Hello? Right, I’ll let her in,” Juliette said as she put the receiver down, and walked to the front door.
Opening it, she saw Janice coming out of the lift, and walking slowly towards her.
“Janice, darling – are you all right?”
“I think so,” Janice said as she came in and saw who else was in the room. “Yeah,” she said, “I guess that answers one of the questions I had as well.”
“If you would rather I left,” Shirley said as she stood up.
“No – please, I think you might be of some use here,” Janice said as she slipped her handbag off. “My badge, phone and firearm are in that bag,” she said as she handed it to her, “can you just check that is the case before I say anything else?”
Taking the bag, Shirley looked inside and nodded. “What do you want me to do with this?”
“Keep ahold of it,” Janice said as she looked at Juliette. “You shall know us by a sign, Agent Carter – those were the words Miss Panther said to me on Tuesday morning, before I left the others. You shall know us by a sign.” She looked at Shirley and Juliette, before saying “You’re Miss Panther, you were Emma, and I need a bloody stiff drink.”
“I think we all do,” Juliette said as she went to the drinks cabinet, pouring whisky into two glasses and brandy into a third. She handed the whisky to Janice and the brandy to Shirley, before taking the second whisky and sitting next to Janice.
“Thanks,” Janice said as she took a drink, and then said “give me one good reason why I should not call Adam and arrest you right now.”
“Because I saw you last Monday,” Juliette said, “and I saw a side of you that you have held back for far too long, Janice. Far too long.”
“I notice you don’t deny it?”
“Of course not,” Shirley said, “you saw us all wearing the earrings, after all.”
“But… Are you really MI6 or someone else?”
“I am British – and we should leave it at that,” Shirley said. “Some cans need to remain closed – for now.”
“What is true,” Juliette said, “is we have united to deal with and eradicate this scourge. Allow me to show you something.”
Juliette stood up and fetched her laptop, bringing it over and bringing up a screen. “There,” she said as she showed it to Janice, “as I promised, the twenty – sorry, twenty one million is locked into an account which we will draw from as the need arises.”
Janice stared at the screen, and then sat back and looked at both of them. “My god,” she whispered, “I always thought the Pussycats were normal working women, but half of you – which half?”
“We’re not prepared to reveal that – yet,” Juliette said, “but do you mind if we ask you a question?”
“Only if I may ask you one afterwards?”
Janice nodded as Juliette sat with her glass in her hand. “When you were – pleasuring Devereux, how did it make you feel?”
“How did I feel?” Janice stared into her drink and said “Honestly?”
“It made me feel damn fantastic – I’d never felt so much in control. If I’m honest with myself, it started the moment we walked in the house, but doing that to him…” She then threw her head back and started laughing.
“Go on,” Juliette said quietly.
“What the hell happened to me that night? Ever since I’ve been thinking of what that money can do for my life now, and how I wanted to feel that power once more.”
“Not surprising,” Shirley said as she put her glass down, “we all felt that way. But would you like to know what really surprised me?”
“Go on – what?”
“The fact you saved Juliette’s life.”
“For which I am eternally grateful,” Juliette said as she put her hand on Janice’s knee. “Janice, the Hand…”
“Who is she?”
“All in good time, Janice,” Shirley said. “We know that you know she contacted Jane Molloy, and she wishes to talk to you. We want you to do that, but first you need to ask your question.”
Janice took another drink, and then looked at it. “I need to watch what I’m doing with this,” she said as she put her glass down, and looked at Juliette before saying “Why?”
“Why do we do what we do, or why are we doing this together?”
“Both – I think.”
“The answer to the second is easier,” Juliette said. “Yes, I lead a gang of homicidal female bank robbers, but as you guessed, we are mothers, sisters, aunts – and we abhor when something like this is done to innocents. We wish to stop it, pure and simple – so when Shirley asked for our help, we offered it. Freely and willingly.
“As for why we do what we do – we all have our reasons. But one thing is always the same – we look after each other, and despite what you know about us now, we look after our friends.
“So I guess the question is Janice – are you still our friend?”
Janice stood up and looked out of the window, and then turned to look at both of them.
“This morning,” she said as she looked over, “I promised myself Katy and I would want for nothing again. Want to know the really weird thing about Tuesday? When I went to the bank as Agent Carter, I was totally at peace with what I had done. I like that feeling – and I want to feel it again. Yes, we’re still friends, Juliette – but I want in. All the way in – no secrets.”
“Not even from Adam, your mother, Katy?”
“I meant from each other,” Janice said with a smile. “Now, can you answer my question – why you? Why specifically do you do this?”
“If you had the afternoon free, I would tell you,” Juliette said as she stood up, “for now, let me say you and I have something in common.”
“We both were raped, and conceived a child as a result of that attack.”
“You were… Carina’s father raped you?”
Juliette nodded as Shirley looked on. “I didn’t check for recording devices you know, should I?”
“No – I’m implicated in this anyway, and I don’t want any records of… You knew?”
“We are working as a team Janice – but we don’t know everything. We know of the attack, and the fact the baby was adopted, but no more than that. Only the Hand knows more.”
“So Carina was the daughter of a… Oh sweet Jesus, it was Maroni, wasn’t it?”
Juliette nodded. “Maroni was threatening those we consider friends, as well as ourselves, and then by pure chance we discovered he was a blood relative of Carina. We arranged things to bring him down, and then Carina and I had a chat with him.”
“So you killed him?”
“No – but Carina and I did everything else. In time, we will tell you the full story, but I think you will agree we did the city a favour that day.”
“So is that why you only shot me in the shoulder – because you knew?”
“To be honest,” Juliette said as she looked at Janice, “no – we just wanted to slow you down. I am glad we did not kill you and Adam, however – we have come to love both of you a lot.”
Janice thought back to the news when she heard Maroni’s body had been washed up. “Well, I’m not going to miss him,” she finally said.
“Nobody does,” Shirley said quietly. “So, Janice, if you want in, we want you to do something for us. Have you opened the information you received from the Hand yet?”
“Our lab boys wanted to scan it first.”
“When you do, you will find information on Oliver Cohen and Madame Chen we have gathered – not all, but enough to set them on the right path. Please ensure the right people get it.”
“In particular,” Juliette said, “it details where some of the girls were sent by Madame Chen.”
“No problem – and Jane Molloy?”
“You recognized some senators on that video?”
Janice nodded as Juliette said “Well, Jane is well placed to do a very special article for us. The Hand has already sent her a copy of the interview with Ama – help her to find out more.”
“An unnamed source?”
“Indeed – and we will allow you to meet the others in due course. One other thing – I have a small job offer for you.”
“I have a job – but I would like to learn more,” Janice said with a smile.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Shirley said as she finished her glass.
“No – I have a way to explain your increase in income. I wish to appoint you one of the directors of my business in fine cloths – you invested a small inheritance in it, and the income goes directly to you, all tax records kept on your behalf.”
“How can you – no, I don’t want to know. It seems a fair arrangement – I accept.”
“Excellent,” Juliette said as she stood up. “Welcome to the group, Janice.”
“Does this mean you won’t kill me?”
“I’ve heard that before,” Juliette said as she smiled and hugged Janice. “What will you tell Adam?”
“Nothing – I just need to tread carefully, but I want to see this through to the end – and beyond, if you will help me.”
“Of course,” Juliette said, “But I promised you lunch. Let’s go to the deli across the road, and we can talk more there.”
“Your bag,” Shirley said as she passed it back to Janice, “and thank you.”
Janice smiled and shook her head. “Welcome to my new life,” she said to herself as the three women left the apartment.
FBI Field Office, New York.
The lift doors opened, and the two fellow agents stared at Janice as she stepped out, her black Louis Vuitton handbag over one arm and the bag from the dress shop in the other.
This was not the Janice who had left the office for lunch by any stretch of the imagination. After she had left Juliette and Sheila, Jan had decided it was time to try a new image.
She had headed for Saks, and purchased the black leather dress she was wearing, the supple skin hugging her body as she moved. The neckline was daring, showing much more of her chest than she was used to, while the skirt came to just above her knees. She had paired the dress with a short black satin jacket, the sleeves coming to just above her wrists. A pair of sheer silk stockings and four inch black leather stilettos completed her new outfit.
But she had done more than that – after the clothes, she had spent time having her makeup done at the cosmetics area, and then spent a short time having extensions put into her hair, so that it now fell over her neck and shoulders. Her lips looked larger, redder, more alluring as she smiled at her fellow agents, while in her bag was a new set of cosmetics.
A large pair of designer sunglasses covered her eyes as she walked along, her bottom swaying under the soft black leather as most of the men – and one or two of the women – stopped and stared. Janice smiled as she approached Adam, who was reading through a report.
“Hey Adam,” she said as she stood beside him, “any word on those two files?”
“Yeah – and where have you be…” Adam turned and stared at his partner for a few minutes.
“Something wrong, Adam?”
“No – it’s just… That’s a new look for you, isn’t it?”
Janice lowered her glasses and looked at Adam, as he stuttered “it…. It may take getting used to…”
“I decided that if I’m going to continue to act as the liaison, I should start to think and dress as if I belonged in their world – I hope this won’t cause you any…. Problems?”
“No, no, not at all,” Adam said as he stood up. “Tom wants to see us.”
Janice smiled as she placed her bags under the desk, her long red nails gleaming, and followed Adam into Tom Callaghan’s office.
“Oh, so Jan finally…. Holy shit, girl, this is different.”
“But nice, right,” Jan said as she sat down.
“Yeah – but perhaps a little distracting for the others here? Not that it doesn’t suit you, but…”
“I know – I’m seeing Jane Molloy later, and I thought I would impress her. I promise, back to trouser suits and skirts tomorrow.”
She didn’t say that she had ordered a new set of designer wear – not just yet.
“The files contained records of Oliver Cohen’s arms dealings – with luck, we now have enough to make a move on him. They also contained details of where some of the girls may have ended up – we’ve passed those onto vice to deal with.”
“Where will the girls be taken if you find them?”
“Not jail – they are the victims here. We’re sorting something out before we make a move.”
Janice could see that both men could hardly take their eyes off her, and she smiled at that.
“All right,” she said, “I will talk to Molloy tonight, see what she wants, and tell her to talk to you as well Adam.”
“Good – get to it,” Tom said as the two agents stood up and left.
“Jan,” Adam said, “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“I know you’re concerned,” she said as she stroked Adam’s cheek, “but don’t worry – I’m fine. In fact, I’ve never felt better. Now, I need to go and collect Katy, and give her and my mother the shock of their lives.”
The Richmond Mansion
“I’ll get it,” Joanne said as the doorbell rang. Opening it up, she saw the woman in the jacket and leather dress standing there, and said “Yes? Can I help you?”
Janice turned round and removed her glasses, saying “Hello Joanne – is Katy ready?”
“Is that Mommy,” Jo heard Katy shout out.
“Errr – yes it is Katy. Come in Janice,” she said as she stepped to one side, Janice smiling as she walked in.
“Mommy, look what I made today,” Katy said as she ran out, and then stopped short. “Wow Mommy – are they new clothes?”
“That’s right, sweetheart – do you like them?”
Katy stood with her head to one side, and said “They’re nice – but you look different. Will you wear them all the time?”
“No sweetheart – but I need this for Mommy’s work.”
“Need what,” Sandy said as she came out, and then stared at Janice. “My, someone went shopping,” she said as Jan did a little twirl. “Very sophisticated.”
“Why thank you,” Jan said as Katy went to get her bag. “See you tomorrow?”
“Uh… Sure,” Sandy said, lost for words for once as Janice took Katy’s hand and headed out of the door, Jo closing it behind her. “What just happened,” she said as she looked at Sandy.
“I have no idea,” Sandy replied, “but damn – she is one hot momma!”
West Central Park
“Dinner’s nearly ready,” Mrs. Carter called out as Katy and Janice came in. Katy dropped her rucksack on the ground, and called out “Granny! Come and see Mommy!”
“Why – what has she…” As she came out of the kitchen, she stared at Janice in shock.
“What do you think,” Janice said as she took off her sunglasses.
“What do I think? Jan, how much did that cost?”
“Don’t worry, Mom – it’s an expenses job. I need the outfit for a meeting tomorrow, and I needed to get used to wearing it.”
“Even so – my god Jan, do you know how different you look in that?”
“Oh yes,” Jan said as she looked in the mirror, “I do know. I think it’s time I updated my wardrobe, Mom – want to help me do that?”
“Well, so long as you don’t run up too big a bill – yeah, why not? But will it all look like that?”
“No – this is for a special meeting. We’ll do some shopping this weekend – right now, what’s for dinner?”
As she walked past her mother, Jan felt on top of the world.
“Is Mommy all right, granny?”
“I think so, lass,” she said as she hugged Katy. “Now, what happened at school today?”
Tuesday 23rd September
The Waldorf Hotel
Heather walked out of the lift and knocked on the double doors, waiting until they were opened before she walked in.
“Morning Heather,” Charlotte said as the doors closed, “How are you feeling?”
“On top of the world,” Heather said with a smile, “so what’s on the agenda for today?”
“What do you think,” Charlotte said as they walked into the meeting room. Dominique and Susan were already talking, as they both looked up and smiled.
“Kids all safely off to school?”
“Indeed – Katy was talking all the time about her mom’s new look.”
“Oh? Has Janice been shopping?”
“Looks that way – new pant suit anyway, and she has a different look about her.”
“Good morning,” Madame said as she and Penelope came in. “Please, be seated – we have a lot to discuss.”
“So what can I do for you today,” Heather said as she sat down.
“Boyd and Morris – have you had time to give them any consideration?”
“Well, I enjoy a challenge, but this is a stinker,” Heather said as she sat back. “However, in one case, we have an advantage.”
“Oh – who?”
“Morris – his wife just happens to have employed one of the best interior designers in New York to remodel their bedrooms. She’s taking her trusty assistant tomorrow afternoon.”
“How fortuitous,” Madame said with a smile. “Do you have sufficient supplies?”
“I do – what about Boyd?”
“Dominique paid a visit to his home last night, at my request. We have already started monitoring there. The real difficulty is the offices.”
“NO!” Heather laughed as she said “I may have an in – two actually. First, Abigail has a shoot in the Capitol building Saturday – something about power dressing, but Diana will accompany her. I may be able to work my charm as an art expert to get access and discuss artwork at the Capitol that day as well – so we have some access.”
“What do you rate your chances of success at,” Charlotte said as she looked at Heather.
“I’ve studied Morris’s file – I rate it at 90-95 per cent as of now, hopefully 100 by this time tomorrow. We get in, we bug their offices, and get out again.”
“One other thing,” Penelope said, “Boyd and Morris share an out of town cabin in
Upstate Maryland. We suspect that is where the girls are used as staff – but that is to be confirmed. We need surveillance there too.”
“Would Saturday be all right for all three?”
“Acceptable – but you cannot do all three.”
“I won’t have to – the annual Bull Run Invitational is this Saturday, and Jo told me today Annie is taking a team up. They’re stopping overnight.”
“I’ll talk to Annie at the gym this evening – thank you Heather.”
“Hey – a pleasure,” Heather said with a smile.
“Good,” Madame said as she stood up, “Dominique, can I have a word with you in my office please?”
“Of course Madame,” Dominique said as the two of them left Heather talking to the others. As they went in, Madame went to the coffee pot and poured two cups.
“I have been considering your request,” she said as she sat at her desk, Dominique sitting opposite. “Are you sure this is what you want to do?”
“Am I sure? No – but I have grown fond of Ama, and I want to make sure whatever happens over the next few weeks, she is taken care of. Also, now that I can be Caroline again, and I have been working here for some time, it makes sense that I am seen to have an abode here. Naturally, I will still operate as your head of security – but from Susan’s office as opposed to the head office. I will be able to be on a plane within hours of any call.”
Madame nodded slowly, and then said “Very well – I approve your request. Once this unpleasant business is settled, you will remain here with my blessing. And Ama?”
“I have discussed the idea with her of staying with me, acting as her guardian. She seems open to the proposal. In return, I wonder if a place can be found in the organization for Maisha?”
“I will consider the matter,” Madame said.
The New Calabria Club
Jane Molloy walked into the bar and looked around, drinking in the atmosphere. She loved these little bars in tucked away corners of the city, and had heard good things about this one.
“Morning,” the woman behind the bar said as she looked at the journalist, “Can I get ya sumfink?”
“Coffee, please,” Jane said as she walked over, her heels clicking on the floor.
“Don’t think I’ve seem ya around here before,” she said as she poured the coffee and passed the cup over. “Meeting somebody?”
“Yeah,” Jane said as the door opened and she turned round. The tall woman walked in, the stiletto heels clicking on the wooden floor as the black leather dress moved with every step she made.
“Agent Carter? That’s a new look for ya.”
“Good morning Annie,” Janice Carter said as she removed her sunglasses. “Could I have a coffee as well please?”
“Sure fing,” Annie said as she poured a second cup and handed it over. “Who did yer nails, Agent – they look wonderful.”
“Why thank you, Annie – you look as if you are blooming as well,” Janice purred. “Jane and I need to have a private conversation; can we take a booth out the back?”
“Sure – go on through,” Annie said as she looked to the back of the bar. The two women took the cups in their hands and made their way through.
“I’m sorry I had to postpone until this morning,” Janice literally purred, “but something came up.”
“Not a problem – gave me more time to think this over.”
“So,” Janice said as she sat down, “you had a message from the Hidden Hand?”
“I did – on my handheld on Sunday, during the reception. It was an interview – may I show you it?”
“Was the girl’s name Ama or Maisha?”
Jane looked at Janice, and said “Ama. How did you…”
“I’ve seen both,” Janice said before she carefully took a sip of her coffee. “Jane, anything I may be about to tell you is strictly off the record, and if I find you have quoted me, not only will I flatly deny it, you will find the FBI withdrawing any support for you.”
“Duly noted, agent – now, what the hell is going on? I thought the Hidden Hand was an urban legend, but you called me just on the mention of her name.”
“The Hand is real, and so is the story you heard from Ama,” Janice said with a smile, her red fingernails drumming on the table as she looked at Jane. “For some time, there has been a highly organized and sophisticated group dealing in two of the most precious commodities known to mankind – diamonds, and children.
“I was – recruited to join a confederacy of concerned women to try and end this trade, and bring those responsible to justice. I have been authorized to ask for your help in this enterprise, in a professional capacity.”
Jane looked at her, and said “how did they recruit you?”
“The Hand sent me a film of an event – an even where people bid to buy young girls from an African country. Ama was one of those girls. I have met another, and the people I represent are actively involved in tracking down those who have taken part in this vile trade. Tell me, Joan,” she purred as she crossed her legs, “if I was to tell you one of the people in the film I saw was a US Senator, what would you do?”
Jane looked at the agent, and said “Do everything in my power to bring him down?”
“Good,” Janice said with a smile, before she handed Jane a brown envelope from her bag. “Allow me to offer you two – Boyd and Morris. These are stills from the video I saw – you will find them most illuminating.”
Jane opened the envelope and looked at them, her face paling as she said “dear lord…”
“The confederacy wishes their activities to become public knowledge. Do you think you can put these to good use?”
“And your bosses at the bureau?”
“This is off the record, Jane – they cannot officially approve of what I am doing. But I would like to know if and when you run it.”
Nodding, Jane put the photos in her bag. “If I need to contact you again, can I call you?”
“Of course – and Adam is free at 2 this afternoon. He is expecting you at the field office.”
“I’ll see you then,” Jane said as she left the booth, Janice sipping her coffee and watching her. As she made to go, Jane stopped and turned.
“The Hidden Hand? Who are they?”
“No idea,” Janice said with a smile as Jane left. Standing herself, she walked slowly out of the bar.
“Thanks,” Janice said as she put her sunglasses on, and walked out of the club.
East Side Gym
“That is what Madame told me,” Dominique said as she put some resin on her hands, “Janice had lunch with her and Juliette, and has – well, agreed to become a full part of the conspiracy. In fact, she insisted on it.”
“Janice Carter, you are a dark horse – ready?”
“Ready,” Charlotte said as the three of them started the ascent of the wall.
“Heather said you and Jo were taking a team up to a cross country meeting this weekend, Annie,” Charlotte said as they cleared the first ledge.
“Yes – should be interesting. With luck, the girls will be so tired they don’t notice if the two of us slip out for a couple of hours.”
“Am I the only one who is suspicious that St Angela’s get a last minute invite to participate in a Cross-Country event, just so conveniently close to where we have a target?” Dominique asked as she paused on the wall momentarily.
“It struck me like there was maybe a hidden hand at work.” Charlotte spoke as she gripped a new handhold.
“I must admit.. UH… I wondered that as well.” Annie said as she climbed some more, “but then I started to do some research, and while we don’t run a lot of cross country… ‘
“Bit difficult in the city,” Charlotte said as she pulled herself up.
“That was what made me suspicious.” Dominique climbed some more.
“If you look at my girls times on the track.” Annie continued upwards, “and compare them to the opposition in our division, we are VERY competitive.”
“How competitive?” Charlotte asked.
“We could finish second or third in the team event, maybe five of my girls finish in the top 20.”
“Wow that is competitive.” Dominique admitted.
“I think when Holy Name dropped out the organizers were casting round for teams and just maybe our track performances last spring jumped out at them.”
“So you don’t think Heather intervened?” Charlotte spoke as she made a difficult move.
“No I think my girls got the invite on merit, it’s just a fortuitous coincidence that it aids the group as well.”
“Well good for them.” Dominique smiled.
“Yeah, that course though is a true bastard, I ran it when I was in school, that dip as they call it, is a body breaker.”
“Have you told your team that?”
“Yeah, I don’t think it worries the real distance girls, but I think it does the middle distance runners like Jo.”
“Might be hard for her?”
“If she can crack the top 30 she’ll have run a brilliant race Dom, and of course its great prep for the indoor track season when she drops down to her true distance.”
“Training and practice, we all need it to achieve our goals.” Dominique smiled. “You sometimes need to take a few defeats on the way to ultimate victory.”
“True.” Charlotte and Annie answered in sync.
“Heather will give you the intel and bugs later this week,” Dominique said as she made the top. Annie pulled herself up alongside Charlotte, and they both looked down.
“Hang on,” Charlotte said as she looked out of the door, “am I seeing things, or is that Janice Carter heading to the cardiovascular room?”
Dominique looked in the same direction as her and nodded. “It is indeed – who fancies a workout on the treadmill?”
The three women let themselves down and dried off with towels, before they walked into the large room. Sure enough, there was Janice, wearing an old blue track suit and pounding away on the treadmill.
“Excuse me,” Annie said as they came over, and they saw Jan with a set of ear buds in, “It is Janice, isn’t it?”
She looked at the three women and smiled as she paused the treadmill. “Sorry,” she said as she removed the earpieces, “it’s Annie isn’t it, Annie Kelly?”
“That’s right – we met at the christening. I didn’t know you came to this gym?”
“I joined today – I’ve decided to have a change of image, lose some weight, try some new things out. This place was recommended to me.”
“It’s a great gym,” Annie said as she nodded. “These are my friends, Dominique and Charlotte.”
“A pleasure – you come here as well?”
“We do,” Charlotte said. “Perhaps we’ll see you around again.”
“Oh I think you can count on it,” Jan said as she put the earphones back in, “do say hello to Shirley when you see her please.”
“Well,” Charlotte said as they walked off, “did you see her nails?”
“I did,” Annie said, “she’s in all right.”
Janice turned and smiled as she watched them walk away. She was looking forward to learning from them too…
“Mandy,” Juliette said as she hugged Lady Ordford and kissed her on both cheeks, “thank you for coming.”
“Girls night out, how could I refuse,” Mandy said as she kissed Alice. “No sign of Karen yet?”
“She has to drive down from Boston, and pick someone up,” Juliette said as she sat down and the girls ordered some drinks.
“So how did you find Yale,” Alice said as she looked over the table.
“Went to New Haven and turned right,” Mandy said with a laugh. “I left Will up there with David – he’s taking him and Judy out for dinner. So when do you fly to Paris, Ju?”
“Friday – back next Tuesday. Karen – there you are.”
“Sorry we’re late,” Karen Boyd said as she came in with Caroline,” my young friend here needed to complete some business first.”
“Oh – anything interesting,” Mandy said as Caroline sat down, and ordered some water.”
“I was apartment hunting, actually – it appears I will be staying in New York for some time, and need somewhere suitable to stay.”
“Oh? When was this decided?”
“I won a long term contract, but the client is nervous, and wants me close to hand,” Caroline said as she looked at the menu.
“When was the last time we were all together like this, before this weekend,” Mandy said as she sipped her wine.
“Your wedding, I think,” Karen said. “I don’t remember too much of that day, though.”
“OH,” Alice said, “so you don’t remember the curious incident of the Lagerfeld in the night?”
“The bra that was run up the flagpole at Ordford Castle?”
“That… That didn’t really happen did it?”
“I should know – I did it,” Alice said as she looked round the table.
“Oh well then, that explains everything,” Mandy said as the waiter came and took their order.
“I’m sorry I missed that wedding,” Caroline said, “but… well…”
“Oh crap,” Mandy said, “I’m sorry Caroline. I forgot it was just after Stella died. That must have brought back bad memories.”
“It’s all right,” Caroline said, “it just made me realize how much I still miss her, even after all these years.”
“Will couldn’t believe it when you walked out – he told me later on. Kate kept it a total secret – even from Ju here, and that’s not easy.”
“She had magic on her side – the Welsh Wizard,” Alice said.
“How true – I snuck Caroline in early, and hid her until Mary went to fetch her. Maximum impact after all.”
The appetizers arrived, and for a little while they ate and talked. Eventually, as the plates were cleared, Mandy said “so Carina is doing magazines rather than catwalk, Ju?”
“As Mary so politely puts it, ‘you’re too small Carina darling’,” Juliette said in a Welsh accent. “But there is no truth to the rumour she has started to stretch Judith out already.”
“Well, she’s doing the right thing for her – and Abby has proved to be a break out.”
“Her and Jeannie,” Mandy said, “I watched that show, and it was amazing.”
“Believe me, it was a shock to me as well,” Juliette said. “Jeannie is a surprising young lady in many ways.”
“So were you surprised by the display at the awards show?”
“If you knew how close Barbara and I came to killing Merlin that night…”
Caroline looked at Karen, and said “does Mary invoke that response in everyone?”
“Almost everyone,” Karen said with a smile, “She and Stephanie fought Round 134 of their ongoing fight Saturday night. I think the only person who ever accepted Mary without a word of complaint was Naomi.”
“Naomi? Naomi Campbell? What did she have over her?”
“Rumours abound, but she is the only one to not complain about the double length rehearsal time you need to put in.”
“Well, she seemed nice enough to me – she told me where to walk, and let me get on with it.”
“Probably because she was still in shock at seeing you – she was actually crying when we came off the stage as well.”
“Everyone in the room was crying by then, darling,” Alice said, “you saw Jeanne’s broadcast.”
Caroline nodded as Alice said “changing the subject, Mandy, any sign of Angelica following in your footsteps?”
“Well, if there is ever a call for a mix of Sloane Ranger and Land Girl, she might be,” Mandy said. “Have you ever seen that program Made in Chelsea?”
“I have,” Caroline said, “really bad.”
“Well, she had the good sense and taste to turn that down, so there is still hope.”
“Anyway,” Juliette said as the entrees arrived, “let’s forget about work and just catch up on old times…”
As they ate and talked, Caroline was surprised to find she felt as home here as she did on a mission for Madame. Her mind went back to the time she spent with her mother before her death, the long nights when Stella and Charity would sit up and discuss their fellow models, their plans for the future, their dreams…
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Karen said as she picked up her bag, “I found this the other day.” She took out a photo and handed it round, each of the women staring at it before Alice gave it to Caroline.
It showed an obviously younger Karen standing with Stella, both wearing roll necked sweaters, black leather jackets and tight jeans, in front of the lion’s enclosure at a zoo. In front of both of them was a tall, thin girl with short hair, wearing a pink tracksuit and trainers. Caroline smiled as she touched the image of her mother.
“I remember this day,” she said quietly, “we went to Regent’s Park, spent the day at the zoo, and then saw a show at the open air theatre. No, tell a lie – it was a screening of To Catch a Thief, the Hitchcock movie.”
“That’s right,” Karen said with a smile as she took the photo back. “I returned to the US two weeks later, and – well, let’s not dwell on that again.”
After the plates had been cleared, the five women sat back and looked at each other.
“So I presume the witches cornered each of you on Sunday,” Juliette finally said.
“Oh yes – I got the double whammy of Mary and Fiona,” Mandy said as she looked around the table. “What about you Alice?”
“Oh I got Anna all to myself – and then Missy came too. They then moved over to Karen.”
“Before marching over to me,” Caroline said quietly. “I never saw them coming – which is a feat in itself.”
“Well.” Karen looked at the others, “What do you think of the offer from Complete Style?”
“Don’t ask me,” Juliette smiled, “I’m already hooked, and besides I work for the magazine.”
“Well I like the idea of Will remembering that I’m still a woman.” Mandy pursed her lips, “Not just the mother of his children, and the woman who feeds the pigs.”
“I don’t want to be accused of getting free publicity for my business.” Alice worried.
“What if they don’t mention APCO?” Juliette asked.
“How can they avoid it Darling?” Mandy asked. “Any more then they’ll be able to resist saying I’m a Marchioness.”
“Well, we could agree to waive our fees, as I did for the Vogue shoot.”
“Which reminds me - the hospital will write formally, but thank you, both of you.”
Karen raised her glass of mineral water to salute Juliette, as Caroline sat quietly beside her. Eventually, she said “Will no one ask my opinion?”
“Sorry darling, what do you think?” Karen apologized.
The young woman sighed, before saying “Well, I keep saying I’m not a model, but…“
“But what Caroline?” Mandy asked.
“Look, the reason I ran away from dad’s to Mom’s all those years ago was to become part of her world. Sitting here with all of you brings back things I’d all but forgotten.” She had a faraway look in her eyes as she said, “I’d have given so much back then to do a real life modeling gig.”
“You were a lanky ugly duckling.” Mandy smiled, “and back then, that wasn’t what they were looking for. I’ll tell you a secret though.”
“Your mum – Stella, she reckoned you’d model eventually though.”
“She did?” Caroline asked in shock.
“Yes.” Karen closed her eyes to blink back a tear. “She told me just that as well.”
“Oh my Goddess,” tears began to flow down Caroline’s cheeks. “I always thought she thought I was just an inconvenience.”
“No never think that Darling.” Karen put her arms round Dominique. “Whatever you think she loved you above all. The problem was she knew what she had become, and she wanted to protect you. She really wanted you out of there and safe.”
“She did,” Mandy said as she walked over and hugged her too. “We were all too young, and doing too many drugs, it wasn’t a great time or place.”
“It was still obvious though that once you finished growing you’d be beautiful.” Alice smiled.
“And SHE really thought I could and would model?” Caroline asked.
“She did.” Karen cried as she hugged the younger woman.
“Oh my goddess,” Caroline said as the tears flowed down her face. “I don’t know how I’m going to fit it in, but…”
“Say yes – prove your mother right.”
“Okay I’m in I suppose.” Caroline smiled and cried all at once.
“I think we all are.” Juliette stood up and joined in the tears and hugging.
Eventually, she said “I’ll set it up – make sure we find a time and place to suit you Caroline, and then all of us.”
“Thank you – thank you all,” Caroline said as the desserts arrived…
The Legault Apartment
The room was lit with soft lighting, the gathering exclusive. Sir Winston Twining was there in his dinner jacket, smart trousers, white shirt and bow tie, while Lady Twining was wearing a full-length white ball gown, with elbow gloves and diamond bracelets.
Madame Chen was also present, along with the head of the Chinese delegation, impeccable in her long green silk robe, her hair up and held in place with a bamboo pin. The French delegation was all there, in evening dress, making small talk with some of the other invited dignitaries. Monsieur Henri Clermont, the head of the delegation, was engaged in a conversation with his German counterpart.
As for Francois Legault, he was impeccably turned out, but looked a little tired as he walked around talking to the guests. Angel Xantu was playing the perfect hostess, in a long black halter dress with a slit from waist to floor in the skirt, her gold belt and jewellery sparkling in the soft light. A number of waiters and waitresses, hired for the occasion, carried canapés round.
“Well chere Diana it’s both a blessing and curse his leaving like this.” Natasha talked quietly as they stood to one side sipping their wine. “The reason I was appointed was that the mission was understaffed, now we lose Francois his responsibilities need to be shared round until Paris in its wisdom sends us his successor.”
Natasha had chosen to wear a dress more in line with her mother than her new life, out of a sense of decorum more than anything. The collar was high, but open at the throat, and the dress gathered round the waist before it flowed to the floor. Made of blue silk, it actually complemented rather than hid her beauty. A pair of four-inch heels on her feet gave her that little extra height.
Diana was wearing a light grey ball gown with a set of pearls round her neck, the skirt slightly higher at the front than the back. Both women wore matching opera gloves and diamond bracelets, their hair swept back.
“So what is the blessing?” Diana enquired as she watched Angel Xantu working the room.
“Oh it’s a chance to prove my worth to my superiors.” Natasha whispered. “I had to have my security clearance upped so that I could see some of the documents Francois handles, or sometimes doesn’t.”
“Oh?” Diana’s ears perked up, “Has Monsieur Legault been neglecting some of his duties?”
“Somewhat.” Natasha looked unhappy, “Let us just I am inheriting a little bit of a diplomatic mess.”
“Anything really troublesome?”
“No. Mainly complaints from other delegations that Francois has shown a partiality for certain other nations over others, that his personal relationships may have been influencing his work.”
“That does not sound good Natasha darling, I thought diplomacy was supposed to be impartial?”
“So did I.”
“Well I’m sure you can cope.”
Natasha smiled ruefully, before she said “I can, but in the interest of rebuilding relationships, I have to do a few things that I’d rather not.”
“Well,” Natasha said, “such as having dinner tomorrow night with my counterpart in the Russian delegation, a person who is,” she struggled to find the right words, “all hands.”
“Oh,” Diana smiled as she looked at Natasha, “I’m sure you can hold him off darling.”
“Who said it was a he?” Natasha laughed.
“OH!” Diana exclaimed then started laughing.
“And what are you two laughing about over here?” Lady Twining said as she joined them.
“I was just explaining to my sister-in-law here some of the pitfalls of diplomacy they don’t train you for.” Natasha said as she stifled a giggle.
“Oh – and which particular pitfalls were you thinking of?”
“Madame Elena Rostakova.” Natasha smiled.
“Oh HER!” Lady Twining said as she smiled and nodded. “Little hint Natasha, ALWAYS wear trousers when you are with her.”
“I worked that out.” Natasha giggled again.
“I’ll be sad to see François go.” Lady Twining looked over at their host who was in an animated discussion with her husband.
“Any reason that you’ve heard why he’s just up and leaving us?” Diana enquired, she hoped sounding casual.
“My husband says it is to try to save his health.” Lady Twining looked confused, “but he has always looked in the best of health to me.”
“Ah,” Diana has said, “but often even the most robust of men have hidden flaws which must be dealt with, no?”
“Perhaps – and he has looked tired tonight, but – well, it is his choice.”
“Lady Twining, I hope you’ll excuse me while I fetch Natasha and myself a fresh drink?”
“Of course Countess. So, Natasha, tell me how you have settled into our community…”
Diana strolled casually and slowly over towards the bar, trying to discretely listen in on the conversation between Twining and Legault.
“Did you or did you not tip those damn female gangsters off about our little nest egg or not?” she heard Twining whisper accusingly.
“Of course I didn’t… why would I?”
“Because you are a scaredy cat who’s trying to get out of this both alive and with OUR money.”
“Now would I do that?” Legault flashed a smile.
“I bloody well think you might.” Twining badgered. “The others are not happy Legault, they want their money back. And they want Rice to talk to – something tells me you know where he is.”
“Well I don’t fucking have it and I have no fucking idea where that little homo is.” Legault hissed back angrily.
“Then why are you damn well cutting and running?”
“Because, Twining, someone in this world doesn’t like us, and I think they might be tougher and even more ruthless then he is.” Legault gestured to the door where Vice President Kimba and his entourage were just arriving. “Just let Angel and me retire peacefully to France.”
“Did you ask her if that’s what she wants?” Twining asked as Angel greeted their latest guest.
“She has said she will be with me to the end, Twining. Now, I had better go and say hello myself.” Legault broke away from Twining and crossed the room towards Kimba.
Slowly Diana took the drinks over towards Natasha, trying to process in her own mind what she had overheard. It sounded like the dogs were turning on each other. That was good news, but it made the immediate future very unpredictable.
“You were a long while?” Natasha remarked as Diana passed her the new glass.
“Sorry.” Diana smiled, “I was eavesdropping on some of the gossip.”
“Oh,” Natasha laughed, “Well as long as no one was spilling state secrets.”
“No,” Diana smiled, “it was just the usual who is sleeping with who type of scandal.”
“Oh THAT.” Natasha laughed. “The UN is notorious as a hotbed of infidelity. Don’t tell your brother though - he might get the wrong idea about me.”
“He’s too much in love with you for that Darling.” Diana put her hand on Natasha’s arm and smiled.
“Oh - it seems His Excellency is less than happy with our host.” Natasha guided Diana’s eyes to the door where, a heated altercation was ending with one of Kimba’s ‘mistresses’ pushing Legault aside.
“Indeed,” Diana said as she watched Xantu step in and talk to the vice president, while Chen took Legault to one side. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” Francois eventually said, “shall we go in and dine?”
The guests filed in and sat round the long table, Francoise and Angel either side of Kimba and his two companions at the head of the table. The guests found their anointed spaces, Diana sitting opposite Natasha between some of the more junior staff.
The meal itself was exquisite, and the conversation more than passable, while Diana found the wine bearable. Eventually Francois stood up and tapped on the table.
“Honoured guests, colleagues – friends,” he said as he looked round, “I wanted to thank you for coming tonight. I know my decision was sudden, and has surprised many of you, but I did it for the best of reasons and with the heaviest of hearts.”
The French delegation murmured as Natasha watched him.
“However, I know I leave behind a good team, and I am sure under the expert guidance of Monsieur Clermont, they will represent our country with due diligence and pride.
“As for Angel and I,” he said as he took the dark woman’s hand, “we return to France, and to a quieter life. I wish you all joy and success, and I propose a toast. To life and liberty.”
“To life and liberty,” the room said as they raised their glasses to their lips and drank. Francois smiled, and then staggered, putting his hand to the table.
“Francois,” Angel said in a concerned voice as she stood up, but Diana noticed the way he looked at her, as she said “No – his heart. Somebody, help me.”
“Mon dieu,” Natasha said as the two escorts of Kimba took Francois Legault under his arms and carried him out, Angel following, “I must call an ambulance.”
“Do that,” Diana said as she looked at Natasha. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she said in a clear voice, “perhaps we should remain where we are, until the ambulance arrives. It would appear poor Francois was indeed ill.”
Wednesday 24th September
The Waldorf Hotel
“Dead? Francois Legault is dead?”
Diana nodded as she sat with Dominique and Madame X. “He was pronounced dead when the paramedics arrived a short while later. As you can imagine, Natasha and her colleagues are devastated. I am sure he will be given an appropriate remembrance now – the bastard.”
“I don’t understand it though,” Dominique said. “There is nothing in the transcripts to suggest he was more than frantically concerned. That was why he was leaving – so what happened.”
“Either Xantu or one of Kimba’s ‘friends’,” Diana said. “I could clearly see his face after that toast, and he was surprised – and then he had a different look as he turned to face his partner.”
“Oh? How did it change?”
“It was accusing – he knew he had been poisoned, and he was clear in those last few moments, Angel Xantu had administered the poison.”
Madame and Dominique looked at each other, before Madame said “We will continue to monitor her. What else makes you suspect her?”
“The conversation with Twining – he accused Francois of stealing all the money with the help of Rice.”
“Must be nice to order that from beyond the grave,” Dominique said quietly, “So they ordered him to be taken out. We need to work on Cohen.”
“Agreed,” Madame said, “have Susan send a team to monitor him and his family.”
The Richmond Mansion
“Have you got the notes for our meeting with the Morris’s,” Sandy called out from the back room.
“On your desk,” Heather called back from the kitchen as the bell rang. Drying her hands, she walked to the door and opened it, to see Janice standing there, in her new trouser suit and camisole top.
“Janice? Is this a professional or a social call?”
“Yes,” Janice said as she held up a box of pastries, “Sandy asked if I’d join you both for a coffee.”
“It’s all right Heather,” Sandy said as she came out, “come in Janice. I’ll make some coffee – why don’t you two go into the drawing room?”
“Come on through,” Heather said as she took Janice into the drawing room, and they both sat down. “I think I know what this is about.”
“I can imagine,” Janice said as the smell of fresh coffee came through. “I wanted to talk to both of you together, but you won’t be the last.”
“Here we go,” Sandy said as she brought through a tray with three mugs, a pot of coffee and some plates. Setting it on the coffee table, she poured the coffee while Janice opened the box and offered the pastries round.
“Thank you,” Jan said as she took the coffee, and then set it down. “You know I had lunch with Juliette and Sheila on Monday, and that she confirmed what I told her?”
“We do,” Sandy said as she sat back, “and she told us what happened next. So, you have questions – ask them.”
“Which of you were with me last Monday and Tuesday with the Devereux family?”
“That would have been me,” Sandy said as she sipped her coffee, and looked at Janice. “You were a revelation, Jan – I honestly did not know you had it in you.”
“Miss Puma,” Janice said quietly, as Sandy inclined her head.
“And what about you, Heather – what role do you play in this group?”
“I’m not sure I’m one hundred per cent ready to answer that question,” Heather said quietly.
“It’s all right, lover,” Sandy said as she put her hand on Heather’s, “just be honest.”
“Well,” Heather said as she looked at Janice, a smile on her face, “you met me last Tuesday as Miss Cheetah.”
“That makes sense,” Janice said quietly, Reports were always Miss Puma and Miss Cheetah worked together, and you are a couple so…” She suddenly stopped, a slice of carrot cake halfway to her mouth, and stared at Heather.
“Hang on,” Sandy said quietly, “three, two one… Bingo.”
“Oh sweet Jesus – you’re her? You’re that bitch Van Gogh – the Hidden Hand?”
“I believe Shirley said something to you about opening cans of worms on Monday,” Heather said as she picked up her coffee. “Well, you just opened a tightly packed doozy of one.”
“No shit, Sherlock,” Janice said as she put her cake down. “Sorry, I’m making all sorts of discoveries about myself and others, but this is the AAA discovery of them all.”
She stood up and walked to the window, Heather gripping Sandy’s hand as they both wondered what she was going to do next. Then they heard Jan start to laugh, a genuine laugh of pleasure.
“Oh my god,” she said as she turned round, “I’m guessing your uncle and mother don’t know Sandy?”
“No – although when it comes to Uncle Alex, I can never be quite sure,”
“You know he came to see me?”
“I did – it was a friend of Shirley’s who called him.”
“I’m glad he did – he helped open my eyes to a few things,” Janice said as she sat down. “Suddenly a lot of things are becoming very clear indeed – a great deal of things.”
“Well, at least we have the capacity to surprise,” Sandy said with a smile. “Before you ask, by the way, the apartment and Katy – it was because you are my friend, not an underhand way to keep an eye on you.”
“I know – and thanks. When I spoke to Juliette, and she told me what really happened to Maroni, I realized you lot do have a true code of honour. Look, I need to… Sorry, Heather, how old are you?”
“Twenty four – why?”
“The first reports of the Hidden Hand were in 2003 – you were thirteen when you started?”
“Yes well – I had a lot of time in the computer lab at school and in the library.”
Sandy looked at her lover, and saw she was beginning to pale a little. “Heather,” she said quietly, “what’s wrong?”
“Oh god,” Heather said as she threw her head back, her eyes red with tears, “I’m sorry Jan – but when I found out what had happened to you, I realized just how… how…”
Sandy was shocked as Heather suddenly threw her arms round her neck, and buried her head in her shoulder, sobbing uncontrollably. “I’m sorry, Sandy, I’m so so sorry,” she sobbed, “I’m sorry that I’ve never told you…”
Sandy looked over at Janice, who was looking at both of them as well. “Heather, I know you found out about Kimberley, I was shocked, but…”
“The child I had when I was fourteen – I was going to call her Kimberley, but Dad insisted she was adopted. Heather said she had found her, and seen her, but…”
“It’s not that,” Heather said, “it’s just I realized how close I came to having a child by my own father…”
“Oh fuck,” Sandy whispered as she held her lover, “Heather, why didn’t you say something…”
“I know,” Heather sobbed, “I know I should have, but I never knew how to say it, how to…”
“Does anyone else know,” Janice said quietly.
“J…. Jo and Abby got it out of me one night, but I swore them to secrecy. Please, I don’t want anyone else to know…”
“It’s all right, lover,” Sandy said as she held and kissed Heather.
“Sandy, do you have…”
“Cupboard over there,” Sandy said as she nodded to the drinks cabinet, Jan walked over and poured a large brandy, handing it to Heather as she said “thanks” and took a drink.
“I won’t tell anyone else,” Sandy said, “but I’m glad you told me. I didn’t know you grew up with that over your head.”
“I know – but you and Jo and the kids are my family now,” Heather said as she wiped her tears.
“I know how you feel, and I won’t say anything either,” Jan said.
“It’s like I said when we first decided to do a raid – I will do anything to protect those I love, and she had really hurt you, Sandy.”
"Well it seems like even of all of you don't fully know each others secrets." Janice said seriously.
“No,” Heather said as she looked at Sandy, holding her hand, “that’s the one secret I have kept. I told them I was Van Gogh a couple of weeks ago. There are no other secrets between us.”
"Heather,” Sandy said as she moved her lover’s
hair, “How young were you when he first…?"
"I'd just had my thirteenth birthday."
"And till when?"
"Till I left for Yale. You know I said Brantford was the first place
I ever really felt at home? Now you know
"Surely your mother…?"
"She knew and did nothing about it. When they died in my first year, I literally
danced on their grave the night of their funeral."
"Oh Fuck." Sandy grimaced. “I’m so glad you told me though…”
“Heather, I hate to ask,” Jo said quietly, “but was Jo
molested as well?"
"Nope, there's another secret there Janice… " Heather spoke as she cried.
"What?” Janice looked at both of them, and then gasped. “Oh My GOD!… She really WAS his daughter?"
“Yeah,” Heather said with a smile, “He really was her father, but Megan Markham was never really his daughter. She died that night, and Joanne Smith is my sister. You wanted in all the way, Janice, so this is it.”
“So when he kidnapped Jo, and he screamed that she was Megan, he was right?”
“Right or wrong, he kidnapped her and held her against her will, Janice. You did the right thing, you followed the letter of the law, and you brought him to justice. I have never been so grateful for you as I was that day.”
“Yeah, I was doing my job – and you’re right, he had gone mad and would have killed her if the SWAT officer had not taken him down.” Janice said back and looked at them. “I’m in no position to judge, but Jo is a good girl – well, when not a murdering bank robber she is. That explains the sudden appearance of Miss Bobcat on that raid.”
Rubbing her eyes, Janice looked at Sandy. “So Juliette was raped, Heather was molested as a child, Jo is a girl missing presumed dead – what’s your tale Sandy?”
“Me? I was the standard New York Socialite meltdown until Heather came into my life – I was the perfect wife, with a loving husband and two beautiful kids, and then he started screwing his assistant. A so-called friend found out and took great delight in telling me, and ruining my life.
“A year or two later, I did some work for her and saw the contents of her safe. The bile and hatred just boiled up inside me, and after a lot of wine with Diana and Juliette I said what I really wanted to do was rob her and humiliate her.”
“Cashman – the first time the Pussycat Gang struck.”
Sandy nodded. “We set up the robbery, carried it out, and then… I just could not help myself. I shot her head off and it was the happiest day of my life.”
Janice sat back and looked at them. “We’re all damaged in some way, aren’t we? All looking not to be hurt again.”
“That’s right Jan,” Sandy said, “all of us. Now you’re finding out all this, what are you going to do?”
Janice sat down, and said quietly “Whatever it takes to not be hurt again. Will you help me?”
“Yes,” Sandy said quietly.
“Of course,” Heather said as she looked at Jan. “Come and give me a hug, sister.”
The two embraced as Sandy looked on, and then she joined in.
"Yes we've all had big troubles in our
lives." Heather spoke softly.
"And the others?"
Janice spoke back.
"I presume you've worked out who they are?"
"Well,” Janice said “my guesses are Diana, Abby,
"You got it." Sandy smiled.
"And their stories?"
“Well,” Sandy said, "Short version is this, Diana had an abusive, philandering husband till she
killed him. Abigail was bullied and taunted for years, and Carina is… well… nutso."
"Carina is Miss Lynx?" Janice asked in amazement.
"Yeah she's a high functioning, split personality
Psychopath." Heather added.
"Oh God,” Janice whispered, “how really dangerous
"Not at all to her friends, but strangers, well you've read the reports Janice." Sandy looked downwards.
“Yes, I have – is it because of her father?”
“Who knows? We all watch out for her, and if what we call The Beast looks like it’s emerging – well, suffice to say we have learned what to do.”
Janice nodded as she sat back down. “I still can’t quite believe it – and yet I can see how you all came together.”
“And how did we,” Sandy said as she sat with her hand in Heather’s.
“Because you are family to each other,” Janice said with a smile. “Just as I have Katy and mom, you have each other – and I’m not going to break that up, I just hope I can just be accepted as one of the family as well.”
“Talking of which,” Heather said, “I promised you I had seen Kimberley, and knew where she was. Do you wish to know?”
“No – not yet,” Janice said, “I need to do other things first. But, if there was a way to get something to her…”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Heather said with a smile.
The Morris residence
“Miss Richmond, thank you for agreeing to come today.”
“It’s my pleasure Mrs. Morris,” Sandy said as she shook the hand of the grey haired woman. She was dressed in her business outfit of a light purple blouse paired with a grey jacket and skirt, while Heather wore a black jacket and pants with a white jumper. “This is my assistant, Heather Smith.”
“Well, as I said in our telephone conversation, we wish to remodel the main bedrooms, so any ideas you may have.”
“Well, if we can view the rooms, we can take some photographs and I can jot down some initial ideas.”
“Of course,” she said as she showed the way to the stairs. As they walked over, Heather said “Forgive me, but I wonder if I may use the rest room first? I can follow you up?”
“Certainly,” Mrs. Morris said, “The door on the left over there.”
“Thank you,” Heather said with a smile as she went into the toilet, while Sandy went upstairs with the client. A few moments later, the door opened again and Heather looked out, waiting as a maid walked past before she walked quickly into the drawing room and started to plant her listening devices.
A few minutes later, she walked out, her large bag over her shoulder as she headed up the stairs. “Sandy?” she called out as she reached the top.
“Second door on the right,” Sandy called out, as Heather joined them in the master bedroom.
“So, I think we replace those wardrobes with a walk-in, using the linen cupboard you have there, and then place the bed over here. What do you think Heather?”
“Possibly,” she said as she looked at the portrait on the wall. “Is this one of the senator’s relatives?”
“His grandfather – I’ve never really liked it myself, but it is family.”
“Am I right in thinking it’s a Rockwell,” Heather said as she looked at it.
“It is – before he became famous.”
The three women turned to see Senator Morris standing in the doorway, smiling at them. “You know your art, Miss Richmond?”
“No, this is Miss Richmond,” Heather said with a smile as she pointed to Sandy, “I’m Heather Smith, her assistant.”
“She does, however, know her art,” Sandy said with a smile as she took some photographs. “I think I should be able to help you, Senator Morris, Mrs. Morris – I’ll draw up some preliminary designs and get them to you by Monday.”
“Excellent – I don’t suppose you can advise on my office in Washington as well?”
“With all due respect, Senator, I don’t think they’ll let me remodel the Senate office design. If its art you wish to talk about, however, I’m sure Heather can oblige?”
“Would you be willing to come down on Saturday and have a look, then talk over ideas with me, Miss Smith?”
“Sure – if my boss will let me?”
“No problem,” Sandy said with a smile, “we’ll get a train ticket booked for you…”
Thursday 25th September
The Boardroom, New York Times
Jane Molloy tapped her pen nervously on the table as she looked at the three people on the other side of the table. Roger Slocombe, the news editor, was looking over the text of her proposed article, while the managing editor Diana Hammond looked over the photographs, looking occasionally up at Jane. Finally, looking at both of them was the publisher, John Holding.
Eventually, Roger looked up and said “How good are your sources on all this Jane?”
“But none that will actually go on the record and let you quote them?”
Jane shook her head in response to Diana. “It’s an ongoing investigation.”
“Jane,” John said, “I don’t like the idea of the New York Times being used by the FBI, etc. as part of their investigation to put pressure on these people.”
“I don’t either, but in return I’ve been promised a stream of the truth, and also the exclusive for when this all comes tumbling down.”
“Sounds good,” Diana whispered “but it feels like we are doing a deal with the devil though.”
“No, the devils are these bastards profiting from war and slavery.” Jane looked all the editors straight in the eye.
“And your sources have no political axe to grind?”
“No Roger - from what I can gather the bad guys come from both parties.”
“And from other worlds?”
“Yeah,” Jane grimaced, “Celebrities, Diplomats, there are a lot of fish in this net.”
“But basically,” John said “we are still quoting unnamed sources… “
Roger nodded before saying “I’d sure like to have some names in the piece… “
“Well the last thing I’m going to do is ring the Senators and ask for comments.” Jane said eagerly. “I know they are going to lie through their teeth, but maybe if I drop in the fact I’ve seen photographs of them at a slave auction, it might rattle some cages.”
“So let’s review what we have.” Diana stood up and started to tick them off on her fingers. “We are going to run the story stating that there was a black tie slave auction held here in New York, that we have a partial guest list, that we have seen photographic evidence, and that we know from sources within the FBI and other agencies that this auction is linked to a larger matter concerning the traffic in weapons and diamonds from and to unnamed African nations.”
“Yes.” Jane nodded.
“It seems pretty thin on details,” John said “and strong on innuendo. I’m really not sure we have enough to run this yet.”
Roger nodded as he said “I tend to agree.”
“Well it’s your decision.” Jane looked disappointed.
“Oh it’s going to be a mammoth story Jane,” Diana said, “and don’t worry, it’s all yours, I just want to be sure we have an unimpeachable story when we break this crap.”
“So what do I do?”
“Go back dig more, maybe rattle the good senators cages by asking for reactions.”
“Okay.” Jane nodded as she scooped up her notes.
“Great work Jane.” The editors looked pleased.
“Thank you.” Jane smiled as she walked out the door.
The New Calabria Bar
“My my,” Tommy the Fish said as Janice Carter came in, “Annie said youse had a new look, but she didn’t say how new.”
“Why thank you Tommy,” Janice said as she smiled at him, “from youse – sorry you, that’s a compliment.” Janice was wearing a long grey sleeveless dress with a matching jacket, and grey heels.
“No Ball today, Agent?”
“He’s watching someone – I don’t suppose you read the political pages, Tommy?” She stood next to him and smiled, her head to one side. Tommy looked at her, before saying “The sports pages are my fing, agent – and are you trying ta seduse me? Cos I’m strictly a one gal man – well, two if that’s a daughter Annie has growing inside her…”
“You’re pregnant,” Janice said as Annie came in from the back. “Congratulations, Annie.”
“OH jees – the dotin dad boastin again?” Annie laughed and ruffled Tommy’s graying hair.
“Seriously, congratulations,” Janice said as Jane Molloy came in. “Mind if we use that private booth again?”
“Sure fing,” Annie said as the two women walked into the curtained off area.
“So Jane,” Janice said as she sat down, “how goes the investigation?”
“Frightening is the word that comes to mind,” Jane said quietly. “I sat down with my editors this morning, and they agree it needs to be published, but we need something more.”
“I don’t think I’m in a position to do any more now, Jane. You publishing will give us the lever to progress this.”
“I know – is there nothing else you can say?”
“I can say this – did you hear about the diplomat who died on Tuesday?”
“Legault – a heart attack I believe.”
“Well, he and the Australian, Dominic Rice, were both suspected of involvement. What does that say to you?”
Jane smiled. “It says to me there could be more than coincidence going on here – horrific, of course. I’m going to call the two senators Sunday, and we will publish Monday regardless.”
“Excellent,” Janice nodded. “We anticipate things will move quickly from there. This will be a breakthrough story for you, Jane.”
“That’s what my editors say – but what do you get out of this, Janice?”
“Peace of mind,” Janice said as she stood up, “peace of mind. You must excuse me Jane – I need to join Adam.”
“Hey,” Janice said as she got into the car beside Adam. “Any movement?”
“Nope,” he replied as he looked at the front door of the Cohen townhouse. “His wife and daughter have come out and gone back in again, but no sign of him.”
“Adam, what would happen if we went up to the front door and asked to see him?”
“Well, Tom would have our hides, why?”
“I just wonder how scared he is – based on the discussion on the video, he knows what’s going on, and with Legault dead…”
“Did you hear the autopsy result?”
Janice shook her head as Adam said “Heart attack – cause unknown.”
“I’m willing to bet on some sort of poison, but we won’t know, will we?”
“No,” Adam said as he shook his head. “What did Molloy want?”
“They’re going to tattle a couple of hornet’s nests on Sunday – if we’re right, Cohen is a weak link, and so are those two senators. We need to make sure he is kept alive.”
“Agreed,” Adam said, “so what are you doing tonight?”
The Waldorf Hotel
“Why are we here,” Janice said as she and Sandy walked into the lobby. She had chosen to wear her leather dress and short jacket for the occasion, while Sandi wore one of her Ralph Lauren trouser suits.
“Dinner,” Sandy said with a smile as they walked to the lift. “As you know our secrets, we felt it was time you met some of the others as they really are.”
“I still can’t get over you seven,” Janice said as the lift doors closed, “but who lives here?”
“Shirley when she is in the city, for one thing,” Sandy said with a smile, “but tonight, you’ll see her in her domain. I hope you’re ready for it.”
“Come on, after the last few days, how surprising could they be,” Janice said as the door opened. Sandy said nothing as they walked to the double doors, and she knocked.
“Hello Sandy, Janice,” Charlotte said as she opened the door. “Come in – you are expected.”
“So you work for Shirley, Charlotte,” Janice said, “I thought you worked with Susan.”
“We both work for her,” Charlotte said as she opened a door, and showed Janice and Sandy in. As she entered, she saw Shirley sitting on a long couch, the skirt of her wrap round silk dress falling to cover her legs as she stepped forward. Standing to one side were Susan and Dominique, who smiled as Charlotte closed the door.
“Well Jan welcome to my little home away from home.” Madame smiled as she took Janice’s hands.
“It’s very nice Shirley,” Janice replied as she looked round, “but let me guess - you have rather more income then an insurance company provides to pay for all this.”
“That’s true.” Madame smiled, “my insurance business is simply one of many businesses I have a stake in. I believe you met Charlotte and Dominique the other day at the gym, but you probably know Dominique better as Caroline Jameson.”
“A pleasure to meet you properly at last,” Janice said as she shook their hands. “So who were the other two?”
“Sadly, Annie has been delayed on school business. As for Penny – ah here she is now.”
As the door opened, Janice saw the last woman come in, carrying a file in her arms.
“The files you asked for,” she sad before she turned and walked to Janice. “I’m Penny – a pleasure to meet you properly Janice.”
“Likewise,” Janice said as she looked round. “So let me see if I can guess – if Shirley was Emma, you two,” she said pointing at Susan and Penny, “were Cathy and Purdey. You, Dominique, were Odette, and Charlotte was Sarie?”
“She is good,” Charlotte said.
“So the insurance company is a legitimate business?”
“Oh yes,” Madame said, “and I am indeed handling Juliette’s business.”
“And I am guessing you have both legitimate and, shall we say, not so legitimate concerns.”
“That depends on your definition of legitimate,” Shirley said in her deep voice, “but yes, our corporate structure covers a wide range of interests.”
“And in reality?”
Dominique smiled and said “I am head of security, Susan runs our New York Office, Charlotte is our head of IT and African affairs specialist, and Shirley is in charge of us all.”
“Well,” Janice said as Sandy went to a drinks cabinet, “it proves our profilers right that you were all probably hiding in plain sight and were leading otherwise respectable lives.”
“Come,” Madame said as she indicated a pair of chairs to one side, “Let us sit and talk before dinner.”
Janice nodded as they sat down and looked at each other, Madame smiling as she looked Janice up and down. She seemed to be appraising her, as Janice saw the wisdom in her eyes.
“Can I ask a question Janice?” Madame eventually asked.
“Please, go ahead.”
“Now that you know some of the hidden background stories behind us all,” Madame asked, “does it surprise you?”
“Not really,” Janice said with a smile, “not when I sat down and thought about it. I was just amazed how similar my own background was.”
“Heather told me about what happened to you.” Madame nodded solemnly. “You and Juliette both carried a great burden.”
“So Shirley what’s your story?”
“Reduced to basics,” Madame said as she sat back, “I was kidnapped, held hostage, forced to degrade myself - and when I escaped, I swore never to be taken of advantage of again.”
“Damn it’s a recurring pattern, isn’t it?” Janice looked round the room. “The others?”
Madame looked at the small redhead. “Charlotte’s father was murdered by some of the very people we are now pursuing.”
“So for her this is all very personal?”
Madame nodded. “Yes, Charlotte grew up in Africa, she takes what is happening to these poor girls very much to heart. She also brings knowledge of mining and diamonds, and speaks a wide range of the local languages.”
She then looked over to where Sandy was. “Susan we found running with a street gang back in England. She keeps her story before that very much to herself, but I believe it involves an absentee father and a mother who got pregnant far too young, could not cope and turned to alcohol.”
“I’ve pieced together bits of Dominique’s story.” Janice looked serious, “Her mother’s problems with drugs, being left alone by her death and having to look out for herself.”
“You’re astute Janice.” Madame smiled. “Dominique has found it very difficult to open up and reveal the girl within, possibly because of what she was forced to do. I think recent events have helped though.”
“Which leaves Penelope.”
“Penelope and I go way back.” Madame smiled, “but while I know her history as a criminal I know very little of her life before that. I’ve never asked, and she’s never really volunteered the information.”
“We are all really just wounded birds.” Janice looked round the room, “Victims of life determined never to become so again.”
"So what made you set up the elaborate security
agency front Shirley?"
“Honestly,” Shirley said, "We weren't sure how
you'd react to a direct approach from criminals Jan."
"So when your people jumped to the assumption we
were CIA when we lifted Cohen." Sandy interceded "We ran with
"It helps of course to have a genius like Heather to plant false clues and information of course." Dominique added.
The door opened and Annie Kelly came in, hugging everyone before she came over. “Apologies for my late arrival, Madame, but I had some papers to mark.”
“Annie Kelly – teacher at St Angela’s, and what – educational advisor to Shirley?”
Annie looked at Janice before saying “has she met them yet?”
“No – I thought I would introduce them after dinner,” Madame said quietly. “Annie has been of invaluable assistance to us as she learns her second trade.”
“Cat burglar – and assisting as I can,” Annie said as she went to talk to Susan.
“Don’t tell me she has a similar story?”
“Annie? No,” Madame chuckled, “She got a taste for crime after the charity event. You may have read of an intruder called The Black Cat?”
“Annie?” Janice looked over as Madame nodded.
“She made three mistakes – she burgled Susan, then Sandy, and finally the apartment of Francoise Legault. That is where Dominique found and recruited her.”
Janice shook her head. “I would never have known,” she whispered.
She took a moment to look round the room, the others talking and laughing as friends.
“One question that needs resolving in my mind Shirley,” Janice asked as she leaned forward. “Are you also the mysterious Madame X?”
“Indeed she is.” Sandy smiled as she brought over some drinks on a silver tray.
“Our people have just the sketchiest backgrounds on you. Based in London, interests worldwide – and that’s about it.”
“And that’s the way I’m happy for it to stay.” Shirley spoke. “Anonymity works very well for me as a rule – save for a few close friends.”
“Well your secret never passes my lips.” Janice sipped her glass of wine. “Mmm this is the Chateau de Ros we had at the Chinese restaurant.”
“Well spotted.” Madame smiled. “I did rather like it.”
“What do you think of Janice’s new look Madame?” Sandy asked.
“It’s a trifle radical, but it’s very stylish as well.” Madame laughed. “I just wish I had the legs to get away with that kind of look myself.”
“Madame you know you do really.” Dominique joined the conversation. “Now me on the other hand…”
“From someone who half the model agencies in the western hemisphere are in pursuit of, I know bullshit when I hear it.” Madame laughed. “Have you arranged your photo shoot yet?”
“Yes Tuesday.” Dominique ran her hand through her dark hair. “Juliette says I ought to dye this back to my natural blonde.”
“You’ve been using wigs as Caroline?” Janice asked.
“Yes, but Juliette says that the hairdressers will need to work with my own hair.”
“Well I’ll be sad to see dark Dominique go.” Madame looked at her friend.
“Only temporary.” Dom smiled, “After the shoot I’ll dye it back.”
“The world’s only natural blonde who doesn’t want to be.” Sandy grinned.
“Well, I prefer black,” Dominique said as a waitress appeared at the door.
“Ah – Dinner is ready,” Madame said as she stood up, “Shall we?”
As the party went through, Janice whispered to Sandy “I don’t believe it – she is easily one of the most charming women I have ever met, and yet she runs one of the widest criminal groups we have ever come across. How does she do it?”
“Delegation and trust,” Sandy whispered back, “as well as a real eye for talent in all fields. I heard she has also actively encouraged a few young investigators, purely because she admires their talent.”
The meal was excellent, and the conversation covered all fields from music to literature, theatre to politics. Madame held court like a queen in one sense, and the perfect dinner host on the other. It was easily one of the most enjoyable experiences Janice had had for some time.
As the coffee was being taken, Madame said to Janice “I wonder if I could show you something, Janice. Charlotte, would you come as well please?”
“Of course Madame,” Charlotte said as she and Madame left the room with Janice, walking down the corridor to the far end of the suite. Knocking on the door, Charlotte said “May we come in? There is someone we would like you to meet?”
The door opened, and Janice saw a young African girl, no more than fourteen years old, wearing a blue short sleeved blouse and shorts. “Hello Ama,” Charlotte said, “I want you and Maisha to meet Janice. Is she here?”
“She is,” the girl said as the three older women came in. Janice looked at the older girl sitting on the bed, dressed in a jumper and jeans, who jumped up as they came in.
“Peace Maisha,” Charlotte said in her native tongue, “We did not wish to disturb you.” Janice could see they were watching old Warner Brothers cartoons on the television.
“Janice,” Madame said, “I would like you to meet Ama and Maisha. I know you have seen a recording of their conversations with Charlotte, but I wanted you to meet them as well.”
“I’m… I’m honoured,” Janice said as she bowed slightly to both of them. “Are you both well?”
“We are,” Ama said with a smile, and as she looked at Maisha the older girl nodded as well. “My lady – sorry, Dominique and her friends have been very generous to us.”
“I see you’re watching Bugs Bunny,” Janice said as the Rabbit of Seville came on, “I loved those when I was a little girl.”
“We do not understand much of what they say,” Ama replied, “but the movements and the things they do make us laugh.”
“Charlotte, would you translate for Maisha please?” As the redhead nodded, Madame said “Janice is one of those, like us, who seek to end the horror you both endured and bring those responsible to justice.”
Ama and Maisha both nodded as Madame continued “Soon, very soon, we will hit and end their trade and get the revenge you crave and deserve. Janice has played and will play a part in this, will you not Janice?”
Jan nodded as she said “I never want another girl to experience what you have. Meeting you has only reinforced that.”
“Thank you,” Ama said as the girls started crying, hugging Janice as she stood there.
Saturday 27th September
Hereford High School, Baltimore County
Annie Kelly smiled happily as she pulled the bus up at the host school. The drive down had not been too bad at all, just over three hours, but she had noticed the girls get quieter as they got towards their destination. Annie turned and looked, some tense faces, others more relaxed, but they looked ready to run. She was pleased, this was a very good team she had, and she was hopeful they'd be taking a prize back to New York tomorrow.
"Okay girls lets go find where we change?" Annie opened the bus door as they got out. As well as Jo as captain she had brought Betsy Silowski, Helena O'Connor and Kelly Hunter from the seniors, as well as Brooke Paget and Philippa Connery from the juniors. Ashley Adams, the sophomore, had slept most of the journey and was looking at all the other buses parked around, and young, tiny, Beth Abrahams was stretching. The little freshman had impressed Annie with her speed and courage in training.
“Lot of girls here,” Brooke said as she saw some of the other teams.
“Never mind them for now – this way,” Annie said as they walked to the front entrance of the high school…
Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington.
“Wow,” Abby said as she and Diana stepped out of the minivan, “they actually allow people to film in here?”
“Under strict conditions, yes,” John Hammond said as he got out, watching as a woman in a grey jacket and skirt walked down the steps.
“Mister Hammond? Orlah Cranford. We spoke on the telephone?”
“Of course – Miss Abigail de Ros and her mother, Diana. The other crew is coming a few minutes behind us.”
“Good – follow me,” she said as John carried his camera gear in. At the front door, all four were submitted to a security scan, before Orlah handed them each a white card on a lanyard, with a large grey V on it.
“This way,” she said as they passed through a metal detector, and then followed her into the corridors of power.
“You will be using this suite for the shoot,” Orlah said as she opened the door to an office, with other rooms to the sides.
“Very nice – whose offices are these?”
“Senator Boyd from Maine – we had another set selected, but there was a last minute change on the schedule, and the other rooms are being redecorated. I trust this will meet your needs, Mister Hammond?”
“Perfect,” he said as Orlah put her hand to her ear. “I need to go and escort the rest of your staff,” she said, “the agent here will remain – standard procedure.”
“Of course,” John said as Abigail and Diana looked round, the suited agent standing by the door.
Hereford High School, Baltimore County
“Wow,” Betsy Silowski said as she stood on the edge of the part of the course known as The Dip, “that is some drop.”
“You have a choice,” Annie said as she looked at the girls. “Standard skills would say relax going down and do the work going up – but you hit this with half a mile to go, and you will be tired. So, you can take it using the standard techniques – or you can take your heart in your hands, sprint down and use the momentum to carry you up the other side. Beth?”
The young freshman looked at Annie and said “Yes, Miss Kelly?”
“Do not be afraid to tackle this – it looks as bad as it is, but you should make it. All of you are here to do your best – and I have every confidence in you.”
“Don’t worry, Abrahams,” Jo said as she put her arm round the young girl’s shoulders, “it scares the heck out of me too. Let’s face it together, all right?”
“Yes, Captain,” Beth said with a smile.
“Same goes for all of you – we’re Angels, and what do we do?”
“We help each other,” the eight said as one, as Annie looked on.
“Right – let’s finish the walk, and then we can get a bite to eat before the warm-up.”
Russell Senate Office Building
“Can I help you miss?”
“Yes – my name is Heather Smith. I have an appointment to see Senator Morris?”
The uniformed officer looked at the appointment sheet. “Ah yes – will you take a seat,” he said as he picked up the telephone. Heather smiled and sat in a chair, her brown tweed skirt rising as she did so, and she brushed some lint from her cream blouse under the matching jacket.
Heather stood and smiled at the tall man approaching her, his hand outstretched.
“I’m Derek Chalmers, Senator Morris’s chief of staff. The Senator apologizes, but he has been called to a meeting. He asked if I would show you the offices, and listen to your ideas?”
“Good,” Heather said with a smile, “shall we?”
Dirksen Senate Office Building
John checked the lighting levels in the outer office, as Diana looked on from the sidelines.
“Are we ready for the first outfit yet,” he called over his shoulder.
“You asked for a letter to be taken, sir?”
John turned and smiled as he saw Abby standing there, her long hair pulled back into a ponytail and a pair of glasses perched on her nose. She wore a long sleeved blue silk blouse, the top buttons opened and the collar turned up, a pencil thin striped skirt and a pair of five inch heels.
“Well, I’d rather take your photo,” John said as she got into position, and Diana walked over to where Orlah was talking to the agent.
“Is it unusual for a senator to agree to his offices been used in this way,” she said to the young woman.
“Slightly, but it is an election year,” Orlah said with a sigh, “and I guess he thinks this will help him connect with the voters.”
“Some yes – the farmer boys up in Maine,” she said with a smile. “Your daughter, on the other hand – she is a very beautiful model.”
“She is at that,” Diana said with a smile, before she walked round the room, while Abby posed on the desk, a pencil in one hand against the pad in the other. “Perfect, Abby,” John said as he took various shots, “now walk round the office and give me the poses we talked about.”
Abby stood up and walked round, posing against various filing cabinets and sitting in a chair at the secretary’s desk. She smiled at John, but with one eye she kept an eye on the guard, taking the opportunity to plant a couple of bugs and a baffler in the office area.
“Great,” John said eventually, “can you go and change into the ball outfit please?”
Abby smiled at John as she walked off, nodding to Diana as she did so. Her mother returned the smile – stage 1 completed.
Russell Senate Office Building
“The senator was very impressed with your knowledge when you visited him at home on Wednesday,” Derek said as he offered Heather some more coffee. “You are a graduate of Yale, I believe?”
“That’s right – Professor Amy Hider of the National Gallery in London was my tutor at the college. I wrote my final dissertation on the later years of Van Gogh.”
“I was at Harvard myself – law,” Derek said with a smile. “Still, we all have different callings. So, Miss Smith…”
“Please,” Heather said with a smile, “call me Heather.”
“So, Heather,” he said as he sat back, “what do you think would grace the walls of our offices?”
Heather stood up and looked round the office they were sitting in. “I presume this is your office, rather than the senator’s?”
“You would be correct – we came through the linking office, where the secretaries normally work, and on the other side is the office of Senator Morris.”
“Right,” Heather said with a smile, “so I presume we are focusing on these two offices as opposed to all three?”
“Why do you ask?”
“There is a painting by Ralph Blakelock – Moonlight – if you could get a print of that, it would complement the secretarial office very nicely. Here, let me show you.”
Heather opened her notebook and brought up the picture on her screen. “See – I think the warm tones will break up that bare wall in there.”
“I see what you mean,” Derek said. “So, what about in here?”
“Well, you have the wood paneling, so we need a contrast to that in some way. Try this – Seacoast in Moonlight by Albert Pinkham Ryder.”
Derek looked at the picture and nodded. “I see what you mean – anything else?”
“Childe Hassam’s painting of Celia Thaxter’s Garden?” She showed him the picture, Derek nodding in approval as his cell phone went off.
“Yes Senator? Yes, I have that information – it’s in your office. Will you give me a moment?” He put his hand over the phone and said “I’m sorry – will you excuse me for a moment?”
“Of course,” Heather mouthed, watching as the chief of staff left the room. As the door closed, she moved quickly, taking three listening devices and a baffler out and placing them under the table as well as on top of a bookcase and behind a portrait. Finally, she hid the baffler in a potted plant, smiling as the door opened again.
“Sorry about that,” Derek said with a smile, “why don’t we look at the Senator’s office next?”
Hereford High School
“Will all competitors for the Small School Girls division please begin to make their way to the starting line – all competitors in Small School Girls division to the starting line.”
“Okay Girls, time for you to do the school proud. Strip off.”
Annie looked each in turn straight in the face as they removed their maroon tracksuits, revealing the gold singlets with the words ST ANGELA’S in maroon capital letters underneath, and the maroon shorts. They took a moment to do some final stretches and ensure the laces on their running shoes were properly secured.
“Just remember,” Annie said, “that our aim is to finish in the prizes in the team race, so try and keep together and help each other to pack that finish. Ready?”
“Yes, Miss Kelly,” they called out as one, Annie smiling at their response. She was wearing the same track suit, with “COACH KELLY” printed in gold letters on the back.
“Angels huddle,” Jo ordered as the girls formed a circle, arms around each other. “Right,” she said as she looked at them, “go out there and show them why we are the best. And whoever gets home first, be there for the next girl over. I want to see six or seven of you there when I get over the line, understood?”
“Yes, Captain,” they said in unison as Jo stood up and put her hand in. Each of the girls reached in and put her hand in the middle, before they shouted “GO ANGELS!” in unison and lifted their hands.
They walked together to the starting area, lining up alongside the other team as Annie stood to the side with the other coaches, a tablet in her hand. On the screen, she looked at the stopwatch, as well as the spreadsheet she had with the girl’s names.
The starting officials walked up and down the line, making sure nobody had their foot over the line before nodding to the starting official. Annie stood, poised as she raised her gun, and then pulled the trigger. As soon as the gun went off, she tapped on the screen and started the stopwatch, cheering as the group of girls ran past her and stated to climb the incline at the start.
“Not tempted to do the reunion race,” one of the other coaches said to Annie as they walked to the finish line, watching the last of the boys coming in.
“I ran it when I was in my school team,” Annie said with a smile, “and I’m not nearly in the right shape to try it again.”
The other coach nodded. “Very wise,” she said as they took their places.
Russell Senate Office Building
“Senator Morris certainly likes his room light,” Heather said as she looked round. “At any rate, as a senator for New York, it is important he is seen to reflect the artists that have come from that great state.”
“I concur,” Derek said as he leaned against the desk, his arms folded. “Thoughts?”
“Duncanson’s Landscape 1870 – it will show his commitment to the Hudson River school, and the African American voters.”
“Good thinking,” Derek said with a smile, “anything else?”
“Theodore Robinson, The Old Bridge.”
Derek looked at the screen, and nodded. “Excellent – can you let me have your recommendations in writing?”
Reaching into her pocket, Heather drew out a slim envelope and handed it to Derek. “I anticipated you would be happy, and took the liberty of preparing this in advance.”
“You are good,” Derek said as his cell phone went off again. “Excuse me,” he said as he left the office, Heather smiling as she walked round, and left a few presents.
“Sorry about that,” he said as he came back, “When is your train back?”
“It leaves at three this afternoon.”
“Well, allow me to buy you lunch before you go,” Derek said as he smiled.
“Why not,” Heather said as she slipped her tablet into her bag, “do you know somewhere good?”
Hereford High School
“Here comes the winner,” one of the coaches shouted out, as a girl in a black running vest and shorts entered the final straight, waving as she was cheered over the finishing line.
“21:22, not bad,” the coach next to Annie said as the winning girl came over the finish line, to be met by her coach. Annie smiled as she watched five more girls coming over, before she saw two girls in maroon and gold coming round the corner, racing each other.
“YES! Come on!” Annie called out as Betsy and Brooke kept exchanging places on the final approach, the crowd of onlookers cheering the race before Betsy crossed in seventh place, just before Brooke. They hugged each other as they did so, and walked with arms round each other to collect their tickets.
“They’re good,” the coach said as Annie nodded, noting the split times as more runners approached. As she looked up, she saw Ashley sprinting down the finish, overtaking two girls to come in twelfth place.
“That’s going to put you in contention,” the coach said to Annie as she smiled.
“We’ll see,” Annie said as more girls came over. She kept smiling as Helena and Kelly came over in 19th and 20th place, and then cheered Philippa as she crossed in 25th place.
As they arrived, they joined the other Angels after the finishing funnel, each one embraced by the others as they came in. Annie was proud of their team spirit as well, as she looked down the finish. Two more girls came in, and then she saw Jo, running alongside little Beth Abrahams, shouting encouragement as they came over the line together.
Annie recorded the last two times, and then walked to where the other six had gathered Jo and Beth in and were hugging them.
“I am so proud of all of you!” She joined in the group hug as Jo panted “That… That… That damn dip is a killer!”
“You’re telling me,” Betsy said, “the whole course is ridiculous.”
“But you made it,” Annie said with the biggest smile possible. “I think we have three medals, and you all finished in the top thirty. We might even win this class – but no promises. Now – into your tracksuits, and stretch out. We’ll know soon enough.”
Dirksen Senate Office Building
“All right – thirty minutes for lunch everyone.”
Abby relaxed in her royal blue gown, and sat in one of the chairs as Diana brought her over a bottle of water.
“How are we doing,” she whispered as she opened the bottle.
“I managed to get this area and the small office bugged,” Diana whispered in reply, “but we need to get into his office as well. Any thoughts?”
“Just the old fashioned one,” Abby said as she saw the tall Senator walk into the suite, wearing an expensive Italian suit with a white shirt and dark tie. Standing up, she walked over to where he was talking to Orlah and said “Senator Boyd?”
“Yes – it’s Miss de Ros, isn’t it?”
“That’s right,” Abby said as she held out her hand, smiling as Boyd took hold and kissed it. “I wanted to thank you personally for agreeing to our shoot in your offices today.”
Orlah raised an eyebrow as the senator stammered and said “well… Of course, I was more than delighted to…”
“It really was so very kind,” Abby said as she smiled again. “Oh – may I introduce you to my mother, Countess Diana de Ros. Mother, Senator Boyd.”
“A pleasure,” Diana said as she offered her hand as well.
“If there is anything I can do to help…”
“Well, I know this may sound unusual,” Abby said as she dropped her head, “but I would love to see where you actually work. I’ve always been fascinated by men in power, and especially politicians.”
“Well,” Senator Boyd said as he felt under his collar, “I need to collect some papers, so perhaps you would like to accompany me now?”
“I would like that, very much,” Abby said as she took the senator’s arm, John watching with his eyes wide open as they walked past with Diana. “I’ll explain later,” Diana whispered into his ear as they walked in, and Abigail stood talking to the senator.
Eventually, he walked out with a file in his arm, smiling and shaking his head as Abigail followed him out.
“What happened,” John said as he walked over.
“He thought I was seducing him,” Abby said with a laugh, “so when I started to discuss Obama’s lack of action on the minimum wage, he realized I really was interested in politics.
John smiled as he shook his head. “Brains and beauty, how does a dinosaur like me keep up?”
“You manage somehow,” Diana said as she walked out. “How much longer John?”
“One more outfit – girls, get young Abigail here into it, will you?”
Hereford High School
“And now, the placings for the Small School Girl’s Division. In third place – Our Lady, Boston!”
The crowd cheered and clapped as their team captain came forward and accepted the plate, shaking hands with the presentation party and posing for photos before she walked off.
“In second place, in an impressive debut at this event – St Angela’s Academy for Young Ladies, New York!”
Annie and the others cheered and clapped as Jo stepped forward, her ribbon proudly on her tracksuit jacket as she shook the hands of the presentation party and accepted the runner up trophy. As she posed for the photographers, she held the cup in front of her, beaming from ear to ear as she did so, before walking back to the rest of the team and high fiving each of them.
“And the winner – by just three points – Martha Washington Academy, from Baltimore!”
“Three points,” Jo whispered, “we were that close?”
“Never mind,” Annie said as she looked at all of them, “today you have achieved a wonderful thing, and you should all take pride in that.”
“I’ll settle for a hot shower and a good meal,” Betsy said as she looked at her medal.
“Well, we can take care of that – go and get your bags, and I’ll drive us straight to the overnight stop. You can have some down time while I call Miss Tennant with the news, and then book somewhere.”
“Let’s go, Angels,” Jo said as she handed Annie the trophy, and they walked back to the changing rooms…
“Thank you again for coming,” Derek said as Heather climbed out of his car.
“No, thank you for the invitation,” she said with a smile, waiting as he drove off before she walked into the vaulted main area of the station. Taking her phone out, she pressed a number on speed dial and waited.
“Hi Penelope – any word from Diana?”
“She just called – all set. In fact, we’re watching Abigail at work right now – nice dress.”
Heather smiled as she said “Good – Morris should be online now as well. Go.”
“One moment – oh very nice. All functioning as it should be, Heather.”
“Great – then my work here is done for now. Tell Sandy I’ll see her later.”
“Oh – before I forget, news from Annie. They came second in the team event.”
“Celebration tomorrow night then – hopefully on all counts,” Heather said. “Talk to you later.”
“I’m so proud of you all.” Annie beamed as the girls sat round the large booth at Burger King. They had all bathed and rested, and changed into jeans and their school hoodies.
“Medals, ribbons, trophies, it’s been a pretty good day.” Joanne smiled.
“Just remember the real focus of our season is the Independent Indoors.” Annie reminded her girls, “But I’m thinking maybe we ought to see if we can get entries for a few more Cross Country events.”
“That course was a killer.” Brooke looked up from her burger.
“Well you girls proved it didn’t kill you.” Annie looked round her team.
“Makes the course in Central Park look like a walk in the park, doesn’t it?”
The girls groaned at Jo’s pun.
“The only real question in my mind is who will win the dual meet against Sacred Heart, you or Betsy Brooke?”
“Thanks coach.” The two girls smiled at the compliment.
“I was looking at the times,” Jo said with a smile, “and we’d have run pretty well in the elite division.”
“You would have.” Annie agreed. “Maybe next year’s team will get invited to run in that division.”
“Well I’ll make a prediction,” Ashley said, “little Beth here will finish a lot stronger next year.”
“Yeah, but still for a freshman that was a helluva good run.” Kelly complimented her teammate.
“Thanks,” Beth looked a little embarrassed.
“I’ll do the rundown when we get home, but I’m almost certain you were the first freshman home Beth.”
“Not bad rookie.” Jo said as she embraced her young teammate.
“So, lots of bad calories tonight, but Monday back in training.” Annie smiled as she slurped her shake.
“We need do some hill running, work on our stamina.” Betsy spoke up.
“I agree, I’ll look for a training venue.” Annie nodded. “I think Coach Harper will have to concede that our middle and long distance girls are now at least as good as her sprinters.”
“Yeah, I think we’ve proved today how much you’ve improved this side of the team Coach.” Helena remarked. “We were pretty much the poor relations before you came to the school.”
“Three cheers for Coach Kelly.” Jo led the cheers.
“Hip Hip…. Hooray.”
“Hip Hip… “
“Hooray, “ the other girls responded.
The girls giggled as the other customers turned their heads to see what the noise was about.
“Sorry, sorry,” Annie said with a smile. “Right, come on – eat up.”
"Okay Annie they are all asleep, and lights are
out." Jo returned to the motel room she and the coach were sharing.
"Alright let's go do this piece of work."
Annie said as she pulled a black sweater on.
"I found a car we can 'borrow'." Jo grinned.
"What is it?"
"Dark blue Dodge Dart, the family that owns it
will never know we borrowed it."
"Got your burglary kit?"
"I have." Jo grinned as she wriggled into a
pair of black jeans. "There's a false bottom in my case."
Annie smiled as Jo lifted the bottom out of her case to reveal her collection
of lock picks and other tools of their mutual trade.
"Don't leave home without it." Jo giggled as she put all the bits in a small black bag.
"Here," she checked then passed Annie a snub
nosed .38, "just in case."
"I know." Annie grimaced as she tucked the weapon in her waistband and covered it with the sweater.
"You have the maps?" Jo asked as she tucked her own gun away, and pulled her sweater on.
"Yeah I know where it is." Annie smiled.
"Here take this coach." Jo passed Annie a
stocking that had been doubled, then a knot tied in it and the end cut off.
"Okay." Annie tucked the mask in her pocket.
"Well I'm ready… You?"
"Yeah let's get this done, I've got a long drive in the morning, I don't want to be too tired for that."
The two women slipped out into the dark, Jo getting behind the wheel as Annie got into the passenger seat of the Dodge, and starting the engine before they drove out of the car park. As they reached the road, Jo turned on the lights and followed Annie’s directions.
A half hour later, Jo stopped the car at the bottom of a lane that turned off the main road. “Up there,” she said as she looked up the darkened path.
“Better cover the rest on foot,” Annie said as they got out and made their way along the path, keeping to the sides of the avenue. Eventually, they came to the wooden cabin, and walked slowly round it.
“Looks empty,” Annie eventually said.
“Looks that way, but let’s take no chances,” Jo said as she pulled the stocking down over her head. As Annie followed suit, she fished her bag out from her pocket and selected the tools she needed to open the door.
“Easy peasy,” she whispered as the lock clicked, and the door opened inwards. Jo slipped through first, using a penlight to look round as Annie slipped in and closed the door.
The interior was a large open space, with various items of furniture scattered round. Jo nodded to Annie, and they made their way round the room, selecting points to place the listening devices and cameras before the bafflers were set up.
Jo then pointed to the door leading to the kitchen, and then to one of the two doors leading off on the other side. Nodding, Annie went to the kitchen, while Jo opened the door and found a bedroom.
Smiling, she started to place a listening device by the bed, and a camera on the wardrobe, before using a magnetic panel to attach the baffler under the bed. She then walked out and opened the second door.
She looked in, taking in what she could see before she turned, her hand on the doorframe.
“What’s wrong,” Annie whispered as she came out of the kitchen. Jo looked back into the room, and then shook her head as Annie looked inside.
There were two African girls inside, one the same age as Jo, the other no more than fourteen. The young girl was sitting on the floor in an old black dress, her knees drawn up to her chin, but Annie could see the iron bracelet around her leg, and the chain running to the foot of the bed.
Her real concern, however, was for the older girl. She lay spread eagled on the bed, her wrists and ankles held by ropes, as she stared up at them, her eyes wide with fear.
“Oh shit,” Annie said as she looked at them, and almost started crying. “I’m so sorry, I want to help you, but…”
“You can,” Jo whispered as she took her cell phone out. She filmed the two girls, saying “these girls are the slaves of Senator Morris and Senator Boyd, and are being held at their Maryland country lodge.”