Caught on Film – Part 1







Tuesday 10th May

10 pm

Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, 5th and 42nd Street


The two stone lions stood guard at the entrance to the Public Library, as people walked past, many too blaze to notice the magnificence of them.  They were also too pre-occupied to notice the two young women, wearing black leather jackets over their jumper, jeans and short boots, as they made their way into a side alley and down a side street.


“Okay,” Doc said quietly as she looked through her glasses, “you got visual Heather?”


“Bright and clear,” Heather said as she sat in the kitchen of the 5th Avenue mansion, watching on her laptop screen as she sipped her coffee.  “Right – go down the alley, and you will see a gate in the pavement.  If you lift it up, it will reveal a set of iron steps you and Katy can go down.”


“Where does it lead to,” Katy asked.


“A service entrance to the old Croton reservoir – for some reason, they never closed it off, and it will lead you to a door onto the ground floor.”


“Okay, here goes nothing,” Doc said as they looked round, and then she lifted the metal gate, Katy slipping down before she came down and closed the gate above them.  Using a penlight, she saw the door, holding it as Katy used a set of lockpicks to open it.


As they went through, they found themselves in an old tunnel.  “Okay Heather – which way?”


“Left and up some stairs,” Heather said, watching as they moved along and then climbed.  Soon, they found themselves at a wooden door.


"Heather are security guards waiting for us on the other side of this door?” Doc pulled down the stocking over her head as she said “if they are, I swear I'll escape and hunt you down..."

"Stop fretting Doc, I have full control of their internal security systems. I can see them, but they can't see you and Katy."

"And please keep it that way.  Right, here goes nothing."  Taking a deep breath, she opened the door and looked out onto the dark ground floor lobby.

"Well this is a more interesting way to see the Library then our school visit was." Katy peered through the nylon stretched over her head as she checked for people approaching.


“All clear,” she whispered as Doc looked out.


“Okay – next up…”


"The map division is on the First Floor facing Fifth Avenue Doc."

"Alright how do I get there from here Heather?"

"Very carefully," Katy laughed into her com device.


“Of course you do, dummy,” Heather said, “or alternatively, take the staircase opposite and to your right.  It leads to the corridor outside the office.”


“Copy that – let me know when we’re clear to move.”




The two girls quickly crossed the marble floor and opened the door to the staircase, their backs pressed to the walls as they slowly made their way up, Katy fingering the gun in her hand as she did so.


"Katy this is Juliette," the teenage model heard through her earpiece. "The whole idea of tonight is that no one knows you were ever there if possible."

"I told me."

"So do not get trigger happy young lady."

"As if I would." Katy giggled.


“You would – keep calm and in control.  I don’t want this going wrong – and your mother would kill me.”


Reaching the first floor, Doc stopped and said “sit rep Heather?”


“Wait two minutes – a guard just walking past.”


The girls listened to the footsteps as they approached and faded, before Heather said “go – right and straight ahead.”


Doc opened the door as they walked to two large glass doors, with “Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division” printed on a brass plaque on the wall.  As Katy kept watch, Doc picked the locks of the doors, and then moved inside, Katy following.”


“Good – I got you on the security cams now.”


“You okay partner,” Katy whispered.


“Yeah – just want to do this and get out,” Doc whispered.  “Heather, do they track this terminal?”


“Not at the moment they don’t,” Heather said as Juliette sat with her.


"Okay - what file number am I looking for Heather?"

"It should be labelled LT33/PC14237M Anna." Heather paused, "14237 is the number to look under."


“Let’s see – yeah got it.”  Doc turned off the terminal, and made her way over to the far side of the room, where a row of long filing cabinets were stored.  Looking along and down, she located one drawer in particular, and then frowned as she looked at the top.


"How do I open this security lock's going to need a retinal scan...did you know that?"

"Calm down Doc...yes I did."


"I registered your eye print remotely."


"Just lift up your mask and let it read you Anna."

"Here goes nothing."  Lifting the mask up, Doc put her eye to the lock, the light blinking for a few moments before it turned green and she heard a soft click.


“Clear some room on the table over there,” she whispered to Katy, the younger girl nodding as she moved to one side, while Doc opened the drawer and took out a labelled folder.


"Is it me Heather?  Or is Anna nervous tonight?"

"A bit."  Heather was watching the other windows as security guards walked the floors.

"Any reason why that you know, I always thought she was fearless."

"She's growing up a bit, she realises now I think that crime isn't a game...And I think she's feeling nervous in case Katy gets caught."

"Aha," Juliette nodded.


“Hello London,” Doc said as she looked at the 1930’s tube map, then took out a small camera and started to take pictures, while Katy stood by the door.


“Lights down,” she suddenly whispered, “guard approaching.”


Doc quickly switched off the light she had been using to illuminate the map and crouched down, Katy standing behind the door as a flashlight shone on.


“Heather, tell me they cannot see through those cameras…”


“This is me you’re talking to Anna – you and Kate are invisible to them.”


They both waited until the light disappeared, before Doc turned the light back on, quickly taking shot after shot of the map until she said “okay – I think we can reconstruct it now.”


“Good work – return it to the drawer, and close it.  The lock will work automatically.”


Doc carefully replaced the map in the folder, and placed it back in the right position in the drawer, closing the drawer with a soft click as the light blinked red.


“Okay girls, time to get you out of there.”


“Going back the way we came?”


“Yup – ready to move – now.”


Katy opened the door and looked out, glancing up and down the corridor before they made their way quickly to the doors.


“Right,” Heather said, “you’re clear to your exit.  Return to base, and well done.”


“Thank the goddess for that, we nearly have all we need now,” Juliette said with a smile.


“For what though Ju?”


“I’ll tell you all on Friday – after the film…”


Wednesday 11th May

8.35 am

St Angela’s


“Good morning, good morning, good morning,” Pepsi said as she got out of the car to meet Nikki and Doc, “and is it not a beautiful day today?”


“And what has put you in such a good mood,” Doc said with a smile.


“Oh I don’t know – perhaps I am just looking forward to a long summer…”


“Some of which is been spent in the UK and France, in close proximity to someone?”


“Oh you know me too well,” Pepsi said as Jeannie came out of her van.  “Right then – ready for another day of fun?”


“You?  Calling school fun?  Have I woken up in some sort of dream world,” Doc said as Poppy and Erica walked over to join Jess, Dawn and Louise.


“Hey – did you manage to get the tickets,” Dawn said with a smile.


“I most certainly did,” Erica said, “so our end of year treat is booked, so long as your folks are happy for us to eat at your place afterwards with our parents.”


“Not a problem – we’ll be glad to play host to you…”


“Hey,” Letty said as Abby walked in, “got a minute?”


“Sure,” the tall blonde said as she went into the Head Girls’ Room.


“We are a go for Monday,” Letty said as she closed the door.  “You need to let the right people know.”


“Done and done – this is going to be so good…”




4 pm BST

The Savoy


“Hello Jack,” Charlotte said as she came into the lobby, and saw the legendary concierge at his desk, “having a busy day?”


“No more than usual, Miss Gordon.  I presume you are here to see the Marchesa?”


“Now how would you…  No, don’t answer that.  Where can I find her?”


“She has the Claude Monet suite – shall I call up and tell her you are here?”


“No – she is expecting me,” Charlotte said as she made her way to the lifts, stepping into the corridor and knocking lightly on the door to the suite.


“Who is it?”  Charlotte laughed at the sound of her mother’s voice as she said “it’s me Mother – can you let me in?”


She waited as the door opened, and Francesca looked out.  “Come in darling,” she said, “and how was your day?”


“I had lunch in Kensington with Penny and Lily – you’ll probably meet them at the office tomorrow when you go in,” Charlotte said as she sat down, and Francesca handed her a glass of water.  “How about you?”


“Interesting – I think Hannah and Peri are both going to be good to work with, and apparently Susan’s mother has found a possible housekeeper.”


“And the office?”


“Well, I do like where you work – and very convenient for me,” she said with a smile.  "So what can you tell me about my new staff Carlotta darling?  And the real truth please – given Madame has taken me into her confidence."

"Would I ever do anything else," Charlotte smiled.

"So Peri,” Francesca said as she sat back, “what is her true story?"

"She is a skilled little burglar, as well as being a more than capable PA. Shirley got her when Dominique caught her doing an office of someone who was under Madame's protection."


“Dominique?  Oh, you mean Caroline Jameson – Shirley gave me a brief introduction to her senior staff before I left today.”


“Yeah – simple rule with her is if she has blonde hair, she is Caroline.  If black, Dominique.”

"Should I trust her?  Peri?"

"Implicitly,” Charlotte said, “anyone lasts two years with Shirley you can be assured is first rate."

"Alright,” Francesca said as she sat back, her fingers under her chin, “and how did Hannah end up a sister? She's a bright young lawyer to be, what happened?"

"A friend of hers got in with a bad crowd, she ended up raped, with her throat slit on the side of a dirt road. Hannah wanted revenge, but our people in Cape Town got to her first and stopped her ruining her life by doing something stupid."

"Our people?"

"Well,” Charlotte smiled, “technically Josias is one of Uncle John's men, but we have used him to help with some things. He steered Hannah to our training camp and she passed the selection tests nicely."

"Is she still angry?"

"You'd have to ask her yourself Mother.  But if she is, she channels that anger into helping others."


“Which does raise a small question – if either of us is required for work?”


“Between the two of you – but you do have a unique perspective on that, I think.  So, tomorrow you meet the builders?”


“In the afternoon – I meet with my potential new housekeeper over coffee tomorrow morning, and I have a conference call with Sigi at lunchtime.  Tonight, I get to relax and wind down.  You and Piet?”


“We have a lot to talk about for the weekend,” Charlotte said with a smile, “a LOT to talk about…”



1 pm

The Refectory, St Angela’s


"So what does it feel like knowing you'll be walking the red carpet Nikki?" Ama asked as they sat round the table.

"It's making me nervous,” Nikki said quietly, “but my parents will be with me..."

"No date?" Jeannie said as she looked up.  “House is coming with me.”

"The film company tried to provide me with one...but I thought it better I go in with Mom and Dad."

"Quite proper Nikki." Grace butted into the conversation.

"Are you coming to the premiere Miss?" Jeans asked.

"I am Jeannie...Cassie was good enough to send invitations to a few old family friends."

"Have you ever been to a premiere before Miss?" Ama asked.

"More than I can remember Ama..." Grace looked heavenwards, "It used to be a part of 'being seen' as my then agent called it."

"Gotcha." Ama laughed.

"So how many girls from the school are going?"

"A few of us." Doc joined the conversation.

"Yes Nikki got a lot of tickets for us all." Becca smiled, "though my Dad isn't sure I should be going because of the violence thing."

"My Mom says she trusts me to close my eyes at the goriest bits," Pepsi laughed.


“Well, I am sure you will find something to enjoy in it,” she said as she walked to where Annie was sitting with Kate Hardisty.


“This child cannot come soon enough,” Annie said as she held her back.  “So, any hints?”


“Not a one,” Kate said, “and it’s getting closer.  I can feel it…”




3 pm

The Richmond Mansion



“Okay…  Good…  Now that is unexpected…”


"So are you still not able to fill in the entire picture Juliette?" Heather asked as the writer/model looked at blowups of some of the photos taken by Anna the previous night, then looked at some sketches in a note book she was writing in.

"Possibly Heather, and I suspect speaking computer brain to another you already have a fair idea?"

"Well I do have a suspicion...and aren't you worried that even today over 80 years later that this will be a very contentious issue?"

"I am," Juliette took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. "it's why I'm monitoring people monitoring us in both China...and Japan."

"Is what I hear about the scale of the shootout that night true? That there are still probably bodies down there?"

"So I read, the Japanese Secret Service guys seem to have left behind casualties, the Chinese certainly did, but I think the Brits accounted for all personages."

"A three way gunfight," Heather shook her head.

"Well that much gold you can understand why the Chinese were sending it to fund resistance to the Japanese occupation. You can also see why the Japanese were also so keen to intercept it. The British got caught in the crossfire so to speak."


“And all that time, the two of them were planning something only tangentially related?”


Juliette nodded as she said “but the clues were there – if you knew what to look for…”


Thursday 12th May

10 am BST

The Savoy


“It’s Rose Walker, isn’t it,” Jack said as she saw the two women walk into the front entrance.  “John said you may call in today.”


“I’ll thank him for that when I see him,” Rose said quietly, “We’re here to see the Marchesa di Cambrello?”


“Yes, she said she was expecting someone – she’s waiting for you in the coffee lounge,” Jack said as he indicated a door.


“Thanks – ready Betty?”


“Not sure,” the smaller of the two women said as she opened her coat, her scarf falling open as her jersey dress was revealed, “but let’s do this anyway.”


“If you will allow me,” Jack said as he walked them to the door, opening it and saying “the Marchesa is seated at the corner table over there.”


The two women walked over to where the tall, thin blonde was sitting, sipping coffee from a china cup and reading the Times.  Francesca glanced up and folded the paper, looking at them – one smaller, thinner, greying hair, but obviously related to Susan, the other wearing a coat, scarf and dress, her black hair framing an obviously Mediterranean face.


“Forgive me,” the women with greyer hair said, “but am I addressing the Marchesa di Cambrello?”


“You are indeed – and you must be Susan’s mother?”


“Call me Rose please Marchesa.”


“And you must be Mrs. Harris…and both of you please call me Francesca.”


“Alright, Francesca it is.” Rose smiled.


“Please, take a seat,” Francesca said as she indicated the other chairs at the table, and waved a waiter over.  “What will you have to drink?”


“Tea for me please,” Rose said with a smile, “what will you have Betty?”


“Coffee please – black.”


As the waiter bowed and walked off, Francesca said “So how do you two know each other?”


“I used to cook in a little place behind Oxford Street where Rose and a lot of the girls who worked in the clothes business used to eat,” the Maltese lady spoke with the slightest of accents.


“It was cheap,” Rose said, “but thanks to Betty maybe the best food we ever ate in our lives, so a lot of us used to eat lunch there. Betty was like a seamstress’ secret, we knew how good she really was.”


“That sounds like the best reference possible Betty…” Francesca said, pausing as the drinks were brought over and poured, “and what have you done recently?”


“Married off four daughters…”  Betty took a sip from her cup and said “seen one son into the army like his father, and lost my man to prostate cancer he ignored far too long.”


“Men can do that,” Francesca shook her head.


“So with an empty house I was looking for a job, and Rose told me about you looking for a housekeeper.”


“You know it’s a live-in position?”


“I do.”


“So your house?”


“Will give my son somewhere to park his kit bag when he comes home on leave. It’s all paid for…no mortgage, so I can let it stand empty a lot of the time.”


Nodding, Francesca said “So cooking…who trained you?”


“Mainly my Mother…”


“Like all the best cooks.” Francesca smiled.


“But I also learned a lot from my husband.”




“Yes,” Betty said with a smile, “he cooked in the officer’s mess of a couple of the Guards Regiments, and taught at the Army School of Cooking, as well as on his retirement working at a big house at the end of the Mall…”


“Aha!” Francesca instantly got the reference. “He must have been an excellent chef?”


“He was.”


“And I’ll second that,” Rose sipped her tea, “he catered a few friends events and the food was wonderful.”


“So you are experienced, and have a good training – now, has Rose told you much of my plans?”


“Only what I was told by Shirley,” Rose said, “you are establishing a home north of Hyde Park, near Lancaster Gate, and you need a housekeeper capable of catering from one to one hundred.”


“Essentially yes,” Francesca said, “I will be running a law office from the home, with two staff members based there, and I suspect you may have to cater for them as well.”


“Not a problem Francesca – you tell me how many when, and I can do the menus for the occasion.”


Nodding, Francesca said “there is another thing I need your help with – a small test, if you will.  My daughter and future son-in-law are hosting a small party on Saturday.  Would you be amenable to offering your services to helping with that?”


“If she is amenable to accepting my help,” Betty said with a smile.


“Good – now, let us discuss salary…”




11 am BST

Xavier International


Charlotte looked up as the door to her office opened.


"Just a warning Charlotte, keep your head down and stay out of the way of Hurricane Peri." Lily laughed as she poked her head round the office door.

"Hurricane Peri?"

"Yes...She's sweeping through the building 'requisitioning' what she wants to set up your Mum's office properly as she puts it." Lily laughed, "Gerald is complaining because she's just taking things and not filling out the proper paperwork."

"Poor Gerald," Charlotte laughed, "once an accountant...always an accountant."


“Well, she’s certainly keen to get the office set up – is she coming in this afternoon?”


“After she visits her new abode…”



6.30 pm

Rucoletta Italian Restaurant, 6 Foster Lane, London


“You pay us a great honour by dining here tonight, Marchesa,” the owner said as he escorted Francesca to her seat.


“You came highly recommended,” she said as she took her seat, “my colleagues will join me shortly, and we will order then.”


“Of course – while you wait?”


“Aperol Spritz,” she said as she saw Hannah walk in.  “You managed to find the restaurant then?”


“I followed Lily’s advice, and hailed a taxi, gave them the name of the restaurant – and he came straight here.  May I have a Bloody Mary please?”


“Of course,” the owner said as he bowed and walked off.


"So how did the book buying go Hannah?" Francesca asked.

"Still not quite complete,” Hannah said, “but Wildy's promise that they will have everything I requested here by the time we open for business Monday morning."

"It's nice to have such a wonderful bookseller here on our door step," Francesca smiled, "Peri will want the receipts off you."

"So she told me." Hannah smiled, "she's going to be of so much help."

"I know, Shirley was a darling sending her to us, means we don't have to think about so much of the mundane routine."


“She is joining us?”


“Right now,” she said as the young secretary came in, smiling as she said “sorry – securing all we will need for Monday.”


“So I have heard,” Hannah said as the drinks arrived.  “What will you have?”


“Prosecco please – so, what looks good…?”


“May we have bread and olives while we decide?”


“Of course,” the waiter said as he walked off.




“So the builder say they need at least a month to do the renovations – I hope Shirley won’t mind us squatting in her offices until then,” Francesca said as the food was put on the table.


“We’re good – but I may need to run separate supplies for a while,” Peri said as she looked at the plates.


“Okay – the books and other supplies will have arrived by Monday.  Please, enjoy…”


"Alright ladies I need phone and in-person lists from you both," Peri said as she sampled the food.

"This really is excellent Italian food," Francesca smiled contentedly, "and what do you mean Peri?"

"Who gets let straight into your offices, or put straight through on the phone? Who gets asked to phone back in a few minutes then put onto you? Who do I only take messages from? Who do I ignore?"

"Understood," Hannah smiled, "and it is very like some of our Cape Town food...heavy on spices...just as I like it."

"Well,” Francesca said as she put her fork down, “my daughter obviously, know I will have to write all the names down."

"For some though, use your common sense with Peri...  If it’s a university professor, and you know I'm working on a problem, obviously they get to me straight away."

"Understood Hannah." Peri nodded.

"But for the others, like the boss I'll work a list up over the weekend."

"You'll soon learn Peri," Francesca smiled again.

"I intend to.  Next question coffee? Or tea?"


“In terms of during the day?  We need both available for clients, but my preference is coffee – and I mean proper coffee, not instant.”


“Agreed,” Hannah said.  “I have developed a taste for Turkish coffee.”


“Okay – can I purchase a maker in that case, before Charlotte or Penny start asking questions?”


“I imagine so – but what sort of questions would Penny ask?”


“You don’t want to know – she can be frightening at times,” Peri said quietly.  Francesca and Hannah exchanged a look, before Francesca said “Then you had best make the purchase, Peri – I have heard Whittards is convenient and acceptable.”


Peri made a note, and then said “excuse me a moment” as she walked off.


“There is a matter we do need to discuss, Francesca, without Peri present,” Hannah whispered, “around sisterhood.”


“I understand,” Francesca whispered back, “there is no question, if you are required, you may go.  I am aware of your background, however, so may I offer one caveat to that?”


“Of course,” Hannah said quietly.


“Revenge needs to be planned and carefully arranged – so if you are angry, that is the wrong time.  If you ever want to talk, let me know – but if I think you are acting out of anger rather than duty…”


Hannah nodded as Peri came back.  “Sorry – so, can we discuss the office arrangements?”





Friday 13th May

11 am

The Richmond Mansion


As she was sorting out clothes in Sands bedroom, Heather heard a car horn outside.  Looking out of the window, she smiled and made her way quickly downstairs, opening the door to the mansion and laughing as Jo climbed out of her Jeep singing.


“Well we got no choice
All the girls and boys
Makin' all that noise
'Cause they found new toys
Well we can't salute ya can't find a flag
If that don't suit ya that's a drag
School's out for summer
School's out forever
School's been blown to pieces.”


She was wearing a William Smith hoodie, jeans and trainers, as she opened the back of her jeep and took a bag out.


“No more pencils no more books
No more teacher's dirty looks yeah

Well we got no class
And we got no principals
And we got no innocence
We can't even think of a word that rhymes
School's out for summer
School's out forever
My school's been blown to pieces”


“Why do I get the feeling you’re happy to be home,” Heater said as Jo danced up the stairs, smiling and nodding as she came in and dropped her bag, on the floor, looking round.


“No more pencils no more books
No more teacher's dirty looks
Out for summer
Out till fall
We might not come back at all
School's out forever
School's out for summer
School's out with fever
School's out completely!”


She bowed and said “thank you, thank you” – and then embraced Heather as she said “Hey – missed my cheerful presence?”


"Yeah, I did.  So I take it you are glad to be home little sister?"

"You bet," Jo smiled.  “I’ll bring the rest of my stuff in later, but they’re right – there really is no place like home.”

"You'll miss Curt..."

"Not really,” she said as they walked into the kitchen, “he's going to be down here researching for the sum of the vacation...I'll see him then."

"But before that you are booked for a lot of other things...remember?"

"Don't remind me," Jo rolled her eyes, "Missy was on the phone earlier confirming even more work for me."

"So what's up first?"

"Fresh Big Box commercials. But at least we are filming them in New York this year."

“I thought I heard the dulcet tones of a returning student – good drive Jo,” Sandy said as she came in, and started to make some coffee.


“Well, I made good time, but I left early.  So have I missed anything since last week?”


“We can play catch up over lunch, before the Coffee Club arrive,” Heather said as she passed over a hot drink.  "You remember we have the Pussycat film premiere tonight?"

"Yep...going to be interesting to see how it’s received."

"I know...ready to see yourself as a hooker?"

"I guess so...and I'm so happy so few know the real truth.  Any word on who got that part?"


“No – None of the posters or promos have given names to faces, except for her.”


“Like any of us would say anything anyway,” Jo said as she took a drink.  “Ah, that’s…”


She looked at her phone as a text message came in.  “Maggie’s back – and the Rochermann’s are on their way.  I wonder how things are chez Huntingdown?”



11 am

The Huntingdown Apartment




“Well now, look who is back,” Klaus said as Judith ran over to him, while Carina put the bag down.  “Come to stay for the summer, little one?”


“Yes Grappy – Momma finished now.”


“For this year at any rate,” Carina said as she kissed her father, “where’s Mom?”


“In her office – she wanted to ask Francesca something as research for her new book…”



"Can I pick your brain please Francesca?" Juliette said as she looked at the blonde in her suite at the Savoy.

"As a law expert Juliette?"

"No as a former spy mistress."

"Oh?"  Francesca leaned towards the screen and said “Tell me more…”

"I want to know what the Japanese might have been doing while they were trying to thwart a Chinese group based in London in the 1930's?"

"Well I can't tell you exactly,” Francesca said, “but I can try to explain trade practice in answers to any questions you have."

"Admiral Hito was Japan's Military Attache in London in the early thirties. Would he have had anyone planted inside the Chinese Exiles?"

"If he was any good he would...probably two sources, maybe more."

"And how would they have been recruited?"

"Ethnic Chinese with Japanese sympathies, blackmail, even just good old fashioned cash for secrets.  Those were fairly volatile times in Sino-Japanese relationships."


“I can imagine,” Juliette said.  “So would a cell have been run then roughly in the same way you did?”


“The same principles – a couple of key contacts, and under them some more agents who would report back that way.  From what I remember, London at that time was seen as something like neutral territory.”


“A mutual hatred of the country?”


“Precisely,” Francesca said quietly.


“Now, let me pose a hypothetical.  Suppose the Admiral got word that someone was seeking to cause major problems for the Japanese Empire in Manchuria, I would imagine he would formulate plans to deal with them?”


“I would say it was a certainty, but they would have a problem – Military Intelligence would have been watching both groups, and at least then, they were no fools.”


Nodding, Juliette said “that ties with something in the notes I was reviewing.”


“This is the book Charlotte mentioned – your revered and honoured ancestor.”


“Indeed – she was involved at one time in an investigation involving the death of some Chinese workers in Boston, and it had some mentions of connections to this admiral.”


“How intriguing – tell me, Juliette, does your book cover her work during the war?”


Juliette was the one who leaned forward as she said “I’ve asked others to investigate that – officially, she worked for the OSS in Washington, but there are tales, rumours…”


Francesca smiled as she said “I may have more to tell you when we next to meet, but for now, let me offer you a hint – if you have access, your sources should investigate YY.”


“I will, Francesca,” Juliette said as the door to her office opened, and Judith toddled in, saying “GRAMMY!”


“I need to go to Francesca – but thank you,” she said as she ended the call, and picked Judith up.  “Hello there – did you have a good trip down.”


“Yes Grammy – Aunty Ingi is here as well.”


“Well then, let us go and join her and your mother…”



2 pm

West Central Park


“Oh – hello Veronica,” Katherine Carter said as she opened the door, “come away in.”


“Thank you,” Veronica Joyce said as she came in, “and thank you for letting me meet up with everyone here.”


“Well, we were just having coffee,” Katherine said as she showed the visitor into the front room, “let me get you a cup.”


"Veronica darling, are you ready for the premiere," Eleanor Ball said as she stood up and kissed her friend on the cheeks.

"I am," the Coast Guard officer smiled as she held up a garment bag.

"Did you..." Eleanor's voice dropped to a whisper..."get that information from the files that I was asked for?"

"I did, and why it’s such a big secret I don't know, it all happened over 80 years ago."

"When a sister asks, it’s always a secret."

"Well anyway, I got all the info, and yes Coast Guard, and Customs were pretty sure a large amount of Gold was illegally shipped out of the US in late 1932."


“There we go,” Katherine said as she brought through a mug, “have a seat, and we can talk…”




3.45 pm

The Richmond Mansion


“Elaine,” Heather said as the realtor came into the kitchen, “how has your day been?”


“Hectic – and I can’t stay too long.  We need to get ready for tonight,” she said as she took a seat.


“Well, a lot of us are going, so don’t worry – sit back and have some coffee.”


“Now that sounds like a good idea,” Denise Crosby said as she came in with Barbara Brewster.  “Coffee always picks me up.”


“So you are going with Bradley and Nikki tonight, Elaine?”


“Yeah – you’re coming with Jeannie I take it Barb?”


“And Winston – he flew in an hour ago,” Barbara said as she sat down.  “You know we only have one or two more of these?”


“Indeed – so how did Melinda’s visit go Denice?”


“Oh she loved the place, and her parents are very happy,” Denice said, “we’re going to sort out the logistics over the next few weeks.”


“So it all worked out all right,” Heather said as Caroline came in.


“Indeed – so are you ready for tonight Caroline?”


“I am – but I am attending alone.  Ama has volunteered to sit with Annie – she’s so scared the baby will come at any time she doesn’t want to leave the house.”


“Oh – guess that means I’ll have to come down and see her tomorrow.”


“Jo – when did you get back?”


“Earlier today,” she said as she came in and hugged Caroline.  “I guess none of the girls are back yet?”


“Younger generation coming in now,” Heather said as the door opened, and Katy came in with Sands.




“Hey kid,” she said as she hugged Sands, “calmed down from last week?”


“In a way – so Katy is staying tonight right?”


“Yes – because we’re too young to see this film,” Katy said as she rolled her eyes.


“Yes you are,” Heather said as she looked at them, “so accept it.  George is staying here as well.”


“Another week at the coal face passed,” Pippa said as she came in, and then said “okay, that’s a sign summer is coming – welcome back Jo.”


“Thanks – Adam seemed happy with the shots he took for your last piece.”


“I was as well – it comes out in a couple of weeks as well,” Pippa said as she accepted a coffee.  “I called Juliette earlier – she’s going to the preimere tonight as well.”


“Of course she is – she’s Cassandra’s godmother,” Sandy said as the sound of tired young minds arriving came through, and Abby looked into the kitchen.


“We’re starting to – hey Jo.  Welcome back to the maelstrom.”


“Thanks – I take it…”


“Don’t worry, you’ve missed nothing – and I’m saying nothing.  See you later,” she said as she went back to the front room.


“Ah the sound of eager young minds – should I tell them they have two more weeks, and I’m done?”


“Not yet – save it for tomorrow,” Heather said with a smile.


“I’ll go through and see them,” Jo said as Pussy and Frieda came in, carrying Pauline in her car seat, “let you mothers ogle the baby.”  She went through to the front room, finding Ama and Jess discussing the upcoming Champions League final, while Doc was sitting with Jeannie, Nikki, Pepsi and Becca.


“There she is – the lady of the hour,” Jo said as they looked round.


“Hey boss,” Doc said, “how did the year go?”


“I passed – so looking forward to tonight Nikki?”


“No – I’ve never been so nervous, and I only have a small part in the film.”


“Well, I guess you sit back and enjoy it,” Jo said as Erica and Poppy came in.


“Hi Jo – ready for the long hot summer of rest.”


“Have you seen my diary,” Jo said with a raised eyebrow, “it’s almost as part as Abby’s…”





7.30 pm

The Lincoln Center, New York


“Welcome to the Lincoln Centre in New York – and the red carpet for the premiere of one of the most eagerly anticipated and discussed films of 2016 – The Pussycat Gang, the latest feature from Brian Goldstein, starring Cassandra Stone alongside a cast of largely unknowns, and depicting a fictional account of what have been called America’s Most Wanted Women.  We’re going to be talking to the stars and some of the invited guests as they walk the red carpet….”


The reporter from E! News carried on talking as she stood by the side of the long red carpet, reaching from the kerbside to the entrance to the centre.  On either side, and along the road, fans were waving and cheering, while the sides of the red carpet were flanked by long placards, showing the cat-shaped brooch that had become the emblem of the film, and the words “The Pussycat Gang” in red on white.


“Welcome to the World Premiere of The Pussycat Gang film,” Jeanne Beckmann said as she stood a little further up the carpet, “and we’re here to talk to some of the guests, and look at what people have chosen to wear to a film that is already been discussed as a Oscars contender for next year.  People have just started to arrive – and I see Juliette Huntingdown von Furstenheim arriving with her husband Klaus, and her daughters Carina and Ingrid.  Juliette, can you spare a few minutes?”


“Of course, Jeanne,” Juliette said as she walked over.


“You have known Cassandra Stone all her life – what do you think attracted her to this role?”


“The challenge I suspect Jeanne,” Juliette said as she stood in her Armani trouser suit, Klaus in a dinner jacket with the bow tie correctly tied, and both Carina and Ingrid in gold off the shoulder dresses.  “Cassandra has always enjoyed playing different roles, but this is something I must admit from left field.”


“I hear you may be expecting your next grandchild soon?”


“Indeed – and Annie, if you’re watching, please try not to start labour before we come out.”




“Har de har,” Annie sat as she sat with Ama, eating ice cream from a tub.


“You know she meant well,” Ama said as she looked over.


“I know, I know,” Annie said as she held her back again.




“Well, enjoy the show, and thanks for stopping to talk to us Juliette.  I think I can see some of the other cast members….”


“Right – that’s that negotiated,” Juliette said as they went into the reception.  “Now we can enjoy ourselves.”



"Now this is a young lady you are probably not used to seeing the face of, because she is one of the two 'masked' Magnilash girls, but this is Nikki Colman who has a very small part in the movie."

"Hello Jeanne," Nikki tried to smile as the flash bulbs went off around her.

"So who is dressing you tonight?"

"The dress is by Vera Wang."  It was a long black gown with gold shoulder clasps, black heels underneath.

"So you are here with your parents?"

"I am."

"So you must be proud of Nikki and her acting career," Jeanne held the mike to Elaine.  She looked pale for a moment, and then said “we are incredibly proud of her, yes.”


“Well enjoy the evening,” Jeanne said as Pepsi, Doc and Becca walked past, their off the shoulder gowns designed by Kylie fetching some admiring looks as they waved to the cameras.


“Well, that was interesting,” Bradley said as he, Elaine and Nikki walked into the reception.  “Scary, but interesting…”


“Welcome,” Sandy said as she handed them a drink, “that’s the worst bit over with.”


“So are the stars of the film here yet?”


“Not quite – but let’s see who comes next…”





The reporter from E! smiled as she said "This is legendary supermodel Eve Stone and her husband renowned photographer Stephen Stone, the parents of Cassandra Stone."  The couple smiled as she said "Now this must be fairly routine for you? Do you go to all Cassandra's premieres?"

"We try to," Stephen smiled.

"Now the dress and jewellery Eve?"

"Well the dress is by Tom Ford, and Harry Winston's kindly leant me these emeralds.  But tonight is really about Cassandra and what she has achieved this time.”


“Have you seen the film?”


“No – but I am sure it will not be what people expect…”




“You managed to slip past the cameras then,” Juliette said as Sandy, Heather and Diana came in.


“We did – Abigail and Joanne…”




“I’m here with Abby de Ros and Jo Smith,” the interviewer said, “two of the Hot New Models in New York.  Girls, are you looking forward to tonight?”


“We’re certainly looking forward to what Cassandra has done,” Jo said, “even if we are also a little apprehensive.”


“So who has designed your gowns tonight?”


“Mine is by Alice MacKinnon for APCO,” Abby said as she stood in her strapless blue gown, “while Jo?”


“I’m lucky enough to be wearing a Kylie Mitchell original,” Jo said in her gold coloured dress, which was pinned to one side and slit on the other from hip to hem.


“Well, you both look fantastic,” the interviewer said, “enjoy the evening…”





"She's going to hate me calling her this, but this is the Glorious Grace Gresham?" Jeanne smiled.

"I'll get you back for that Titi," Grace whispered, the sound only audible to the interviewer. For the cameras Grace smiled and kissed Jeanne on the cheek..."Hello Jeanne."

"Now you look stunning, can I ask what brings you here tonight?"

"I was invited by Cassandra, I'm an old friend of her and her family."

"Now since last year you've relaunched your modeling is that going?"

"Very well thank you, I have a full set of bookings for this summer."


“And I hear you will be at the CS show in Sydney?”


“Oh yes – if I can handle the journey…”




“We have a very special guest here now - stepping out from behind the fame of her daughter Katy, this is Agent Janice Carter of the FBI who was the technical advisor on the project.  Janice, can you tell us what it was like to work on this project?”


“It was an interesting experience,” Jan said as she stood in the long silver gown, Adam and Eleanor standing to one side with Tom, Gale and Veronica.


“Now this is a fictionalised account,” the interviewer said, “but the question is, have they managed to capture the events as they happened?”


“That would not be possible,” Jan said quietly, “but if they have captured even a fraction of the way these ladies work, it will be a powerful film.  The primary aim of the FBI, however, is to find and arrest these women, and make them pay for their crimes.”


“Janice, thank you very much.”


“Nicely handled,” Tom said as they walked in.


“And we have the first of the ladies playing the gang coming up the carpet now – JD Carlucci, a new face to the big screen…”


JD looked nervous as she walked up the carpet in a grey Greek style dress, smiling and waving as a dark haired young man in a dark suit walked beside her.



Los Angeles


“Maddie – JD’s on the line,” Emma called out as Maddie joined her in front of the television.  “Who’s the side of beef with her?”


“A studio approved escort – look at her,” Maddie said as she handed her wife a glass of wine, “she has no idea what is going to happen to her after tonight.”


“Yeah – I don’t think any of them do…”


New York


“Next to arrive – Caroline McHugh and Vanessa McLeary, accompanying the producer of the film, Brian Goldstein.”


“Smile and wave girls, smile and wave,” Brian said as the tall blonde, and the olive skinned smaller woman, walked up the line with him, their arms linked.


“Caroline and Vanessa were, of course, in the recent revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in New York, and make their debut on the big screen tonight…  Coming up the carpet now, Lindsey Fletcher!”


The redhead smiled and waved as she stopped to sign some photographs.


“Lindsey was in both of Cassandra Stone’s most recent films…  Next to come out of the car, the star of Mega Model Force on the Disney Channel, Jazz Populuk!”


The young woman smiled and clapped as she walked along the line.


“The next to arrive is the comedian and singer, and signed to play Andi Morecambe in Cassandra’s next film as a producer, the Ladydown Biopic – Brandy Todhunter!”


The tall, thin blonde smiled as she stopped to talk to some of the fans.


“And finally, accompanied as always by her husband Rick, the star of the film – Cassandra Stone!”


Cassie got out of the car, wearing a black fishtail dress, and waved as she went to talk to the reporter.


“Cassandra, you look fabulous tonight?”


“Thank you – and thank you all for coming tonight,” she said as the crowd cheered.


“So what do you think the reaction is going to be when they see the film tonight?”


“I have to be honest – I think it is going to get people talking, but about what I have no idea yet.”


“Well, enjoy the evening,” the interviewer said as Cassandra walked along, stopping and talking to reporters before making her way inside.




“This is amazing,” Becca said as she looked round, “truly amazing.”


“I know,” Nikki said, “I can’t quite believe I am here…”


“Well, don’t tell Katy,” Jan said as she came over, “she is so jealous of the fact you are here, and she is not.”


“I know – but we’re only here by special dispensation,” Nikki whispered as her parents talked to Diana and Sandy.


“Ladies and gentlemen,” a man said into a microphone, “can we ask you to make your way into the auditorium, and take your seats please.”


“So what happens when we go in, the ads?”


“Nah – I think there’s a speech, and then the film…”


As they made their way into the auditorium, Elaine picked up the black bag sitting on her seat and looked at it.  “What is this,” she said as she opened it.


“Souvenir program and other things,” Nikki said as she sat down, and put her bag on the floor by her feet, smiling as the auditorium filled up.


“Ladies and Gentlemen,” the announcer said, “please welcome the producer of The Pussycat Gang, Brian Goldstein.”


He room applauded as Brian came up, smiling and waving as he said “thank you, thank you.  Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to be able to let you see a film that I know is going to have people talking, and I know it will upset some.  But I think it is one people should see and make their own minds up about – so I want to thank our director, Mike Babbage.  Stand up and take a bow Mike!”


Mike Babbage stood up and bowed as the audience applauded.


“I also want to acknowledge, right now, the incredible script by Rick Delaney – Rick, take a bow.”


Rick blushed as he stood and took the applause.


“But this film has been driven by one person and one person more than any other – ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Miss Panther, Cassandra Stone!”


The room stood and applauded as Cassandra came up and took the microphone from Brian.


“Thank you, thank you everyone,” Cassandra eventually said, “I hope you enjoy the film, but I also want to acknowledge this is a team effort, and I want to reveal, for the first time, the rest of the members of the Pussycat Gang.  First of all, a brilliant young actress who makes her big screen debut with this film, our Miss Bobcat – please welcome to the stage JD Carlucci!”


Jo nodded and smiled as she clapped, JD coming onto the stage and waving to the theatre.


“Next up, please welcome to the stage Miss Puma and Miss Cheetah, the strong right and left hand of the Pussycat Gang – Carolina McHugh and Lindsey Fletcher!”


The two actresses came onto the stage, waving as they hugged Cassie and JD, and took their place in the line.


“When we were casting for this film, I openly admit I had one person in mind for Miss Leopard – and I am so glad she agreed to do a part so different from what she is known for.  Please, welcome to the stage, Brandy Todhunter!”


As she came up to the stage, the other three applauded as Cassandra hugged her, and she joined the line.


“Certainly an interesting choice,” Abby whispered to her mother, Diana nodding in agreement.


“By contrast, for the woman known as Miss Tigress, we wanted someone with spunk and the ability to threaten – and no better place to find that than the Disney Channel.  Please welcome Miss Tigress, Jazz Populuk!”


“Touché,” Diana whispered back as Abby shook her head.


“Finally, the most difficult of the group to cast had to be Miss Lynx, given what the role involved.  We were fortunate to find someone who had that intensity we needed – Ladies and Gentlemen, playing Miss Lynx, please welcome Vanessa McLeary.”


The room applauded as Vanessa came onto the stage, and Cassandra said “while we play the seven ladies, everyone involved in this film deserves a round of applause.”  Nikki blushed as she heard the applause, before Cassandra said “Please, sit back, relax, and remember – this is just a story…”


The seven followed Brian off the stage, as the curtains were raised and the room went dark.  As Juliette watched, a message appeared on the screen.


“The events depicted in this film are based on actual reports, but are fictionalised to protect the victims.  The producers thank those who have contributed to this film, and wish them good fortune in their recovery and the pursuit of these seven women.”


“Here we go,” Cari said as the screen went blank, and then showed a normal residential street at night.  The camera moved down the street, passing the houses with the lights on in the window, before it panned to one door, and the muted voices inside.


As the door opened, they saw a man, and two women, kneeling on the ground, tightly bound and gagged, as Cassandra stood over them with a sawn off shotgun in her hand, wearing a tailored grey jacket and skirt, a black cravat, high heels and a cat shaped brooch – and a black stocking over her head, pulled down and flattening her short black hair.


“Let me introduce ourselves,” she said in a deep voice, “My name is Miss Panther, and we are the Pussycat Gang.  So you will do whatever we fucking say, capiche?”



8.30 pm

The Richmond Mansion


"Katy,” Sands said as she looked across her room, “Aunt Juliette explained to you why you must cover for me tonight?"

"No she told me I must cover for you...she never explained why."  Katy kicked her legs to and fro as she looked at Sandy, in a tight strapless dress, flowing from her chest to the floor, a single slit from knee to floor allowing her legs to move.

"Look… I have a date with Fergus," Alexandra adjusted the short brunette wig and checked her appearance in the mirror. "Do I look alright?"

"You look stunning, but you have to tell me where you got all these fabulous clothes from, and the diamonds." Katy helped put the new bracelet on her friend’s wrist over the long black gloves.

"Look I can't...but it is really important...Okay?" Sandy said as she eased herself into the mink.

"Not really.  I think you’re playing with fire bestie – and yeah, it is me saying that.  What on earth happened in Louisville?"

"Look that’s Holly," Sands smiled as the car horn sounded, "I'll be back late...but I'll let myself in."

"Alright...Just be careful bestie."

"I will be." Sands took one last look in the mirror and then left the room, Katy watching out of the window as she got into the car. 


“Whatever it is you are doing, Sands, I hope it’s worth it,” she said as she left the bedroom, closing the door and walking down the stairs.


“Hey,” George said as she went into the kitchen, “did someone just come in?”


“Nah – Sands is feeling unwell, so she’s gone to bed.  I promised we wouldn’t disturb her.”


“Really?  Shall I tell Gran?  I was just getting a drink before the film began.”


“I’ll take one as well – join you, let her sleep it off,” Katy said as they went into the front room.




"How is Fergus doing Hol?" Sands asked as she strapped herself into the passenger seat.

"He's fine...I gave him a quicky at the apartment before I came to get you."

"That should satisfy him for a while," Sands giggled. "I must say I do love this car."

"So do I" Holly said as she drove away in the vintage British Racing Green MG, "Such a lovely 'present' from Fergus," she laughed.  Like Sands, she was wearing a black evening dress, hers covered in sequins as the fur wrap lay on the back seat…


“Well, we mustn’t keep him waiting too long…”



At the entrance to the club, Fergus stood and waited. Inwardly he shook at what this mind blowing sex with two total bitches was costing him. But with all the evidence of him having had sex with a girl who was legally still a child, even if she was so skilled and voracious in her desires between the sheets, he knew he was like the girls were...well and truly screwed.

Still at least here in NYC they were disguising themselves in the wigs and the coloured contacts, they had also got false identity documents.


He wondered if killing himself might be the only way out...But no, they'd just find some other poor sap to seduce and use as a meal ticket.  As it was, he had to hope the fascination would pass soon…


“Fergus, darling – I’m sorry if you had to wait…”


“Not at all,” he said quietly as they took him by the arms and walked in.  On another table, Sands saw Roberto Romanov, and smiled in his direction…


In her head Sands made a quick calculation as to what this had all cost Fergus so far. When it was over she already owed him well over a million dollars from her trust fund...but if they got the bastards behind the date rape traffic it was going to be worth every cent.

In the meantime though she told herself to just enjoy the thrills and sensations of being a total bad girl, blackmailing a poor victim, and taking him for a fortune. It was a gorgeously evil feeling she admitted to herself.


The Elysee Club was a pastiche of an old time Hollywood/Las Vegas night club with the tables round the small stage where a crooner who sounded like Perry Como was currently singing Fly me to the Moon. The patrons clearly enjoyed playing the game with very few not looking at least partially in period. There were plenty of women dressed like the girls in jaw dropping evening dresses and sporting furs and diamonds aplenty. There were also plenty of men in well cut suits, or tuxedos like Fergus was wearing.


“This is a wonderful place, Fergus darling,” Sands said as she kissed her lover, “thank you for bringing us here.”


“Well, I thought you would both enjoy it.”


“There are such interesting people here,” Holly said with a smile.


"What do some of these guys think they are playing at?" Fergus glanced at Romanov's table, the two decorative blondes, the big muscular other men, "do they think they are playing at Gangsters and Molls?"


“Maybe he is a gangster,” Sands said with a smile.  She could see him looking at her, and fluttered her eyelids towards him.  The two women with him certainly looked the part – one wore a white strapless dress, then hugged her body’s curves to her knees, before exploding in layered chiffon and lace.  The top of her dress had a lace pattern as well.


Her partner was in black – the only difference in the style the fact it was held up by a single puffed shoulder strap and a long sleeve from the shoulder ruff to her left wrist.  It was a black lace, almost see through, but leaving very little to the imagination as the skirt flowed over the floor.  Looking at them, Sands saw the way the makeup was designed to make them look older.


"So it's true," she thought to herself, "he does like his women VERY young."


“Dance with me,” Holly said as she dragged Fergus onto the dance floor, Sands smiling as she saw Romanov looking her up and down.


When Holly and Fergus came back, Sands stood up and said “my turn now,” as Fergus was pulled back on.  As she danced with her arms round Fergus's neck, Sands felt the familiar sensation of him getting hard through her dress.

"Down boy," she whispered, "there's plenty of time for HIM to have his fun later."

"Alexandra I try my hardest not to..."

"Yes darling, but it’s what you do best trying when you are hardest," she breathed in his ear, while looking over his shoulder checking out Romanov checking her out.




"Time to give Romanov a show," Sands thought to herself as she pulled Fergus's head close and started to kiss him, her tongue obviously inside his mouth, the passion in the kiss obvious to anyone who was looking...and Sands knew Romanov was looking...CLOSELY!


“Oh dear god,” Fergus said as he looked at her, “what the hell am I doing here?”


“Pleasing us – and yourself,” Sands purred as she danced with him, “after all, we are everything you want, right…”





As they returned to the table, Holly smiled and said “why don’t we have some more champagne?”


“In a minute – I’ll be right back,” Sands said as she sashayed to the ladies room, smiling as she entered one of the stalls.  When she came out, she saw one of the two women with Romanov at the mirror, checking her make up.  They looked at each other and nodded, Sands taking some lipstick out and touching up her own.


“Having fun?”


“I always have fun with my friends,” Sands said without turning round.


“Roberto – the man my friend and I are with – was wondering if you would dance with him.”


Sands turned her head at that, and said “does he always get his lady friends to ask others if they want to dance?”


“Yes he does – so may he have a dance with you?”


“I tell you what,” Sands said, “I’ll get my friends to take a little break together – if he still wants a dance then, tell him to come over and ask himself.”


The other girl smiled as she said “I’ll tell him that – might make a change for him as well.  If he does, however, do yourself a big favour.”


“And that is?”




Sands watched the girl as she put her make up back into her handbag and walked off.  Smiling, she walked back to the table as Holly was taking Fergus by the hand.


“We’re going to go and have a little dance,” Holly said with a smile, Sands nodding as they disappeared to another part of the dance floor.  Sitting down, she sipped her champagne and looked around.


“Good evening.”


Sands looked up and smiled as she saw Roberto Romanov standing there.  “Hello,” she said quietly.


“I see your friends have taken a break – would you care to dance?”


“Who’s asking?”


“Roberto Romanov – and you are?”


“Vanessa – Vanessa McCabe,” Sands said as she took his hand, “will your lady friends have a problem with us dancing?”


“No – they are happy,” he said as they passed his table, the two girls looking on with slightly glazed eyes.  “Forgive me, but did I see you at the Derby meeting?”


“You may have – I was there with my friend,” Sands said as they danced together, before she moved his hand up to her waist.  “I barely know you Roberto.”


“Whereas I would like to get to know you better,” Roberto whispered as they danced across the floor.”


“Intriguing – but I have a good, good friend.  Having said which, perhaps one night when I am free…”




10.30 pm

The Lincoln Centre



As Elly Mental sang over the closing credits, the audience sat in stunned silence for a moment, before they started clapping and cheering.


"SHIT!" Pepsi shook her head as she stood up, "that was a touch too realistic for my taste."

"The violence was almost pornographic," Becca looked a trifle stunned, "but I know it's an incredibly powerful movie and will probably get a pile of Oscar nominations...  I'm just not sure I ever want to see it again."


"I agree on the Oscars," Doc looked at her program, "that girl JD Carlucci must get a nod as best supporting actress."

"Oh definitely," Becca dropped to a whisper, "having done it for real I can totally say she was VERY convincing as a hooker."




"So opinions Jo?" Sandy asked as they walked from the theatre to the waiting cars.

"Probably the same as yours...Cassie has captured the robberies almost perfectly," Jo replied very quietly.

"Yes I could close my eyes and it was as though I was there." Heather joined in very quietly.

"What about the acting?"

"Cassandra was amazing, but are people prepared to see her playing a very violent criminal?" Jo asked.


“Well, who knows – I wonder what Cari thought of her doppelganger…”



11 pm

The Astoria Waldorf


"The FBI guy that Chad Lobowski played was a good role...  Even if it was a bit obviously to his Mother that he was based on my son." Eleanor said as she and Veronica stood with Klaus and Juliette.

"Oh anyone who knows Adam will see that," Klaus laughed lightly.  “So what did you think of the story.”


“It may be a fictional story,” Juliette said, “but it certainly brought back memories of the one time I saw them at work.  They captured the ones who were there that night brilliantly.  What did you think Carina?”


“It was certainly a film that makes you think,” Carina said as she held her glass, “Jan, you certainly can be proud of your work.”


“Thanks,” Jan said as she came over, “somehow, she captured what it must be like to be with them.”


“And what did you think,” Juliette whispered to Carina.


“Not sure yet – ask me later…”



"So did we emphasize enough that they do this for the thrills," Brian Goldstein asked a trifle nervously as he stood in the corner.

"Yes you did Brian," Jeanne Beckman looked at the producer. "Speaking personally I think you've made a masterpiece."

"Yes, but what will the 'real' reviewers say?" Brian shuffled his feet.


“Who can tell – but the way you have advertised it makes it clear this is more than just a film about violence.  Maybe Jane can drop a hint – I’ll call her…”



“Hello,” JD said as she answered her cell phone.


“Hey JD.”


“Hey boss,” she said as she looked round, “I know you’ve seen the film before, but now the word is out.”


"So,” she heard Maddie say, “how is it going?"

"Everyone is nervous and on edge...we are waiting on the reviews."

"Understood," Maddie spoke into her phone.

"I just can't believe how kind people are being about my performance...several people have actually mentioned me getting an Oscar nomination."

"Well then you must be floating on a cloud?"


“You think?  But I’m not ready to quit any time soon – I need to keep grounded.”


“Well, we will see what happens, but will you allow me to say my own personal view?”


“Go on…”


“I look forward to seeing you and Cassandra at the Dolby Theatre next February.”


“Thanks Boss – now we wait and see…”




"I tell you what – it’s a shock looking at the screen and hearing so many obscenities pouring from the mouth of me own daughter." Stephen shook his head.

"But it’s in character Dad."

"I know...but still.  At least you’re only producing the next film…"

"You were amazing Cassie darling," Jack Linklater said as he made his way to the actress.

"Did you enjoy it Jack."

"What he saw of it," Luke laughed, "he ducked down behind the seat in front for a lot of the really violent bits."


“Can you blame me?  I think you’ve got a film that will get the same gut reaction as The Exorcist, Cassie – for better or worse…”




“All right,” Jo said as she and Abby cornered Cari, “spill, girlfriend.  What did you really think?”


“Well, she got close,” Cari said as she sipped her drink, “real damn close.  You’d almost think…”


“That she was a sister?”


Cari nodded as she looked over at Vanessa McLeary, as she talked to JD.



"Well Doc?" asked Juliette as they stood together, "your impressions."

"As whom? The everyday teenager, or the Pussycat in my own right?"

"As a cat," Juliette's voice got very faint as they turned away from the others.

"Realistic, powerful, the supposed background stories are believable...anything else?"

"Yes...did you like it?"

" was a little too close to home for my comfort, especially having a Pussycat who was an ex-hooker."


“I know – even with the background stories changing so they are not related, I think Cari is feeling a little uncomfortable about it as well…”



Brian Goldstein nodded as an assistant handed him a tablet, glancing at it before he motioned to Mike, Rick and Cassandra to come over.


“I think the first reviews must be in,” Diana said as the quartet talked quietly to each other, and then Cassandra went to talk to the other six.


“Ladies and Gentlemen, can I have your attention please?”


The room went silent as Brian Goldstein spoke into the microphone.


“Once again, can I thank you both for coming tonight, and for your response to the film,” Brian said as the room applauded.  “We just got the first reviews in to the premiere – and having had a quick look at them with Mike, Rick and Cassandra, we have agreed that we should let you see some of them.”


“Here we go,” Juliette whispered as an image of the New York Times appeared on the screen.


Pussycat On Fire:  Cassandra Stone Claims Her Oscar Place.


When it was announced that a film based on the exploits of the deadly Pussycat Gang was to be made, and that Cassandra Stone would star, the thought was it would be a disaster.  Instead, Cassandra and the other women who play the members of the gang have done the near-impossible – delivered a story that makes you understand why they do what they do.


Cassandra dominates the screen as the housewife who is also the feared Miss Panther, but all six of her co-stars fill the roles and make them both frightening and believable.  This is especially true of a new star, JD Carlucci, who brings empathy and warmth to the role of their latest recruit, Miss Bobcat.


Yes, the film is violent, contain scenes which will upset people, and is worthy of the R certificate, but this is a film that demands to be seen, and uses the crimes to look at questions of empowerment and what drives a person.  The script by Rick Delaney perfectly evokes that, and the musical score by Elly Mental reflects what happens on screen.


But at heart, the film is about the seven most violent and feared women in the US – and their story does come out in a most unexpected way.


Rating:  Five Stars


“Oh my god,” JD whispered as she looked at the screen.


“Would anyone like to see the Daily Post review?”


The Pussycat Gang is not an easy movie to watch – in depicting the crimes of the most wanted women in America, it spares no punches in depicting the violence and carnage the reports of their crimes detail.  But at the same time, like films like Apocalypse Now and The Exorcist, the way the film is presented manages to achieve the near impossible – to explain why seven ordinary women would band together and become this group.


It is difficult to highlight one of the core group of seven actresses, as all contribute to making this film a success, but Cassandra Stone shows a completely new side to her acting skills as Miss Panther, the leader of the gang.  It is obvious that the script writer and the director have listened to the expert advisers from the FBI, and used that advice to the best of opportunities.


As I say, this is not an easy film to watch – but you need to watch it, and to judge it for yourself.  I think we will see this in the Oscar nods next year – and they will be fully deserved.


“Am I seeing things,” Cassandra said as Rick came and hugged her, “or do they like it?”


“I think they do – if you ignore Rotten Apple…”


“I always ignore Rotten Apple - one load of gratuitous violence that glamorises women who really are nothing more than murdering psychopaths?  Kind of misses the point…”


“The New Yorker review is up as well,” Brian said as everyone looked at the screen.


The Pussycat Gang – the next true depiction of the seedy underbelly of life


There is a fine tradition in American cinema of films that, while appearing to glamorize crime, actually show the truth of the life of the people who commit those crimes.  White Heat, Dog Day Afternoon, Bonnie and Clyde, Straw Dogs – all films that did not flinch in the way violence was depicted, and also the people who committed the acts of violence.


Now, we can add to that list The Pussycat Gang – and even more so, as this depicts not the history of our country, but is set in today, and is a fictionalized account of a very real group of violent women.  Yet somehow, it achieves what those other films did – helps us to understand these seven women, where they come from, and what drives them.  This is not to glamorize what they do – and the film is unstinting in the depiction of their crimes – but that it tries to explain who they are, and why they do it.


They are a group, and it is difficult to single out any one of the seven actresses – but Cassandra Stone is the lynchpin, joining the likes of Faye Dunaway in depicting a woman steeped in crime – but also an ordinary woman, leading an ordinary life when she is not a psychotic bank robber.  All six of the other actresses more than match her, but one in particular acts as the eyes of the viewer.  JD Carlucci as Miss Bobcat, in her very first movie, gives a wonderful performance as the hooker who has had to be nice to just one too many Johns, and for whom armed robbery is a strong alternative to the humiliations of the sex trade, becomes something powerful, empowering and satisfying.


Yes, it is violent, but only because it deals with a violent subject, and it needs to depict that truthfully and honestly to get under the skin of these women.  Everyone, from Rick Delaney’s script, Mike Babbage’s direction, and the music by Elly Mental, makes this a film that is more than the sum of its parts, and puts it on a par with the classics of the genre.


See this film – and go prepared to be both Shocked and Awed.


The atmosphere in the room was electric, as they watched Cassandra walk over to JD.  “It was Barchester Towers for me,” she said as she put her hands on the young woman’s shoulders, “and I think for you, this is the film.  Congratulations, JD.”


The applause started as she looked round, and whispered “thank you…”


“It is not just the American papers,” Brian said, “This is from the review posted to Le Monde…”


The true power of cinema is when it opens the window on our world, and reflects those uncomfortable truths we wish to turn away from.  Consider for example when The Godfather first came out, and showed the thin line between violence and love in that world.  Or perhaps the works of the British Auteur Mike Leigh, finding joy in the depths of despair.


Tonight, in New York, a film was premiered that threatens to do what The Godfather did over forty years ago – expose the truth behind what many perceive as the American Dream, the desire to be the best, and how it can often go wrong in horrific and unseen ways.


At heart, the story of The Pussycat Gang is that – six women who are pursuing that dream, and how one more joins them fully.  But the way they chase that dream is through violent, horrific crime, and their desires to find satisfaction and a sense of overcoming their own lives.  In a country where the possibility that the next President may be a man who is perceived by many as single minded only in the pursuit of wealth, at all costs, Cassandra Stone as the woman known as Miss Panther leads a group who take that philosophy to a logical conclusion – like Gordon Gecko, they believe Greed is Good, and they pursue that target fully.


This is, however, a group of women, and all seven give amazing performances reflecting their personal drives and demons.  From Miss Panther, a housewife driven to desperate means to provide for her family, to Miss Lynx, a woman who shows a truly psychotic desire to harm, and to their latest recruit, Miss Bobcat, a prostitute driven too far one night and who attracts the attention of Miss Panther, they work as a whole, and display both their violent and everyday personas brilliantly.


All in this film, from the actors and actresses who play their victims, to those seeking to bring them to justice, from the script by Brian Delaney to the music by rap star Elly Mental, combine to create a gestalt of a picture that demands to be seen, and has the courage to ask the question – what drives these women, and what do they get from their exploits that is more important than the money?


“Yeah,” Cassandra said as she stood with Juliette, “I think we did a good job.”



"So girls which scene left the biggest impression on you?" Nikki asked her friends as they stood to one side.

"The flashback scene where Miss Leopard is gang raped," Becca shivered at the memory, "that was just TOO REALISTIC."

"I think I agree with Becs," Jeannie looked upwards, "that scene disturbed me deeply."

"The film is supposed to show that, under the right circumstances, women can become as tough, ruthless, and just plain deadly as any man." Nikki looked at her friends.

"Well it certainly did that." Pepsi nodded. "I guess it was about women sometimes needing to empower themselves?”


“And not in an Oprah Winfrey way,” Nikki said as Doc walked over to where JD was standing.


“Hey – congratulations,” she said as she kissed her on the cheek.


“Thanks – so have you been busy lately?”


“School, modelling, everyday stuff…  So where to next JD?" Doc asked.

"To London for that premiere next week," JD smiled, "then the boss has told me to take a holiday."


"Yes," JD's voice dropped to a faint whisper, "it seems some ladies you might just know have need maybe of some extra firepower soon?"

"So the rumor goes." Anna murmured back.  “I hope you have a fun time over there…”


“Missy darling – what did you think of the film?”


Missy Auerbach looked round and said “It was a disturbing film, but so was Taxi Driver when it came out, and I remember seeing that when it came out.  I get the same feeling watching this tonight.”


"What is this I hear that JD's agents have told her to lay low in Europe Missy?" Cassandra asked.

"It's true,” Missy said as she sipped her drink, “Maddie knows that the offers will flood in, she doesn't want JD to jump at the first project that is pitched to her, Maddie knows she has talent and she thinks they all need time to think about it when the dust has settled a bit."

"Well I have heard of worse ideas," Cassandra nodded.

"In the meantime, she's going to pass into my gentle hands," Missy laughed. "I'm going to set up a couple of celebrity modelling shoots for her, including probably a Vanity Fair cover that we will have shot in London. She'll go back to LA after presenting at the CS awards in Sydney."

"She's going to be a busy girl even while relaxing," Cassie smiled fully aware that JD was part of Juliette's plans, just as she herself was.




Saturday 15th May

1 am

The Elysee Club


As the doors opened, the room turned to look at the four women who walked in.


Pussy was wearing a dark blue dress, held by a single shoulder strap, which hugged her to her knees, while Freida was wearing a black leather bustier dress.  But it was the other two women who caught the most attention.


Sandy’s gown was midnight blue, with a diamante bust line that sparkled under the lights.  The gown was made of velvet, with a tight fitting and then a skirt that flowed like the dark ocean around her as she moved.   Her hair was up in a bun, while her diamond earrings also reflected the light as it shone down.


Heather’s dress was a deep crimson red, again strapless, the fishtail skirt flowing from her knees, and covered in gems that sparkled as she moved.  Her long red opera gloves covered her arms, while her right wrist sported a diamond bracelet.  This was matched by her necklace, the earrings hanging from her lobes.


“We need this after the premiere,” Heather said as she looked round.


“I agree lover – with the kids safely in bed, we need to have fun,” Sandy said as the four women were shown to a table – Sands turning her back as they went past.


“What’s up,” Holly said as she sat down.


"Oh crap," Sands whispered to Holly, "that's Mom and Heather just coming in."


“You want to beat a retreat?”


Sands nodded as they stood up, and then walked to where Fergus was appearing from the men’s room.  “Come along, lover,” Sands purred as they took him by the arms, “time to give you your reward…”


Sands looked at Romanov as they walked out, and smiled.  She had agreed to meet him on Sunday night…


“Champagne,” Pussy said, “we’re celebrating for a friend!”



8 am BST

The Savoy


“That was Ana,” Sarina van der Byl said as she looked at her cell phone, “she’s cleared the tunnel, and should be in London within the hour.  To say she is excited is putting it politely.”


“I can imagine,” her mother said as she looked across the breakfast table.  Dana van der Byl had shoulder length blonde hair, greying at the edges, and was wearing a white blouse and tan pants.  Sarina was wearing a black blouse and pants, both women looking round as the doors opened and a young family walked in.


“OUMA!”  Dana smiled as two girls, wearing t-shirts and shorts, ran other with their arms wide.  Dana hugged them both as she said “did you both sleep well?”


“Yes,” the oldest girl said as she played with her pigtails, “where is Oupa?”


“He’ll be down in a few minutes,” their father said as he and their mother came over.  “Go and sit down, both of you.”


“They’re just excited to be here Anders,” Sarina said with a smile.


“I know – Britt and Evi woke us up this morning,” the oldest of the van der Byl children said as he hugged his mother and sister.  Like his wife, he wore a white polo shirt and jeans.


“Sit down girls,” they heard her say as Sarina and Dana looked over.  “Anders, is there something you need to tell us?”


“No comment – not until this weekend is over,” he said as he saw his father come in.  “Papa – what kept you?”


“Business,” Bram van der Byl said as he took his seat.  His grey hair cut short, he was slightly more formally dressed, in a dark jacket over a light blue shirt, and dark trousers.  “Any word from Ana?”


“She’s on the train and heading this way,” Dana said, “so sit down and have your breakfast.”


“I need to go and help Helga keep the peace,” Anders said as he went to the nearby table.


“So – we’re all gathered in one place,” Bram said as the waiter poured some orange juice, “to celebrate Piet and little Roo’s news.  I wonder why they didn’t fly to Jo’burg – there’s nothing wrong is there?”


“Not according to Charlotte,” Sarina said, “but I’m sure we will find out soon enough…”






As she looked up, the blonde Italian smiled as she said “Claudio?  What are you doing in London?”


“May I take a seat,” the elderly Italian businessman said.


“Of course – please, can I get you some coffee?”


“Thank you,” he said as he sat, and Francesca waved the waiter over.


“I have to say, I am surprised to see you,” Francesca said, “unless this is part of my parents’ plan?”


“It is – I received a letter from their lawyers, telling me they had sent a representative to meet Charlotte.  I’m having a quiet weekend, and hope to contact her this week.”  He accepted the coffee, and then said “but I suspect you are no more surprised to see me than I am to see you.  How are you?”


“I am well, and to answer your next question…”


“I heard you had been given an honourable discharge,” Claudio said as he looked at her.


“I have – and I have had a chance to reassess my life, change a few things.  For example, I have decided to go back to working in the legal profession, as a consultant.”


“So the talent is still there?”


“The talent was always there, Claudio,” Francesca said quietly, “but I lost myself, for far too many years.  Now, at last, I am – growing up?”


“I see,” Claudio said quietly.  “And your daughter?  I understand you are reconciled?”


“How did you…  Ah – the photographs from the Kentucky Derby meeting.  Yes, we have met, and we have begun the slow process of getting to know each other.  So let me set your mind at ease on one thing – I am not going to interfere in her own legacy.  She is her own woman, and soon is to be both married and a mother.   My role is to be the mother now to her.”


Nodding Claudio said “good – then we will only need to meet on social occasions, when I shall be polite.  But for what you did, and the effect it had on your parents…”


“I am painfully aware of that, Claudio,” Francesca said quietly, thinking on the messages she had seen and read, “and if I could change the past, I would.  But I cannot – and now I will watch as Carlotta…  Sorry, as Charlotte becomes all she can be, and marries her boyfriend.  I know you will keep her right on the business side of things.”


Nodding, Claudio finished his coffee and stood up.  “Stay well, Francesca,” he said with a formal bow.


“And you,” she said as he walked away, shaking her head as she looked at the two tables on the far side of the room.


11 am BST

The Savoy Kitchens


"Thanks for helping me Rose," Betty Harris smiled as she checked the oven in the private kitchen.

"Well you know what they say...”  Rose looked over from the prep area and said “two pairs of hands are better then one."

"I just hope the Marchesa approves, my Mother was Neapolitan and I have her recipes for some of this, but it’s been a long while since I prepared them."

"You know she will love them...and I'm willing to bet though that as nervous as you are, she's ten times worse at the thought of meeting Charlotte's prospective in-laws."

“That is true,” Betty said as she read again her plan for the day.  “Right – I have the breads in the oven, and the pasta doughs are chilling.  How are the vegetables coming along?”


“I have the stuffed peppers ready to go into the oven,” Rose said, “and the carne pizzaiola is in the oven.  Time to prep the fish?”


“Time to prep the fish…  Can you clean the clams for the Spaghetti alle vongole, and I’ll prepare the cuttlefish and squid…”



Noon BST


“Ana – how are you?”


“All the better for seeing you big brother,” the redhead said as she kissed Anders.  “So where is the rest of your family?”


“Putting their shopping in the room – they went to Leicester Square this morning, and raided the MnM’s store.  So how was Brussels?”


“Interesting – the main topic of conversation seems to be this referendum, and what the outcome is likely to be.  There’s a feeling they may decide it’s better to be in than out, and Mister Cameron does not believe that is possible.”


“Okay – this is a politics free zone, got it?”


“Yes Sarina,” Ana said as her sister came over, “so where are they?”


“On their way – so we three end to discuss what we are getting them as engagement presents?”


“I hear Mum and Dad have a silver chalice for them, and a christening set.”


“Oh yes – time to pass on the christening robe,” Anders said.


“Did Dad really bring over the champagne?”


“Six bottles of it – so we’re going to have a very leisurely lunch.”


“Which raises a question – where are we having lunch?”


“Right here.”


“There you are,” Anders said as he walked over and lifted Piet off the floor, “and our little Roo.  You look radiant.”


“Thanks – I think,” Piet said as he came over and hugged his sisters.  Unusually for him, he was wearing a grey suit, with an open necked shirt, while Charlotte was wearing a blue sundress with capped sleeves and a white jacket.  “So where’s the girls, Anders?”


“They’ll be down here in a minute – let me look at you,” Ana said.  “I have to say, for someone who is two months on, you look good.”


“Give it time.”


“Hello Dana, Bram,” Charlotte said as she hugged both of them, “thanks for getting everyone over here.”


“It’s not a problem,” Bram said with a smile, “but want to tell us what’s going on?  And why London, not our home?”


“So that Ana could be here,” Piet said as he hugged his sister.




“Let’s have a drink first…”



12.30 pm BST

Francesca’s Suite


Sitting at the dressing table, Francesca looked at herself with a critical eye.  Her makeup was fine, but something was bothering her…


"Is this too much jewellery?" Francesca asked her reflection in the mirror as she turned her head from side to side.  Eventually, she shook her head and tutted. 


"Oh I'm just not sure," she growled as she removed the hanging earrings and replaced them with simple pearl studs.  "Better," she nodded at her reflection, “much better, this is Carlotta’s day, not mine...”


She touched up her eye shadow, and then stared at herself in the mirror.  "Now," she reached for the blue box then put it back down.  It sat on the table, not moving, small, and yet it contained so much fear…

"Courage Francesca," she whispered to herself as she lifted the box up again and looked at the contents. Inside lay two rings, a simple gold wedding band, and a tasteful two carat diamond engagement ring. Even when John had her seated on the plane, and looked at her with such sadness as he left, they had remained on her left hand.  Through the flight, the debriefing, the first stay in hospital, they had stared there.


But then the letter had come, and she had realised in her deepest heart in his eyes, she was no longer his.  So she had taken them off, put them in the box, and there they had remained for all these years.  Why she had taken the box everywhere, she had no idea, but now…


Should she wear them? Was it improper of her to wear them?  She had sworn she would only ever put them back on if James put them on for her, but of course that was impossible. Could she summon the courage to put them on again?


Her mind went back to that last letter, and she said to herself “Papa forgave me, James forgave me – and Carlotta forgave me.  It is time I forgave myself,” she said as she put the wedding band on, and then the engagement ring.  “Time for Francesca Gordon to appear again.”


Standing up, she looked at herself in the mirror.  The grey tweed skirt down to her knees, the palest of yellow silk shirts, flat shoes, her clothes looked expensive but casual...And properly suitable for a widow of her age. At least visually she wouldn't embarrass Carlotta. She looked good for an informal family lunch.


Putting on her watch, she took several deep breaths, and then headed for the door.


1.15 pm BST




“There are my favourite troublemakers,” Charlotte said as she hugged Britt and Evi, “you’re getting to be almost as tall as me now Britt.”


The young girl blushed as Elena, Anders’ wife, came over and hugged her as well.  “How are you feeling,” she said as she looked at her.


“Wishing I could have a drink – but Doctor’s orders, I’m on one glass a day,” she said with a smile.  “Look – now we’re all here, I wanted to thank you for coming over for the weekend.”


“It’s our pleasure, but what’s really going on?  You’re not expecting twins are you,” Ana said as she held her glass.


“I don’t think so,” Charlotte said with a smile, “but I’ve had a – very interesting last couple of weeks, and both Piet and I wanted to get you all together so that you got the news first.”


Bram and Dana looked at each other before he said “Charlotte, is there something wrong?”


“No, it’s nothing like that,” Charlotte said with a laugh, “let me put it this way – I have to confess I have told you a small lie all these years.  My mother did not die giving birth to me.”


“She didn’t?”  Bram looked at Piet who was smiling, as she said “you’d better tell them everything now Roo.”


“It might be easier if you come with me – we’ve got a private dining room booked here, and we can explain everything in there.  Follow me please.”  She picked up her glass, Piet motioning as they followed her to the restaurant, and then to a set of doors were a waiter opened the door.  As they went in, they saw a table laid for all of them – and a tall, blonde haired woman standing there in a blouse and skirt.


“Welcome,” she said as they came in, “Charlotte, would you do the introductions?”


“Of course…  Bram, Dana, I’d like you to meet my mother, Francesca, Marchesa di Cambrello.  Mother, this is Bram and Dana van der Byl.”


Piet smiled as his parents stood dumbfounded, and Ana whispered into his ear “THE Marchesa di Cambrello?”  He nodded as Francesca came forward and took Dana’s hands, before saying “it is a real pleasure to meet both of you.”


“And you,” Dana eventually said, “you are Francesca’s mother?  But that would mean…”


“Yes,” Charlotte said quietly, “it does.  Mother, this is the rest of Piet’s family.  Anders, his wife Elena, and their girls Britt and Evi…  His older sister Sarina… and the baby of the family Ana.”


“It is a real pleasure to meet all of you,” Francesca said with a smile.  “I hope you will forgive me for taking the liberty, but I have arranged lunch for today, a taste of Naples…”


“Well, it is a real pleasure to meet you,” Bram said as he kissed Francesca on the cheeks.  “If I may ask…”


“I will explain later,” Francesca said, “but for now, let us say I had to stay away, and then a few weeks ago we re-discovered each other.”


“Piet,” Sarina said, “if that is the Marchesa di Cambrello, she looks nothing like the pictures in the magazines.”


“Believe me, she is not what you would expect,” Piet said as Francesca greeted each of them, and then said “won’t you take a seat please?”


"Look at my Mother’s left hand,” Charlotte whispered in Piet's ear.

"Alright, what am I supposed to be seeing," he replied after a few seconds staring.

"She's wearing her engagement and wedding rings...I've never seen them on her before."

"Goeie Here," Piet mumbled in surprise, "she damn well is."


“So what shall we be eating,” Evi said as they sat down.


“Well, where I come from is very much about seafood, vegetables and pasta – but I have arranged for some meatballs to be prepared as well, and there is plenty of apple juice as well.”


“Thank you,” Elena said, “and for the adults?”


“Well for lunch I thought we'd serve some of your Premium Sauvignon Blanc from the Constantia Valley at the Cape, and A Classico Chianti from one of our vineyards in Tuscany."

"That should make interesting drinking?" Sarina smiled. 


“I thought the contrast would interest you…  We will share from the dishes as they ae brought out.”


“Piet,” Bram said as he looked at his son, “this is one of the wealthiest women in Europe – and Charlotte is her daughter?”


“Yeah – there’s a few things we need to tell you about,” Piet said as he passed round the bread, “but let’s eat first…”


“So, if it is not being rude,” Dana asked after a while, “why?”


“Why did I not keep in touch?  I have to tell you - and this may not please you - the reason I was parted from both Charlotte and James was that I was a NATO spy running agents inside your government. Charlotte's Uncle John caught me paying one of my agents and your government expelled me." Francesca paused, "I make no apologies for having done the job I was tasked with, but I do hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me for spying on your country, and I just hope this won't affect Charlotte and Piet by causing hostility."


“You were a spy?  My god,” Anders said, “and you were expelled?”


“Unable to return – and I hurt James beyond breaking point,” Francesca said quietly.  “I was unable to see my daughter grow up, and – well, it broke me as well.  I became a different person, to try to bury the hurt.”


“But I don’t understand,” Ana said, “you’ve been a fixture of European gossip columns for years – the Playgirl Admiral.  Why have you never…”


“I could never legally return to South Africa,” Francesca said as she watched the young girls take a drink.  “James hid my letters, my cards, everything I sent…  I knew how angry he was, but…”


"I had to go and clear Dad’s office out in Monaco – and we bumped into each other there, and I learned the truth.  All the cards and letters from my mother were there…  And we found a letter from dad, basically apologising, and asking forgiveness from my Mother," Charlotte paused.  "It was written the day before he flew to Mazengwe that last time."

"I’ve seen it," Piet said as he stifled some emotion, "it's a very brave letter written by an exceptional man who we all miss so badly...but written to an exceptional lady. I haven't known Francesca long, and having read and heard all the gossip I had certain preconceived notions, but the reality is that she is nothing like her public image, she loves and cares for her daughter, as she always loved and cared for her husband, even after James asked for a divorce."


Bram and Dana looked at each other, before Bram stood up.  “What happened in the past is in the past,” he said quietly, “and there is nothing to forgive.  I hope we get to know each other very well, Francesca.”


As they hugged, Piet whispered “you’re been very quiet” to Sarina.


“I just placed the name – di Cambrello own some of the finest vineyards in Sicily and around Naples, but more than that…”


“But all those years, being the – well the airhead,” Ana said quietly.


"Given my choice James would have followed me to Italy with Carlotta," Francesca choked back a tear. "He was unable to do so though. I had hurt his personal pride, and his patriotic pride in South Africa. For a short while I held out hope that when his temper cooled...”  Wiping a tear, she smiled and said “well you know that took 20 years, and by that time I thought I'd lost my daughter as well as my husband...The short time since I was reunited with Charlotte have been the happiest I've known since I was parted from James."


“Then I am glad you are reunited – although if you are a di Cambrello as well,” Bram said, “then…”


“Ah – excellent,” Francesca said as the door opened, and Betty wheeled in the main courses, followed by Rose.  “The main courses.  If you will serve for us, Betty?”


“That smells amazing,” Elena said, “would you like to try some girls?”


"I think you will maybe enjoy this, most children do," Betty smiled as she served the pasta to the youngsters.

"Betty is going to keep house for me once the flat I'm leasing is renovated," Francesca looked at her with pride. "Rose is her friend, and the mother of one of Charlotte's friends."


“So you will be making your home in London now,” Anders said.


“Mainly – although I will still travel a lot.  For now, however, my focus is being with Charlotte for as long as she wants me to be.”


“So are you a rich lady,” Evi asked.


“Well, yes – I am,” Francesca said, “but let me tell you a secret.  Money does not make you happy, little one – always remember that.”


"James worked for me...he raised Roo in the house next door," Bram looked slightly uncomfortable, 'he never mentioned you...I'm sorry for that."

"The strange thing was,” Charlotte said, “He kept a picture of Mother on his desk, I'm never sure if that was to remember her...or to stoke his hate."

"I talked to Marianne about you a couple of times," Dana looked perplexed, "but she always talked as though James's wife was dead. She always referred to you just as Francesca, she never said that he had married a Marchesa, let alone such a famous one.”

"More an infamous one," Francesca smiled.  “But no – she and John did that because James asked them to, and to protect Charlotte as I now know.  Only one other person knew the full truth – Fergus McLean.”


“Fergus?  I read the interview he gave when he fled Zimbabwe – they really tried to kill him?”


“Apparently – but he was smuggled out, and he’s splitting his time between New York and Munich now.”


“Which brings me to my next piece of news,” Charlotte said, “John has agreed to give me away at our wedding.”


“That’s wonderful,” Dana said, “I hope you will be coming as well Francesca.”  She then stopped and said “Although…”


“That’s the next thing,” Piet said as he wiped his chin.  “We don’t know where we are getting married yet, folks, but it can’t be South Africa.  Sorry, Mum.”


“Well, we’ll just have to work it out,” Dana said with a smile.  “So if you’ve left the Navy now, Francesca, what will you be doing for a living?”


“Mainly – thank you Betty – practising International Law.”


“You’re a lawyer,” Ana said as the girls asked for more.


"Yes - it surprises a lot of people that I'm a qualified advocate."

"Well the playgirl..."

"Is a thing of the past Bram," Francesca smiled, "Sigrid von Mannschen has been good enough to take me on as a partner in her legal consultancy. I've found a rather nice Cape Town girl to act as my assistant...'

"And a whirling dervish to manage her office," Charlotte broke in with a smile on her lips.


"As Carlotta says a very active PA to do all the real work," Francesca laughed softly.  “I’ve also accepted a directorship with Xavier International, as their Legal Officer.”


“So you are going to be kept busy,” Anders said with a smile.


“So little brother, any other surprises,” Sarina asked as she sipped her wine.


“Go on – tell them,” Piet said with a smile.


“Well, my grandparents apparently left a trust fund set up in my name, as well as one or two other little gifts.  I had a visit last week in New York from their lawyer – he came bearing gifts, letters and messages.”


“From the grave,” Francesca said with a smile.


"The biggest surprise was a DVD from her grandparents, saying that their wedding present to us was a castle in the Apennines overlooking Lake Trevali." Piet said completely deadpan.

"A what?" his father all but choked himself.

"A castle of our own," Charlotte laughed.

"Yes Dad a real life honest to goodness restored Renaissance castle." Piet was enjoying the shock on his father’s usually unreadable face.

"It is in the sovereign Marquisate of Sentua that my family once ruled." Francesca nodded. "We still own a lot of property there...If any of your family ever want an Italian vacation just ask and I'll make a villa available."

"And she means that," Charlotte laughed happily again.


“You own a castle?  NEAT,” Britt said with a smile.


“I know,” Charlotte said with a smile, “and that’s just the beginning.”


“So you’re not just marrying Piet for the money,” Sarina joked.


“I never was, Sarina – and now with the aby on the way, I guess I am financially secure.”


"By the way,” Francesca said as she wiped her chin, “Piet told me how often he forced you to take him to the Etruscan exhibition that I organised as part of my cover."

"Oh YOU were responsible?" Sarina burst into a grin, "you know every-time he went I HAD to go and look after him."

"Your penalty for being my big sister," Piet laughed at his sibling.

"Well I apologise for that Sarina...I take it museums weren't your thing?"

"No I'd far rather accompany Dad to look at the mines...and the beach concessions in Namibia...and..."

"Anything so she could get out of school," Piet laughed broadly as his sister stuck her tongue out at him.


“I turned out all right didn’t I?”


“Yes you did,” Dana said, “and stop teasing your sister Piet.”







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