Thursday 2nd October
Miss Tennant was walking back to her office when she saw Sandy Richmond walk in with Abigail de Ros and Joanne Smith.
“Ah,” she said as she stood waiting for them, “I trust you have an outstandingly good reason for missing classes this morning?”
“Actually, I am afraid I am the one at fault Miss Tennant,” Joanne said as she crossed her hands on front of her. “Abigail stayed at my house last night, and we were up until the small hours discussing schools for me for next year. I’m afraid we lost track of time, and my sister interrupted us at five this morning. She insisted we both got a few hours sleep before coming in, and she would call the school. I guess she got waylaid and forgot to do so.”
“I came to confirm that,” Sandy said with a smile. “Heather had forgotten she had been invited for coffee with some of the other mothers, and asked me to contact the school. I am as much at fault here as these two.”
“I see,” Miss Tennant said as she raised her eyebrow, “and what school has taken your attention so much?”
“William Smith, Miss Tennant.”
“Hmmm – an interesting choice, but I feel you may find the atmosphere there to your liking. Very well – proceed to your classes, but report to my office at the end of today for extra assessments.”
“Yes, Miss Tennant,” Jo and Abby said as they walked off. As they went through one set of doors, Annie walked in with her bag.
“My apologies for the disruption Miss Tennant,” she said, “my landlord decided today would be a good day to tell me my rent was going up, so I had to discuss matters with my attorney. I’ll clear things with my colleague over lunch.”
As Miss Tennant walked off, Sandy said “By the way, Annie, Heather told me you were in the market for a new apartment.”
“Well I am now – there really was a letter when I got home. Why – can you help out?”
“I think so – so long as you don’t mind the Village. Why don’t you and Dom come round after your workout tonight?”
FBI Field Office
“Well, it turns out you were right Janice,” Tom Callaghan said as he sat at his desk. “Someone did try to assassinate Sir Winston Twining on his way to the UN today – his life was saved by two things. One was the skill and bravery of his driver, who ignored the bullets flying round and drove him through the ambush, straight to the plaza.”
“Very commendable,” Adam said as he looked at Tom, “but what was the other thing?”
“Officially, that a gangland shooting broke out at the same time.”
“Where did this happen,” Janice asked.
“East 52nd, between 2nd and 1st.”
“A gangland shooting? There?”
“I didn’t say which gangs,” Tom grinned as the door opened and Brooks came in. “Morning agents,” he said as he looked at Adam and Janice, “you did well today. I’m presuming your tip off came from your associates, Agent Carter?”
“I cannot confirm or deny such a statement,” Janice said with a smile.
“Well, if I told you the assassination attempt was stopped by several armed and masked women, who seemed to be escorting Twining in his car, and killed all the attackers before they disappeared – one of them shooting the engine of a moving car and causing it to explode?”
“That would suggest remarkable skill,” Janice said with a smile.
“Well, thank them for us,” Brooks said. “Anything out of the surviving attacker at the Twining house?”
“Nothing – but we know the two have to be linked, and it confirms someone is after those implicated most in this affair. What can you tell us about Kimba’s position, Brooks?”
“He is officially persona non grata – but we still have the problem that, unless he does something stupid or leaves the apartment, we cannot touch him.”
“So where are we,” Adam said, “of the main conspirators, Chen and Rice are missing; Cohen is helping us, no chance on Kimba – that leaves Twining.”
“And I think we can get him to co-operate – he’s safe at the UN for now. Carter, Ball, meet me at the UN plaza in two hours. I want you to help me with Sir Winston - but I need to make some calls first.”
“Go,” Tom said as Adam and Janice left his office, and walked slowly to their desks. As they approached them, Adam suddenly said “Want to get some lunch Janice?”
“Lunch,” Janice said as she stretched, “what is on Murder Row today?”
“Not here – let’s go somewhere before we go down to the UN. I… I need to talk to you about last night.”
“Oh.” Janice stood with her hands on her desk, and then picked her jacket up.
“Come on – I know a place,” she said as they walked out.
The Waldorf Hotel
“So Twining is safe in the plaza,” Madame said as she sat with Dominique.
“Correct – Clint talked to me, and he is cooperating fully with the authorities.”
“Excellent – and Susan?”
“I believe she is finished now, but she is a little – tender.”
Madame grinned as there was a gentle knock on the door. “Come,” she called out, but she was surprised to see Ama and Maisha come in.
“Please, forgive the interruption,” Ama said quietly, “but we were wondering if we may talk with you both?”
“Of course you may,” Madame said, “how may we help you?”
“We have seen on the television that many of our sisters have been rescued, and Maisha and I wish to thank you for that.”
“No thanks are necessary,” Dominique said, “and we hope and pray many more of your sisters will be free soon as well. My one regret is they will not be able to meet you, although we have sent word that you helped them.”
“I understand,” Ama said quietly. “Maisha wishes to speak to you on another matter, but she wishes help, if that is possible?”
“Dominique, would you call Charlotte and ask her to come here please,” Madame said. Dominique nodded and went to the phone, before Charlotte appeared in response to the call.
“You asked to see me, Madame?”
“I did, Charlotte – Maisha wishes to say something to me, and I feel she may express it better in her language.”
Charlotte nodded and then said to Maisha in her native tongue “I will translate for you.”
Nodding, Maisha said “when you freed me, I swore a vow of loyalty to you, and I see you have freed many of my sisters from their bondage.”
Madame nodded to show she appreciated the comment, before Maisha said “I also swore a blood vow to avenge those who came before me on the man responsible. I have to ask, will you be seeking vengeance on Kimba?”
Charlotte translated for Dominique and Madame, both of them listening as she said the words. Dominique then said “Charlotte, tell her I understand she has done this, and the depth of her passion to see justice done. Ask her what else she wishes for.”
Charlotte watched as Maisha stood before saying “I want to be there when you kill Kimba – I want me to be the last thing he sees before he goes to the place prepared for him.”
“My child,” Madame said, “Are you asking to be the one who deals with him? What you ask comes with a terrible price.”
“I understand,” Maisha said as Charlotte translated, “but in my people, a blood vow must be fulfilled with blood. Has there not already been blood spilled? To avenge my sisters, and my brothers, I must be the one.”
Dominique looked at the girl, before saying “If you are decided on this act, then we must offer you sanctuary, a place to learn, and a place to consider what else you may need to do.”
“I have already sworn fealty to you all – where else would I go?”
Dominique and Madame looked at each other, before Madame said “very well – we are formulating plans, and you will be included in them. I will ask Dominique to talk with you further – but be aware of the path you are asking to take.”
“I am – and I thank you,” Maisha said before she bowed and left the room.
“A strong willed young lady,” Dominique said, “have you given any further consideration to my request?”
“I have,” Madame said as she sat back, “and I think you are right. Her best hope for the future is with us. She will need private tuition to learn English – my French and yours may up to talking to her, but she will need a normal life as well.
“Charlotte – ask Penelope to contact John Jacobs for me, tell him I wish to consult when I return.”
The Peninsula Hotel
“My goodness,” Guy said as Natasha finished the news of the attack that morning, “it sounds like the sort of thing that used to happen in Marseilles or other towns, not in a city such as this. How is the poor man?”
“We have not seen him – he has been kept with Security since he arrived. Anyway – enough of this,” Natasha said as she looked at Guillaume, “what news do you have for me?”
“Well,” her fiancé said as he wiped his chin, “in simple terms, I have been appointed US director for the brokerage. I start in November. So, I was hoping, if it is all right with you, that I could share with you until such time as we have the ceremony.”
“Of course I do not object,” Natasha said, “and what has Mama said of the ceremony?”
“Well, how would you feel about a January wedding?”
“I would be proud to wear white in white,” Natasha said as she kissed Guillaume.
“Actually,” Guy said as he looked at Diana, “I have some news of my own as well. I have come to an – agreement with a lady of my years and standing to see each other a little more regularly.”
Diana paused with her wine glass to her mouth and looked to her brother. “Did you know of this,” she said quietly.
“I did,” Guillaume said, “and I have to say, she is more than a match to our father. I think they are very well paired.”
“Oh – may I know the name of this paragon amongst women,” Diana said as she looked at her father.
“Her name,” he said as he sipped his wine, “is Valeria.”
“How unusual,” Natasha said with a smile, “that she should have my mother’s name.”
“Isn’t it just, my dear,” Guillaume said with a smile, and Natasha put her glass down as she looked at him.
“Oh no… No no no. Pas ma mère?”
Diana looked at her father, as he smiled and nodded, and then burst out laughing. “Please, papa, tell me it is a deep friendship and nothing more?”
“At my age, Diana, never say never – but it is a friendship. For now. I trust you do not object?”
“Papa, I am just glad you are happy – brave, but happy,” Diana said.
“Well we can discuss details further at the races on Sunday if you can make arrangements to come home for a couple of days Natasha?”
“I think I’d better.” Natasha smiled, “But don’t tell me you’ve got my Mother to break the habit of a lifetime and come to Longchamp?”
“Who says miracles don’t happen in this modern world?” Natasha turned and smiled at Diana.
“So what is this costing you father?” Diana asked.
“I’ve had to agree to accompany Valeria to a vintners' conference the weekend after.”
“They can be deadly dull affairs.” Natasha warned.
“I know.” Guy shook his head, “But on a more agreeable topic can I ask you both to work on guest lists for the engagement party and wedding, we do not have a lot of time.”
“Well I think we had both better see Father Richmond before we all fly to Paris.”
“I agree,” Diana smiled “get Alex involved, and ask him to ask his sister, no one organizes better functions then Sandy’s mother.”
“That is true." reflected Guy.
“Good suggestion darling sister.”
“So we need to go and buy outfits for the races as well Natasha.”
“Oh yes, how about tomorrow, we both take a long lunch, maybe invite Juliette?”
“I can ask her. Now what do you see yourself in Darling?”
“Papa I think we just became superfluous.”
“I know dear boy.” Guy’s eyes twinkled. “Fancy a drink?”
The Waldorf Hotel
“Well Penny? Glad you did that little course out at Diana’s farm?” Charlotte asked as she brought some files in.
“Yes.” Penelope nodded. “We really do need our own similar facility for training purposes back home. I’m putting the recommendation in the report I’m writing for Madame.”
“The other girls in the office won’t like it,” Charlotte said, “but I think today we proved its value.”
“I agree.” Penny nodded. “So looking forward to getting home soon?”
“A bit,” Charlotte smiled, “although I think I’ll miss Dominique’s tender encouragement. I might need a week’s private leave though before I start instituting the changes in our security and IT practices.”
“You want to go see a certain journalist?” Penny smiled as she looked at the young redhead.
“Ja, I think I owe Piet a visit and explanation, I also want to look at some schools that we might be able to find places for some of the girls at.”
“Yes,” Penny said, “I think one or two of the better South African girls schools would be a good first destination in rebuilding these girls’ lives.”
“We really need to assess their needs individually, be it schooling, psychological help, whatever.”
“Well the cash we liberated will pay for a lot of care.” Penny smiled.
“Hey there,” Heather said as she looked in, “Shirley asked me to pop round?”
“Yes, she did,” Penny said as she stood up, “come with me please.”
“How’s Susan,” Heather said as they walked down the corridor.
“Sore, but she will cope, especially with Clint nursing her,” Penny said as she opened the door to the main room.
“Heather come in please.” Madame stood up and welcomed her visitor.
“Hello Madame.” Heather smiled.
“Please sit dear.” Madame gestured, “You did your usual marvelous job this morning.”
“Thank you, but it was the girls who did the hard work.”
“Yes but you made sure they could do it in privacy Heather.”
“Well I tried.”
“Anyway I wanted to thank you personally.”
“There was another matter I wished to raise with you.”
“The events of the recent past have made me realize how much I enjoy New York and my friends here.”
“Well we have been glad to have you here,” Heather said with genuine feeling.
“Thank you.” Madame smiled. “I’m thinking of buying myself an apartment here in the city, and from what I gather you are the first point of contact on real estate.”
“Dominique has I’m sure over exaggerated.”
“Well I was going to ask for your advice.”
“Are you looking to rent or buy Madame?”
“I can rent hotel suites Heather, I really want a place of my own.”
“Well,” Heather said, “the Richmond Trust doesn’t sell property, but I do know a mother of one of the girls who uses our home as a clubhouse is a high end real estate broker. I’m sure she’d be happy to help.”
“That sounds ideal, I do rather prefer dealing with people who have been recommended rather than strangers.”
“Okay well I’ll ask her to call you.” Heather took out her phone and scrolled down the contacts. “Here we are – Elaine Colman. I’m having coffee with her tomorrow, so I’ll pass on the contact details.”
“Excellent,” Madame said, “thank you…”
“We’re home.” Carina called out as she carried Judith in her car seat into her and Judy’s dorm room.
“Welcome home… Ouch that looks painful.” Judy looked concerned at the bruise on the side of Cari’s face.
“It is.” Carina wasn’t going to explain that she’d got the bruise when her face had hit the pavement as she dived for cover during the shootout. She had called to say a tooth had come loose, and she needed to see a dentist about it – an excuse which was at least plausible.
“Ouch!” David said as she came from out of Judy’s bedroom. “You need to change bloody dentists Carina, he’s made a mess of your face.”
“I know, but at least the extraction worked.”
“Were you in pain with it last night?” David asked.
“A bit, but I put a brave face on it,” Cari said as she took Judith out of her seat.
“Well that probably didn’t help you fully enjoy the party.”
“Not really… So David did your folks get away okay?”
David checked his watch, “Yeah they should be somewhere over the Atlantic right now.”
“Good – so what did I miss?”
“Don’t worry – we’ll bring you up to speed with Harry tonight.”
“Don’t worry – it’s a faculty event that Harry and I were invited to. Strictly friends, all right?”
“All right – but baby comes too.”
“Of course,” Judy said as she tickled her goddaughter’s chin, “We’ll make a fivesome, won’t we little one?”
As Adam and Janice cleared security, flashing their badges at the guards, they were met by Rupert Brooks in the main lobby.
“So,” he said as they walked along, “I have been talking with my counterparts in London since this morning, and I have a message for Twining from them. I think we can make him the proverbial offer we cannot refuse – but I must ask you to allow me to take the lead, Janice. You will know when you can, to use the vernacular, cut loose.”
“Got it - international issue, so CIA take lead.”
“On this – at least for the sake of appearance,” Brooks said as he stopped at a door. “Ready?”
“Oh yes,” Adam said quietly as the door opened and the three of them walked in. Sir Winston was sitting at the table in the meeting room, alongside a tall blonde haired gentleman in an expensive suit.
“Sir Winston? I am Rupert Brooks from the Central Intelligence Agency, my colleagues Adam Ball and Janice Carter from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
“Giles Farnham, attaché from the British Embassy,” the blonde haired man said, “I have been asked to attend as the representative of Her Majesty’s Government for this interview.”
“Of course – may we begin,” Brooks said as he sat down. “Firstly, Sir Winston, the mayor has asked me to pass on his deep concern at the attempt on your life today. It pains him that such a thing could happen on the streets of his city, and hopes you have not been too badly hurt.”
“Thank you,” Sir Winston replied. “I must commend the driver – he showed undue presence of mind and courage.”
“I will pass your thanks on,” Brooks said. “I presume you have been informed of the other incident this morning at your home.”
“I have – I had hoped to speak to my wife, but I am told she is still in shock, and under sedation. Regretfully, I have been unable to leave here to be by her side.”
“We hope to take you to see her later, Sir Winston, but I was hoping we could have a short discussion first about something that we have discovered. I should say, before I forget, that Agents Ball and Carter were the agents who discovered and prevented the situation getting worse.”
Twining looked carefully at the two agents, as Farnham said “thank you, agents, on behalf of Sir Winston.”
“I wanted to ask you, Sir Winston, about your domestic staff. They were also threatened during the raid – I would have thought you would be concerned about them as well.”
“My maids? Well, of course I am concerned for their well being, but I am sure they will make a full recovery.”
“I am sure they will,” Brooks said with a smile. “The strange thing is, we were unable to find any records of their employment in your home. Perhaps you keep them here for safe keeping.”
Twining looked at Farnham, before he said “I keep them in a safety deposit box at my bank – I can provide them, given enough time.”
“I see – and do you have the papers of guardianship as well.”
“Agent Brooks,” Farnham said, “is there a reason why you are asking these questions?”
“Well, it’s troubling,” Brooks said as he sat back, “that when the two maids were examined by the doctors at the hospital, they determined one was fourteen, and the other barely eleven.”
Twining sat in silence, staring at the three agents as Farnham looked at him. “I presume you have the evidence to back up such a statement, Mister Brooks?”
Brooks opened the suitcase he was carrying and took out some files. “Copies of the examination notes,” he said as he passed them to Farnham. The attaché looked over the notes, and then at Twining.
“You will, of course, be aware of the recent reports in the New York Times of a high class slavery ring, bringing girls in from Africa to work as domestics and – well, let’s just say a lot of arrests were made today, and more to come. So when we find two African girls working in your home, we have to ask some questions.”
“I need to consult with my superiors,” Farnham said as he stood up, “say nothing until I return.”
“Take your time,” Brooks said as Farnham left the room. As the door closed, he said “Agent Carter?”
“Let me put it simply, Sir Winston,” Janice said as she leaned forward with a smile. “I have seen the film mentioned in the newspaper reports, and I can state with absolute certainty that you play a very important part in the proceedings, even acting as auctioneer for the second phase. We have testimony from Oliver Cohen of his part in the conspiracy, and he implicates you. Finally, your wife has already confessed her part. I understand you are going to be named within the next forty eight hours, alongside Cohen, Madame Chen and Dominic Rice – oh, and former Vice President Kimba of Mazengwe.”
“Bottom line is this,” Adam said as he joined in, “we have you, as they say, bang to rights, and the only reason we have not arrested you is your diplomatic immunity.”
“Which,” Brooks said,”Farnham is about to discover has been revoked. So, Sir Winston, you have one of two ways out of this. The first is we kick you out, in disgrace, and when you get home your government, and your understanding press, deal with you.”
“And the second option,” Carter said, “is you cooperate fully with us, and you appoint Farnham or another attorney to represent you and try to cut a deal. Either way, your career is at an end – the question is, how do you wish to play this?”
Twining looked at all three of them as Farnham came in. “I require a moment alone with Sir Winston,” Farnham said, “could you wait outside please?”
“Of course,” Brooks said as all three agents stood up, “my colleagues have to return to their office, but I will wait to talk to you again.”
As they walked out, they saw Sir Winston bury his head in his hands, as Farnham stood over him. “What do you reckon,” Adam said as he looked at Brooks.
“I think he will want to cut a deal – the UK don’t want this coming out, and if he cooperates, he might get to retire to his country home. Either way, we got him – and you played a major part in that.”
“Thank you,” Janice said as she and Ball shook the hand of brooks, and then walked down the corridor.
“So,” Adam said, “what now?”
“I’ll call the office and report to Tom.”
“I meant us, Janice. I know we talked over lunch, but…”
“One step at a time, Adam,” Janice said. “But if you wanted to treat me to a night at the movies some time, I wouldn’t say no…”
Jan’s cell phone went off and she looked at the text message.
Carter, don't let Adam near the driver. It was Clint, The explanations might
get messy, better just you interview him… The Hand." The message stared
out from Janice's phone.
you for that little bombshell Heather." Janice cursed her friend inwardly
as she turned to her partner.
Adam you stay with Twining, I'll go get a statement from the driver."
it's just routine."
but call me if you need to?"
"Okay," Janice turned to the security guard, "Can you take me to the driver please?"
“This way,” the guard said as he took Janice along the corridor and up to the second floor. He then knocked on a door and looked in, saying “Clint? FBI want a word.”
“Show them in,” she heard a voice with a Californian accent say, and as she walked in she saw Clint looking out of the window.
“Janice Carter, FBI,” Janice said as she showed Clint the badge. “I just wanted to talk to you about what happened today.”
“Thanks,” Jan said, “so why don’t you tell me what happened?”
The Waldorf Hotel
“Any word on who the dead guys were this morning?” Dominique asked Susan.
“I’m hearing mercenaries from my sources.”
“Probably hired for this job specifically.” Dominique started thinking out loud. “The Viscount probably had no contact, he’d have used an intermediary to hire them… Any ideas as to who Susan?”
“Well I’m not good enough to get at his phone records, but I bet Heather could find out.”
“Contact her please Susan.”
“Well I’ve just had a surprising phone call.’ Madame was almost purring as she emerged from the sitting room. “Stonemark has invited me out to dinner tonight.”
“Surely you aren’t going to accept Madame?” Dom asked before Susan could.
“Why not? He’s invited me to a rather nice restaurant I’ve been keen to try, and while I’m out you girls can ransack his place for information we can use.”
“I better add that she should come over tonight to my message to Heather.” Susan looked down at her computer.
“I’d feel happier if you had backup Madame.” Dominique looked thoughtful. “Maybe Charlotte and Annie could also make a reservation?”
“Whatever you think necessary Dominique, but I assure you I can more than handle Stonemark on my own.”
The de Ros Mansion
“Oh wow – a wedding in January,” Abby said as she hugged her aunt and uncle. “I love France in the frosty mornings.”
“Well, we have time to plan and prepare,” Natasha said as Guy was at the drinks cabinet. “Why don’t you go and get changed for dinner?
“Of course,” Abby said as he ran up the stairs.
"Have you dared tell Abby she's presenting the trophy for Le prix de la flèche?" Guy asked as he brought over glasses of wine for his daughter and future daughter-in-law.
"No." Diana grimaced, "I was hoping that I could delay telling her until half an hour before the race - you know how nervous she gets speaking.'
"Well with any luck it will be my 'New York Baby' who wins,” Guy said, “maybe presenting the trophy to me won't overwhelm her."
"We can hope Papa."
"So is she worth betting on?" Natasha asked.
"She has a very good chance, or so my trainer tells me."
"I'll need a few dollars to wager then." Natasha smiled.
"So will I." Diana smiled.
“So have you managed to get the time off, my dear,” Guy asked Natasha.
“I have the weekend off, but I must return on the same flight as Diana and Abigail. At least we can share the misery together.”
“Very funny,” Diana said. “I suggest not sleeping Sunday night, and sleeping on the plane over.”
“Sound advice,” Guy said, “so let us drink to an exciting weekend.”
The Richmond Mansion
“I’ll get it,” Jo said as she went to the door. As she opened it, she said “Hey you two, come away in.”
“Thanks,” Annie said as she and Dominique came in, wearing track suits. “I feel distinctly underdressed here.”
“Dominique, Annie,” Sandy said as she appeared in the doorway, “come through here, will you?”
“Thanks, Sandy,” the two women said as they walked in and sat at the coffee table.
“Right,” Sandy said, “let’s see – apartment for two professional woman, and a young girl, with room to relax, have I got it right?”
“Fairly much so – and not too far out of our price range.”
“Ladies, with you two, I could afford to charge the full rate,” Sandy said with a smile. “I do, however, have something – but as I said to you this morning, Annie, it’s in the Village.”
“Let’s not worry about the location,” Dominique said.
“Annie might – it’s a block away from Greenwich Flowers, the Broadhurst’s shop.”
“Not a problem to me,” Annie said, “what have you got?”
“A four bedroomed studio apartment – large open central space, kitchen, and bathroom, fully wired and modernized,” Sandy said as she placed a file on the coffee table. She watched as the two women looked over the pictures and details.
“I’m impressed,” Dominique said, “and the rent you are proposing is certainly within my pocket, but with two sharing even better.”
“Actually,” Sandy said, “Juliette has a counter offer. The rent still comes from you, but it is refunded from the special account – Ama is, after all, one of the girls the fund is designed to help support.”
“Well, in that case,” Dominique said, “I would be in a position to pay the fees we discussed, Annie.”
“Ama will be starting at St Angela’s in the New Year,” Annie said, “once we get the paperwork in place to help process the application.”
“One other thing,” Sandy said, “it is not listed in the official description, but there is loft access, for storage if required.”
“Very useful,” Dominique said as she looked at Annie. “So, do you think we can make a success of this?”
“We can but try,” Annie said with a smile.
“Good – I’ll get the contracts drawn up for your attorneys to review. Now, care for a drink?”
“We have to pass,” Dominique said as Heather came in. “Ready?”
“Let’s do this,” Heather said. “I won’t be late Sandy.”
“You’d better drop me at my place – I’m meeting Charlotte in an hour,” Annie said as they walked out.
E 65th Street
“Thank you,” Shirley said as she looked at the waiter, while he placed the black sea bass in front of her. She had already enjoyed the fricassee of wild mushrooms, while Stonemark had eaten the duck terrine.
He smiled as the duo of beef was placed in front of him, and then thanked the waiter as he recharged the wine glasses.
“So, Shirley,” he said as he looked across the table, “how goes your business in this fair city?”
“Oh I cannot complain,” Shirley replied as she sipped her wine. She was wearing a classic grey trouser suit over a white blouse, with her hair down to her shoulders. “I had some good news today, and I think within a week or so I will be in a position to return home. What of you, your lordship?”
“Please, Shirley, call me Gerald – we must not stand on formality all the time.”
“Very well – Gerald,” Shirley said with a smile, “I trust your business is progressing smoothly?”
“Well, if I am being honest, I had a small setback today,” Stonemark said with a smile, “but I am sure it will all be smoothed over soon.”
“I am sorry to hear that, Gerald,” Shirley said, “but I have the feeling you will succeed.”
From a table a short way away, Charlotte and Annie were watching the couple.
“I hope Susan and Penny don’t hit the roof when they see this on my card account,” Charlotte said, “the menu is delicious, but the cost?”
“Sit back and enjoy it,” Annie said as she tasted the tuna, “this is the sort of place I will only get to once or twice in my life. What do you think they are talking about?”
“Who knows, just be alert in case we need to make a move,” Susan said as the plates were cleared.
"I tried to look up your companies online
Shirley,” Gerald said, “but there isn't a lot beyond the barest details."
"Well we are a limited partnership, not a
publicly traded company,” Shirley said quietly, “we aren't required to make
"How do you grow things then?"
Madame looked at the Englishman, leaned over and whispered, "don't worry Gerald - I can raise anything I need, just when I need it, to the required amount."
"That makes you a very, very lucky woman Shirley. I've been forced to rely on people I don't know an awful lot."
"Well doing business my way, I don't have to
climb into bed with anyone that I do not want to." Shirley batted her
eyelashes and smiled in the candlelight, "Anyone who comes in with me, I
always warn they are in for the long grind, and they can expect plenty of ups
"Yes,” Gerald replied with a smile, “no one likes a partner who pulls out prematurely."
"Indeed - they can lose so much satisfaction that way." Madame breathed in Stonemark's ear before retreating and smiling again, sipping her drink as she fingered the stem of her glass.
"Have you ever,” Gerald said with a smile, “considered
coupling with another company?"
"No I could never do that - I like having the
controlling hand." Shirley again looked through her long eyelashes.
"I like being in charge and I'm afraid my worst vice is that I always
insist on proving that to others."
"So what would be your terms to a potential
Shirley smiled as she said in her deep voice "I'd handcuff them so tightly with contracts that they'd soon realise which partner has the whip hand."
"It sounds like a man would be a fool to go in with you then Shirley?"
"Not at all,” she smiled, “he'd just need to realize I will always be the dominant partner.”
Gerald smiled as he took his cell phone out and looked at the screen.
“I do hope it is nothing to distract you from me,” Shirley said with a smile.
“No,” he said as he slipped it into the outside pocket of his jacket, “nothing that cannot wait. Would you excuse me for a moment?”
“Of course,” Shirley said as Gerald stood up and left the table. As he headed to the rest rooms, Annie walked past the table, slipping the phone into her back as Shirley covered the spot with her napkin.
Annie slipped out onto the terrace, and quickly slipped the back of the phone off, placing a thin metal wafer on the battery before replacing the back. Walking back in, she saw Gerald approaching, as Shirley knocked her napkin onto the floor.
“Allow me,” Gerald said as he knelt to pick up the napkin, Shirley watching as Annie placed the phone back on the table and returned to her meal.
“Thank you,” Shirley said as Annie sat with Charlotte.
The Waldorf Hotel
“Okay then, another virgin break in.” Joanne said as she fiddled with the card reader and lock on Stonemark’s door.
“He must not even have a suspicion we were in there.” Dom whispered.
“They haven’t yet – you sure you’ve got the hotel computer looking the other way sis.”
“Really?” Heather said as they all heard a click and the card reader went green.
“Okay got it.” Jo held the door open while Dominique and her sister slipped by her.
“You are getting slower.” Heather teased her.
“Touché,” Jo said as she closed the door.
“Alright,” Dominique switched on her flashlight, “You move anything, remember EXACTLY where it was and put it back.”
“Let me do a bug sweep before you start.” Heather pulled out a device that looked like a vintage transistor radio. Pulling the antenna out she turned slowly looking at the device.
“Well,” Jo whispered.
“We’re clean – Jo, you take the bedroom, Dom the bathroom. I’ll take the phone and set up in here.”
Heater walked over to one of the two telephones, and placed a small velvet bag on the table, opening it up and looking on the underside of the receiver. She selected a thin wafer in the same colour, stuck it to the receiver and replaced it, selecting a second wafer and placing it on the other phone.
In the bedroom, Jo placed the bugs near the bed and wardrobe, taking time to carefully search for any information she could find, but making sure nothing was out of place.
As Heather looked round the room, she felt her phone vibrate. Taking it from her pocket, she looked at it and then nodded as she dialed a number.
“Susan? I heard from Charlotte – activate the device number I gave you earlier for Walrus Cell.”
“They got his cell phone?”
“Looks like it,” Heather said with a smile. “Can you put the camera on top of that frame over there?”
“Got it,” Dominique said as she stood on the couch and placed the device, then rearranging the cushions as Heather placed one listening bug by the work desk, and another inside a potted plant. She then opened the drawers under the television carefully, and reached into one, placing the damper at the back of the drawer above.
“Why that one,” Jo asked as she came through.
“Gideon’s and Book of Mormon in there,” Heather said with a smile as she put her cell phone to her ear. “All right Susan – test now.”
“Coming through on audio loud and clear,” she heard Susan say. “Get Dom to flash the light in a circle.”
As the tall dark haired woman did so, Susan said “All working – now get out of there. He just called someone, and he might be back soon.”
“On our way out now,” Heather whispered before she ended the call, and motioned to the other two, Dom turning the light off as they headed to the door.
“So you mentioned when we met that insurance was only one of your business interests,” Gerald said as he swallowed some of the beef, “what other things are you involved in?”
“Well, I have, to use the vernacular, fingers in several pies,” Shirley said as she set her knife and fork down, and sat back. “But I am always open to new opportunities, provided they fit with my particular business ethic.”
“And what would that ethic be,” Gerald said as he wiped his chin.
“Simply put,” Shirley said with a smile, “that the workers are paid a living wage and well cared for, and they share in any prosperity the work brings. I take a very dim view of exploitation of the work force.”
“I see,” Gerald said quietly, “A very noble approach, but in my experience, people always seek to do things as cheaply as possible, and regretfully these things can happen.”
“I work hard with those who accept my patronage to ensure the risk is kept to an absolute minimum,” Shirley said as she sipped her wine, “and if I find such a thing is happening within my own businesses, I take firm and decisive action to end it.”
Gerald looked at Shirley, his eyes glistening, and then he smiled as he said “you must have been very upset with the reports in the New York Times then.”
“I will admit they did upset me,” Shirley said as she cut off some more of her fish and ate it. “I find it shocking that people think innocents should be exploited in such a way for greed, don’t you?”
“Oh I do,” Stonemark said quietly, “I hear the local law authorities have already arrested and questioned someone.”
“I beg your pardon,” Stonemark said as he held his glass.
“There was a news report,” Shirley said as she finished her meal, “that a British diplomat at the UN had been detained by the authorities, and was, as they say in our country, helping them with their enquiries.”
Shirley saw the briefest of flickers of fear in Stonemark’s eyes, before he smiled and said “So someone from our country was involved in this trade as well? I hope they deal with him in the harshest possible way.”
“I agree,” Shirley said as she put her napkin on the table. “Will you excuse me for a moment?”
“Of course,” Gerald said as he stood up, watching Shirley as she headed to the rest room. She saw another woman from a nearby table follow her in, and then removed his cell phone.
“Don’t say a word – meet me at eleven in my suite,” he said before ending the call.
“Pleasant company, Madame?”
As she looked at Charlotte, Madame said “It is rather akin to looking into the eyes of a spitting cobra before he strikes. You may be too young to have seen the excellent Korda brothers’ adaptation of the Jungle Book, but there is a scene in that where Mowgli meets Ka – and for a moment there, I believe I was Mowgli to his Ka.”
“I shall have to look that up, Madame,” Charlotte said. “In the meantime, how did he take the news?”
“Not well, I have the unfortunate feeling my night may come to an end soon. And your meal?”
“Truly excellent – but Penny may kill me when she sees the bill.”
“I’ll clear it,” Madame said as she touched up her lipstick. Returning to her table, she said “Are you all right, Gerald – you look a little pale.”
“No – but I fear I may need to leave soon. Shall we order some coffee?”
“I would like that,” Madame said as Charlotte returned to the table.
“He made a call,” Annie said, “but I could not hear who to.”
“Well with any luck Dominique will have got into his suite,” Charlotte said as she sent a text. She held her phone until it vibrated, and looked at the response.
“She got in,” she said as the waiter brought coffee and liqueurs to Shirley and Gerald. “So if he meets someone there, we will hear and see.”
The Waldorf Hotel.
“Well, thank you for a wonderful evening, Gerald,” Shirley said as they walked into the lobby.
“My pleasure,” Gerald said, “perhaps I can show you to your room…”
“Juliette, darling, what are you doing here,” Shirley said as she kissed Juliette on the cheek.
“I had a dinner meeting with a client – do you have time for a nightcap? Viscount Stonemark – a pleasure to meet you again.”
“Forgive me, Gerald,” Shirley said as she looked at the viscount, “perhaps another time?”
“Indeed – good night ladies,” Stonemark said as he gave them both a slight bow, and then headed for the elevators.
“Nice save,” Shirley said as they walked to the bar, “did you get a call?”
“I did – but I actually was here on business. I only needed to hang back and wait for you…”
The Listening Post
“He’s got a visitor,” Penny said as Susan and Dominique came over. They watched as Stonemark went to the door of his suite and opened it. The person who came in was tall, thin, and wore a black hoodie, the hood covering their head, black jeans and trainers.
“Did anybody see you come in,” he said as he closed the door.
“No,” the visitor replied, “Kimba is busy with his bodyguards, so I was able to get a message to her.”
“Hell’s teeth,” Susan said, “that’s Angel Xantu.”
“It can’t be,” Penny said as she looked at the other screen, “she’s in her apartment, reading a magazine.”
Dominique looked at both screens, and then listened as Stonemark said “So, would you like to explain to me what happened this morning, my dear? You told me the men you hired were the best there was.”
“So I was informed,” the woman with Stonemark said. “I will be having words with the contact I was given. All bar one died.”
“And that one is now in the hands of the FBI. Will he talk?”
“No – he knows what will happen if he does.”
“Fiona,” Dominique said to one of the girls, “get the file on Angel Xantu on screen. I want to check something.”
“Coming up,” the girl said as Dominique walked over to her terminal.
“So it must be Twining who has been turned. How the hell did they know?”
“That, your lordship, is an exceptionally good question. I understand my sister was beginning to believe Legault was right – that someone has been working against you for the last few months.”
“Her sister?” Penny looked over to Dominique, who nodded in response.
“That must be Divine Xantu, Angel’s twin sister. She is listed here as working in London – she must have come over with Stonemark.”
“Who does she work for?”
“Dammit – she works for Global Supplies.”
“That bunch of mercenaries? Well, that explains the firepower this morning. Stonemark must have contacts with them.”
“Madame is not going to be pleased at that,” Susan said as she continued to listen.
“Well, we need to deal with Kimba, and quickly. Can you take the place of your sister?”
“Not very easily, and I have no beef with her. I think she can be persuaded to leave before we make a move, however.”
“And if she cannot?”
“Then I will mourn her, but you hired me to do a job, your lordship, and I will see the job to completion. We took care of the arms supplier with no problem, and we had a good plan for Twining. Whoever is against you is indeed a formidable foe – I would not be surprised if they are behind the disappearances of Rice and Chen.”
“Bright girl,” Dominique whispered as she came back over, “reinforce the need to be armed at all times, and get a message to Janice. We need to know how she came into the country, and where she listed as her address when she entered.”
“It’s almost certainly going to be false you know.”
“I know, Susan – but we can try.”
Friday 3rd October
The Richmond Mansion
“Good afternoon, Heather,” Elaine said as she came in, “is that fresh coffee I smell?”
“It certainly is Elaine,” Heather said as they walked into the kitchen, “actually, I’m glad you’re first to arrive, I wanted to talk to you about something?”
“Oh – I’m intrigued,” Elaine said as she sat at the kitchen table.
"I may have a client for you," Heather said
as she handed her a mug of coffee.
"Mmmm that's nice,” Elaine said as she sipped the
coffee, “so tell me about this client?"
"She's English, single, early middle age shall we
say, but still capable of turning men’s heads."
"Okay that gives me a picture. What line of business is she in?"
"Well, among other business interests she owns an insurance company."
"Wealthy?" Elaine was smiling at the idea of a deal.
"Can I be vulgar Elaine?"
"Oh,” Elaine said, “that rich eh?"
Heather nodded, "she's just opened a New York
office, a lot of her friends live here, and she's tired of living in a hotel
when she comes to the city."
"I have a few clients like that… will it be an
all cash deal?"
"I believe so… Cookie Elaine?" Heather held
open the tin.
"No thanks… well I can show her a variety of
places, a variety of sizes, a variety of prices."
Heather smiled as she watched Elaine doing the
figures. "I'm going to go out on a
limb Elaine,” she finally said. “Knowing
the lady in question, for the place that takes her fancy, price will be no
object, but beware - she's a very skilled negotiator, and she likes getting a
"That makes sense,” Elaine said, “most of the
super rich do."
"Super rich? … Well I know you aren't talking about me then." Barbara said as she came in and took a cookie from the tin, before she poured herself a coffee.
"No we are talking about Sandy's friend Shirley."
"Oh yeah, I wouldn't mind being fifty million
behind her." Barbara whistled.
"Who you talking about Heather?" Ally said
as she came in with Pepsi and Becky.
"Your Mom's friend Shirley."
"Oh yeah,” Ally said, “Mom reckons she's rolling
"Well,” Elaine says, “she sounds like my kind of
client… Can I have a refill Heather?"
"Ally can you put the other coffee maker on please?" Heather asked. "There you go Elaine" she then said as she drained the last from the previous pot.
"Okay Elaine so do you have in mind?"
Heather asked quietly.
"Well I know a fabulous 3 bedroom condo not far
from here, the price is twenty mill though… "
"Ouch!" Heather made a face.
"There is a four bedroom one for six point
"My God you are talking monopoly money."
Barbara shook her head.
“Monopoly money,” April said as she came in, “I only have the game.”
"Well if she keeps on going the way she is,”
Heather said to Barbara, “places like that will soon be in the price bracket of
"Well not for a while, for now it’s all to cover
"Barbara darling you'd die if you heard what this
house might fetch if it ever came on the open market."
"I suspect I would Elaine." Barbara looked
round and nodded.
"Well anyway, give Shirley a ring Elaine."
Elaine watched as Heather scribbled a note and a phone
"It's Shirley Xavier you are talking to."
"Thanks Heather." Elaine as she slipped the paper in her purse.
“Is that fresh coffee, “ Emma said as she came in. “I’m ready for a drink.”
Heather smiled as the girls’ moms sat round waiting for the coffee to brew. The Friday afternoon coffee thing was becoming a ritual - she, Emma Carter, Barbara Brewster, April Broadhurst, Elaine Colman, and occasionally Janice or Sandy would sit round waiting for the various kids to arrive. It was a chance to talk, gossip, and to keep up to date with other women going through the same thing with daughters at St Angela's.
"Are you letting Pepsi go on the freeman ski trip at Christmas break April?" Emma was asking.
"Not sure if we can afford it,” April said as she looked down at the table.
"I know, it's not cheap,” Emma said, “we'd like Anna to go, be with her friends, but as you say it’s affording it."
"Well even if Jeannie could ski, she still wouldn't be going." Barbara broke in.
"Work commitments, her agent has her booked up."
"The perils of being a successful model." Heather smiled, "One problem I'm never likely to have with Jo."
"I might tell Pepsi that Jeannie can't go… might soften the blow."
"Okay Jan you wanted to spend some money on your daughter." Heather thought to herself, "Maybe you'd pay for that trip."
Suddenly there was a scream of young girls’ voices as George chased little Sandy and Katy into the kitchen.
"Quieten down please." Heather looked at her charges. "What happened this time?"
"He said he was going to hit us." Sandy looked defiantly at her brother.
"Only because she made Katy give me a kiss." The little boy wiped his mouth. "YUCK!"
"Little does he know one day he'll be pleading with Katy to kiss him." Elaine laughed as Heather negotiated a peace settlement.
“Hey,” Jo said as she came in with Jeannie and Anna, “any coke in there?”
“Sure,” Heather said, “help yourself while I deal with this.”
“So do you know if Diana and Abby got off all right,” Jo said as she checked the icebox.
“They should be at the airport now,” Heather said as she looked at the clock.
“Oh? Where is Abigail going this weekend,” Elaine said.
“They’re spending a day at the races,” Jo said, “and Abby is a guest of honour.”
Terminal B, Newark Airport
Air France VIP Lounge
“That’s our flight,” Diana said as she heard the announcement. “I for one will be grateful if they leave me alone to sleep for the flight over.”
“For once, I am with you mama,” Abigail said as she stood and stretched, “I do not think I will get much sleep over the next two days.”
“Well,” Guy said as he put on his jacket, “let us enjoy it while we can. We have a long flight ahead of us…”
The group of five made their way to the stand, hoping it would be a smooth ride over…
Saturday 4th October
Saks, 5th Avenue
The two women strode confidently into the shoe department of the store, each carrying a selection of bags.
“When are you meeting your mother and Katy,” Annie said as she looked around.
“I need to be back by one – I promised I’d take her to the zoo this afternoon, and then out for tea,” Jan said as they walked towards the stands.
“You know, there was a time when looking at designer shoes would have scared me to death.” Annie spoke as she ran her hands over a couple of pairs on the stand.
“I know, “ Janice looked skywards, “I used to haunt Payless looking for imitations of the things Juliette and the others wear.”
“And even when you found something right, then it wasn’t quite, right?”
“Yep.” Janice picked up a pair of shoes and carefully examined the style. “But how come you couldn’t Annie? Charlotte told me your background, private schools, and the Ivy League, heluva lot better then I was doing on the island.”
“Scholarships all the way,” Annie said with a smile, “my Dad worked for Boeing in lower management. We weren’t poor, but I wasn’t exactly the kind of girl who’d get invited to the Veiled Prophet ball.”
“What’s that some big debutante event?”
“Yeah. It still is the social event to be seen at in St Louis, like the Debs ball here. Having said that, it pretends to be a mystical secret thing, when all it is really is a chance for the ‘finest’ of St Louis to party.”
“So you were never really in the elite?”
“I was more likely to be serving the canapés than one of the Veiled Prophet’s Court of Honour, much less the Queen of Love and Beauty.”
“So Sandy you’re not?”
“No, Sandy I’m not,” Annie said as she put down a pair of grey heels.
“So you were Midwestern and middle-class…”
“And dreaming always of things like these.” Annie held up a pair of Brian Atwood’s classic point-toe pumps in patent leather.
“Those would go amazingly with the skirt you bought earlier.”
“They aren’t badly priced either.” Annie said as she showed her friend the tag.
“Do they have them in my size as well?”
“Jan,” Annie said, “isn’t it great that our first question now is do they come in my size? Rather than how much room do I have on my credit card?”
“Can I tell you a secret Annie,” she whispered in her friend’s ear. “Having found the freedom my life of crime is giving me, I just wished I’d gone bad years ago.”
“Me too.” Annie quietly laughed.
“Oh these are to die for.” Jan grabbed at some Jimmy Choo, Anouk Patent Leather Point-Toe Pumps in Nude.
“$585 darling, not bad,” Annie said, “but you’ll need the right dress to wear them with though.
“Well we can go look next.” Janice smiled as an associate approached.
“Can I help you ladies?”
“You can.” Jan smiled, “a pair of these in 7’s for me, and those in 6’s for my friend.”
“Certainly.” The girl went to look while Annie and Jan exchanged satisfied looks.
“Here we go,” the associate said as she brought both pairs, the girl sitting down and slipping them on their feet. “Oh that is good,” Jan said as she stood up and walked round, “I’ll take them.”
“Me too,” Annie said, both girls handing the associate their cards A few moments later, they walked out with an extra bag each.
"Mary Institute/Country Day really was two
schools,” Annie said as they stepped into the elevator. “The one that I was
part of was the official one, with sports teams, pep rallies, school dances,
etc. Underneath though there was a second far more exclusive school, to which
everyone knew who belonged and who didn't."
"The future debutantes and their escorts I take
"Yeah, funny thing - it wasn't really a money
thing, more a case who your parents, or your grandparents were, etc."
"I guess Janice. Well I was never part of that
school, but I'd have killed to have been so."
The elevator stopped.
"Okay let's see if we can find you the perfect
dress to go with those shoes."
"Is there crap like you faced at St Angela's?"
Annie smiled, "The girls try hard to not make it so, but I bet there are still plenty of girls watching and dreaming just like I did.”
“I’m sure the likes of Jo keep them in line.”
“She tries,” Annie said with a smile.
The Waldorf Hotel
Charlotte watched as Heather hummed to herself, and then looked up.
“Okay baby what secrets can you tell Auntie Heather?” Heather said as she hooked the cell phone clone up to an array of computers that she had laid out on a desk.
“Heather I know some of this stuff.” Charlotte looked puzzled, “but what the hell is the rest of it?”
“Things that will tell me who Stonemark has been phoning, who’s been phoning him, even who sent calls he didn’t pick up.”
“And this?” Charlotte pointed to a small black box.
“Oh,” Heather said quietly, “that’s just something I put together one night.”
“What does it do Heather?” Dom said as she stood with her hands on her hips.
“Oh!” Heather paused, “It just triggers the GPS on any phones that have been in contact with Stonemark’s so we can see where his contacts are now.”
“You do know that agencies round the world are trying to do this and they keep failing.” Dom looked amused as she looked at the box.
“They are?” Heather looked round, “well it’s not really that hard.”
“So how long till it starts spitting out data we can analyze Heather?” Dom looked at her watch.
“Hmmm give it about 10 minutes.”
“Ten minutes.” Charlotte laughed, “Anyone else this would take hours.”
“Anything jumping out straight away Heather?” Susan said as she scanned down the results, “He’s been getting lots of calls from the same three or four phones.”
“That figures, his confederates trying to find out what’s going on.” Dom nodded.
“No, a lot of these are from Cuba.” Heather looked again, “Wait till it’s done its work, but I think we just found a hidden player in this game.”
“Patience, Dom, patience…”
“Cuba? It can’t be Xantu – and how did Madame take that news?”
“Not well – we have past history with the company.”
“Come to me baby,” Heather said with a smile as she watched the device work…
John stopped by the sidewalk and turned the engine off. “Well, here we are,” he said as he got out and went around the vehicle.
“Okay girls, you asked for it, today you get to see me work.” Jeannie turned and looked at her friends.
“It doesn’t seem possible how short a time really it was since we were last here.” Barbara looked up at the old warehouse on 8th Avenue, “but so much has happened since it seems like another lifetime.”
“I know love,” John nodded as he opened the side door and lifted Jeannie into her chair, Barbara and the four girls coming after her.
“So where’s your place from here Pepsi,” Nikki said as she looked round.
“A couple of blocks that way,” Pepsi said as she watched the people walking by. “Do you come down here?”
“Sometimes,” Becca said, “but usually in the car to a theatre or something. It feels different.”
“That’s because it is,” Jeannie said as they walked into the building.
“The elevator’s over there Grandpa.” Jeannie pointed as they went in. ”Girls, do you mind running up the stairs - there isn’t a lot of room in here.”
“Okay.” They nodded then started up as John and Barbara stepped into the elevator with Jeannie.
“Are you sure it’s going to be all right with all of them here?” Barbara said as they headed up.
“I heard you coming.” Karl Pearson was there as the doors opened to greet them. “Well Miss Supermodel, been a long time.” He smiled.
“Hey Karl,” Jeannie sat as he kissed her, then Barbara and shook John’s hand.
Suddenly the sound of the large double doors opening distracted them all.
“Okay Karl I apologise,” Jeannie said as she looked at them, “I promised this bunch they could come see me work. Meet Anna, Pepsi, Becca and Nikki, aka my posse.”
“Well if they promise to behave….”
“Don’t worry they are house broken… well just about” grinned Jeannie.
Karl looked the young teenagers over dubiously, in their jeans, trainers and tops, before he said, “Well, all right you stand with John and Barbara, and just watch, understood?”
“Yes, sir,” Anna said quietly as she looked round.
“So what are we shooting today?” Jeannie asked.
“Something that might push you to your limits darling?”
“Oh?” Jeannie asked interestedly.
“That cosmetic company - I’m sure Missy has mentioned that they are interested in you - want to do tests of you in their products, straight glamour you looking as beautiful as we can get you.”
Jeannie nodded, “Okay I can do that.”
“This is Giorgio, Maria, and Carly,” Karl indicated three people, “they are from the company and are here to do your makeup… Simone who I believe you know is doing your hair, and Toni and Asha are doing wardrobe.”
“Hi Guys.” Jeannie waved to the team. “How are you Simone?”
“I’m good darlin’ can we get you back here?”
“Yeah on my way.” Jeannie wheeled herself towards the dressing rooms.
“It takes that many people to get Jeannie ready?” Becca whispered in Barbara’s ears.
“It does, but just wait till you see what the result is.”
For thirty minutes, the girls fidgeted and fretted as Barbara and John tried to get them to be patient. Suddenly Jeannie wheeled herself back in wearing a sophisticated little black dress, her hair up in a chignon, her makeup sultry and very glamorous.
“See.” Barbara smiled, “that’s why it takes so many people, you get THAT.”
“Oh my God!” each girl said together as their jaws dropped at how stunningly beautiful their friend looked.
“Right, Jeannie,” Karl said as she moved the chair into the lit area, “give me your best Audrey Hepburn – but without the cigarette.”
“As you wish,” Jeanie said as she sat with her chin resting in her hand, Karl taking photo after photo as she moved and posed in different ways.
“Very very nice, Jeannie,” Karl said as John handed each of the girls a bottle of water, “we’re going with the tomboy look next folks, if we can manage that?”
“See, told you it was mostly boring,” Jeannie said as she wheeled herself past the others.
“Boring? If I had looked like that at the Prom, then Danny Kincaid would have danced only with me,” Becca said before she took a drink from her bottle.
“Never mind Prom – if I looked like that half the boys around here would never leave me alone,” Pepsi said as she watched Jeannie disappear into the changing area.
When she came back out, she had changed into a pair of skintight jeans with knee length black boots, a white shirt and a black waistcoat, and her hair was falling down over her shoulders in soft waves. The makeup was more subtle this time, emphasizing her cheeks more than her eyes and lips.
“Can we get you in the bucket seat for this set, Jeannie,” Karl said as he stood by a wicker seat hanging from the ceiling. Two of his assistants gently lifted her up and helped her to tuck her legs in, before he started to take photos again, Jeannie moving her upper body and posing as he moved round.
As she put her hands behind her head and laughed, Anna said “All right, I’m convinced – it’s worth it for her. I can see how much she likes this.”
“Oh she most surely does,” Barbara said as she looked on, the pride clear on her face, and John smiled as well.
“What is she going to be next, the fairy princess,” Nikki said as Jeannie was lifted out of the seat and wheeled herself back through.
“Close,” she called over her shoulder as a young man stepped out from the same area, wearing a tuxedo and looking like the boy on a prom date.
When Jeannie emerged, she was in a full prom gown made of blue silk, a silver tiara perched on her head, and she was helped to sit on a bench as the young man sat with her.
“Fancy seeing you again,” Jeannie said as he sat next to her, “Going to push me on the swing?”
“Not this time darling,” Karl said, “look into each other’s eyes – that’s it… Now turn and look at me and smile…”
Noon Central European Time
Galeries Lafayette, Paris
The perfumery had not quite seen anything like it, as the queues wound their way between the various stands.
The one they were all waiting to see had a table set up in front of a large poster, showing Abigail posing with a perfume bottle and the words “Rencontrez Abigail de Ros, le visage de Memories. Samedi 4 Octobre, 11 -1, Perfumeries Galeries Lafayette.”
Abby was sat at the table, dressed in a long white dress and a cream jacket, smiling and talking to the waiting fans as they asked her questions and she signed their photographs. She had got off the plane at 8 that morning, and barely had time to shower and change before coming here.
"Mama could you get me another bottle of water please." Abigail said as she turned her head for a second.
"I can darling." Diana smiled and went off with one the company representatives.
"Et qui est-ce pour?" Abigail turned her head and smiled at the middle-aged woman who was next in line for her autograph.
"Pouvez vous dédié à Marie-France s'il vous plaît?"
"Bien sûr que je peux." Abby scribbled an appropriate message for the woman.
"Ensuite s'il vous plaît." Abby indicated for the next autograph seeker to come forward.
"I want to be just like you when I grow up." The little girl with her mother said in American accented English.
"You do?" Abby gave her a special smile, "Where are you guys from?"
"Princeton, New Jersey, " the mother spoke.
"That's a helluva long way to come for the autograph of a girl from New York City."
Both mother and daughter laughed.
"Who shall I make this out to?"
"To Britt and Shandy please."
Abigail smiled as she wrote a note on the picture. “You guys enjoy Paris,” she said as she handed it back.
"We will." the mother smiled back, as the little girl carefully carried the picture.
"Did I miss anything darling?" Diana sat back down with some bottled water.
"Not much Mama." Abby fixed her smile back on. “Et qui peux aider ensuite?"
“S'il vous plaît écrivez-vous "à ma grand-mère chérie" à ce sujet?”
Abby looked at the smiling grey haired woman in front of her.
“Grandmama? I never expected to see you here!”
“And why should I not come and see my favourite granddaughter at work,” Valeria, Countess de Ros said as she embraced and kissed Abby and Diana. “I wanted to let you know we dine at eight at Maxims. I will see you there – and thank you.”
She picked up the signed photo and smiled as she left, leaving both of them speechless.
The Waldorf Hotel
“There is a silent partner? Who?”
“I’m still trying to track that down, Madame, but whoever it was has been in contact over the last month – ever since this started. Heather will inform me as soon as we have more details.”
“I do not like loose ends,” Madame said as she sat back and looked at Juliette. “I think we need to consider the possibility that we need to move on Xantu and Kimba sooner rather than later – but we need an excuse.”
“I wonder,” Juliette said, “is there is any love lost between the sisters?”
“Play them against each other? An interesting idea,” Madame said as she looked at her friend. The thought was interrupted by a knock on the door, and Heather came in with Dominique and Penny.
“Well, it took a while, but we identified the missing link,” Penny said as she placed a file in front of Madame. As she opened it, her eyes widened and she looked back at Penny.
“I thought he was dead – killed in a plane crash ten years ago.”
“It would appear not – he is alive and living in Havana. It does at least explain where the money from the ransom went – it went to seed this operation with Stonemark.”
“Forgive the interruption,” Juliette said, “but just who the hell are you talking about?”
“Do you remember,” Heather said quietly, “ a kidnapping just over ten years ago – Maddie Hope?”
Juliette sat back. “Yeah – Carina was the same age as her. She disappeared from her boarding school one night, there was a ransom demand – a very high one – but after the ransom was paid, they found her dead a week later. The police suspected a known sex offender – what was his name again…”
“Jameson – Clive Jameson,” Madame said, “Before they could talk to him, he was reported dead in a plane crash in the Highlands of Scotland. Turns out he might not be so dead after all.”
“Did he know Stonemark?”
“They were at Oxford together,” Madame said quietly. “Well, we can deal with him in due course – right now, we need to discuss Kimba and how we get to him. Juliette, I wonder if we can do something similar to the rescue of Joanne.”
“Stage an FBI type raid? Intriguing – and not without issues. If it was going to be staged properly, there would have to be a reason to go in – and we would need the help of Janice I suspect.”
“I agree – and if Stonemark is planning to return to the UK on Tuesday, we may not have much time…”
“Forgive the interruption,” Charlotte said as she looked into the room, “but you should know Angel Xantu has left the building. We’re tracking her using Heather’s system now.”
“Keep me informed,” Madame said quietly. “Dominique, do you have any views on how to deal with Jameson.”
“Apart from setting the hounds of Interpol on him?”
Madame looked at Dominique, and said “Do you know, that is actually quite a good idea? He still has several international warrants – Heather, feel up to slipping an anonymous tip with location details?”
“It would be a pleasure,” Heather said, “if you will excuse me?”
As Heather left the room, Juliette said “One problem – if we move before Monday, Diana and Abby will not be available.”
“Agreed, so we lay plans for both contingencies…”
“Actually,” Juliette said as she put her hands together under her chin, “I wonder if Janice knows of any plans they have laid at the office, and if we can co-opt them…”
She then opened her eyes to see Madame, Heather and Dominique looking at her.
“You’re right Heather – like a computer…”
"Well I hoped that you didn't get too
bored." Jeannie smiled as her grandfather lifted her into the back of the
"Are you Kidding?" Becca asked with her mouth
open. “It was one of the most amazing
days I’ve ever spent!”
"Well we were in there nine hours." Jeannie
reminded them."And a lot of it's just waiting."
"Well the waiting bits gave us a chance to talk." Pepsi pointed out. “We even managed to sort out our American History assignment – you should be glad you’re excused that for the moment.”
“For the moment being the operative words,” Jeannie said as she stretched and yawned.
“You’re tired? All you do is sit round, pose, look fantastic…”
“Get bored out of my mind,” Jeannie said to Pepsi. “I actually read Tom Sawyer while I was waiting.”
"Okay Girls - Burgers then I'll take you all home." John spoke from his driver’s seat.
"Please!" a chorus of female voices answered
"So that was just a tryout?" Nikki asked.
"Yes," Barbara answered quietly, "The
cosmetic company is considering making Jeannie it's 'face'."
"Oh wow." Becca whispered.
"According to Missy, the fee will be obscene, it
will make me a lot of dough." Jeannie looked serious for once.
"Like Memories has for Abigail?" Anna asked.
"I don't know what Stick gets paid, I never
asked, but I'd guess so."
"Well the burgers are on you then." Nikki
"Hey I didn't get the gig yet."
"You will baby, you will." Barbara hugged her daughter proudly. “And the burgers are on me, so don’t worry.”
Grand Central Station
There is a maxim that if you wish to hold a meeting in secret, do it in the most public place possible. It was a maxim that had served Angel Xantu well down through the years, and as she entered the ticket hall she smiled and looked round.
She walked along to Graybar Passage, and then into Joe’s, her heels clicking on the marble floor as she did so. Ordering a black coffee, she took the cup and sat down at a table, watching the world go by.
She was dressed in a long gold top, gathered at the waist and hanging on one shoulder, with a pair of black leather trousers and a matching jacket. As people walked to and fro, she sipped quietly on her coffee, waiting for her contact to arrive.
“And how is our beloved vice president?”
Angel smiled as she looked at the hooded woman sat next to her. “It is a pleasure to see you as well sister – it has been far too long.”
“Well, we move in different circles, you and I,” Divine said quietly. “However, on this occasion I regret to say our worlds have intersected.”
“Yes,” Angel said as she nodded, “I also regret that fact. It would appear that the recently departed Francois was right when he said we were being targeted – we were just blinded to the possibility.”
“Francois was always much wiser than you gave him credit for,” Divine said. “You and Kimba stand alone now sister – the others have either disappeared or have decided to save their own skins.”
“So it was you who arranged the surprises for Twining?”
Divine nodded. “The events of Thursday were – regrettable. It is obvious someone of great intelligence and resource has set their eye on all of you.”
“And the gun supplier?”
“My employer does not wish to leave any loose ends,” Divine said quietly.
“Is that a threat sister?”
“A warning – if this is indeed the case, it is a fair assumption that you and Kimba are next. I would not wish to see anything happen to you that could be prevented.”
Angel finished her drink and set it down. As she did so, she saw a late traveler walk past, the front page of the NY Times saying “British Diplomat admits involvement in slavery scandal.”
“What would you have me do,” she said quietly.
“Kimba is toxic, my sister. I know you are loyal to him, but even you must realize his time is over. Leave him to whoever gets to him first – The Walrus was always fond of you, and would welcome you into his circle.”
Angel smiled and turned to look at her twin sister. “I swore a blood oath of loyalty, my sister – and you know I cannot break that, unless he allows me to. Do you honestly believe that is going to happen?”
“Then all I can do is pray – pray that he dies and you are released from your oath before someone comes for you. And if it is not possible, then I pray for a good death for you.”
“I cannot ask any more than that,” Angel said as she stood up. “Farewell, Divine.”
Angel stood up and walked from the shop, Divine running her finger along the rim of her empty cup before she too stood and walked out.
8 pm Central European Time
Maxim’s, rue Royale, Paris.
The maitre de looked up and smiled as Abigail and Diana came in. Both were wearing black cocktail dresses, with fur wraps over their shoulders, and black heels.
“Welcome back, Countess, Countess,” he said as he bowed to both of them, “if you will follow me?”
He led them into the grand room, heads turning as they walked past, and then to a table where Guy, Guillaume, Natasha and Valeria were already sitting. While the men were wearing hand made suits, shirts and silk ties, Natasha was wearing an off the shoulder dress in dark blue silk, and Valeria a dark grey coat dress with a wide belt and dark stockings.
“My apologies,” Diana said as they sat down, “we were delayed by the traffic.”
“Do not worry,” Valeria said with a wave of her hand, “that you are here is enough.”
Diana raised an eyebrow to her father, who simply smiled and said “we have already ordered wine – why don’t we peruse the menu?”
The sommelier brought a bottle of Chateau de Ros, showing it to Guy who shook his head and said “no no – when it comes to this particular vineyard, I bow to the expert.” He indicated Valeria, who smiled as she examined the bottle. “An excellent vintage,” she said with a smile, “you may pour.”
“I must say, Valeria,” Diana said with a smile, “I was both pleased and surprised to hear that you would be joining us this weekend.”
“Not as surprised as I am to find myself here,” Valeria said, “but my recent visit to Guy showed me that my view on this city, the people here, may have indeed been coloured by past experiences. It was time to let the past be the past.”
“And we are the better for your presence,” Guy said with a smile, Guillaume raising an eyebrow this time as their orders were taken.
“My regret is that you cannot stay longer, child,” Valeria said as she looked at Abigail.
“As I too regret it, grandmamma,” Abby replied, “but I need to be in school on Monday, and I must leave early Monday to allow that.”
“Still, at least we can discuss happier matters,” Valeria said as she looked at Natasha.
"Have you given any thought to bridesmaids
Natasha?” Diana asked in English.
"Well Abigail obviously." She smiled and
touched her niece’s hand. "My cousin Brigitte… "
"No." her mother interrupted.
"I thought you liked Brigitte Mama?"
"I do but by the time of your wedding she will be
very heavily pregnant."
"Oh!" Natasha laughed, "Well scratch
one cousin I guess then."
"What about Caroline de Melfort?" Valeria
"Who's she?" Abby asked.
"My best friend from school, but I haven't seen
her for a while."
"Well you can at least ring her, can't you?"
"Yes I suppose I should."
"Who would you like to ask darling?" Diana
looked up from her food.
"Well, I'd like to ask Carina and Joanne."
Natasha looked at her mother.
"Alright," her mother looked petulant,
"but I insist the remaining two be French."
"You like Marie-Louise darling." Guillaume
"Who's that?" Valeria questioned.
"My brother Roger's eldest."
"Oh and I'll also ask Isabelle Trompert, with all those blondes we need at least one brunette." Natasha laughed happily.
"Have you given any thought to a church and who to ask to officiate?”
"Well since we both like him so much, we thought we'd ask Father Richmond." Natasha looked at her fiancé.
"Do you mean Alexander Richmond? … From New York?"
"Oh…" Valeria paused for thought, “well I must admit I like the man, but I was rather hoping for the Cardinal, his predecessor married me and your father darling."
"We both want Father Alex," Guillaume for once exerted his own viewpoint.
"Alright!" Valeria threw her hands up, “I suppose I give in."
"But for venue, we want to be married back home in the parish church." Natasha smiled, "With the local mayor doing the civil wedding." Natasha looked tenderly at her mother.
“Voir malgré tous vos soucis au coeur, je suis toujours Français, je ne suis pas tout à fait encore une jeune fille américaine."
Sunday 5th October
8 am Central European Time
Champs Elysees, Paris
“Well at least it’s a lovely day to be going out.” Abby looked down on the busy thoroughfare from the windows of her suite in the Georges V. She was still wearing a dressing gown over her night clothes, and sipping on a coffee as she watched the people go by.
“It’s true,” Diana joined her, “most people love Paris in the spring, but on a lovely autumn day it can be just as beautiful.”
“How long do I have?”
“Not long, remember the Memories people have hired a marquee for lunch and have invited clients and guests to come and meet you.”
“I guess I better put my makeup on then,” Abigail said as she put her cup down, stretched and yawned.
“Yeah my body is telling me it should still be in bed asleep.”
“That’s the big problem.”
“Well I’m being paid big bucks to look good, and to mix, mingle and charm, so I’d better wake myself up.”
As Abigail headed to the bathroom, her mother called, “Call me when you are out of the shower Cherie, I’ll take mine then.”
“Okay! Will do Mama.”
“Abigail will be down very shortly.” Diana kissed everyone in the party as she arrived in the lobby.
All three women wear wearing knee length coats over designer dresses, while Guy and Guillaume were dressed in suits, their dark ties neatly knotted, their shirts pressed.
“How are we getting to the course?” Natasha asked.
“The perfume company is sending a stretch limousine.”
“A trifle vulgar,” Valeria tried to sound like her old disapproving self, but this was a new Valeria now, from her elegant stilettos, to her large picture hat, she was the very epitome of chic.
“Well it’s better then us all going by taxi or in different cars.” Natasha chastised her mother.
Valeria smiled as Abigail came out and said “Well, will this do?”
“Mon cher vous regardez tout simplement divine” Valeria said as she looked at Abigail. The young woman was wearing a fitted black jacket, the waist gathered in, and a matching knee length pencil skirt. A fur trimmed cape covered her shoulders, and her blonde hair was piled underneath a wide brimmed hat.
“Tu est la plus belle femme d'aujourd'hui” Guy said as she took Abigail’s gloved hand and kissed it, before they headed out of the hotel and into the waiting limousine.
“Welcome, Abigail,” Alex Graham said as Abby and the others entered the marquee, “and a pleasure to meet your family as well, they honour us today.”
“It’s our pleasure to be here,” Abby said as she shook the hand of the CEO of Aroma Perfumes. “May I present the rest of our esteemed guests?”
“And off she goes to work,” Diana said as they were escorted to a table at the top of the marquee.
“So have you told her yet,” Guy said as they sat down, watching Abby as she greeted and chatted with a number of VIPs.
“No – let her enjoy herself while she…”
“Missy – I wasn’t aware you were going to be here. May I introduce my father Guy, Duc de Grechy, my brother Guillaume, my sister in law Natasha Countess de Ros and my mother in law Valeria, Countess de Ros.”
“A pleasure,” Missy Auerbach said as she nodded to each of them, her little hat staying somehow perched no her hair. “And how is Abby today?”
“Fine, and she has no idea what is going to be asked of her.”
“When are you going to tell her?”
“When does the race start?”
“2.50 – why?
“I’ll tell her after we have eaten.”
The meal itself was a delight, as Abby moved between the tables and talked to the guests before she finally had a chance to sit down and eat herself.
“I did not realize how hungry I was,” she said as she finished her main course, and wiped her lips. “Do you have the race program there mama – I may be tempted to ask someone to put a bet on for me.”
Guy and Diana looked at each other before she said “There is something I probably should have mentioned before now, Abigail darling, so remember that it is not as bad as it looks.”
“What is not as bad as it looks,” Abigail said as she glanced down the program, and then saw
Prix de la fleche
2.50 - 1 kilometre pour filles a 3 ans
Trophée qui sera présenté par Abigail, comtesse de Ros, au nom de Memories parfum
“Oh no,” Abby said as he face turned pale, “Mama, please.”
“Don’t worry Abby, you give the trophy over, say a few words, and smile.”
“Missy,” Abby said as she turned to her agent, “is there something I could be doing that requires me getting on a plane and leaving right now?”
“I take it you told her?” Missy turned and smiled at Diana.
“Yes, it got to the stage we couldn’t avoid it.”
“You all got me over here on false pretenses… That’s kidnapping.” Abigail looked slightly manic and VERY frightened.
“It’s not kidnapping Stick,” Missy tried calming her client down, “it’s just one of those unspecified publicity things that Memories have the right to demand according to your contract.”
“And just think - it might be your grandfather you have to present the trophy to.” Diana tried to sound calming.
“How hard will it be to give Guy a trophy?” Missy asked.
“For me?” Abby shook her head, “it’s not him that worries me, it’s the thousands watching…”
“Don’t forget the millions watching on television darling.”
“Natasha you aren’t helping.” Diana shot a glance at her sister-in-law.
“You say millions?” for a second Abigail shook visibly.
“Darling you can do this, I promise you can.” Diana whispered in her daughter’s ear. “Just imagine you are on the catwalk, and do what you do best.”
“Mama – may I have a drink?”
“No – bourbon.”
“No you may not – but when it is done, you may have some champagne.”
“Right,” Abby said, “on the catwalk, smile, be polite… How long?”
“We go to watch the race now,” Guy said. “Come – we will support you.”
“Oh god oh god oh god,” Abigail said as the party walked out to the racecourse making their way to the owner’s paddock.
“There she is,” Guy said as he pointed to a chestnut filly, “New York Baby. I wonder what the current odds are?”
Abby looked at the tall horse, the jockey wearing the pale blue top with a fleur de lis on the front, as Guillaume looked at the betting boards.
“She is the favourite – 2 to 1 against at the moment.”
“I know,” Missy said as she walked over, “I just made some bets on behalf of colleagues at 4 to 1.”
“Nicely timed,” Diana said with a smile as the field of twenty made their way to the I kilometer mark, and into the stalls.
“They race straight down the middle of the racetrack to the finish over here,” Guy said as he took the field glasses out of the holder around his neck. “It should be a most entertaining race.”
“I can’t look,” Abby said, “I’m nervous enough as it…”
“And they’re off,” Guillaume said as she heard the sound of approaching hooves.
“They seem to be bunched up,” Natasha said as she held her fiancé’s arm, “can you see who is in front?”
“Not really, no,” Gut said, “there are five or six horses in contention, and ours is one of them.”
“Come on, Baby,” Diana said under her breath as she noticed Valeria place her hand on her father’s arm.
“Yes,” Guy said quietly, “she’s pulling away. Now come on my little lady, just a little bit further…”
“Abigail,” Alex said, “we need you to come and prepare for the presentation.”
“One moment,” Abby said as she watched, transfixed as the horses approached the finish line, New York Baby just ahead as they went through the one furlong mark…
“YES!” Guillaume said as he punched the air, New York Baby winning by a head from French Lily and First Class. He turned and hugged Diana, before he turned to Valeria and said “would you do me the honor of accompanying me as we take her to the winner’s circle?”
“I would be delighted,” Valeria said, as Abby and Diana made their way with Alex in a different direction. Guy took Valeria through the barriers and past the smiling guards to where the horses were coming round.
8.55 am EST
The Richmond Mansion
“Is that coffee I smell?” Joanne put her head round the kitchen door.
“It is.” Heather laughed.
“You two are up bright and early considering it’s Sunday morning.” Jo gladly took the mug that Sandy thrust in her hand.
“We were just watching the horse racing from France.” Heather looked up from the computer.
“Yeah, Guy’s horse just won the race that Memories sponsor.” Sandy remarked.
“Yay for our team, that makes me a few bucks.” Jo grinned.
“You’re too young to be gambling little sister…”
“Yeah like you and Sandy didn’t also give Missy some money to put down for you.”
“She’s got us there.” Sandy remarked.
“Has Abby done her thing yet?”
“No we are waiting for the trophy presentation.” Heather kept her eyes on the screen.
3 pm Central European Time
“A magnificent ride, Mister Detorri,” Guy said as he reached up and shook the Jockey’s hand.
“The pleasure was mine, your grace.” the jockey replied, “She is a real beauty.”
“Indeed – my companion, the Countess de Ros, will lead the horse in with your approval.”
“I would indeed be honoured,” he said as Guy handed Valeria the reins and patted the shoulder of his horse, the crowd applauding as she led them to the winner’s enclosure.
Abby took several deep breaths as she stood on the small stage with the executives from Memories. “Just think it’s like being on the catwalk,” she kept whispering to herself as she watched the TV crew setting up.
She glanced at the trophy, the silver arrow on its mahogany stand looked nice. That would look great in her grandfather’s trophy case, and she was so happy for him. “Okay I say a couple of words, then give him the trophy, and the smaller ones to the trainer and the jockey.” She rehearsed the procedure in her mind.
“Et maintenant pour remettre les trophées pour le Prix de la Flèche de Memories, pouvons nous accueillons dans le stade de Mademoiselle Abigail de Ros qui présentera le trophée au nom de ses auteurs.”
“Showtime.” Abigail whispered as she stepped forward remembering to smile her brightest smile.
“Je suis sûr que vous serez tous d'accord que nous avons vu une course plus excitante, et j'aimerais que le Duc de Grechy, le propriétaire des New York Baby à venir et recevoir le trophée de Mademoiselle de Ros, qui je suis sûr que la plupart d'entre vous savez est sa petite-fille.”
Guy came up and shook hands before kissing his granddaughter on the cheek.
“Au nom des Memories que c'est vraiment le plus grand plaisir de présenter cette belle flèche d'argent à quelqu'un, je sais volonté il au Trésor.”
Guy took the trophy from what he noted were Abby’s slightly trembling hands.
Two minutes later, after Abby had presented the other trophies Guy whispered in her ear, “see you survived little one.”
“I did,” Abby smiled for the photographers, but I really hope I never have to do that again.”
“Oh I think you will darling.” Guy smiled a knowing smile.
Once they had finished, she slipped away with Diana and Valeria as Guy went with the course officials.
“See,” Missy said as they went back into the marquee, “that wasn’t so bad was it?”
“Missy,” Abby said as she looked at her, “you owe me one. Now, may I please have a drink?”
“Of course you may, dear,” Diana said as she handed Abigail a glass of champagne. “You can relax now, your duty is done.”
“It is indeed,” Valeria said as she and Natasha sat down. “You were positively radiant out there today.”
“I feel positively sick,” Abby said as Guy and Guillaume came in, Guy embracing his granddaughter as he said “A truly wonderful day – come, let us go to the winner’s box together, and watch the main race itself. I feel like celebrating tonight!”
“Just remember we have an early flight tomorrow Papa,” Diana said, “and Abigail has school in the morning.”
“I know – I am not suggesting a lot of drinks,” Guy said, “I am suggesting a quiet dinner at a little restaurant I know, and then – when do you have to leave for the airport in the morning?”
“Two o’clock,” Natasha said with a groan.
“Then, in order to assist you with sleeping on the plane, I suggest a quiet night talking and planning for the most wondrous wedding of the new year,” Guy said with a smile. “I will need to talk to Mister Gillespie and see what the syndication plans are for The Grey Gatsby?” Guy pondered the question. “His breeding would mesh very well with hers, I wonder what a nomination to him would cost me?”
“Oh you intend to keep her Papa?” Diana asked.
“Well.” Guy said, “If I’m giving up chasing fast women, I’m going to need a hobby. I have the chance to buy a small stud that’s been out of use a few years, and not for a fortune.”
“Oh,” Diana said, “where Papa?”
“In Calvados… The boys and I are going to become partners, I’m going to find a few nice mares to house.”
“Why didn’t you ask me to invest Papa?”
Guy smiled as he said “I thought after that mess at Christmas, that you’d…”
“Papa,” Diana said as she put her hand on his arm, “you know racing from start to finish, backing your judgment in this WOULD be a sound investment by me.”
“Well it does just happen we could do with an extra partner.”
“Good Papa,” Diana hugged her father, “Count me in then please.”
“Another reason to celebrate,” he said as he led them from the marquee.
2 pm EST
The Richmond Mansion
“Sandy darling,” Heather said as she watched her young charge at work, “they aren’t even going to get here until six. Why are you getting everything ready now?”
“Because it has to be perfect,” Sandy said as she looked at the room, and moved the cushions and chairs around for about the tenth time. “There – no, there,” she said as she then swapped a couple of bean bags round.
“Remind you of anyone,” Heather said to Sandy as she stood in the doorway looking at her daughter.
“Are you implying it skipped a generation,” Sandy said with a raised eyebrow.
“Did I say that,” Heather said as she looked at her lover.
“All right, down,” Sandy said. “Can I borrow your servant for a few minutes?”
“You may,” Sandy said with an imperial voice, the two women laughing as they left the room.
“Thank goodness Jo took George out to the park,” Sandy said as she shook her head, “he would have been driven up the wall.”
“Quite – what’s the plan for when Sandy’s school friends come round?”
“Jo promised she would play something on the games console before he went to bed. I think he’s scared stiff they’re going to ambush him and use their make-up on him.”
“On which point – all three of us need to make sure our jewellery is locked away. At least anything we don’t want the girls to see.”
“I’ll take care of mine now,” Heather said as she went upstairs, “and then I’ll start to sort out the tea and party snacks.”
“Six ten year old girls on a sleepover – my cup doth runneth over,” Sandy said as she headed to the kitchen.
The Richmond Mansion
“Hey Katy,” Little Sandy said as she came into the mansion. She was wearing a pink jumper and jeans, and smiled as she went into the room, where two more of their friends had already arrived.
"Coffee Jan?" Sandy offered as Katy and her
friends started chatting.
"Please." Janice said as she stretched and
"Well come to the kitchen, grab a bar stool and
tell Doctor Sandy all about it."
The two women walked in as Sandy went to the coffee
maker, and Janice climbed onto a stool. "Thanks,
you really are a pal Sandy."
"I try." She said as she handed Janice a fresh mug of coffee.
"Mmmm is this the Colombian blend?"
"You really have to tell me where I can buy
"I'll write it down for you… So what's the
problem work? Adam? Or both?"
"Both… It's difficult trying to remember that
there is certain information that Janice Carter FBI agent shouldn't know, even
when she is the liaison with a confederation of pissed off women."
"Welcome to our world Jan, we've been leading
double lives for a long while now."
Sandy got on a stool opposite and took a sip from her mug.
"And you all do it so brilliantly, really no one
has a clue about you."
"And as long as it stays that way we can all live
happily ever after."
Taking another drink from her mug, Sandy said "So
what's the Adam problem?"
"Please," Sandy nodded.
"I'm going nuts over him.”
"That bad eh?" Sandy asked quizzically.
"Yeah… that bad." Janice looked up, "I
am dreaming of getting him into my bed and for him to… "
"I get the picture Jan… And the problem is?"
"That neither of us knows where that might take
"I can understand that, Heather and me had the same problem, I guess if it’s meant to be you work it out."
“Yeah – but there’s a whole question of trust. I look at Susan and Clint, for example, and I see a couple in love and comfortable with each other. With Adam – he holds a lot back, you know.”
“I’d noticed,” Sandy said with a nod, “not that difficult to see, when you’re on the outside. The look of surprise when he met his nephew last week?”
“I didn’t even know he had a nephew! I knew he lost someone in his family at the Towers, but beyond that nothing.”
“Uncle Alex can be the same you know.”
“What do you mean?”
“I know he’s one of the most open men out there, and he is generous and kind and loving, but very so often I see him when he thinks no-one is looking. There’s a pain in his eyes then, and I swear he’s thinking about the ones he saw die in the war. That might be why he and Adam get on so well – they share that bond as well.”
“So what do I do, Sandy?”
“Let him take you out one night, just as a friend. All the others say he’s only got eyes for you as well – you should hear what Claire and the others say to him.”
Jan smiled. “Yeah, he asked if I wanted to go to the movies next week. I may just take him up on that.”
“There you go,” Sandy said, “just take it one step at a time, eh?”
“Yes, Doctor,” Jan said as she sipped her coffee.
“Hey,” Heather said as she came in, and took some pizzas from the oven, “Staying for dinner?”
“Much as I wish I could,” Janice said as she finished her coffee, “I promised my mom I’d spend the night with her, with takeout and girly movies alongside a bottle of wine.”
“Sounds like a night in heaven,” Heather said. “Right, my little princesses, who wants Pepperoni?”
“Have fun,” Janice said as she headed out, Sandy thinking as she finished her coffee.
“Hey Lizzie.” Little Sandy ran to the door to greet the last of her guests. “How are you?”
“Good, where can I leave my sleeping bag?”
“Let me take it Lizzie.” Big Sandy took it and stacked it in the hall with the other girls.
“So where’s George?” Lizzie asked.
“My stupid brother is out with Jo, so we can do what we want.”
“Hey Lizzie.” Katy called as the two youngsters went into the den.
“Hey Katy, Hey Cassie, Hey Laura, Hey Shawnee.”
“So what are we going to do?” Lizzie said as she sat on one of the bean bags.
“Well I got plenty of DVD’s.” Sandy pointed out, “We can watch some of those?”
“Or we can play some music.” Katy jumped in.
“There’s pizza if you want it?” Heather said as she came in carrying two boards.
“Oh I vote for Pizza.” Shawnee yelled.
“Me too.” Called out Cassie.
“I’ll put it on the table and you can help yourselves.” Heather smiled as she placed them down and went out again.
“Heather’s cool.” Katy spoke in between bites of her pizza.
“Yeah she is, my Mom wishes she could get a nanny for me who’s as cool as she is.” Shawnee spoke.
“You’d chase even Heather away Shawnee.” Laura laughed.
“Hey,” the young girl said, “it’s not my fault all my nannies have been idiots.”
“You make them idiots.” Laura said as she made a face.
“I heard grandma say Heather is a lesbian.” Sandy uttered.
“Well I need a lesbian as my nanny too.” Shawnee reached for another piece of pizza.
“You do know what a lesbian is right?” Lizzie asked as she looked round.
“It’s a good kind of nanny.” Sandy answered.
“No it isn’t.” Lizzie looked at her friends, “Don’t none of you know what a lesbian is?”
“What is it?” Katy said as she looked round.
“You are all such babies still.” Lizzie laughed. “A lesbian is a lady who likes other ladies, not men.”
“You mean we are lesbians because we like each other and not boys?” asked Katy.
“No, I mean they like each other for sex… they don’t like men touching them or inside them.”
“Ooh that’s gooey.” Cassie wrinkled her nose.
“I saw my parents once, it looked horrible.” Laura pretended to barf.
“I’ve seen dogs…” Katy remembered her Mom had told her never to say what she had seen in the street one day.
“So lesbians… ?” Shawnee asked.
“They kiss, and cuddle and hug.”
“Well I’ve seen Mom and Heather do that a lot.” Sandy picked up another piece of pizza.
“Sandy, Heather’s your Mom’s girlfriend.” Lizzie giggled.
“Ooh she’s not, you take that back Lizzie.” Sandy looked hard at her friend.
“Well if she’s a lesbian she is.” Lizzie said triumphantly.
“I wonder what it’s like kissing another girl?” Cassie pondered.
“Well if I kiss Sandy, you kiss Shawnee, and Laura kisses Katy let’s find out.”
“Like this?” Sandy gave Lizzie a peck on the cheek.
“No like they do in the movies…” Lizzie pulled Sandy close and gave her a long deep kiss on the lips. “Now all of you do it.” Lizzie ordered.
“Who wants some…” Heather said as she walked in, and then backed out again.
“Ummm Sandy,” she called out, “I THINK we have a problem.”
“What’s wrong,” Sandy said as she came in, and looked at all six of them kissing in pairs.
“All right,” she said quietly, “would one of you like to tell me what’s going on here?”
“Errrr – we wanted to see if we liked kissing each other,” Sandy said as she looked at her mother.
“And why did you want to do that?”
“Mrs. Richmond,” Lizzie asked, “are you a lesbian?”
“Why are you asking, Lizzie?”
“Well, Sandy said her grandmother said you were a lesbian, and lesbians in the movies and TV shows kiss each other – so we wanted to see what it was like.”
Heather and Sandy looked at each other before Heather said “all right girls, sit down – I want to tell you a story.”
The six girls sat down and looked up at Heather.
“Once upon a time, there was a little girl who was very happy, playing with her friends and learning all about what her world had to offer. The thing that she really liked doing was talking with her friends about others, and what they thought of them and they thought of her and her friends.
“Now, as this girl and her friends grew up, they started to realize they liked been with some people more than others. Many of the girls felt that they preferred to be with one of the boys, and our little girl was very happy about that. On the other hand, some of the boys preferred to be with a boy, and some of the girls with a girl. Our little girl was also happy about that.
“Then one day, one of her friends asked her who she would prefer to be with – one of the boys or one of the girls. Now, here’s my question to you – if you were that little girl, which would you prefer to be with?”
“Boys are icky,” Shawnee said.
“So was kissing you,” Cassie said.
“What about you, Sandy – what do you say?”
“I would want to be happy,” Sandy said.
“Good answer,” Heather said as she looked at all of them. “The main thing in life, if you are looking for someone to be your friend or whatever, that you are happy with them. So I am happy with Sandy’s mother, and I hope some day you find a person you can be happy with.
“But right now, there is pizza to be eaten and movies to watch – who wants to pick one?”
Angel Xantu’s apartment
The people walking round the apartment were very careful not to draw attention to themselves. None of them wanted to raise the wrath of the man sitting in the leather armchair, staring at the television as news of events in Mazengwe was showing.
Behind him, the two tall women stood impassively, saying nothing as they looked round, almost daring anyone to say a word. Only Angel dared say anything, as she sat next to Kimba and said “Your Excellency, you must eat and conserve your strength. When you return to our homeland in glory, you must be ready for the rigours of the battle.”
Kimba slowly turned his head and looked at the young woman. “They have all abandoned me,” he said quietly, “Chen, Rice, Cohen, Twining, Legault – all have turned against me.”
“We remain loyal, Your Excellency,” Angel said as she looked round the room, “and many of your followers pray for your return in triumph. You must not give into despair, but rise and stand proud like the lion.”
“You are very good to me, my dear,” Kimba said as he put his hand on Angel’s – an act she had never known him to do. “But I know the truth of the situation.”
“The truth is you are the backbone of our country, and we cannot survive without you.”
“No,” Kimba said as he turned to look at Angel, a fire burning in his eyes, “the truth is that you seek to betray me as the others have.”
“Your Excellency, how can you say such a thing…”
“Do you think I do not know you met with the devil spawn you call your sister?” Kimba said as he stood up, and Angel saw the madness in his eyes. “You were seen talking to her, and she works for the Walrus – was she making sure you played your part in my downfall, one I know you have sought for so long?”
“Please, Your Excellency, I was merely talking with her – we had not met for so long…”
“Do not lie to me, girl,” Kimba said as he grabbed her wrist and growled. “You even used your lover to deflect the suspicion for yourself, but I know it – I see it all!”
“YOU DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO CALL ME BY MY NAME!!!”
His hand caught Angel across her cheek, catching her by surprise as the others stood back. “Take her,” he said to his two female companions, “find out what she knows. Use any means necessary.”
“Your Excellency,” Angel said as she dropped to her knees, “please believe me, I have not betrayed you. I am loyal…”
“Come,” one of the ladies said as they lifted Angel with their arms, “we will afford you the boon of doing this in private.”
“Please….” Angel looked round as they dragged her off, the others turning their heads as Kimba sat down, a cruel smile on his lips.
The Richmond Mansion
Heather felt a little sad as she watched the girls settling down and climb into their sleeping bags. Even to have a friend come stay for the night let alone a full sleepover had been an object of dread to her throughout her teenage years. The thought that her father might try to do to one of her friends, what he did to her was overwhelming, it was a mixture of shame and guilt, it was the reason why despite all the activities she did at school Heather had not a single friend.
Other girls, even boys, had tried to become her friend, but she always kept them firmly at arms length. Heather had never had even a single date while her parents were alive, she’d never been to a school dance, she’d never been asked to a sleepover like this, actually no one had ever even asked her to come to their house.
The other girls had called her ‘iceblock’ because she was cold. One or two of the teachers had tried to break into her little world, but Heather had never let them. She’d just gone on with her life, school, the various clubs at which she listened and rarely said much, the library, the pool where she would swim laps on her own while the other kids splashed and laughed, and her ultimate refuge, her computer, where there was no danger of anyone coming to the house and having to meet her father.
No it was fun, just listening to the little girls laughing and joking, telling ghost stories, making faces at each other, trying to scare each other.
The worst part was when they asked her to tell a horror story. Something deep within Heather wanted to share with these innocent smiling faces the ultimate horror story, about the evil king and his queen who held the little princess hostage while he mistreated her in every conceivable way. Heather’s heart was beating almost to bursting point, she had so much trapped inside her, but then Jo had brought in bedtime drinks for the girls and the conversation, and the moment, changed.
With everyone tucked in their sleeping bags, Heather turned the light out and slipped into her own bed. “Tonight dear Goddess,” she prayed,” please keep him from my dreams, please let me dream just as these children do, dreams of innocence… Dear Goddess PLEASE!”
4 am Central European Time
Charles de Gaulle Airport
“How much longer,” Abby said as she rubbed her forehead, “I just want to go to sleep…”
“I know, my dear,” Diana said as she put her arm round her daughter’s shoulders, smiling as Abby rested her head on her, “Hopefully not too much longer.”
They had stayed until midnight at the restaurant, discussing, talking, laying plans and determining the form the wedding would take. In the end, they had agreed provisional times subject to the mayor and the local parish priest. Diana had also agreed to talk to Alex about performing the religious ceremony, and what may need to be done in advance.
Valeria had insisted the reception be held at the chateau, as was traditional for a wedding the de Ros family, but had agreed to talk to Vanessa about some of the arrangements, and to allow her to organize a small gathering for the guests coming from the US the night before.
The discussion had then extended to guests – and they had only made a little headway before the time came to for Valeria, Guy and Guillaume to say goodbye.
“I will see you soon…” They were the last words Natasha had heard from her fiancé before they had driven here, and now all they could do was wait for the announcement.
“Finally,” Abby said as the announcement was made, and they all stood up, “I can sleep…”
Monday 6th October
“I thought coming in from LA on an overnight flight was bad enough,” Jeannie said as she sat next to her grandfather, “but doing an overnight flight and then a whole day at school? No thank you.”
“In that case, sweetheart,” John said with a smile, “don’t go accepting contracts that have these sort of clauses.”
“Not unless they fly me first class – how are they coming back?”
“Trust me – it’s no better in first class.”
"No danger of the paparazzi recognizing you this
morning." John laughed as he greeted Abby in the arrivals lounge.
"You look like the proverbial death warmed up."
Abby was in a grey blouse and jeans, but her eyes were red with black shadows underneath and her hair was frazzled. Diana and Natasha did not look much better, in their jumpers and trousers.
"I know,” Abby said, “and I have to go to school this morning,"
"At least you don't have Math first thing
Stick." Jeannie pointed out.
"That's true… how did your shoot go
"Mom thinks they'll like it, and the posse was
impressed,” Jeannie said. “I just wish I had their confidence."
"Yeah like Memories with me, that contract can
make you for life."
"So everyone tells me…"
“Just how bad was the flight,” John asked Diana.
“Let me put it this way, John – I will never complain about the rides at the theme parks ever again.”
"Did you bring my school uniform?"
"Yeah,” Jeannie said, “and your books. You can change in the back of the limo."
"Okay," Abby said as she stretched and yawned, “is there a flask of coffee there as well?”
“There is,” John said as he started to push Jeannie along.
"John." Diana spoke with a yawn, "Natasha and I are going to grab a cab, I'll phone you later."
"Okay Diana that sounds like a plan." John nodded.
"Darling," Diana embraced her daughter, "Don't fall asleep in too many classes, and
I'll see you at home later."
"Okay Mama." Abby kissed her aunt and Diana, “you both get as much rest as you can.”
“We can but try,” Natasha said as they headed for the cab rank, and Abby pushed the wheelchair as John took the luggage trolley.
“I could sleep for a week,” Natasha said as they got into the cab. “But I will have to cope with three hours. I have a meeting at two this afternoon.”
“Well, you can get some sleep at my place,” Diana said as the cab set off, “and then some lunch before you go.”
“Ahh that’s better,” Abby said as she sipped her coffee, and then slipped her jeans off, changing into the skirt, socks and shoes of her school uniform. “Did Jo say how the sleepover went last night?”
“The six seemed to enjoy themselves, from what Sandy told me,” John said over his shoulder, “although I think there was one embarrassing moment.”
“Oh,” Abby said as she pulled her jumper off and put her blouse on, “what was that?”
“The details are a little sketchy,” John said, “but apparently some of the girls decided to see if they liked kissing each other.”
Abby stopped as she was slipping her jumper on. “Awkward,” she finally said as she pulled her jacket on, and picked up the coffee cup again.
“Don’t worry, Heather dealt with it,” John said with a smile. “Here we are.”
“Oh deep joy, “ Abby said as John stopped the car and got out. “Jeannie, if I’m asleep at lunchtime, you have my permission to kick me.”
“You know what I mean,” Abby said with a smile as John opened the door and lifted Jeannie into the wheelchair.
“Welcome back,” Jo said as Abby walked in, “how are you feeling?”
“Dead,” Abby said, “but let’s do this.”
The Listening Post
“Morning all,” Susan said as she entered the monitoring room, “how are things today?”
“Very quiet,” Charlotte said as she looked over, “especially at the apartment – and that’s what worries me.”
“How about Walrus Watch?”
“He’s expecting company for breakfast – he just had a breakfast trolley for two delivered.”
“Where’s Dominique this morning?”
“In conference with Madame and Heather – I think they’re considering options.”
The Waldorf Hotel
“Thank you for joining us Heather,” Madame said as the young nanny came in with Dominique. “I understand you have been looking at the plans for the apartment block?”
“I have,” Heather said as she sat down and opened her laptop, “it occurred to me that we may need to have some way of getting in and out without been seen, so I had a look at the basement plans. Have a look.”
Dominique and Madame looked at the screen as Heather sat forward. “There is a connecting tunnel between this block and the one next door, which runs through the cellars. We could use that to gain entry to the block, and either get to the apartment or else infiltrate any other team going in.”
“Intriguing – what is the situation at the moment Dominique?”
“No sign of Angel Xantu this morning, but Kimba and the ladies are still there. The monitors said there had been some muffled screams and someone crying, but nothing beyond that.”
Madame sat back, and thought for a moment. “I thought we had every room in the apartment bugged?”
“All except the bathroom, Ma…”
Heather looked between the two women, before Madame said “Heather, get Juliette on line. Where is Diana?”
“Dead on her feet according to John – and Abby and Jo are at school. Shirley, what are you thinking?”
“I’m hoping I am wrong,” Madame said quietly. “Because if I am right, we may need to execute your plan sooner than expected.”
Complete Style Magazine
“Oh my,” Juliette said as she scanned the photographs, “Jack really outdid himself this time, didn’t he?”
“There’s life in the old boy yet,” Mary said with a smile. “So do you think we have a winning combination?”
“I do indeed, you little wizard you, I do indeed,” Juliette said with a smile. “Right – I’ll be in my office if you need me.”
As she walked back through the bullpen, Janine held out a stack of messages for her.
“I sifted out the important ones,” she said as Juliette sat down, and sifted through the ones she had in her hand.
“Missy,” Juliette said as she looked up, “how do you manage to look so fresh when I suspect Diana is dead on her feet?”
“Two Mogadon and a glass of champagne,” Missy said as she sat down. “Look, I still haven’t persuaded Diana to let Abby do the Sports Illustrated shoot. Is there anything you can think of that might help turn her around?”
“I will think about it, Missy, but I also think you’re knocking up against her mother’s instincts full time here. She is mellowing, but some things just go against that instinct – and now she has a wedding as well.”
“Oh, so you’ve heard?”
“She told me before they went over – on which subject,” Juliette said as she held her hand out, gratefully receiving the money from her old friend.
Her phone started ringing, and as she picked it up she heard Heather saying “Can you get online?”
“I’m in a meeting at the moment,” she said as she looked at Missy, “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“Gotcha,” Heather said as the line went dead.
“Listen,” Juliette said as she put the phone down and looked at Missy, “there might be a way to persuade her…”
The Waldorf Hotel
“Good morning Divine,” Stonemark said as he watched the tall African woman walk in, “did you talk to your sister?”
“I did – and I regret to say I do not think she will leave his side.”
“A pity – Angel is a most remarkable woman, and I too will miss her.” Pouring a coffee, he handed it to Divine and said “So what are your plans?”
“As you are departing tomorrow, sir, I think we will need to move tonight. I have a team standing by to infiltrate the building at 17:00 hours, and deal with whoever is inside. If there are those you wish not to be there, you need to inform them somehow.”
“I arranged for a message to be sent to them in a letter this morning. Those I wish to get out will have departed by that time.”
“And any left?”
“Kill them all,” Stonemark said as she sat and sipped his coffee. “Do you have a problem with that?”
“No – no problem,” Divine said quietly.
“Good – then by the end of tonight, we will be in a position to – well, isn’t that nice?”
“What,” Divine said as she looked at the paper.
“The city has started an appeal to raise funds for all the girls that have been released – well, they can be their problem. After all, you came to me in the same way, didn’t you my dear?”
“I did, my master,” Divine said as she knelt in front of him, “and I am sworn to serve you.”
“That’s right – now, go and prepare. I will see you tonight.”
Divine stood and bowed, before she left the room, shaking inside herself.
The Listening Post
Susan turned to look at Charlotte. “What’s wrong?”
“Call Madame – tell her I’m sending a live feed of the Xantu apartment to Heather’s laptop now. She’ll want to see this.”
Susan looked over Charlotte’s shoulder, and paled. “Damn right she will – and inform Penny as well.”
“Madame,” Penny said as she entered the room, “urgent message from Charlotte. She’s sending a live feed to Heather via the secure network.”
Heather typed on her laptop, and then sat back as she said “Shit – Kimba must have gone loco.”
The trio looked at the screen, to see Angel Xantu kneeling in front of Kimba, her wrists and ankles bound and linked by rope, her clothes torn, as Kimba ranted and listed off a list of her crimes.
The two bodyguards stood either side of her, as they heard her plead her innocence.
“What on earth is he going to do,” Dominique said, before they watched Kimba look directly at Angel, and pick a gun up.
“Goddess,” Heather said quietly, “he wouldn’t…”
The shot rang over the laptop speaker, as Angel’s head snapped back, and then fell forward. The two Amazons picked her up as he said “dispose of the trash” and walked over to the apartment window. One held her as the other opened the windows wide, and then they watched as she was thrown out, the faint screams from outside audible.
Dominique sat back, and said quietly “Somehow, I do not think Janice’s colleagues can ignore that.”
"Heather can you get Jan on the secure com, we
might need her to take the info you dug up and run with it."
"Agreed Madame, a way in can be a way out as well."
"Tell her we can maybe cover it." Dominique
"Why?" Heather asked back.
"Because I promised Maisha a part in all this,
I'd sort of like to see her get her chance."
"Okay Dom, I'll see what I can do." Heather's brows furrowed.
FBI Field Office
Janice was typing a field report when she saw the flashing box on the screen.
“What’s wrong,” Adam said as he saw how pale she went.
“The Hand – she says…”
“She says what?”
“She says Kimba just executed Angel Xantu, and sent some additional info about the building.”
Both looked at Tom as Adam said “We just heard – what happened?”
“The NYPD have the building surrounded, and Angel Xantu is currently impaled on the railings outside. We have a siege, folks – suit up.”
“You head down – I need to change my shoes,” Janice said as she headed for the ladies, and took out her cell phone.
“Jan, we need to infiltrate the team. Can you grab a couple of spare jackets and leave them somewhere we can get in?”
“On it – weapons?”
“Don’t worry about that – just leave this phone in the car. We’ll take it from there.”
The Waldorf Hotel
“Hello Jane. You might like to know Kimba just killed Angel Xantu, and is now shooting at the police from her apartment building. You might like to go and see what’s happening.”
“Message sent,” Dominique said as she looked at Heather?
“Sent – that should bring Jane along,” Heather said as Sandy came on line.
“Situation fall down go kaboom?”
“You got it lover, we need guns and the FBI flak jackets.”
“Just tell me where.”
"Damn I wish Diana wasn't half dead after flying
back from Paris." Dominique looked over Heather's shoulder.
"Because I'd feel safer with our own markswoman
outside on one of the neighboring roofs, feeding me what she can see."
"I know, Dom, but Diana would be of no
use." Heather sounded a little down
at that thought.
"What about me?" a voice said quietly.
"What about what?" Dom looked round.
"How about me on the roof with a sniper
rifle?" Charlotte asked.
"Charlotte you're not trained…"
"Hold on Dominique," Madame interrupted her,
"Diana praised Charlotte in the highest terms after her training
"Okay Madame but that means what?"
"That Charlotte I think can do it Dominique.
Diana does not give out praise gratuitously."
"Okay Madame I take the point, but we need a
"There's one at mine and Sandy's place Dom."
heather looked up from her screen.
"Charlotte are you sure you can do this?"
"I can Dominique," Charlotte nodded.
"Okay I guess then, " Dominique shrugged,
"Get dressed ready Charlotte, Heather tell Sandy to bring the rifle with
Heather started typing “We need the special package, lover.”
“Got it – meet you there in twenty.”
“What about Juliette,” Madame said quietly.
“I saw,” Juliette typed, “I’ll meet you nearby.”
The door opened and Susan came in with Maisha.
“Child,” Dominique said, “it is time. Are you ready?”
Maisha stood, in her black jumper and trousers, and simply nodded.
“We move out in five people,” Dominique said, “get ready!”
The Xantu Apartment Block
Janice stopped at the police security line and waited as the window slid down.
“Sorry, sir, no traffic allowed…” He looked at their cards and said “Sorry, agents, we’re not allowing any cars in. You can park over there and walk in.”
“What about the tactical unit on the way?”
“Same for them m’am – they’ll have to schlep everything up themselves.”
“Why,” Adam said as he looked over.
“You’ll see why when you get there, agent. It’s – not a pretty sight.”
Adam and Janice looked at each other, and then Janice pulled in where the officer indicated. The two agents got out and put on their flak jackets, before they holstered their weapons and made their way through the barrier. They didn’t notice the woman in the baseball cap who passed their car, quickly opening the trunk and taking a bag out before she closed it again and made her way around the block.
“Keep low and come along,” the officer around the corner said.
“Why,” Janice said as she looked up, and then she caught the glimpse of the sun on the rifle protruding from the window on the second floor. Nodding, they made their way along the sidewalk and crouched behind three cars parked on the kerbside.
“Ball, Carter,” the officer said, “I thought you might be here. See the rifle?”
Adam nodded as he said “Anyone pokes their head out, they got shot at. We think it’s a woman holding it, but we can’t be certain. What we are certain of is that.”
He pointed to the railings around the stairs to the basement. Angel Xantu was impaled on them, her head back and the blood drying on the bullet wound.
“Dear God above,” Janice said as she crossed herself, “how many in there?”
“Only three we think – the others fled earlier. But it’s Kimba and his bodyguards. Tactical unit?”
“On their way,” Adam said, “in the meantime, we keep them covered.”
Janice looked at the row of marksmen, all aiming at the apartment windows, and nodded.
“Got them,” Heather said as she crouched in the alley. “Jan managed to get four, which means we got six in total.”
“Just enough,” Dominique said as she looked round. Sandy and Juliette had joined them, as had Susan and Maisha.
“Dom. It’s Penny – the line is secure.”
“Good,” Dom whispered, “Charlotte?”
The young redhead was making her way slowly along the roof of the building opposite the apartment block, having slipped past the police cordon. She lay down on her stomach and looked down as well as across.
“In position Dom – I see Jan and the others at ground level, and it’s one of Kimba’s minders with the rifle at the first floor window. I need a few minutes to set up.”
“You’ve got ten,” Dom said, “and good luck. The rest of us, wigs, glasses and flak jackets on.”
The six women took the wigs they were offered and put them on, Dominique helping Maisha, and then donned the Raybans before putting on the flak jackets.
“Maisha, stay close to me,” Dominique said, as they all checked their weapons.
“You’re not giving her one are you,” Juliette said as she looked at Dominique.
“No – I believe she has what she needs,” Dom said as she looked at the young African girl, who nodded as she smiled.
“All right,” Dom said, “we’re going in through the basement of the block next door. We make our way around here,” she said as she indicated the rear of the building, “and down the other side. I go first, and you come when signaled. Keep low. Maisha, stay down and come when I signal.”
The ladies nodded as they slowly went round the building. Dominique signaled from them to stop as she looked down the street.
“We could do with a distraction,” Dominique whispered.
Charlotte looked through the sight, smiling as she saw the woman holding the gun, and then glanced down as she heard the officer shout “Hey – come back here.”
She saw the rifle suddenly take aim further down the street, and without hesitation she cocked the rifle and looked through the sights, aiming slightly to the left of the sniper.
Janice looked up the alley at the shout and saw Jane Molloy making her way along. “shit,” she whispered as she ran back and shouted “Get Down!”
There was the sound of a single gunshot as Janice pushed Jane down onto the ground, the bullet whistling above both of them and hitting the wall. At the same time, nobody noticed the rifle being pulled in for a moment, as Janice pulled Jane over to behind the cars, and then reappear.
“Go,” Dominique said as all this was happening, the six women crossing and making their way to the basement of the apartment building next door. “Charlotte?”
“I winged her – too late to stop the bullet, but I got her in the arm.”
“So who has it now?”
“The other bodyguard, by the looks of it. I saw two others in there, looks like they’re treating her wound.”
“Well done girl, keep them covered,” Dominique whispered as Heather got to work on the cellar door.
“Abigail, Jo, can I see both of you for a moment please?”
The two girls looked at Annie and then followed her into a room, Annie closing the door behind them.
“There’s a report of a siege downtown – Kimba has gone mad. Jan and Adam are there, and a team has gone in.”
“Who,” Jo said.
“Penny didn’t say – but you need to know.”
The de Ros Mansion
“That’s better,” Natasha said as she came into the front room, “What are you… Is that not the building Legault lived in?”
“It is,” Diana said quietly as she sat, nursing a coffee and watching the news channel. “I am afraid, Natasha, that Angel Xantu has been killed. The police believe Kimba killed her, and he has refused to come out.”
“Oh no,” Natasha said as she sat down, “what else are they saying?”
“Little else – all we can do is pray.”
Dominique and Sandy moved the dresser from the wall, uncovering the old wooden door which Susan kicked open. “Thank god for old buildings,” she said as they walked through.
“I need two to stay here in case they attempt to leave,” Dominique said. “Penny, video link?”
“Loud and clear,” Penny said as she saw the view from the camera hidden in Dominique’s glasses.
“Good – Juliette, Susan?”
The two women nodded as the other four started to climb from the basement to the first floor, covering each other as they walked to the entrance hall.
“You have sacrificed much, my child,” they heard Kimba say.
“I live to serve you Your Excellency” a female said. “Whoever shot shot to wound, not to kill – but they did wound me.”
“Rest – what of the infidels?”
“They do not move, your excellency.”
“What the hell were you playing at Molloy,” Adam said as Janice brought her over.
“Doing my job – I had a tipoff Kimba had gone nutso.” Jane looked at the body on the railings and swallowed. “Seems the tip off was right.”
“Well, we can’t get you back now,” Janice said, “so keep your head down.”
“We need to wait for the tactical team to get here before we move in.”
“How many in there?”
“Five we think – at least two armed, and God knows with what.”
“I see the rifle,” Jean said, “but have they tried talking to them?”
“We tried phoning, but nobody seems to want to answer,” Ball said.
“Your Excellency, we need to get proper medical attention for her.”
“You do not believe I can heal her?”
“I did not say that, Your Excellency. I merely believe your most devoted servant needs your constant attention to bring her to full health.”
Dominique looked up to see a young man standing beside Kimba, as he held his hand to the blood stained shoulder of his bodyguard,
“Perhaps – perhaps you are right,” Kimba said. “or perhaps you just want to run like the coward you are.”
Dominique smiled and said “Charlotte, we may need the kill shot. Are you prepared?”
“I’m watching,” Charlotte said as she looked through the sight.
Dominique held up three fingers, then two, then one, before she ran up the stairs.
“FBI!! ON THE FLOOR, ALL OF YOU!!!”
Two men turned and stared at them as Dominique stood, aiming her rifle at them as three others came up.
In the window was one of Kimba’s personal assistants, who turned as she heard the voice and aimed the rifle at them.
“I said drop it or pay the consequences,” Dominique said as Heather and Sandy leveled their guns at her.
“I live for Kimba,” the woman shouted – before she fell onto her knees, dropping the rifle as the red blood bled from the wound in her forehead.
“What the hell was that,” Janice shouted as she saw the rifle disappear, and then heard the shot.
“Did the tactical unit turn up?”
“I don’t think so – but then,” Adam said, “who shot just then?”
He looked at Janice, as she smiled, and said “What?”
“It’s them,” Jan said, “it has to be.”
“One of you is already down,” Dominique said, “do you wish to join her? If not, on the floor, hands behind your back, and do nothing.”
The two men dropped to the floor, putting their hands behind their back as Dominique stepped forward.
“And what of you, Your Excellency? It’s over – will you face your accusers?”
“It is not over,” Kimba growled, “I am Kimba, and I am eternal.”
Juliette and Heather secured the wrists and ankles of both men with zip ties as Dominique and the other woman stood before Kimba.
“Stand aside, your Excellency,” the woman said as she tried to stand up, but fell back again, too weak to do anything.
“Stay,” Dominique said as Heather came over, and pointed her weapon at the woman.
“Vice President Albert Kimba, we accuse you of the trafficking of diamonds for arms, and of children for slaves. How do you plead?”
“You have no proof of that,” Kimba said, “and I will kill anyone who said that.”
“As you killed Angel – who did not betray you, by the way. We have been listening, we have been watching, we know all.”
“You know NOTHING!!”
“You are wrong Kimba.”
Kimba turned to look at the smaller woman next to Dominique, who stepped forward and removed her glasses. She had spoken in his native tongue, and as she looked at him he saw the sadness in her eyes.
“I know everything, Your Excellency,” Maisha spat out. “You condemned my sisters and I to a life of hell, for nothing more than personal greed. You forced my sisters to come here, my brothers to mine your diamonds, and for what? To serve our people, or to serve yourself?”
“Who are you to speak to me in this way?”
“I am Maisha, daughter of Mashima, Sister of the children of Mazengwe, and I say you are guilty Kimba. Now, do you have the courage to face your accuser?”
“I am no coward,” Kimba said as he stood up.
“No, you are worse – you are a mad dog, who deserves only death.”
The movement was sudden, swift, as Maisha drove the knife into Kimba’s neck. He gurgled as he fell to the floor, and then lay there, slowly choking to death.
“Maisha,” Dominique said as she put her hand on her shoulder, “is your oath satisfied?”
The young girl nodded as Heather and Sandy looked on.
“Then we need to go,” Dominique said as she looked at the bodyguard. “If you value your life, then Kimba died resisting arrest. Understand?”
She nodded as she whispered “I regret her death.”
“And you will pay for that – I expect her sister will find you one day. We need to go.”
The party went down the stairs, Dominique opening the front door as he passed.
“The door’s open!”
Janice and Adam ran over and went in, Jan catching a glimpse of the group heading down as they headed up.
“Oh my god,” Adam said as he and Janice looked round.
“Move out – we meet at the hotel,” she said as they joined Susan and Juliette.
“We now deal with the Walrus,” Dominique said as she took Maisha by the hand and they walked out, the police heading into the house.
Janice went outside and stood for a moment, her head over the stair side.
“Jan? How bad is it in there?”
“Kimba’s dead,” Janice said as she looked at Jane, “one of his bodyguards was hit by the bullet you heard and has a head wound. The other is critically wounded.”
“Not yet – give them time to take photos and remove the bodies, and then we will take you in. Trust me,” she said as she looked at Angel’s lifeless eyes, “it is not something you want to see.”
Adam came out and shook his head. “Well, this bit is over – but I need to ask you something Janice.”
Adam looked at her and said "So did you tip your friends off or did they tip you Janice?"
"Does it matter Adam? One of the baddest men this world has ever seen is no longer with us, to use your own phrase, it's a win for the good guys."
“They tipped me off – at the same moment we got the call. That is the truth, Adam,” Janice said as she sat on the stairs.
“All right – you ready to do your job?”
She nodded as she stood up, and the two agents went back in.
The de Ros Mansion
“Are you online Heather?” Diana typed into her computer.
“I can’t see her Aunt Diana.” Carina typed in response.
“Bonjour Carina, I was trying to unravel what has been unfolding down here in the city.”
“I was checking in to see as well, I saw a news story online.”
“It seems Kimba finally went totally insane.” Diana paused before typing again, “Your Mother was part of an assault team that stormed where he was.”
“Cherie,” Diana typed as she smiled, “if you could see how bad I look after flying back you’d understand.”
“Any news?” Annie appeared in the chat room.
“Only what’s in the media.” Diana typed. “Are Jo and Abby with you?”
“Yeah we are in my classroom with the door locked.”
“Okay, well I guess we all wait for news then.” Cari typed. “So how was Paris?”
“Tiring.” Diana answered.
“Cari this is Abby, Aunt Natasha wants me, you, and Jo to be among her bridesmaids.”
“Oh Wow, at least that’s good news.”
“We were up late last night in Paris discussing details Carina.” Diana added to the news.
“So where’s the wedding to be?”
“France, Cari, in January.”
“Abs that’s right when I’m supposed to be doing all the debutante stuff as well. I hope I can fit it all in without flunking out.”
“Cari, it’s Annie, you can do it, I’m sure you can.”
“Okay we are all safe, Kimba dead, bodyguards wounded, Janice is in the building.” Heather’s words appeared on the screen.
“Thank the Goddess.” Diana typed.
“Who took the kill shot,” Cari typed.
“Not a kill shot – he died the way he deserved to die.”
Diana looked at the screen for a moment, before typing “Then how?”
“Maisha – fitting, in a way, one of the girls whose life he ruined ended his. I’ll explain later – heading to base for debrief.”
The Waldorf Hotel
He sat, watching the scene unfold on the news channel, but turned when the door opened and Divine Xantu came in.
“Well what do you hear?” Stonemark demanded.
“Very little,” she said as she stood facing him, “it would seem that crazy man Kimba killed my sister and threw her out the window.”
For a moment, Divine looked at her master to see if there was a flicker of regret, but she was disappointed.
“That gave the FBI just the excuse they were looking for….” Stonemark glanced at the set again, before saying “well did they capture him alive?”
“No, it seems he was killed in the assault, but those bitches that used to guard him were both taken alive, and I’m sure will sing a pretty song to try help save their own necks.”
“No doubt.” Stonemark looked like a troubled man, “What are our contacts telling you off the record Miss Xantu?”
“That the group that has been systematically attacking us provided the assault team.” Divine answered. “They also confirm your thoughts that they may be behind Rice and Chen disappearing.”
“Do they still believe these women come from a variety of backgrounds and nations?”
“They do sir.”
“Whoever these people are,” Stonemark said as she sat down, “they combine skills and intelligence that would have served me well if I had been able to recruit them myself.”
“I’m not sure they would have worked for you… “
Stonemark glared at the dark skinned woman. “Every man, or in this case every woman has a price, or a point of weakness that can be used to enlist them.”
“Well Sir,” she eventually said, “I need to do my follow up work, and I must make arrangements.”
“Indeed.” Stonemark thought hard for a second, “Put a message out on the Black Internet, I want to contact Madame X.”
“May I ask why?”
“Your wish is my command.” Divine turned and left the suite, stopping for a second as she closed her eyes and bowed her head, and then moved on.
The Xantu apartment
Jane looked round the apartment, now empty but with the positions Kimba and his group were in marked out.
"Our friends are gradually clearing up this mess
Jane." Janice whispered.
"I know." Jane recoiled from the blood on
"It may not be due process, but it's very much
justice for what the bastard did."
Jane nodded. "It shows if you piss enough women off, or hurt enough children, someone’s going to make you pay the price."
“Indeed,” Janice said, “and the price is to be paid. Speaking of which, I have an announcement my confederates wish to make through you…”
The Waldorf Hotel
“Welcome back,” Penny said as the group entered the suite. “Madame will join you shortly.”
“Dominique,” Ama said as she ran up, “is it over?”
“It is almost over, Ama,” Dominique said quietly, “but the man who caused your country so much hurt is no more.”
Ama looked at Maisha, who had her head down. She looked up at Ama and slowly nodded, as she felt her friend’s arms around her.
“Take her to the room, Ama,” Dominique said quietly, “we will be along in a while.” She then turned to Charlotte, and said “You proved yourself today. Well done.”
“Thank you,” Charlotte said, “but I am glad I did not kill them. They need to tell their story, and face justice.”
“Indeed,” Madame said as she came in, “and they will. You all have my congratulations – in some ways, we could not have asked for a better outcome, given the unfortunate fate of Miss Xantu.”
“Agreed,” Dominique said, “he is dead, and the inner circle is broken. All the remains now is the Walrus and his friend in Cuba.”
“For now, we know where both are, so let us enjoy the moment.”
“Not yet – I need to talk to Maisha. Charlotte, will you come with me please?”
“Of course,” the redhead said as the two women walked out of the room.
“Maisha killed him,” Sandy said as the door closed.
Madame nodded. “I feared such would be the case, and Dominique is best placed to talk to the girl now. Sandy, Heather, Juliette, my thanks for coming so quickly. I trust you will tell the others what happened?”
Juliette nodded as Penny handed round drinks. “That was not how I expected him to fall, but I am glad he paid the price.”
“Madame, we have had a communication come through the Black Net for you.”
“Oh? And the message is?”
“The Walrus wishes to talk to you.”
“And I wish to talk to him – but not yet,” Madame said as her personal cell phone rang. She took it out and looked round before she said “Hello?”
“Is this Shirley Xavier?”
“It is – may I ask who is calling?”
“My name is Elaine Colman – I understand we have a mutual friend in Heather Smith?”
“Elaine… Oh yes, you must be the realtor she told me about. How may I help you?”
“Well, I know you are a busy woman, but I have an opening tomorrow if you can spare a couple of hours to view some properties?”
“Actually,” Madame said as she looked round, “tomorrow would be ideal. Shall we say 10 in the morning? I will meet you in the lobby of the Waldorf.”
“Excellent – ten tomorrow then. I look forward to meeting you. Have a good day, Shirley.”
“And you, Elaine, and you,” Madame said as she ended the call. “Susan, check on the current status of Stonemark, and see if it is still his intention to leave tomorrow.”
“On it,” Susan said as she walked slowly out.
“Still sore from the splinters?”
“I imagine that’s why Dom had her and me stay in the basement,” Juliette said. “so the apartment hunt begins tomorrow?”
“And hopefully ends tomorrow as well. The end approaches – and I wish you to be there for it, Juliette.”
“I would be delighted – but now, I need a shower and a change of clothes.”
The Richmond Mansion
“Maisha? She did the actual killing?”
Sandy and Heather nodded as Diana sat down. “She wanted to be the one, and she was,” Heather said. “I hope she knows she is the most wanted woman in Mazengwe now.”
“Which is why she can never return,” Sandy said. “When they go back to the UK, she goes with them. Madame says she will be tutored by her and others.”
“So Ama stays here with Dominique, and Maisha returns with Shirley and the others. A lot of changes coming – some for the good, others?”
“We have to wait and see, Diana. How are you feeling now?”
“A little more awake,” Diana said as Jo and Abby came into the room, “but a good night’s sleep for both of us is still required. Have you seen the news tonight?”
“The relief fund that has been set up to help the girls released? A master stroke on Janice’s part – it allows us to filter the funds we have in an open way. I understand Charlotte may be heading to South Africa soon to see if there are ways they can be helped there.”
“So Susan has said,” Heather replied as she looked at her laptop. “Anyway, two tasks remain – and I’m dealing with the first one right now.”
“The Cuban connection?”
“Oh yeah – I don’t want to waste time with him, so I’m letting the right people know.”
Tuesday 7th October
The Waldorf Hotel
“Morning Dominique – do you have a minute?”